Monday, December 31, 2012

Sound Waves Goodbye To 2012

I wouldn’t call 2012 a stellar year in music. I felt a number of bands missed some opportunities. Others got hyped for reasons I can’t quite get my head around, but they’ll make someone else’s list. However, to be fair, I didn’t have the opportunity to dedicate as much time to single albums as I have in the past. Yeah, I listened to plenty, but my exploration was hindered by the purchase of my Vespa. Much as I love it, the one downside to owning a scooter is that I’m no longer stuck in LA traffic with a car full of mp3s. And it’s kind of dangerous — and very illegal — to wear headphones whilst riding one of those contraptions. 

That said, there was certainly enough great music to make this list; some of it stellar, including a first in the years I’ve been doing this exercise.

Time to begin.

10. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It
A new artist to me. And, shockingly, it turns out he wasn’t named Perfume Genius when he was born. He was actually named Mike Hadreas (in an odd coincidence, by Chanel). Mike grew up to make a very delicate, patient album at times dark, at times lovely, at times both. And it’s more than just his music, it’s also his voice. It’s dark, lovely and both. (...What?) This year, he’s certainly gotten his share of attention from actual music critics and “experts” (whatever that means) most of whom far better qualified to make the call than me. There’s a slight Youth Lagoon quality to these songs, which could have something to do with why I like it. Regardless, PYBN2I is a good place to start the 2012 music conversation.

Standout track: Sister Song

9. Weird Dreams - Choreography
The way the guitars are produced on Choreography suggests that Weird Dreams are big fans of early REM (always a good thing) and this album features probably the most poppy songs on the whole list. In fact, the track Holding Nails always makes me think of Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat by the DeFranco Family (usually a terrible thing). The big difference between the two is that it’s not crap. On other tracks, there’s a slight 60s-pop feel. Despite this, WD’s songs aren’t obviously derivative and the best word to describe this album is “bright.” They walk the line between musical influences and originality. And it works pretty well. 

Standout track: Vague Hotel

8. Guided by Voices - Let’s Go Eat The Factory
Guided by Voices (and specifically Bob Pollard) is known to bang out albums at the same rate that most people finish crossword puzzles. Or, at least they were until they broke up on New Year’s Eve, 2004, marking a sad end to a fruitful, inspired career.

Until they got back together again last year.

And they weren’t fucking around, either. In 2012, GbV released not one, not two, but three albums. All of them great, two of them outstanding. And one in particular— Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s Go Eat The Factory isn’t just a solid GbV album, it’s a great any album. The reason? It’s Guided by Voices being Guided by Voices. It’s not Guided by Voices 2.0. It’s Guided by Voices. But more than that, they’ve actually evolved from some of their later, less inspired work by composing songs as good as those in 1995. An inspired collection from both Pollard and guitarist Tobin Sprout. So worth the wait.

Standout track: The Unsinkable Fats Domino

7. Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action At A Distance
Okay. What’s the deal with solo artists giving themselves band names? I’m talking to you, Lotus Plaza, Perfume Genius, Youth Lagoon, and Paul Simon!! 

The funny thing about this album is that, honestly, I don’t quite know how to describe it. That isn’t to say that it’s indescribable. I just don’t have right superlatives as I write this. Yeah, that might make it seem like it’s a stretch to make this list, but the truth is, it’s a great album. The songs are in the same vein as Wild Nothing and, maybe, a touch of The War On Drugs. So, okay, I’m not describing it well, but Spooky Action At A Distance is an album you should own. When you get it, you’ll get it.

Standout track: Strangers

6. Jóhann Jóhannson - Copenhagen Dreams
In a word: Wow. In 106 words: I’m not sure why, but I’ve been getting more and more into movie scores over the last few years. (Not soundtracks, but scores.) I’ve never seen Copenhagen Dreams, but I’m guessing Jóhann Jóhannson nailed the tone of the film. He’s certainly nailed that of the photos I’ve seen. And it’s a pretty great album to write to. But that’s no help to you. Jóhannson captures rain and overcast, dusk and dawn, people and machinery set in Copenhagen. It’s all there. So if you’re not sure whether or not you want to visit the capital of Denmark, give this a listen. I’m betting your curiosity will be piqued. Mine is.

Standout track: It Will Take Some Time

5. Beach House - Bloom
Bloom is appropriately great. Appropriate because 2010’s Teen Dream knocked me out. I don’t think I actually stopped listening to that one for two weeks. Anyway, it’s been suggested that Bloom is better than Teen Dream. And that may be so, but to me it’s kind of the second disc of a double album — a really, really good one. One reason is that they’ve not changed their sound much. For many bands, that sort of description would be a left-handed compliment but for Beach House it’s a couple underlines and an exclamation point. Victoria Legrand has a way of lulling you into a frame of mind that enables you to view the scenes she illustrates with each song. (If that makes sense.) This album will definitely be in rotation for years to come.

Standout track: Myth 

4. Grizzly Bear - Shields
Three years ago, Grizzly Bear released Veckatimest and I put it at number one on the list that year, beating out what has become one of my favorite albums, The Antlers’ Hospice. So that’s saying a lot (to me, at least). I love Shields too. And I really love that I can actually pronounce the fucking title. Shields features one of the best singles of the year in Yet Again. (Guess what the standout track will be.) The thing about what Grizzly Bear do is that they do it so well. It’s obvious they’re unbelievably skilled musicians. But that’s not always a guarantee a band can write catchy songs. In Grizzly Bear’s case, they can, and this album is another example of what happens when skill meets tremendous creativity. Buy it. Buy it, I say!!

Standout track: [drumroll] Yet Again

3. Royal Headache - [self titled]
Someone opened a garage door in Australia and Royal Headache got out. They’re a hooky roar that I’m thankful I came across. So good, nothing more needs to be said but: Volume+Hooks= Royal Headache. And... DAMN.

Standout track: Down The Lane

2. Wild Nothing - Nocturne
Like 2010’s Gemini, Nocturne is seamless. It’s shiny. It sneaks up on you. Wild Nothing have a talent for writing songs that start off basic and, well, alright. But then, out of nowhere, they get a sonic boost and the track goes from Super 8 to HD. Nocturne is loaded with ‘em. “Okayyyy... Standard drum beat... In comes the strummy guitar... Now the bass and spiky guitar... Now the— Holy crap! What was that??” It’s that kind of inner monologue that goes on throughout the 45 minute running time. It is simply brilliant. It is perfect. It is unquestionably the best album of the year.

...That wasn’t made by Guided by Voices.

Standout track: Disappear Always

1. Guided by Voices - The Bears For Lunch
I fucking love this album. It’s the first (and likely only) time one band has made the ten best list. And I have to admit, I’m shocked— Wait. Let me go back...

I’ve met Guided by Voices’ Bob Pollard on a number of occasions and he’s always been amazingly kind as well as generous with his time. Even when, on our first meeting, I wasn’t so much talking as I was firing, “Wow!You’reBobPollard!Ilovethenewalbum!Ilovetheold albums!Iloveallyouralbums!!” At some point, I asked the band’s road manager about a factoid from an article I read. It said that he’d written over 3,000 songs. The road manager said, “That’s ridiculous.” (I knew it!) “He’s written way more than that!” 

All of that work made for some of the best albums I own. I thought we had heard the last of the lo-fi genius like that of GbV’s golden age of the 90s. 

I was wrong. Happily so. And looking back, I realize I never should have counted them out.

Standout track: She Lives In An Airport

Honorable Mention

Sigur Rós - Valtari
Usually, when Sigur Rós makes an album, it makes my list. This is a rare slip. Still, a slip by Sigur Rós is better than the majority of what you’ll hear. This one is geared less toward catchy, structured songs and more toward ethereal, moody portraits. So, y’know, if you like that sort of thing…

Standout track: Rembihnútur

Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Hypothetically speaking: If you’re in your 20s. And you’re in college. And you’re in a frat. And you’re having a blow-out. And you have barrels and cases of beer. And you have bottles and bottles of liquor. And you have weed. And you aren’t playing this? You failed.

Standout track: The House That Heaven Built

Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits
It’s a thing of beauty from the driving force from behind Spoon. I’m not sure why Britt Daniel felt he couldn’t release this album with his day band, but okay. It’s a great Spoon album by Divine Fits. 

Standout track: My Love Is Real

Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man

I find Bat For Lashes (aka Natasha Khan) is hard to pin down, and that’s why I like her. She does whatever the hell she wants and so far it’s worked very, very well. May as well keep spinning those plates till they fall.

Standout track: Laura

So, there y’go. One of these days I’ll make a supplementary list of best albums I didn’t get around to the year they were released. I’m pretty sure the past twelve months will be well represented.

Still, I’m pretty happy with what we have on New Year’s Eve, 2012.



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