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