Here are the 10 best albums of 2012 as rated by yours truly. I feel strongly that a year-end list shouldn’t be swayed by the most buzz or suckered by the heaviest promotions. I listened to almost 100 albums in 2012 and these 10 stood out to me. I hope you find at least one you like in my list.
10. Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy. Nada Surf is power-pop bliss. This is a great comeback album for these guys, who have been making music since the early ’90s. Stars, the first new album for the band in four years, has an incredibly infectious sound.
9. Frankie Rose – Interstellar. Frankie Rose is a veteran of indie groups, including Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls. While her 2010 release (recorded as Frankie Rose and the Outs) showed glimpses of what was to come, she also stuck with that ’60s girls group genre that made her former bands popular. Here, Rose puts out a highly original album that draws liberally from ’80s pop.
8. The Men – Open Your Heart. The Men made one of the best rock albums of the year, hands down. The spirit and energy of these guys reminds me of the Replacements in their heyday. Like those classic Mats albums, Open Your Heart, takes some cool twists and turns, including the country-influenced Candy, to help pace an otherwise frenetic album.
7. Beachwood Sparks – The Tarnished Gold. With the popularity of Sub Pop labelmates Fleet Foxes, I’m surprised Beachwood Sparks didn’t generate more interest. This easy-going alt-country gem represents another comeback, the first release in 11 years for Beachwood Sparks. Fans of Jayhawks and early Wilco will want to get this album.
6. Grizzly Bear – Shields. Grizzly Bear picks up where it left off with the stunning 2009 release Veckatimest. If you liked that release, there’s a very good chance you’ll dig Shields as well. I’ve always found Grizzly Bear’s sound hard to describe. The oft-used term chamber pop doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Shields is full of dramatic flourishes, which I think makes for a very exciting album even though it’s not exactly rock.
5. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon / Ocean Roar. Released separately, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar are companion albums from the brilliant Phil Elverum, an artist who self releases his music. Elverum makes quiet music that builds into intense landscapes of sound. Both albums were recorded in a vacated church in Washington state where Elverum says he contemplated his own existence. It’s an atmospheric journey marked by many musical peaks and valleys.
4. Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth. There’s a petition pushed by fans of Mountain Goats to make the band’s principal John Darnielle a U.S. poet laureate. I can’t say that I’ve ever been so fanatical about Darnielle or his longtime band, but I do know a great album when I hear one. And Darnielle made one that musically stands up to his thoughtful lyrics.
3. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan. Frontman David Longstreth said Dirty Projectors’ most recent album was influenced by Lil Wayne, Neil Young, Guided by Voices, Rod Stewart and Blind Willie Johnson. No one makes music quite like Dirty Projectors. Harmonized female vocals are often as prominent (or even more dominating) an instrument as the guitar. But no worries — there are guitars on this album, including on the big opening song, Offspring Are Blank. Once compared to prog rock, Longstreth reportedly pointed out in an interview that he wasn’t a big fan of Yes.
2. Ty Segall – Twins. He made three albums in 2012 and they were all really good. Twins is a solid collection of songs from one of the most exciting rock musicians working today. Year-end album lists tend to leave out the best and most fierce rock albums. That’s a shame. Inspired by Stooges, T-Rex and others famous many years before this rocker was born, Segall’s sound is a bit anachronistic and yet his music is so fresh.
1. Woods – Bend Beyond. And speaking of anachronistic… With its psychedelic sound, Woods draws on an earlier era of rock music. When played live, the band extends the excellent title track to 10 minutes (more than double the album length for the song). But you certainly don’t have to be fan of jam bands or psychedelic ’60s to appreciate Woods. I’ve been listening to this band for years and I’d say this is its most accessible album yet. There’s not a bad song in the bunch. It’s very compelling and highly recommended.
Do you want more? Check out my list for the rest of the top 40 here.
It may be Election Day but it’s also new music Tuesday. Highlighting this week’s new releases: the Casket Girls, Teen Daze and an EP from Dirty Projectors.
Dirty Projectors follows its fine release from earlier this year, Swing Lo Magellan, with the EP About to Die. The release features previously unreleased songs in addition to the title-track single from Magellan. My highlight from the EP is Here Till It Says I’m Not.
For you synth fans, Casket Girls is the new project of Ryan Graveface, who also plays with Black Mother Super Rainbow. Ryan (real name Ryan Manon) made the album, Sleepwalking, with Elsa and Phaedra Greene of Savannah, Georgia. It’s a spooky, electronic gem.
The Inner Mansions is the second album from Teen Daze. This is another electronic album but one with a full, lush sound. The highlight for me is Union, a song with Frankie Rose.
Here’s the official video for About to Die:
Also out today: Prince Rama’s concept album Top Ten Hits of the End of the World. The release features songs by 10 fictitious bands who died in an apocalypse. The album comes complete with a K-tel style cover.
Buckle Up is the A side of a 7-inch release only available at Dirty Projectors’ shows.
You have to follow @DirtyProjectors on Twitter to get a password for the records.
My favorite sets at the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival Friday were by Dirty Projectors and Willis Earl Beal. I had a feeling that Dirty Projectors’ new songs would sound really good live. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Beal, who is sort of a soul, blues, gospel, indie kind of guy. He’s not that easy to define — kind of like Tom Waits. But he’s a captivating performer and his songs are powerful.
I liked sets by Lower Dens and Japandroids but I’m also a big fan of both. Japandroids did seem to work people into a frenzy. I picked Purity Ring on the side stage over headlining closer Feist. Purity Ring’s music sounds a lot like the Knife. The duo’s debut album, Shrines, is out Tuesday, though you can buy it at Pitchfork fest this weekend.
The rain delayed the start of the fest but let up only to send everyone running for cover again late day. The main stages were back on schedule by early evening but the third stage acts never seem to get started on time.
Here’s just the thing for the dog days of summer: A pair of very cool, highly original releases out (today) Tuesday from Dirty Projectors and Dusted. The albums feel like they fall at the opposite ends of some musical spectrum. Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan is full of complicated musical arrangements borrowing from many genres, while Dusted’s Total Dust is best described as super lo-fi. Both are highly recommended.
Fans of Dirty Projectors know the very distinct sound of this band but there are some twists and turns on Magellan that we didn’t hear on the 2009 breakthrough Bitte Orca. Maybe it’s the beats? In an interview with the New York Times, frontman David Longstreth said he was influenced by a number of artists during the making of Magellan, including Lil Wayne. ”I love the beats,” Longstreth said, referring to Weezy’s music. Other artists inspiring Magellan: Neil Young, Guided By Voices, Rod Stewart and blues legend Blind Willie Johnson, he told the Times. All in all, Magellan is a strong album and may even best the remarkable Bitte Orca.
Dusted is the vehicle for Brian Borcherdt, best known for his bass, drums and electronica outfit Holy Fuck. Total Dust is a big departure from the boisterous sounds of that band. Musically, Total Dust sounds like what I imagine a collaboration between Woods and Mount Eerie would sound like. As for production, it’s Lou Barlow circa early ’90s. But what a great album Borcherdt put together with the help of collaborator Leon Taheny. Dusted is slow, deliberate and often haunting.
Stream all of Total Dust here.
You can catch Dirty Projectors at Pitchfork fest Friday.
Dirty Projectors plans a new album, Swing Lo Magellan, to be released next month. Watch a video for the single, Gun Has No Trigger, off the new album.
Both albums by Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band were savaged in Pitchfork reviews. Listening to Where the Messengers Meet, the latest release from this Seattle band, I can’t say that the latest review (and a lowly 3.3 rating) is deserved. Sure, it’s an overwrought sound in stretches and the album overall is uneven but there are high points, including the songs At Night, Messengers and Hurrah. The band, which may appeal to fans of Grizzly Bear or Dirty Projectors, plays the Empty Bottle tonight.
There were a number of really strong sets the first day of Lollapalooza, and I didn’t even see Lady Gaga’s performance (which reportedly sucked).
The 71-year-old Mavis Staples smoked, introducing some new songs and closing her set with her classic I’ll Take You There. As I suspected, Jeff Tweedy, who produced her upcoming album, joined Staples on stage for a couple of songs.
The slightly younger Jimmy Cliff, 62, also sounded great, playing a high-energy show just before the headliners. I also caught strong sets by the Walkmen, Drive-By Truckers, Devo, Dirty Projectors and the Black Keys.
Trying to stage a comeback, the Strokes needed to give the performance of their career. They didn’t disappoint, opening with a raging version of New York City Cops. It was an interesting choice for an opener. The band removed the song from the U.S. version of its 2001 debut, Is This It, out of respect for the cops on the scene after the September 11 attacks.
Maybe this is too obvious to point out but Lollapalooza’s headliners mostly suck. Can this festival that once championed new music become any more of a clueless, corporate money-making machine?
Lady Gaga? Really? Green Day? Soundgarden?
The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot reports Arcade Fire and Strokes also may headline. It’s hard to say what the reunited Strokes will sound like. The Arcade Fire is the exception and is always amazing live.
Granted, Pitchfork snagged Pavement, and it’s not as though Lolla has been pure with indie spirit in recent years. But the Billboard chart-topping Lady Gaga is antithetical to what I thought Lollapalooza is or used to be about.
Just for the sake of comparison, look at the Sasquatch! headliners for that Memorial Day weekend festival: Pavement, Massive Attack and My Morning Jacket. The full line-up is unbelievable.
To be somewhat fair, we don’t have the full Lolla lineup yet.
And on the bright side: According to Kot, there are a few other non-headlining Lolla bands that we like here at ATYP. That list includes Yeasayer, Dirty Projectors, xx, Hot Chip and Cut Copy. All of this is unofficial so far.