Monday, July 2, 2012

2012 At The Half

As we hit the halftime point in the year, we all head into the locker room that is the July 4 vacation week and take stock of what's happened so far. For me, it's been a brutal year personally, so the whistle can't come soon enough. As for music, the year has brought us some surprises (Gotye's breakout, the ubiquity of "Call Me Maybe") and the continued new world of sorry record sales (if you take out Adele's 21 sales are down from last year).

What follows is a list of ten albums I've been listening to a lot this year. This isn't ranked -- I won't do that until December comes -- but you can expect to see them somewhere on my final ballot in December.

Celebration Rock, Japandroids. 
A symphony of anthemic punk noise. "The House That Heaven Built" is the best turn-it-up-to-11-and-rip-the-knob-off banger in a long, long time. And the whole album is like that. 

Bloom, Beach House.
The chief critique of Bloom is that Beach House really isn't evolving their sound much from previous works. And that's a reasonable criticism, but there's a lot to be said for a band essentially doing the same thing but doing it better every time out. And Bloom, with its dream-pop melodies and shoegazer-lite sound, is pretty close to perfection.

Hospitality, Hospitality.
I freely admit I'm a sucker for Belle And Sebastian/C86 soundalike bands. I am, after all, every stereotype of a Belle And Sebastian fan: A natural introvert who'd rather read in a coffeehouse than rock out at parties (but still has the Teenage Fanclub back catalog cued up and ready to go). So now comes Hospitality, who wear their K Records credentials on their sleeves (even though they signed with Merge) and produce some of the best American chamber pop ever.

Tramp, Sharon Van Etten.
Van Etten has been an up-and-comer for a while, but this year she's really broken through, thanks to a tight set of songs held together by her emotional singing.

Young & Old, Tennis.
A husband-and-wife team out of Denver serving up yet another serving of pretty indie pop.

The Lumineers, The Lumineers.
The Lion's Roar, First Aid Kit.
Fear Fun, Father John Misty.
And here we talk about Year Three of this Folk Revival we've been in. The good news is it's not all Mumford And Sons and Fleet Foxes anymore. The Lumineers have their own take on the sound, turning it more bluegrass and folk (and away from the Anglophile sentiments of the Mumfords and Foxes). Meanwhile, two Swedish sisters calling themselves First Aid Kit have made arguably the best country album of the year (or maybe just the best alt-country album). And then there's Father John Misty, the moniker of former Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman, who starts with the folk of the Foxes (and Damien Jurado, whom he used to back on tour) and takes it off in strange, psychedelic directions.

Homage, Portland Cello Project.
The Portland Cello Project has been doing... interesting covers for a couple years now. For example, here's their cello arrangement of "N****s In Paris." Their new album collects a few of them along with some originals. This isn't some novelty band we're talking about here -- they're deathly serious about transmogrifying metal and hip-hop into chamber string arrangements.

Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends, Flaming Lips et. al.
The Flaming Lips are always a hard band to listen to because you don't know if you're listening to music that's strangely great or greatly strange. Here they seemed to have managed both at the same time, thanks to a list of guest artists that reads like a third-rate game show's celebrity guests. I mean, Ke$ha. Ke$ha! And yet, that might be the best song on the album.

Here's another six albums I've been ruminating over this year:

Attack On Memory, Cloud Nothings.
La Grande, Laura Gibson.
Oblivion, Grimes.
Young Man In America, Anais Mitchell.
My Head Is An Animal, Of Monsters And Men.
Blunderbuss, Jack White.

And here's my running list of favorite songs of 2012 that's very, um, eclectic. Enjoy.


  1. The albums by Japandroids, Cloud Nothings and Of Monsters and Men will likely be on my year-end list somewhere. I'm still on the fence with "Tramp" and probably should give the Beach House album more serious consideration. Glad to see Father John Misty on your list. I'm finding that album to be strangely satisfying.

  2. Also props for the father john misty. Totally missed it the first time. It's so good.