Thursday, April 5, 2012
First Quarter Best of 2012
The year is young, and while the harvest of great music thus far is not quite so bountiful as the first three months, there have been a number of standout releases that have wormed their way into my psyche. Here is a quick look at my fav'rits, as well a few remarkable 2011 releases which I discovered too late for them to make my year end list.
1. Mark Lanegan Band Blues Funeral (4AD)
I gushed unabashedly and at length about this rekkid in my last post, so I'll say no more about it here except that it is holding its position nicely as my frontrunner for rekkid of the year,
2, Sharon Van Etten Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
One of my people at the Electric Fetus pitched this rekkid to me as a "sort of Patti meets PJ thing". While both of those influences are definitely present, there is also a heavy dose of ethereal indie folk/Americana a la Cat Power, Wye Oak and the National (the last two being no coincidence, as the National's Aaron Dessner produced and plays on the album, and Wye Oak's Jenn Wassner sings on "Serpents"). Reminiscent of Feist's Metals in its compelling and deceptively simple use of space and dynamics. I keep finding new things to love every time I listen.
3. Lee Ranaldo Between the Times and the Tides (Matador)
A superb solo outing from Sonic Youth's "other guitarist/somgwriter". Ranaldo has always been a bit like George Harrison to Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon's Lennon-McCartney; he only gets a few songs per album, but they always stand out. Between the Time and the Tides is a bit more accessible than a Sonic Youth rekkid, but with Nels Cline joining Ranaldo, it is a guitar festival nonetheless. Songs filled with time, memory and longing which leave me pining for those days spent drinking bad beer in the sun with my roommates on the back steps of a Riverside Park duplex.
4. Rocket Juice & the Moon s/t (Honest Jon's)
Here's the pedigree: Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, the Good the Bad and the Queen, etc.) on Keyboards, Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on bass, Tony Allen (Fela Kuti, afro-beat pioneering god) on drums. Any questions? Throw in guest appearances by Erykah Badu, Fatou Diawara, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and more, and you get an improvisational afro-beat party and everyone is invited.
5. Paul Weller Sonik Kicks (Yep Roc)
The third installment in the Modfather's cycle of art-rock rekkids that began with 2005's 22 Dreams and continued with 2008's Wake Up the Nation, Sonik Kicks continue the anything goes tradition of its predecessors, moving easily between m.o.r. Brit-pop, mod-ish rhythm and blues, dub, psych, whatever Weller feels like. The Modfather does what the Modfather wants, dammit. Another great rekkid from a British icon who is sadly all too overlooked in the colonies.
6. First Aid Kit The Lion's Roar (Wichita)
I first tumbled on these two hippie-riffic sisters when they opened for Lykke Li last year at First Avenue. I was quite impressed with their Mama's sans Papa's vibe. Apparently I wasn't the only one so impressed, as the title track and their shout-out to the great country couples "Emmylou" have become ubiquitous on local alternative public radio. Leave it to a pair of Swedish sisters to create the best alt-country album since Neko Case's Middle Cyclone.
7. Barry Adamson I Will Set You Free (Central Control)
Is there anyone cooler on the planet than Bazza? It's possible I suppose. His latest is more pop-song than menacing grumble, but is still a high quality rekkid. See the above video for evidence of the man's sheer unbridled hipness, and enjoy the track that sounds like my long-awaited sequel to Iggy's "Run Like a Villain".
8. Bombay Bicycle Club A Different Kind of Fix (A&M)
A delightful salvo from these adventurous indie Brits. Begins with the big, swelling psychedelia of "How Can You Swallow so Much Sleep" and ends with the best, brooding song that Radiohead never wrote "Still", and hits nearly every modern British indie touchstone in between.
9. Kaiser Chiefs Start the Revolution without Me (Fiction)
Leeds' practitioners in the Brit-pop firm of Madness, Blur, and XTC put songs online and polled their fans as to their faves. The Result is the band's best rekkid since their debut.
10. Pond Beard, Wives, Denim (Modular)
I actually do not yet own a copy of this rekkid (a situation which shall be remedied at my earliest convenience), which is why it is at the bottom of this list. It may well move up in time. A like-minded co-worker has been playing it in the office lately and we're both smitten. A heaping helping of acid rawk from two of the kids in Tame Impala and some of their Western Australia cohorts. Good on ya, mates!
Five rekkids that could have cracked my Best of 2011 list had I heard them in time:
1. Unknown Mortal Orchestra s/t (Fat Possum)
This colossal chunk of psychedelia would have made my top five. Delicious Zappa-esque nasal guitar lines and crazy Beefheartian rhythms and structures combine with production that recalls Lee "Scratch" Perry's transmission-from-outer-space Super Ape-era sound. Fan-freakin'-tastic!
2. Lulu Gainsbourg From Gainsbourg to Lulu (Fontana)
Tribute albums are usually hit-and-miss affairs, rarely sustaining any level of quality throughout. Not so this project from the mighty Serge's son Lucien Gainsbourg, Jr. aka Lulu. A magnificently consistent collection of covers of late 20th century France's greatest poet/provacateur/dirty old man's songs, highlighted by Marianne Faithful on "Manon", Lulu and Scarlett Johansson on "Bonnie and Clyde", Rufus Wainwright on "Je Suis Venu Te Dire que Je m'en Vais", Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp on "Ballade de Melody Nelson". Iggy Pop on "Initials BB", and much more. Delicieux!
3. Anna Calvi s/t (Domino)
Patti meets Siouxsie with fantastic electro-reverb flamenco-Morricone guitar chops. A fabulous listen which gets more fabulous with each successive listen.
4. Boom Bip Zig Zaj (Lex)
I am on record as not being a huge techno/electronica fan, but there are certain artists that lure me into that section of the rekkid store on a regular basis. Boom Bip is one such artist, and Zig Zaj is one of the most fabulous rekkids I've yet heard from the electronic camp. Aided by guest spots from Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, Cate LeBon, and Money Mark, this is one of the best rekkids I never heard in 2011.
5. tUnE-yArDs Whokill (4AD)
Another co-worker of mine kept insisting that this was a great rekkid. I listened to part of it on Spotify on crappy laptop speakers and went "Meh". Then I saw them on Kimmel and understood. tUnE-yArDs' mastermind Merrill Garbus is rapidly becoming her generation's David Byrne.