Archive for January, 2013

(The Admittedly Tardy) Top Albums Of 2012

January 31st, 2013 No comments

There is not enough time to write and as we are almost through January, I figure this would be an appropriate time to look back on 2012.

12. Peter Buck – 10 Million BC

What has to be impressive right off the bat with this album is that Buck would be the last individual that you would think would come out with an albums worth of material, some of which he actually sings on. There are some worthwhile tracks such as the title track and the several tracks that take him on his lo-fi surfari nightmare. For that he took challenges. It would have probably made my top ten list if it had kept off some of the more “Country & Western” tunes off the album. We don’t wear cowboy hats in Chicago.

11. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz

Animal Collective – Centipede hz. If you have the opportunity to pull out Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion” or either of Panda Bear’s last two records there is one thing that is common on all three in that the album content has quite a bit of depth. It has air to breath and develop in your brains. There is no doubt about it that Centipede has great songs but it comes off as if you are watching cartoons in the 70s on a UHF station watching programs such as the Banana Splits and Speed Racer. Songs like “Today’s Supernatural” give the eerie feeling of watching Japanese animation with flashing videos that children would have seizures while watching. As I have been listening to it, I have been reluctant to gather my thoughts, in the same way I would be unwilling to critique a bottle of wine just after it has just been opened up. In this way it makes a list that considered a concept that seemed worthy on paper but not necessarily in reality and for this reason missed the cut

Top 10 List:

10. Crystal Castles (III)

Alice Glass is a rockstar pure and simple. She holds all the keys behind what you need to do to be a great front person. Confident, mysterious, poetic, strong, dark and plays her role to perfection and I am not just talking about the album but on the stage as well. Crystal Castles (III) is dark, violent, and still danceable. While I would not suggest their last album was necessarily mainstream this album pushes back from that dangerous territory (the lamestream) when Glass could become one of the greats. However, there is a second element to the music and that is Ethan Kath, the electronic mastermind behind the project. Kath just doesn’t write tracks for Glass to sing to but rather consume. At times the music becomes the barrier and you feel the struggle that she is trying to break through such as on ‘Insulin’. Other tracks like “Child I Will Hurt You”, she haunts you with her siren voice.

9. Trust – Trst

Another band from Toronto, Ontario like Crystal Castles which plays along the same moody electronic dancemusic. To be honest with you the thing that really caught my eye with this album was the overweight goth rocker on the cover. As any album with overweight goth stars, it’s dark and moody with plenty of dance pop hooks to keep you drawn in. At times, Robert Alfon’s lead singing sounds a bit like a muffled Vincent Price which I think gives the album a bit of character and not just like any other run of the mill rock album with an overweight goth rocker on the cover.

8. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

The first important note about this album is that it was engineered by Steve Albini. This would mean that it is probably opinionated. The bigger question of course would be if Albini was feeding the band, as his secondary career over the past few years has been having just as serious opinion of food. The second important characteristic this year was trying to have more rock music influence my listening habits. As much as I enjoy the concept of someone sitting behin a mixing board, there is something compelling of getting back to the roots of guitar, bass and drums. This album was reminiscent of the late 80’s and 90s hardcore/grunge sounds while still sounding fresh and invigorating. “Wasted Days”, checking in at nearly 9 minutes, was on repeat during the early part of the year.

7. Ty Segall – Twins

The first of the Ty Segall releases to appear here. In typical “Guided By Voices” fashion, Segall has been prolific in 2012 releasing 3 albums worth of material. I would say that he is also the artist most influential on my music listening in 2013. I think it started with last years Grammy winning artist “Bon Iver” whose album “Bon Iver” seemed to have won over the hearts and minds of those that are impressed with music that you want to slit your wrists to. I began to miss the cockyness that rock and roll was built on vs. the artist that would admire their own shadow. I wanted every that was “Anti-Iver”, which meant that it needed to be a “Bon-ifide” rock and roll record. Segall became that artist for me and allowed me to embrace or believe in something that felt real. In some ways it reminds me of lo-fi grunge because there are some definitive 60s pop sensabilities in his work but it doesn’t sound as polished as many of the 90s albums that defined the early part of the decade.

6. Foxygen – Take the Kids Off Broadway EP

This album feels like a combination of Motown, Nuggets-era rock and the Rolling Stones. On the surface it sounds a bit rough but that is also what gives it its charm. It doesn’t have that polished feel but as if the band is sitting there doing their best impression of Mick Jagger going cukoo for Cocoa Puffs. While the inevitable comparisons exist and the band is clearly up on their 60s genre’s this EP is still fun. However, where I see that this bands future is in it’s ability to create something that still feels like their own. Having listened to their follow-up album that was released just a few weeks ago, I am concerned that they are trying to emulate the various sounds from the era rather than create their own.

5. Grizzly Bear – Shields

There could have been a time when this album would have been ranked higher than 5 but when I saw that Edward Droste seemed disappointed that the band was not nominated for a grammy, it got dropped a couple of notches on principle. Of course there is a reason that the Mumford & Sons can secure 6 Grammys because the Mumford, etc. suck and well the Grammy’s suck. Droste’s disappointment would suggest that they (The Grammy’s) mean something and that they were looking to follow in the footsteps of Bon Iver and Arcade Fire.

(Admittedly, the Mumford & Sons/Lumineers, Civil War rock fondness has already reached it’s peak and it is time to burn the acoustic instruments.)

Grizzly Bear is a much different band than the one that Droste formed as an art project, pushing more in the direction of pop band than say ‘Dirty Projectors’ but still providing enough of their art rock to not sound stale. ‘Shields’ is an appropriate follow-up to ‘Veckatimest’, continuing in the direction of offering some of the more intelligent baroque pop that is in existence today.

4. Ty Segall & White Fence – Hair

One of my favorite “underappreciated” tracks of the year was Ty Segall and White Hair doing the song Tongue on their album “Hair”. The glory is the combo of Segall’s lo-fi pop with Tim Presley (White Fence’s) psycha-funkyness. The second Segall album to break the top 10 and the one that in my opinion flew a bit under the radar. The question of course when someone releases 3 albums in a year would be whether or not had they edited down the work and only released 1 album would the quality be such where it could be considered a classic?

As this is often the question that plagues “Guided by Voices”, Segall’s travels lead him to various artists which should suggest unique working relationships which should push different influences forward.

3. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

The neo-psychaedelic space rock sounds of Jason Spaceman, Spiritualized, in my opinion brings it’s strongest album, a flurry of tunes that will allow you to reminisce from the classic Spacemen 3 days. Quite possibly the track of the year was “Hey Jane”, which seems appropriate with its luring Velvet Underground feel. While the album does move in various soulful directions as it progresses there is plenty of white noise to be excited about.

2. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse

The third of the Ty Segall releases to grace this listing, this album features Ty with his entire band and the album that definitely ignites the most amount of energy. It also breaks one of my rules regarding bands with the name “Band” in the band name. This is just pure unadulterated rock and roll. From the opening track “Death” opens with almost a minute of guitarwork before the onslaught occurs. While some have compared him to Jay Reatard, I sense a closer relationship to Wavves, but with a bigger sound. There is a definitive B-Movie Surf rock that begs for your eardrums to bleed. It does it in such a way that it creates an aura rather than make the process painful, such as Sleigh Bells. It feels like a mixture of Iggy Pop meeting Nirvana and that is a good comparison in my opinion.

1. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Oftentimes the term “Classic” can feel overused. One of my favorite talkshow hosts Kevin Matthews, formerly of the Loop AM 1000 joked that it “doesn’t have to be good to be a classic”, referencing the classic rock stations that would fill the airwaves of the best of the 60’s and 70s, offering up songs that on the surface were a bit overrated.

The goal when bands try to capture the essence of prior decades is to put their own stamp on the material, that line in the sand which you can clearly capture the essence of a prior decade rather than copying a sound.

Tame Impala’s own rise among my own favorite bands was built by their debut LP, ‘Innerspeaker’, an album that has improved over time with it’s brilliance slowly revealing itself. Over two short albums, the troubadour, Kevin Parker has made himself one that should be noticed. The influences he is pulling from, as well as his attention for detail is such that the landscapes are captivating. “Lonerism” becomes the theme, i.e. getting lost in the music on top of the themes discussed in the music which deal with the concept that you are alienating yourself from the rest of the world. There is the euphoric, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, which uses an almost dreamlike bubbly music to describe a relationship that seems to stall. “Apocalypse Dreams” theme is suggestive in the title itself.

While the album might take influences from works like Pink Floyd, Supertramp or Fleetwood Mac, Parker has developed his own signature sound that makes this release a true classic.

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