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.