Hospitality - Hospitality
Standout Tracks: “Friends” “Betty Wang”
By channeling everything that was right about the new-wave/punk scene hanging around CBGB’s in the late 70’s and putting a borderline twee pop sheen on it, Hospitality turned out one of the most listenable albums of 2012. More importantly though, it was also one of the most smartly satisfying records in recent memory. By simply having not only great taste in music, but the ability to execute on it with great songwriting, Amber Papini and crew set the bar just a little higher for all the aspiring indie-popsters out there this year.
Oddisee - People Hear What People Say
Standout Tracks: “Let It Go” “Anothers Grind”
Hip hop these days tends to either aim to either invigorate social awareness or lean towards a celebration of the more bacchanalian pursuits in life, but seldom does it more successfully meld the two more sweetly than on People Hear What People Say. Oddisee, originally a DC native, laid down twelve tracks of old school rhymes mashed against late 60’s universal soul and the result was an album that transcended the genre as much as it celebrated it. A wild ride that veers from West Coast to East Coast, KRS-One to Posdunus and back , People doesn’t just revel in the history of hip hop, it exalts the history of popular music PERIOD, and isn’t just a record that you shouldn’t miss, if you have ears, you practically can’t.
Off! - Off!
Standout Tracks: The Whole Damn Thing
Listening to the new Off! Record is like getting the shit kicked out of in the pit at an over capacity 200 seat club. It’s raw, furious, honest, intelligent, forceful and LOUD! But most of all it just fucking rocks and should serve as a shot across the bow for bands who proclaim themselves to rock: You don’t. You failed. Now shut up and let Keith Morris and his crew show you how it’s fucking done.
Father John Misty - Fear Fun
Standout Tracks: “Only Son Of The Ladies Man” "Writing A Novel"
Full disclosure: Upon first hearing of this release I scoffed. The last thing the world needs at this point is more beard rock, and given the fact that J. Tillman was the one largely responsible for the sound of those beardiest of rockers, Fleet Foxes, this was a record that I almost passed on. But fate has its way and one random listen and I was hooked.
A wild romp through LA and the deserts that surround it, Tillman didn’t just build his record around stories, but around characters as well and he plays each and every one of them to perfection. Poet, rock star, sex symbol, shaman, uber-hippie…it’s all a part of this long strange trip of a perfectly executed song cycle. A vision quest of a record, Fear Fun is a shining example of what happens when talent is paired with ambition and will to follow it all down to its smarmy, sexy, and positively swollen with humanity conclusion.
Pond - Beards, Wives, Denim
StandoutTracks: “Fantastic Explosion Of Time” “You Broke My Cool”
Love Tame Impala’s “Lonerism?” This is what happens when there’s a band behind that sound. A celebration of psychedelia, Kevin Parker’s other band blew it out and took no prisoners on this 54 minute trip straight into the heart of the sun. Along the way though the guys stopped to write some of the catchiest pysch-rock this side of The Monkees (OK…maybe a little left of the Monkees) and if you can listen to Beards without toking up, dropping out and tuning in over and over – in your mind that is – then it may be possible that this whole rock n’ roll thing just ain’t for you.
Fun Fact: Listeners of Beards, Wives, Denim are 150% more likely to buy a van…with an airbrushed unicorn on it…and a wizard…within 6 months of first exposure. SCIENCE!!
Damien Jurado - Maraqopa
Standout Tracks: “Working Titles” “This Time Next Year”…actually the whole damn thing.
Damien Jurado, an artist twelve albums and over fifteen years into his solo career, has always had a loyal following, but if there is any justice in the world, Maraqopa is the record that will bring him the success he so richly deserves. It’s not just the voice. It’s not just the masterful prose of his lyrics. It’s the whole package. A world weary reporter on the human condition, Jurado’s songs this time out flirt with psychedlia and garagey folk, but find their home ultimately in common human truths that very rarely are this eloquently put forth.
Maraqopa has the sound of a man’s soul, and while such efforts ultimately need no reward, we’re all that much better off having a record like this that we can reach for when we’re in need of inspiration, solace, or just a reason to waste half an hour or so and escape from the world around us.
Lower Dens - Nootropics
Expectations are a funny thing. In the case of this Baltimore group’s sophomore effort, it was completely acceptable to except that they would deliver another solidly meditative album full of synths, Disintegration-worthy guitars, and Jana Hunter’s haunting voice.
What we got was all of this and more, with Hunter stepping fully out of the melancholy fog to deliver one of the best vocal performances of any artist this year. On an album that openly begs for a late 70’s sci-fi cinema counterpart, Hunter’s voice is brought front and center, eeking every bit of emotion out of what, in a lesser bands hands, could have ended up as a cold, lifeless exercise in Joy Divisionomics.
Nootroprics is a fearless record made by a band that clearly has no boundaries and by the end of it you’ll be left breathless in anticipation for what comes next from this immensely talented group of musicians.
David Wax Museum - Knock Knock Get Up
“The Rumors Are True” “Big Heart Of Yours”
What was most amazing about the latest record from these Rhode Island staples wasn’t that it was good – they had that part down already – it was how much they grew as songwriters and musicians from the previous record to this.
There are moments in any and all band’s careers that you can point to and say “That’s it. That’s where they found themselves” and Knock Knock Get Up is that record. Sure the donkey jawbone is still a prescient force in this set, but chief songwriter David Wax pulled ever so gently away from his exploration of Mexican folk to make room for some more modern influences and in the process found his balance as a songwriter.
Read my review of the record here, but to sum up, this is quite simply, and for so many reasons, one of the best albums you could hear in 2012.
Hundred Visions - Permanent Basement
Standout Tracks - It’s a straight shot, from start to finish
Sometimes it’s really hard to write a review about the records you love. If you can pick it apart, you’ve got something to work with…maybe. But if it’s great? What do you do? Such is the burden that weighs heavy on Permanent Basement. In the most unexpected turn of events of 2012, Hundred Visions made a record that was 100% bulletproof in that the only acceptable response after one, ten, or one hundred listens is “FUCK YEA!!!”
Unexpected not because they didn’t have it in them - the band gave notice earlier this year with their three song EP Last Cab From Tunis, whose title track appears on Basement – but because rarely has a band’s debut album hit it so squarely out of the park.
Permanent Basement is a heroic record, and if this is just the beginning for these Austin, TX ragers, then the only advice we can give is to strap in, because it’s going to be a fucking awesome ride.
Frank Ocean - channel Orange
Best Tracks: "Sweet Life" "Super Rich Kids"
It’s a concept album. It’s a confession. It’s a snapshot of LA life unlike anything we’ve seen in years. Landing somewhere between Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder, Frank Ocean has made the album of his career and lucky for all of us, he’s just getting started. channel Orange is topping best of lists everywhere you look and it’s with good reason: It’s simply that good.
The controversy that came along with channel Orange’s release – Ocean basically came out for the first time days before its release – is irrelevant. What matters is that whether he is singing about a man or a woman, a crack addict or a crooked cop, Songs like “Thinkin Bout You,” “Sweet Life” and “Super Rich Kids” resonate immediately, but there’s a humanity that runs deep through Ocean’s stories/songs that will keep you coming back again and again and again. This is the type of album that comes along once in a decade, and you owe it to yourself to simply dive into this ocean, because the water couldn’t possibly get any finer.