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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

HANK: BEST ALBUMS OF 2012


30
MINTA & THE BROOK TROUT
Olympia

When the end hits, with a heartfelt moment which eschews sentimentality by virtue of delivery and musicality, it's passed by almost too quickly for you to grasp.  This is Minta & the Brook Trout's real gift -- giving the listener beautiful music ripe with the kind of emotionality which seems to slip easily between one's fingers.  As "From the Ground" reminds us: "all the love you once felt, all the love that was gone / it comes up from the ground just to haunt you."  This is true melancholia, a pervasive sense of self-realized nostalgia which comes from what we lack.  It's Minta & the Brook Trout's native tongue.

29
BEACHWOOD SPARKS
The Tarnished Gold

I have a weakness for early 70s singer-songwriters and Beachwood Spark’s resplendent return feels like it stole a page from that era’s production.  The result is a shimmering, translucent album as alive as the sun in the weeds.

28
THE CAIRO GANG
Corner Man

This overlooked album by Emmet Kelly proves his worth not just as a sideman, but standing front and center with an introspective, ponderous folk record which you can barely find anywhere.  Stay tuned for more on this album...

27
LOST IN THE TREES
A Church That Fits Our Needs

A continually surprising, utterly riveting complex musical portrait of Lost in Tree’s songwriter, Ari Picker’s Mother. Encapsulating the death at birth of twins, depression, cancer, and her eventual death, A Church that Fits Our Needs is one of the most rewarding listens of the year.  It’s elegic tone never turns into drudge managing effervescence in the midst of tragedy.

26
ANGEL OLSEN
Half Way Home

Together with the Cairo Gang, Angel Olsen has managed two of the richest records this year.  Half Way Home is terse and sparse playing up her well-cultivated vocal talents while expanding musical expression.  

25
THE AMAZING
Gentle Stream

Perhaps the biggest musical revelation for me last year was Jonathan Wilson.  Picking up on the thread is Sweden’s The Amazing and their toned down psych-folk release, Gentle Stream.  A better title could not be had as this album rolls out of your speakers. It’s a subtle complexity and richly textured listen.

24
BRO. STEPHEN
Baptist Girls

A sentimental favorite, to be sure, our friend Scott Kirkpatrick’s release from this year is filled with muted emotions and strained reunions.  With all the buzz about Fr. John Misty, I have to say that I missed the boat.  For me, in terms of religiously conceptual records, this one was tops.  Probably because it played it sincere, close to the vest, and devastatingly well.

23
PATTI SMITH
Banga

Punk is not a sound; it's an ethos:  a way of understanding the world.  Patti Smith was one of the first who gave that way of seeing back to us, and she did it in her own way, by retracing who we are and what we knew over our own hearts.  By making us believe in music, by casting over us, one by one, her own spell.

22
LEONARD COHEN
Old Ideas

What more can be said about a man whose life in letters and songs can produce “old ideas” as good as this?  Maybe Leonard Cohen is immortal.  Let’s hope so.

21
THE EVENS
The Odds

The final drop into the “has been” (?!?) is with Ian MacKaye’s The Evens.  I wasn’t sure that we’d ever hear another record from the DC legend after settling down and with the constant management of Dischord.  Frankly, I was kinda certain that my heroes from the DC scene had hung up their axes, but The Odds proved me wrong proving once again that politics starts at home.

20
SPIRITUALIZED
Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Forget the terrible cover art and just soak in another grand conceptual record from some of the folks who made that fashionable in the first place.  Sweet Heart Sweet Light isn’t just a throwback to a time when records could be grand statements, the music seems to glide over the history of post 1960s rock and roll.  “Hey Jane” could be ripped out of just about any classic rock group’s catalog, but it’s not, which is the transcendence of (and what we’ve been waiting for) from Spiritualized.

19
TAME IMPALA
Lonerism

Boy, these Aussies came on with a bang this year.  A critically-hyped release that’s worth the praise it gets.  Must be a Year-End-List miracle!  Why do people love Tame Impala so much?  Well, it’s been awhile since a straight-ahead rock group got melody and noise right with a regular rhythm.  Well, since Smith Westerns, anyway.  I’m not trying to be demeaning.  I wish there were more releases like this.  Seems like every time a band gets it right, it takes them forever to repeat the magic.  I hope Tame Impala gets it this right again and again.

18
BOMBA ESTEREO
Elegancia Tropical

This record is Bomba Estereo’s after party.  Chilled out, chocked up with sounds, the Colombian group with (perhaps) the best front(wo)man on the planet returned this year with a record that wasn’t trying to do as much as their last one.  The result? Something that’s just as good as the last one.  The energy doesn’t need to drive as much because the music is stronger, spacier, fuller.

17
THE MOUNTAIN GOATS
Transcendental Youth

At some point, I thought John Darnielle might miss one.  I was wrong.  If the Mountain Goats are proving anything, it’s that with each record they become more of a band.  This doesn’t diminish Darnielle’s lyrical craft, which remains as strong as ever.  But, maybe we should stop having a Janus-like reaction to the Mountain Goats -- praising Darnielle and the band as if they were two separate entities.  We can love both things.  Transcendental Youth proves it.

16
BOWERBIRDS
The Clearing

I thought Upper Air was a step back.  Bowerbirds’s debut had so much potential and Upper Air seemed to suck that way with an ambiguous musicality that wasn’t worthy of them.  The Clearing feels much more stripped down and salient.

15
KATHLEEN EDWARDS
Voyager

From “The New Sounds of Folk Music” post:
Ironically, if there was someone who was going to get me to invest stock into the Bon Iver sound company, it wouldn't be the flannel'd Grammy-winner who gets days named after him in Wisconsin. Voyager, which made it out early this year, wasn't just a time-slot hit.  It's an infinitely listenable record produced by Edwards and Mr. Iver/Vernon.  The game may be a bit old hat to Edwards, whose first record came out almost a decade ago, but this record seems to have completely revitalized her career.  Opener "Empty Threat" uses up all the glory of Bon Iver's records without the too-precious moments or that weird auto-tune sounding thing.  The bridge for "Soft Place to Land" is equally riveting as it builds and builds, Edwards keeps us focused on the important thing -- her masterful songwriting.

14
EGYPTR
Egyptr


We shouldn't be nostalgic for days of yore or cry over boarded up all-ages venues.  Bands like Egyptr show us why all that stuff was important in the first place.  It's about the music.  And, more importantly, the music where you're from.  The delight (and trouble) these days is that with a click you can be from anywhere.  So take a moment, be from Fayetteville, AR and let Egyptr pop your ear drums.

13
MOUNT EERIE
Clear Moon & Ocean Roar


In my notes for a review of Ocean Roar which I never got around to, I have written:

“How do we see the landscape?  ‘Mountains and websites’ intones Phil Elverum

the crawling line of "Lone Bell" and its dissonant rhythmic structure”

Sometimes fragments are better.  They create everything while leaving no communication to chance.

12
LAMBCHOP
MR. M

If loneliness were a writer at a lounge, it would be Mr. M.  Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner has never shied away from a ramshackle poetry and here it takes it’s most orchestrated turn.  If you’re looking for character driven songwriting, there’s little better than Mr. M where Lambchop brings to life an entire universe right before your ears.

11
MATTHEW E. WHITE
Big Inner

White's never one to lose his head on this record, the genius of this album is in accurate placement of musical elements in a record which continually surprises and surpasses expectations.  And, it's for this reason that the record is a fascinating and rewarding mix of cerebral blue-eyed soul.  Not mimicking but reappropriating the soul genre into the 21st century, White manages to seemingly reinvent something by never straying far from it.    

10
WOODS
Bend Beyond

Like Andrew Bird, Woods does what they do and they do it well.  Bend Beyond is probably their most solid album since At Rear House.  And while that record made weird weirder, Bend Beyond provides a foundation before taking the listener over the psychedelic edge.  Like DIIV’s record, it’s been a good year for psych -- see also Pond’s Beard, Wives, Denim and Behold the Brave’s Great American Challenge.  What pushes this album apart is Wood’s maturity and confident songwriting.

9
DIIV
Oshin

Until Beach Fossil’s album, next year, DIIV more than suffices.  The 80s throwback guitar sound got some nice representation in 2012 from DIIV, Wild Nothing, and Weird Dreams.  But this album rises above the others for its non-linear songwriting and sweeping sounds.  While mastermind Zachary Cole Smith may have begun by his linkage to Beach Fossils prior to this record, he steps into the limelight here by breaking away from his former bandmates just enough to put himself on the map.

8
LIARS
WIXIW

So, the commenter I talk about below was at least half right.  WIXIW is the latest chameleon offering from Liars who started post punk and have become subversive electronic pioneers.  Pronounced “Wish You,” WIXIW and Death Grips’ albums from 2012 might be the most forward thinking of the year pushing albums and sound into new sources and configurations.  It’s not always easy to listen to, but the potential is clear.  Liars live up to the hype here giving an intensely emotive strain to the a mechanical world.

7
HOSPITALITY
Hospitality

Not too long ago, someone commented that if we didn’t have Frank Ocean or Liars on our list, that we were hacks.  They are, according to this commenter, the two baddest ass albums of the year.  Now, I’ll admit, I don’t follow social media or anything and Zach won’t let me.  But I’m tired of these damn year end list that have Fiona Apple or Channel Orange but not Hospitality. What’s wrong with you people?  Have you forgotten what good music is?  Listen to this record.  You can read the influences, but it doesn’t matter.  Hospitality’s debut of the more solid indie records of the past five years.

6
DINOSAUR JR.
I Bet On Sky

I had that awkward moment a while ago where someone who I respect confided to me that they don’t like Dinosaur Jr. and I agreed.  I’m not a huge Dino Jr. fan, maybe because I prefer some of Lou Barlow’s other work better, but then I heard this record.  If Patti Smith can turn out one of her best works this year, then why can’t J Mascis?  I’m sorry Dinosaur Jr.  I was terribly, terribly wrong.

5
ANDREW BIRD
Break It Yourself

How is it possible that Andrew Bird doesn’t get enough credit for what he does?  Break it Yourself is as complete and full as any of his other albums, but we seem to denigrate him for doing it again and again and again.  If you question how this can stack up to some of the finer albums in his catalog, see “Danse Caribe,” the album’s keystone track.

4
FIRST AID KIT
The Lion's Roar

The winner of this year’s best albums from one country is Sweden.  First Aid Kit’s debut is a shining piece of Americana and they aren’t even from here.  “Emmylou” is my track of the year if for nothing else than the chorus:  “I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June / If you’ll be my Graham and my Johnny too / I’m not askin’ much of you / Just sing, little darlin, sing with me.”  This is elegant songcrafting at its finest.

3
LOWER DENS
Nootropics

The slow churn of Nootropics intoxicates because it requires extended, attentive listening.  As opposed to 60s and 70s psychedelia which was the hard charging product of drugs with orgasmic finishes and mind-expanding instrumentation, Lower Dens are crafting music which functions like a drug (or natural stimulant) by moving your mind to make musical connections. 

2
HIP HATCHET
Joy & Better Days

It’s hard not to love this album.  A travelogue and bildungsroman, Hip Hatchet’s revolution this year was not sacrificing anything from their first album by piling up sounds on their second.  Philippe Bronchtein may have one of the most original voices out there and while his name sounds vaguely French, this record is pure American.  Not in the empirical kind of way in the way that early Springsteen and Kerouac are American: a desperate, longing search and long hard hours on the road.  Few can turn a phrase like Hip Hatchet and few should.  He manages lyrical literature adeptly letting the pearls of wisdom float by your ear like wind out the car window.

1
SHARON VAN ETTEN
Tramp

Tramp is a coming of age for Van Etten.  Musical complexity fuels her already unique voice and subtle musical understanding.  There is a sense of self-proclamation, an assuredness to this record that all great albums have. Van Etten's got the authority of a master in Tramp.  It's her most unflinching and strongest work to date.  Ironically, it's also what makes Tramp seem like a continuation.  Van Etten's been doing it all along.  So, if there is a sonic shift in Tramp, it comes with the addition of Condon, the Dessners, et al.  They augment, flesh out, and delve deeper into the personal than the personal which Van Etten had shown on her previous albums.  The musical shift here is letting other people inside.  Perhaps that's the wry irony of the title -- there are so many others in Van Etten's personal lyrics that she feels like a "tramp."  Maybe she feels like she's still searching. Whichever way it goes, the ownership is what counts and what makes this record one of the most solid of the year.

LISTEN

3 comments:

Claire
at: January 9, 2013 at 5:24 PM said...

interesting. no gary clark jr, patrick watson, kendrick lamar, japandroids...

hank says:
at: January 9, 2013 at 5:52 PM said...

We do our best to be original around here.

Claire
at: January 9, 2013 at 6:11 PM said...

sure. but objectively speaking, they were top albums. the fact that many people agree on that doesn't make it unoriginal. solid list regardless.

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