Independents Days: A 2012 mid-Year Recap of Albums

As much as I enjoy making lists, I also find the process really challenging and stressful – but only in the superficial sense. (There are plenty of real life problems worth shedding blood, sweat, and tears over; this “challenge” is more mental than real.) Why stressful? Well, because there will always be some really wonderful albums and/or artists that will be left off because there is only so many “slots” on a list, and, of course, there will be folks who think your choices are totally “wrong”. So rather than picking a “best of 2012” so far, I’ll take the less controversial route of listing those records that have left the biggest impression on me, because “you can’t be wrong when stating a preference.” But, the rhetorical reader might be asking, what is your criteria? Aside from the unquantifiable “I just really like this”, I am listing albums that I find myself returning to with great frequency and/or new artists (to me) whose work really struck my ears. So without further equivocation (and ado), here is the ten (or so) albums I’d suggest deserve a first, second, or repeated listen (in no particular order and with limited editorializing):

  • Japandroids’ Celebration Rock – Nothing I’ve heard this year rocks harder and with the kind of youthful punk/rock energy than this release by the Vancouver duo. It is also the soundtrack to my late night bike rides.
  • Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe – Although produced and co-written by electronic genius Damon Albarn, this is one of the most non-frills, straightforward recordings released to date. It’s minimalist electronic instrumentation sets the perfect stage to showcase Bobby’s soul-searing gospel-like storytelling and bone-chilling vocals. “Please Forgive My Heart” is one of the best Soul/R&B singles released in a long, long time.
  • Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp – Following along the path of emotionally charged records, Sharon Van Etten’s newest record has been my go to late night reflective listening. In many ways, Tramp reminds me a lot of Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker because it is a powerful songwriting “sea change” for Sharon. It sounds like SVE is at once putting a/the past behind her and moving forward with a renewed sense of determination. Just listen to “Serpents” and you’ll see this is one gifted songwriter on the verge of more great moments.

  • Grimes’ Visions Speaking of artists on the verge and/or breaking through, 2012 has been a banner year for Grimes and I think the sky is the limit for her. Visions might not have the musical range of other records I’ve heard in recent years but it’s the concision and precision of this album with its hypnotic rhythms and dance-inducing beats that have caused me to wear down the vinyl. There is a decidedly punk-rock bare-bones aesthetic to her electronic music that sets it apart and Grimes unique vocal arrangements give the songs an otherworldly beauty.
  • Love On A Real Train – Of all the albums I’ve heard this year, this is the most musically eclectic collection of songs. Perhaps because this record is a collaboration by a group of friends of divergent musical it is difficult to discern singular aesthetic, and yet, there is a cohesiveness that makes every genre or tempo jump make sense in the end.
  • Of Monsters and Men’s My Head is An Animal – Well at least one Icelandic group had to make it on to this list, right? All kidding aside, next to Kishi Bashi’s 151a, this might be the most up-beat and smile-inducing album of the year. To some who prefer the morose side of music, that is an indictment. But in my opinion, OMAM are a welcome addition to the scene of crowd-pleasing and life-affirming indie/baroque rock. Also, it’s not all sunshine and a roses, this band has some mellow, self-reflective tunes as well. (To continue the parallelism discussion, it is very evocative of the 10,000 Maniacs’ Our Time in Eden.)

  • Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio – If SVE is my record of reflection, this is my record of relaxation and meditation. To butcher and misappropriate W.H. Auden’s famous elegy of love, “it’s my Sunday rest” – or, that which brings me an overwhelming sense of peace. A clever mix of modern, chill-jazz improvisation and 70s mellow soul and R&B, this is an album that sounds like a lost recording from older days.
  • Alabama Shakes’ Boys and GirlsIn a year of albums with some outstanding vocal performances, Brittney Howard’s might be the most captivating and pleasing of all. Perhaps it’s because there are moments where she reminds me of a latter day Janis Joplin, but there is just a depth of emotion that pours forth from these songs. Plus, this record is just the perfect blend of pain and pleasure, combining the reverie inducing power of Southern Blues, Soul and Roots Rock.
  • Now, Now’s Threads/Beach House’s Bloom – For me, both of these records create a rich sense of atmosphere in very differing ways. Now, Now is all about tight, simple guitar lines that evoke the likes of Rainer Maria and Tegan and Sara. In contrast, Beach House uses lush orchestrations and Victoria Legrand’s mellifluous vocals to evoke an aural dreamscape. Two records that are easy to get lost in…
  • Lost In The Trees’ A Church That Fits Our Needs – Hauntingly beautiful and inspirational. This band of North Carolina folk musicians has created a mini-masterpiece about finding transcendence in the face of loss.

…and still I feel like there are so many other wonderful albums and artists that bear mentioning, like Sleigh Bells Reign of Terror, Kelly Hogan’s I Like to Keep Myself In Pain, Adam Arcuragi’s like a fire that consumer all before it, Julia Holter’s Ekstasis or Perfume Genius’ Put Your Back N 2 It and more. But there is only so much space and time.

If you want to listen to all the albums above, click here for the 2012 “Favorite” Records playlist, or individual album links are embedded above.

2012 favorites songs so far playlist to follow…


p.s. Feel free to add or offer up your favorites in the comments section.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s