Best Albums Of 2012…so far

2012 is shaping up to be a hell of a good year. I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my top picks for the 2012, as it sits, as of June 02. Just a little commentary (I’ll save the full-blown stuff for the end of the year when all’s said and done), just my personalized ranking based on what’s been dominating my cd player. It’ll probably change month to month, but so what? Lastly, if you don’t own all of these yet, run out and buy them right away. They’re all excellent!

New Releases

#1. Spiritualized: Sweet Heart Sweet Light

So far so excellent. 15 total spins and I am still finding reasons to go back. His best since 1997, and filled to the brim with excellent tunes that hearken back to White Album Beatles and the Velvet Underground, with a little Funhouse era Stooges thrown in for good measure. They are, once again, the best psychedelic band in the world. No other record this year thus far has spent as much time in the CD player as this one. Every time I think it’s time for a change Sweet Heart Sweet Light keeps wiggling it’s way into the player and my psyche. Although there are a number of new releases scheduled that are due to be great (what a YEAR for new music, man!), I can’t imagine anything beating this. BEST SONGS: “Hey Jane”, “I Am What I Am” and “Headin’ For The Top Now”.

#2. PIL: This Is Pil

I have been a little hard on John Lydon. His butter commercials, the reformation of the Sex Pistols, etc, all left a rather acrid taste in my mouth over the last few years. I understand, now, that this was to finance the reformation of  PIL, start their own record label and to release this, PIL’s first album in over 17 years. Even though I was a bit of a bastard regarding Lydon’s…ahem…indiscretions,  I was really hoping for a comeback from this most polarizing of front men. The rock world needs characters like Lydon. More so than that the world needs more albums like This Is PIL. This is an amazing record. You probably won’t find a more creative and insanely listenable album all year. The band is tight, especially the rhythm section (and especially the bass), and Lydon sounds as bitter, and vital, as ever.

BEST SONGS: “This Is PIL”, “Lolipop Opera” and “Out Of The Woods”.

#3. Beach House: Bloom

POPMATTERS says this about Bloom: “Bloom should be to the year 2012 what Loveless was to 1991, or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was to 2002, or Funeral was to 2004: a landmark release. 10/10”  Hefty praise, but is it warranted? Well, my ranking it #3 at this mid-year point should give you an indication what I think. This is my first Beach House album and it reminds me of other “late to the party” releases that I found that set me off on an obsessive tangent to purchase and consume everything those bands did up to that point. Gateway albums, so to speak. Like: Wilco (A Ghost Is Born); The Flaming Lips (Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots); Mercury Rev (Deserters Songs); My Morning Jacket (Z). It’s that moment where you slip the CD into your car stereo immediately after buying it and have to just sit there in the record shop parking lot and listen to the whole damn thing in it’s entirety, thanking whatever God you believe in that there are still bands and still albums like this you haven’t yet discovered. It’s thrilling, like finding the Arc Of The Covenant, and it takes you back to a time when you were still a relative record buying virgin where everything sounded this fresh and exciting and groundbreaking. I am afraid to say that this may overtake my #1 pick by year’s end. I’ll say it again: what a freakin’ fantastic year 2012 is shaping up to be! BEST SONGS: “Myth”, “The Hours”, “Irene”.

#4. Air: Le Voyage Dans La Lune

A soundtrack album that doesn’t sound like a soundtrack album. It sounds like a recording from the ’70’s, inasmuch as it plays as a whole piece rather than a series of songs, in addition to utilizing vintage keyboards to great effect. You can take some of the songs out of context but it won’t have the same feeling of continuity. AIR has been struggling to put out something as great as Moon Safari for over a decade now, but with Le Voyage…I think they’ve done it. BEST SONGS: “Astronomic Club”, “Seven Stars” (featuring Beach House’s Victoria Legrand), “Sonic Armada”.

#5. Paul Weller: Sonik Kicks

Another Paul Weller album, another kick in the balls. Weller’s been on a creative roll since 22 Dreams and Wake Up The Nation and this continues his winning streak. Sonically it’s more aggressive, and jam packed with top tunes by the old bugger. You’d never guess that the bastard was 50+ years old. BEST SONGS: “Green”, “That Dangerous Age”, “Paperchase”.

#6. M Ward: A Wasteland Companion

More back porch beauty from this era’s Ry Cooder. Great guitar work, songwriting maintains a very high quality throughout. Not as consistently great as Post War, but pretty damn close! BEST SONGS: “Me And My Shadow”, “A Wasteland Companion”, “Primitive Girl”.

#7. Django Django

A new one to help restore our collective faith that there are still a few new bands with enough originality that they can surprise us old jaded bastards. Big things ahead from these guys, I can assure you. Beta Band comes to mind. BEST SONGS: “Hail Bop”, “Zumm Zumm”, “WOR”.

#8. Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself

Like M Ward, Bird is a damn fine songwriter. He plays a mean fiddle, and is a champion whistler, but even though that sounds horrific, Break It Yourself is bizarre enough, and modern enough, to make it a consistent winner. Kind of like a more approachable version of Califone. BEST SONGS: “Danse Caribe”, “Things Behind The Barn”, “Lazy Projector”.

#9. Orbital: Wonky

What can I say, I have a soft spot for early ’90’s electronic music! This could have been a disaster, but it turned out the brothers still had something unique to say.Fresh and nostalgic at the same time, with only one severe, embarrassing misstep when they try to update their sound for the kids. BEST SONGS: “One Big Moment”, “Stringy Acid”, “Wonky”.

#10. Mark Lanegan Band: Blues Funeral

“Honey, there’s a Mr. Death at the door and he’s come about the reaping…” This album is growing on me at a rapid pace. The best way my tiny little brain can describe this album is as the aural equivalent to Stephen King’s The Stand. Eerie and bombastic, and with Lanegan’s (Ex-Screaming Trees) famed dirt road of a voice, Blues Funeral is sonic death, but it’s not all doom and gloom, at least as far as the sonics are concerned. Lanegan utilizes all sorts of fancy electronic touches and isn’t afraid to dip a toe or two into dance music (Ode To Sad Disco and a few more). Of course the lyrics are mostly about death, madnes and destruction, but they’re also about hope, and redemption. The perfect balance. I suspect this one will spend the rest of the year climbing my chart, inch by bloody inch. BEST SONGS: “The Gravedigger’s Song”, “Ode To Sad Disco”, “Harborview Hospital”.

#?. RUSH: Clockwork Angels

Comes out in a couple of weeks, ain’t heard it yet, but just know it’s gonna make the list. RUSH doing a concept album about steam punk this late into their career (this will be their 19th…yes, 19th…album, and maybe their last. Comes out mid-June. I’ll let you know what I think in July. BEST SONGS: Don’t know yet, but there will be plenty!

…and 2 fairly new ones I haven’t had the chance to really listen to yet…


Here We Go Magic: A Different Ship

…and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Aufheben: The last couple of albums were a letdown, but I will hold out some hope for this one by one of the most fiercely independent and creative bands on the planet.

I’ll let you know!


BEST REISSUES

#1. Simple Minds: X5

I forgot how amazing these guys were. Anything after New Gold Dream isn’t worth a damn, and most SM fans would agree with me, but these 5 albums contain some of the most exciting (still!) music of the ’80’s. Scratch that. No, some of the most exciting music of any decade. They went and ruined it, of course, but these albums are a testament to how damn effing good they were back in the day. Even the debut, naive as it is, sounds like a better Roxy Music album than what that band was putting out at the time. And the price is right, at only $35 for 6 CD’s! BEST SONGS: “Changling”, “Thirty Frames a Second”, “This Fear Of Gods”, “I Travel” and anything off the album New Gold Dream.

#2. Underworld: Anthology

Another great ’90’s electronic band, possibly the greatest. Kings of the slow burn, and most of the songs still hold up today. Three disks, beautiful packaging, full versions and rarities make this the one really essential purchase for Underworld (but you need Dubnobasswithmyheadman as well). BEST SONGS: “MMM Skyscraper I Love You”, “Dirty Epic”, “Born Slippy NUXX”, “The Big Meat Show”.

#3. My Bloody Valentine: Loveless and Isn’t Anything

I’l be honest; I didn’t really ‘get’ My Bloody Valentine for years. Sounded like a beautiful noise, but for a “tune” and melody guy like me it never spent that long in rotation. There were other, more immediate releases that held my attention. But, like all the best albums, this one has grown on me and I can now appreciate it. I think the problem is that you can’t listen to the individual songs ’cause you just won’t get it. It’s a whole piece and must be consumed as such. BEST SONGS: As I said, you can’t listen to this album as “songs”, but if I had to pick one: “Soon”.

#4. Paul and Linda McCartney: RAM

Time has a funny way of rehabilitating albums and RAM is an excellent example. Critics hated it, Beatles fans hated it; now everyone loves it, citing it as the first true ‘indie’ record, which it most certainly is. It’s all over the place as far as continuity goes, with little acoustic strum-alongs (Heart Of The Country, Too Many People) sitting side by side with McCartenyesque rockers (Eat At Home), and, of course, there’s Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. Worthy of a reissue, then? You bet. His best, next to Band On The Run, IMHO.

BEST COMPILATION

MOJO music mag from the UK puts these compilation albums out periodically as freebies when you buy the printed version of the magazine (remember print, boys and girls?). They hand pick various artists to give their renditions of a track from the original, and this one is pretty interesting. Worth seeking out.  Some work really well (this, The Wall) and some don’t (Sticky Fingers, Abbey Road).  Here’s the complete track listing:

SAINT ETIENNE Wouldn’t It Be Nice
MAGNETIC NORTH You Still Believe in Me
THE SAND BAND That’s Not Me
TIM BURGESS Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
JEFFREY LEWIS (w/Wooden Wand & Janet Simpson) I’m Waiting for the Day
NEIL COWLEY TRIO Let’s Go Away for Awhile
TOM McRAE AND THE STANDING BAND Sloop John B
THE FLAMING LIPS God Only Knows
LES LIMANANAS I Know There’s an Answer
JODIE MARIE Here Today
GAZ COOMBES I Just Wasn’t Made for These…
HUMAN DON’T BE ANGRY Pet Sounds
HERE WE GO MAGIC Caroline No
SUPERIMPOSERS Trombone Dixie

BEST REDISCOVERIES , or, “How the hell did I miss these first time around?”

Metronomy: The English Riviera

The band has toned down their spastic tendencies, stopped trying to be Talking Heads and released an album of catchy and inventive pop songs that sound like you’d expect…kind of. There’s enough surprises to keep your interest for multiple plays. Hard to get this one out of the CD player, actually.

Thomas Dolby: A Map Of The Floating City

A welcome return. Critics blasted this one, but I love it. Classic Dolby, which means stellar production, great pop hooks and atmospherics up the ying/yang. A concept album of sorts, the album is broken up into three “sections”…Urbanoia, Amerikana, and Oceanea…, but never once does it sound pretentious. Why this guy isn’t revered as the Brian Eno of out time is beyond me.

Sigur Ros: Agaetis Byrjun

Man, it took me YEARS to finally get this album.   Ethereal is a word that is overused in record reviews, but here it really and truly applies. Alien, strange and extremely beautiful, Agaetis Byrjun sounds like nothing before or since. Truly an original act.

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