Little Village's Top Ten Local Albums of 2011 (Thus Far)

For a city which claims to have around 65,000 people (and a metro area that’s bound to clear 100k) there’s a stunning bevy of talent in Iowa City. We need to actively appreciate how good the music scene is in this relatively small community. If you find yourself marking the calender just waiting for the big regional and national acts to pass through (or near), you may be missing all the wonderful music right under your very nose. Consider this a primer. We recently eclipsed the half-way point of 2011 and I’ve already heard 20 good Iowa City-area releases, below I’ve listed my 10 favorites.

1. Edward Gray – Old Bending River (Self-released)

Edward Gray’s first new album in five years is a dense folk-blues number. Gray’s left much of his lo-fi sound behind but things are still dark and gravely for Old Bending River. But, like earlier efforts, there’s still humor to be found and wonderful songwriting abounds–it has to, to keep me coming back to some of these hard luck songs.


2. Wet Hair – In Vogue Spirit (De Stijl Records)

In Vogue Spirit is the Wet Hair’s most accessible slab yet; it’s also their first as a trio. The addition of bass to their mix of synths and drums adds extra drive and punch. The bass lines put a bit more bob in your head and give the experimental forays a clearer direction.


3. Alex Body – Cutting Down Camelot (Self-released)

Alex Body’s third long-player is the most accomplished and complete of his short solo career. Cutting Down Camelot only stumbles on the over-long opener, the remaining 35 minutes are a lo-fi, synth-laden feast. That one man is behind every note of this dystopic, wigged-out electro-pop still boggles the mind.


4. Samuel Locke Ward & The Boo Hoos / Joe Jack Talcum & The Powders – Just Add Tears (Grotto Records)

Samuel Locke Ward and Joe Jack Talcum (Dead Milkmen) take turns stewing in loneliness and skewering mainstream culture while giving you enough soaring choruses to keep a silly smile plastered on your gob for both sides of this 12” beauty.


5. Safe Words – Hollow Leg (Self-released)

From the ashes of one of Iowa City’s best kept secrets, Molly Ringwald, comes yet another unsung outfit: Safe Words. Where Molly Ringwald seemed to draw equally from Modest Mouse and At the Drive-In, Safe Words is more inclined toward lo-fi, kitchen sink indie-pop with just enough shaggy-dog bite to stave off a sugar rush.

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6. William Elliott Whitmore – Field Songs (ANTI- Records)

The lion’s share of William Elliott Whitmore’s fifth album is a paean to the artisans and farmers. Whitmore plucks his banjo or strums his guitar and decries factory farms and our mass-produced culture without sounding overly preachy. He sticks to praising the work humans do with their hands, blood, sweat, and tears.


7. Supersonic Piss – Supersonic Piss (a/k/a Umbilical Noose, a/k/a This Shit’s S/T) (Rotten Teeth Recordings)

If you’ve only seen Supersonic Piss live, you might think that songwriting is the last thing on their mind. However, their debut, self-titled full-length also highlights a pretty deft hand at crafting dirty (both in content and composition) punk/hardcore ditties. You should catch ‘em on your headphones and live around town.


8. Samuel Locke Ward / Toby Goodshank (Slumber Party Records/Chthonic Records)

Iowa City’s Samuel Locke Ward and Brooklyn’s Toby Goodshank (Moldy Peaches) each take a side of a 7”. Goodshank spends his 3.5” soaking up the sun and Locke Ward takes aim at middle class complacency and pokes fun at suburban despair. Quite a lot of territory for less than eight minutes.


9. Brooks Strause – My Foreign Right Hand (Very Nice Dementia Records)

Brooks Strause’s latest is a gypsy’s tour through genres: folk, blues, Eastern European dance, even dipping his toes into surf-rock. All the horns, accordions, backing vocalists and sundry other contributors are all corralled into marvelous order by Strause’s husky croaks and growls. It’s a truly admirable feet to wrangle so many disparate styles into one album.


10. Ryan Garbes – Sweet Hassle (Hello Sunshine/Woodsist)

Ryan Garbes (Wet Hair, ex-Raccoo-oo-oon) has been quietly crafting melting, shifting symphonies of lo-fi psychedelic tunes for years now; he may have hit his stride with Sweet Hassle. While everything still comes a little rough around the edges, Garbes’ latest is probably his most sumptuous and fully composed.