Liars - WIXIW
Standout Tracks: “No. 1 Against The Rush”, “WIXIW”, “The Exact Colour Of Doubt”
Few bands make such drastic, chameleonesque changes from album to album quite like Liars do. From the witch hunt trials and tribulations of They Were Wrong, So We Drowned to their more straightforward attempts on Sisterworld and Liars, you never knew what was going to be coming out of your speakers every few years. On this year’s phenomenal WIXIW (pronounced “wish you”), the band set out to do something they’ve always wanted to but never had the nerve to attempt: an electronic record. Being on the pioneering label Mute throughout their career, they thought it was time they joined their labelmates in making something rather digitized. They layered samples on samples, creating grooves and beats that would get locked in your head for days, like the restrained yet anthemic lead single “No. 1 Against The Rush”. They also go all out, going four on the floor punk style with the intense “Brats”, and tie the whole piece together with lead track “The Exact Colour Of Doubt”, a serene piece that wouldn’t be out of place on Kid A. Whatever they do next is their decision, but it’d be nice if they stayed in this zone for the moment.
Deftones - Koi No Yokan
Standout Tracks: “Poltergeist”, “Swerve City”, “Rosemary”
The whole “nu metal” thing died years ago, this is true, but one band that always triumphed high above it was California’s Deftones. Their albums are always a treat, sowing the obvious hardcore and metal threads with little stitches of shoegaze-like assault, or perfect pitches of trip-hop ambiance. All these things have never been more apparent than on their new album, Koi No Yokan. Roughly translated from Japanese as the phrase “love at first sight”, there are many a moment to embellish. The four on the floor, straightforward opener “Swerve City”, the In Rainbows-like handclap that launches off the aggressive “Poltergeist”, or the trudge through the sludge to a bright white light in “Rosemary”, each of these moments are just one of the many reasons longtime fans will clearly find this their strongest set of songs since White Pony. The production is also a step in the right direction, with Chino Moreno’s vocals never sounding more cleaner in the mix, as he continues to shed his angst ridden youth to settle in to a more dominant singing voice, alongside members of a band casually settling into a comfortable post nu metal world, one where they can do whatever they choose as they continue to change the game they continue to play.
Nude Beach - II
Standout Tracks: “Some Kinda Love”, “You Make It So Easy”, “Radio”
Short, concise, and to the point has been something a lot of bands have been doing lately with their albums. Sometimes it’s good to have long, winding, epic songs appear here and there on and album, and sometimes it’s even better to just fill up both sides of the wax with short and jangly pop songs destined to be hit singles. That’s what Nude Beach conquered on their second album, simply called II. The songs have so many influences, it’s hard to name them all with every song then burns right through. The guitars, and that Peter Buck-like jangle, also feel like they could be sunnier, more upbeat songs on a Real Estate album (“Some Kinda Love), that is, if Real Estate could convince Peter Weller to come out to their house for a jam session sometime. You could also say they touch on some of the finest moments of power pop from Superdrag’s career (“You Make It So Easy”). But what it all boils down to in the end is a band that, sure, they wear their influences proudly on their sleeves, but what’s so wrong about that?
Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits
Standout Tracks: “Baby Get Worse”, “Would That Not Be Nice”, “The Salton Sea”
One of the most interesting and surprisingly collaborations of 2012 was when Britt Daniel of Spoon fame and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs lore teamed up to become everyone’s new favorite supergroup, Divine Fits. Just don’t call them a supergroup, call them a new band, the latest project from people that already have full-time gigs. But fear not, while the influences from their A-Team’s seep into their B-Team (“My Love Is Real”, “Would That Not Be Nice”), the listener will eventually find the band has found a solid footing and their own sound (“Baby Get Worse”, “The Salton Sea”). With Daniel and Boeckner splitting vocal duties 50/50, they get the chance to show off and lead their new group with a confidence and swagger they may not have in their other bands. Whatever the case may be, and however long they keep this up, with as solid of a debut as A Thing Called Divine Fits, one could only hope this is not just some one time fling, but the start of something new that we’ll all get to reap the benefits from for the years to come.
Menomena - Moms
Standout Tracks: “Plumage”, “Don’t Mess With Latexas”, “Capsule”, “Heavy Is As Heavy Does”
After all the rumors of infighting and the struggles to keep Menomena together, founding member Brent Knopf left in early 2011 and no one, not even remaining members Justin Harris and Danny Seim were convinced they’d continue on. But thankfully, they did, and the result was this year’s therapeutic Moms. Tackling the topics of the loss of Seim’s mother in his teen years and the abandonment by Harris’ father as a young child, the shock treatment is alive in the sax solo on “Heavy Is As Heavy Does”. You can take pills to get on with your life, but then you’re just left in a psychedelic “Giftshoppe” trying desperately to find your way out. Their songs on Moms are not so chopped and screwed like their previous albums: they’re all the more honest, all the more direct, and simply tied together rock songs that, together, make up their strongest album yet. So what, they lost a band member? But what these two gained is a new found sense of confidence, hope that they can continue forward, and another fantastic album in their already fantastic catalog.
Nada Surf - The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
Standout Tracks: “Looking Through”, “Clear Eyed Clouded Mind”, “Teenage Dreams”
It’s hard to pick a favorite album when your back catalog is as consistent as the one from Nada Surf. Over the last two decades, they’ve grown from angsty, Weezer-ish guitar tones to a mature sound all their own. On this year’s The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy, the pay a nod to their youth and inspirations by making a clear and succinct rock album. From neo-guitar anthems, to plaintive ballads, it hits all the right chords. And with the addition of Guided By Voices’ Doug Gillard shredding solos left and right, the band reignites a flame that hasn’t been heard in their songs since their debut, High/Low in 1996.
Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory
Standout Tracks: “Wasted Days”, “No Sentiment”, “No Future/No Past”
What do you do when you want to make a rather drastic shift from one album to another, a step in a direction no one would think you’d go from your earlier output. If you’re Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings, you leave Ohio and head to Illinois, hire a Scrabble playing engineer known for a few important records of the last 25 years by the name of Steve Albini, and make a dark, brooding, emotional journey of an album. With only eight songs clocking in at 33 minutes, off the bat you get the idea he wanted to make this generation’s Surfer Rosa, the quiet/loud/quiet dynamic of song underneath an unnatural scream of terror from Baldi’s throat. The songs are quickfire, they are quick out of the gate and fast to get to the finish line. Except for the near demonic, epic “Wasted Days”, a nine-minute opus that careens to the point its about to come undone, but alas it does. “I thought / I would / Be More / Than This” he screams at the end until hoarse, yet why would he want to be more than the rather talent twentysomething that he is?
Here We Go Magic - A Different Ship
Standout Tracks: “A Different Ship”, “Make Up Your Mind”, “Alone But Moving”
Everytime it comes out that a certain band teams up with a certain producer to make a certain record, there is reason to get excited, especially if both parties involved have the track record to prove it. So when news came about that Nigel Godrich was going to produce the third album from Here We Go Magic, it was of course reason to celebrate. The unofficial sixth member of Radiohead teaming up with a band who certainly does not get all the hype they deserve? It’s a win-win situation, and A Different Ship is the trophy we all get to take home because of it. Godrich helps the band refine their approach to songs, cleans up the production, and leave out the tacky ambient collages they’ve tacked on to previous albums. They conjure krautrock motifs in songs like “How Do I Know” and “Make Up Your Mind”, while swaying back and forth “Over The Ocean” to muse about the finer things in life. But it’s all about the title track, the final song. It’s like a modern day take on “Heroin”, the shifts from verse to chorus and back again move like you are on a ship that is doomed to wreck. Luckily this album isn’t doomed to wreck at all, and if anything should only keep this ship sailing for the foreseeable future.
Grizzly Bear - Shields
Standout Tracks: “A Simple Answer”, “Yet Again”, “Sun In Your Eyes”, “Speak In Rounds”
Sometimes you have to go your separate ways to be able to come back to where you belong, at least that’s what everyone and their mother’s favorite Brooklyn indie band had to do to complete their latest collection of songs. The journey of Shields started in Texas and ended where they always end up in Cape Cod. The scraps of songs they would eventually piece together from their time apart would have a much rougher edge this time around; Ed Droste would finally find his voice (“Speak In Rounds”) while Daniel Rossen would lead a piano-charged tune that might make the world soon forget about some other piano ditty they wrote a few years back (“A Simple Answer”). With Shields, Grizzly Bear they have solidified their career as one of the most important so-called indie rock bands of the last decade. They’re free to go do what they want now, alone or together, so long as they find each other to keep making some of the best music out there.
Mac DeMarco - 2
Standout Tracks: “Freaking Out The Neighborhood”, “Cooking Up Something Good”, “Ode To Viceroy”, “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name”
It starts with this refreshing guitar lick, one that you’ll be humming for days. It ends with a young man packing up his equipment and telling his live-in girlfriend that it’s time to go to bed. To get from Point A to Point B, you get taken around town presumably to meet a cast of characters in the life of Mac DeMarco, but really he’s just singing about himself. It’s his own mom and dad, “Cooking Up Something Good” in the form of lunch and meth respectively. It’s his beloved Kiera he sings about often, from the blue-eyed soul of “My Kind Of Woman”, to his aspirations of getting out of town with her along for the ride of “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name”. And of course, there is his one true love, that little stick of tobacco in the charming “Ode To Viceroy”, a song that showcases DeMarco’s talents as a simplistic wordsmith who always has his tongue firmly planted in cheek, all the while showcasing his penchant for jazz guitar, ripping solos left and right. Unlike this spring’s fabulous Rock & Roll Nightclub EP, Mac strips away all the bells and whistles and uses 2 to showcase a man whose star is on the rise: this organic and cohesive effort is one that warrants every repeated listen. By the time you get to the end of “Still Together”, if you don’t want to just start the whole 31-minute odyssey over again, then there’s something wrong. You have my word, just keep listening to this album like I have for months, and you’ll find all the special moments and more into why this is the Album Of The Year.