Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee)
Best Albums of 2012 2012 was cool. my list includes 2 bands full of my closest friends, 2 of my biggest inspirations and an amazing diy record that is becoming very well-known.
- Cat Power - Sun: Cat Power possesses her fans in an interesting way. we want to like her. we want to like her records. she really delivered with "sun." it's a progression in her sound without losing everything we know and love her for.
- Sourpatch - Stagger and Fade: San Jose's sourpatch is a diamond in the rough. with their debut 'crushin'' i was truly sure that they would be the most popular band in the country. it has energy and lethargy, immortal catchiness with a specific and unique voice. with their sophomore album 'stagger and fade' they've grown comfortable with their sound, mastered it and clearly developed that into a great, dynamic pop record.
- Swearin' - S/T: I feel closer to this band than anyone else aside from the members. i've watched them become what they are from the beginning and i've never felt prouder than i did when i heard this record for the first time. it borrows from their more obvious inspirations (Pavement, the Breeders, Eric's Trip) and less obvious ones (Barbra Streisand, Tad, Elvis Costello) makings a pure, unadulterated indie rock record, exactly how it should be.
- Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel…: Fiona apple's career is really motivating to me. she has the potential to be a pop star in the mtv sense and yet she has never compromised or succumbed to that. she's an artist with all the integrity and respect in the world. on her new album she gives the vocal performance of her career combining her raw talent with graceful artist impulses (aretha franklin meets yoko ono)
- Merchandise - Children of Desire: I will admit that I've had this album for a while and didn't listen to it until a month or so back. i have felt intimidated by this band and this music forever because i know that they are thinking and functioning in a way that i do not feel capable of. this album is the best thing they've done. it's evocative and sad and beautiful in a way i haven't heard in a long time. for fans of echo and the bunnymen, the jesus and mary chain.
Kris Hayes (Candy Hearts)
Top 15 Releases of 2012
This year, I've given you the 15 best releases of 2012, whatever length or format they may be. I listened to a lot of records year, so if it's not on here, chalk it up to disappointment or mediocrity. Here's also a Spotify playlist of my favorite selection from each release.
Hope you enjoy as always. Be good to each other and thankful for all you've got, but most importantly, fight hard and be scathing in the comments!
- THE SWELLERS - RUNNING OUT OF PLACES TO GO [SNOWBIRD SONGS]: 2012 marks a new chapter for Michigan's The Swellers, not only for the fact that this is their first independent release, but as a band who often gets billed as "straightforward skate punk," you've got an awful lot more than that showcased here. What makes this release great is the apparent craft that's gone into the arrangement - sparkling melodies move over unconventional chord voicings, and the dynamics from section to section provide a dense 5-song EP that leaves the listener satisfied, but not overwhelmed, and provides an excellent foundation for their next full length.
- JENNY OWEN YOUNGS - AN UNWAVERING BAND OF LIGHT [SELF-RELEASED]: Here we see NY/NJ singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs retreating to longtime producer Dan Romer's (Ingrid Michaelson, Beasts Of The Southern Wild) home studio, producing a no-prisoners approach of a record. The first tip off is the arrangements, which are undoubtedly the boldest of Youngs' catalog, displaying hints of Jon Brion and even Tom Waits at times, while tracks like Your Apartment and Already Gone are quintessential Jenny. The result is an LP that stands on its own, and will surely be a distinguished spot on her discography.
- BEST COAST - THE ONLY PLACE [MEXICAN SUMMER]: When I first heard Jon Brion was producing the new Best Coast record, color me giddy. I'm a bit of a fanboy. When I put the record on, I heard literally nothing to distinguish production whatsoever. The verb-fuzz of Crazy For You is gone, leaving frankly an empty sounding record. Disappointed, I shelved it for a lot of the year. Something compelled me to give it another spin one day, and it clicked for me. The lyrics don't spell out anything groundbreaking, the melodies are largely linear over predictable chord changes, but it all makes perfect sense. The record isn't trying to be anything. It's largely apathetic, and the production and arrangement reflects that perfectly. Some may call it a cop out, but I appreciate a genuinely unpretentious album that has no aspirations or expectations - it just is what it is.
- LANA DEL REY - BORN TO DIE [INTERSCOPE]: Oh, the controversy! Certainly worked well for her, didn't it? I love the vast majority of these songs. The vocal delivery is fantastically unique as she goes from sultry to downright vicious in the course of a chorus, and the production is almost as if you played a Roni Size 45 on 33. Don't dismiss Born To Die as a mood record - though it certainly serves as a beautiful soundtrack over the Triboro Bridge at 3AM, songs like Born To Die and This Is What Makes Us Girls are constructed and layered so well that they serve as pure ear candy to songwriters and producers alike.
- OLD FLINGS - SPITE [BITTER MELODY/SELF AWARE]: With obvious nods to Samiam and Hum, one of my favorite bands to see live, Asheville, NC's power trio Old Flings finally release their debut LP in 2012. Spite is packed with right hand-heavy riffs courtesy of frontman Matt Evans (Just Die!) accompanying, as you may have guessed, lyrics primarily lying in relationships gone awry. For those of you out there staked in all facets of 90's alt, both underground and mainstream, you will smile in your easy chair after dropping the needle on this.
- TITLE FIGHT - FLORAL GREEN [SIDEONEDUMMY]: Title Fight has always been something of a band who always had all the right elements, but never quite caught my ear the way they seemed to do for so many. Being this noisy breed of post-hardcore, it seemed caught between a plod and a buildup that never quite resolved. By simply slowing things down, the release of Floral Green finally sees these guys in the zone they need to be in, where frankly, they're flourishing. I can best describe it as Quicksand meets Sparta - spacey where it needs to be, followed up by hard grind, fantastic riffs, and a dual-vocal approach that while doesn't sound like Fugazi, acts in the same manner, providing a plethora of depth and color. It's fun to see a band grow up and succeed, and this record shows Title Fight carving their own niche.
- CHEAP GIRLS - GIANT ORANGE [RISE]: Cheap Girls saw no sophomore slump with My Roaring 20's, and when Tom Gabel signed on to produce their third record, all eyes were certainly on the Lansing trio. While there have been brighter spots in the band's catalog, no release is as consistent as Giant Orange is. The record rumbles forward with Buffalo Tom-esque throttle courtesy of guitarist Adam Aymor's always exciting playing, only having one real detour in the acoustic Cored To Empty, which is a nice dynamic shift, and Communication Blues features perhaps frontman Ian Graham's best melody to date.
- THE MOUNTAIN GOATS - TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH [MERGE]: In 2012's John Darnielle offering, we see him dig back a ways to produce some of his darkest material to date, while simultaneously boasting some of the boldest arrangements to date in a Mountain Goats record. The result is dramatic frankly, a beautiful cacophony of dense content, washing the listener with piano and chamber horns, while still showcasing his tried and true lyrical phrasing. It's something like a more mature Tallahassee meets a more melodically interesting, better arranged Get Lonely, producing easily a top 3 record of The Mountain Goats' 14-album career.
- ROYAL HEADACHE - S/T [WHAT'S YOUR RUPTURE?]: Punk n' soul baby. It's all any of us ever want, and Australia's Royal Headache fucking gave it to us this year - so here's my opportunity to give thanks. This record is Otis Redding meets The Damned recorded on a cassette deck, with a kind of lo-fi reckless abandon reminiscent of The Exploding Hearts or Scared Of Chaka. What makes this special though, is how out of time it truly sounds. So much of soul revival the past 5 years has been so gimmick-ridden that the intent is lost. Royal Headache deliver a truly unpretentious record that sounds genuinely timeless, and will make those of you who have a James Carr and a New York Dolls record next to each other on the shelf smile contently.
- FORGETTERS - S/T [TOO SMALL TO FAIL]: Forgetters never seem to do anything too loudly, and one day, a preorder link came up for the band's first attempt at an LP. The production is better, though not much better, still maintaining that raw struggle that Blake Schwarzenbach intends the project to encompass. The songwriting feels a bit different than the initial EP - it's a bit less structured, noisier, less melodic, but in turn comes across more powerful at times. It's a bit of a wade at times, but if you can fit under the umbrella and hang with it, you'll be rewarded with some classic Blake, whose abilities never seem to wane, only become more scattered. When a line and a melody of brilliance come together perfectly on this record, you're instantly gratified with that warm satisfaction in your gut, and it WILL take you back to your first Dear You listen, because no one else writes like Blake Schwarzenbach. Period.
- LANGHORNE SLIM - THE WAY WE MOVE [RAMSEUR]: Having not heard a peep out of Pennyslvania's Langhorne Slim in something like 3 years, I'd all but forgotten about those guys, until my friend excitedly Gchatted me that Slim was back. Well man, thank you for making this record. Not only is The Way We Move his best, most consistent body of work, lyrically he's made leaps and bounds from his debut. This record is true American storytelling. It's classic, honestly. The record profiles the end of a relationship - looking back, stumbling, and eventually moving forward. It's simple and just dead honest, with raw production and straightforward arrangement - everything an Americana record should be.
- THE EXPLOSION - BURY ME STANDING [CHUNKSAAH]: It may have taken 5 years, but thanks to the fine folks at Chunksaah, The Explosion's swan song has finally seen the light of day, and it has been well overdue. The band's relocation from Boston to New York seemed to breathe new life, and when it was announced that Virgin would not be releasing Bury Me Standing, the balloon seemed to deflate as quickly as it was blown up. While the record isn't as consistent as Flash Flash Flash, nor does it have the fire of Sick Of Modern Art, it showcases a band clearly in their golden age, with the lyrical content often reflective, clearly stepping out of the box at times - call it their Combat Rock. While Bury Me Standing won't win over any new ears, for longtime fans of the band, it's the perfect final chapter of experience, reflection, and education. And oh yeah - they can still write a fucking amazing chorus, too.
- THE MENZINGERS - ON THE IMPOSSIBLE PAST [EPITAPH]: Punk record of the year, simple as that. It's been an exciting journey for Philadelphia's The Menzingers, and it makes it all the sweeter to see them land a deal with Epitaph and put out a truly, truly phenomenal record. Nothing is left behind here, as On The Impossible Past is a desperate autobiographical ride, leaving no stone unturned - whether at home or on the road, girls or friends, it's all laid out here for all to hear, analyze, and empathize. This isn't a casual listen - it's dense and vulnerable, remembering better times and longing for them to return. No adjective here will really do it justice. It's simply a must-listen… at the right time.
- BOB MOULD - SILVER AGE [MERGE]: Who the hell saw this coming!? Just when you thought Bob Mould was settled into electronic-laden singer-songwriter mode, he enlists Jon Wurster and Jason Narducy and completely blows the roof off the place, resulting in truly his finest record since Copper Blue - let's call a spade a spade here. The album just fucking rocks - while Star Machine doesn't completely smack you in the face, by the time I was done with Briefest Moment, I had one of those faith-restored-in-humanity moments. If nothing else, Silver Age solidifies Mould finding not only his comfort zone in a power trio setting, but fine solo efforts aside, makes you grateful for letting all those years build up to this explosion of pure greatness.
- JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE - NOTHING'S GONNA CHANGE THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT ME NOW [BLOODSHOT]: "Hear my father on the radio singing 'Take me home again'," would be referring to country maverick Steve Earle of course, and when you start a record off with that line, you better be able to deliver for its entirety. Thankfully, alt-country's best current artist does all but disappoint here, and while many reviewers have argued the album's predecessor Harlem River Blues is a better record, it almost feels apples & oranges in this case. Harlem saw Earle at the top of his refined roots country game, while Nothing's features a full-on horn section and B3 accompaniment that any self-respecting R&B record would have. It's a departure, but the songwriting comes across more genuine than ever, clearly documenting an awful breakup. It's done so well in fact, that envisioning the material with any other arrangement simply wouldn't do it justice. Texturally, Earle always does a phenomenal job of allowing the listener to see, feel, even smell the settings of his songs, often street strolls or night drives, and this aspect comes across better than on any previous release. Nothing's is a largely a dark, smokey, slow, sad one, and it's absolutely self-deprecating, but letting up on its misery would only deter from its beauty.