Monday, December 17, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 2012

Let’s get right down to it, AA’s favorite albums of the year.

#10 Zulu Winter - Language

Zulu Winter may have been pre-emptively panned by other reviewers for their prognosticated eventual turn towards more radio-friendly mainstream waters, but I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t see anything wrong with their brand of gloomy New Wave.

Cold, distant, and minimal with its maudlin vocals, driving beats, and catchy hooks, Language unassumingly wiggles its way into your ear balls and stubbornly refuses to leave.

Perhaps NME’s Noel Gardner snarkily put it best: “You can imagine a future where debut album ‘Language’, with its nods to Echo And The Bunnymen gloom, gauzy electro-indie keyboard swirls and booming ’80s drums, went down as Zulu Winter’s mildly quirky preamble before they pulled out their Coldplay-ish big guns. And where defensive fans quacked on about “preferring the earlier stuff.”

That said, soak up their first album now and enjoy it in all its greatness before they join the ever growing ranks of the Merchants of Swill (of course, keep your fingers crossed that they don’t stoop to such depths).

#9 San Cisco – San Cisco

Adorably sunny Indie pop brought to you by the equally adorable and sunny quartet of Australians that make up San Cisco. Don’t expect to explore anything earth-shatteringly deep here, instead just let the good times roll. Like a rollicking day spent at the beach with your friends or the soundtrack to that quirky indie movie about the eccentric misadventures of a whimsical and social awkward teenager, San Cisco is the feel-good band of the year. 

#8 Frankie Rose - Interstellar

After bouncing around Brooklyn’s Indie pop scene as a member of the Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts, Frankie Rose has finally emerged as her own sonic entity on her second album.

Less jangle and more sparkly 80s inspired New Wave bangers a la The Cure, Rose opts for a pallet that combines the cold distance of space and the murky depths and freakish calm of the deep sea.  Immerse yourself in the dreamy soundscapes of Rose’s lush world filled with haunting echoes, catchy double claps, and 20-somethings wanderlust.

#7 Exitmusic – Passage

Following the heels of their insanely good EP From Silence comes Exitmusic’s highly anticipated debut album Passage.

Not so much dream pop as nightmare pop, Passage is filled with haunting melodies, icy soundscapes, and a lingering melancholy that will stalk your dreams. Masterfully juxtaposing the minimalism of solitary pianos or guitars and Aleksa Palladino’s quivering contralto with an all-out Specter-like wall of sound that blitzes your ears, Exitmusic sucks you into the whirlpool of their roiling emotional forays.

#6 Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw…

It’s good to see that time hasn’t tempered Fiona Apple’s raw nerve-riddled sound. On her fourth studio album, she is every bit as emotional, beautiful, thoughtful, and poetic as she ever was. Always fiercely personal, The Idler Wheel plays like the volatile ups and downs of a tumultuous relationship. From the hopeful and determined courtship on the Peggy Lee “Fever”-esque “Hot Knife” to the adorably enamored “Anything We Want,” and ultimately the painful disintegration of “Regret.”

Underlying it all is a restless anxiety, in which you feel like every note is being wrenched from her body, taking with it chunks of flesh. It’s almost as if there are so many emotions, thoughts, dreams, and sentiments that she wishes to express all at once, but there’s a bottleneck and she can’t get it out fast enough.

Musically, you can hear her wriggling and writhing through theatrical soundscapes which incorporate a Broadway musical’s rhythmic gyrations to underscore gestures, words, and ideas as she paints her story with hypnotic melodies and vocal acrobatics. Bottom line, Fiona Apple is that rare musician who can make music bend around her life in a hyper-personalized manner and we’re just lucky she shares it with us.

#5 Wild Nothing - Nocturne

Moving beyond his bedroom, Jack Tatum aka Wild Nothing, has continued to refine and polish his sound, taking his brand of dreamy indie pop to the next level. Peacefully ebbing and flowing, Nocturne gorgeously captures the sepia-tinted dreamy nostalgia of youth, juvenile love, and reckless impetuosity in all its dizzying hopefulness.

In total, every track is carefully cut from the same shimmering fabric and the album plays like a tight cohesive whole with each song gently folding into the next, making it rather difficult to identify any particular standouts. That said, the addition of strings and hypnotically minimal guitar melodies on “Shadow,” “Nocturne,” and “Midnight Song,” add a bit of extra kick to the album’s introspectiveness.

#4 Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan 

While Swing Lo Magellan is far more accessible than their previous work, the album is still proof that David Longstreth and the trio of ghostly harmonizing beauties of Dirty Projectors are still some of the funkiest and most creative musicians around.

Bending and curving around asymmetrical beats and rhythms, Dirty Projectors continue to stretch the boundaries of our aural pursuits in novel directions, but this time around they've infused the album with more straight forward tracks like “Gun Has No Trigger” and “Swing Lo Magellan.” Pulsating with life and a previously unfound immediacy, owing largely to the fact that much of Longstreth’s vocals were actually the first time he ever sang the song.

Bottom line: The band’s seventh studio album is a real gem.

#3 Drunk Mums – Drunk Mums

Artistically masterful albums are great and all, but when you’re in the mood to crank up the speakers, throw on your leather jacket, and hit the streets in search a knock down humdinger of a drunken night, there’s nothing better than Drunk Mums.

Australia’s finest rapscallions bring you unabashed lo-fi garage punk in all its reckless abandon.

#2 Delta Riggs – Talupo Mountain Music Vol. II

I know it’s an EP, but you know what, it’s my list and my blog, so I make the rules. Anyhow, in this case, I have to make an exception for The Delta Riggs seeing as they know how to get you properly riled up for a night of pure anarchy – the bottle throwing, glass smashing, riot inciting kind.

Loud, brash, and insane, Delta Riggs are rock and roll at its best. Bluesy as all hell with scorching vocals, punishing guitar lines, and a jackhammer for a drummer, Talupo Mountain Music Vol. II is doctor recommended and physician approved to put some hair on your chest. Now get out there and light some shit on fire.

#1 Devin – Romancing

With a brylcreamed coif that matches his 50s sound, Brooklyn’s own Devin doesn’t just look the part, he’s the genuine article. Drawing on a bevy of influences Devin combines the sugary sweet rock of the 50s (think Frankie Valli’s “Beggin”) with the raw diesel of the Ramones and the glam guitars of The Strokes.

His debut album, Romancing, is a gleeful romp through a rapid fire succession of flamboyant barn burners. Like a real-life Johnny Suede, Devin’s got the loverboy blues not to mention a serious sneer and the frantic energy of a man on fire. With his aching heart and gritty guitar fuzz, Devin hits on all the classic themes of rock – girls, heartbreak, girls, longing, girls, and girls. Did I mention girls?

While some might say his sound is derivative, blatantly calling back on the gods of rock pre-Bowie and pre-Velvet Underground, he is entirely unpretentious in that he’s just a dude out to have a good time, thrash around on his guitar, sing about girls, and get you on the dance floor -- ain’t no harm in that.

Honorable Mentions

Chromatics - Kill For love

Raveonettes - Observator

Tame Impala – Lonerism

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