Bob Mould - Silver Age
Best Tracks: Silver Age, The Descent
One of the true elder statesmen of rock, Bob Mould still knows how to turn out a kick ass album. A pure blast of 90s tinged grunge/alt rock free from irony or nostalgia, Silver Age could have come out two decades ago and sounded right at home. Fortunately for the music buying public, Bob was busy with Sugar back then and waited until this moment (when we really need it) to drop this impressive set of great guitar tracks on us all. Put on your flannel, crank up the cd player, and enjoy.
Screaming Females - Ugly
Best Tracks: Doom 84, Red Hand
Holy hell does this album shred. Marissa Paternoster has always had a way with a guitar (and by that, I mean she throttles her axe and aggressively squeezes every last ounce of sound out of the thing) and a great voice. But on Ugly, she and the rest of the band graduated from the enjoyable if somewhat simplistic punk stylings of their earlier albums to produce a full throated beast of a guitar rock album. From the stripped down nastiness of “Red Hand” and “It All Means Nothing” to the 7 and a half minute epic “Doom 84,” the album is perfect for any time you are in the mood for some old fashioned, grunge and punk inflected guitar rock.
Unfortunately, Marissa has taken ill and has had to stop touring. Here’s hoping she gets well and gets back to the concert circuit soon.
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
Best Tracks: Regret, Every Single Night
The first time you heard The Idler Wheel, maybe it doesn’t pop. It sounds dissonant and raw, rife with bare emotions, found sounds, and screeched codas. It is not an easy listen by any means but something grabs you - maybe Fiona’s scream on “Regret,” maybe the blunt force trauma of her lyrics, maybe that damnable sound effect on “Werewolf” – but something keeps you coming back. Then on the second and third listen you pick up more nuance, feeling your way through the emotional minefield of Apple’s lyrics. You still don’t love it, but its growing on you listen by listen…and then you realize you’ve been listening to it every day…and damn it, this unloveable, discordant, misfit of an album is one of the defining works of the year.
Neneh Cherry & The Thing - The Cherry Thing
Best Tracks: Dream Baby Dream, Dirt
On The Cherry Thing, music legend Neneh Cherry teams up with Scandinavian free jazz group The Thing, to cover a variety of pop and jazz tunes. In their hands, Madvillain’s “Accordion” is reimagined as a funky, spoken word track, evoking smoky underground rooms and stages that may only exist in the imagination. The Stooges’ “Dirt” is similarly sexed up and album highlight, a cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” is a powerful, achingly beautiful, eight minutes of music (and one of the best tracks of the year).
Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
Best Tracks: Going Home, Amen
Sometimes old guys lose it (cough, Dylan, cough), sometimes they try too hard (rhymes with Shmuce Shmingsteen) and sometimes they just go crazy (Oh, Neil Young x2). But Leonard Cohen took the accumulated wisdom of his 77 years and created a masterful rumination on life, love, and death. It’s the soundtrack of a man looking back and assessing his life with a mixture of joy and regret while still enjoying what he’s got.
Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man
Best Tracks: All Your Gold, Laura
On her latest album as Bat for Lashes, Natasha Khan shows that she is not afraid to leave herself exposed (and that’s not just a reference to her famously unclothed album cover). The album is a powerhouse of sincere, raw emotion, with nary a manipulative track or ironic wink to be found. But, where so many albums of the sort skew to the confessional and forget the musicianship, The Haunted Man combines Natasha’s trademark complex song structures and haunting vocals to accentuate her stories. It was obviously a difficult album for her to record and the effort pays off on every intense track.
XX - Coexist
Best Track: Angel
XX didn’t change much between their universally acclaimed eponymous debut and this year’s Coexist. Rather, Coexist took the extreme minimalism, whispered vocals, and melancholy soundscapes of the first album and trimmed the (admittedly meager) excess, distilling the group’s trademark sound to its core. Like a classical variation, Coexist plays as a near companion piece to the XX’s debut, revealing new aspects to the original while digging deeper into the layers of the sonic structures they employ.
Chromatics - Kill For Love
Best Tracks: Kill For Love
Dark, dreamy, and incredibly cool, Kill for Love is not only a big step forward for Johnny Jewel’s enigmatic Chromatics, it is also the most fully realized album of the year. Jewel’s intricate production combined with Ruth Radelet’s hypnotic vocals to create an album that plays as more of a soundtrack to a slinky post-modern neo-noir than a traditional LP. While individual tracks (Kill for Love in particular) are excellent on their own, unlike most modern releases, the album truly shines when it is enjoyed as a whole, from beginning to end, allowing the tracks to exist in context. So pour yourself a drink, don your best suit (or slinkiest dress) and let the Chromatics take over for the next 78 minutes.
Dirty Projectors - Swing Low Magellan
Best Tracks: Gun Has No Trigger, Impregnable Question
There is no denying that Dave Longstreth has had a polarizing career. He is known for crafting brilliant but frequently impenetrable songs that impress technically but frequently lack the emotional punch expected of a pop musician (especially one with a voice as expressive as his). But on Swing Low Magellan he finally finds some balance. The technical brilliance is still in evidence but, for the first time, the lyrics live up to the music. Moreover, Longstreth finally uses his unique set of pipes to drive home his direct, raw emotional messages for an entire album. The result is a unique, affecting set of tracks which hopefully point to a new and exciting future for Dirty Projectors.
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Best Tracks: Continuous Thunder, The Nights of Wine and Roses, Adrenaline Nighshift
It was the best of the year when it first came out and it remains so six months later. Want to party? Celebration Rock. Feeling nostalgic for the god times you once had? Celebration Rock understands. Feeling down? Let Celebration Rock bring you up. Got a case of existential ennui? Let Celebration Rock kick your sad ass into gear. Want to hear the best of 2012? Celebration Rock.