The 2012 Yearview Mirror

There hasn’t been as much anticipation for new releases as there has been in 2012.  The year has produced some of the strongest and best albums some of the artists have created to date.  While some return to form from hiatus with adventurous efforts others drop their most jaw dropping albums yet.  There is definitely a wide range of styles to peruse through and in no particular order either.  Just some more aural tethers to lead your ears astray.

ImageDamien Jurado, consistent, calm, able, thoughtful and clearly immune to the critical tides.  He delivers Maraqopa, a diverse and intricately layered song book full of introspective spirituality and soulfulness.  The tracks on Maraqopa breath in and out of one another from the psychedelic opener ‘Nothing is the News’ to the children choir backing him up on ‘Life Away From the Garden’ with a call and response revealing a very reminiscing Jurado.  The title track brings to mind the soft vocal styling of a  Stephen Stills CSNY era.  ‘This Time Next Year’ has a faded glockenspiel track and backing vocals from producer Richard Swift whom Jurado has worked with on his previous effort Saint Bartlett.  Soul mates are hard to come by but Jurado and Swift have found it in each other. Now I won’t give it all away and take anything from those who missed out on this masterpiece of an album but I will say this, this is a record that could find you with a slightly adjusted altitude strewn across the floor lost in wonderment as you tour through Jurado’s made up world of Maraqopa.

10/10

ImageHere We Go Magic is most definitely not a new band but have become a well honed one to say the least.  Especially when the sixth member of Radiohead approached them about producing their next album.  ‘A Different Ship’ sees HWGM discovering the sounds and layers they’ve been striving for on their past effort ‘Pigeons’.  Previous to that the material was more or less some experimental folk songs written by band leader Luke Temple.  The lead off single ‘Make Up Your Mind’ is a tune that  screams Talking Heads with its jangled and jittery guitar lines and wall of sound synth.  If you’re looking for more kick in the window sort of riffs you won’t find them on ‘A Different Ship’, rather you’ll discover a band discovering themselves which is always exciting.  With Godrich at the helm of production it’s no wonder some of these gems sound as if they could have been Hail To The Thief outtakes.

10/10

ImageAfter 10 years together and seven albums the Walkmen return in 2012 with their strongest album yet.  Just when we thought they couldn’t top the emotional maturity of their last release 2010’s ‘Lisbon’ Hamilton Leithauser and his band of dapper musicians from Brooklyn NY return with ‘Heaven’.  Here’s a band that have one of the most unique tones going today, guitar tones reminiscent of a.m radio pouring through a large tin can and a rhythm section that will find you uncontrollably dancing.  This is the indie rock band of Sinatra, songs of falling in love and breaking up and all of it romanticized just the way young lovers do.  ‘Heaven’ shows us a band with a decade of growing up and creating together, members getting married and having children. As its title implies, ‘Heaven’ is an album acting as a kind of destination for the band. Having survived the foibles of rock youth, they turn to young rock adulthood, and the product is good: 13 songs as pretty as a roses.

10/10

ImageThis fourth album from Patrick Watson overflows with sentiment without ever being sentimental.  This is an album slow enough to be a funeral yet full of joy.  Watson’s trademark is lush, melodic and charming.  ‘Adventures In Your Own Backyard’ evokes a still autumn morning fit for Bon Iver and serenades us like a Jeff Buckley over a still misty lake at dawn.  The entire album has a beautiful richness to it. It’s mind-boggling to discover it was all recorded in the singer’s Montreal apartment.  You can hear the creaking of floorboards and chairs throughout, which only adds to the album’s charm and comfort.  These subtleties in the mix would drive most producers crazy but adds to magic of the album.  From gentle piano parts to mariachi horn sections, all the instrumentation finds its fair chance at the melody.  With a pair of headphones, ‘Adventures In Your Own Backyard’ will find you on the bedroom floor.

10/10

ImageMood music with melody, orchestral pop without the pomp, mid-west Americana and a hint of Euro classical for good measure.  Andrew Bird’s 2012 ‘Break It Yourself’  presents itself in a slightly different view from his previous work.  For the first time he has an ensemble cast of musicians who were giving the freedom to create their own parts.  Recorded over a week intended for the rehearsals with the new found band it quickly turned into an inspiring recording session, with most of the material being captured in just 2 or 3 takes.  Bird delivers his usual guitar, violin, famous whistling all tied up with his tongue twister vocabulary  but the depth of the band’s presence delivers one of not only Bird’s best albums to date but also one of the top albums of the year.

10/10

ImageGrizzly Bear’s previous efforts, Yellow House and Vecketamist sound gorgeous and are easily palatable.  Creating mind ultering and easily digestible music is what these fellas do best.  After a handful of years on every critics top 10 list and being hand selected by the likes of Radiohead to fill their opening slot for a tour, Grizzly Bear have deserved the right to ask more from their audience.  On ‘Shields’ we are  expected to pay closer attention to the subtleties of their sound.  With each member playing integral roles in their output.  Whether it be Daniel Rossen’s cresting chords like waves crashing in or Chris Bear’s thunderous drumming.  Ed Droste’s confidence is at the height of his career as a song writer and vocalist, while Chris Taylor’s penchant for haunting effects, beautiful harmonies and buoyant grooves  are what propel ‘Shields’ to the top of every year end list yet again.  Clearly Grizzly Bear have mastered their craft with glorious tension and layers of bliss that keep us coming back.

10/10

ImageChan Marshall, aka Cat Power has never been known for a ‘feel good’ album but with her self produced release this year ‘Sun’ shows us a new version of the lady we all love.  Recorded over an almost 3 year span, completely self funded and done on her own terms ‘Sun’ is big step forward for Marshall.  This album is full of big hooks, pristine production, drum machines, multi-layered harmonies, washes of evocative guitar and a general electronic feel throughout.  The latter not being anything we’re used to from Cat Power’s previous output but on ‘Sun’ Chan pulls it all off with deft skill.  Her first album in 6 years since 2006’s ‘The Greatest’.  She’s learned to channel her energy (whether it be negative, depressed or otherwise) forward and in an upbeat way.  One of the albums later tracks ‘Nothin’ But Time’ reveals a guest vocal half way through from none other than Iggy Pop.  If this song isn’t a feel good song I don’t know what is.

10/10

ImageThere are those moments in life when comfort is sought or craved, for whatever the reason.  Sometimes there is only one way to achieve this yearning.  Being steamrolled by emotion has never felt so good as it does when that emotion is propelled by Sigur Ros.  ‘Valtari’ is the Icelandic groups seventh studio release and comes after a long four year hiatus they return to form with a more ambient sounding album.  Still full of their signature fairy tale sound yet fleeting and ephemeral.  These are carefully crafted and meticulously calculated songs.  Each note holding it’s own weight serving in the overall outcome and arc of ‘Valtari’.  To be fair this is not the typical Sigur Ros most are used to but the simple elegance of this album will be that comfort we sometimes can’t find anywhere else.

9/10

ImageSometimes it takes removing yourself from a situation to discovery what you’re really capable of.  Then to top it off by revealing the reinvented version of yourself to critical acclaim, that never hurts. Especially when it’s received with open arms and a couple of good belly laughs.  That’s exactly what J. Tillman aka Father John Misty has done with his solo effort ‘Fear Fun’.  Tillman clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously which is revealed in his autobiographical lyrics.  Lines such as ” I ran down the road, pants down to my knees, screaming please come and help me, that Canadian Shaman gave a little too much to me”.  Formerly known as the drummer for Fleet Foxes, Tillman has been known to put out solo records before but nothing comes close to what he’s created here on ‘Fear Fun’.  With it’s psychedelic cover art and late 60’s to 70’s guitar riffs bringing to mind the popular sounds of Laurel Canyon (which coincidentally is where he resides) his album is sure to put smiles on your face and laughter in your belly.  There is nothing to fear here on ‘Fear Fun’ it’s just a fantastic record that deserves repeat spins until Tillman comes out with another album.

8.5/10

ImageWaterhouse is in his mid-twenties, and he owes almost everything to music that was created before he was born. But unlike the period-piece posturing of some of his retro-soul peers, Waterhouse isn’t interested in precise replications on his debut, ‘Time’s All Gone’. Instead he aims to channel their volatility; what he likes about those scratchy 45 rpm singles is how unstable they sound.  He’s not a persuasive enough crooner to pull off a ballad such as “Raina.” But when he embraces the implied threat behind “(If) You Want Trouble,” raves on about “Some Place,” and laments that “Time’s All Gone,” he sounds deadly.

9/10

Image‘Lonesome Dreams’ is an album that paints grainy sepia toned pictures of shorelines, landscapes, romance left behind.  For Lord Huron this is his first recorded outing with a full band. Otherwise known as Ben Schneider, these are traveler’s tales.  Lord Huron have a sound all their own, avant-garde Old Western meets folk (with an underlying sprinkle of rock-a-billy). Layers of guitars, bric-a-brac percussion, harmonicas, wind chimes, tambourines, strings and vocal harmonies produce a rich texture in ‘Lonesome Dreams’. It’s especially impressive considering it’s the group’s first full-length album.  It’s a safe to bet to expect more stellar music from these fellas in the future.

9/10

ImagePeaking Lights duo consisiting of husband and wife Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis have brought to the table what they call their first proper release, ‘Lucifer’. In their liner notes they reveal the translation of lucifer as “bearer of light”.  Bearing light is just what the duo does once more, as they refine their trademark lo-fi dub-cum-krautrock-cum-electro pop with studio precision. They even enlist the help of another vocalist in the shape of their new baby, Mikko, (their bearer of light) on the track ‘Lo-Hi.’  The lead off single is titled ‘Beautiful Son’ and is a slow-burning, sweepingly epic avowal of love. ‘Lucifer’ is chalk full of hazed out psychedelic guitar, piano loops, and glitchy digital percussion all wrapped up in dub bliss.  The album is a very personal journey into the lives of two intimate and very much in love people as they discuss, as well as their new-born child, their seemingly blissful relationship. Stupid fuckin cute story, awesome album and did I mention the lp comes with a 7″ square piece of paper etched out to play the single on your turntable ?

9/10

ImageSinger-songwriter Jessie Merchant, JBM understands atmosphere.  Some albums have best suited listening times and/or environments. JBM’s ‘Stray Ashes’ belongs after midnight.  With it’s mesmerizing rhythms and open spaces that lull the semiconscious into a contemplation of the cosmos.  Hazy and quasi-mystical, Merchant brings to mind the vocal styling of Jim James while fading his vocal back and forth between the vagueness of his reverberating guitar and the crisp percussion work.  ‘Stray Ashes’ invites the listener to step into a dark and beautiful world of well decorated spaces, full of drone, texture and tone.  An album that had a spring release that was able to carry us through the summer and gentle handle us over the winter blues.

8.5/10

ImageAt 24 years old, Etobicoke resident Al Spx drops one of the years most jaw dropping albums of the year without question.  She titled this masterpiece ‘I Predict A Graceful Expulsion’.  The 11 tracks that make up this album are full of bleak cynicism and dread cloaked in comfort.  Spx wears this theme like a badge of honor.  Al’s voice is something we haven’t heard the likes of since Nina Simone or Etta James, rich, dark and full of soul.  Her voice is warm smolder in the cold desolate themes she recites to herself in the songs.  She sites Alan Lomax field recordings, Tom waits and Bill Callaghan as influence and blends her own genre of song and calmly refers to it as “doom soul”.  This has been an album that time and time again will bring me to my knees.

9.5/10

ImageThe year has shown many bands ‘reuniting’ and let’s face it, it’s been going on for a while now.  Usually pretty lackluster at best but in the case Dinosaur Jr it’s been the best of the best.  ‘I Bet On Sky’ is the third full length the band has released since the original line up of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph. They’ve been at their best ever and the albums and tours are the proof.  They’re still bringing the ear bleeding solos, thumping bass and pounding drums.  Their penchant for writing great hooks and melodies isn’t gone either, if anything these boys have been at the top of their game.  This is by far the loudest album I’m reviewing but it comes with the territory of Dinosaur Jr.  They’re not doing camp fire sing-a-longs with Fred Penner people.

8.5/10

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About sdetaeye

What's burning once was whispering
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