Best of 2012, Day 1 – Top 6 Albums of the Year:
Ok, for those of you expecting to find Grizzly Bear, Frank Ocean, The Men, Japandroids, Beach House or any one of the thousands of new albums Ty Segall released this year on this list, look elsewhere. Mad impressed with all those albums (& I’ll throw How To Dress Well’s “Total Loss” on there as well), I just haven’t been living & dying with them the way I have with these 2012 releases.
6: Ringo Deathstarr – Mauve
Beyond wearing the title of “Most Awesomely Puntastic Star Wars Bandname Ever” – well, besides “Lando Calrisque-Ian” which is an all-burlesque band covering the work of Minor Threat & Fugazi…OK FINE I JUST MADE THAT ALL UP, but you know that would be terrifyingly brilliant…OK, fine, I just wanted to be able to say Lando Calrisque-Ian, is that so wrong? That pun *is* why Ian is doing this – Ringo Deathstarr make some of the most exciting shoegaze around, almost as if My Bloody Valentine got back together and were making a new album (HOLY SHIT! YOU GUYS? MBV *IS* GETTING BACK TOGETHER AND MAKING A NEW ALBUM!…What do you mean that’s old news? NO, *you’re* old news, then). So if you’re feeling like Dublin by way of Austin, the noise, effects pedals and harmonies of Mauve should make you feel as if you’ve taken a Slowdive into a Ride of Lush Shoegaze.
La Sera is Katy from Vivian Girls’ solo project, and alternates between up-tempo noise-pop-y numbers a la Dum Dum Girls (as in “Break My Heart” or “Be My Third Eye” ) and mournful heartbreak dream pop songs to sigh over in the solitude of your bedroom that are wistful without being dreary (most of the rest of the album) in addition to songs like “Drive On” which has got to be featured prominently on ANY list of songs to drive through a city alone to late at night. Seapony hits a lot of the same kinds of notes in their Falling LP, with “Prove to Me” shining as the rarest of earworms, in that it crawls in on first listen and yet, when it disappears for a flickering moment, you find that you desperately want it to return again right away in all of its bright-eyed and brooding glory.
These are winter songs to sit alone to, in a scratchy sweater while savoring a hot beverage of some sort & reflecting on the warmth of absent company amid the bright dreamy fuzz-pop as frigid precipitation flutters slowly outside the window.
4: Wild Nothing – Nocturne
The bedroom pop project of Jack Tatum from Virginia. He writes late night songs that sparkle with a safe wistful urgency, as if the familiar whisper of a lover calling your name softly in the midst of a dream, this music is quietly reflective yet dancey. It’s very easy to lose yourself into this album.
3: Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
Holy hell, if Jens Lekman isn’t the most clever and cheerful bastard ever to emerge word-slinging & singing from the wilds of Sweden, then I should be flung into the sun by a catapult gun whilst being stung by ten thousand maladjusted hornets having a bad day. See, the thing about Jens is if he were around for that catapult trip, he’d be able to tell you some kind of story about how the hornet journey into the heart of the sun really wasn’t so bad & then work that around to an introduction to one of his songs, (probably “The End of the World is Bigger Than Love”, I’m guessing) which somehow convinced you that he was right. What could be maudlin & trite in the hands of a less gifted artist becomes wry and inspired with his witty twists on ground that might otherwise seem trod-to-death. Think there’s nothing new to say about love, heartbreak and recovery? So did I until I listened to this album. He’s been called “The Swedish answer to Morrissey”, but instead of Moz asking you to have a cry with him, Jens wants you to have a laugh as he croons over orchestral pop music in a fairly thick Swedish accent.
2: Evans The Death – S/T
Powerful & noisy crash pop that is still somehow refined, perhaps by how highly literate it is. It’s music that says “What, you don’t name YOUR band after a character in a Dylan Thomas play? How utterly pedestrian of you.” but then offers the most heartwarmingly sincere smile and asks if you want to go splash into rain puddles & run about in the muck for a bit, till you can no longer even bring yourself to take umbrage at its feigned arrogance because you’re too busy getting mud on your galoshes. “I’m So Unclean” is the most perfect crash pop song ever recorded, because it blisters out the gate with ragged fury and breakneck speed, high-lit by Katherine Whitaker’s nearly operatic voice. Then, a minute into the song, the band pulls the rug out from under the listener’s feet and we are left with a sparse percussive breakdown and Katherine’s wistful reflections of all the mundane places where she will be when thinking of her beloved. Never, ever has there been a more urgent song written about “staring at the cat for hours”. Somehow all of this transformation manages to take place in under 2 & a half minutes! And getting all excited about this song as I am is hiding the fact that “Telling Lies” might be the hookiest song released this year, save for a track by The Hobbes Fanclub that is just instant earcandy. This Slumberland release would easily be my number one were it not for labelmates:
1: Allo Darlin’ – Europe
Simply the best damn thing I’ve heard all year. Upbeat, yet melancholy at times, but always with a bright and unyielding sense of hope, beauty and celebration that ring out through the entire record. From sedate songs like “Some People Say” which are only anchored by Elisabeth’s ukulele and sheer force of personality to whole-band barn-burners like “Still Young”, (which attains heights I can only describe as the indiepop answer to a gospel choir crescendo) the album threads together a contagious eagerness. Lyrical attempts to seemingly undercut that only actually serve to enhance the sensation. “I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that’ll mean something,” instantly proves itself to not be true, since it’s in a song that instantly means something upon first listen. That leads nicely into the next line of “And I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that’ll mean something,” and the implied, “Of course not!”
Somehow, Elisabeth’s tender Australian delivery can imbue lines like “Could you ever understand how you ended up here, any friend you’ve ever had has disappeared” or “You say the things you love are the things you never had, and when you hold them they pass through your hands like sand” with this blinding sense of hope and ebullience that might seem wholly absent if merely read on a page. Listening to this album is quite simply like the best wine buzz of all time. You might not always be in the mood for wine, but there is no feeling of intoxication that is better than it. Unlike wine, however, I am *always* in the mood for Allo Darlin’ on my turntable. If the sense of hope were a movie, this album would be its soundtrack.