Best of 2012 (part 2)

litlfrog’s Best Music of 2012 (entire playlist on Spotify)

deerhoofDeerhoof, Breakup Song: Some years back Laurie Anderson did an onstage bit about Difficult Listening Hour. Deerhoof would be regular guests on that proposed show. Fun, noisy, peppy, blippy, and just plain weird, Deerhoof are back with another album that gleefully jumps between experimental pop and avant-catchy.

Aluk Todolo, Occult Rock: OK, take the following components: prog black rock post kraut metal French. Rearrange them to your liking and imagine playing whatever that is loudly, all the time thinking about obscure religious sects. That’s this album.

Grizzly Bear, Shields: Indie rock kids everywhere rejoice: Grizzly Bear did not succumb to the dreaded sophomore slump. Their first full-length since Veckatimest dropped in 2009, this is another adventurous, challenging, yet eminently listenable album of cutting-edge pop music.

Low Cut Connie, Call Me Sylvia: America used to export boogie to the four corners of the globe. Then the global booty economy changed and all the guys down at the boogie plant had to get jobs at piano bars. This band brings pounding piano back to loud, hard-driving rock and roll.

Royal Headache: So we’ve got this nice soul revival going on, but admit it—the Dap-Kings and Ryan Shaw and Joss Stone spend a lot of effort recreating a glorious past. Royal Headache brings the grit of Stax soul to strutting garage punk. Reminds me of the Damned (one of my favorite bands) after listening to Teddy Pendergrass.

ASTRO: Speaking of Grizzly Bear, I think they have clones in Chile! Swooping electronic keyboard lines, songs that move your booty, and an overall sound that somehow exudes innocence and subtle complexity at the same time.

the Garlands: Oh janglepop, how I love you so. This could be early Lush or the Field Mice or even the Lilac Time with a female guest singer. Music like this really speaks to me and perhaps by compensation I’m very critical of new C-86 twee pop bands. There’s a lot of beautiful stuff very much like this that already exists—you’ve gotta do something special to distinguish yourself. The Garlands do just that. Any song on this album could be a single. It came out mere weeks ago and straightaway became one of the best pop albums of the year.

Amanda Palmer and Grand Theft Orchestra, Theatre is Evil: Forget the hype for just a minute. Forget that she’s cheerfully done a music video in the nude, married Neil Gaiman, worked her way up through the clubs to become an indie rock star. Forget that she’s one of the cleverest, most savvy businesspeople ever to leave a record label and strike out on their own. Listen to this album and remember why she’s here: Amanda Fucking Palmer is one of the sharpest lyricists and most passionate performers in American music. “Smile, smile / Your teeth are broke / And it’s all right / They’ll break the best of you / It makes you beautiful / So fists into the lips of fashion / Pictures or it didn’t happen.”

Mountain Goats, Transcendental Youth: If you’ve heard a Mountain Goats album before there are no surprises here. It’s a literate, organic album of intensely personal songs from a fine songwriter. This isn’t guitar-strumming soloist stuff, though—John Darnielle was making anthemic music with an acoustic ensemble long before Mumford & Sons were on the radar. “Unfurl the black velvet altar cloth / Draw a white chalk Baphomet / Mistreat your altar boys long enough / And this is what you get.” You’d think that was a metal song if you just read the lyrics, but it’s an acoustic foot-stomper with just the right combination of darkness and optimistic energy.

the School, Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything: Indie pop often hearkens back to scrappy British bands of the 80s, but the School is looking back a LOT further. This is the sound of Northern soul and ye-ye girls and mods and girl groups all serving the goal of catchiness. Yeah it’s nostalgic and deliberately retro, but that’d mean nothing if these songs didn’t work so well.

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Best music of 2012 (part 1)

End of the year already! I’ve felt really connected to music this year, hearing lots of stuff that gets me passionate and engaged. Dance, mosh, bounce, or sit quietly and listen to some of my personal favorite music of 2012. I’m posting my year-end playlist in every entry, but I’m dividing up capsule reviews of each album among four or five posts.

Ana Tijoux, La Bala: Latin music doesn’t usually click with me. The last few years has seen a welcome rise in Latin American artists who  are making bold new music on their own terms, and this album gives a dizzying mix of R&B, alt rock, traditional Latin beats, rapping, and electronica.

 

alcest

Alcest, Les Voyages de L’Âme: Could anything sound less accessible on the face of it than French black metal? Give this a listen to change your mind. Songs that travel effortlessly between gossamer caress and piercing assault, masterful production, a band that doesn’t care whether you call them hipster metal–this is one of the year’s most ambitious (and fulfilling) albums.

 

Burning Hearts, Extinctions: They were early contenders in the synthpop revival, but never got much recognition outside their native Finland. Maybe this album will rectify that. The influence of OMD and New Order is obvious here, but the songs seem somehow out of time and place—danceable yet intensely private, aching emotion wrapped in Scandinavian ice.

Pepe Deluxe, Queen of the Wave: What’s that Finland, you’re not done yet? This is high-flown stuff, a theatrical rock opera based on 19th-century novels about Atlantis. Keith Emerson would be embarassed by that concept, but Pepe Deluxe keep throwing everything at the album until it works. This is pop as high art, reminiscent of Queen at their most grandiose.

17pitchfork-off-blog480OFF! : Sometimes, some VERY RARE times, old punks are still punk. This is the first LP (yeah, I called it an LP) from these veterans of the Circle Jerks, Redd Kross, and Black Flag. It’s the best hardcore this year. Get skating.

 

The Bombay Royale, You Me Bullets Love: Hip western white folks sure do love us some Bollywood. This Australian band isn’t just reveling in cheesiness or uploading obscure clips to YouTube: they’re making damned interesting music based on the sound of vintage Indian movies.

 

the Ty Segall Band, Slaughterhouse: This album was definitely recorded in either 1968 or 2012. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. There’s a lot of early psychedelic blues here, and if you squint your ears just right you can imagine you’re hearing Blue Cheer or the Stooges. But there’s also Sonic Youth style walls of noise and distortion and proud punk revival. This ain’t kids music: Ty Segall is loud garage rock in its prime.

David Byrne and St. Vincent, Love This Giant: You know, it’s a big relief this didn’t disappoint. One of the year’s most anticipated albums, this collaboration between a longtime musical futurist and an indie pop ingénue could have just been OK, some decent songs and angular guitar bits. But the duo (along with a diverse host of guest musicians) put out one of the year’s most energetic, intelligent, important albums.

Shovels & Rope, O’ Be Joyful: It’s weird to me that Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw get to be called country while you’d have to describe this to your friends as “alt-country.” “She was singin’ in a bar called Comatose / Halfway rusted on the salty coast.” That’s a line from the FIRST SONG and it keeps going just that strong. Gothic Americana at its darkest.

Dylan Mondegreen: Let’s face it, the Swedes love us. By “Swedes” I mean artists like Kings of Convenience, Jens Lenkman, First Aid Kit, and Dylan Mondegreen here. And by “us” I mean the relaxing sounds of 1970s AM country rock. If he keeps writing songs like “The Heart is a Muscle,” I vote we send him a complimentary fringe jacket.