HARDFLOOR - Mahogany Roots
I suppose it’s been going this way for a few years now, but this year I really noticed the impact that the internet has had on music availability with SXSW this year.
In the past, I would get lists of bands to dig into for a few months afterwards, but this year I really only have a handful of discoveries to look into.
Most of the other bands I’ve heard about this time around have been getting a lot of buzz for the past couple months or aren’t that new.
Leading contender for find of the festival for me is Blaudzun, a Dutch indie folk singer. I’ll be giving his latest album Heavy Flowers a few listens in the coming weeks.
I’m also intrigued by K-X-P, who I don’t know much about at all.
Hopefully more to come
I said a few weeks back that I wouldn’t sneak in any additional favorite albums from 2012, and I’ll stick to that pledge. However, there were a lot of great things that weren’t album but deserve a bit of attention, so here they are:
- NeferTT - Blue Skies Red Soil EP; criminally ignored, at least in the US, this EP on Scuba’s Hotflush label pushes the Bass envelope in a direction that no one else is mining right now.
- DVA - Fly Juice EP; DVA’s album Pretty Ugly nearly made it onto my top ten list for 2012. It seemed to take the SBTRKT blueprint, completely tear it down, and rearrange it. This EP though is pure dancefloor. It’s amazing to me how seamlessly he can flit through the different strands of Bass music.
- Burial - Kindred and Truant EPs; Is there ever a Burial release that isn’t good? 2012 saw him experimenting with longer form songs that are almost suites in their construction. I am intrigued by his referencing a good chunk of his back catalog on Truant. Is a signal that he may be moving on?
- Plastikman - Arkives; Collecting literally everything related to Plastikman across 15 CDs and a DVD along with an in depth biography and it was all limited to whomever pre-ordered it. AMAZING!!!
- Fact Mixes; Fact continues to get the biggest names and all the rising stars for their mix series. AND they are free to download. A great way to stay on top of everything that is happening in the dance world. Need a place to start? check our the Tensnake & Scuba mixes, my favorites of the year.
- Vase - VSE07; This free compilation from Jacques Greene’s label was nothing that I was expecting at all. Instead of the Bass/Tech-House niche he has carved himself, it was much more chilled out with a strong Future R&B feel. I highly recommend grabbing this
- Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm - Stare EP; Leaving the world of dance music but not electronics, I was introduced to both of these neo-classical composers separately this year through podcasts that I listen to and fell in love with both. So when I discovered that they had released an EP together, I knew I had to have it instantly. It is easy to pick out their two aesthetics on these ambient electronic pieces, but that is not to say they do not work together. Instead their styles seem to mesh perfectly with one another and I cannot wait for a follow up. Also make sure to check out this live improvisation from 2011.
The last few years I have struggled with the idea of what my favorite albums of the year truly were. I love Afrobeat and other West African music along with a strong love of classic R&B so my new music isn’t always new. Add to this a love for dance music that tends to ephemeral (there is little older dance music I regularly listen to, but not a ton), and it means a large percentage of the ‘new’ music in my collection each year doesn’t seem to fit a best of list for the year (IMO a collection of music from the 60s is still from the 60s even if it was released in 2012).
Should I choose the music I listened to the most or should it be the music that affected me the most or should it be that music I anticipate will be a part of my life years from now. I tried to focus on this last group of albums when I made my arbitrary Halloween cutoff a couple years ago. I noticed that many albums I would fall in love with in November didn’t stick with me the way that albums that were a part of my life for a longer piece of the year did, so it seemed obvious to me that I would want albums that I had lived with and continued going back to for my top ten.
This year I found this stick with me rule to be a bit challenging. First, there were a number of really great albums that came out late in the year and that I didn’t have a chance to listen to until after my deadline. Second, there are albums that just seem to be too much of this time and place but I loved and continue to go back to. I may not pay much attention to them in 9 months or a year but for the time I did? Incredible stuff.
In the end it came down to what were the albums that truly impacted me or made me happy or comforted me or made me think or any number of the other things that music does for me (and probably you) on a daily basis.
This is the real joy and power of music anyway isn’t it? that it can do all these things? I can bounce around in my chair to Carly Rae Jepsen or Psy on minute and the next I can get thoughtful or introspective to Dr. John or the Alabama Shakes or I can want to tear things down when I listen to El-P or Killer Mike.
So without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top ten albums of the year:
- Breton - Other People’s Problems; I didn’t know much about these guys when I called them out at mid-year, and I still don’t know much about them, but sometimes it is nice to come to music with no preconceived ideas in about a band. With a strong post-punk influence and reminiscent of Bloc Party when they were at their best, this British group does an amazing job of using soundscapes borrowed from the dance music scene to inform music that isn’t dance. Like an angrier XX or LCD Soundsystem without the nostalgia. Key Songs: Governing Correctly and 2 Years
- Twin Shadow - Confess; Speaking of nostalgia, I don’t know if there was another album released in 2012 that was as drenched in nostalgia as Confess. New Wave influenced songs that wouldn’t be out of place on a classic John Hughes soundtrack, his songs nonetheless avoid sounding like retreads of the songs of that era through strong songwriting and using the retro sounds to flesh them out while using modern flourishes to keep it from sounding dated. I didn’t buy this for a long time because it seemed like the perfect Spotify album and I assumed my interest in it would wane. I kept coming back to it though and discovering more and more in the lyrics and production to love. He has been criticized for being self-absorbed, but you could argue that about much of the indie rock world today, and I think there is always a time and place music that is about people and not the world. Key Songs: Run My Heart and Five Seconds
- Dr. John - Locked Down; There were so many ways that this could have gone wrong. It could have been a covers album; it could have been songs written by the producer; the production might have taken center stage; or Dr. John might well not have had another album in him. Instead this was one of the best albums of the year and introduced Dr. John to a whole new generation of listeners that should have known who he was all along. Dan Auerbach did an amazing job of coaxing out great songs and giving them just the right production. I never researched where this was recorded but to me it is just dripping with the heat and humidity of New Orleans. This album grows on me more with each listen and is sure to be considered one of his best. Key songs: My Children, My Angels and Eleggua
- Sinkane - Mars; If James Murphy produced a collaboration between Yeasayer and Harlem River Drive would it sound like this? Ahmed Gallab’s second album showcases his wide pallette of influences. The songwriting is confident and the varying production seems to be exactly what he wants to bring each song to life. Though it may not seem overly cohesive at first listen, the strong psychedelic undercurrents running through the entire album do a great job of pull together the disparate threads if indie rock, dance, R&B, and African pop. Key songs: Jeeper Creeper and Making Time
- Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls; This album taught/reminded me that sometimes there is a ton of buzz about a band becasue they really are that good. I ignored this album for a long time because I didn’t believe it could be as good as everyone said, but when I finally gave it a chance I completely fell in love with it. With sound that seems like it should be coming from a band that has been slugging it out in obscurity for years rather than some relatively fresh faced ‘kids,’ this is a group with a very bright future ahead of them. To me the Alabama Shakes do a better job of bringing R&B into a rock band than practically any of the bands that went to Muscle Shoals in the 70s (‘Be Mine’ in particular out Stones the Stones). They are firmly rooted in a rock sound but the amount of soul and R&B that eminates from their music is pretty incredible. Key Songs: You Ain’t Alone and Be Mine
- Daniel Bachman - Seven Pines; It can’t be easy to play ‘american primitive’/fingerstyle guitar with the twin titans of Fahey and Rose casting the long shadows that they do. It especially can’t be easy if you live in the same city that Rose did, saw him as a mentor and are all of 23 years old. It doesn’t matter to Bachman though. On his second album under his own name, after recording as Sacred Harp in the past, he is confident sounding and points his sound in a firm direction that pays homage to those titans while also going his own way. Key Songs: Copperhead and Sun Over Old Rag
- Cooly G - Playin’ Me; Though the A-side of her first Hyperdub single, Narst, was a would not be out of place in the mix of today’s tech house revival under the auspices of Bass music, it was the B-side Love Dub that seems to showcase the real direction she decided would go. Kicking off with the slow burn future R&B sounds of ‘He Said I Said,’ it’s seems like she has more in common with the Brainfeeder crew than many of her counterparts in the UK. That being said, there is an obvious UK aesthetic to her music; similar in some senses to Grime’s similarities/disparities with US Hip-Hop. Somehow the genres that have been developing out the the hardcore continuum in the UK have this ability to take a sound that you are familiar with—hip hop, house, techno—and twist it into something completely unique and forward sounding. This album probably should have been this year’s SBTRKT and it will be a shame if she doesn’t gain a wider audience with this or future releases. Key Songs: He Said I Said and Playin’ Me
- Trampled by Turtles - Stars and Satellites; AS I mentioned earlier in the year, when I put this on my mid-year top 5, I had never really been a fan of TBT before this album. I was just never able to get past the bluegrass sound that they focused on in the past, and I have long wondered if that was the obstacle that was keeping them from wider popularity in the Indie Folk/Americana revival. This album though shows a side of them that I was not aware even existed and has made me go back and reassess their older work as well. I find their style of open, introspective songwriting to be less over the top emotional, like peers the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Son,s but much more honest and real. The question may be whether this less frantic and more introspective album has disappointed existing fans along the way to gaining newer fans like me. Key songs: Alone and Beautiful
- Matthew Dear - Beams; I first was aware of Matthew Dear when he was producing techno under his Audion and False identities. Fast forward a few years to Black City which was a good album, but really wasn’t where I was at in 2010. Given this I wasn’t expecting much from Beams, but it surprised me a ton. Gone was the slick tech house production and in its place was a rougher, funkier sound that is a good match for the lyrics that seem much more of a personal meditation than previous albums. I presume much of this new sound may be due to touring with groups like Hot Chip and Interpol, but it is nice to see someone bring rock to dance instead of the usual other way around. Another thing I find fascinating about this album is his ability to take the same minimalist loops he would for a microhouse tune, and with the addition of a few layers, turn it into a pop song. Genius. Key songs: Her Fantasy and Ahead of Myself
- The Coup - Sorry to Bother You; Easily the most political album of the year while masquerading as a party rocking Outkast joint; this is also the first Coup album to be recorded with all live instrumentation from the backing band that Boots Riley has toured with since 2006. Originally this was said to be a concept album, and I’m not sure if there is a central organizing concept outside of Riley’s call to recognize the materialism and decadence of our society and to challenge the government. This may be deep stuff for most hip hop fans/dabblers but the sheer dirty funkiness of these songs are the perfect way to help the medicine go down. Key songs: The Magic Clap and The Guillotine