Done! The final post for my favorite music of 2012.
Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Out of Frequency: Classic pop is enjoying a nice resurgence lately: witness the music of Adele, Rumer, the School, and Nikki Jean. Asteroids Galaxy Tour takes a more adventurous approach, incorporating hints of soul, early disco and psychedelia. This Danish act aren’t just content to recreate—they’re adding new, 21st century touches to retro pop in a really exciting way.
Sweater Girls, . . . Were Here: Sweater Girls bring something to the table that too many twee pop bands lack: talent. Their music is sunny and cute and touching and immediate, but it’s also WELL PLAYED. The L.A. Group arranged an album with greatly varying textures that shows great intelligence for a debut. They know when to be noisy, when to be sweet, when to be dark, and when to get excited.
Dr. John, Locked Down: This album belongs as much to producer Dan Auerbach as it does to Mac Rebennack. And that’s surprising because it’s a total return to early 70s form for Dr. John. This is the freakier outskirts of funky 70s rock, owing as much to Frank Zappa as it does to James Brown. Every track is sinuous and groovy, insidious and tight. A surprising reminder that Dr. John isn’t just another classic rock dinosaur; he’s still got something worth saying.
A.C. Newman, Shut Down the Streets: One of the most important songwriters in Canada, Newman was in Zumpano before founding indie pop supergroup the New Pornographers. This album leans more toward the acoustic and introspective than his previous power pop work, but it’s sure a good fit. Newman is always surprising; the melodies never quite go where you think they will, the chord changes tend toward much longer phrasing than typical pop music. No one else sounds like this, and it’s always good to hear more sophisticated pop.
Field Report: If nothing else this album shows how far our collaborators can push us. It’s a debut album from a longtime pedal steel player who’d never written any songs before. But Porterfield started out playing with artists who we now know as Megafaun and Bon Iver, and their influence shows in every line. This is Americana at its starkest and most honest. Reminiscent of Springsteen and Dylan at their best, Field Report is a band to watch.
the Staves, Dead and Born and Grown: Europeans sure seem to love California. The Staves are English sisters recreating the California folk-rock sound for 2013. They’ve got those tight matching harmonies that you only get from sibling acts, delicate work on the acoustic guitar, and an intuitive feel for the best aspects of Laurel Canyon.
Royal Thunder, CVI: I admit it, I’m more prone to like metal bands with female singers. It’s got nothing to do with sex appeal or girl power. Women are just way less likely to shriek like Donald Duck or yell like Cookie Monster. Atlanta’s Royal Thunder are a welcome addition to the modern stoner/doom metal scene. And there are welcome influences here from the more alternative side of 80s hard rock—I’ve never heard a woman sound so much like Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, and some of the playing is reminiscent of eary post-hardcore bands like Hüsker Dü and Band of Susans.
Exitmusic, Passage: Dark, dynamic, and soaring, Exitmusic takes their cues from bleeding-edge artists like Radiohead and Sigur Rós. The unearthly voice of Aleksa Palladino (also a successful actress) puts a unique spin on a uniquely American post-rock. I guess other reviewers don’t hear this, but to me Exitmusic is also carrying on the work of adventurous goth acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees, This Mortal Coil, and Cocteau Twins.
the Mynabirds, Generals: Quite a change from one album to another. The Mynabirds started out as part of the California folky revival, but you wouldn’t know it from this album. Singer Laura Burhenn keeps that smoky voice, but now it’s over blippy electronics and dark piano and guitars. This is a great and particularly American contribution to the great modern electronic pop coming out of Europe.
the Menahan Street Band, The Crossing: Why isn’t instrumental popular music more, well, popular? The Menahan Street Band is a side project from NYC soul and afrobeat musicians. These aren’t weathered soul veterans—most are young white kids who’ve turned out an album tight enough for the Stax house band. Soulful without getting repetitive, expert, funky, and flawless.
Frank Turner, Last Minutes and Lost Evenings: A former punk who moved toward protest songs and English folk? No it’s not Billy Bragg, it’s Eton graduate Frank Turner. He’s been working in England for a while now, but didn’t really have an American presence. This compilation and B-sides/rarities collection aims to change that. He’s honest, optimistic, invigorating, personal, and political in the best sense of the word.