For Spotify users, here’s a link to the whole playlist: Joe’s favorite music of 2012
Frankie Rose, Interstellar: Rose’s second solo album ditches the noise of her earlier work with New York artists. It kind of even fits into the New Wave revival of the past decade; there’s more of Talulah Gosh here than Sonic Youth. An unassuming album that rewards close attention.
2:54: I wish there were more bands like 2:54. Not grinding industrial, not pounding electro, not aimless darkwave synths. Just straightforward goth rock with a declamatory alto singer, Daniel Ash-ian guitar playing, and a steady beat that lets you bob around making weird hand motions in the air.
Galactic, Carnivale Electricos: Embarassing truth: the New Orleans I grew up in wasn’t a great music city. It was resting on its laurels, pumping out predictable trad jazz for tourists. There were bright spots (there always are) like Dash Rip Rock and the Neville Brothers, but little innovation. Man, has that changed. Artists like Trombone Shorty, MUTEMATH, and Galactic are breathing life back into the scene. Galactic are grizzled veterans at this point, bringing modern jazz and funk together with traditional NOLA sounds. One of their best albums yet, Carnivale Electricos throws Brazilian samba and a bunch of guest stars into the mix.
Gift of Gab, The Next Logical Progression: For my money Gift of Gab is the most accomplished technician in hip hop. He’s got fantastic flow and here he’s using it over sunny, funky beats reminiscent of D.A.I.S.Y.-age De La Soul. There’s real meat and substance here, but with so much joy going on the listener never feels preached at.
Shearwater, Animal Joy: I think indie rock musicians are finally comfortable enough with themselves to be grandiose. Maybe we need to give them permission to do that, to let them know that being all countercultural and niche and indie is perfectly compatible with strutting proudly onstage, pounding the piano keys, and declaiming in a gorgeous voice, head held high and eyes closed in exquisite beauty. Shearwater’s learned that lesson well, and they’re not afraid to reach right out and grab for your heart.
Air, Le Voyage Dans La Lune: Ever so cool, ever so subtle, ever so French. Air has always strolled a narrow boulevard between fantastically interesting trip-hop and pointless retro indulgences. Experimental synth noodling, licks from old disco records, Sixties easy listening, and bleeding-edge electronic pop combine here to make one of the best chill out albums of the year. Bonus? The whole thing is a soundtrack to the first ever science fiction film.
Tin Hat, The Rain is a Handsome Animal: It’s safe to say that Tin Hat are never going to be a hit band. A world where that could happen would be TOO good, a world we would not deserve. But we can listen to the indescribable, eclectic beauty of Carla Kihlstedt and company adapting e.e. cummings’s poems to a beautiful song cycle. It’s not quite jazz, not quite pop, and not quite art song, but partakes of the most noble aspects of all three.
Metric, Synthetica: Another year, another great Metric album. Hard to believe they’ve been around for ten years now, but there you have it—one of the first 80s synthpop revivalists is still one of the best, making polished dance music for a bold new age.
Lost in the Trees, A Church That Fits Our Needs: A searingly personal album shows what eccentric American freak-folk can do at its best. The intricate arrangements and sometimes precious vocals never detract from the power of this song cycle about a mother’s suicide. “Put your arms around my mother / I burned her body in the furnace / ‘Til all that’s left was her glory.”
Baroness, Yellow & Green: Still the overall best metal band working today. With smoky-voiced singing that stays far away from both Cookie Monster and Donald Duck, Baroness flirts with Southern rock, post-punk, commercial hard rock, and goth influences but always manages to sound most like themselves.