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.