Better late than never: Sound Bites Favorite Albums of 2012
Oh man, this is late. But up in time for
New Year’s Chinese New Year Russian New Year Tax Day Memorial Day Fourth of July Labor Day Halloween Thanksgiving Hanukkah Christmas so there’s that. This sat in “draft” for most of this year, mostly finished. So I decided to finally wrap this up. There are only streams and buy links for the top 20 album, but I’ve got at Spotify playlist with everything (that was available on Spotify). Dig into that.
Anyway, hope you find something in here you haven’t heard before. Let’s hope my act is a little more together for the 2013 list.
1. Saint Etienne – Words And Music By Saint Etienne (Heavenly)
An album about one’s relationship with music through the years — from nights as a child spent watching Top of the Pops to, as an adult, geeking out on music message boards about strange #1 singles — is the kind of stuff bound to excite music nerds. Add to that insanely catchy songs (co-produced by the Xenomania hit factory) makes for Saint Etienne’s best record in ages, maybe ever. Not bad for 20 years into their career.
2. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (Dull Tools)
Parquet Courts aren’t the first band to get compared to the Minutemen and Pavement, but they are one of the few who live up to it. It’s the attitude, man, and they got it. Formed from Texas transplants in NYC (including Andrew Savage of the recently-departed Fergus & Geronimo), the band were clearly inspired by their new surroundings, making music that is nervy, danceable, catchy as hell… and has way more to say than almost any other band of their ilk. A genius debut.
BANDCAMP | BUY
3. Cate Le Bon – Cyrk (The Control Group)
Unlike her relatively normal singer-songwriter debut album, Cate Le Bon lets her Welsh freak flag fly on the wonderful CYRK. Pastoral psych, dreamy ballads, skronky guitar blasts and great great songs meld into a distinct, original musical vision. Also one of the best live shows of the year.
4. Eternal Summers – Correct Behavior (Kanine)
Roanoke, VA’s Eternal Summers made a giant leap sonically and with songcraft on their second album, which is absolutely brimming with terrific songs. This is the kind of indie rock you don’t hear so much these days, but pop this good never goes out of style.
5. Hospitality – Hospitality (Merge)
For a while there, it felt like we were never going to get a Hospitality album but their self-titled debut was more than worth the wait. Erudite and hook-filled; prim but not afraid to rock when necessary and serious musicianship powering the whole thing, Hospitality was 2012’s first great album and has stayed in rotation since January.
6. Shrag – Canines (Fortuna Pop)
Easily the band’s best record to date, retaining the band’s scratchy snarl but letting a few rays of sunshine (and mid-fi production) to lighten the proceedings and up their pop side just a bit. You still get those big Fall-like basslines and shouty choruses, just just cleaned up a little. There’s no dulling the lyrics, though, that still aim for the jugular. This is an album with big hooks and a bigger bite. How do they follow this up? They don’t — they’re breaking up in March. BOOOO.
7. Django Django – Django Django (Because/Ribbon Music)
These guys really took their time making their debut record, to the point where I thought they’d broken up a couple times. But no, Django Django were just making sure everything was right in their kitchen sink world of sound. Nearly half of the record had been previously released, usually a dealbreaker for me, but the new songs fit seamlessly with early singles “Love’s Dart” and “WOR” that it all just works. Endlessly inventive and just plain fun.
8. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber (Fat Possum)
I liked Tame Impala’s Lonerism just fine, but this was the best thing Kevin Parker was involved with in 2012. Pairing his psychedelic aural experiments (and amazing drumming) with girlfriend Melody Prochet’s icy Francophone stylings was a match made in heaven.
9. Terry Malts – Killing Time (Slumberland)
It’s pop. It’s punk. But it’s NOT pop-punk. (Even though it is). Pierced with feedback squalls and boundless energy, Killing Time is hardcore for listeners who prefer their lyrics crooned than screamed.
SPOTIFY | BUY
10. The Babies – Our House On The Hill (Woodsist)
Ridiculously good Americana indie rock from members of Woods and Vivian Girls (and others). I think I like the Babies more than either of those bands. There is chemistry here that is undeniable. Great album.
11. Stealing Sheep – Into The Diamond Sun (The Control Group)
I think I am the only person who likes this album, but I find this Liverpool trio utterly bewitching. Somewhere between faery folk and early-’80s post punk, nobody else sounds like Stealing Sheep. Terrific songs, beguiling harmonies, inventive arrangements. Give this one a chance.
SPOTIFY | BUY
12. The Intelligence – Everybodys Got It Easy But Me (In the Red)
Lars Finberg moves to Los Angeles and…remains the brilliantly snarky crank we’ve come to love. The songs are as catchy as ever, and finds him stepping out of his tightly-wound garage and into the sunshine just a scootch. The record opens with him counting to 44 and, personally, I’d be entertained hearing him count to 4400.
13. Bertrand Burgalat – Toutes Directions (Tricatel)
Still making the regal French pop that got him noticed in the late ’90s, Bertrand Burgalat does it so well that you don’t really want him doing anything else. This is easily his best record in ages, classy bachelor pad disco with élan.
14. Toy – Toy (Heavenly)
Who would have thought that a couple guys from Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong would go on to make awesomely gothy motorik guitar rock? Not, I, but here we are. Sort of like The Horrors if Faris didn’t sound like he was always auditioning for Bauhaus.
15. Goat – World Music
Here’s the soundtrack for your next psychedelic freakout, Italo-horror movie voodoo blood sacrifice. Made only as could be by a bunch of Swedes. Brilliant!
16. Grass Widow – Internal Logic (HLR)
One of the more obtuse indie rock bands of the last few years, Grass Widow tried to go pop on Internal Logic which means it’s still pretty odd but hooks are definitely more plentiful. That’s good news for everyone.
17. Erik Blood – Touch Screens (Self Released)
A concept album about pornography written from all possible angles (hello!), Erik Blood makes shoegaze that doesn’t sound stuck in the ’90s. It’s about porn, not actually porn which is why Touch Screens is pretty sexy stuff.
18. Ty Segall – Twins (Drag City)
Ty Segal released like 27 albums this year and they are all pretty good, but Twins seems to be the one he saved all the best tunes for. Ever-expanding from his garage rock roots, Twins adds a sprinkling of glittery glam to the proceedings making for his most polished set yet. Mind you, “polished” is a relative term for Segall and definitely a good thing. Twins rocks like crazy.
19. El Perro Del Mar – Pale Fire (The Control Group)
Continuing her partnership with Studio’s Rasmus Hägg, El Perro Del Mar drifts even further from the dour folk of her early albums into full-on dancefloor chantuesse territory on her fifth album. Hägg’s interest in ’90s balearic sounds and Sarah Assbring’s soulful vocals make for slinky grooves, not that far removed from Sade, especially on the terrific single “Walk on By,” but the whole record is excellent.
20. Frankie Rose – Interstellar (Slumberland)
Removing herself 100% from her low-fi beginnings, Frankie Rose made a massive leap forward with her second album, full of glistening, widescreen pop.
21 – 50 below…
21. The Fresh & Onlys – Long Slow Dance (Mexican Summer)
Slowing down a bit in 2012, Long Slow Dance was The Fresh & Onlys only release this year, barring singles taken from it. Luckily, it’s a real keeper, with production to match the skill and musicianship this band has been displaying for years. And Tim Cohen’s great songs.
22. BNLX – BNLX LP (Susstones)
After a string of Eps, Minneapolis’ BNLX make their long-player debut, taking various post-punk styles (situationist shout-a-longs, Husker Du-style roar, Bunnymen/Smiths grandeur) and melingd them into a cohesive, loud, catchy-as-hell sound.
23. Dent May – Do Things (Paw Tracks)
Dropping the ukulele, Dent goes for Orange Juice esqe new wave funk which fits his style (and melodramatic vocals) like a stylish sweater vest.
24. Purity Ring – Shrines (4AD)
Art school dance jams that meet the hype head-on, and makes for a good link to label 4AD’s past.
25. Disappears – Pre Language (Kranky)
Motorik punks add Steve Shelley on drums leading to a neu era for the band, taking their foot off the gas just a bit in favor of deeper grooves. Still rocks, of course. Shelley’s now departed the drummer’s set, but it was a great year, as documented here.
26. Peggy Sue – …Play The Songs Of Scorpio Rising (self-released)
Brighton, England trio cover the entire soundtrack of Kenneth Anger’s 1963 film Scorpio Rising, taking the girl group originals and make them their own. Lovely stuff.
27. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Trouble (Polydor)
Like a one-man Hot Chip, Oxford, UK resident Orlando Higgenbottom (surely the most British name this side of Benedict Cumberbatch) makes sophisticated, slighty odd house-y pop. That’s a lot of descriptors, but maybe necessary for someone with a moniker such as his.
28. Jessie Ware – Devotion (Universal Island)
Like with El Perro Del Mar, anything you can vaguely describe as Sade-esque is going to get my attention. Previously known for her vocal contributions to SBTRKT, Jessie Ware goes it alone with alluring results.
29. Exlovers – Moth (Young & Lost Club)
Shoegazy guitars, great melodies, rich harmonies, nearly every song’s a keeper. For fans of Teenage Fanclub and Pains of Being Pure at Heart and one of many underheard 2012 albums. Why do I feel they’ve already broken up?
30. Deep Time – Deep Time (Hardly Art)
Not exactly the most prolific songwriter in the world, Jennifer Moore changes the name of her band from YellowFever to Deep Time (a smart move) which seems to kickstart the creative juices. Her and drummer Adam Jones create off-kilter rhythms and melodies, but Jennifer’s haunting voice holds it all together beautifully. They sound like nobody else.
31. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge)
A supergroup featuring the vocal and songwriting talents of Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs/Wolf Parade) and Britt Daniel (Spoon), Divine Fits debut album is so good it’s been taken for granted. Including by myself. But every time it comes on, I’m all “damn this is really good.”
32. Gap Dream – Gap Dream (Burger)
Made all by his lonesome in his Cleveland, OH home, Gabriel Fulvimar makes ’60s-sounding pop that’s a dead ringer for West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band or similar jangle-pop of the era.
33. TV Girl – The Wild, The Innocent, The TV Shuffle (GreedHead)
Trung Ngo is a clever, clever guy, making throwback pop almost entirely out of samples (Love, Buffalo Springfield, Billy Joel to name three). Dude’s a real smartass too, in the best possible way, just check out the PDF booklet that comes with the free download.
34. METZ – METZ (Sub Pop)
I had doubts as to whether METZ’s pummeling punk — I blinding and blindingly loud live force — could be contained on a record, but here we are.
35. Cats On Fire – All Blackshirts To Me (Matinee)
Where previous albums wore their indiepop influences (Smiths, Felt, Orange Juice) on the sleeves of their cardigans, the band have found their own sound that nods at the past without being indebted to it. It’s also the their mellowest record, most minor-key melancholic… and energized by political vitriol rarely seen in pop.
36. Mac DeMarco – Mac DeMarco II
Slippery, warts-n-all pop from Vancouver cut-up Mac DeMarco, his second album of 2012. At the rate he’s going, LP #3 will be a true showstopper.
37. King Tuff – King Tuff (Sub Pop)
Nasally power pop goodness from the very busy Kyle Thomas.
38. Orca Team – Restraint (HHBTM)
Early ’60s pop filtered through Krautrock sonics and a Factory Records wardrobe.
39. Jim Ruiz Set – Mount Curve Avenue (Mystery Lawn Music)
Nearly 15 years since his last record, Jim Ruiz is still legendary.
40. Punks On Mars – Bad Expectations (Zoo Music)
If you love that King Tuff record, you really need to hear this. Squirmy new wave a la The dB’s, Spizzenergi or Juice Newton. Is that possible? Only on Mars.
41. Graham Coxon – A+E (Parlophone)
While most of the attention was on Blur’s reunion for the Olympics, guitarist Graham Coxon made his best solo album yet, full of spikey new wave.
42. Paws – Cokefloat! (Fat Cat)
Uber-melodic, 90s-ish indie rock pop from Scotland. Why did nobody talk about this record this year?
43. South South Million – Wind Hand Caught in the Door (Triple Down)
Trevor Naud and Daniel I. Clark, both of Detroit’s Zoos of Berlin, mix samples and live instruments to the point where you don’t know which is which. And don’t’ care. Chill but not chillwave, Wind Hand Caught in the Door is closer to the memory experiments of The Caretaker by way of the Avalanches and Saint Etienne. It’s a mellow, groovy listen, deep in the shag.
44. Allah-Las – Allah Las (Innovative Leisure)
This Los Angeles band seems to have stepped right out of their city, but in 1966, right down to the fringe leather jackets and 12-string chiming guitars. They probably woulda been stars then too.
45. The Soft Moon – Zeros (Captured Tracks)
The not too distant future. Megadroids patrol the outer perimeter of Alpha City Prime, looking to obliterate rebel forces by day. By night, they dance. This is their soundtrack.
46. The Limiñanas – Crystal Anise (HoZac)
The production values have increased since their first album, but otherwise it’s business as usual on LP#2 from Perpignan’s best chanson garage band. Which is a good thing.
47. The 2 Bears – Be Strong (Greco-Roman/DFA)
Sometimes Hot Chip try a little too hard to be quirky, I think, which is not a problem with Joe Goddard’s other project, The 2 Bears, which is him and Greco-Roman Soundsystem DJ Raf Rundell. 2 Bears just want to have fun and get the party going with four-on-the-floor, ’90s style beats. It’s also a treat to get more Goddard songs, which tend to be my favorites on Hot Chip albums (see “These Chains” from their new one).
48. Moon Duo – Circles (Sacred Bones)
Moon Duo are experts at riding a groove, sometimes even just a single chord. But they’ve let some melody sneak in lately and their Circles deftly walks the tightrope between drone and pop.
49. Pegasvs – S/T (Canada Editorial)
I was listening to Grass Widow cover EMF on Soundcloud (I know) and when that ended, it switched over to “related music” and all of a sudden this was this loud whoosh of motorik drumming and spaceage analog synths, something like Broadcast covering early OMD. What the hell is this amazing thing? It was “Brillar” by Spanish duo Pegasvs, who have since changed their name to Svper (“V” as “U” is the way to make a common word easily searchable it seems). The whole album is fantastic and was indeed a serendipitous find for me.
50. Nude Beach – II (Other Music Recording Company)
Like Tom Petty, Elvis Costello and The Replacements, Brooklyn’s Nude Beach make music straight from the gut. Pump that fist and sing along!