Many of the various albums released in the first four months of 2012 have provided a lot to be excited about, so I thought I would float ten out there I’ve liked the bestest. I could most definitely expand this list to about thirty albums I’ve greatly enjoyed, but in the interest of actually getting some real work done today, I narrowed it down to ten favorites. I promised myself to listen to more metal this year (which I’ve done with varying success). However, for me the most interesting music of the year has been retro poppy, eclectically folky, and has eerily harkened back to my 81 year-old dad’s lounge lizardesque record collection (including the record belonging to the creamy image above). I did, however, manage to include one greatly admired metal album (no it isn’t Meshuggah) as well as a handful of really cool synth pop albums, and a couple of more or less alternative rock records.
After seeing this artist live a few nights ago, I decided to include her stimulating sophomore disc on my list (it just edged out the Asteroids Galaxy Tour’s new album for the tenth slot). Nite Jewel (aka Ramona Gonzalez) produces some pretty interesting tunes reminiscent of moody late seventies analog synth pop pioneers such as Gary Numan, the Human League, Ultravox, and Visage (since listening to the album, I’ve been relentlessly searching out Numan’s discography). The album’s first single and title track “One Second of Love,” also happens to provide my second favorite music video of the year (see the end of this post for my first). If you haven’t already, check out this brilliant vid.
Certainly the more fashionable metal choice would have been the brand new Meshuggah effort, however, there’s something personally compelling about these youngsters from Arkansas. They play metal the way I like to hear metal played, with an epically sweeping soundscape and Rob Halford-like, clean vocals. Pallbearer recalls the sludgy Sabbath copycat bands that fascinated me in the 80s, especially Trouble. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a metal band since first hearing the riff revelry on Isis’s Panopticon reminded me why I fell in love with the genre in the first place.
You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me – two extremely young women from Sweden can sound like this? First Aid Kit’s sophomore album packs some great folk/country Americana infused rock with a tremendous retro vibe ranging from 60s lounge to 50s country and some incredibly rich arrangements featuring wood instruments, strings, and brass. The girls obviously share a fascination with old school female country artists and nod to the likes of Emmy Lou Harris and June Carter Cash once or twice while providing enough musical diversity to make this an intriguing second release.
That 80s influenced mainstream synth-pop is still alive and kicking is nicely exemplified with my next two picks – relatively young artists carrying the standard for the genre whilst wrestling the torch from more well-weathered acts such as the inexhaustible Ladytron. Chairlift’s Something certainly reflects a contemporary synth pop album, but yet some of its best moments harken back to the more sober touches in the Pet Shop Boys catalogue. Unlike the syrupy sweet side of Pet Shop Boys’ tunes, however, Chairlift manages to be infectiously poppy without imposing too much of a sugar hangover. The album also possesses one of my favorite singles so far for 2012, the difficult-to-pronounce-correctly during a sing-along “Amanaemonesia.”
As its title implies, this second synth pop pick is deliciously dark and seductive with a greater emphasis on percussion than the Chairlift disc. In spite of the gothic look and occasional sound of this band, Ghostory successfully blends the customary synth pop vibe with some danceable techno sounds – cuts like “Low Times,” for example, wouldn’t be out of place in a mid-nineties Berlin disco. School of Seven Bells smoothly balances the more techno-driven cuts here with other tunes that offer some chilling vocals and clean synths to create a nifty late night chillout record.
I’ve missed the Andrew Bird boat up until now so I don’t know anything about his past efforts, but on this album he produces a collection of brilliantly eclectic folk rock. From straight up rockers, to alt-country tunes, to Floyd-like voyages, this album totally grooves from beginning to end. I like this release for the same reasons I’ve enjoyed First Aid Kit, but this one gets the leg up due to its sheer eccentricity.
I had surprisingly never heard of this band until listening to the lead single, “Animal Life” from their new album a few months ago. I suppose my attraction to Shearwater arises because of the seeming misalliance between the lead singer’s Vienna Boys Choir-like voice best suited for the likes of “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Kum Ba Yah,” and the band’s edgy North American folk infused rock. In spite of this strange incongruity of sound, Shearwater pulls off a solid set of well-crafted, catchy alt rock tunes inspiring me to investigate their sizable back catalogue.
Some critics are penning these guys as first cousins of the dreadful Mumford and Sons (see the equally dreadful Rolling Stone review of this album). Don’t be fooled; however, Dry the River’s first album provides a great deal more complexity (and actual percussion) than Mumford et. al.’s boring music (their sound is actually not too far of a departure from Shearwater, but more folky). The urgency of lead singer Peter Liddle’s delivery on the lead single “No Rest” and the accompanying strings hooked me on this band, and the rest of the album produces even more pop-folk-rock goodies. I’m slated to finally see these guys (after two misses) next month – expecting big things!
With the release of their new album this year, I thought I would finally dip into Snow Patrol’s discography (I’ve never really listened) and give Fallen Empires some serious attention. I’ve always had a weakness for big sounding, ballady rock songs al la Elbow and Coldplay, so I figured Snow Patrol was a “can’t miss.” Although critics have been pretty harsh on this record, I’m glad I checked it out, because the lead single “Called Out in the Dark” is my favorite tune of the year so far, and the rest of the album provides more of the same.
This band is a jewel. If I had the time or inclination to compile a best of record culled from the illustrious Laurence Paul Jones’ vintage album collection, it would nearly replicate the music on this disc. Forget the superficial Beach Boys references often attached to the Explorers Club (largely because of the sound and style of their previous album), the band’s influences come straight from the mainstream (but forgotten) mid-sixties through the early seventies loungy sounds of artists like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (the one-legged babealicious mariachi on the album cover is most certainly a Herb Alpert rip off), Captain & Tennille, Neil Sedaka, the Fifth Dimension, and maybe even the cover rich, group love ambiance of the Ray Coniff Singers. I should know, I’ve logged countless hours in front of the aforementioned LPJ’s thirty year old turntable listening to every piece of vinyl that he hasn’t yet carted off to Deseret Industries.
Of course, much goodness has been omitted here – the previously referenced Meshuggah, as well as new albums from Grimes, Band of Skulls, the Shins, fun., Sharon van Etten, the Ting Ting’s (guilty pleasure pick), Tennis, Heartless Bastards, Lamb of God, Bowerbirds, and of course Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds (as well as hundreds of others I haven’t heard). I’m looking forward to the next three months with releases coming up from the Temper Trap, the Dirty Heads, and Electric Guest. Since I’m doing “best of” stuff here, I think I’ll conclude this post with my favorite music video for 2012 so far – “Bruises” by Band of Skulls. If you haven’t seen it already, blow yet another four minutes and check it out. Cheers!