Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Best Albums of 2012

Alt-J ∆ - An Awesome Wave

An Awesome Wave tops my list as favorite album and favorite show. These nerdy Brits made some seriously great music. Lyrically the themes ring closer to Hipsterville than standard Rock n’ Roll, but I’m not offended. I even learned a new word – tessellate: to form in a mosaic of small shapes, like a beehive or floor tiles. While traditionally somewhere between art and math, in the song of the same title, these folks have made it sound like a dance between lovers. I’ve probably listened to this album the most this year, including the illegal online stream I kicked off before purchasing it on Amazon, before the release date in America. I’m not kidding, it is that good. 

While “Tessellate” is close to my favorite song, “Breezeblocks” takes the cake. An exploration of Where the Wild Things Are, it instantly makes a listener happy and sad, just like the story of little Max. I can already tell this four top will stay on my list of favorites into the next year.

The Cast of Cheers – Family

A latecomer to my list, The Cast of Cheers appeared in a newsfeed on Facebook by my friend Darren. As he’s always had great taste in music, I decided to check them out, and I am so glad I did. Another four top from across the ocean, these Irish Indie rockers have got something good going on.
Closer to guitar-heavy rock than new-age pop, the riffs are complimented by heavy bass and complicated drums rather than riff with electronic entanglements. The lead singer’s voice feels like TV on the Radio or Bloc Party. The lyrics are aggressive and full of prolific imagery of human struggle. Nothing new here, yet there’s something both eerily comforting and completely distracting to hear a new song that immediately reminds you of a well known and loved one.

The one that gets me the most is called “Palace and Run”. The intro sounds like the Tegan & Sara cover of Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Dancing in the Dark”.  Totally mainstream and completely old school at the same time, just like any good rock n’ roll tune. I always get excited when the song comes on, because my brain has already gone into the depths and expects to hear The Boss, or some warped girly version of the Jersey man.

It’s this forced-reach around that makes this album so successful. They couple the freshness of a new lover with the old familiarity of a hug from your best friend. I can’t stop listening to this 10 track little gem. 

Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional 

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have danced in my underwear in the kitchen to this album. So fucking catchy! John O’Regan, now known as Diamond Rings on stage, has about as much sass as Rihanna, and wears the Mohawk with as much pride. His combination of synth and guitar make for danceable, happy tunes. The lyrics are mostly simple, singable love ballads mixed with the joys of young attitude. The first single, “I’m Just Me” for instance is an obvious ode to self discovery, but when delivered by a man rocking traditional black Ray Bans and Michael Jackson era metallic jackets, you can't help but want to boast about how amazing you are too. I had the privilege of seeing Diamond Rings play with a complete band, and got to dance there too.

Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits    

I can’t help but love new bands formed of various members of other bands that I already listen to. The birth of Divine Fits came from Spoon frontman Britt Daniels, Wolf Parade’s lead guitarist Dan Boekner and drummer Sam Brown. The band is not entirely cohesive yet, as you can clearly hear the choppy guitar sound and rough vocals of Spoon in the songs written by Daniels, and the more complex 70’s throwback sound of Wolf Parade in the songs written by Boekner, but that’s ok because it works. The cover of Nick Cave’s “Shivers” is especially fantastic, helping to solidify the band’s post-punk feel. I saw these guys play this year too, and not only did I appreciate the album more, but I also renewed my love of the bands they come from. Spoon will always be one of my favorites, so why not love Divine Fits. Merge Records knows how to pick great albums.

Django Django - Django Django

This album is on the top of the list of favs for my friend Rick, so I only know they exist because of his fandom. Yet another talented group from across the pond, this Scotland-based foursome has a unique, bass-heavy sound. The album lends itself to easy listening, but without the obvious implications of that label. More like, anyone will like it, and having it on in the background while eating dinner or hanging out with your friends is a perfect scenario.

Father John Misty - Fear Fun

As my friend Travis Headrick described Fear Fun,  “If you could make a musical mix drink from literary giants, you’d concoct this album with 2 parts Hunter S. Thompson, 1 part Tom Robbins, and a splash of Ian Fleming.”  Along with the lyrics, the twang of the hard guitar mixed with heavy drums and his slow and sultry voice might as well be a healthy poor of bourbon and a good book. This album is haunting, yet familiar, and feels like a road trip to see your favorite person. Like sadness, it’s kind of addicting, and reminds me of when I fell in love with Neutral Milk Hotel. I find myself listening to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” on repeat, sometimes wanting to cry, sometimes wanting to dance, and always wanting more.