Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2012: The Top 30 Best Albums: Part I

Not a particularly great year for LPs but another solid 12 months. When the music was good then it was idealistic and great. When it wasn't then it just felt right but not revolutionary. Here are the 30 records I felt were most successful in bringing their divergent points across...

21. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti Mature Themes:

an almost drunk vibe careens through this record, as if Pink has come under the influence of a powerful sedative that allows him to dive beneath guitar loops etc. He remains emo-rock’s most polarizing figure though, on one hand dishing up astonishing blues like Baby and falsetto on Pink Slime. Mature Themes is his most focused album production-wise, moving him in the steady Beck-like stream of clarity that he’s inevitably drifting towards.

22. Dr. John Locked Down:

now a crotchety old man but still rocking away like a sea captain, Dr. John rolls back the years to unveil the stunning Locked Down. With Black Keys member, Dan Auerbach providing production, Dr. John gets to just lose himself amid the sea of luxury grooves placed alongside him. The heavy grooves of the title track set the tempo while the remaining tracks follow comfortably into the pattern. Auerbach wisely stays out of the limelight even if he comes up trump with the funky Ice Age. I guess all those tiki tiki bars now know what new masterpiece they’ll be playing well into next year now.

23. Alt-J An Awesome Wave:

this year’s Mercury Prize winner is buoyed by Joe Newman’s weird, cryptic vocals. An Awesome Wave rolls through its glacial format impressively in spite of the fact that the lads are on debut. The album conjures up images one would expect from Scandinavian acts but is suffused by guitars and doo wop (Fitzpleasure) and stark lyricism (Matilda). Some critics have been put off the trio’s vocal lilt but the emotional realism that crests on a track like Breezeblocks is undeniable: whirling beneath this carefully crafted effort is hard-boiled intent to be heard and discovered.

24. Slam Dunk Welcome To Miami:

while there remains no shortage of punk bands around, the distinctive quality has clearly dissipated. Enter Slam Dunk, a foursome that knows how to party in style. The beats here are frantic, the choruses immediate and copious. The ten track LP is loud, fast yet melodious to the point of structure being executed without spilling any of the beer its guzzling. Songs like Scabies and Horse Bumper are outright stompers and lead singer Jordan Minkoff’s throaty growl becomes a trademark joy.

25. El Perro Del Mar Pale Fire:

I’d never understood the appeal of Sarah Assbring but finally with Pale Fire, her aesthetic has started to seep through clearly. Though her haze pop has brought diminished returns in the past, her move to more upfront pop terrain yields delicious results here: Hold Off The Dawn juxtaposes pop with reggae beats and it works. Elsewhere the synths get heavy on a 1980s vibe which is pretty impressive mood music. Assbring no longer gets lost in her production nor is Pale Fire guilty of over-thinking…it’s merely an album self-assured in its ethos. Count me in as a believer now and keep the misty music a-coming.

26. Django Django Django Django:

four years in the making, the London band’s debut has more than a healthy comparison to Yeasayer. This debut has the sounds of the world about it, replete with a hefty slate of instruments and riffs. Life’s A Beach contracts with sunny pop hooks and a wailing guitar that grooves for days. Storm makes it clear though that the 60s remains the ideal this type of music aims for. Suffice it to say guys, your effort is working.

27. Imani Coppola The Glass Wall:

while the state of black female soul/pop seems safe in the hands now of Janelle Monae, most critics are content to keep it there and ignore everyone else. How else could Coppola be around for the past fifteen years without anyone knowing much of her big, brassy vocals? That’s a bit harsh I know because Coppola—like Dionne Farris and Lauryn Hill—has pretty much rejected the demands of major label contracts. The Glass Wall is a clear labor of love and it chronicles her struggles from isolationism (State of Art) to the uncertainties about love (Ave Maria, where she chants the funny line ‘is he gay or European’). The stunning thing about Coppola though is her insistence of blending genres with an equal timetable for results she wants to hear.

28. Chet Faker Thinking in Textures:

while Faker doesn’t physically fit easily into the stereotype of white singers digging on black soul music, there’s no doubt that, over the course of this seven track EP, he’s made a successful run in the fold. Thinking in Textures is a surprising gem, moving smoothly through the beats to project some blue-eyed magic that doesn’t seem forced or exhausted. Faker, real name Nick Murphy, hails from Australia and grew up on jazz and his moniker is in ode of Chet Baker so you get the idea behind his slow vocal work filling up the spaces between his beats. The EP has been compared to Bon Iver—especially the lush Solo Sunrise, a stretch in my view but one I’m sure Faker won’t mind as a new artist…nor should you as we await even more stunning interpretations on a full LP.

29. Tame Impala Lonerism:

it’s easy to imagine Tame Impala’s lead singer, Kevin Parker fashioning himself for an Ariel Pink-like career with that falsetto yet Lonerism is too hooked on the abstract but more on melody. The best songs here combine both ideals (Elephant, Feels Like We Only Go Backwards) in a stew of luxuriousness. The lo-fi approach was present on their debut but here, with brute force, is a sense of purpose, a defining line that the band has crossed and now wants to share it with us.

30. Dr. Dog Be the Void:

after the disappointment of their last album, the band rebounds with a bluesy affair that features so many stylistic tricks and yummy treats. Underlined is the sense of ennui, underlined with a lot of repetition but to say these songs are merely homogeneous is not correct. These Days is a current update of honky-tonk that works and ditto That Old Black Hoe. Many critics have termed this retro-rock and sure enough this sense of Americana hangs over the LP but modern sensibilities are deeply embedded here too.