After posting my favorite album list, I thought of several other musicians whom I came across this year and really enjoyed or noticed for one reason or another, but didn’t put on my favorite list for the sake of symmetry (top-ten is cleaner-looking than top-thirteen and a half).
First off: a new record label specializing in East European bands; its nom de plure is, appropriately enough, EastBlok Music. They only have a few bands signed as of yet, and only a handful of those are available here in the States as of yet. Included in the later category is the Hungarian band Little Cow: the only band in my music library, so far, with the word “cow” in their name. According to EastBlok’s website, Little Cow- in Hungarian- was the year’s improbable smash hit, with their- equally improbably titled- single Cyber Boy (on their album I’m In Love With Every Lady). You can’t make this sort of thing up. Little Cow’s sound is fun indie-pop with a smattering of traditional instruments for backing, with odd mouth-music (noises? Musical vocalizations?) bouncing around alongside as well. The title track starts out fairly slow and melodic, but builds to almost frantic energy levels at the end; the weird vocalizations in the background pulsing right along.
I’ve also gotten to listen to another group put out by EastBlok, called Shukar Collective, based out of Romania. On their 2007 album Rromatek they mix Roma trad sounds and samples with down-beats and trance, and while they’re not the only trad/electronica fusion to operate in the Balkans arena (German artist Shantel also released a Balkan-infused electronica album this year), the Collective does a good job balancing modern electronic synth and sampling with the music of traditional instruments and singing. The quality is a little mixed- some of the tracks drag along a little- but overall Rromatek is a well-executed project.
And while we’re on the subject of ethnic fusion music, I can’t forget Brooklyn-based hip-hopper and all-around mensch SoCalled, who released Ghettoblaster this year, the follow-up to his great 2005 project The SoCalled Seder. I’ve only downloaded two tracks (and saw a music video from the album on WorldLink TV), but they’re both pretty kosher. Oy. Music like this could easily be schmaltzy kitsch, but SoCalled knows how to pull it off without inducing wincing. His delivery could be more effective, but I mean how many Yiddish hip-hop tracks are you going to find?
Finally, moving back to the orbit of more normal music, one of my favorite new bands this year is a group from Southern California, Delta Spirit- but you wouldn’t know it from listening to them. They sing songs about New Orleans, social justice, life and death, with a driving up-beat Americana sound that has nothing ironic or droll about it. I first heard them play as an opening act at a concert in New Orleans; a couple months ago they played at Hattiesburg’s own Thirsty Hippo, delivering up some wonderfully blazing harmonicas and funky percussion among other things. Good solid stuff.