Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Favorite Albums of 2012

Another good year of music - some old favorites released some really good new albums, I got into some bands that have been kicking around for a while but I hadn't really listened to and, most importantly, I stumbled across some great new acts.

I guess this opening "salvo" (that pun will make sense later, but it will never be funny) is usually a place to make a few larger points about music too, so here goes. I sometimes hear people lamenting that the 1) glory days of music are behind us and 2) that the internet has ruined music. The quick answer to both, is that that's  a load of bulljive. I think the people making these comments - and you know who you are - just aren't willing to do the legwork to find the good new music and base their opinions on the crap they hear on the radio. So the glory days of music are just really behind them. For everyone else willing to make a bit of an effort, they'll see that everything is just going fine-and-dandy. On technology's impact on the quality of music, it's definitely a lot easier to make and release music nowadays than ever before, which has led to a lot of crummy music being made and released, so I can definitely understand the argument that the average quality of songs has gone down. That being said, these same things have opened the door for a bunch of great musicians who wouldn't have had the same chance before, so I think there are a lot more really good bands than before as well. More bad bands on the bottom, more good bands on the top. Just more bands in general, really.

And another thing: As the hardworking staff over at mitchfork suggested, look out for these ladies in 2013. It's poised to be a big year for Haim.
On with the show!

10)  Black Forest Fire, Transit of Venus
I think this Austin-based shoegaze band sound kind of like what the Silversun Pickups might if they were on tranquilizers. That's meant as a compliment. This is a very easy album to listen to -- it has very few drastic changes, which make the drastic changes that much more drastic when the show up. Here's a nice picture I found of the band:

Slay Tracks:Do It for Sara, Majestic, Saint Christopher, Don't Need an Angel

9) Papercranes, Three
This might not really count as an album. It's a collection of three related EPs: First Born, Middle Child, and Baby. You see the idea. In my opinion, the middle child is the best - it's the rowdiest, most full of life, and catchiest. (Editor's note: I'm the youngest in my family). The other two are a bit quieter and more subdued, but also very good. Interestingly, this family-based concept comes from a woman in a quite well-known family herself. Lead singer Rain Phoenix is the sister of Joaquin and River.   

Slay Tracks: Rose Stem, Setting, Shared, Matter, View

8) Titus Andronicus, Local Business 
These guys are pretty interesting, mixing punk rock with a dash of Springsteen, and a deep philosophical angst. This makes sense, I suppose, punk rock was initially about rebelling against the man/system (don't quote me on this) so it was only a matter of time before some punk band turned these observations to the vast, cold universe. How about these for opening album lyrics?
Okay, I think by now we've established
Everything is inherently worthless
And there's nothing in the Universe.
With any kind of objective purpose.

Sounds like the kind of dreck a disenfranchised college kid would write, and what could lead to pretty mopey music. This isn't the case here. Titus' write huge, fist-pumping anthems, seemingly shouting that if the universe is devoid of meaning, at least we can find some solace in the brotherhood of man. While two or three songs on here are kind of throwaways, there are more than enough to cover the price of admission.  Some more good lyrics, from the brilliantly titled track: "Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter."

Out, walking the street
looking for these
alleged elegant truths
It's just me
lonely me
and the other irrelevant dudes
arrogant enough to believe
this is developing news
I exist just as a fish
stuck with the pelican blues
- hot deuce!  
Slay Tracks: Ecce Homo, Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter, My Eating Disorder, In A Big City

7) Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits
My expectations were pretty high for this super group, featuring Britt Daniel from Spoon and Dan Boeckner, formerly of Handsome Furs (#1 on the 2011 list) and Wolf Parade (#6 on the 2010 list) - and while they may not have been exceeded, they were definitely pleasantly met. These guys can knock out catchy songs in their sleep, which, I suppose, was my concern -- that they would just crank these puppies out. But they're too talented group to just dial it in. Good effort here.

Slay Tracks: Would That Not Be Nice, The Salton Sea, Baby Get Worse, Shivers

6) Sat. Nite Duets, Summer of Punishment
I got lazy so I took the following from the A.V. Club's list of the top 15 Milwaukee albums from 2012.

"Milwaukee’s premier purveyors of shaggy guitar rock try their damndest to be frivolous, but on the excellent Summer Of Punishment, Sat. Nite Duets let their guard down and reveal some genuine concerns. Sure, there are still plenty of lyrics about getting shit-faced and carpooling with AC/DC, but scratch the shambling surface and you’ll find a wistful, winning tribute to gauzy nostalgia and misspent summer youth. Nowhere does that heady theme resonate more strongly than on Summer’s best track, “Of Age.” Amidst the band’s well-honed sound, a bittersweet tale of “wasting your 20s” is sketched out with remarkable clarity and humor. “Growing up can only be so hard” is the sort of effortless, tossed-off line that Sat. Nite Duets have long excelled at, but the band outdoes itself with the terrifically evocative lyric, “Take your handle off the bars and fly, / pretty soon it’s going to be July.” There’s no amount of gags or snickering references that can take the edge off a line like that."

Long story short they remind me of Pavement without sounding like they are ripping off Pavement.

Slay Tracks: Of Age, Genghis Khan, Way Behind My Age Group, WWDD, Andy's Going to Heaven

 5) Pomegranates, Heaven
If someone asked me to name the greatest indie band of the last five years that they'd never heard of, I'd probably have to say the Pomegranates. They've released four albums in that time period (including #7 on 2010's list), and have a new one coming out next year (which they financed through Kickstarter). Not only is this a very talented band, but also a very hard-working one. In my opinion they are the rightful heirs to Modest Mouse, and their time will come.

Ha, oh yeah -- that reminds me. I was somewhat pissed that Pitchfork didn't review their new album, after having reviewed their first few, so I wrote them this letter:

I know you guys must get a lot of emails about bands to review, but here are three GREAT albums that I think you've overlooked:

1) Easter Vomit -- Vs. the Natural History Museum   this album is a lo-fi classic and for a site that loves Pavement so much, it seems weird that it would be overlooked.
2) Grand Salvo -- Slay Me in my Sleep   I assume the reason he hasn't gotten reviewed is he's Australian. But this is an intricate, beautiful album whose only real comparison is Sufjan.
3) Pomegranates -- Heaven  -- you've reviewed all their old albums, why not the new one? This is such a great band and they could use some of the attention they'd get from a review.
Thanks so much!
Jake Grindal

They never got back to me. Can't blame a guy for trying.

Slay Tracks:  Pass Away, Sisters, Letters, Lost Lives

4) Family Band, Grace and Lies
According to my "scrobbler," I have listened to tracks from this 9-song album 789 times, meaning I've listened to the album about 88 times and that doesn't take into account how many times I've played it on my ipod. Pretty crazy - but it's more a reflection of how easy this husband (a former heavy-metal guitarist) and wife (a former visual artist) duo are to listen to.  It's kind of spooky, atmospheric music where the tension slowly builds but never boils over. More than anything, it actually reminds me of Sufjan's Seven Swans album -- just a really good, focused, meditative album.

 Slay Tracks: Lace, Ride, Grace & Lies, Rest

 #3) Foxygen, Take the Kids Off Broadway

I guess this is technically just an EP, but it's got a running time of nearly 40 minutes, so it makes the cut. They're kind of all over the map here, but they seem to be one of those bands that can stitch together a bunch of disparate parts into a catchy, cohesive whole. At different times, they sound like Bowie, the Rolling Stones, MGMT, the Unicorns, you name it. I think I texted to Jake Lowell that he should listen to this album about 40 times, but he never got back to me. He's in Puerto Rico right now getting a brain transplant. No joke.

Slay Tracks: Make It Known, Take the Kids Off Broadway, Waitin' 4 U, Why Did I get Married?

#2) Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory
These guys used to be a chill-wave band. They did a complete 180 for this album. I first heard it in very early January and thought that I'd found my favorite album of the year, which would've been pretty weird. January was also a period in time where victor always wanted to go to the bars all the time. He'd call you at 9:00 on a Tuesday night and ask if you wanted to get drinks with him at Christophers (although, definitely not din cause of their middling Yelp rating). Here's a snippet of a convo I had with Johann on the morning that I first heard that album, which followed a night out with groober.

Johann: what's the word?
7:57 AM me: just porking away
  listening to this cloud nothing albums
 me: sounds pretty sweet
7:59 AM Johann: phew
  and i'm listening too
 me: yeah -- it might not be down your alley
  The Steve Albini-produced Attack On Memory is their sharpest work yet, trading in that fuzzy, suppressed production in favor of a more aggressive, crisp sound. Albini, who has produced classics for Nirvana and the Pixies, sounds right at home working towards Cloud Nothings' vision. If you've had enough of the hazy hipster bands, give Attack On Memory a listen.
8:01 AM Johann: i like this 1st song
8:03 AM me: you do?
  it's pretty intense, right?
 Johann: yeah
  that's ok
  i don't mind intesnse always
 me: good way to wake up
 Johann: i like the pixies
 me: yeah
 Johann: and wolf parade
  and handsome furs
8:04 AM me: yeah
  how was last night?
8:05 AM Johann: eh, ok i guess
8:06 AM nothing too crazy
8:07 AM me: not too much -- groceries, gym, bar with vic for a drink
8:08 AM Johann: you and vic... always at the bah
 me: ha -- he's a funny guy
  always wants to go to the bar
8:09 AM Johann: what do you guys talk about?
8:10 AM me: life
  trying to get him back on his feet
 Johann: what are your strategies?
8:11 AM me: you ever seen shawshank?
8:12 AM Johann: hahahahahaha
8:13 AM victor loves dependency, hopelessness, learned helplessness, and other maladaptive behaviors

Slay Tracks: No Future/No Past, Wasted Days, No Sentiment, Cut You.

#1) Grand Salvo, Slay Me in My Sleep
Not a surprise here, I know. I wrote about Grand Salvo back in August. Easily my favorite album of the year and quite possibly the best novel of the year. It tells the story of an elderly woman who is visited by the ghost of her girlhood love through a series of vignettes which alternate perspectives and time periods. It's a hushed, ecstatic album that reminds you of how meaning becomes attached to different objects in our lives, how that meaning changes over time, and how it can all add up to make the world a very magical place.  An example:

a stone sits in a creek
a path into the woods
I wronged her in my youth
an acorn on the sill
a tree upon the hill
careful not to breath
a nuckle with a bee
a doll made out of wood
a bell upon the sea
a suitcase on the bed
the last one she will pack

It's a great album to listen to on a cold Sunday morning with a hot cup of coffee as you try to walk off a hangover and need to be reminded of god's majesty here on earth.

Slay Tracks:  the entire album?

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