Monday, January 7, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup: Best of 2012

Over the past few weeks I've been listening to all of the albums released in 2012 that I really enjoyed in order to create my year end list. I love this process because there are always a few albums that I forgot about and get to rediscover. There is also a rush to listen to all the 2012 albums that I hadn't yet had a chance to hear. It seems every year there are a few of those last minute albums the end up making this list and this year was no exception. For the most part though, these albums were spaced out throughout much of the year, which the way any good year of music should be. Impossible to say where this year ranks as of yet, but there are many fantastic albums. Here they are, roughly in order. Enjoy.

Ruby Throat - O' Doubt  O' Stars: As regular readers know, my love of all things Katie Jane Garside knows no bounds. Ruby Throat is a side-project by the Queenadrenna/ Daisy Chainsaw front woman. For this, Ruby Throat's third album, the release is limited to 500 hand made copies. This could be one of her best albums to date. Recorded while navigating the waterways north of London, the album has an isolated feel, combined with the richness of fairy tales and despair. It is absolutely beautiful and easily the best album I've heard this year.

Big Blood - Old Time Primitives: My current favorite freak folk collective released their eleventh album in six years this past April and I have to say it may be their best yet. It's an ambitious attempt at creating an artifact that is partially something dug up from the past, and a relic from the future at the same time. The one thing that is always true about a Big Blood album is the undeniable groove that runs through it even as songs veer into experimental psychedelic folk. This is what makes their albums an entity rather than a collection of songs. 

Langhorne Slim - The Way We Move: It's been three years since the folk singer/songwriter released his breakthrough album Be Set Free. He's used that time well, crafting the best album of his career so far. Featuring a full band, this album drives a lot harder than his previous efforts, yet still has it's beautiful softer moments like "Coffee Cups," and "Song for Sid." The album closes with "Past Lives" a song he used as a set closer when I saw him play back in January and it really closes the album perfectly. 

 Jack White - Blunderbuss: The first solo album from arguably the most influential figure in rock over the past decade. After fronting three bands that all posted bestselling albums, it's about time that Jack White released something that was from him and only him. It incorporates a rockabilly feel to some songs that up until now he's only really favored in songs by others which he has produced. After the initial listen, I finally let myself get caught up in the songs and truly love this record more and more each time I hear it. There's a joy in the making of the music that somehow seems to have been missing for some time. Great stuff. 

Nacho Picasso - Lord of the Fly: On the Seattle rapper's second album in less than a year, he is once again paired up with Blue Sky Black Death. The previous effort, 2011's For the Glory is nothing short of the best hip hop album I've heard in a long time. This album feels like a continuation of that one. It has the same fantastic spooky beats that Blue Sky Black Death does better than anyone else. Nacho's flow is impeccable. It's a slightly darker record, and pretty incredible. 

Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself & Hands of Glory: With two amazing albums this year, Andrew Bird continues to be in top form. These albums feel slightly more intricate and personal that some of his more recent work. Both are stellar examples of what makes him one of the best singer songwriters around.

Alberta Cross - Songs of Patience: This second album from the Brooklyn, via London, rock band is simply great indie rock. It reminds me of a lot post-Brit Pop UK bands such as Kasabian and The Stands, as well as fellow Brooklynites The Rosewood Thieves. There is a delicate quality to these rock songs, something rough amid all the careful crafting.

The Wooden Sky - Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun: This Toronto alt-folk band has been a favorite band of mine over the past five years, and with this, their third album, they've done nothing to lessen their standing. The songs are well-crafted and affecting. Sung with a mid-western twang, the songs have a country feel that serves them well. "Angelina," "Take Me Down," and "City of Light" are real standouts on a terrific album.
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light: J. Spaceman returns with his first album since 2008, and easily his best since 1997's Ladies and Gentleman... This album really blew me away upon first listen. It captures the desperation that is familiar with all of Spiritualized work, but is more complicated musically than some of the latest albums. It simply soars with heartache, but with the upbeat summer melodies that make it a joy to listen to over and over.

Right Away, Great Captain - The Church of the Good Thief: This is the new album from Andy Hull (of Manchester Orchestra) and the third under the Right Away, Great Captain name. These are very scaled back songs, basically just a voice and quiet guitar, but Andy always commits to every song with such passion that his simple songs are never boring. This album builds throughout, becoming quite epic by the end.

Kadavar - Kadavar: The 2012 debut from Berlin heavy psych band is pretty much as epic as the cover would suggest. Heavily influenced by '70s hard rock, this album doesn't really cover any new territory, but the landscape it does cover is done exceptionally well. It keeps up a blistering pace throughout all six songs, never pausing for breath. Easily one of the best heavy albums I've heard this year. Perfect for any fans of Sabbath influenced rock.

Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...: I fully admit to having very little knowledge of Fiona's previous work coming into this record. It's her fourth album, and first since 2005 and I have to say, it's quite exceptional. It is an incredibly complex folk album, much like the work of Joanna Newsom. And like Joanna, it's not something one can listen to all the time, but when you're in the mood for it, it's brilliant. This was a very pleasant surprise for me this week.

Guided by Voices - Class Clown Spots a UFO & The Bears for Lunch:  Reminiscent of their their 90's masterpiece Bee Thousand, the kings of lo-fi returned with probably their best work in over a decade, releasing two great full length albums. The albums vary tone and structure with each song, yet they flow seamlessly together.

Jason Molina - Autumn Bird Songs: This EP is the first solo release from the Magnolia Electric Co. frontman in six years, and though painfully short at only 22min, it's well worth the wait. Easily one of the best singer songwriters of the last decade, Jason is a modern day Neil Young with a Midwestern howl and hauntingly reflective lyrics. All eight songs on here are brilliant, with possibly the best being saved for last with "A Sad Hard Change."  

 Ty Seagall - Twins/ Ty Seagall Band - Slaughterhouse/ Sic Alps - Sic Alps: Ty Seagall had a busy year, recording three albums, two solo and the fourth from his band Sic Alps. From start to finish, all three of these psychedelic garage records are a steady stream of lo-fi bliss. They vary enough from one to the next that all three are necessary. 

Neil Young - Psychedelic Pill: After reuniting with his oft backing band earlier this year for their take on Americana, the Godfather of Grunge and Crazy Horse have given us this triple album of goodness. I have to admit to being weary of this album. Though one of my all time favorite songwriters, Neil's recent albums, while not embarrassing by any means, have tended to bore me. But I gave this a go, mostly because of how much I enjoyed Americana. I'm glad I did. This easily his best album in decades. The opening epic 27minute track "Drifting Back," is not only amazing, I would suggest it deserves mention among Neil's best. The rest of the album is also extremely strong, lacking any real wasteful tracks. I love the way his past material sometimes creeps into these songs, like the past is blending with the present. Psychedelic Pill is proof that great artists always have the potential for greatness, it's the reason why we dedicate ourselves to following their work. 

The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet: The band's first album in three years is just as expansive and complex as one would come to expect from the true heroes of the new progressive rock movement. It's slightly more focused however than their previous album, with shorter, more aggressive songs. All in all, another excellent album and worth the wait. 

John Frusciante - PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone:  This was perhaps the most eagerly awaited release of the year for me. I've been a huge fan of John Frusciante's work since I purchased his debut way back in 1994. This is his 12th solo album, and among the previous eleven, at least three of them hold places on my Top 100 of all time. This is his first solo effort since 2009, and the first to show the influence of having worked with The Mars Volta. This really is an album that exists on two levels. Each song feels like it has two parts. There's the underlying current which has trademark Frusciante elements and lyrical beauty. Then there's the surface level of each song which is a lot of experimental noise and electronic elements. The two are not very cohesive and are not mixed in a way to seem as if they were meant to be. It's almost as if the electronic music is infiltrating the tracks, disrupting them and taking over. It's jarring on first listen, but quickly grows on me as I see a theme at work within the context of the dueling parts. Would I enjoy it better if the electronic parts were stripped away? Certainly. But I respect the attempt at trying to create something different and in the end, this stands as a unique album, much like many of his other releases. With every listen it has grown on me and clawed it's way onto the list.
The Music Tapes - Mary's Voice: Julian Koster's fourth release as The Music Tapes in the last 13 years is a beautiful record. One of the members of Neutral Milk Hotel, Julian has been involved in many of the Elephant 6 projects since it's early days. The Music Tapes has always been his baby, and has always attempted to make imaginary worlds that sound almost like field recordings from a circus that never was. This album isn't any different. There are lot of accordion/saw interludes between the traditional songs, but those songs are some of the best on any of his albums. "To All Who Say Goodnight" is absolutely amazing.

Pop Levi - Medicine: This is the psychedelic pop rocker's third solo album, and first in four years. I've always enjoyed the way he fuses chaos with glam rock beats and was excited to finally hear this one. This is probably his most complete album. Every song captures the essence of what he's all about. A super fun freak out of an album. A real modern day Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

The Sword - Apocryphon: Hailing from Austin, Texas, this is the fourth album from these guys and it's quite nearly a perfect stoner metal album. These guys are definitely holding up a tradition of '70s metal, and while it has obvious odes to the past, it still manages to sound fresh enough to be fantastic.

There are many other albums that could have made this list, especially on the bottom half where there was so little difference in my love for them. Siver Hoyem's EP is certainly deserving, but at four songs, I didn't feel it qualified. Also Blur's Parklive is incredible, but a live album of greatest hits is also something I never include. O.Children, Menomena, Natural Snow Buildings, and Mount Eerie all had phenomenal albums that could swap out with some on here. But alas, only twenty could make it, so there you have it.

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