Virginia Omnivore
This will be the story for at least the next month. #thenewmybloodyvalentinealbumisout #MBV

This will be the story for at least the next month. #thenewmybloodyvalentinealbumisout #MBV

Top 30 of 2012: Part II - The Final Frontier

15. Math The Band - Get Real: Ten years ago, Andrew WK released “I Get Wet”. It felt more like a mission statement than an album. That mission: no matter what you do, always have fun and always live fast. Very, very fast. Fast forward to 2013 and Math The Band seems to be following his example to the letter. Replacing Andrew’s love for Def Leppard’s hard rocking flair with their love for pop punk and electronic noise, Kevin and Justine show as much “maturity” as you can when you’re screaming at the top of your lungs “Having a party everyday - Teenage rock n roll USA!” (Editor’s note: “Get Real” was funded via a Kickstarter campaign that I contributed to and I have helped this band load out of a few CMJ gigs. Still, in all fairness, none of that guarantees that I would have enjoyed this album in the end.)

14. The Men - Open Your Heart: This album feels like an early Foo Fighters record - or at least the first one - when Dave Grohl felt like being sloppy was still acceptable. Soaring guitars, a few solos that aren’t too showy, hard-hitting drums, and a sound that feels like the culmination of 40 years of rock and roll all piled into one song.

13. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory: After a debut that felt pop, Cloud Nothings hired on Steve Albini to produce their second album. Though his participation is a point of contention, the band stripped away all layers of smooth production and went rough around the edges. “Attack on Memory” combined the energy, anger, and messages of a 1990’s grunge album with a slight bit of sheen owed to the “The” bands from the 2010’s. 

12. DIIV - Oshin: Shimmering reverb-drenched guitars, and echoing vocals that made you want to dance. Quite possibly the first band indebted to the guitar-driven era of The Cure or The Psychedelic Furs that also wasn’t afraid to cover Nirvana and earn my nomination for “First Band To Convince Me They’d Memorized Nirvana’s Old Stage Moves”. 

11. Frankie Rose - Interstellar: I was introduced to Frankie Rose at the same show where I saw DIIV. I had heard about her from her previous outing as a member of the Dum Dum Girls and/or Vivian Girls. After leaving those bands, she went on to form her own group, Frankie Rose & The Outs, which would continue to capitalize on the retro fuzzed-out, garage sound. On “Interstellar”, she abandoned that sound completely and added a synthesizer to the mix. Still, nothing prepares you for the moments where the synthesizers drop out to be replaced by a Valhalla-sized drum track and Roses’s ethereal vocals go supernova.

10. Spiritualized - Sweet Light Sweet Heart: After documenting his narrow escape from death on “A&E”, Jason Pierece takes us through his road to recovery in his usual manner: songs about pimps, drugs, religion, salvation, or the less (more?)-fashionable alternative. Written while in a drug-induced stupor (prescription drugs used to fight a degenerative liver disease), Pierce uses all of his best tools - soaring guitars, choirs, organs, and strings - to create his most uplifting album to date. 

9. Tame Impala - Lonerism: If John Lennon had lived long enough to replace Wayne Coyne in the Flaming Lips, it would sound like this.

8. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan: In the past, I’ve had plenty of problems with the Dirty Projectors. The vocals can feel like you’re being stabbed in the eardrums. The female harmonies can be incredibly grating. The melodies can go twelve different ways in one song. The thing about “Swing Lo Magellan” is that none of that has gone away. There are still plenty of moments where David Longstreth’s vocals and Amber Coffman’s harmonies feel like they’re rubbing against each other the wrong way. Maybe it was my exploration of McCartney’s post-Beatles albums “Ram” and “II”, which seem to share a kindred spirit in the Dirty Projector’s art-folk-rock. 

7. Beach House - Bloom: “Bloom” was an appropriate title for this album. On this - Beach House’s fourth album - each song starts out small and slowly grows into something larger. Victoria’s lyrics seem to soar higher than ever while the instrumentation slowly twists and turns around your brain.

6. Jessie Ware - Devotion: It’s funny how the things you often try to avoid seem to find their way back into your life. For years, I have tried my best to avoid the R&B genre. Be it melismatic, silky-smooth, or high-gloss, I wanted nothing to do with it. But, somehow Jessie’s mix of the UK bass scene and her steamy voice - bringing to mind those old Sade albums- just did me in. Is it a crime? (The same thing happened to a lesser extent with Solange’s “True” EP - also recommended for different reasons).

5. Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes: His most subdued album, which says a lot about a guy who mixes, jazz, hip-hop, electronic music, funk, and more, often times into the same song. I didn’t really “get” this album until I saw him perform live at the NPR showcase at CMJ this year. Instead of simply “playing” his album, Flying Lotus chooses to play the role of DJ, interweaving bits and pieces of his album with tracks more attuned to a dance party atmosphere. 

4. Death Grips - The Money Store: Plenty has been made of Death Grips’ signing (and leaving) Epic Records. What was most surprising to me was that they signed to a major label in the first place. Death Grips has *always* been a confrontational band. Their style of hip-hop is more based in noise music than anything else and to see them perform live is like watching creatures from another planet. Vocalist MC Ride stalks the stage like a madman, almost literally barking his lyrics while drummer Zach Hill flails his arms at every angle, often looking more like a marionette cut loose from his strings than a drummer. I took a friend of mine to see Death Grips last year. He had heard *of* them, but never listened to them. He was advised by other friends to go in blind, which he did. Though he is a fan of more traditional hip-hop, he stuck it out for the better part of their set. About 3/4 of the way through, he shouted, “I gotta go. I can’t take anymore of this!” Once we could hear again, I asked him what eventually drove him over the edge. Was it the constant flashing lights? Ride’s mad dog with a mouthful of Clorox vocals? The barrage of noise? His response: “Pretty much all of it.”

3. Django Django - Self-titled:  Here’s a brief respite from the noise. This Scottish group combines surf guitar riffs, Krautrock synths, four-part harmonies, tribal drumming, and elements of Middle-Eastern music into this strange, psychedelic bouillabaisse. If Kraftwerk hadn’t already been called “the Teutonic Beach Boys”, these guys would hold that title though they’re also in tune with what The Beta Band were doing in the late 90’s-early 00’s. 

2. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend: Godspeed left us in 2002; the Twin Towers had just fallen, George W. Bush had declared “War on Terror”, and the economy was on its way to collapse. Ten years later, we find ourselves in a “new era”. Post-rock bands have tried to make songs like GY!BE could with varying success and failure. And then, out of nowhere, they announced a return to the stage and then *SURPRISE* a new album. Would we see a new era of GY!BE as well? No, we still got two twenty-minute pieces of doom, dread, and ultimate uprising. Guitars droned, howled, and soared, strings sawed way, and drums exploded leading to a climax that felt like armies being sent into battle against a force of indefatigable force. And there was much rejoicing.

1. Scott Walker - Bish Bosch: What can I say to make someone want to listen this album? It’s incredibly difficult to listen to. The centerpiece of the album is twenty minutes long and features a single guitar note being plucked repeatedly while Walker unloads vitriol on hecklers, Romans, and makes fat jokes. Orchestral arrangments recalling Morricone straddle industrial noise. Walker’s operatic voice is haunting as always and commands your attention. Strange instrumentation is used (a man punching a piece of beef served as percussion on his last album; this time it’s swinging machetes and something called a “tubax”). And it all ends with a song about the death of a Communist dictator and funereal rendition of “Jingle Bells”. So, yeah, a really enjoyable listening experience and one that I went back to again and again.

She brought the gorilla! #catpower  (at The National)

She brought the gorilla! #catpower (at The National)

Dave Grohl, “secret” Britney fan. #davegrohl #britney #guiltypleasures #dontknowhowtofeelaboutthis

Dave Grohl, “secret” Britney fan. #davegrohl #britney #guiltypleasures #dontknowhowtofeelaboutthis

Got my eyes checked earlier this week. Why does every medical profession have one piece of equipment that looks like a torture device? #optometry

Got my eyes checked earlier this week. Why does every medical profession have one piece of equipment that looks like a torture device? #optometry

Top 30 Albums of 2012 (Part 1 of 2)

In descending order:

Fun - Some Nights: I’ve written about “Some Nights” on this site before. I focused fairly on its strengths (big choruses, loads of sing-a-long moments ripe for “Glee-ificaction”) and weaknesses (downright hammy lyrics geared at wayward youth). As the year rolled on and I gave it more time, the weaknesses began to shine through. I’m not sure how much longer this album has in my library, so here it sits at the bottom of the list.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes: Is Ariel being serious with his spot-on revisits to the era of AM Gold? I doubt it. While I was lost on the charms of his previous album, “Mature Themes” is as catchy (and snarky) as early Zappa and Costello. 

The Shins - Port of Morrow: After the departure (or firing, depending on who you ask) of most of his bandmates and a middling electronic side project, it is finally revealed that The Shins *is* James Mercer, just as Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor. This could have been far worse than it was.

Chairlift - Something: Say, speaking of departures… After an okay album featuring one really great song (or was that just the “iPod bump” in effect?), Chairlift went from a trio to a duo. From that came one of the greatest looks at 80’s pop in recent years. 

Allo Darlin’ - Europe: Who doesn’t love a good twee album? Even when songs are about heartbreak, disappointment, or finding yourself whilst touring Europe in the midst of the debt crisis, chances are you’ll be singing along. 

Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man: This is a tough one for me. I really wanted to love this album front to back, but I feel like Florence Welch of Florence and The Machine has killed my love for overreaching female vocalists who sound like every song is being recorded on the edge of a canyon. Granted, Natasha Khan does manage to scale it back quite a bit, adding less reverb to her vocals, making this album feel more like the last few songs from “Two Suns” rather than a revisit to her “Big Music” days.

Dark Dark Dark - Who Needs Who: Nona Marie Invie’s voice remains the most heartbreaking one I’ve heard in a long while. Guitar drones replace the band’s penchant for New Orleans flair (sp?), though a bit of that still remains, as in the “Gypsy music meets jazz” bridge in the title track.

Purity Ring - Shrines: 90’s R&B beats meet the creeping, creaking synths of The Knife. 

Grimes - Visions: “Post-Internet”? No idea. What I do know is that Claire has a great voice, knows her range, and listening to her feels like combining Lady Gaga’s theatricality with Julianna Barwick’s ethereality.

METZ - METZ: Has it really been 20 years since Nirvana? Am I officially old enough to say “Music just hasn’t been the same since…” or “No one’s ever gonna replace…”? The answer to both of those questions are a resounding (and unfortunate) “Yes”, but this album reminds me of the first time I popped “In Utero” into my cassette deck and heard all the noise beneath the sheen that Cobain didn’t want in his music in the first place. (If the legend is to be believed.) The only difference is that on “METZ”, there is no sheen. METZ aims to blow out your speakers and eardrums. Everything is distorted to the max, the guitars are angular, and the vocals may as well just be random, guttural noises.

Ty Segall & White Fence - Hair/ Ty Segall - Twins (tie): Ty Segall released three albums this year. Three. In the span of six months. These were my two favorites. “Hair” was a spot-on trip down Memory Lane, if your memories consist of acid trips and San-Fran garage rock, complete with rickety Hammond organs that sounded like jalopies rolling downhill. “Twins” was a little bit T-Rex, a little bit 60’s bubblegum. And did I mention he’s only 22 years old?

Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city/Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE : I’m going to be honest here. I do not have the knowledge, nor the talent to talk about why I enjoyed these albums. What I *do* know is that for the first time in years, I haven’t wanted to toss a CD by an “urban” artist out my window, especially two that take full advantage of the length and capabilities of the CD format. Plenty of more talented and experienced music columnists have discussed the pros, cons, controversies, and talent found in these albums. If you’re curious, look up their reviews. If not; move along, nothing to see here.

First Aid Kit - The Lion’s Roar: Klara and Johanna Söderberg create the most gorgeous female harmonies on this album. “Old-fashioned folk music”? Maybe. They even wrote a love song with the lyrics, “I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June/If you’ll be my Gram and Johnny too.” With its instrumentation, production, and “folk and Western” feel, it’s like a long-lost classic of the “Laurel Canyon” era. And I don’t even mind the guest spot by Conor Oberst, AKA, one of those guys everyone calls “this generation’s Bob Dylan”.

Kishi Bashi - 151a: Shameful admission: For someone that’s lived in Virginia and complained about our music scene for several years now, I didn’t find out about Kishi Bashi until NPR told me about him. My first thought was something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m sure he’s great, but with accolades like this, it won’t be long until he travels to a larger city to ‘make it’”. And then I found out, he already had left Norfolk to make it, found out it really wasn’t for him,  and moved back home. He’d toured and played with of Montreal and Regina Spektor, lived in New York, played a few highly-lauded SXSW shows, graduated from Berklee, and successfully Kickstarted his debut album. His album feels like a mixture of all his past experiences in bands, having a psychedelic of Montreal feel (before Kevin flew off the handle and became obsessed with split personalities and sex-funk), a touch of 70’s symphonic prog, and the art-pop music of the 00’s. When he performs live, he manages to captivate his audience by using only his voice, a violin, some loop pedals, and beatboxing to recreate the “mini-symphonies” found on this album. Truly a unique presence in our city.

The moment when Kishi Bashi starts beatboxing during “Bright Whites” and all his loops are going and you feel like Norfolk really can be an amazing place.

Almost….

A collection of albums from 2012 that, while not exactly “bad” or lacking in merit, just didn’t bear many repeat listens. Either for reasons of missed opportunities, oft-repeated ideas, or lackluster moments, these are the “Honorable Mentions of 2012”.

In no particular order:

Animal Collective - Centipede Hz

Dan Deacon - America

Hot Chip - In Our Heads

Here We Go Magic - A Different Ship

Liars - WIXIW

David Byrne & St Vincent - Love This Giant

Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror

Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn’t

Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas

Bob Dylan - Tempest

Cat Power - Sun

Nothing like coming back from vacation and finding out you’ve gotten a new cat. #maththeband #getreal #finally

Nothing like coming back from vacation and finding out you’ve gotten a new cat. #maththeband #getreal #finally

Mayan Apocalypse? Whaddya gonna do about it? #rosarios #getreal

Mayan Apocalypse? Whaddya gonna do about it? #rosarios #getreal