NPR logo The Year In Garage Rock: 5 Favorites For 2011

The Year In Garage Rock: 5 Favorites For 2011

Thee Oh Sees. Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist.

Thee Oh Sees.

Courtesy of the artist.

Garage rock has undergone a serious rejuvenation in recent memory. Over the last few years, bands like The Black Keys and Best Coast have surfaced in the mainstream, and as a result, garage-rock artists that might have gone unnoticed less than a decade ago are now landing major attention (see: Thee Oh Sees and Black Lips). A little more than a year ago, Robin Hilton wrote that we might consider the 2010s to be "the decade of garage rock." If that's the case, then 2011 was a strong entry for year No. 2.

The rate of output from most garage-rock artists makes narrowing down the best of any year a daunting task, but this year it seems especially tough. We saw releases from nearly every major act in the genre, along with strong debuts and follow-ups from many smaller names. It's an exciting time to be a garage-rock fan — and an excellent time to convert, if you're not already on board.

So without further ado, here's a totally subjective list of five tremendous garage-rock songs from 2011.

The Year In Garage Rock: 5 Favorites For 2011

Cover for Carrion Crawler/The Dream

Contraption/Soul Desert

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Contraption/Soul Desert

  • from Carrion Crawler/The Dream
  • by Thee Oh Sees

In a year in which garage rock saw releases from most of its major players, Thee Oh Sees bested almost everybody by pumping out two albums, a singles collection and a couple of 7" singles (not to mention a slate of absurdly thorough tours). The band's output makes it rewarding to be a fan, especially when we're treated to an album as excellent as Carrion Crawler/The Dream. For this one, John Dwyer and his crew eschewed short pop songs and instead churned out a string of sprawling, intense jams, buoyed by the addition of Lars Finberg (of The Intelligence) as a second drummer. Take "Contraption/Soul Desert," in which a sinister bass riff makes up the ferociously catchy bed where Dwyer lays down his solos and yelps. Thee Oh Sees' concerts are so terrific that it's hard to fully capture that energy and excitement — and for that, "Contraption/Soul Desert" is a total delight.

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Song
Carrion Crawler/The Dream
Album
Carrion Crawler/The Dream
Artist
Thee Oh Sees
Label
In The Red
Released
2011

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Cover for I Would Not Know the Devil

I Would Not Know the Devil

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I Would Not Know The Devil

  • from I Would Not Know the Devil
  • by The Fresh & Onlys

The Fresh & Onlys' members have found themselves in the spotlight since the release of 2010's Play It Strange. Critics gushed over the band's brand of washy, psychedelic garage, and countless eyes were on its next release: an EP called Secret Walls which arrived in April. It was solid, but the real treasure came in September with a single called "I Would Not Know the Devil." The first 20 seconds are glorious: guitarist Wymond Miles introduces the scorching main riff, which marinates for a tense pause before the full band collapses into a minor-key romp. On top of that, we get a perfectly creepy portrait of the devil, who haunts the narrator despite having only met him once (on a rainy day, presumably, or else the devil always carries an umbrella). He wears a blank expression, drinks wine and once dug a twisted shovel into the narrator's back. The only thing better than "I Would Not Know the Devil" is that The Fresh & Onlys will follow it with a fourth album, scheduled for release early next year.

Cover for Innings

I'm Not a Wanderer

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I'm Not A Wanderer

  • from Innings
  • by Nodzzz

This year also brought us Innings, the second album by a garage-pop trio out of San Francisco called Nodzzz. Nodzzz's members are masters of the cheerfully concise pop song, and they've got brevity down to a science — at 2:10, "I'm Not a Wanderer" is the third-longest track in the band's catalog. It had been three years since Nodzzz released anything, and it's clear that these guys have grown up a bit since then. Innings captures the comfort of home and anxieties about adulthood, while "I'm Not a Wanderer" follows the band's basic formula: Collaborating guitars in bright treble tones and a busy drum set underlie the vocals of Sean Paul Presley and Anthony Atlas. Presley and Atlas put a cheery veneer on their fears with lines like, "I'm not a wanderer anymore / I've gone and locked the door." The guitars back up that sentiment; Atlas' lead puts on the brave face, while Presley's belies it with ever-so-slightly unsettling chords.

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Song
Innings
Album
Innings
Artist
Nodzzz
Label
Woodsist
Released
2011

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Cover for We Are the Ocean

We Are the Ocean

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We Are The Ocean

  • from We Are the Ocean
  • by The King Khan and BBQ Show

In the two years since 2009's Invisible Girl, both King Khan and Mark Sultan (alias BBQ) have had their fingers in plenty of excellent pies. For one, both men have taken up with Southern rocker Bloodshot Bill, resulting in two new duos called the Tandoori Knights (Khan + Bill) and the Ding-Dongs (Bill + Sultan). Khan and Sultan both chugged full steam ahead through 2011: Each put out substantial solo works, and each of the related duos put out a 7". There are excellent tracks on all of the releases, but the classic couple still reigns supreme. King Khan and BBQ reunited this May to co-write and record the dreamy, psychedelic single "We Are the Ocean." It's a surprisingly mellow track from two men responsible for the Spaces---s. In the verses, Khan contemplates floating aimlessly before drifting back into the spotlight: "Then we resurface, and you beg for more." Sultan, his voice incredible as always, laments "washing up on beaches in your mind / like treasures you can't find." In song as in life, it's wonderful when they unite. "We are the ocean," they cry, "and we want the world."

Cover for Can't Get Past the Lips

Try Me Out Sometime

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Try Me Out Sometime

  • from Can't Get Past the Lips
  • by BRONCHO

Perhaps the best debut album of 2011 came by way of BRONCHO, a garage-punk quartet from Norman, Okla. Frontman Ryan Lindsey is better known as the keyboardist for the Starlight Mints, but this side project has been touring the Midwest since early 2010. Can't Get Past the Lips hit stores this August, and "Try Me Out Sometime" was an instant standout. It's not a complex song, by any means, and the simplicity is fantastic because the execution is so strong. Three chords are plenty enough backdrop for Lindsey to yelp out the hooks. Watch the excellent music video, in which the band barges into unsuspecting, unlikely venues — stores, major intersections, a college classroom — and performs increasingly disastrous versions of the song before darting out. BRONCHO has never played a show outside a narrow corridor from Austin to Chicago, so coast-dwellers will have to cross their fingers for that to change soon.

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Song
Can't Get Past the Lips
Album
Can't Get Past the Lips
Artist
BRONCHO
Label
CQ Records
Released
2011

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