I guess it's official, former Raleigh resident Justin Vernon/Bon Iver has arrived in the mainstream. Forget winning the best-new-artist Grammy, that's nothing compared to the pop-culture immortality that only a "Saturday Night Live" parody can produce (and skewered by Justin Timberlake, no less). Congrats!
My Cat From Hell (8pm, Animal Planet) - Jackson Galaxy helps a woman whose cat attacks her roommate every chance it gets. I say, maybe the cat knows something she doesn't know. Also, some newlyweds move into a new house and then their cats suddenly no longer get along.
NFL Honors (9pm, NBC) - In advance of this weekend's Super Bowl, the NFL salutes its top players and plays in Indianapolis. Host Alec Baldwin is joined by celebrities and NFL stars, and awards are presented to NFL MVP, Coach of the Year, and the Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Pit Boss (9pm, Animal Planet) - The rescue of a severely abused pit bull turns dangerous for Shorty and Sebastian when the dog is frightened.
Saturday Night Live (11:29pm, NBC) - Channing Tatum hosts. Despite that fact, I will tune in for the musical guest Bon Iver.
Austin City Limits (Midnight, UNC-TV) - Wilco performs from their 2011 album "The Whole Love."
In this age of on-demand micro-niches, the consensus implied by year-end top-10 lists is truly a thing of the past. The very idea of "albums" seems pretty dated, too. And yet good ones are still coming out all the time, albums that hold up as complete listening experiences. Here are the 10 that I found myself returning to most often during 2011, most (but not all) of them far from the charts.
(1) Wilco, "The Whole Love" (dBpm) -- Proof that clean and sober does not necessarily equate to dull. Thanks to Jeff Tweedy's anguished yelp, "The Whole Love" courses with a tension that does not release until the epic closer, "One Sunday Morning," which is as pretty and hopeful as a sunrise.
(2) Bon Iver, "Bon Iver" (Jagjaguwar) -- Who knew that Justin Vernon had a musical crush on Bruce Hornsby? Vernon's second full-length as Bon Iver follows up his debut's rustic folk with the sort of lush synthesizer ambience that was topping the charts 25 years ago, without sounding the least bit musty.
(3) Gillian Welch, "The Harrow & The Harvest" (Acony) -- How Welch and David Rawlings get so much out of so little remains one of the wonders of our time. This is just voice and acoustic guitars, yet it somehow conjures up vast and deep galaxies of feelings and images.
(4) The War on Drugs, "Slave Ambient" (Secretly Canadian) -- Where Bon Iver uses technology to evoke crystalline frigidity, Adam Granduciel conjures up something far warmer with The War on Drugs. "Slave Ambient" sounds like a combination of Bob Dylan and Tangerine Dream, and it's brilliant.
(5) Youth Lagoon, "The Year of Hibernation" (Fat Possum) -- In a similar vein is Youth Lagoon, nom de plume of Trevor Powers, a young man from Idaho who makes dreamy bedroom pop. It sounds impossibly far away until you realize it has wormed its way into your heart.
(6) Black Keys, "El Camino" (Nonesuch) -- Beck hasn't been heard from in a couple of years, but this Ohio garage-rock duo fills in for him admirably. "El Camino" stands as a very tasty junk-culture pastiche that's more pop than blues, but it's still plenty of both.
(7) Megafaun, "Megafaun" (Hometapes) -- So much popular music can seem like a huge dead end. But in the capable hands of this Triangle trio, it's a living, breathing thing on their third album -- a sprawling, weird and wonderful folk-rock concoction.
(8) Wye Oak, "Civilian" (Merge) -- Take the earnestness of revivalist folk, add a bit of electronic texture and guitar wizardry, turn the seriousness way up and add a chewy pop center of catchiness. Presto, you've got the latest from this Baltimore duo. The best album Durham-based Merge Records put out this year, and that's saying something.
(9) Smoke Fairies, "Through Low Light and Trees" (year 7) -- This British twosome is aptly named, in that their music evokes misty mountains cloaked with the forest primeval. You half expect King Arthur himself to come riding up.
(10) Tom Waits, "Bad as Me" (Anti-) -- Waits' albums all sound like he's cut out a small piece of himself and set it to deep, primitive blues. "Bad as Me" is no exception and it's not an easy listen -- but it is an effective one, heavy on the bangs and clangs. There's still no one better at always sounding exactly like himself.
For the second straight year, an act with Triangle connections will be center-stage at next February's Grammy Awards. Where it was Arcade Fire this past year, next year it will be Bon Iver -- whose frontman Justin Vernon used to call Raleigh home.
Bon Iver scored nominations in the prestigious record and song of the year categories for "Holocene," a track from the group's eponymous 2011 album. That was part of a four-nomination haul including best alternative album and even best new artist.
The latter category is odd because "Bon Iver" was the group's third release -- and its first two both made the top half of the Billboard 200 album sales charts. One of the other best-new-artist nominees also has North Carolina connections, Fayetteville rapper J. Cole, nominated on the strength of his chart-topping album "Cole World: The Sideline Story."
Industry observer Sean Ross, executive editor of the Ross On Radio newsletter, cites Nicki Minaj as this year's worthiest best-new-artist nominee. But he predicts that Minaj won't win because she and J. Cole "will cancel each other out," which might allow Bon Iver to sneak in there the way Arcade Fire did for album of the year back in February.
"Then it's Bon Iver's people-who-propelled-Arcade-Fire vote versus The Band Perry's combination mainstream-audience vote and the never-insigificant 'I don't really follow new music but I hear they're good' vote," Ross said.
The nominations were announced Wednesday night at a Grammy concert at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the awards will be presented Feb. 12. As expected, Adele's top-selling "21" album led the field with six nominations. Bruno Mars, Mumford & Sons, Rihanna and Lady Gaga all picked up multiple nominations in the major categories, too.
As for other nominations of North Carolina interest:
Eric Church, an Appalachian State alumnus from Granite Falls, was nominated for best country album, up against a field including Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and Jason Aldean.
North Carolina School of the Arts alumnus Jim Lauderdale, a two-time winner in past years, earned a nomination for best bluegrass album -- and also appears on a Tom T. Hall tribute album nominated for best children's album. Among Lauderdale's competition in the bluegrass category will be Brevard's Steep Canyon Rangers, sharing a nomination with comedian/banjo player Steve Martin.
Asheville guitarist Warren Haynes, a veteran of Gov't Mule and Allman Brothers, was nominated for best blues album.
Durham-based Merge Records, which captured last year's best-album Grammy with Arcade Fire, picked up a best-recording-package nomination for the expanded deluxe version of the same album. Zooey Deschanel, who records with M. Ward as the Merge duo She & Him, was also nominated in best song written for visual media, for the "Winnie the Pooh" song "So Long."
Marsalis Music, the label of Durham jazzman Branford Marsalis, scored in the category of best large jazz ensemble album for "Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook."
Levon Helm's live album "Ramble at the Ryman," nominated for best Americana album, includes "Anna Lee," written by Greensboro's Laurelyn Dossett. That song has already been on one Grammy-winning album, Helm's "Dirt Farmer," which won best tradtional folk album in 2008.
ADDENDUM: Another nominee with local connections is recording engineer Miles Walker, who grew up in Raleigh and mostly works out of Atlanta. Walker engineered records that scored a total of eight nominations, including hits by Rhianna, Katy Perry and Wiz Khalifa, sharing the nomination on two of them -- Rhianna's album-of-the-year nod for "Loud," and Perry's record-of-the-year nomination for "Firework."
SECOND ADDENDUM: I received a pretty detailed response about who does and does not qualify as a "new" artist in Grammyland from another industry pundit, former USA Today music editor Ken Barnes. I'm fascinated in wonky stuff like this, so I'm passing along the whole thing:
As a 25-year Grammy voter, I've watched the definition of a new artist "evolve" from super-strict (one prior guest appearance on someone else's album disqualified Whitney Houston from new-artist consideration in the '80s) to the current, almost-anything-goes guidelines.
It's basically a wording problem at this point; if the category were called "best emerging artist" or "breakthrough artist" or something like that, it wouldn't be such a communications problem. Basically what the Grammys try to do is establish whether, with a particular album, an artist has achieved a breakthrough to the general public. If Bon Iver was considered a critical/indie/minority-taste hit prior to this record, then the Grammys would declare them eligible. If the Academy felt a breakthrough had occurred with a previous record, based on sales, airplay, critical acclaim, buzz, mass acceptance, etc., then no.
With only rather generally worded guidelines, it's always dicey, and standards tend to waffle. So there's always one or two "new artists" that stick in journalists' craws, for good reason.
This week brings a couple of very fine show announcements. First up is Bon Iver, the group led by former Raleigh resident Justin Vernon, who will play the Downtown Raleigh Amphitheater with Rosebuds on July 29 -- a bill you could call Friends of Megafaun. Vernon used to play with the three members of Megafaun in DeYarmond Edison (and he was in on their Sounds of the South project last fall); and Megafaun's Brad Cook is a sometime member of Rosebuds as bassist. Tickets go on sale Friday.
Over at Durham Performing Arts Center, meanwhile, Steve Earle has been announced for Sept. 17. Earle played solo and mostly did Townes Van Zandt songs on his last Triangle show. But this time, he'll bring in a band featuring his wife, Allison Moorer. Tickets go on sale June 3.
Outlaw (8pm, NBC) - NBC was supposed to show this doomed Jimmy Smits drama last Saturday at 8pm, but locally, it aired at 3:30am instead. What's up with that, NBC-17? If things go as they should tonight, you can see Garza and his crew take on the case of an orphan who is denied an organ transplant. Elizabeth Pena guest stars.
Runaway (8pm, BET, MTV) - Kanye West debuts his 35-minute "Runaway" short film, about a Phoenix-like character who falls to earth and is rescued by Kanye. According to Spin magazine, the film has fireballs, sports cars, sheep, a Michael Jackson statue, a Scottish marching band, and Nicki Minaj narrating in a British accent. It also features nine different songs, including a track by the band Bon Iver. Selita Eubanks stars.
Growing the Big One (9pm, Hallmark) - A new Hallmark movie starring Shannen Doherty as a Seattle DJ who leaves the city behind to tend to her recently deceased grandfather's farm, which he was in danger of losing to the bank. In order to pay off his debt and save the farm, she decides to enter a local pumpkin-growing contest. She teams up with a neighbor (Kavan Smith) to grow the pumpkin, but wouldn't you know it, love blooms as well.
Pit Boss (10pm, Animal Planet) - In the second season finale, Shorty is hurt during a dog rescue. Also, Ronald and Shorty argue over Ronald's shifting priorities, and Seb's relationship issues escalate.
Saturday Night Live (11:30pm, NBC) - Emma Stone is the host and the musical guest is Kings of Leon.
If you don't already have plans for the next two nights, I'd like to urge you to head over to Hayti in Durham for the "Sounds of the South" live-recording extravaganza with Megafaun and friends. Friday's opening night was truly special. The music was fantastic -- inventive rearrangements of venerable folk and gospel songs, done up as stately jazz and exuberant, house-shaking second-line funk straight out of New Orleans -- and the overall vibe even better.
Megafaun's Phil Cook is a guy who smiles a lot, and he was positively beaming onstage throughout the evening. That sense of joy was contagious. This is obviously a project that means a great deal to its participants, and they did a terrific job bringing this music to life in a new way. Fight the Big Bull and Sharon Van Etten were both extraordinary, and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon was a revelation -- a flat-out monster soul man, startlingly and ridiculously great. Plus they closed with an encore surprise that was very cool; I won't give it away.
I can't wait to hear the recordings. So if you're on the fence, go. You won't regret it. For more on the project, see this preview from Friday's paper.
This year has seen a ton of fantastic local records perfect for gift-giving -- just check the tags on this post for a few suggestions on acts to look for. And for further specifics, click here.
Meanwhile, the annual "alternative" musical gift guide is coming on Dec. 14. Check previous years' installments here.
Last time I spent a serious amount of time listening to Bon Iver (former Raleigh resident Justin Vernon's band), it was the dead of summer and they were playing outdoors on a hot August night. That's to say that, while immensely pleasant, it just didn't feel quite right.
But now that we've got some genuinely wintery air socked in around here, Bon Iver's crystalline "For Emma, Forever Ago" album is perfect cold-weather mood music. It sounds exactly like something you'd record during a solitary stretch in a snowbound cabin someplace.
Here, give a listen to a live version of my favorite song from the album, "Lump Sum."
ADDENDUM (1/7/09): The New Yorker weighs in.
Friday night's Wilco concert in Cary began with a fine opening set by Bon Iver, the band led by former local Justin Vernon, rocking up the quiet and lovely songs from Bon Iver's gorgeous debut album. Onstage, Vernon didn't refer directly to his time living in the Triangle. But he did give a shout-out to an old pal here during the set-up to the one cover he played -- a Talk Talk song that Vernon said he was introduced to by his friend "Phil."
That was Phil Cook, who used to play with Vernon in DeYarmond Edison (and who is now one-third of Megafaun). I saw Cook in the crowd afterward; told him that I never would have pegged him for a fan of Talk Talk, an arty new-wave band known for chilly electronic atmospherics.
"Oh, dude, I love Talk Talk!" Cook enthused. "'Spirit of Eden,' what a great album!"
As for Friday's headliner, here's the review of Wilco's set -- fabulous as always.