Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 2012

2012 was a great year for music.

 The era of the truly independent band is here and the days of payola radio submissive to massive corporate rock is dying. In other words, you have to THINK to like music these days and you have to actively seek it out as well.

Music isn't sold to you via commercials and hype on the radio anymore, instead you tend to learn about it on social media and via apps that detect your listening preferences and then make new recommendations. It's much more grass roots than ever before and the power has shifted from mega-studios and million dollar producers, back to the garage and the computer.

You can argue it makes music less "professional", but it also makes it more diverse and inclusive. In short: if you can't find music in 2012 you like, you're not looking hard enough. More likely, you are so content with what you already know, you aren't really interested in anything new.

 I make a top ten list every year and this year, in honor of the evolving music industry, I thought I'd apply technology to my list. Most years, I just list ten records I enjoyed. This year, I am going straight to a data source and actually finding which albums in 2012 I listened to most. I made some adjustments, here and there, (usually to compensate for the release date of the record, since those released later in the year had less time for me to indulge in repeat listens).

The adjustments were minor. Here are my top ten records of the year:

  1. Black Moth Super Rainbow - Cobra Juicy
This came out as my top record of the year according to listening stats. It's utterly appropriate too, because it matches what I was talking about above.

This album was ENTIRELY financed by the fans of the band. It was completely paid for by kickstarter and then largely distributed independently by the band itself. It's a great record too.

Now Pitchfork and other dying media sites, will tell you it was "more of the same" from Black Moth Super Rainbow. The band found a niche, producing weird, often violent songs with heavy VOX recording and electronic distortion. But that's the point, the fans of that niche (myself included) wanted more of that and we paid for it and got it.

It's a beautiful business model and the result was an eclectic record with a deeply cynical and whimsical take on the 21st century. I love it, and it is my top record of the year. SAMPLE:

2. Tame Impala - Lonerism
You'll see this record on a lot of top ten lists I am sure and deservedly so.

Although you can argue it is very derivative and retro, I don't think either of those attributes should discount its quality. In fact, I think you can make an argument that all art is derivative, all art reflects things that have been seen and heard before.

 Lonerism is Tame Impala's second major record. They are a psychedelic band that is trying to reshape guitar-based psychedelic music in new and interesting directions. They borrow heavily from early Black Sabbath and the Beatles' White Album and even borrow a bit from Syd Barret.

All of this "borrowing" however provides excellent music and a truly wonderful live show. These guys are great musicians, who like all good bands, LOVE the music they create. The passion behind what they play is obvious and is a large selling point. In fact, that's really one of the secrets to being a great band: love your own music. Love playing it and love listening to it, because if you do, it comes through in your performance. 

This is a great record, truly a real gem that will stand the test of time:

3. The Bilinda Butchers - goodbyes
Many of you might see the title of the band and think this is a solo project of one of the great architects of My Bloody Valentine. In fact, this band just took her name in homage and started to do their own thing.

Sure, there's all kind of flavoring and style that is reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, but this band is firmly independent and creating their own unique sound. This band is like a Will-O-Wisp, lighting up the dark forest, luring you in, but eventually not leading you anywhere specific, but it's a magical journey none the less.

I love this duo. I also love how I discovered them. I "found" them, by sharing tracks on the truly wonderful, where a trusted music lover, introduced them to me and shared out some of their best tracks. I bought their entire collection, including this 2012 independently produced and distributed album. Take a listen, but prepare to daydream with your head in the clouds:

4. Jason Lytle - Dept. of Disappearance
Jason Lytle is the "brains" behind Grandaddy, which I like to claim is the most underrated band to come out of the 90's college circuit (and the 90's might be the most undervalued decade in music, but I digress).

 Jason Lytle is providing more of what he does best here, beautiful melody, ironic lyrics and observations, all delivered with solid professionalism and attention to craft.

 Jason is a meek, even apologetic force on stage, like one of those musicians who seems embarrassed to share his art. Some say that act is a little disingenuous, I don't know. All I do know is the final product is a joy to listen to and I look forward to more.

Jason Lytle is a master of catchy, lovable melody. Yes, he's an old force in music, but old doesn't necessarily mean "bad" and don't pay attention to reviews who seem hung up on the fact Lytle's brand of music is no longer "hip". Good music is always hip, no matter the time or place:

5. Cat Power - Sun
I'll be honest, I was surprised to see how high my listening stats were on this record, but facts are facts and data is data and there it was in black and white.

This album is pure pop really, from a musician who has lived a fiercely independent and at times, tempestuous music career. The woman behind Cat Power is messed up, I think she'd even admit that. She has struggled with drugs and mental health issues. But there's no doubt about it, when the muse strikes her, she produces beautiful music:

6. Electric Guest - Mondo
Some records are effortless to listen to. They never grate or annoy, they offer beautiful melody, nice obvious, simple hooks and charm you from the very first listen. You go back and visit whenever you need something "easy" to listen to.

 That for me, sums up why I love this record. These guys are producing that brand of indie-pop that is too often and too easily dismissed by snobs and critics.

But really, just listen, this is as pleasant as it gets. While the observations the music makes are simple, they are also fair and honest. Will this music inspire you to build the next Taj Mahal? No, but you'll come away from listening to this record happier than when you were before and that to me, can be just as valuable:

7. Frankie Rose - Interstellar
Sometimes pedigree matters and Frankie Rose's resume illustrates just how rich her pedigree is.

She's been part of the Dum Dum Girls, Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls. Here's she's on her own and not afraid to show off her deep love of the Cocteau Twins and other bands of that great 80's electro-pop hey day.

 The entire album is like the sample track I am about to link to. It's really simple, short and sweet throughout the entire record. Much like the Electric Guest album I posted above, this record is really "easy" to listen to. And it requires a great deal of cynicism and disconnection to the heart and mind to hate it...

  8. Ty Segall - Twins
This is an uneven record, but also a really great one.

Ty Segall is the "poster child" these days for garage music. It's cranked out with a lot of irreverent wit and sometimes comes out sideways, but benefits from the off-delivery anyway.

 Ty Segall fans may wince when I say this, but Ty Segall reminds me of Ween (a band I greatly admire). He's weird, clever and happy to steal ideas and riffs and make a parody of them, or create something new with them. He's like the artist who walks through a junkyard and walks away with all the ingredients to forge a weird and wonderful sculpture. I am cheating with this sample, it's not from the 2012 album, but the video is so clever and so indicative of Ty Segall's genius I could not help but link to it:

9. A Place To Bury Strangers - Worship
This should probably be higher in the list. One reason it isn't is A Place to Bury Strangers released both an EP and a full-length LP this year, so my listening stats were split. It probably belongs in my top 5 easily and if I count the entire catalog, I listened to this band just about more than any other this year.

 This is a band that Pitchfork hates, which means, they are probably doing something right! What this band is doing right, by the way, is producing kick-ass rock-n-roll with a nod to bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and Joy Division.

 It's distorted, it's fast, it's angry and it is absolutely spectacular live. If you insist that rock no longer has any "balls", go see this band. Your eardrums will shatter, but your heart will be thrilled and you'll go home happy, like you lived to see the messiah in all his sonic, shattering glory...

  10. The Raveonettes - Observator
Those who know me well, should not be surprised that I included the Raveonettes. I include them every year they make a record. I love this duo!

The Raveonettes are fabulous live, they produce wonderful, haunting rock, that I can only describe as the "undead go surfing".

 I love the Raveonettes. They are dismissed now by music snobs, merely for having the audacity for being around for more than a decade. But while the band is old, they are still great. Give it a listen and I'm sure you'll agree:

And one more from the Raveonettes, just because:

Honorable Mention:

Grimes - Visions
Bear in Heaven - I Love You, It's Cool
Frank Ocean - channel Orange
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Tamaryn - Tender New Signs

 All five of the Honorable Mentions are great records in their own right! Fantastic work.


 Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls
The XX - Coexist
David Byrne and St. Vincent - Love This Giant

All three of these records were highly praised, all three appear frequently on other top ten lists, all three were dreadfully dull. I can handle just about any form of music, but never boring and three of these were really uninspiring.