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, 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.
OFF! : 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.