Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Music Jerk Rob's Favorite Albums of 2012

Spot the difference.

Well everyone, we're coming to the end of 2012.  It's a year in music that saw bands record albums and play live shows.  My friends totally overrated that one album and I totally didn't.  And it's also a year where internet changed the way we listen to music!  Yes, 2012 was a year unlike any other.

And now it's time for something new.  Just in time for all those holiday gift cards and/or newfound knowledge on what a "bit torrent" means, here are my albums of the year.

So let's do this.  A few changes from last year:

1.  Twenty-five albums.  Why can't I stick to the same number each year?  Because I lack focus and stability.  Maybe a little conviction.  It's not like you remember how many albums were on my 2011 list anyway.  Are you happy?  Now I feel worthless.  Way to ruin Christmas.

2. After much deliberation, I've decided that any absolutely amazing 2012 album release I may have helped produce should be ineligible for this list.  This blog has little to no reputation outside of my head or outside the dozens (There are dozens of us!  Dozens!) of you who read/ignore this.  But no matter how great I think Copperheads' Apocalyptic Behavior is (and have no doubt that I DO think it is great), putting it in my final rankings is a no-win proposition on many levels.

3.  Reviews will be THREE sentences or less--so no premature evacuation.  But some of you will anyway.  And if you do, you're a premature evacuator.  And girls tell other girls about that.

4.  Per tradition, I've included a 2012 Sampler playlist that includes one selection from each album below that I haven't included on any previous blog playlist.  For those of you who worship at the dark mystical foot of Spotify, I've included a Spotify version of this playlist as well as links to streaming versions of each of album (when available).  (UPDATE: For those of you who are ambitious, I've created a giant Spotify playlist containing all of the available albums on this list in full and added it to the bottom of this post.)   Merry Christmas.  Or X-mas.  Happy X-ukkah.  Does that work?

So here it is.  Twenty-five firm, supple albums that jolted my music pants all over the map in 2012.  I would've ranked more, but according to extensive field research, twenty-five is plenty and you'll like it.  In the immortal words of Obi-Wan to Captain Kirk in Battlestar Galactica, "Quality over quantity."  Think about that for a minute.  Yeah, those words really hit home for me, too.

3 Sentence or Less Review: Truly the best male-female duo with the word "Bells" in their name.  Few electronic bands manage to achieve such digital precision without compromising the intimate nature of the music.  Sonic adventuring with a soul.

Listen on Spotify

3 Sentence or Less Review: Power pop is less a genre being revived as much as it is one which is clearly on a cyclical uptick.  Brooklyn's Nude Beach (enjoy your Google search) have crafted one of the purest simple rock pleasures of 2012.  Good songs and hooks and tight instrumentation and all the other hallmarks of this under-appreciated genre done exceptionally well.

Listen on Spotify

23.  Meltdown by Mind Spiders (Dirtnap)

3 Sentence or Less Review: Owing in spirit and tone to Jay Reatard while pushing the late Memphis legend's dimensions, Denton, Texas' Mind Spiders find a balance between inspiration and innovation with a cocktail of punk and synth rock painted with a New Wave palette of audio colors.  Ominously magnetic.

Listen on Spotify

22.  Heaven by The Walkmen (Fat Possum)

3 Sentence or Less Review: While missing much of their signature "lovelorn-ness" they've come to be known for, The Walkmen nevertheless find ways to move you with their newfound "peace"--all while still asking whether or not such contentment can really last.  That space between their stability and doubt is where this album's heart is found.

Listen on Spotify

21.  Tramp by Sharon Van Etten (Jagjaguwar)

3 Sentence or Less Review: One of those records that feels distinctly like a season, the wintry passion Sharon Van Etten never feels cold or stale.  She reflects on brokenness while sounding anything but during the process.  This is the "buzz" album I least expected to be so fond of.

Listen on Spotify

20.  Royal Headache by Royal Headache (What's Your Rupture)

3 Sentence or Less Review: Twelve tracks and twenty-six minutes of soul-tinged ramshackle rock from Austrailia.  Fun-filled, tiny rock sketches that never feel "small", Royal Headache fuses fast-paced rock with the vocal stylings of late 60's mop-toppers looking for a good time as a means of fulfilling a mission statement.

Listen on Spotify

19.  Take the Kids Off Broadway by Foxygen (Jagjaguwar)

3 Sentence or Less Review: A crazed, yet resoundingly fantastical mash-up of sounds that utilizes the Stones' snark, Bowie's theatrics, and Mellow Gold-era Beck's sense of lyrical and instrumental whimsy.  Even with influences that seem so apparent, I'm not sure I ever have or ever will hear anything quite like Foxygen again.  This is some schizophrenic excellence in audio.

Listen on Spotify

18.  Long Slow Dance by The Fresh & Onlys (Mexican Summer)

3 Sentence or Less Review: Tighter and slicker than their previous work while never losing the emotional twists and turns that make them so endearing.  There is a significant Smiths vibe here in both the overall tone of the music as well as the clever lyrical wordplay employed.  Less self-loathing, but with equal amounts of winning self-deprecation.

Listen on Spotify

17.  Channel Orange by Frank Ocean (Def Jam)

3 Sentence or Less Review: Despite what you've heard, Frank Ocean did not revolutionize R&B, music in general, or rise from the dead on the third day.  What he DID do was let his work do the talking by releasing a creative, lyrically well-crafted and honest album faithful to the roots of his genre that never succumbs to gimmicks.  Ocean seems (as is apparent in his live performance) genuinely satisfied by communing with the listener through the core elements of his rich output (strong melodies, high style, liberally emotive but in control) as opposed to insecurely beating you over the head with how "clever" he can be with devices and bits--a winning calculation.

Listen on Spotify

16.  Blunderbuss by Jack White (Third Man/Columbia)

3 Sentence or Less Review: While I wanted more Elephant-esque electric guitar thrash and slightly less Get Behind Me Satan piano and acoustic traversing, it is important to remember that this is NOT a White Stripes album.  It's something distinctly Jack White while never veering TOO far from the qualities that so endeared you to him in the first place.  The songwriting and craft is high level and the "emotional vulnerability while maintaining a mysterious air" quality that White specializes in keeps you coming back for more.

Listen on Spotify

15.  Tender Opposites by Tops (Arbutus)

3 Sentence or Less Review: At first, you'll think Tops are employing this sound for purposes of pure kitsch, but the late 70's/early 80's post-disco electro-beat starts to work and it starts to hook you before you know it.  There's something to the effect their attempting to create that reminds me of Ariel Pink's Before Today, but there's less of a sense that they're being quite that intentionally obtuse.  This album is sincere in its pursuit to the core.

Listen on Spotify

14.  Themes For An Imaginary Film by Symmetry (Italians Do It Better)

3 Sentence or Less Review: Consisting largely of work originally earmarked as the score for 2011's stylishly and colorfully dark Ryan Gosling film Drive, Symmetry has created a masterwork of synth, space, and strings.    If the electronic elements of low-budget 70's/80's movie scores were slumbering, dormant spirits, consider Themes From An Imaginary Film the great awakening.  Darkly distinctive sounds.

Listen on Spotify

13.  Mixed Emotions by Tanlines (True Panther Sounds)

3 Sentence or Less Review: The soothing vocal detachment of Washed Out combined with the rhythmic fun found in Vampire Weekend at their most playful.  Yes, that sounds hipster douchey when described in that manner but rest assured, this album is choc full of melodic hooks and Tanlines seem content to regale you with the simple pleasures of un-simple beats.

 Listen on Spotify

12.  Leaving Atlanta by Gentleman Jesse (Douchemaster)

3 Sentence or Less Review: There are few albums that chronicle such dark days with such entertaining defiance as the latest from Gentleman Jesse.  Lost love, physical recovery, and steely determination are molded into thirteen pitch-perfect rock gems here.  Jesse Smith continues to set the bar for modern power pop.

11.   Time Capsules II by Oberhofer (Glassnote)

3 Sentence or Less Review: One of the most spastic vocalists I've run across in ages (I simply can't come up with a better word in this case), Brad Oberhofer is unafraid of using all the tools contained in his vocal arsenal to canvas an entire album with a variety of audible body blows (listen and you'll understand).  Yet, somehow Oberhofer never seems to teeter on the edge of calamity.  This is one of the catchiest damned noise pop albums I've heard in ages.

Listen on Spotify

10. Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized (Fat Possum)

3 Sentence or Less Review: Jason Pierce returns from the brink of death (literally) with his signature psychedelic meets gospel epic sound--only this time, with bigger questions and bolder reflection.  Looking straight into the abyss, Spiritualized explores issues of life, death, and the nature of redemption all while confronting the quandary that the only solution may be God--unless you happen to be unable/unwilling believe in God.  The exploration of such heavy subject matter is explored with beauty, grace, and the kind of harmonic attention to detail Pierce has become known for.

3 Sentence or Less Review: So fun and T. Rex-y, the latest from Bay Area rocker King Tuff is simply the most playful and party-ready rock record of 2012.  Even with the occasional sentimental touch, the album is everything any of us with a music memory that pre-dates the 80's ever loved about rock without being merely a shallow tribute.  King Tuff expands signature 70's glam and psychedelic influences into a 21st century package that wears well and endears with repeated listens.

3 Sentence or Less Review: Lo-fi folk rock with driving ambition.  Personal touches, gentle, shimmering waves of acoustic and electric guitar that jangle at all the right moments.  All mixed with just enough neo-psychedelia to prepare you for the journey forward and beyond.

Listen on Spotify

7.  Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 by Lupe Fiasco (1st & 15th/Atlantic)

3 Sentence or Less Review: From start to finish, a cadre of consistently rewarding, thoughtful, beat-centric tracks.  Lupe Fiasco's brand of hip hop never shies away from the social and political fodder of our time, yet finds a way to make even the informative moments feel celebratory.  Less self-indulgent and self-centered as many of his peers, Lupe Fiasco still manages to be highly personable and engaging at every turn on this album.

Listen on Spotify

6.  Celebration Rock by Japandroids (Polyvinyl)

3 Sentence or Less Review: If The Hold Steady's masterpiece Boys and Girls in America is the soundtrack to the heartache of teenage adolescence, Celebration Rock may be the quintessential soundtrack to the American male's love affair with his 20's. This album reflects the romanticized, often revisionist recollection that many of us have of our younger days. Even if you find the sentiment to be misguided, the execution of this unbridled passion will compel you to go along for the ride.

Listen on Spotify

5.  Bury Them All by Cheap Freaks (Big Neck)

3 Sentence or Less Review: Easily the biggest revelation on my 2012 list, Cheap Freaks are a hard rock purist's dream.  An absolutely pristine rock recording full of bluesy, grimy, foot-stomping nuclear-fueled fire.  The Dublin rockers are the best kept rock secret going.

Listen on Spotify

4.  A Thing Called Divine Fits by Divine Fits (Merge)

3 Sentence or Less Review: The frontmen of two of the best bands of the last decade--Spoon and Wolf Parade--collaborate for an engaging modern rock record that avoids the traditional pitfalls of many "supergroup" collaborations.  Instead of attempting to awkwardly combine vocal talents, Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner elected to put their own unique stamp on each track individually.  The true collaboration comes instrumentally and delivers some of the most interesting and exciting music either have produced from any of their projects in years.

Listen on Spotify

3.  Milk Famous by White Rabbits (TBD)

3 Sentence or Less Review:  For my money, the biggest and most pleasant surprise of any veteran band in 2012.  Utilizing two drum kits, increased synth and fuzzier, more muscular bass, the band took huge sonic leaps forward and created an album full of nuanced layers of sound, melody, and rhythm.  A spectacular leap forward and an album that's been criminally overlooked in 2012.

Listen on Spotify

2.  Lonerism by Tame Impala (Modular Fontana)

3 Sentence or Less Review: A neo-psychedelic masterwork of the highest order.  You can't help but hear the soundscapes of rock's legendary past, yet Australia's Tame Impala birth something distinctively their own here.  They command their sound in a way that few bands do and demand your attention accordingly throughout the course of these dozen smoothly-honed tracks.

Listen on Spotify

1.  Kill For Love by Chromatics (Italians Do It Better)

3 Sentence or Less Review: A skillfully-crafted tapestry of sounds culled from electronic music's infancy, Portland's Chromatics have created a brilliant album incorporating the digital signature of European disco with the spirit and pacing of post-punk's standard bearers.  There is a stylish, endlessly intriguing darkness that permeates the entirety of Kill For Love.  The album provides an audio companion for a nocturnal world bathed in neon light.

Listen on Spotify

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Music Jerk Rob's Favorite Songs of 2012

One of my favorite things.  His name is Vladimir.  And he approves of this list.

Enough music talk to come when we get to the favorite albums list.  For now, enjoy my favorite songs of 2012.  A lot of thought about ignoring my thoughts and going with my guts and my heart went in to this list.  Some you'll know.  Some you won't.  Remember, discover, relish.  Press the 'play' button and enjoy.

To listen to this playlist in Spotify, click here. *

  Everyone else, press the play button in the box below the track listing.

*Track 16, "Eat Me Alive" by Gentleman Jesse from his excellent album "Leaving Atlanta", is currently unavailable on Spotify.  It IS available on the 8tracks playlist below!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Playlist of the Week: Weekender 4

It was.  It is.  It will be.

No one takes more pride in his witty opening remarks than me, but my sweet sainted mother is heading into town so I'll cut to the chase through the city and the end of the week and I love this blurred effect, don't you?

The work on the annual spectacular little miracle known as Music Jerk Rob's Favorite Albums of 2012 along with a few other "end-of-year" circle jays is underway quite hard.  But I felt like you deserved one last hand-crafted pre-end-of-2012-best-of-this-and-that playlist.

The blessing and curse of each December is the discovery of more new/new-to-me music via the Noah-esque flood of "best-of" lists.  Most of the lists I've seen thus far have been painfully predictable.  The web is a mixed blessing for today's music media.  On the one hand, it's made access to new music that much more widespread.  Yet conversely, the increased quantity of music critique and opinion hasn't necessarily resulted in any real increase in its diversity.  Take a look at Spin, Paste, NPR's, and (coming soon) Pitchfork's year-end lists.  They are monuments to painfully unadventurous consensus.  It's not to say that there isn't some GREAT music on these lists--some of which will certainly end up on mine.  It just requires a suspension of disbelief for me to buy that literally hundreds of prominent, influential music critics agree at a rate of 90% or so on the best 50 or so albums of the year.  Surely, SURELY there was some digging undone.  But alas, I digress.

This week's playlist is ending 2012's "non-annual recognition" playlists on a strong hard note if I do say so myself.  Highlights include:

  • New, yet-to-be-formally-released tracks from Chromatics and Ra Ra Riot.  
  • The new Ra Ra Riot tune is ridiculously catchy and adventurous
  • Thanks to the greatness of Gorilla vs. Bear's 2012 end of year list, I discovered a band called Tops (or TOPS).  SO MUCH going on here but I feel like I'm listening to the female counterpart of Ariel Pink.  It's confoundedly hard to classify and endearing as hell.
  • The #1's are an Irish rock band that's a side project spin-off of one of my favorite 2012 newcomers, Cheap Freaks.  This music is spiritually-cemented to the late great The Exploding Hearts.  Power pop delight.
  • A note: No Spotify playlist this week.  I hope it won't hurt your sense of loyalty to simply press a different "PLAY" button and use the playlist I've included below.  Both mobile or on this site.  No excuses!

Everyone else, press the play button in the box below the track listing.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Quick Music Jerk: Johnny Jewel's Black & White Mixtape, End of Year List-o-Mania and more

1.  Press the play button above and start reading.

Johnny Jewel--the melodic mastermind/instrumental heartbeat of Chromatics, Glass Candy, and Symmetry (and no relation to "Who Will Save Your Soul?" Jewel)--endears himself to me more and more with each passing day.  In addition to owning my new favorite record label Italians Do It Better (GREAT name, distinct, signature sound), Jewel has a penchant for distributing his musical output quite liberally.  In addition to cheaply selling his records, CDs and digital downloads on his label's website (seriously, 2xLP, colored versions of Chromatics' last two records are only $13 each!), Jewel is an old school lover of the mix-tape craft.

Via SoundCloud, his mixtapes are regularly posted for free download.  Many of them essentially operate as samplers for his label, while others are single band EPs.  But some--like the posted yesterday BLACK & WHITE/A MIX FOR AUTUMN (available above) act as hybrids.  A few entries from his label, a few remixes, a few covers, a few originals he loves from other artists--for Jewel, this was simply about making a mix appropriate for the season he loves.  Posting the mixtape from his home in Montreal, Jewel opines:

Everything is buried by the snow...Perfect weather for locking yourself in the studio with a synthesizer & your favorite records...I put together a collage of songs that, for one reason or another...always remind me of Autumn. 

The output of Jewel's bands have distinct variations, but share a common dark electronic signature.  Some of the music is for dancing, some for driving, some for brooding, yet all of it remains oddly and endlessly magnetic to me.  As a guy who loves his red meat rock music, my growing affinity for a more electronic take on the post-punk genre I'm so fond of is beginning to take up more and more space on my record shelves these days.  The best example on this mixtape comes at the 21.11s mark with Chromatics covering Joy Division/New Order's "Ceremony" quite faithfully, yet in uniquely their own style.  This is some strong, frosty weather (which may eventually make its way here), nocturnal audio sorcery for the soul.  That's FREE.

If you like this, try these other free Johnny Jewel downloads I've enjoyed recently:

"Cherry", the new, unreleased single from Chromatics

"AFTER DARK", a compilation featuring Chromatics, Glass Candy, Mirage and more)

"LET'S KISS/SUNDAY MORNING MIX", (various artists)

2.  'Tis the season for year-end music lists!  From song and album rankings, to endlessly pretentious features on artists who in a single year changed the face of music (!!!/slight vomit), this is the time of year that I both dread and long for.  Of course, I've got my own entries into this arena that aren't particularly paradigm-breaking, but ARE particularly mine and a source of joy to create.  Some of these (favorite dozen songs/favorite albums of the year) are coming soon and others (such as my ever-growing Spotify top tracks of 2012 found below) are already here.

Either way, I challenge those of you I KNOW who rely on these end of year lists as guides to finding new music to look beyond your typical, go-to resources (Except the go-to that is me and this blog. You NEED me and you could stop relying on me about as easily as you could stop breathing!).  So while the Pitchforks and NPRs, Spins and AV Clubs will most likely copy each other's Top 100 and shuffle a few along the way so that you think they're original, there are other great websites/blogs that will offer a bit more variety.  While it appears there's been congressional legislation mandating that Frank Ocean and Purity Ring are required to be on every web-based year-end list, there are some lists out there that dare to deviate a bit from the norm.  This is not to say they won't have Frank Ocean inlcluded (I mean, these are generally law-abiding citizens who run these sites), but it means simply that you may have a chance to discover some artists you may have missed up to this point.  A few of my favorite, lesser-known sites with generally impeccable year-end lists you should check out so hard include:

Gorilla vs Bear (another great name)

Old Waver

Salad Days Music

Alright kids, your homework is right there in front of you.  You've got new music to check out, my 2012 playlist to warm your hands by, and some new sites to get you to think outside the damn box!  I'm already so proud of you.  Enjoy the journey.