Dec 2, 2013

2012 Year In Review Part III: The Songs

I can't even begin to explain why it took me nearly six months to follow up on part II, but let me just say that 2013 will be a year I'm glad to see the back of. Before I start my 2013 lists, better get these lists from 2012 posted. Here are the 100 songs that made my 2012.

100. "Ode to Viceroy" - Mac DeMarco
99. "Little Talks" - Of Monsters and Men
98. "Comeback Kid" - Sleigh Bells
97. "Take A Walk" - Passion Pit
96. "Ride" - Lana Del Rey
95. "Bad Thing" - King Tuff
94. "Daughters" - Nas
93. "All of Me" - Tanlines
92. "We Can't Be Beat" - The Walkmen
91. "Gangnam Style" - PSY
90. "Oldie" - Odd Future
89. "No. 1 Against the Rush" - Liars
88. "When A Man Lies" - R. Kelly
87. "This Summer" - Superchunk
86. "Life's A Beach" - Django Django
85. "Baby" - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
84. "Luxury Problems" - Andy Stott
83. "Kiss Me Dudely" - Torche
82. "Pyramids" - Four Tet
81. "Love Interruption" - Jack White
80. "773-LOVE" - Jeremih
79. "Tell Me (What's On Your Mind)" - Allah-Las
78. "Destiny" - John Talabot f. Pional
77. "That's Why God Made the Radio" - The Beach Boys
76. "Turn on the Lights" - Future
75. "Open Your Heart" - The Men
74. "Sleeping Ute" - Grizzly Bear
73. "Breezeblocks" - Alt-J
72. "Wave Goodbye" - Ty Segall Band
71. "Losing You" - Solange
70. "The Descent" - Bob Mould
69. "My Love is Real" - Divine Fits
68. "Doom and Gloom" - The Rolling Stones
67. "Sixteen Saltines" - Jack White
66. "Size Meets the Sound" - Woods
65. "In A Big City" - Titus Andronicus
64. "Lord Knows" - Dum Dum Girls
63. "Oblivion" - Grimes
62 "Ramada Inn" - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
61. "Monoliths" - Lotus Plaza
60. "Interstellar" - Frankie Rose
59. "Cherokee (Nicolas Jaar Remix)" - Cat Power
58. "Beautiful Son" - Peaking Lights
57. "Werkin' Girls" - Angel Haze
56. "Thinking About You" - Frank Ocean
55. "Brains" - Lower Dens
54. "Would That Not Be Nice" - Divine Fits
53. "Untouchable" - Anathema
52. "Hey Jane" - Spiritualized
51. "Locked Out of Heaven" - Bruno Mars
50. "Every Single Night" - Fiona Apple
49. "Under the Westway" - Blur
48. "Bandz A Make Her Dance" - Juicy J f. 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne
47. "Elephant" - Tame Impala
46. "Genesis" - Grimes
45. "Cry For Judas" - The Mountain Goats
44. "Disparate Youth" - Santigold
43. "Do You" - Miguel
42. "Hot Knife" - Fiona Apple
41. "The Full Retard" - El-P
40. "I Don't Like" - Chief Keef f. Lil Reese
39. "Cleaning Out My Closet" - Angel Haze
38. "Goldie" - A$AP Rocky
37. "Swimming Pools (Drank)" - Kendrick Lamar
36. "Angels" - The xx
35. "All Gold Everything" - Trinidad James
34. "Kill For Love" - Chromatics
33. "Big Beast" - Killer Mike f. Bun B, T.I. & Trouble
32. "Everything is Embarrassing" - Sky Ferreira
31. "New God Flow" - Pusha T f. Kanye West & Ghostface Killah
30. "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" - Father John Misty
29. "Aaliyah" - Katy B f. Geeneus & Jessie Ware
28. "I Knew You Were Trouble" - Taylor Swift
27. "Laura" - Bat For Lashes
26. "Myth" - Beach House
25. "Pyramids" - Frank Ocean
24. "I've Seen Footage" - Death Grips
23. "Stay Useless" - Cloud Nothings
22. "110%"/"If You're Never Gonna Move Me" - Jessie Ware
21. "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" - Tame Impala
20. "Same Damn Time" - Future
19. "Lupine Dominus" - Thee Oh Sees
18. "212" - Azelia Banks
17. "Skyfall" - Adele
16. "Beez in the Trap" - Nicki Minaj f. 2 Chainz
15. "Simple Song" - The Shins
14. "Reagan" - Killer Mike
13. "Wildest Moments" - Jessie Ware
12. "Hold On" - Alabama Shakes
11. "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" - Taylor Swift

10. "Bad Girls" - M.I.A.
Unfortunately this song was quickly overshadowed by the stupid "controversy" surrounding M.I.A.'s Super Bowl appearance by Madonna, something that killed the momentum for a song that deserved to be as omnipresent and inescapable as "Paper Planes" was a few years prior. This proved a few things to the world - 1) no, Maya was not creatively bankrupt in the least and, more importantly, 2) she is worth more attention than the aging star she upstaged during halftime. Oh, and the video is supremely badass.

9. "Five Seconds" - Twin Shadow
I typically don't have a whole lot of patience for hispter'n'b or whatever the genre is called this month, but this song had the kind of huge, insistent hook that is impossible to ignore and even more difficult to hate. In a perfect world, this would have been just as much a staple of summer 2012 as Carly Rae and PSY were.

8. "Inspector Norse" - Todd Terje
Todd Terje has been quietly (or not so quietly, depending on how close you are to the dance music scene in general) excellent tracks over the past decade, but this one is the first to really give me fits, in the best possible way. It's a hypnotic slice of space disco noir, as if such a genre wasn't already perfect for Terje's work. My only regret is that I'm not more of a club going guy, this would have been fantastic to hear on a night out.

7. "I Love It" - Icona Pop
Yeah, I'll admit it, I absolutely hated this song when I first heard it. It felt like the worst kind of flash-in-the-pan pop hit, anchoring an earworm hook to "edgy" lyrics and an insistent beat. Except, well, it was definitely all of that, but also great. I started to not mind it, but I was finally won over during a night out dancing with friends. Sometimes it just takes that kind of venue change to make a song click. I'm glad it did, but I'll also be just fine if I don't hear it again.

6. "The House That Heaven Built" - Japandroids
This was a no brainer, really. I had this pegged for some sort of year-end list from the moment I first heard it, one of the most immediate and joyful anthems on an album full of immediate and joyful anthems. Like the Husker Du song that it cribs its title from, this is a sprightly rock song that relies as much on classic rock tradition as it does punk spirit. If the joy of discovering rock music could be distilled into a single song, this would be pretty damn close.

5. "Some Nights" - fun.
This is another song that I wasn't entirely sold on at first, but slowly won me over anyway. It wasn't an immediate change of heart like "I Love It" was, instead I slowly eased my grip on hating it and realized it was actually kind of great. The whole thing of fun. becoming a hugely popular band was weird for me, since I'd already knew them from their first album, Aim and Ignite, and, more meaningfully to me, from Nate Ruess' previous band, The Format. I never would've have pegged these guys for Top 10 success, but I'm glad they found it. I liked how this song took the insular navel-gazing of emo and turned it on its head, this became a backwards anthem of sorts, made more meaningful if you bothered to read into the lyrics at all.

4. "Mercy" - Kanye West f. Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz
While the whole G.O.O.D. Music compilation album thing pretty much tanked (why, oh why did he feel the need to completely destroy "I Don't Like"???), I'm glad there was some gold to be salvaged from the mess. This was easily the highlight of not only the album, but of a year that was sorely lacking in the huge hip-hop anthem department. It certainly helps that everyone involved brought their A game, not just the rappers but the production team as well (Lifted, Kanye, Mike Will, Mike Dean, Hudson Mohawke).

3. "Call Me Maybe" - Carly Rae Jepsen
This one was kind of inevitable too, I unabashedly loved this from the first time I heard it. There was just something about the unabashed pop heights it was aiming for that made it easy for me to root for. Carly's delivery was perfectly suited to the mood of the song, coy and playful, and the sprightly production was absolutely pitch perfect. This song is up there with "Toxic", "Since U Been Gone", and "Sugar, We're Going Down" as essential pop tunes that I will never tire of.

2. "Adorn" - Miguel
I was a latecomer to Miguel, there was little I heard about his first album that inspired me to want to check it out, but I was certainly aware of all the buzz. But then I started hearing the buzz intensify around the lead single to his second album, Kaleidoscope Dream, and read the comparisons to lofty icons like Prince and Marvin Gaye. Come on. But, yeah, totally accurate. This is one of the all-time slow jams and I can't see how anyone was able to withstand it's charms. I just hope Miguel can continue to live up to the high watermark he set for himself.

1. "Bad Religion" - Frank Ocean
Picking my number one this year was really tough. At any given time, I could have legitimately made a case for any of the songs appearing in my top four. But when it all came down to it, I had to go with the song that moved me the most and connected on a fairly deep level. Coming as it does three-quarters of the way through his stellar album, Channel Orange, Frank Ocean already had me won over and I was simply not expecting this moving of a track to disarm me as it did. But, wow. Even if we hadn't had the coming-out story to lift the narrative into real life meaning, it was still one hell of a song. The backseat taxicab confession not only had the ring of truth, but the tenor of pain that pop songs aren't always able to express - no matter how eloquently they may be worded. If you look up the lyrics to this song, there are deceptively few words used, but Ocean injects them with so much feeling that you can't help but empathize. No other song this year brought literal tears to my eyes.

Jun 26, 2013

2012 Year In Review Part II: The EPs, The Reissues/Comps, The Live

As we continue on with the look back at 2012, I've decided to do things slightly different for this portion this time. Instead of just breaking it into EPs and other non-album items, I've pulled out a third category to cover my favorite live releases of the past year. Without further ado...

The Top Ten EPs of 2012:

1. Dawn Richard - Armor On (Our Dawn)
Dawn Richard was already on my radar thanks to her work on the still criminally underrated Diddy Dirty Money record, Last Train To Paris. But in the intervening years she's really revealed herself as her own unique voice in the R&B world. This EP, if you can call something 45 minutes long an EP, was the introduction to her Goldenheart trilogy, but to date I think it's her most cohesive statement. Just full of her own sound that is truly unique and worlds away from what the Rihanna's of the world are doing now.

2. Azelia Banks - 1991 (Interscope)
Because we really needed a hip house resurgence, seriously. But whatever the genre tag you wanna give her, Azelia is a true talent to watch out for. "212", justifiably, got the most buzz, but each of the four tracks on here is a winner. I can't wait to hear her full-length.

3. Katy B - Danger EP (Columbia)
Her debut album snuck up on me in the end, I found it to be a lot more engrossing and varied than I had initially thought. Even more surprising was the way this EP snuck out into the world and unleashed "Aaliyah" on an unsuspecting public. Easily her best song yet and proof that she's only getting started. The other three songs are interesting diversions on her sound, but "Aaliyah" on its own was enough to catapult this EP to my top 5.

4. Dum Dum Girls - End of Daze (Sub Pop)
These girls aren't only perfecting their fuzzy take on girl-pop, but they're pretty much perfecting the art of the EP. Their 2011 EP topped my list that year and this one is nearly as good. Three songs were, perfectly great, outtakes from Only In Dreams, but it is the Strawberry Switchblade cover that won me over.

5. Inverloch - Dusk/Subside (Relapse)
Or the newest project from Paul and Matthew from the legendary Disembowelment, actually Inverloch started out as a vehicle to just cover Disembowelment songs. Thankfully they kept on and released their own material, even if it amounts to only a short EP thus far. They've got their own, surprisingly varied take on doom, but it still ties into the blunt force trauma of the parent band. I can't wait for a full-length.

6. Blues Pills - Bliss (Crusher)
This is one of the band's I discovered by trawling through all of those stoner rock blogs out there, though Blues Pills rocks more of a 70s hard rock sound than anything else. It's a great one though and I think they've got big things ahead of them.

7. Todd Terje - It's the Arps (Smalltown Supersound)
"Inspector Norse" made quite a stir on the internet, but I found the whole EP to be quite a thrill. It's more of that space-disco kind of stuff that guys like Prins Thomas and Lindstrom do so well, but with a more grounded take.

8. Melvins - The Bulls and The Bees (Scion A/V)

People want to complain about Scion bringing their commercial intents to metal, but I think they're actually pretty subtle and doing a lot of good for young bands. Not that the Melvins are remotely any sort of "young" anything, but its great to get a free EP from them, no matter the source. Even better is how damn good this is. They've been on one hell of a streak since the merge with Big Business and this is another five great tracks.

9. Craft Spells - Gallery (Captured Tracks)
Another result of my ongoing love affair with the Brooklyn label Captured Tracks, Craft Spells have a wonderfully retro dream-pop sound that proves even more effective in the limited doses of the EP format.

10. Burial - Kindred EP (Hyperdub)
It took me a long time to come around on this guy and, honestly, I think I prefer his material from the last few years over the super hyped early stuff. This EP in particular finally helped me realize how great he was, I love the unsettled feeling that creeps up my spine while listening.

The Top Ten Reissues/Compilations of 2012:
1. Can - The Lost Tapes (Spoon)
Of course a great band like this is going to have a great pile of studio scraps. Essential listening.

2. Blur - Blur 21 (Food/Virgin/Parlophone)
Nothing new, naturally, but a gorgeous package and a great way to get everything wrapped up at once.

3. The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness [Deluxe Reissue] (EMI)
Another gorgeous package, this time appending a lot more studio scraps to one of my all-time favorite albums.

4. Witch - We Intend To Cause Havoc! (Now Again)
A killer four-disc retrospective of an African zam-rock band that deserves to be worldwide huge. This makes for amazing listening.

5. My Bloody Valentine - Isn't Anything/Loveless/EPs 1988-1991 (Sony)
Cheating a bit here, but 2012 finally saw the release of the long-rumored reissued MBV albums and EPs collection. Great to have cleaned up copies of the two albums, but even better to have all the EPs collected for those of us that missed out on 'em the first time.

6. Causa Sui - Pewt'r Sessions 1-2 (El Paraiso)
7. feedtime. - The Aberrant Years (Sub Pop)
8. Kylesa - From the Vaults, Vol. 1 (Season of Mist)
9. Various Artists - Country Funk 1969-1975 (Light in the Attic)
10. Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band - One of My Kind (Team Love)

The Top Five Live Releases of 2012:
1. Swans - We Rose From Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head (Young God)
2. Phish - Chicago '94 (JEMP)
3. Sonic Youth - Smart Bar: Chicago 1985 (Goofin')
4. Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day (Atlantic/Swan Song)
5. Blur - Parklive (EMI/Parlophone)

Jun 25, 2013

2012 Year In Review Part I: The Introduction

Wow. I was giving myself grief for being so far behind with my 2011 wrap-up that I waited all the way until January 10th to start it. Well, look now and weep, oh me of January 2012. I didn't get around to starting my 2012 warp-up until damn near July! The usual excuses start in - work, kid, life, blah blah blah.

For me personally, 2012 was a pretty hectic year, but an enjoyable one. Hectic because we spent the latter part of the year house hunting and trying and re-trying to sell our old one. It all paid off in the end though, we were able to find a wonderful new house (though we didn't close on it and move in until January, so that one will have to wait for my 2013 wrap-up sometime in... oh, November of 2014). Anyway, work continued to be mostly fulfilling, if at times frustrating. Our firm interviewed for, and won, a rather significant renovation at my alma mater for which I'm the project manager. It's a feather in my cap, but also a maddening process at times. Working with higher education clients is a whole new ball game. But mostly 2012 was about watching our son grow and continue to amaze us at every turn. There's a lot of things I can say here about how wonderful being a father has been, but I'll save that for now. Suffice it to say, I didn't really realize how much love I was capable of having for a human being.

 Musically, well, 2013 was much like any other year. It seemed disappointing at stretches, but seemed to be overflowing with riches at others. It all depended on how much effort I was taking to hear new things. It's hard to pinpoint any easy, overarching trends in my 2012 listening, it seemed like I spent most of the year just wolfing down new stuff. I feel like I was just barely trying to keep my head above water with all of the interesting looking new releases pouring over me (a trend that, much as I may have hoped for otherwise, doesn't seem to have slowed down in 2013 as much as I'd like). I continued to really delve into metal, making lots of side-trips into the progressive end of things. I dug even deeper into stoner metal, a sub-genre that really seems to know how to use the internet to its advantage, with tons of blogs and tumblrs plowing through the detritus and pointing out the gems. I drifted even further away from hip-hop at the start of the year, but when I made the (much. much, much) belated realization that I'd be better off troweling the mixtape circuit for good, new stuff than waiting for pop radio to deliver me something worthwhile, I found a lot to enjoy.

A lot of my favorite artists offered up new albums to adore and cherish - Baroness, Converge, Neil Young, El-P, Neurosis and Pig Destroyer come immediately to mind. A few artists I'd mostly given up on came back to surprise me in a big way, I'm mostly looking at Fiona Apple, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Spiritualized here. Most notably, though, were the bands that came out of nowhere to really part my hair. Before 2012 began I couldn't have told you a thing about Goat, Author & Punisher, Horseback, or Aluk Todolo. But by December, I'd really spent a lot of time with each of them. I love it when that happens, even after all these years.

Anyway, the next several posts will help to (finally!) clear things out from 2012. But, before all that, a quick look back:  

Albums of the Year:
2003: Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
2004: Modest Mouse - Good News for People who Love Bad News
2005: Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
2006: Mastodon - Blood Mountain
2007: Battles - Mirrored
2008: Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
2009: The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
2010: Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
2011: Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

 Songs of the Year:
2003: "Hey Ya" - Outkast
2004: "Take Me Out" - Franz Ferdinand
2005: "Since U Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson
2006: "When You Were Young" - The Killers
2007: "Stronger" - Kanye West
2008: "Time To Pretend" - MGMT
2009: "My Girls" - Animal Collective
2010: "Fuck You" - Cee-Lo Green
2011: "Super Bass" - Nicki Minaj

Apr 15, 2013

Never Run Away

I missed this originally, but this is a pretty cute way to send a promo track out into the world. Anyway, this gives me the opportunity to talk about how amazing Kurt Vile's new record is. I was already really into this guy thanks to the tracks I checked out from Constant Hitmaker and Childish Prodigy (I believe "Freak Train" was the first song to hook me), but the excellent Smoke Ring For My Halo from 2011 elevated me to full-on fan status. And now, well, I think I just might cross the line into obsession soon, if my first couple of plays of Waking On A Pretty Daze are any indication. I think this record pulls together a lot of disparate strings in his discography, creating the sort of classic-rock inspired opus he was always bound to unleash. This sounds bigger and brighter than the early lo-fi stuff, but also a lot more "rocking" than the super laid-back Smoke Ring vibe. Don't get me wrong, Vile is still a super chill guy, as many of the lyrics will attest, but this finds him up off the couch and, however reluctantly, out in the world. One of things I love best is how relatable his lyrics are, even if they are barely the sober side of late-night stoner reflection, there's an existentialist depth that reveals Vile to be a much smarter guy than his detractors might want to acknowledge. But really, it all comes down to those killer, epic guitar jams. If you're already a fan of his work, you've no doubt already had this on repeat. If not, this would be a great place to start.

Apr 11, 2013

"Words and Guitar"

It's been a bit of a hectic week for me, so here's some vintage Sleater-Kinney for us.

Apr 10, 2013

Anticipating The Terror

For a band that I was ready to write off completely after 2006's messy, over-produced At War with the Mystics, the Flaming Lips have bounced back in a big way to regain their status as one of my favorite rock bands (despite Wayne Coyne's best efforts to convince me otherwise, I still think he's an asshole for that Erykah Badu thing). Anyway, Embryonic was a hugely exciting album for me, one that soundtracked some really difficult moments in my life and ended up as my album of the year for 2009. All of their "wacky" experiments since haven't really moved me one way or another, although I thought their take on Dark Side of the Moon with Stardeath and White Dwarfs was quite fun and there were enough moments on the Heady Fwends thing to keep it interesting. I had high hopes for this follow-up, but that Super Bowl commercial that featured "Sun Blows Up Today" had me afraid they'd slid back to their post-Yoshimi populist nadir. But, as it turns out, that isn't even really on the album proper and, judging from the four minute teaser video up top, there is little to worry about. The band is still definitively in a relatively "outre" period. It'll be tough to match, let alone top, Embryonic, but I'm encouraged to hear them try.

Apr 9, 2013

Ashley Monroe & an ex-Friend of Tom

It's rare that I seek out a new country album, but I couldn't pass up on something new from one-third of Pistol Annies without giving it a shot. And, damn, after hearing this one I'm fairly certain that I've been overrating Miranda Lambert's contributions to the team. Monroe trades in exactly the kind of country I like and, sadly, the kind I rarely hear when I flip the dial over to a modern country station. Hers is all down on your luck ballads and honky-tonk stompers, the kind that would've slotted in on playlists better in 1978 than they do today (particularly that fine duet with Blake Shelton - a guy I've never really given much shrift before). If you remain skeptical, give a listen to "Two Weeks Late", "Weed Instead of Roses", "You Got Me" or "You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter)" and be convinced.

Also, I'm glad for this weekend's very minor Twit-beef with a certain comedian for not only reminding me to spend more time on this blog, but for giving me more views than I've gotten in a long time. The whole thing was actually quite funny and unexpected. Comedian made a string of mostly unfunny jokes about easy targets that fell pretty far from his normally pretty hilarious wheelhouse and I called him out for them, never thinking in a million years that a comedian of his stature would even read, much less respond, to a lazy tweet from a guy with a whopping 55 followers. But I was wrong and, much like a disappointing number of people that spend a lot of time on social media, he quickly revealed himself to be surprisingly insecure and a bit of a bully. Not that he said anything particularly harsh, nor untrue, just thought it was funny to see a professional comedian taking time out of his life to make fun of a nobody like me. Ah, well. It was mostly disappointing because I've been a big, big fan of his radio show for nearly a decade now and I was excited for him because he seems to be on the verge of breaking through to a whole new level with some new projects he's been involved in. All in all it just serves as a reminder on two fronts; 1) Twitter isn't always just shouting into the void as it can feel for most users without thousands of followers, and 2) celebrities, no matter their stature or fanbase, are only human and, sometimes, disappointingly so.

Mar 7, 2013

February 2013 Albums

Trust, the best of 2012 stuff is coming. I have the list compiled, just need to scratch together the time to post it. Anyway, February of this year.

1. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) (KScope)
Well this was unexpected. I've sort of paid minimal attention to Steven Wilson and his main project, Porcupine Tree, over the years, knowing that he was a talented dude but knowing I was always mildly disappointed in his output. I had high hopes for Storm Corrosion last year, his project with Opeth's Michael Akerfeldt, but that turned out to be a boring slog. Anyway, his latest is easily his greatest project ever and one of the best flat-out prog records I've heard in years. This stands up there with the best of Genesis and Yes. Seriously.

2. My Bloody Valentine - m b v (Pickpocket)
Speaking of unexpected, the internet was thrown into a tizzy the first week of March when this album was released and, in very short order, actually released! Even more surprising was how well it actually stood up to 22 years worth of expectations. Nicely divided into three suites of three tracks each, this picked up right where Loveless left off, but then saw MBV flowing off into some unexpected new directions, influenced by drum and bass and techno (really).

3. Portal - Vexovoid (Profound Lore)
This one was unexpected too, but more because I just wasn't prepared for how outstanding this was. I'd known of Portal, but never heard them until this album came out on the always impressive and forward-thinking Profound Lore label. At first this sounds like an indistinguishable mass of noise, but close listening rewards with glimpses to the madness beneath the mayhem - wicked riffs, surprising melody, and loads of Lovecraftian horror. These guys are pushing the death metal envelope into the world of noise rock and coming through the other side, unhinged.

4. Endless Boogie - Long Island (No Quarter)
One of the most appropriately named bands in the land drops another 800 pound, 80-minute monster chock full of neverending guitar jams that latch on to some super grooves. Along for the ride this time is the criminally underappreciated Matt Sweeney (Chavez, Zwan, Superwolf) who ably trades wicked guitar lines with the other two dudes. As hairy and heavy as the beast on the cover.

5. Atoms for Peace - Amok (XL)
I had pretty low expectations for a Thom Yorke side project that included Flea, but I massively underestimated what they had in store. The glitchy pop you might expect, given latter day Radiohead, is present in spades, but the surprising part is how lively this group makes it all sound. Nigel Godrich and Yorke create the atmosphere with their guitars and synths, but Flea is the one adding an organic heart to the machine with some wonderful bass lines that aren't flashy or showy in the least.

6. Psychic Ills - One Track Mind (Sacred Bones)
These guys continue their mind-altering trip, this time following their muse (and Neil Hagerty!) out into the deserts somewhere west of Joshua Tree. Out where their psych jams meet up with Spiritualized and latter day Jesus and Mary Chain in a surprisingly effective high desert stoner sound. Hard to believe this is the same band that made Dins, but also hard to believe how well this new focus works.

7. Foals - Holy Fire (Transgressive)
I've always been an admirer of these dudes, from the twisted math-rock of their debut and into the more widescreen focus of 2011's Total Life Forever. On their third outing, they keep the wide expanse of sound, but add a surprising amount of (very effective!) funk. It feels like it shouldn't work, but it really does. I'm fearful this one will go underappreciated on this side of the Atlantic, again.

8. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse (Atlantic)
It's been so weird tracing the arc that this band has taken, going from the humble, masked band indie pop band they started out as to freaking major label signees. And, good on them, especially if it means records this damned engaging. Lead singer Scott Hutchison delves even deeper into his twisted psyche, taking us on a guided tour through neuroses and the unkind side of man. His greatest trick though? Marrying his twisted lyrics to some absolutely engaging music. Not an easy feat.

9. Pissed Jeans - Honeys (Sub Pop)
I've always been impressed by these off-kilter noise rockers, but this just might be their tightest and most concise records yet. Gone are the creepy inner monologue spoken word tracks, filled in with even more of the AmRep noise rock rounded out by surprisingly existential (and still oft hilarious) lyrics. This is the record they've been building to all along.

10. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed)
I'm a relative newcomer to Nick Cave's catalog, so that may be why I seem to be taking to this record a lot more than his longtime fans. But after Dig Lazarus Dig and the Grinderman project, I'm loving the more subdued and introspective mood. The grander the ambition though, like on "Jubilee Street" or "Higgs Boson Blues", the more I like it.

Feb 13, 2013

January 2013 Albums

It has been radio silence over here for far, far too long. I aim to change that, post-haste. Coming soon will be my 2012 run-down, you didn't really think I'd skip a year didja? But, patience for that. Until then, here's a breakdown of ten January 2013 albums I really loved.

1. Yo La Tengo - Fade (Matador)
This one surprised me quite a bit, YLT trims the fat and releases one of their tightest, most consistent albums in years. Bringing in Tortoise's John McEntire to helm the boards was a masterstroke, his touches are subtle but enough to breathe life into these 10 tunes. The book-end "epics" are justifiably getting a lot of attention, but the sweet ("Is That Enough") and the playful ("Two Trains") are the not-so-secret heart of their best album in years.

2. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold (What's Your Rupture?)
From 90s stalwarts to a band that just sounds like they should've been 90s stalwarts. The name-checking is easy with these guys - Pavement, Wire, The Fall, Yummy Fur - but less easy is figuring out exactly how they managed to swirl it all into such an engaging, original creation. They play the coy, slacking stoners well, but they're much smarter than that. A great early year surprise.

3. Widowspeak - Almanac (Captured Tracks)
Another surprise, though I already had this duo on my radar. But with their second album they live up to the title by swirling all sorts of American music influences (folk, girl-group pop, indie rock, blues) and idioms into one tidy package. The cover may make you think this is all old-timey "folk" ala Mumford & Sons, but this is quite a bit more interesting than all that - as any one of the electric guitar lines will tell you.

4. The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law (Atlantic)
I had really high hopes for this band's latest album and, although they didn't quite live up to them, this is still good enough to keep these guys as my favorite alt-rock band going right now (not that there is a lot of tough competition... but still). Anyway, this is filled to the brim with alt-rock gems that recall 1995 while reaching out to the cheap seats at the back of the arena - big hooks, even bigger guitar solos. My only complaint is that everything seems to be a little too smooth and precise, it wouldn't hurt to loosen up a little bit.

5. Ducktails - The Flower Lane (Domino)
Opinions seem to be pretty split on this one, but I really like the cleaner production and smoother sounds. I will miss some of the guitar experimentation of the early bedroom experiments, but I really like the collaborative vibe (especially the help of Msrs. Ford + Lopatin) and yacht-rock vibe that lands somewhere between recent Destroyer, Loggins & Messina, and Real Estate.

6. Mountains - Centralia (Thrill Jockey)
This ambient drone duo from Brooklyn made me a fan with 2011's Air Museum, but this one ups the ante nicely. Things chug along as expected over the course of the first four tracks, but the epic 20-minute centerpiece "Propeller" blooms into a life of its own. One of the first mandatory musical journeys of 2013. When the power chords unexpectedly kick in on "Llana" - it's all icing on the cake.

7. Voivod - Target Planet Earth (Century Media)
For their first album without the influence of the sorely missed Piggy, not to mention their first with Blacky back in the fold since forever, Voivod renews their mission statement and reminds us all just how damn progressive they were in the first place. This sounds nothing like any of the current trends in metal and is all the better for it, just Voivod doing what they do best.

8. The Night Marchers - Allez Allez (Swami)
Or, just the latest of John Reis' four hundred bands. Pretty much what you might expect from Reis at this point - loud, dumb and mean garage rock full of snot, piss and vinegar. The hooks and lyrical barbs are as sharp as ever, and none of these songs overstay their welcome. John Reis deserves a goddamn lifetime achievement award in rock and roll at this point.

9. Arbouretum - Coming Out of the Fog (Thrill Jockey)
A new discovery for me, one that I'm surprised I didn't come across earlier given how many of my boxes it ticks. Still, better late than never. Dave Heumann's stellar guitar playing hit me right off the bad, though it took me a few songs to warm up to his voice. But once it did, I came to grips with the sort of Richard Thompson fronts Crazy Horse vibe they've got going on and connected deeply.

10. California X - California X (Don Giovani) / Holy Grail - Ride the Void (Prostethetic)
Yeah, I'm tossing two albums here in the end, but they do sort of make sense together. Neither one of these bands is doing anything new or groundbreaking, but each one hones in on their target well and delivers a fun listen. The former brings Dinosaur Jr worship to the nth degree, while the latter brings a slightly modern twist to classic, thrash-influenced heavy metal. Either way, they represent bygone eras I'm more than happy to get lost in all over again.