40. Filastine, “L00T”
When “Colony Collapse,” the first single from Filastine’s “L00T,” released, I was in awe. Though I find those big Skrillex drops in dub step music to be obnoxious, calculated and generally overdone attempts at juxtaposition, “Colony Collapse,” was a record high in authenticity and low in gimmicks. It didn’t sound like an American was putting these things together, but rather a Middle Eastern native with more at his disposal than you’d typically assume.
“Colony Collapse,” showcased world beat and dub step with synths and melodies that are uncharacteristic of American bass music. Luckily, “L00T” is a record that goes beyond its first single, which serves as only a taste of the Middle Eastern and Latin American bass that’s fleshed out over its duration. The results prove that authenticity and good music still represent a strong correlation to one another.
39. Royal Headache, “Royal Headache”
Royal Headache’s self-titled LP is a throwback record to the timeless music of the 50’s & 60’s. While a lot of these bands come & go every year, it’s vocalist Shogun that really steals the show with soulful vocals and enough range to make any half ass of a song more than listenable.
A lot has been made about Shogun’s vocals and to be frank, they’re the selling point of this record. A lot of the songs are drowned in distorted production displaying rookie mistakes at a constant rate. Nonetheless, I love the potential of these guys, especially with Shogun running the (awkward pun moment) show. It would be wrong to suggest listening to them based on a vocalist alone, but indie publications have been dick riding Alabama Shakes all year. If nothing else, this is a band to look out for.
38. La Sera, “Sees The Light,”
“Kickball” Katy Goodman is the indie pop princess of Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls and all the other relevant “we-all-sound-the-same,” girl bands that have released music in the last 5 years.
The problem with Goodman and a lot of these girl bands that she’s been a part of is that they’re either hit or miss. When they’re on, they’re catchy. Emotive. Simplistic. And when they’re off? They immature. Boring. Flimsy.
For Goodman’s second LP it’s clear that she’s spending extra attention to detail (especially in comparison to her first solo LP which was as uneven as anything released in 2011.) The singing here is more consistent and the music is as good a template as Goodman has had in some time. Songs like “I Can’t Keep You In My Mind,” or “It’s Over Now,” are fully realized pop gems. As good as the best pop records this year.
Still, it’s painfully obvious when Goodman rushes a song. Songs like “I’m Alone,” or “Real Boy,” are fried chicken without the seasoning — nigga that’s bland (c) Danny Brown. They bring nothing to an album that is otherwise surrounded by gems, which is worth noting since Goodman (and her bandmates) have made a living off adding filler.
37. Divine Fits, “A Thing Called Divine Fits”
Super groups are filled with lukewarm reception because we as fans have astronomical views as to what kind of music they should make. Divine Fits, however, a super group including members of Spoon, the New Bomb Turks and Wolf Parade, seems to evade such criticisms by meshing their sounds together.
Keeping things within the realm of their parts, Divine Fits moves from minimalism to funk and molds the styles together. Still, for all the homage to their old projects, this is Divine Fits, not a B-level Wolf Parade or Spoon album. None of these songs would fit on any of the aforementioned bands projects and that’s a good thing. Not because they’re not good bands, but because no one paid for a Divine Fits LP only to be treated to six B-level Wolf Parade tracks and six B-level Spoon tracks.
What we get instead is a new band that struggles with consistency, but has a matured sound which is indebted to how long these guys have been playing music for. The band has assumed the right sound, but has to focus on consistency to become a long-term project.
36. John Talabot, “ƒin”
Talabot’s “ƒin,” is a record that seems easygoing at first, but with more listens, strips itself like the neighborhood hooker. It reveals more parts, more layers and when it’s all said and done there’s no shortage of flesh and crevices for the naked ear. Nudity promotes beauty, and “ƒin,” is at its prettiest post-clothes and in position.
As with many records these days, Talabot pays a lot of homage to his peers and idols. There’s definitely an acid house Primal Scream influence here, but there’s also a lot of funk here as well. Some of these songs even have roots in Spanish Dance music, and come off a lot like that Delorean’s “Subiza,” record. The record jumps in categories, but remains cohesive in nature due to Talabot’s pristine ability to make every record, no matter the categorizations or homage, a John Talabot record. When you can make a niche’ for yourself — a sound that lets everyone know this is my song…well, you’re doing something right.
35. Weird Dreams, “Choreography”
If you’re looking for catchy, there’s no record catchier than Weird Dreams, “Choreography.” I couldn’t begin to fathom how overplayed “Hurt So Bad,” or “Holding Nails,” are on my iTunes. Those choruses. Those multi-layered vocals. Those melodies. Those harmonies. Everything on this thing sticks like a bottle of glue and there’s no shortage of fun when you’re peeling the dried stuff off your mangled hands.
That’s about what you’re going to get on this record. Fun power pop tunes. Easily accessible. Some sketchy writing. A few clunkers here and there. But the good outweighs the bad and this is a beautiful record. One of the very best of the year.
34. Melody’s Echo Chamber, “Melody’s Echo Chamber”
Dream Pop is my 2nd favorite genre of music so you can imagine my excitement when any dream pop music is released. It’s more common these days for dreamy psychedelic pop to sound formulaic, but for Melody’s Echo Chamber it’s anything but.
Let’s get a few things straight though: the s/t record from these guys isn’t my top Dream Pop record or my top debut Dream Pop record. It is, however, the record by the band I’m most excited to move the genre forward. In fact, I haven’t been this excited about a band in a long time. Walls of sound never sounded so beautiful. Psychedelic pop was never this angelic. And Melody Prochet is the perfect front woman.
My issue with this record is the consistency. They have a near perfect sound, getting ample elbow grease from Kevin Parker (of Tame Impala) on production. It’s just keeping the energy as dope over the course of an album. If tracks like “Some Time Alone, Alone,” or “You Won’t Be Missing That Part Of Me,” are any indication though, these guys will be topping my favorite lists for a long time.
33. Chelsea Wolfe, “Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs”
Chelsea Wolfe is the gothic princess that released everyone favorite apocalyptic LP last year, “Apokalypsis.” On her latest LP, Wolfe diverts from the screeching guitars, overt synths and loud production to give us a stripped down take of her doom folk sound.
Though acoustic records seem to be saved for overrated pop stars, this diversion is a welcome surprise for Chelsea Wolfe fans. It adds a layer of diversity not seen on her previous record, which makes me wonder if this is something we’ll consistently see on her future albums. One thing is for certain though — there’s no shortage in quality in Wolfe’s acoustic tracks.
32. Cat Power, “Sun”
It’s been six years since Chan Marshall’s last release and she’s taken more L’s in that time span than Charles Hamilton did from 2008-2009. She’s filed for bankruptcy, went through a high profile break up and entered rehab in the last five years.
Struggles aside, Marshall has spent some time in the studio re-inventing her sound. I don’t know who “they,” are, but they say horrible things make pretty songs and there’s no shortage of them on Cat Power’s “Sun.” A lot of these songs are heavy in subject matter, but a lot of them double as empowering songs made to uplift and pay respect to triumph (see: chorus of “Ruin” where “Bitching/Complaining…when some people ain’t got shit to eat,” categorizes the chorus.) The subject matter is all too real for Marshall, who realizes struggle is nothing to complain about and self-worth and appreciation are more worthwhile topics.
31. Mac Demarco, “2”
If I ever had to imagine what a Midwest kick back, smoke a cigarette and wear plaid Sunday ever sounded like, I’d imagine Mac Demarco’s “2,” is it. But this is coming from a city boy from Brooklyn. What the hell do I know about Midwest kick back?
Nonetheless “2,” is the witty debut LP from Mac Demarco who sounds about as cool as candidate Obama (notice: candidate Obama.) The one thing that stands out here, besides Demarco’s smooth vocals is the guitar work. Of the 183 records I’ve heard this year, this may own the most consistent guitar riffs. And some pretty dope solos as well.
30. Purity Ring, “Shrines”
Purity Ring is an (insert a million sub genres that are close to, but not limited to electronic, synth pop, dubstep, trip hop) band that pits airy production over ghostly vocals.
Their debut LP, “Shrines,” is a singular vision fleshed out over 11 tracks. To many this may sound boring, and maybe it is, but Purity Ring is adept at varying their sound. Credit is due to Corin Roddick whom carefully manages the production on this thing. Every drop, transition or synth is meticulously placed to transcend any record sounding too formulaic. As soon as you get sick of one sound, the next one is there. As soon as one drum pattern is annoying, here comes another. Megan James vocals stand alone, and then Roddick drops some glitches or multi-layered studio vocals for effect. It’s especially evident on a track like “Obedear,” which has about a dozen transitions and half a dozen different sounds over Megan James haunting vocals. The production suddenly becomes the formula, and though these tracks are similar you’re still on your heels for most of this album.
29. Schoolboy Q, “Habits & Contradictions”
Schoolboy Q is a rapper that’s been getting a lot more recognition as of late due to his association with popular hip hop artists A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown. As a member of the Black Hippies, Schoolboy Q’s last LP was infamous for talking about otherworldly phenomena, pyramids and a lot of stupid shit that no one cares about. While “Habits & Contradictions,” is a lot more grounded and a lot less acid trip, it also maintains the same mechanical flow Q was famous for on his previous LP. It also expands its sound with a slew of producers that give the album the accessibility to move from your headphones and into your pregame. Considering Q’s versatility, it’s only natural that his production keeps up.
28. Menomena, “Moms”
Menomena has no issue tackling difficult topics on “Moms,” their fourth LP and first in two years. On an album centered around surviving your own family, the name of Menomena’s first single, “Heavy Is As Heavy Does,” sums up “Moms,” in five words.
For all the talk of family, there’s no shortage in music here. In fact, a lot of the chord progression here is top notch. Songs like the aforementioned “Heavy Is As Heavy Does,” “Tantalus” or “Don’t Mess With Latexas,” start as slow records only to build into grandiose productions of music. Likewise, second single “Plumage,” still deals with family, but takes a more immediate approach, placing Menomena’s versatility on display.
27. Evans The Death, “Evans The Death,”
Evans The Death is a 90s sounding pop band from the UK that has a (wait for it) female vocalist (love.) As many know, I’m infatuated with females in music, particularly ones that front bands, for their emotive voices and alternative song ideas in a culture where being a woman is still a question to ask about for lazy journalists.
Evans The Death, fronted by British newcomer Katherine Whitaker, is a welcome surprise to my iTunes library. These songs are instant and melodic with no idea surpassing more than 4 minutes. These quick bursts of music are welcome additions to a music culture that prides itself on standard and extended song lengths, which, for all extents and purposes drag out songs that would be more effective otherwise.
26. Jaill, “Traps”
There isn’t a lot of depth behind what Jaill is doing, but there’s a lot to like on “Traps,” their third full length on Sub Pop records. For one, the melodies on this thing are like the plague. They never go away, categorized by well-thought out guitar riffs and a punctilious attention to detail. To say that this record is pretty would be off base, but to say it’s easy on the ears would surely be an understatement.
Lyrically, Jaill lead singer Vincent Kircher is full of personality, never missing a moment to shit on himself. Break up songs are usually fuck ups on the protagonists part and criticisms of others come off as moments where the lead could have probably done worse. Kircher’s not down on himself though — he let’s it be known how much of a bitch everyone else is on songs like the aptly titled “Everyone’s A Bitch.”
25. Wild Nothing, “Nocturne”
Wild Nothing kicks ass. Seriously. There’s no band higher on my “to see Live” list. There’s no band that excretes such raw emotion. There’s no band that’s as catchy or immediate. There’s no band like Wild Nothing. There are a lot of impostors. A lot of bands aiming to make dreamy 80s pop like The Smiths or even The Cure. But no one comes close to Wild Nothing.
The next logical step is consistency. Jack Tatum has a fantastic sound and he’s one of the best songwriters in indie music. It’s just a matter of putting one record with minimal filler together. Still, when I think 2012. When I think what does 2012 indie sound like? I think Wild Nothing. Almost instantly. That’s something that any band should be proud of.
24. Lower Dens, “Nootropics”
I hate the dreaded term “smart pop.” It insinuates that pop music resonates some level of stupidity, but there is nothing stupid about early Beatles or Teenage Fanclub. However, “credible” indie sources like using the term and if ever there were a chance for me to use it, it’d be on Lower Dens well crafted second record.
“Nootropics,” is a progressive pop record. At it’s best it’s listened to from front to back because, really, this album is an experience that has to be felt in its entirety. As a result, “Nootropics,” won’t hit you immediately. That’s not its aim. Rather, it will challenge you. Reward you. Maybe not to the extent of the best albums this year, but enough to keep it in constant rotation.
23. Lil’ B, “God’s Father”
A lot of people still don’t “get” Lil’ B. Those stuck on the idea that only the 90s East Coast rap sound can create classic music, will never “get” Lil’ B and this isn’t a review where I’ll sit at length to increase the knowledge of the ignorant.
This is a review that will praise the Based God’s greatest achievement. Set over 34 songs is the greatest collection of tracks that Lil’ B has ever released. Everything you love about Lil’ B is here. He has cooking tracks, serious tracks, hilarious interludes, dope production, introspective spoken word and enough charisma to hold it all together as only the Based God can. It’s the type of record that any real hip hop head is putting in their top 10 this year.
22. Holograms, “Self-Titled”
Holograms is a group of post-punk/hardcore/new wave Swedes whom categorize the starving musician. There’s been a lot made about how poor these guys are, from their side jobs in warehouses to being stranded while on tour with no money for weeks. In fact, they’re so proud of being poor that their artist page on Captured Tracks website stresses their monetary hardship. Not that any of this will stop people from illegally downloading their music. But maybe we can feel pity for how well off they aren’t.
Holograms is signed to Captured Tracks and there’s a stigma about these bands as their sound is generally that Wild Nothing/Beach Fossils sound. Bare in mind that Holograms is almost nothing like their label mates. In fact, Holograms sounds about as mad as a starving musician could be.
21. Cashmere Cat, “Mirror Maru EP”
EPs can do one of a two things: they can break previously unknown musicians or tease you with the direction one of your favorites is moving towards. In this sense, EPs serve as a snapshot in the dark — the place the musician was at the time, creatively.
For every EP, there’s a million disgruntled fans and in the case of Cashmere Cat you’re privy to one front and center. The four tracks on this thing are synth driven, R&B influenced piano tales with chipmunk vocals. Everything about these songs hits like a Kimbo Slice punch to the jaw. If there was such a thing as Air DJing (like air gee-taring or air drumming) I’ve Air DJed to this thing about a million times.
And here’s my issue — it’s four songs. I want more. In this mindset. I’m sure more will come of this, I’m just unsure if Cashmere Cat can hold this sound and evolve to a collection of songs larger than four. These, I suppose, are the pains of basing hype on four songs.