Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My 25 best albums of 2012

It's officially December, so for the month, the news is on halt(not really) so we can all reflect, categorize, and list all that has happened in 2012(possible Syrian chemical weapons be damned!)  I'm also taking part in the looking back, on the music of 2012.  Within this post sits a list of the 25 albums that defined my year.  Albums that inspired deep introspection, reflection, binge-drinking, spirited dancing, spacial exploration, raging, crying, loving, breathing.  2011 had it's musical moments, but I am more inspired by what I found this year.  What would have made the musical lanscape of 2012 a bit brighter? A new Modest Mouse LP; we weary fans already five years into that wait, I'm sure we'll live. Thank you 2012, you've tested my mettle, but the music's still playing.

25. Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory

Attack On Memory aggressively brought into 2012.  A bedroom project gone full band.  Steve Albini behind the boards means added aggression, edge, and 100% analog recording.  Rocks hard, sometimes bordering post-hardcore/emo level hard.  Don't be dissuaded, this is a great rock record.

24. Matthew Dear - Beams

Brighter and more optimistic than 2010's aptly titled "Black City," Beams has Detroit's Matthew Dear arranging extremely danceable, yet oddly cerebral, mostly electronic music.  His singing voice also resembles Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, so bonus points for that. Keep rockin' in the D, Mr. Dear.

23. The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet

The Mars Volta were much more straightforward with "Noctourqiuet."  But by god, they still craft endlessly interesting prog rock tunes with wild narrative vocals.  This time around, they even lean towards garage rock with the blues-stomping "The Malkin Jewel."  Let's hope Bixler-Xavala and Rodriguez-Lopez never lose the weird.

22. The Men - Open Your Heart

Mostly vocal-less, New York post-hardcore.  Done right.  These boys include nods to just about every decade of rock music.  Powerful, muscular rock.  Just when you think you have their number, they drop "Candy, " a vocals-lead, country love song.

21.  Chromatics - Kill For Love

"Drive" was 2011's best film, with a fantastic soundtrack full of 80s synth-indebted "Synth/Dream-pop."  Chromatics had music featured on that soundtrack, then followed that opportunity up with "Kill For Love."  This massive double album is a strong statement in favor of their preferred genre.  With touches of low-end, dubby reverb, and some post-punk aesthetic   Look for this album to be a major reference point of many a future 80s-loving, synth-popper.

20. Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits

Leader of Spoon?  Check.  Handsome Furs/ Wolf Parade's            Dan Boeckner? Check.  Supergroup of the year?  Check.  Divine Fits prove that great, individually accomplished parts can manifest into an original whole that musically references both past successes, while creating an entirely new identity.  Britt Daniel is the king of minimalism, and that can be heard throughout "A Thing Called Divine Fits."  P.S.  The keys/synth work by Alex Fischel is fantastic.

19.  Swans - The Seer

Swans never give it to you the easy way, and "The Seer" is no different.  This album is a 2-hour experimental sound trip.  It can be haunting, demonic, punishing, but beautiful.  This album is not for everyone.  But Michael Gira never wanted to be for everyone.  This album is a fight, but a worthy one.

18.  Beach House - Bloom

Following the beautiful "Teen Dream" must be tough, but Beach House step up and instead of reinventing the wheel, took what made "Teen Dream" beautiful, and built.  Beach House should be crowned as Dream-pop royalty.  The tunes occupy so much space, they beg to swallow you whole.  Beach House continue to be one of the most consistent bands in music.  Keep it up.

17.  Brother Ali - Mourning in America, Dreaming in Color

Atmosphere acolyte and label artist takes a Muslim activist approach to America, and reps Romney's ignored 47% pretty damn well.  Brother Ali is on a tear.  All three of his LPs are inspired listens that add to the narrative of a man that's legally blind, albino, and hyper-aware of injustice.

16.  David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant

Mr. Talking Head and the beautiful woman responsible for my favorite album of 2011 come together and make an album that sounds very little like either's respective places in music.  It sways effortlessly, horns all over the place.  Though some might point to the arrangements as being too simple for the collective brains at work, the music is so effortless, perfectly arranged, and endlessly catchy, that detractors should just stop and enjoy the ride.

15.  Dan Deacon - America

Deacon wrote this while travelling the country, and titled his album thusly.  This album is the maximalist electronic album equivalent of 'On The Road.'  The album feels and breathes scenery, ebbs and flows like every great road trip you've ever taken, dances on canyons, and swims in the rivers.  Missing out on Dan Deacon is missing a key component of the electronic landscape.

14.  Sharon Van Etten - Tramp

Before Tramp, Sharon Van Etten was a careful observer of the human condition, and she played that out fairly simply, with a guitar, and strong words.  Tramp blew Van Etten's sound wide open.  Lush arrangements, with equally powerful words.  Production by Aaron Dessner of The National is felt throughout, but never out-edges Van Etten's cutting lines, and fighting voice.

13.  Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes

'Cosmogramma' wrote a new chapter in electronic music.  'Until the Quiet Comes' didn't quite do that.  What it did do was show a young, extremely talented artist mature and continue to cultivate a space and sound that hundreds are and will continue to use as source material.  The album is more subdued, less all-over-the-place, but more haunting.  FlyLo picks the perfect vocal guests and allows their contributions to shine.  Anything with FlyLo's name on it has my attention.

12.  Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...

She makes you wait(6 years for the last one, 7 years for this one,) but as soon as the piano starts, you're in for some gorgeous, pained, introspection.  Fiona Apple has reemerged with a stunning set of songs.  Many very simple in structure, but beautiful in delivery and honesty.  Let's hope the next one only takes half the time.

11.  Grizzly Bear - Shields

If you don't have quality speakers or headphones for this album, than you should probably wait until you do.  Grizzly Bear are all about the subtle details, and those details and explorations fill this album to the brim.  No songs with the instant hit feel of "Two Weeks," but the entire album shows off how distinct and gripping Grizzly Bear's songs can be, especially when their co-band leaders are writing together.

10.  Titus Andronicus - Local Business

Punk Ethics well intact, Titus Andronicus ditch the extras that helped turn 2010's 'The Monitor' into one of the finest rock albums in recent memory.  With the horns, speeches, and Civil War out of the way, the Jersey boys came right at us with more straightforward punk rock tracks.  The result was another fantastic album, one that better showed off the live feeling of Titus Andronicus and kept Patrick Stickles' hyper-self aware intelligence, and put some personal struggle at the forefront (My Eating Disorder.)

9. Father John Misty - Fear Fun

He left Fleet Foxes, dreamed up a new moniker, and got lost in philosophy.  I hope J. Tillman never finds his way back.  Fear Fun is smart, but never loses it's sense of humor.  J. Tillman's voice is strong, but warm.  He muses on death, love, and bad trips.  He creates characters that live and breathe within the music.  He also manages to references Heidegger, Sartre, and Neil Young, all in the same song. (I'm Writing a Novel)  Robin Pecknold can have his Fleet Foxes, I'm praying in the church of Father John.

8.  Jack White - Blunderbuss

For any of my friends who thought this was taking home top prize, I can't blame you for the guess.  Blunderbuss marks a very important moment in the career of a very important musician.  The White Stripes are defunct, and The Raconteurs and Dead Weather lack time tables or contracts to fulfill.  So here comes the solo record.   The A-side is chuck-full of powerful tracks, "Sixteen Saltines" let's us know that Jack still riffs with the best.  'Love Interruption' was the surprisingly mellow first single that just kept getting better every time I heard it.  But it was the B-side that brings the whole album together.  Flowing effortlessly, while jumping through genres like a modern take on White Album aesthetics.
Long live the king.

7.  Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

What happens when an experimental brainiac takes his band out into the middle of the woods in upstate New York to write their new album?  A great band decides to focus on writing great songs with heavy emotional depth.  From the Zepplin roar of the guitar on "Offspring are Blank" to the tragedy of "Impregnable Question."  'Swing Lo Magellan'  finally brings the heart into the Dave Longstreth equation.

6.  Kendrick Lamar - good kid M.A.A.D. city

Does Kendrick Lamar's debut LP follow the "instant classic" formula so perfectly laid out by "Illmatic?"  Yes.  Does that take anything away from it's value or success as the best rap album of the year? No.  Kendrick has crafted a real and intellectual look at the world he grew up in, and by embracing both the positive and intense negatives, he's made his greatest case for being rap's next great M.C..

5.  Alt-J (∆) - An Awesome Wave

I got ahold of this album shortly after it debuted in Europe and as soon as the last song had struck it's final chord, two thoughts immediately jumped into my head. 1) Why is no one in America talking about this album? 2) My friends need to hear this album right away.  Great Britain as a whole seems to think the same things, awarding lead single 'Tessalate' plenty of airplay, and awarding Atl-J with this year's Mercury Prize.  Alt-J have created an impressive debut of electronic-folk rock.  The bass is dubby, especially on 'Fitzpleasure.'  Though maybe not the next Radiohead as so many over-zealous british music journalists proclaimed, but they are a young, talented band that have crafted a debut album that stands with the best of 2012 and creates a whole lot of pressure for number 2.

4.  Ty Segall - Twins

Three full LPs this year!!!  Twins is just the far and away best of three quality releases.  Twins was a full solo project, Segall did most of the instrumentation and crafted pulverizing songs, many of which seem to imply that Ty Segall is losing his mind.  'Twins' is Ty Segall moving out of the garage and exploding all aspects of his musical identity.  The feedback is ever-present and explodes throughout the record.  The hooks are infectious, and the little "cha" on 'Ghost,' might be the best syllable on record all year.  Be prepared, Ty Segall's going to be a fucking rock star.

3.  Japandroids - Celebration Rock

The boys of Vancouver's Japandroids are both 30 as of this writing.  Past the point of youthful experimentation, binge-drinking(maybe), teenage love, and all that the world offers at a young age.  With 'Celebration Rock,' Japandroids take a heavy, nostalgia-filled look in the rearview mirror and do a 35-minute group shout to the good old days.  The busy, strummy guitar never relents, the drums are inventive and punishing.  This album will have you believing that life is worth living, that every gathering of friends, every drink, every smoke, every meal is worth celebrating.  They honor The Replacements like no other band has, and they honor the human struggle by raising a glass and lighting fireworks.

2.  Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE

After listening to 'channel ORANGE' the first couple of times, I ran away from it.  It was too honest, too intense, too real.  Frank Ocean had completely thrown himself to his work.  Creating flawed characters that feel as real as friends, and he treated them as such.  I'm glad I finally made my way back to the album, though moments of it still pry tears from my eyes, each listen is rewarding.  Ocean is never afraid to be himself, like Kanye, he spent a lot of time behind the boards before working his own music, he knows what he wants from each track, and sticks to his gut, even when others would doubt themselves.  channel ORANGE isn't just a great R&B record, it's THE great R&B record I've been waiting for.  There hasn't been a more convincing display of the genre since Voodoo.  Let's hope Frank Ocean continues to believe in himself as much as he does here, the groundwork for a historic career has been laid, may he keep building!

1.  Tame Impala - Lonerism

In 2010, I thought psych-rock was dead.(Note, I do not count The Flaming Lips as psych-rock, they're in a place all their own.)  The genre had been mined over and over again, everyone wanting some piece of what 4 boys from Liverpool had found in dropping acid.  Usually, it involved buying all era-specific equipment, tearing out chunks of melody, chord progression, or vocal stylings.  This became old, stale, I'd been listening to 'The Beatles' since age 4, and sure, into my teen years, Beatles copiers often found space in my ears.  But I grew tired, and turned my back to psych-rock.  But 2010 brought 'Innerspeaker" by Tame Impala, and some hope was restored.  Sure, he sounded a shit ton like John Lennon in songs like "A Day in the Life" and "Tomorrow Never Knows," but the melodies were fresh, the technology was of the present, and the songs were killer. When "Lonerism" was announced, I was worried, sophomore slumps are prominent in music.  What I found was an album with melodies even more glorious, psychedelic freak-outs even more phased and gripping; I found an album that shows the pain of isolation, of social paranoia.  King Crimson and Todd Rundgren's "A Wizard, a true star" should be considered major influences as much as Sgt. Pepper.  I couldn't help but connect with this album, to be pained on songs like "Why Won't They Talk to Me?" To be sent back into my glam rock-loving phase with "Elephant," and belt out(when alone) to "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards."  Not just because the album and songs are fantastic, but because I feel like I've been there, because Kevin Parker has found the beauty in those isolated moment, in the doubt, in the frustration, and hes willing to tell you exactly what it's like, and it might hurt, but boy is it beautiful.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Band of Horses - "Mirage Rock"

Band of Horses - Mirage Rock

For most fans of Indie Rock(and thanks to the hilariously general nature of the genre, that's a lot of people) there resides a horror story within them, of a beloved band. A band that was once original, once exciting, once emotional, once relatively unknown, but who built up a fan base, maybe switched labels, and eventually devolved into a boring, general, or just overly disappointing act.  I've seen Kings of Leon switch from Southern Strokes to Y'all2, listened to the soul being sucked completely out of Cold War Kids, and now, I've witness the decline and fall of another favorite from my more formative years.  Band of Horses new album "Mirage Rock" can only be summed up properly with a gigantic, collective sigh.

Opening track "Knock Knock" is fine, I guess.  But by the time "Slow Cruel Hand of Time" is 30 seconds in, I'm dosing off.  Ben Bridwell's voice is still a national treasure, the harmonies can still kick your ass, but all the emotional weight is gone.  Long gone are heavy-hitting southern indie home-runs like "The Funeral" or "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands." They've gone from personal letter, to Hallmark card.  "Dumpster World" is a song that not only belongs in the place it's title created, but begs to be insulted as such.  The song is a calm, coolish shuffle, until it kicks in with it's big, bright beautiful(HA) chorus, "I'm happy living in a dumpster world."  Fantastic, because if this album is any indication, you've found it.

Titus Andronicus - "Local Business"

Titus Andronicus - Local Business  8.7/10

Patrick Stickles likes to question why the world around him sucks. On his last go around, he spent 60 minutes switching back-and-forth between the march of Civil War, and life as a twenty-something in New Jersey.  And boy, was it a glorious 60 minutes.  2010's "The Monitor" wasn't just one of the best albums of that year, it was ambitious, literary, flawed, but nonetheless brilliant.

So with that album now 2 1/2 years in the past, Titus Andronicus have brought us "Local Business."  An album that is 10 minutes shorter, much less ambitious, more straightforward, yet still manages to show you exactly why Titus Andronicus are one of the best punk bands on the planet.

Leave it to Stickles to lay out his world view in the opening line of the first song, "I think by now we've established that everything is inherently worthless, and there's nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose."  The song "Ecce Homo" with it's title taken from the words of Pontius Pilate as he presented Jesus Christ bound and sporting a crown of thorns just before his execution, is an opening statement that shows exactly where Stickles' thoughts have lead him.  He's in full "fuck it" mode, and the ensuing 45 minutes develop a dichotomy under which Stickles makes his case.  With titles like "Hot Deuce on a Silver Platter" and "Food Fight," the latter being just another example of Titus Andronicus' ability to craft fantastic, 1-minute punk jams, are examples of the humor Stickles finds in how much the world can suck.  Inversely, titles like "My Eating Disorder" and "Tried to Quit Smoking" point to more serious reasons to be pissed off.  It's this dichotomy that helps carve Stickles' place among the great young punks.

This band wears their New Jersey proudly, aggressively, and directly.  They stick to their Lo-Fi roots, and have created an album that streamlines the sort of rip-roaring, angry, thoughful, referencial, Springsteen, Dinosaur Jr., Conor Oberst indebted music that they've made since their debut "Airing of Grievances."

"Ecce Homo," or "Behold the man."  For Stickles and Titus Andronicus aren't going anywhere.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jack White - Freedom at 21

New(a week old) music video from Jack White.  Freedom at 21 is directed by legendary Hip-hop/R&B director Hype Williams, and this clip has all the shameless sex appeal and side-boob of the 90s Hip-hop video hay-day.

Clip brought you by JackWhiteVevo

Friday, July 13, 2012

The White Oranges - "Steamboats are for the Romantics"

The White Oranges - “Steamboats are for the Romantics”                                  7.6/10   

Having spent my entire life growing up in what is known broadly as “Mid-Michigan,” I can connect with the idea of escapism, being aggressively unsettled, under-stimulated, and losing one's self to dreams.  Upon hearing The White Orange's debut album “Steamboats are for the Romantics,” it seems that singer/guitarist Justin O'Kelly is stuck in a similar mindset.
On a basic level, the White Oranges play a version of “Indie Rock.” Their debut album, “Steamboats are for the Romantics” finds them grappling with multiple influences while trying to dig out a specific sound to call their own.

The opening track, “Blackmore No More” comes in full-on Indie-folk.  This is a short, clever 1 minute indie-folk ditty, complete with group backing vocals and the only acoustic guitar you're going to hear for the next 30 min.

As soon as track two starts, it becomes clear that O'Kelly has spent some time with a few Death Cab records. The songs aren't ripping Gibbard and Walla off, but a song like “The Garden” with lines like “and how many times must I write, to your ghost” come off as missing pieces of Gibbard's journal. The song has a longing, a desire for something no longer present. But like early Death Cab, that longing comes hand-delivered with a sort-of youthful exuberance and earnestness that has become so familiar in the world of post-Transatlanticism Indie Rock.

The assumed first single is “New Zealand,” a song that starts off as pretty as the previous track. The song is a slight conversation. “How are you feelin' tonight, darling” O'Kelly's nameless female character asks; the answer is a laundry list of travel destinations mixed with sometimes rational, sometimes blatantly outrageous, borderline juvenile and offensive desires like “kill a couple cops” or “burn down a forest.” O'Kelly sounds restless, he just wants out of the place hes been his whole life. This is a pseudo-universal desire, and being 19, he has the time, matched with the writing talent to get his wish sooner, rather than later.

The A-side finishes off with some inconsistency. “Ambrose Road” isn't a bad song, for as straight-forward an indie rock song as it is, the slightly off-kilter percussion of drummer Kyle Roksiewicz shines through. The problem is that overall, the track falls flat. The Oranges tried to fill the track, adding a trumpet and a group chorus at the end. But those extras don't really fit well, they seem forced.

The last A-side track is an entirely different beast. “The Dutchess” is a 6-minute monster with great build and an insistent drumbeat. It fits in well with the rest of the A-side, aside from the fact that it's just better than the others. Within “The Dutchess” resides another O'Kelly character telling someone that they've “gotta leave town while you still can.” The line carries serious emotional weight. And the whole song, along with the hypnotizing guitar continuously persisting behind O'Kelly's voice, gives the song the feel of a dream. To supplement that feeling, they injected an excerpt from Richard Brautigan's “In Watermelon Sugar” for good measure. Blending a soft female voice and a haunting vocal-modded male voice each reading the excerpt, the story, about talking tigers eating a child's parents becomes almost sickening to the stomach.  This leads to a low and ominous voice repeating, “when did you find out this wasn't real?” The Oranges have been in on the joke the whole time, but are very serious about it. The Brautigan interlude leads to the outro; outrageous guitar swells, noises from all over, and slam-happy percussion that end the A-side on a powerful emotional note.

Then the B-side starts; the voice is just as smooth, but suddenly it's as if Ben Gibbard quit Death Cab, and started doing the vocal work for The Black Keys. GARAGE BLUES? Yes. The B-side is the stronger side of the two. As soon as “Living Water Blues” starts up, each song has a punch. Both of the albums guitar solos(which are particularly groovy for a 19-year-old from Caro, MI) reside on the B-side of town. Though what truly separates this side from the previous is the band finding what could become its original voice. The A-side was too resonant of other Indie Rock already out there. But when this band is (forgive me) “rocking out” a bit, and O'Kelly is still spitting lines like the precious, Gibbard-loving man that he is, you get the feeling that the White Oranges are carving their own spot in the very crowded world of “Indie Rock.”

The last track, titled “Attempting to Build a Flying Machine Out of Stuff in Your Basement” is the heaviest, most unabashed moment on the record. The guitar is thick, Roksiewicz is pounding the shit out of the drums, and the fills take what is a pretty straightforward jam, and completely fill it out, a solo right at the end, and it's over.

Like with many debut albums, “Steamboats are for the Romantics” is a bit unfocused. It also seems that at times, they are trying to do too much, which can be good(The Dutchess), but more often than not hurts the overall album(trumpet, group chorus.) Something that might end up being a rather divisive issue is the band's inclusion of bass parts in their songs. This is a two-piece band, guitar and drums. It's not against any law for a two-piece to use extra instrumentation, and some of the bass parts on this album sound pretty good, even a bit funky. But I believe this band will be better off finding a way to make more noise with just their two instruments. They have the talent, and the time, and a debut that, even flawed, has my ears perked and ready for more.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Brand New Blog

Welcome to this very new blog.  The blog will work as an outlet for my critical take on music.  After years of spouting off to friends and family, I've decided to let such ramblings and rants run wild on the internet.  Don't expect to always agree with me, don't expect only a certain genre or type of music.  I will be posting reviews randomly until I am more comfortable with the format and my schedule.  As soon as this occurs, I hope to have a more regular schedule for posting reviews.  In-between reviews I'll be re-posting articles and videos relating to music that I find interesting, outrageous, shocking, fantastic or revelatory.  Hopefully you'll find some form of entertainment or enjoyment in reading this blog.
Sam Majeske