Thursday, December 20, 2012

She's A Star in 2012

All things being equal, 2012 seemed like a year where much of the most interesting music was being made by female artists or bands fronted by female singers. Smart, heartfelt, inspired and passionate.

There were great records by Echo Lake, Allo Darlin', Bats For Lashes, Beach House, Best Coast, Saint Etienne, Memoryhouse, Julie Doiron, Sleigh Bells, Deerhoof, Purity Ring, Grimes, The Ting Tings, The xx, Seapony, The Casket Girls, Esthero, Hospitality, and I'm sure I'm missing a bunch more.

These five of my favourite female artists/bands who released music this year:

Frankie Rose
This Brooklyn mainstay has an uncanny ability to engage you with her soft layered vocals over guitar textures accidentally or purposefully inspired by The Smiths and other Brit post punk type pop acts. So lovely.

London via New Zealand and Australia, Anxiety was Phillipa "Pip" Brown's follow to her 2008 debut. Personally I don't think the record received a fair shake from some critics, but regardless, it produced a couple of pretty great electro pop fed singles.

Cat Power
I have always been a casual Cat Power fan. Her best records seem to be when she most feels like communicating more openly with listeners. For my money Sun is her best work to date, but I also don't love dreary folk and chamber type stuff like others. I don't know if Chan has gotten her head to a positive place, but this year she certainly sounded more grounded and focused than ever in my opinion.

School of Seven Bells
It wasn't until this year (even after the SOSB) debut, that I realized the Deheza sisters were joined by Benjamin Curtis of Secret Machines. This year's record builds on the strengths of their debut, with just enough synth and 80's inspired backdrop against a very fresh full bottom end sound, of course contrasted with those gorgeous vocals of Alejandra and Claudia.

Melody's Echo Chamber

This was a late year discovery. A Paris based artist, whose debut this year was produced by Kevin from Tame Impala. Classic dream pop with subtle bits of glooominess. I hope people were paying enough attention, because I would like to hear what she's able to come up with going forward. A pretty inspired and ambitious first record.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Top 100 Songs of 2012

I listened to a lot of music this year. I listen to a lot of music every year, but I really listened to a lot of music this year. The interesting thing, admittedly, is that usually the 100 song list gets a bit watered down after about 60 or 70. Sequencing is always an over thought exercise subject to endless scrutiny even well after the fact, but in many years the last twenty tracks have sometimes felt like a stretch. Not in 2012.

There was a lot of great music released over the past twelve months. A lot of folks said they had not heard many of the records in my recent Top 100 Albums of 2012 post. On one hand it's odd, because to me my lists feel pretty safe and almost mainstream compared to a lot of stuff I've seen out there. On the other hand though, it's cool if it means people are getting introduced to interesting music they either don't have time to find on their own.

Regardless of what people like or how they view the tracks on this list, the approach I always take is to let the strength of a song stand on its own. I don't purposely go looking for kitschy pop to mix in with pretentious Brit noise pop, nor do I avoid fun radio friendly type songs if they are well written and sincere in their intent. I was chatting with a friend tonight, and we were saying it's not cool to like Hall & Oates because they're funny or kitschy. It's cool because they wrote really solid legitimate songs. You can't fake good songwriting and regardless of whether everything on this list works for everyone, there is at least a common vibe of these artists putting together some pretty great melodies and clever words.

Anyway here's the list. Hoping to break out the Top 10 with a seperate written detail post in the next little while.

Here is also a link to the Playlist for this on Rdio
(with six replacement tracks tacked on the end to make 100 - for the ones missing/unavailable in rdio currently)

100 Band of Horses Knock Knock
99 Santigold Disparate Youth
98 Neon Trees Everybody Talks
97 Chiddy Bang Ray Charles
96 Tribes We Were Children
95 The Twilight Sad Don't Look At Me
94 Spector Grey Shirt & Tie
93 Frank Ocean Pyramids
92 Liars His and Mine Sensations
91 Keane Silenced By The Night
90 The Maccabees Pelican
89 Lightships Sweetness in Her Spark
88 Yukon Blonde Radio
87 Big Boi Shoes For Running
86 Lower Dens Candy
85 Two Door Cinema Club Sleep Alone
84 Shearwater You As You Were
83 Wintersleep In Came The Flood
82 Saint Etienne I've Got Your Music
81 Melody's Echo Chamber You Won't Be Missing That Part of Me
80 Tame Impala Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
79 Light Asylum Heart of Dust
78 Miike  Snow The Wave
77 Cat Power Cherokee
76 Nas You Wouldn't Understand
75 Rufus Wainwright Out Of The Game
74 The Temper Trap Need Your Love
73 Soul Asylum Gravity
72 Camouflage Nights Five Five Minutes
71 Django Django Storm
70 Animal Collective Applesauce
69 Of Mosters and Men Mountain Sound
68 Grizzly Bear Yet Again
67 Pet Shop Boys Leaving
66 Muse Madness
65 Amos The Transparent Says The Spark
64 Cadence Weapon Conditioning
63 Jon K. Sampson When I Write My Masters Thesis
62 Ultravox Live
61 Smashing Pumpkins Inkless
60 Seapony Outside
59 Richard Hawley She Brings The Sunlight
58 Chromatics Lady
57 The Helio Sequence October
56 Sleighbells Comeback Kid
55 Young Rival Two Reasons
54 Brothertiger Lovers
53 Deerhoof Fete D'Adieu
52 Paul Banks Young Again
51 Dragonette Live In This City
50 Electric Guest This Head I Hold
49 Alt-J Breezeblocks
48 Minus The Bear Steel and Blood
47 Best Coast The Only Place
46 Memoryhouse The Kids Were Wrong
45 Joel Plaskett Emergency You're Mine
44 Dinosaur Jr. Watch The Corners
43 White Rabbits Heavy Metal
42 Van She Idea Of Happiness
41 Cloud Nothings Stay Useless
40 Eight and A Half Go Ego
39 Lotus Plaza Strangers
38 Ben Browning I Can't Stay
37 Delta Spirit California
36 Matt & Kim Let's Go
35 Bahamas Caught Me Thinking
34 Mike O'Neill Colin
33 Crocodiles Endless Flowers
32 The Shins No Way Down
31 Tegan & Sara Closer
30 Grimes Oblivion
29 fun. Why Am I The One
28 The xx Sunset
27 Frankie Rose Know Me
26 Field Music Guillotine
25 Brendan Benson What Kind of World
24 Jaill Everyone's A Bitch
23 Diamond Rings Runaway Love
22 Citizens! True Romance
21 Imperial Teen Out From The Inside
20 Japandroids Adrenaline Nightshift
19 Bear In Heaven The Reflection of You
18 School Of Seven Bells The Night
17 Tanlines All Of Me
16 Wild Nothing Shadow
15 Beach House Myth
14 Of Montreal Spiteful Intervention
13 Ladyhawke Black White & Blue
12 Diiv Sometime
11 Kylie Minogue Timebomb
10 Gypsy & The Cat Bloom
9 The Presets Youth In Trouble
8 Bob Mould The Descent
7 Yeasayer Reagan's Skeleton
6 Purity Ring Fineshrine
5 Redd Kross Stay Away From Downtown
4 The Walkmen Heaven
3 Divine Fits Would That Not Be Nice
2 Twin Shadow Five Seconds
1 Hot Chip Don't Deny Your Heart

Monday, December 10, 2012

Top 100 Albums of 2012

Weird year. Cool year, but weird. For these ears, my favourite records this year didn't so much push boundaries, but rather borrowed from the past really really well. Records that sound heavily influenced by another era are a delicate matter. A lot of those types of albums this year sounded like 2012 wrapped nicely in 1980's or 1960's bows and ribbons, rather than the shameful gimmicky type of homage that happens far too frequently.

So for as many year end lists that will see the likes of Animal Collective and Godspeed You! Black Emperor on top (much respect to both - they're in here), it would be pretty disingenuous if my top picks didn't showcase the tremendous sincere pop music that made it into my headphones most often throughout 2012. My lists will almost always default to clever, genuine, heartfelt melodies and lyrics, and brevity. Hopefully this one is representative of that.

As with any major list undertaking, and similar to previous years, I have a reckoning that sequencing gets inherently dodgy after about the top 50. Also no amount of additional tinkering is going to make me more okay with it, and within 15 minutes of posting, I'll regret 75% of this, but here goes.......

100 Clinic Free Reign
99 Kid Koala 12 Bit Blues
98 Orbital Wonky
97 Spiritualized Sweet Heart Sweet Light
96 Ceremony Zoo
95 And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead  Lost Songs
94 Camouflage Nights Camouflage Nights
93 Electric Guest Mondo
92 Actress R.I.P.
91 The Maccabees Given To The Wild
90 Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan
89 Sleigh Bells Reign of Terror
88 Cloud Nothings Attack on Memory
87 Lotus Plaza Spooky Action at A Distance
86 The Raveonettes Observator
85 Bahamas Barchords
84 Tribes Baby
83 Light Asylum Light Asylum
82 Lower Dens Nootropics
81 Howler America Give Up
80 Gypsy & The Cat The Late Blue
79 Dead Can Dance Anastasis
78 Nas Life Is Good
77 Melody's Echo Chamber Melody's Echo Chamber
76 Seapony Falling
75 Richard Hawley Standing At The Sky's Edge
74 John K. Samson Provincial
73 Spector Enjoy It While It Lasts
72 Menomena Moms
71 The Evens The Odds
70 Missions Of Burma Unsound
69 Crystal Castles Crystal Castles (III)
68 Young Rival Stay Young
67 A.C. Newman Shut Down The Streets
66 Wintersleep Hello Hum
65 Errors Have Some Faith in Magic
64 Cat Power Sun
63 Joel Plaskett Emergency Scrappy Happiness
62 Humans Traps
61 Citizens! Here We Are
60 Grizzly Bear Shields
59 Bats For Lashes The Haunted Man
58 Deerhoof Breakup Song
57 Jaill Traps
56 Japandroids Celebration Rock
55 Eight and A Half Eight and A Half
54 Lightships Electric Cables
53 Cadence Weapon Hope In Dirt City
52 Matt & Kim Lightning
51 Best Coast The Only Place
50 Sigur Ros Valtari
49 The Walkmen Heaven
48 Animal Collective Centipede Hz
47 Dinosaur Jr. I Bet On Sky
46 Pet Shop Boys Elysium
45 Liars WIXIW
44 Vcmg SSSS
43 The Shins Port of Morrow
42 Saint Etienne Words and Music by Saint Etienne
41 White Rabbits Milk Famous
40 Paul Banks Banks
39 Mike O'Neill Wild Lines
38 Yukon Blonde Tiger Talk
37 New Build Yesterday Was Lived and Lost
36 Shearwater Animal Joy
35 Mystery Jets Radlands
34 The Helio Sequence Negotiations
33 Brendan Benson What Kind of World
32 Ultravox Brilliant
31 Crocodiles Endless Flowers
30 Godspeed You! Black Emperor Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
29 Tame Impala Lonerism
28 Van She Idea of Happiness
27 Brothertiger Golden Years
26 Bob Mould Silver Age
25 Two Door Cinema Club Beacon
24 Of Montreal Paralytic Stalks
23 Frankie Rose Interstellar
22 Imperial Teen Feel The Sound
21 Django Django Django Django
20 Ladyhawke Anxiety
19 Field Music Plumb
18 Chromatics Kill For Love
17 Yeasayer Fragrant World
16 Grimes Visions
15 Alt-J An Awesome Wave
14 The xx Coexist
13 Diiv Oshin
12 Diamond Rings Free Dimensional
11 Beach House Bloom
10 The Presets Pacifica
9 Purity Ring Shrines
8 Bear In Heaven I Love You, It's Cool
7 Tanlines Mixed Emotions
6 Wild Nothing Nocturne
5 Hot Chip In Our Heads
4 School Of Seven Bells Ghostory
3 Divine Fits A Thing Called Divine Fits
2 Twin Shadow Confess
1 Redd Kross Researching The Blues

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Keep on Rocking in the Twenty Twelve

In addition to the standard best songs and best albums lists that land in so many corners of the internet this time of year, I thought it might be cool this year to also highlight some cool music in different types of categories, in addition to the big ridiculous lists that are so much fun (stay tuned).

So I was looking over the various releases this year and was struck by how many senior bands either resurfaced with a solid bit of work for the first time in a while, or others who found their footing again after maybe losing their way somewhat in recent years.

So here are 10 albums by artists who still sound great, can still write quality songs, and seem to transcend the whole unfortunate boring old fart syndrome reality so many of their predecessors succumb to.

10. Soul Asylum - Delayed Reaction

Perhaps still not quite up to the level of "being in the zoneness" they had in the early/mid 90's, but this is a more than respectable record, with the trademark riff crunchiness and mixed vocal harmony that was such a signature formula for them in their heyday. Thanks AB for making me aware this was out there.

9. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart, Sweet Light

To be completely honest, I was never a particularly big fan of Spiritualized, but I have warmed up to their spacey minimalism in recent years. This record, to me, captures their textbook disinterest mixed with just the right amount of soulful layers and Spector-esque vocal treatments.

8. Dead Can Dance - Anastasis

Their first new record in sixteen years, and they still make erie, beautiful complex music. Just gorgeous. That is all.

7. Mission of Burma - Unsound

The last few Burma records were released on Matador. Consensus is the lads have continued making good records, but were perhaps falling into something of a routine. This record sounds rejuvenated and by design or coincidence I hear bits that remind me of Polvo, which can't be bad.

6. Saint Etienne - Words and Music by Saint Etienne

This group was a major blind spot for me until a friend gave me a much needed nudge a year or so ago (thank you WC). I get the impression there is some difference of opinion out there among diehard fans with respect to this record. For my part, without the same longstanding reference point, Words & Music is a really well crafted electro pop album that sits perfectly alongside its contemporaries of the day.

5. Pet Shop Boys - Elysium

The PSBs have never really stopped producing music, and more importantly they have never really stopped making good music. I wanted to include them because they have created some of the most interesting, most pure, most honest, and most clever pop music of the last thirty years. They always sound like Pet Shop Boys, yet have never made the same record twice. Nice trick. Elysium stays that course.

4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

By most accounts, the significance of this gang getting back together to record music for the first time since 2002, should be enough for any self respecting music nerd to rightfully or wrongfully put them at the top of a list like this. If I were not such an 80's Brit and guitar pop fiend, than that is probably what I would have done. That said, it is no diminishing reflection of yet another  masterpiece in a catalogue of ridiculously ambitious and captivating art from this collective.

3. Ultravox - Brilliant

Yes they are. For all the late 70's and 80's British alterna bands who have influenced some of today's best music, there are some who never seem to quite get the props they deserve. This is a special reunion, since it is the first time this combination of Ultravox players have assembled since their 1984 masterpiece, Lament. Brilliant is a tight collection of tracks with soaring vocals and prog inclinations that like all great Ultravox recordings, remain rooted in solid synth pop fundamentals rather than complete bombast. Hard to know if they have been reinvigorated by the likes of Muse, or if it is just now more painfully obvious how much Muse have borrowed from Ultravox over the years without us really picking up on it.

2. Bob Mould - Silver Age

The solo material Mould has released since the Sugar days has toyed periodically with the idea of reminiscing the sound so many originally fell in love with in the Husker Du days, as well as on albums like Copper Blue and Black Sheets of Rain. He just never really seemed interested to settle completely back into candy sweet fuzzed out guitars and charming hooks. On this record, not only does he sound re-energized and engaged, but there is a perspective on where the past meets the present that has him seemingly the most comfortable he has been in his skin as the undeniable trailblazing guitarist and songwriter that so many have come to love. Hardcore fans have quietly felt like Mould was not done. Like he could still kill it, while sounding relevant and current. On Silver Age I think we can all exclaim a collective, fuck yeah!

1. Redd Kross - Researching The Blues

The first Redd Kross album, Born Innocent, was released in 1982. Who knew right? But wait, who the hell are Redd Kross? Pretty fair question. Six albums over thirty years, with an average break of three to five years between each, and then fifteen years since their last, Show World, in '97. One claim to fame is their first gig in the 80's was apparently opening for Black Flag. Not bad lads. After that they seem to resonate mostly with punks and rock listeners who love their punk and rock and music drenched in 60's Brit Invasion flavoured jingle + jangle + sugary fuzzy guitars. 

This record exclaims, we are back, we are still not as big as we should be, and we still don't fucking care, because we are better at this than most bands past present and future. The validation in the best type of guitar pop is honesty. No one makes this type of music to get rich. It's a proven impossibility since basically The Beatles. Three minute guitar pop songs are harder to write than twenty minute orchestral pieces because they have rules. Redd Kross, in general and on this record especially, "get it" because they follow the rules while breaking a whole bunch of them at the same time. Researching The Blues is not about being terribly original, creating studio tom foolery, or pandering to any dub-step type fusion trends. It showcases a band who have always done basically the same thing, but managed to never sound dated or irrelevant, and who always unabashedly put the strength of the song ahead of everything else.