Sunday, February 24, 2013

Albums: Honorable Mentions of 2012

Honorable Mention
I can only fit 10 albums in my top 10, but that doesn't mean those were the only good jams to come out this year. Here is a short and sweet rundown of some other mentionables for 2012.

Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls
Soulful blues rock with a smoky female vocalist. I can't wait to see what AS does in the future.

Chris Bernstorf - Move
A friend of a friend, Bernstorf channels the passionate yells of a metal band into his spoken word poetry. Download FREE HERE.

Regina Spektor - What We Saw from the Cheap Seats
Quirky Russian singer-songwriter does it again. Her piano work and unique vocal styles really shine here.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
File:Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!.jpg The kings of instrumental experimental ambient post-rock drop an album without warning, and everyone goes crazy. Luckily, it is a pretty epic release.

Right Away, Great Captain - The Church of the Good Thief
The Church Of The Good Thief cover art
Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra) releases the final installment in the trilogy of a 17th century sailor out for revenge for a his wife's betrayal. LISTEN HERE.

The Welcome Wagon - Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices cover artA goofy album title yields some remarkably fun gospel indie rock. "When there's rice and beans but you've got no beans..." Listen HERE.

Alright, so now, all that's left is to write about is the actual TOP TEN of 2012! Coming right up!

In the meantime, HERE YOU CAN DOWNLOAD ONE SONG from each of the top EPs and Honorable Mentions of 2012.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Best EPs of 2012

EP, Extended plays: A little longer than a single, shorter than a full-length LP (limited play). Who titles these things anyway?

Alas, these days, EPs can be whatever the creator wants them to be (see Sufjan Steven's hour long opus "All Delighted People" EP). But here is the rundown of some of my favorites from this year!

6.) The Last Bison - Inheritance EP
By rearranging and rerecording some songs from their debut "Quill" and adding a few new songs, The Last Bison (formerly just Bison) has crafted an engaging little EP here. I'm not sure if these folk rock bands are coming out of the woodwork on the coattails of Mumford and Sons or if people are just recognizing what was always there to enjoy. I hope the latter. Either way, The Last Bison is not to be cast in the shadow of another. Their original Americana indie folk is quaint and lush, while occasionally aggressive, but always captivating. Listen HERE.

5.) All People - Communicate EP If absolutely in need of classification, I guess I would toss All People's "Communicate" in the punk/dub/funk/reggae rock genre. It is a lot of things, especially fun and fearless, reminiscent of recent RX Bandits or even their more eccentric offshoot The Sounds of Animals Fighting (but with more structure). These eight songs groove nonstop, with some sexy organ work to keep the pace moving. I find my whole upper body just jamming back and forth to the dub sections, until they launch into a more punk beat, perfect for a little headbanging. Check this EP out by downloading for FREE HERE.

4.) See You In Mexico - The Doomed Traveler EP Ryan Leavelle's See You In Mexico came out with a grand EP this year, and it completely did not garnish enough attention. Luckily for you, I'm bringing it to you right now. As the title suggests, the songs follow the story of a doomed traveler "trying to make his way home during the cold of winter. He was sent on a mission to find out what happened to a failed expedition crew, and upon discovering their unfortunate fate, swears revenge on the General who sent them all to their death." It's got an acoustic indie folk vibe with some rich violin and cello to layer in heaps of turmoil and emotion. Download FREE HERE.

3.) Wayfarer - The River EP Wayfarer claims their art is to "repurpose hymns and spiritual songs." Now, that is a pretty lofty goal when the source material is timeless in lyric and melody, sung by millions of people the world over. Well, luckily, Wayfarer truly takes these five worship songs in new directions, fresh and completely engaging ways. They would draw comparisons to Fleet Foxes in their dreamy folk quality and maybe the Beach Boys in their heavenly harmonies. If they continue to arrange known songs to make them sound new again, I think Wayfarer can have a strong career ahead of them. Download FREE HERE.

2.) Geology - The Neighboring Sea EP Greg Jehanian (bassist, mewithoutYou) released "The Neighboring Sea" EP this past year, and it hit the spot for me. It is a seven song set of soul searching, hints of spiritual undertones, and plenty of lo-fi goodness. The opener "The Neighboring Sea" is actually kind of raucous for Jehanian's acoustic side project, with some kicking drums that echo in space. My favorite is "House of Love" which is a simple anthem to be free of the things that will crumble and fade away and cling to love, which remains forever. He records all the instruments himself, in his bedroom, generally on his laptop, and the results are uncanny in quality. Check it out HERE.

1.) Buried Beds - Small Stories EP Buried Beds is the definition of a hidden gem. They are a band that has floated just under the radar for far too long, known in their native Philadelphia but making few waves outside of there. However, their "Small Stories" EP blows away many of the full-length albums released this year. I have listened to it more time than I can count, plus it comes accompanied by a short music film (which I've also watched too many times). The songs and film transport me to summertime, fireworks, barefoot picnics, and memories of growing up. It is a indie chamber pop nostalgia-fest at its finest. The band is in top form, including a drum circle ("1000 Acres") and the smoothest harmonies ever ("Children of the Sea"). I can't say enough good things about this EP. Just listen and let your troubles sweep away in the lovely jams. You can buy the EP HERE (totally worth it) and watch the film the songs were recorded from HERE.


Monday, February 18, 2013

The Disappointing Albums of 2012

So once again, I can't get my act together to post about 2012 albums that mean a lot to me until almost March of 2013... Therefore, enough small talk! ONWARD TO THE MUSICS!

First, I will start with the handful of disappointments that I found this year. One of them is disappointing because my expectations were high and then dashed, one has too many flaws that I can't overlook, and one is just a disorganized "too soon" of a release.

The Disappointments

1.) Fun. - "Some Nights"
I tried really hard to love this album. When I couldn't do that, I tried really hard to like this album. When I couldn't do that, I tried to tolerate this album. I think that's where I settle for now. It's not terribad, but it sure is lacking. Granted, my expectations for Fun. after 2009's multi-instrumental masterpiece "Aim and Ignite" were soaring. I mean, when you take one part The Format, one part Anathallo, and one part Steel Train, you have talent seeping out every pore of that band. But what I  hear on "Some Nights" is self indulgent sell-outitude. They open the album with a crowd's applause for crying out loud...

Yes, the songs are catchy to a fault, to the point of sounding like a whiny younger sibling begging for attention. The creative structures found on "A&I" are gone, replaced with dull repetitious choruses, predictable hooks, rap production backtracks, and (oh dear Lord no) AUTOTUNE! The lyrics don't elucidate anything special (drinking, mistakes, and growing up?), where it could have been the saving grace for Nate Ruess and co. But alas, the only songs that I truly like are merely bonus tracks, like "Out On the Town" and acoustic versions of some of the songs on the regular release.

Fun., lose the producer, get back to basics on your guitars and everything else you can actually play, and don't take phone calls from Chevrolet. And if you're going to write more music, for goodness sake, don't just say the same thing four times in a row and expect it to be a good chorus.

2.) The O.C. Supertones - "For the Glory"

2012 was the year of revival for ska music, especially as far as Christians are concerned. The big 3 all came back from the dead, The Insyderz, Five Iron Frenzy, and The O.C. Supertones. So now, why is this record in the disappointment category? It isn't because it is bad. Far from it. However, there is a lack of intensity and creativity on this album, leaving it mediocre in the Supertones catalog. "All the Way Alive" and title track "For the Glory" start it off with a one-two punch that made me excited to hear what the Tones had been brewing since their reunion. But then from "Hey Hey Hey" onward, the album becomes a blah mess of songs I feel I've heard before, just with new lyrics and outdated horn lines. 

The Supertones used to have some songs that rocked hard and heavy ("Unite") with almost rapped verses and a spitting fiery passion for the gospel, and then other songs that let the album breathe with ska swagger, breakdowns that gave the trumpets, saxes, and trombones solo spotlights. But, all of the brass here feels restricted, as if the band was rushed to put the record and couldn't find their personal groove and freedom to let loose.

"Hey Hey Hey," "All Glory," "It's A Good Day to Be From California" all rely way too heavily on hey's and ooh's, coming across as lazy. The later track sounds just like a Michael Franti knockoff. And "Warmth of the Sun" is thrown in there haphazardly, detracting from the album's cohesion.

BUT, like I said above, this is NOT a bad album. The bass lines are killer. Mojo's vocals are in peak form. "Far More Beautiful" is a lovely encouragement to some women close to the band. "On the Downbeat" is definitely a fun song with a little bit of that old Supertones flair (and a trumpet solo)! If you like surf-rock ska with quality production, "For the Glory" will get your legs skanking. But despite this, it still comes across as a bit disappointing to me. Maybe it will grow on me with more listens. Only time will tell.

3.)  Band of Horses - "Mirage Rock" 

I've been a long time listener and appreciator of Band of Horses. Usually, their quasi-ethereal Americana rock hits me right where I am. I generally love their harmonies and dreamy melodies. They often paint landscapes of wide open fields, longing for home, and lots of nostalgia on a road trip far from the one you love. But plain and simple, "Mirage Rock" is redundant and disorganized.

There are some songs that standout, but as a whole, they should have taken those standout songs, polished them up, kept writing until they had more, and put out a solid work. Instead, from track to track, "Mirage Rock" is hit and miss, again and again

I mourn for what "Mirage Rock" could have been. "Knock Knock" is an excellent kickoff, more rock than I expected, and it was a pleasant change. Then "Slow Cruel Hands of Time"  is reminiscent of Neil Young in his prime, weary and beautiful. But then, "A Little Biblical" has this 4/4 chunky guitar line that doesn't change for the whole song. I cannot wrap my head around who thought that was OK.

Sorry, Band of Horses, you didn't fool me! You couldn't intersperse clearly higher quality songs with less thought-out ones and call it a day. As my parents used to tell me in high school, "Make better choices!"

I'm gonna wrap this up now. I'll be back soon with the EPs and full-lengths that made 2012 a SUPER EXCITING year for me musically. Check back soon!