So This Is the New Year
11 Reasons to Love 2011

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that (apparently) never ends.

As many of you know, I had originally intended to write Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. for 10 years, and see how it went. Well, it’s gone very well, I think. I’ve met a lot of terrific people, turned people on to great music, and got turned on to some amazing stuff myself. As an experiment in musical diary entry, I’ve been happy with the way this has turned out.

So here we are, kicking off Year Eleven. I plan to do some new things this year, including semi-regular podcasts, for those of you who are just dying to hear me babble on about music. I enjoyed the live Twitter reviews last year, so I’m game for more of them this year. I really fell off the blogging train last year, so I’m hoping to climb back aboard. And I would really like to expand the reach of this column, and get it in the (metaphorical, digital) hands of more people, so I’m exploring a couple of avenues in that direction too.

But the core of this thing will always be the weekly column, my chance to talk to you directly about the music I’ve loved, loathed and stumbled upon in the preceding seven days. Even a decade in, I still love writing this column, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving music, or trying to hear as much of it as I can. So why stop now? The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades, baby.

And yeah, there’s a lot of terrible music out there, but there’s also a lot of great stuff if you know where to look. I’m happy to be the guy who nudges you toward the unseen, unsung musicians I’ve found, and I’m more than glad to hear about it when you find some as well. You can always get me through the email link to your left (or, and connect with me on Facebook ( and Twitter (@tm3am).

Longtime readers know this, but if you’re looking for pessimism and anger over the state of music, you’re (usually) in the wrong place. TM3AM is meant to be a chronicle of musical enjoyment, and the best ones, in my opinion, are the ones written with breathless excitement, like I just had to tell everyone I know about this amazing, life-changing experience I’ve just had. Good music does that to me, still, and TM3AM is my way of trying to convey that feeling in words. It won’t always be like that, but when it can, it will.

So I’m always looking forward, always optimistic about what’s to come. 2010 was a year that rewarded my faith – so many good records by artists new and old. Will 2011 be the same way? I don’t know, but there are plenty of reasons to believe it will. Here, as a way of welcoming in the new year, are 11 of them, 11 musical reasons to love 2011:

1. The Decemberists, The King is Dead.

Two years ago, the Decemberists made their best record, a continuous hour-long fable called The Hazards of Love. But you can only commit yourself to progressive suites for so long (unless you’re Dream Theater). That’s why Portland, Oregon’s favorite sons have stripped back for their new one, writing 10 short, folksy songs and playing them with straightforward grace. It’s tempting to consider The King is Dead a backslide after the majesty of Hazards, but there’s power in these simple songs, and it’s an album that I expect will grow in stature with each new play. It’s out January 18, but you can hear the whole thing now at NPR here.

2. Iron and Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean.

Listening to the first few snatches of Iron and Wine’s fourth album, it’s hard to believe this project started out with just Sam Beam and a guitar. The new songs are huge, layered affairs, some reportedly featuring blaring saxophones and DJ scratching. Is there a point where the concept grows too large? Has Beam rocketed past that point? Will this album be another winner, or a classic case of too much sound and fury? I’m excited to find out. Kiss Each Other Clean hits stores one week after the Decemberists, on January 25.

3. Teddy Thompson, Bella.

Richard Thompson’s son is a fine songwriter in his own right, and unless his fifth solo album is an ode to the main character of Twilight, I expect it will continue the tradition. This album was supposed to come out last year, and has bounced around the schedule (it’s currently slated for February 8), but Thompson’s country-tinged folk is usually worth the wait.

4. Bright Eyes, The People’s Key.

Even for longtime fans, the evolution of Conor Oberst has been something to behold. Once a too-precious bedroom-folk emoting machine, Oberst has grown into a songwriter and record-maker of remarkable force. After a pair of terrific, shambling solo records and a collaboration with the Monsters of Folk, Oberst has resurrected his Bright Eyes moniker for 10 more songs. Given his rapid growth rate, they should be songs worth hearing, again and again. The People’s Key is out February 15.

5. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake.

Every time Polly Jean Harvey releases something, it ought to be an event. She’s an artist with a stunning breadth, as she showed last time out with 2007’s skin-crawling White Chalk. (She also collaborated with John Parish on A Woman a Man Walked By in 2009, with great success.) Let England Shake is supposedly a return to the raw, melodic power of earlier records, and that alone has me excited to hear it. That’s out the same day as Bright Eyes, making February 15 a banner day in my book. (Also out that day: The Dears, Drive-By Truckers, Telekinesis, and Mogwai, who have come up with my favorite album title of the year so far: Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.)

6. Eisley, The Valley.

It’s been a rough road for the family DuPree. This, their third album, was meant to be out some time ago, but has been caught up in record label red tape. After hearing Eisley play some of the songs from this at Cornerstone last year, I’m itching to hear this record. Their penchant for driving, melodic singalongs with outstanding harmonies has not failed them. The Valley is supposed to be out on March 1. I’ll believe it when I hear it, which I hope I do very soon.

7. Bruce Cockburn, Small Sense of Comfort.

A new Bruce Cockburn is always cause for celebration. It’s been five years since Life Short Call Now, which was a mediocre effort. (Well, mediocre for Cockburn. It would have been the best album many other artists had ever made.) I don’t yet know anything about Small Sense of Comfort. Well, I know two things. It’s a new album by Bruce Cockburn, and it’s out on March 8. And after Bruce has spent more than 40 years producing some of my favorite music ever, I don’t think I need to know anything else.

8. R.E.M., Collapse Into Now.

I spent a decade dutifully buying less-than-stellar R.E.M. albums, just because I’m a fan. (Remember Around the Sun? Yeah, I’m trying to forget, too.) But with 2008’s Accelerate, the Georgia trio revived my love for them. Here was the band I remember from my youth, the band that could breathe fire at a moment’s notice, the band that wrote some of the best songs of the 1980s. Collapse Into Now is the second album of the rebirth, in a way, and it has a lot riding on it. I confess I haven’t been bowled over by the three songs I’ve heard, and that guest list (including Eddie Vedder, Peaches and Patti Smith) has me concerned. But I still have hope. Collapse Into Now is out March 8 as well.

9. Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What.

Like Cockburn, Paul Simon’s been away for five years. His last record, Surprise, was a startling and delightful collaboration with Brian Eno that found him rapping (at age 60) and trying out all manner of electronic beats and textures. Simon is one of the very few artists who manages to flip his story each time out, and I never know what he’s going to try next. The goofy leadoff track from So Beautiful, “Ready for Christmas Day,” isn’t a knockout, but the record is expected to sport a bluegrass influence, something Simon’s never dabbled in. His gift for lyrics, I expect, will remain undiminished as well. This is the most distant point on my new release calendar – it’s scheduled for April 12.

10. Quiet Company’s third album.

And now we’re into the albums without firm release dates, and there’s none I’m more jazzed to hear than this one. Taylor Muse is, to my mind, the best new songwriter I’ve heard in many years, and he promises an epic monster of an album. The two songs I’ve heard (with the suitably epic titles “Preaching to the Choir Invisible Part One” and “…Part Two”) bear him out. QuietCo is a band everyone should hear, and in my experience, everyone who does hear them ends up falling in love. I expect greatness, and you can expect to hear a lot from me about this album in 2011. Go here. Update from Muse: the album is called We Are All Where We Belong.

11. David Mead, Dudes.

And this is the most speculative of the bunch, since I don’t know whether it’ll be out in 2011, but I hope so. David Mead is one of the best songwriters no one knows, and he’s made album after album of superb, shimmering pop music. He’s gone direct to the fans for Dudes, funding it through – he raised 20,000 through donations, and is in the midst of laying down tracks now. Kickstarter is the best thing to happen to independent music in years, and I’m glad Mead made it work for him. And I’m very excited to hear Dudes, an album that reportedly includes songs with titles like “The Smile of Rachael Ray” and “The National Conference for Sales Managers.” David Mead lightens up? That’d be awesome.

And there you have it. There’s more, much more, including the potential return of Daniel Amos, a triple-disc album from the Violet Burning, and new things from Cut Copy, Trail of Dead, Danger Mouse, Corinne Bailey Rae, Danielson and Ray Davies, all in the first three months. It’s a great time to be a music fan.

Next week, we dive in with the Decemberists, White Lies and Amanda Palmer. Year Eleven, everyone. Strap in, here we go.

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See you in line Tuesday morning.