1.) SONG OF THE YEAR: Palma Violets - "Last of the Summer Wine"
Just like countless other great rock n' roll songs, this one's greater than the sum of its parts. Yeah, the intro's too long on this song. And so's the outro. The lyrics are moronic. (The "official" video is absolute garbage - see above.) And the chord progression isn't exactly original but... there's just somethin' about the classic guitar tone and the finesse they play the lick with and the sweet, sweet melody that slays me every time.
"How bad did this year suck?" you ask. Well, it sucked so bad that I had to change the rules to where live albums are disqualified just to keep an archival live release from being my Album of the Year. Why did I feel the need to even bother tweaking the formula? I DON'T FUCKING KNOW!!!!! So, I guess, congrats to Phish for having the year's best release overall. Huzzah!
Anyway, let's have at it, shall we........
1.) ALBUM OF THE YEAR - Deafheaven - Sunbather
A gorgeous, terrifying, exhausting album - casual listening this is not. While retaining the unrelenting brutality of black metal as the musical underpinning, Sunbather adds gorgeous, melodic guitar lines reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky, ratcheting up the drama with a keen Mogwai-esque understanding of how to manipulate quiet / loud dynamics.
2.)Ceramic Dog - Your Turn
This is a helluva album, and it's also a helluva unexpected album. It's incredibly rare that a musician who has attained Marc Ribot's level of success and renown in the jazz world chooses to express himself artistically in a manner that's as angry, ornery, and loud as Your Turn, but it's not simply experimenting with a mode of expression that's a triumph here; it's that the album is a smashing success. Your Turn takes its detours down several stylistc alleys (heavy blues / hard rock, grunge, distorted fusion jams reminiscent of late-period Hendrix, and even a cacophonous, distortion-heavy update of a classic jazz tune) while streamlining the more freeform, scattershot approach taken on the trio's more noodly previous album, Party Intellectuals.
Ribot's tone on Your Turn is furious, his desire to rock is unwaveringly unapologetic, and the music's heavy grooves are arresting. So, listen to this if you like great music, otherwise feel free to go fuck yourself.
3.) Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
If you're skeptical of yet another posthumous Hendrix release, you should be; the list of "archival" stuff that's been pinched off in the 43 years since Hendrix' death is littered with shoddy quality bootleg material and inessential, often redundant crap, the sheer quantity of which greatly outpaces the (occasionally transcendent) worthwhile stuff by a large margin. Sure, I'm definitely a sucker for unreleased / archival stuff, but this release works surprisingly well on its own as a cohesive album. Comprised mostly of material Hendrix was working on as a follow up to Electric Ladyland, People, Hell and Angels allows the listener a rare glimpse at what might have been had Hendrix' appetite for heroin and pills been less fiendish.
4.) Palma Violets - 180
Earlier this year, Palma Violets were apparently the subject of the creepy-ass UK music press' embarrassing crush; of course, if you're actually regularly reading the NME you've likely already lost the battle. Regardless, this album is a real success, incorporating classic chord progressions, strong melodies, and a warm, inviting garagey sound into their sonic stew. Where many indie acts seem to be self-consciously stuck playing small ball, 180 is unafraid to swing for the fences, evoking the work of several of music's heavy hitters (J&MC, Stone Roses, Velvets, even Springsteen) without being dominated by their influences.
5.)The Men - New Moon
The Men are a band that's seemingly always in the middle of significant stylistic flux, and growing pains are to be expected as a side effect of significant experimentation. New Moon sees them attempting to situate their music on an AM AOR station circa 1976. But for all the genre hopping that they've done over the course of their relatively brief career, to their credit these guys seem like real students (and practitioners) of "what makes rock music great," instead of simply hipster dilettantes.
Over the course of their career, Kylesa has transformed from a kinda generic sludgy metal act into possibly the hookiest "heavy" band making music today. The highlights of Ultraviolet pick up right where standouts like "Dust" and "Tired Climb" (from their very good 2010 release, Spiral Shadow) left off. The main difference is that Ultraviolet marks Laura Pleasants' blossoming into a true metal ubergoddess, showcasing her diverse vocal styles alongside the textured, heavy riffage.
Fleetwood Mac - Extended Play EP
While there's nothing really groundbreaking on here, what do you really expect of these guys at this point, 4+ decades into their career? This EP has four songs, the first two of which are pretty good, and the last two of which are kinda boring but still have their merits. Extended Play bears the mark of ham-handedly trying to seem more spontaneous than it is; the vocals are noticeably kinda rough in spots, and the instrumentation is much less labored-over than their peak '70s work. Interestingly enough, "Without You" is apparently a leftover from Stevie and Lindsey's pre-Mac career. Neat!
Andrew Stockdale - Keep Moving
It's not that the first Wolfmother album was terribly original, but what it did do was breathe life into the same old classic rock tropes with energetic performances. Andrew Stockdale has abandoned the Wolfmother name and gone solo (exactly why, again?), producing this overlong, gassy, inessential album. Although this album isn't a great listen, you may have fun with your other AOR-loving friends going through it front to back and matching the licks / guitar tones / organ fills to the artists that used them originally. "Hey! This one kinda sounds like James Gang!" "I'm hearing Grand Funk, bro!" / etc.
Fuck yeah Kylesa indeed. Of course it's just my luck that the two bands I have the most interest in seeing at this year's Nortside Festival (Kylesa and Torche) played on the same night at different venues, which sucks, but since I saw Torche just a few months ago, Kylesa was the evening's pick for me.
This was my first time seeing Kylesa live since late January, '11 at Santos Party House during a ridiculous snowstorm which for some reason resulted in J train service over the Williamsburg Bridge being suspended. Shortly thereafter I recounted the evening to a friend as such:
Double high ankle sprains? Check. Black eye? Yup. Lost iPod? You know it. Bloody hand complete with embedded glass particles? Sure, why not. Paid $23 to some vulture just to take me over the bridge? Hells yeah. Would do it again because it was a GREAT FUCKING SHOW? Obviously.
Hoping to avoid similar misfortune this time around, I skipped the first two openers, entering MHoW moments before Toronto's Blood Ceremony started their set. These guys were pretty much the perfect opening band for this sort of show - theatrical, dramatic hard rock built on a rock-solid foundation of stoner / doom, with hints of virtuosity (primarily in the style of over-the-top flute soloing) peeking out from underneath the heavy grooves. And it certainly doesn't hurt when the singer delivering the tales of witchcraft and sorcery is as easy on the eyes as Blood Ceremony's Alia O'Brien. Good stuff.
After a ridiculous 40+ minute setbreak, Kylesa finally took the stage a bit after midnight. Their set was, fortunately, well worth the wait. Alternating deftly between shouty sludge, chiming melodicism and heavy psychedelia, these guys proved that although you don't always use to need a sledgehammer's approach to pummel an audience, it sure helps to know how to swing one properly. These guys have a lot more to offer than most bands bearing the "sludge" tag, incorporating theremin, moody textures, and a dual drumming setup which makes their music unclassifiable to many.
I, for one, think this was a fine year for music. I've been called out for giving out too many B+'s amongst my album grades over the last few months, but, if you think about it, it makes sense: at this point, I'm not going out of my way to listen to albums I think are going to be horrible. There are at least, what, 40-50 acts every year that are going to put out albums that I'm going to listen very closely to just based on my previous history enjoying the work of said acts; the rest of the stuff I end up hearing is based on either a (well-informed, I'd like to think) hunch or ideas from friends (usually Beafvy and Bricer). Again, it's not like I'm going around listening to the new Danielson or Grizzly Bear or Best Coast or Vivian Girls or whatever just so I can write something snarky and rubber stamp a "D-" on that garbage. Believe it or not, my time is actually worth more than that.
When 2012 was all said and done, I heard nearly 80 albums, with the final one being the EP Mogwai sneakily released this morning (spoiler alert: it's not worth spending actual money on). The majority of the albums listed below reached double digits in my play count on iTunes.
So, here's the list, unadorned by such frivolities as relevant information about the albums, cover art, or helpful links that would make it easier to locate the individual album reviews, wherever they may be on this site. [EDIT: fixed that.] I'd love to dress this post up and make it a little less bare-bones, but I'll be heading towards JFK in a few short hours, so yer on yer own.
So that's it for now, and I'll check in with y'all before Phish's upcoming 4-night run at MSG (unofficially titled "Four Bros, Four Shows"). HAPPY HOLIDAYS!