Sunday, January 27, 2013

100 Resolutions



“Where have I been all your life?
Sitting on fences, a Novocain for all the senses
Another year will pass us by
Making sense of nothing in defense of something
I laughed too late and dug myself into a grave”



7:58 AM 3rd floor

Filling out more health history paperwork. I can fill these things out in my sleep. I love how on the MRI questionnaire, they ask if you’ve had surgery (yes, or no) and if so, “list.” The space given for “list” is tiny. It always makes me laugh, though I would hope that most people check ‘no.’ I’ve developed a special method of providing all of my past surgeries using a tiny shorthand to squeeze all the info into the single spaced line provided, despite knowing that no one ever looks at these things. This morning I am distracted by one of the receptionists at the radiology desk. She is really really pretty, her smile is friendly, her voice is amazing and she’s dressed up like people just don’t generally do much anymore. Why do I have such a thing for medical receptionists? I spent a good part of last summer trying to win over my nephrologists’ receptionist who also happened to be in the bowling league I temporarily joined. That didn’t go well, and now, I’m sure that my constant glancing at this receptionist over the top of the clipboard in my hand is completely creeping her out. I’m waiting for a quiet moment to return the useless form to her, but the steady stream of fellow scan patients keep flowing in. It seems odd to me that there are so many people scheduled for MRI’s, CT scans, ultrasounds, PET Scans, and the like and that the waiting room was designed to only allow for a few feet of space for patients to wait in line between the “Stop Here for Patient Confidentiality” sign and the door into the clinic (Really? Like we can’t hear any conversation from 4 feet away? Is this TV world where side conversations seem to go unnoticed by people in the same room?). It amazes and saddens me that these places are so busy at all.


8:16 AM 3rd floor

The MRI tech brought me to the changing room area, where I would normally dump all of my things and climb into my favorite tie-in-the-back dressing gown and a pair of grey grippy socks. Instead I was told to wait here until the radiologist could come ask me some questions. After all of these years, I don’t think I’ve actually ever spoken with a radiologist. I normally deal with the techs and those dreamy receptionists. One other person has already gotten started, as one of the eight changing rooms has clothes piled up on the bench. I’m sitting directly across from the clothes in the room opposite with the curtain open wondering why this person didn’t use one of the lockers that are provided. I’m also wondering if I should be using one of the lockers. Maybe I misunderstood? Maybe I’m supposed to be getting changed? They didn’t give me a gown. An attractive blond woman, the apparent owner of the clothes, strides by from the scanning area and is startled by my presence as she catches sight of me in her periphery. Once again, I feel like an unbelievable creep, sitting silently in a changing room with the curtain open. It’s unfortunate, because I’m harmless and was placed here through circumstance. Somehow, I don’t think it would’ve helped my case if I had sat in here with the curtain drawn. I’ll just keep my head lowered writing this while I wait for the radiologist. The woman across the way changes quickly and rushes out the door. Maybe security will greet me soon instead.


9:57 AM 1st floor

Another MRI done. This one was quicker than usual. Maybe advances in technology are finally speeding these things up. The jackhammer noises seem a little softer around the edges. I used to imagine that these sounds were a source of inspiration for the old industrial bands I used to like so much back in the late 80s and early 90s and that I could hear music inside the noise. The vice grip cage around the head and claustrophobic oppression of the machine have not changed, however, which leaves the oppression and discomfort at high levels. After doing these things for the last 20 plus years though, I just doze off nowadays.

My new receptionist crush was not at the desk once I was released. I was going to ask her to validate my parking (I remember when I used to love turning almost any sentence into terrible double entendres), in lieu of actually asking her out or engaging her in any kind of personal way in order to save her from my general terribleness. Too bad. Now do I go grab a quick bite to eat at the café or keep sitting around in the lobby unintentionally spooking out more innocent bystanders? Since the IV contrast always leaves me feeling full and mildly nauseous, I think I’ll keep writing until my next appointment.

What am I going to do with this year? I suppose if the results of my MRI are bad, my year will be waylaid by some surgery or a procedure with more radiation, but I’m pretty sure everything will be stable. What concerns me though is that the turn of the calendar generally comes with some optimism. It offers a chance to reflect on what has passed and what kind of goals I’d like to achieve during the upcoming year. Instead, I am left feeling completely adrift. I’ve never been a New Year’s Resolution kind of person, but I like to have a few general goals to focus on during the date change. Last year I was focused on being more social and active and I was. I was out and about last year more than I’ve been since I was in my twenties, but by the time the rainy and cold weather arrived with darkness, I have found myself wanting to avoid almost any kind of interaction. Last year, I had hopes that my job would continue to improve and help me find some kind of financial stability, but by the end of the year, my job had me feeling stressed, irritated, and broke – despite working a relentless schedule. Last year I had planned on doing a lot more writing, and I did. I wrote and completed at least a piece every couple of weeks and I spent a huge amount of time at the end of the year writing about my favorite music of 2012, and it all left me wondering why I write at all. I’m not very good, I don’t generally enjoy the process, and when I do share it, about 85% of the traffic to the blog site comes from some spam website. All of this has been very discouraging. I honestly don’t know what to do next. Some friends have mentioned that writing a journal might help get my weird need to write out of my system, so that’s why I brought a pad of paper and a pen with me today, but journaling in the past has always been fleeting after I tire of berating myself on paper for a few entries. Not sure what to do. Not sure what to look forward to. I need a spark. I need a resolution.


10:24 AM 8th floor

Neurosurgery waiting room and another useless form on a clipboard. This time the receptionist is some twenty something guy who called me “bro,” which always brings a smile to my face. He then gets up and leaves. I wonder if he was really an employee. He seemed too friendly. I have always hated this specific appointment. It has very little to do with any potential nerves regarding my test results, but everything to do with the pain of the appointment itself. Everything about visiting this doctor has always been terrible. The scheduling process with “Todd” is always difficult, frustrating and awful. This time it only took about three weeks to get something set, but there have been times when getting an MRI and follow-up has taken 15 to 20 calls to achieve. He rarely answers his phone and when he does, he is always short and mildly rude before declaring that he will call back with the appointment times. This rarely actually happens. Once the appointment has been secured, the visit itself has always been an ordeal. It generally starts with the useless form and an epic wait before finally being led back to an exam room by a nursing assistant who collects vital signs and asks questions that were on the form about medications and pain levels before lying about how the doctor will see me in a few minutes. I have previously written about a typical wait in these exam rooms before (seen here), which can become so long and harrowing that I am not sure that I leave with all of my faculties. When the doctor actually arrives, he brings with him an air of a major God Complex and four or five students. He did do an amazing job with the dangerous brain cyst removal when I was quickly and painfully losing my motor skills, so I do feel a fondness for him, despite his demeaning arrogance (Stockholm syndrome?). Actually the last few years, he hasn’t even bothered to spend those two minutes with me telling me that there have not been any significant changes with the six cysts that they are monitoring. Instead a few students have been sent in to do this effortless deed, along with confusing and inaccurate information, since they have no idea who I am.

I set the clipboard on the unguarded receptionists’ desk and wonder if the entire staff went out for brunch. I should be thankful. This is still better than the alternative. This 7+ year stretch without a surgery is the longest I’ve gone without since my first 13 years.


lyric quote from the Lawrence Arms

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top 40 of 2012 Part IV

10.

Now, Now
Threads
Dead Oaks EP
(Trans-)

This Minnesota three piece forced their way into my consciousness as a pleasant surprise this year – thanks to a tip of a Facebook friend’s post (yes, this works for promotion – word of mouth!). That song happened to be the standout breath of fresh air “Threads.” Now, I will admit up front, that this is still my favorite song on the album. It is such a perfect song. It is at once atmospheric and driven with urgent momentum. Lyrically, the metaphor of the thread and the ease of pulling it to “watch it unravel” is excellent. This song could easily fit right in with anything off of Lush’s creative highpoint 1994’s Split. It turns out Threads is their second long player – first for Chris Walla’s Trans- label. They used to be known as Now, Now Every Children and their debut is actually worth checking out. Threads, however, is a big step forward. They have an incredible knack for finding a succinct way to communicate the confusing and frustrating habits that we all form in relationships. You know those little things that we do unconsciously (sometimes) to sabotage everything? Or more commonly, there are prime examples of self sabotage everywhere by not letting go, when it is time to move on – as in the true album opener and standout “Prehistoric” (“I’ll say that I’ve been trying to move on, but we both know I’m not”), or settling for less in the melancholic “But I Do” (I am what you need when you can’t find it somewhere else / I am what you want when you don’t want anything else”), or in the resigned sigh of “Separate Rooms” (“I’ll stay right here and carry you / While you clear your head and I grind my teeth”). Musically, this is all fairly solid too. Their best moments come when they strive for big dramatic moments and there aren’t enough of those here for me. Sometimes the songs bog down a bit – partially due to the overly heavy snare sound throughout, but that is a minor squabble that is more about production than anything. This is excellent and definitely a band to keep an ear out for.

Their Trans- label debut is the Dead Oaks EP, which is three songs, but two of them are on the album (“Dead Oaks” and “School Friends”), so it’s not really worth seeking out. However, “Dead Oaks” is a fun short dry strummer that conveys the longing of missing someone from far away, while “School Friends” is an encapsulation of a confusing noncommittal guy and someone who probably shouldn’t be interested in him “You have a girlfriend, but she’s not your girlfriend”). The only non LP track is the slow dragging “Shifting,” which is clearly B material and for completists only. This song is also available on a Record Store Day split 7” with label mates The Lonely Forest (2011’s #15 pick seen here, who offer up an alternate version of their song “Woe is Me” that really rocks!).
(nownowband.com)

Now, Now-Thread




9.


Corin Tucker Band
Kill My Blues
(Kill Rock Stars)

The second album from Corin Tucker’s Band is kind of a second comeback already. When she released 1,000 Years in 2010 (my #5 pick seen here), she was throwing off four years of public dormancy after the demise of her legendary band Sleater-Kinney. Though an excellent album full of deeply felt songs, it is a tad stiff and sterile sounding, which sometimes can happen when trying to make the perfect album. That was her first comeback, now we have the band as a four piece and some touring under their belt and some genuine cohesiveness and life! This album is a return to the rock and some outright joy musically. There is out and out fun to be had in the energetic summer songs “Summer Jams” and “Neskowin” (which hits home since I grew up a few miles south of this quaint and mostly unspoiled coastal community). No need to worry though, it’s not all fun and games, because Tucker has not abandoned her unceasing ability to tackle big time issues with the deftest touch possible. The opening “Groundhog Day” addresses her disappearance from the world of music during a stretch where women’s rights and personal freedoms have been under warped political scrutiny, which is when the world needed her strong voice the most. The album starts with the line “Huh? Que pasa? I’ve just woken up like Rip Van Winkle in a denim mini skirt,” and then continues to question what happened: “Did I lay down? Did I fall asleep on the backs of the women who have come before me?” The big celebration, however, is that her big voice and guitar are back up front and in your face and in the red and with a feeling that she’s back from her hibernation for good!
(corintuckerband.com)


Corin Tucker Band-Neskowin




8.

Standard Fare

Out of Sight, Out of Town
(Melodic/Thee Sheffield)
“At the Lake” 7”
(Where it’s at is Where You Are)

I’ve had this album the entire year, but it wasn’t till the end of the summer that its magic fully cast its spell on me. Standard Fare’s debut album, The Noyelle Beat (2010’s #3 pick seen here), was an instant and massive favorite. The band’s enthusiasm and exuberance, along with some neat songwriting, made for an indie pop classic that has ruled my little music world ever since. Maybe my expectations were too high for the second long player, because although I liked what I heard, it didn’t grab me as much. However, after a lot of listens and some reflective late summer moments, and the release of a non-LP 7” (see below), I realized that this one is more fully realized and consistent than the first. This is the sound of a young band solidifying its craft and preparing for what comes next (I hope). Lyrically, these boys and girl find a way to weave compelling love/lust stories with tiny details that make their characters come alive. They have painted an interesting world that reeks of a small young incestuous group of friends who may all be way too close, but it sure is fun to listen in on their adventures! Maybe the end of the summer connection makes me think of the cliché childhood question ‘what did you do this summer?’ and these songs feel like an answer - almost like adventures from a camp – but from the perspective of the lustful counselors instead of the kids. This collection includes their two cool a-sides from 2011, the odd end of the world “Suitcase” and their slow down and step back “Darth Vader,” but the new ones, like the opening “The Look of Lust,” (“You look at me right at me/ act like you’re listening/ I keep on talking/ don’t think you’re paying attention”), and the fresh new love of “05-11-07” (“This has been building up for weeks / tonight I’ve got this feeling”) are exciting and involving. Then we find Emma Kupa (whose vocals continue to marvel and entice in a way that I cannot quite place, other than to say that her spirit is greater than her technical ability) cautioning a friend on “Older Women” (“They’ll have you bending to their will / just for some cheap thrill / and they’ll drop you when they’re done”), while guitarist Danny How takes over lead vocals on the club/ one night stand centered “Call Me Up.” This is so much fun and solid from start to finish.
(standardfare.co.uk)

I’m pretty sure it was the summertime release of Standard Fare’s entry into the intriguing singles club that label Where it’s at is Where You Are started this year (The club released seven 7” singles on the 7th day of 7 different months of the year – or some such deal) that not only rekindled my growing love affair with this band, but the second album. These three non-LP songs are definitely not album throwaways or filler either. All of them are catchy and fun numbers that could’ve easily made the album. My favorite is the catty “Girlfriend.” This is worth the effort to track down, as well as some of the other singles from the club.
(wiaiwya-7777777.blogspot.com)


Standard Fare-Suitcase




 
7.

The Icicles

Renegade Parade
(Microindie)

The magical Icicles entered my world sometime in the spring of 2005 when I first heard their snappy addictive song “I Wanna Know” from their 2004 first LP A Hundred Patterns and I was hooked. Most people will unknowingly be aware of them from their bouncy “La Ti Da” which appeared in a Target ad not long after its release (on 2007’s Arrivals and Departures). “La Ti Da” is a good indicator of this band’s earliest material. They have always been a fun bunch with some light-hearted catchy tunes and matching hand sewn outfits all around. Their “Gedge’s Song,” which is about a cat wishing it could go outside and play, is about as melancholic as they would get. Now, after a five year hiatus, The Icicles return with a big album that is heavy on the melancholy, and a major sense of feeling lost, uncertain and unfulfilled. The opening salvo “Numb” finds the narrator, lead singer Gretchen DeVault, stating “I begin to feel numb / I am no longer young.” Meanwhile, the stunning and dramatic song “Would You Know” begins with the lines “Feeling so suffocated the walls are closing in on me / Too many people / I can no longer breathe / Maybe I could go / would you ever know / if I left today,” letting us know that things are not the same anymore, but who can deny the sheer power and beauty of the lush, dreamy and spooky keyboard waves from Joleen Rumsey that punctuate the end of each downtrodden verse of this magnificent song? Breathtaking. The entire opening of the album is an absolute stunner! “Night Drive” glides along with some positive feeling as we take a refreshing and reflective late night drive, while during the next song we learn that we are riddled with “Insomnia.” Even by track seven, a song named “Smile, Smile, Smile” of all things, includes at least the third reference to ‘walls closing in,’ while our narrator is “driven to the brink.” Much like “Night Drive,” “Bernadine” finds some joy in small things – in this case a change of season from fall to winter – but here it sounds more hopeful than satisfied. It isn’t until the tenth song that we find a truly happy sounding song with the travel song “This is it.” Here we’re led on a contented drive in the sunny southwest that feels warm and welcoming. This is absolutely a stunning and beautiful album and quite a surprise. I never thought that my go to rainy day album of the year would be from Michigan’s Icicles! My only issue is that the album is a little too long. It loses focus after what would be a perfect closer in “This is it.” The final four songs are fine, but they don’t quite fit. They feel like an unnecessary epilogue. Maybe these should’ve been saved for an EP that I would’ve happily shelled out money for. Those first 10 songs though are pure brilliance!
(theicicles.com)



6.


Evans the Death
Evans the Death
“Telling Lies” 7”
“Catch Your Cold” 7”
(Fortuna Pop! / Slumberland)

Oh wow, this is exciting! These 12 tracks fly by with such a rollicking good time on this UK band’s debut album that I am already anxiously awaiting a second offering. These guys and gal throw themselves into every song with fun abandon making each song a short burst (only two songs crack the three minute mark) of energy and whatever emotions they’re trying to convey at the moment. Katherine Whitaker’s vocals are unique and rambling and all over the place and a highlight of the album (she takes a stab at her own voice with the lyric “I scratch you with my morning voice” on the appropriately titled “Morning Voice”). She is in full command of each song in the same way that Standard Fare’s Emma Kupa does and I have to say that I approve (she also reminds me of the woman from that Cold Case show)! The Standard Fare comparison isn’t too far afield either, because they share similarities from the 80s UK indie scene, but instead of the crisp clean approach of Standard Fare, Evans the Death is a looser drenched in reverb outfit. It’s also fitting that they are on Slumberland records here in the US, because there are moments (like the kick ass “Threads”) that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Black Tambourine 7” from 1992, while elsewhere their music and wild abandon rollercoaster arrangements can hint at that label’s Boyracer or Henry’s Dress from the mid 90s. The album deals mainly with the modest moments in our lives that affect each of us more than we’d like to know (“Sorry this was all I could afford / give me a shout if you feel bored / we could go out for a walk” – from “You’re Joking”). There are also some self effacing and funny sentiments throughout, as in the old before their time bitterness of “A Small Child Punched Me in the Face” (“I believe the children are the scourge of the earth….because this generation / is one generation / too many”), and the shut in tendencies of “I’m So Unclean” (“When I’m watching the shopping channel / I will think of you / When I’m making a sandwich / I will think of you”). I cannot recommend this enough - such a breath of fresh air.

The two singles are non essential, except for freaks like me. Both “Telling Lies” and “Catch Your Cold” are standouts from the LP, while the B-side to “Telling Lies” is simply a nice acoustic version of the album’s “Morning Voice.” It’s a great rendition, but it is missing the explosion of guitars halfway through. “Crying Song,” the B-side to “Catch Your Cold” meanwhile is probably their first real misstep as the song is a complete throwaway.
(evansthedeath.co.uk)

Evans the Death-I'm So Unclean




5.

Dum Dum Girls

End of Daze EP
(Sub Pop)

This release was so incredibly necessary for me. If anyone has ever read this terrible blog I occasionally toss around, you may know that I had a profound experience at a Dum Dum Girls show (2 actually) this year. The immense sadness of the beautiful songs on 2011’s Only in Dreams (#4 pick seen here) crushed me and astounded me at the same time (for more madness, see post here). They also played a short song that was haunting me in a different way. It was so damn catchy that I somehow felt like I knew the song the very first time I heard it. I searched lyrics that I remembered from the show on the web the next day hoping that it was a post punk classic from my childhood and hoping to find the original - but no such luck (keep in mind that these girls have shown impeccable taste with their choice of covers). Finally, early this fall, this release gave me the answers about the mystery song and a format to listen to it any time I choose – and choose I do over and over again. More on this song later. How cool is it that the Dum Dum Girls release genuine stand alone EPs? Most people probably don’t care, but I love it. It reminds me of the old non-LP singles that would pop up out of the blue from the likes of the Smiths and New Order, or those incredible EPs from the so-called shoegaze era from My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Moose, Lush, Ride, etc. I keep getting sidetracked. This five song collection opens with three songs recorded back around the time of Only in Dreams and it is clear. The opening “Mine Tonight” is a heavy brooder that is still stuck in that album’s struggles with death and dying (“Will I dream tonight / there’s nothing left / there is no light”), while “I Got Nothing” ups the tempo a little, but remains resolute to dwell in sorrow and emptiness (“I close my eyes / and recall the time / things weren’t so wrong”). The middle track is a cover of Scottish new wavers Strawberry Switchblade’s “Trees and Flowers,” which continues the sadness (“For I hate the trees / and I hate the flowers / and I hate the buildings / and the way they tower over me”). Dee Dee even removes the slow little shuffle beat from the original and goes it alone with a slowly picked heavily affected (or is that effected?) haunting guitar. The final two songs are more recent recordings after lots and lots of touring and they begin to show some signs of recovery. “Lords Knows” cruises along at a deliberate pace, and has a powerful and heartbreaking chorus. It seems to be about realizing that there is some hope in life with those that we love and who love us who are still around. In other words, it’s time to look up from the depths of mourning loss and embrace what we still have. Finally, the EP closes with the aforementioned mystery song, “Season in Hell,” and its redemptive power is so therapeutic. From the harsh quivering reverbed guitar strum that starts this song to the pounding drive of Sandy’s excellent drumming; this short song is nothing short of perfect. Dee Dee croons “From shards of broken hearts / and tears from desert eyes / something new is redeemed” and it sends chills throughout my body during the opening verse, but that is nothing compared to the big final statement of “Doesn’t the dawn look divine? / Yes, doesn’t the dawn look divine” that is an exhale over top of a chorus of background voices and shimmering tambourine. I can and do listen to this song over and over and imagine that I will do so for a long time coming. The Dum Dum Girls have an excessive amount of heart and soul and seem to get better with each successive record. This is a must have.
(wearedumdumgirls.com)


Dum Dum Girls-Lord Knows
     4.  

Abecedarians

Eureka 2 LP+CD
(Pylon)

I have been waiting, hoping and daydreaming for the last 21+ years that this release would happen and lo and behold it finally has! In January of 1991 I received my first package from the venerable LA based Independent Project Records and their subscription based “Archive Series.” These limited edition 10” vinyl EPs were housed in Bruce Licher’s amazing and beautiful hand printed sleeves and the music would prove to open up a whole new world of music for me. The first two installments for this series were from For Against (their experimental In the Marshes collection, which is among the best work from the legendary Nebraska post punk band) and a double 10” collection titled The Other Side of the Fence by a mysterious California band I had never heard of named Abecedarians. The collection was made up of twelve previously unreleased recordings recorded between 1983 and 1985. I played those records to death – so much so that I had to buy a second copy. I recorded the songs onto cassette and played that till the tape wore thin and broke. The Other Side of the Fence (along with Mark Eitzel’s solo acoustic Songs of Love Live) was my favorite record of all of 1991 and has held a strong grip on me ever since. Maybe it was the mystery. Who were these guys and how could they make such powerful music with so little notice? What was the deal with their strange cross logo? Why did they name themselves after a 16th century sect who rejected human knowledge in favor of visions received directly from God (sounds eerily familiar)? Along the way I was able to track down Caroline Records’ 1988 CD collection, AB-CD, combining songs from their whopping three total releases. Then I finally found their first LP, 1998’s Resin on used vinyl, along with the drastically different version of one of my all-time favorite songs (as I had known it from the IPR 10”) “They Said Tomorrow” on the Scream LA band compilation. I was never able to track down their 1985 debut 12” single on Factory Records (“Smiling Monarchs” – included here and one of only two US bands to ever get a Factory release), or their US debut six track EP Eureka. Well, after this long-winded history lesson that can only possibly be interesting to me, here it is! Pylon Records has graciously released not only the EP, but they’ve added the two songs from the Factory 12”, as well as 6 of those songs from the IPR collection (available on CD for the first time ever!).

Not a lot of this material is new to me, but it is so damn good to hear these songs again that it has been a refreshing breath of air during these dark days of December (this was just released on December 4th). This is, however, my first chance to hear the EP version of the oddly titled and absolutely amazing “Beneath the City of the Hedonistic Bohemians,” as well as the very first time I’ve heard the original EP closer “Misery of Cities,” which greatly recalls the airy drive of Joy Division’s “These Days.” This is the first glimpse of where they may have been coming from stylistically. They are a tried and true post-punk band with a fondness for guitar effects pedals. The previously mentioned “Beneath the City…” has a rapid and heavy bass drum drive that keeps the A Flock of Seagulls style of fluttering waves of bass and guitar from floating away. Chris Manecke’s vocals are deep and rich and they write some obtuse open ended lyrics that are ripe for interpretation, or to simply allow the listener to fill in the blanks to create their own story. Also, John Blake’s creative bass playing often finds itself as the lead instrument, much like pioneer Peter Hook, but Blake takes his bass lines into many different directions from song to song. Check out the low end slow fills crossed with sharp plucks in the epic “Ghosts,” or the busy electronic effects of the two Factory songs “Smiling Monarchs” and “Benway’s Carnival.” Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the unique rolling drumming style of Kevin Dolan, which not only keeps the other two in check (let’s just say that many of these songs find a mesmerizing groove and tend to luxuriate in them), but colors each song with a different hue – helping make this a remarkably diverse band with a strong recognizable sound all their own. I could go on and on about these songs and to many I have. I could talk about how the soft and floating “Ghosts,” the creepy dirge “Soil,” or the pan flute introduced “I Glide” have guided me through long late night drives on creepy dark densely forested Oregon highways and byways. And though I am normally one who prefers his songs concise and to the point, the Abecedarians willingness to experiment and fixate on whatever stunning sound they’ve created for a longer stay, only makes me happier. Having said that, it’s the more pop oriented songs like “Beneath the City of the Hedonistic Bohemians,” the New Order-esque (circa Power, Corruption and Lies) “Switch,” and the two heartbreaker’s “They Said Tomorrow,” and “Wildflower,” that have literally brought tears to my eyes with their nervous and itchy bass and guitar interactions, urgent atmospheric keyboard layers, and excellent scene setting lyrics (“This is the gutter I was made to stay in / life is so empty for me / I looked at the girl and explained / wild flowers grow from the trash”). This stuff inspires me, makes me want to be creative and to dream bigger dreams. I am glad that these songs are no longer so inaccessible, because this is a secret that should no longer be kept.

By the way, this is available on CD, as well as double 12” vinyl, and if you order directly from Pylon Records, there are a limited number of the vinyl editions that come with a six track CD, which includes the remaining six songs from The Other Side of the Fence IPR release. This includes superior versions of “Beneath the City…” and “Ghosts,” as well as the catchy, but rough unfinished sounding “Come Out” and as well as a couple of nice short instrumentals. Highly recommended! Now will there be a second release covering the Resin material as well as some unearthed gems? I hope I hope….
(pylonrecords.com)


Abecedarians-Misery of Cities



3.


exlovers

Moth 2 CD
(Young and Lost Club)

Finally! I don’t know what took so long, but I’ve been waiting for this LP since 2010. It was early that year that I ran into their “Photobooth” 7” and “You Forget so Easily” 10” EP (#15 pick of 2010 seen here), then they teased again with a brilliant 7” early last year (“Blowing Kisses” 2011’s #6 pick seen here), and again with a free download near the end of the year (“Starlight, Starlight”), but no debut album! I was beginning to believe that it may not happen. Well, it did, and it is spectacular! Much like last year’s Joy Formidable “debut,” the unfortunate part for us who have already put some time and investment in the older material is that half of this album is made up of those songs. However, they have flown under the radar for so long that it makes perfect sense to put together a proper debut with eleven amazing songs. This gets going with the aforementioned “Starlight, Starlight,” which mildly reminds of the Stars via Lush song “Ageless Beauty,” with its chiming keyboards and dreamy vocals. Then we get a couple of new songs with “This Love Will Lead You On,” which recalls the woodsy acoustics and howling guitar layers of first LP House of Love, and it’s lyrical mirrored cousin: the catchy “Emily.” Sprinkled in through the rest of the album are some of the old singles like the stellar “Just a Silhouette,” which is pure poetry with its detailed guitar picks and drunken regrets; and who can overlook the perfection that is the timeless pop classic “You Forget So Easily;” and the driving smasher “You’re So Quiet” (the production from Stephen Street on this song is so much beefier than the remainder of the album it begs the question: why isn’t the entire album done by him?). Lyrically these songs dwell in heartbreak and simultaneous desire for isolation, which is a dichotomy best presented in the beautiful “Unlovable” – a song that is somehow both tragic and uplifting at the same time (“The more I hide the less I can see / here in your arms / everything dies / there’s dust in my mouth and mist in my eyes”). Exlovers to me have drawn from a lot of sources that I really love (and I still contend that the dual vocals of Laurel and Peter recall the one album wonder Everything Last Winter from Fields from a few years ago - #6 for me in 2007), but they sound incredibly fresh. They are smart and nothing here is wasted – though I am curious why the feedback transition between “Just a Silhouette” and “Blowing Kisses” is chopped off! They are clearly meant to merge together, but instead there is an abrupt gap between the two. I suppose in this world of downloads, this is another sign of the loss of “albums,” which are meant to be heard as a whole. At any rate, I am hoping that unlike Fields, exlovers find the will to keep going. I will try my best to be patient for album number two in 2016. Too many complaints from me – this album is a must-have!

The second disc is made up of 4 really nice acoustic versions of standout songs from the LP. The most notable is the super slowed down version of “You’re So Quiet.”
(exlovers.co.uk)


exlovers-Emily




2.

Allo Darlin’

Europe
“Capricornia” 7”
“Europe” 7”
“Northern Lights” 7”
Covers 10” EP
(Fortuna Pop/Slumberland)
“Only Dust Behind” 7”
(Where it’s at is Where You Are)

Full disclosure: I am absolutely smitten with the sublime voice of Elizabeth Morris, the Australian front woman for Allo Darlin.’ She manages to wring so much heartfelt sincerity out her fantastic short story lyrics. Europe is a marked improvement over their 2010 self-titled debut, but in a subtle indescribable way. Where that album was okay to good, this one is outstanding from start to finish all without messing with the foundation or formula. Maybe this is a case where practice makes perfect. At any rate, the part that I hate is the comparisons – the ‘who do they sound like?’ portion of the review. Well, there are many possible touchstones. The overall feel leaves me with a similar wistful and hopeful vibe of the late 80s Go-Betweens (with Amanda Brown), while Morris’ vocals recall the warmth of sentimental honesty of The Lucksmiths’ Tali White and Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell when she’s at her sparest moments. Paul Rains’ delicate and busy guitar work brings to mind the tasteful layering of Smiths-era Johnny Marr, while the rhythm section provide a controlled runaway essence that are the lovelorn musings of Morris and don’t get me started on the deep low end lushness that Bill Bottling’s bass lines provide. Need I go on? Whoever I compare this to; it will be one of the all-time greats. These ten tracks all act as little postcards from different parts of the world with varying stages of romantic longings and separation attached to them. “Neil Armstrong” finds Morris struggling with the confusion of being in love, but with serious issues lying just underneath the surface (check out her subtle jab: “why did you say that you miss a simpler time / well so do I and I find myself pining for you”) and stated in the tight chorus “Well I am tired of feeling confused / and lest my words be misconstrued / I can’t separate what’s real but I know I believe in you.” Meanwhile, the lap steel touched “Some People Say” and the energetic “Wonderland” both perfectly captures the nuances of a budding romance. Every song here is fantastic and difficult for me to describe, because it wraps around me like a warm and comfortable broken in jacket. It’s kind of funny that my favorite song is here is the spare solo ballad “Tallulah” (name checking the Go-Betweens’ 1987 classic perhaps?) by Morris, since I love the full arrangements so much. She strums her ukulele and she tells a mournfully lonely tale of separation and a need to run away to brighter pastures (“and I wonder if you would go there with me / when I’m finished over here / if you’re not finished with me”). I think it’s the focus on that voice that I love so much that makes it stand out above the rest – not to mention the detailed and heartbreaking lyrics (“I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that will mean something / and I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that will mean something”). Okay I mentioned them. This is a beautiful spectacle and it feels like one of those albums that will continue to warm and break my heart for years to come.

What a busy year it was for these kids! They released three singles from Europe and hopefully have continued to win the hearts of people from all over the world. The summery strummer “Capricornia” makes for a fantastic lead off introduction single. It is energetic and holds the consistent depth of the album. The b-side “When You Were Mine” is a nice song, but clearly b material compared to that of the album. Next up appeared the “Europe” 7”, which is another album highlight, while the b-side takes the Nashville tinged “Some People Say” from the LP and turns it into a reverb drenched echo chamber slow motion dirge. This ‘alternate version’ gives the song a completely different feel and is worth investigating. Finally, the rocking “Northern Lights” was featured and again is truly the ‘pop song’ of the album. It too is upbeat and wistful and brimming with positivity – like a pep talk from a close friend. Meanwhile, this b-side, “Golden Age” is the best of the non-LP bunch with an addictive chorus. Excellent!

Allo Darlin’ also released late this year two more records. First appeared the Covers 10” EP, which is a compilation of past covers that they’ve released on compilations and such, along with two new ones. The new ones are the big standouts for me. They do the vaunted LP closer from the Go-Betweens’ all-time favorite 16 Lovers Lane – “Dive for Your Memory.” This is a faithful cover, but still of interest due to Morris’ beautiful voice. There’s also a cover of one of my favorite Eux Autres songs (see review elsewhere) from their 2007 album Cold City – “City All to Himself.” Also comes a heartfelt rendition of one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs (Nebraska’s “Atlantic City”), as well as the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” – when Morris was solo and went by the name The Darlings, and Darren Heyman’s fun “Wu Tang Clan.” If you can find this – get it! The last 7” EP is the December entry from the WIAIWYA 7777777 singles club (see elsewhere). “Only Dust Behind” is a soft dreamy wistful song that shows that they are still on a winning streak! The two b-sides are a little rougher around the edges, but “Dear John” is a frustrated lovesick song that is super catchy, and “Kings and Queens” closes this out with another tasteful tune. Whew.
(allodarlin.com)

Allo Darlin'-Northern Lights




1.


Bob Mould

Silver Age
(Merge)

My year started off by reading Bob Mould’s autobiography See A Little Light, which is solid, but it never crossed my mind how much facing his massive past would clear the way for him to reignite and release his best album since 1992’s Copper Blue (with Sugar). Mould seems genuinely at peace these days and he seems free and open to simply rock and rock he does! It’s not like he went away. His last three albums, since his surprising foray into electronic music (with 2002’s stepping stone Modulate and the full bore leap Long Playing Grooves, his one release under the pseudonym LoudBomb), have been good to great. Yet, much like Sugar’s debut felt fresh and revitalized after his first couple of dark and heavy and, frankly, amazing solo albums, this one does as well. In 1992 I claimed Copper Blue as that year’s best album in my old ‘zine and said this of Mould’s music: “the buzz is a part of his music. It is the melody. There is so much space and tunefulness in his guitar that the feedback isn’t there to hide behind or even to augment – it is everything.” Much like then, I could say the same thing about Silver Age. This time he is even more focused. Even the small distractions on that album are streamlined into a huge force that is a call to re-energize and re-engage. The tour de force starts off innocently enough with the mid-tempo solo rhythm guitar for a moment before the stellar force that is his touring band for the last few years (Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and Jason Narducy of the much missed Verbow on bass – check out both of these bands, if you aren’t familiar!) joins him with a pounding groove on “Star Machine,” a song about a rock sellout. Could it be a song about some generic big rock star story (think Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins or Axl Rose of Guns n Roses – “You tell the world you had to fire the band / Your little world has gotten out of hand”), or is it a some strange self-deprecating nod to himself in that he never had the chance to sellout, but freely admits in his book that he sometimes let his ego run a little awry? Never mind who it’s about, because it is the perfect beginning for what is to come, because it segues immediately into “Silver Age,” the ad-hoc thesis to what this is all about. Yeah, he’s gotten pretty old (52?!), but he’s still got some serious fire and vigor and can shred the shit out of anyone who has copped his sound over the last 30 years (“Stupid little kid wanna hate my game / I don’t need a spot in your hall of fame, no / what a fucking game, yo”). Then we get his usual third track – first single, “The Descent,” which is such a beauty that it sends shivers up my spine every time I hear it, and there is no volume loud enough to contain it. It is again self-analytical/critical about his career choices and maybe showing a tinge of regret about his electronic waylay (“I didn’t want to play the song / that gave people so much hope / I turned my back and turned away / here’s the rope that made me choke”) and maybe he’s now ready to embrace his life or what’s left of it as his world descends. What makes this song so magical, besides the fiery electricity barely contained in a pop song so timeless and catchy, is his own background harmonies that build an immense wall of depth mixed with his layers upon layers of chiming guitar noise. Jaw dropping. “Briefest Moment” seems to explore his earliest inspiration and drive which led to him getting into music inside another scorching punchy rocker that keeps the sound bleeding into the red. “Steam of Hercules” closes the first half and is the first opportunity to exhale as it slows down the tempo and focuses its attention on the stratosphere, much in the same way that Copper Blue’s closer “Man on the Moon” does. The second half unfolds in much the same way as the first. “Fugue State” opens as a mid-tempo bruiser with drum fills surrounding us before exploding into a brilliant speedy chorus, while I have a feeling that “Round the City Square” is the song that I kind of overlook now, but will one day realize is one of the best (much like Sugar’s “Fortune Teller,” which was a huge highlight from his tour this year!). “Angels Rearrange” cruises in with Mould’s deeper register atop a heavy wall of buzz and a tasteful exploratory bass-line before heading into a sing along chorus. The biggest highlights of the second side come with the two closing numbers. “Keep Believing” literally launches itself off the ground like a NASA space ship and Mould even gives us a positive message as he expresses his joy from finding inspiration in music and how important it is to “always keep believing.” Finally, the album ends, leaving us all exhausted and satisfied with another lyrically upbeat song, “First Time Joy,” which musically builds and builds piece by piece into a giant stomping crescendo. He’s done it again.
(bobmould.com)


Bob Mould-The Descent






That wraps up 2012!  I hope you enjoyed and that you'd be willing to share some of your favorites.


The remainder of the Top 40 of 2012 can be found via the following links:
 









Top 40 of 2012 Part III

20.

Veronica Falls
“My Heart Beats” 7”
(Slumberland)

Veronica Falls’ debut album (my 2011 #9 pick seen here) was quite an eye opener. If the year had just lasted a bit longer, I would hazard a guess that it would’ve risen higher than my random and arbitrary #9 ranking. Their spell-binding vocal harmonies and precisely strummed dry guitars adorn some incredibly timeless pop songs on top of some very dark lyrics. That is definitely the place to begin, if you’re unfamiliar, but for those of us needing a fresh fix this post tour single is quite an appetizer. “My Heart Beats” is easily as good as anything from that album. The low end rumbles and shakes its way through a very simple but powerful tune. It may be because the vocals are more upfront in this one, or how the guitars jangle and howl alternately, but this is a great sign that they are here for the long haul. The quiet reflective organ driven “Killing Time” is a request to spend time with someone who may or may not concur. It’s simple, but eerily heartbreaking. They have recently released a preview to their early 2013 album named “Teenage,” and it is worth a look too. Bring on the new album!
(veronicafalls.com)


Veronica Falls-My Heart Beats




19.

Nature Set
If I Crawl, You Crawl EP
(Dufflecoat)

I was hoping for a full album from these gals and guy after their fun and exhilarating 7” EP on Elefant Records last year (my 2011 #14 pick seen here), but I will have to make due with this 5 songer for the time being. Three of these songs appeared late last year on a split cassette release (with Former Lover – a project started by former Long Blondes’ guitarist songwriter Dorian Cox. The Long Blondes’ former bassist Reenie Hollis is now in Nature Set.), but I am glad they have been rescued from that horrible format. I know cassettes are kind of hip these days, but for those of us who were around when that was the biggest selling music format – believe me when I say that there is a good reason they are now mostly gone. Anyway, this EP opens right where last year’s single left off with the super 60s garage rock inspired organ infused “Avalanche” and it is superb! “If You Lived Here You’d Be home By Now” continues the organ fueled sound, but increases the pace and throws in some nice handclaps and their oddly high pitched background harmonies (luckily they keep those things low in the mix – they are a bit worrisome). “Hands” feels more like the bulk of the 7” from last year, as it would fit right in on an old Go-Go’s album, while “Albatross” brings back that organ (is that a farfisa? I don’t know these things) and a commanding vocal. “I Am a Planet” finishes this off with a punky burst of fun. Another excellent EP! Will there be an album in store for 2013?
(natureset.info)

Nature Set-Avalanche




18.



Rose Elinor Dougall
The Distractions EP
(download only)

Where might you have heard of Rose prior to this? She began her career as “Rosay,” one of the founders of the fantastic pop trio The Pipettes, 6 or 7 years ago. She was the bratty brunette with the rich voice. Now she’s out on her own and creating something very different from her old group. Early this year, Rose let slip a little three song download only EP titled The Distractions and it is definitely a step forward from her solid debut solo album – 2010’s Without Why. This set opens with the spectacular builder “The Night,” which opens with a twangy guitar line atop echoing layers of reverb and a slow groove from the rhythm section. It would fit right in with the best work on her debut – reminding a bit of the standout track “Find Me Out.” However, “The Night” is really a pairing of two different interpretations of the same set of lyrics, as about halfway through, the slow burn transitions into an upbeat head bobbing rocker crammed with stratospheric layers upon layers of high end guitars and a throbbing low end. The second song, “I’ve Always Known,” is the true single of the EP, as it’s bouncing beat and chiming guitars set the stage for a classic two timing lover story, where the narrator is simply resigned to let the cheater go. Finally, the final song is the choppy “Hanging Around” – my least favorite of the group, but one that has grown on me over time. The strong-handed electric strum drives this song right into a very strong chorus. Word has it that these songs were recorded shortly after Rose’s solo debut and is a stop gap release before her next album – but not a sign of things to come. I’m not sure what to make of this news, since the first two songs here would’ve been my favorites if they had made it onto Without Why and I so want to hear more like this! No matter the case, she has made a strong argument in favor of keeping an ear out for her future work. This is amazing.
(roseelinordougall.bandcamp.com/album/the-distractions-ep)


Rose Elinor Dougall-The Night




17.


Drakes Hotel
Logic Adopts Senses
(DH Music)

Okay, so this is the fourth album from the nomadic (I believe they are currently in Omaha, NE these days) married duo Drakes Hotel, but really this is their third offering, since their unknown debut is only a piece of ancient lore that is a closely guarded secret. Ever since their 2007 (sort of debut), Tell Me Everything (my #5 album of 2007), I have been hooked on their unique sound, which is somehow both a wall of noise and stripped down (I know – that makes no sense, but buy their music and do better, please!). Nothing on this reaches the urgent call to re-connect with reality as Tell Me Everything’s highpoint “Broadcast to the Addicted,” but “Kids R Chrome” is a close second as Amy Drake shouts at us to wake up to life over an electrifying guitar line before explaining the she thinks “the kids are sleeping” in the chorus – fantastic! The album is frontloaded with most of my favorites on the first half. The beautiful and mysterious sounding “Cillian” is a simmering song of full love, or is it obsession? You decide, as you soak in Chris Y’s creeping guitar work that reminds me of the experimental and otherworldly recordings from fellow Nebraskan’s For Against as found on their In the Marshes recordings. “From Over” and “Game Show Heart” should both be hit singles, as they are incredibly catchy and Drake’s vocals are, as always, intoxicating. Chris Y takes over the lead vocals on a pair of tough sounding songs “All My Days” (“Didn’t expect to kiss the bricks”) and “Told A Tale,” which adds to the incredible variety that these two conjure up with fairly simple recordings. That makes three great albums in a row.
(drakeshotelmusic.com)


Drakes Hotel-From Over



16.


The Twilight Sad
No One Can Ever Know
(Fatcat)

What can one say about the Twilight Sad? They are pretty much one of those acquired taste bands. They are so dark, claustrophobic and sinister that it’s difficult to sell the idea of them to anyone, unless they are already bought in on that style of music. All three of their albums are steeped in singer James Graham’s vague but tragic via innuendo words. There always seems to be some undercurrent of something that has happened that is so dark and unforgivable in his stories that it’s incredibly intriguing and allows the listener’s mind to fill in the blanks and most likely make it even darker. Until this third album, Andy MacFarlane’s huge waves of guitars have always added to their overwhelming edge by punctuating the unnerving words with blasts of noise and crescendos at just the right moment. It makes for something that can be incredibly cathartic and almost primal when listened to at deafening volumes, but it is definitely mood music. It takes a rare bird who can listen to this kind of thing at any old time. With No One Can Ever Know, the Twilight Sad has brought in noted remixer Andrew Weatherall to produce (or “anti-produce”) this work. What that has done is change the sound by bringing in layers of keyboards and placing those up front. Normally such a statement sounds like the death knell for a band looking to change things up a bit, but in this case it opens the door for more opportunity for growth. The sounds explored on the first two albums seemed to have the potential of closing in on itself. Now they have retained their heart and soul and expanded their horizons. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve written some of their best songs here either. The opener “Alphabet” is an intense pounder with howls of off-putting strange sounding keyboards that sweep back and forth, as Graham’s powerful chorus gives us a glimpse that things are still confused and messed up (“So sick to death of the sight of you now / Safe to say I never wanted you more”). It is definitely one of the songs of the year for me. It’s clear from the get-go that Weatherall’s guidance hasn’t effected the band’s intense focus of guiding their fans through some serious shit, as they do on the epic “Dead City,” the post OK Computer Radiohead-ish “Sick” and the amazing closer “Kill it in the Morning.” This all could fit in with best post-punk of the early 80s, like the Cure’s similarly oppressive and chilling Pornography. Again, one probably has to buy into this to begin with to appreciate it, but if you do, it is spectacular and their best work yet.
(thetwilightsad.com)


The Twilight Sad-Dead City




15.


Maximo Park
The National Health (2 CD)
(V2)

When this came out, I kept reading about how this was a comeback album for Maximo Park, which makes no sense to me. Maybe there was near break up news that I missed out on. I know there was a solo album or two floated about since 2009’s Quicken the Heart, but it was only three years between albums. Maybe that comeback reference had to do with a creative comeback. Again, a little confused, since they only have a small selection of four albums in seven years, and none of the prior three were weak. Sure, they have not achieved the full on frantic spectacular energy and captivating tunes of their amazing 2005 debut, A Certain Trigger, but each record has some very good songs. It could’ve been a reference to the breakneck preview single and title track “The National Health,” which rivals their early drive and passion and tosses in some timely words about today’s uncertain economy and a society that seems to be sinking into near total apathy and/or distraction. However, this album isn’t far removed from the more keyboard heavy third offering; Quicken the Heart, than anything from the first two. There’s nothing wrong with this though, because their nice guy heart on sleeve words suit the more lovelorn romanticisms and milder tempos of their more current material. In fact, a few of these songs delve into the realm of the gushing and breathy perfection of OMD’s 80’s classic “If You Leave.” “The Undercurrents” is so full of airy atmospherics, lush background vocals and Paul Smith’s striving melodramatic yearnings that it achieves the windswept heartbreak it wants. This is a compliment, by the way. They find other highs with similar songs on “Reluctant Love,” the regretful “This is What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” (“The biggest mistake of all / I didn’t return your call / the biggest mistake of all / my explanation stall”), and the low bass murmuring acoustic ballad “Unfamiliar Places.” Instead of a comeback, this feels much more like a continuing slow evolution of a solid band.

The second CD is comprised of four acoustic versions of album tracks. It’s nice to hear especially, “Hips and Lips” in this setting, because it is quite different from the odd passive aggressive slow roar of the album version (“the way you stick out your lips / and keep your hands on your hips / and I’m supposed to know...what that means”). Not essential, but a nice addition.
(maximopark.com)


Maximo Park-The Undercurrents




14.


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
“Jeremy” 7”
(Slumberland)

This is such a great treat! The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have been a favorite around here for the last few years (their 2011 album Belong was my #16 pick seen here), but I think their strength is as a singles band. Their songs of youthful energy are ideal in short bursts of rejuvenation that beg to be listened to over and over, as opposed to stuck in the long playing format. This time this young and fun band shines their sunshine onto two songs from two of my old favorites from 20 years ago. “Jeremy” is a forgotten gem from the Magnetic Fields’ second album (Distant Plastic Trees from 1992) and where on Stephin Merritt’s version it has a toy like orchestral sound; here the Pains bring on their rush of fresh air and rock the shit out of it! This, not only reminded me of how much I love that old Magnetic Fields album, but gave me a new version to love! The B-side is not to be missed either. It’s from the lesser known F.M. Cornog’s East River Pipe and his 1992 single rare sort of upbeat (for him) a-side “My Life is Wrong.” Again the Pains instill this old classic with chiming and buzzing fire and turn it into a power pop burner! Maybe if I send them requests they can revive a bunch of other lost classics from my old collection! Well done kids!
(thepainsofbeingpureatheart.com)


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart-Jeremy




13.


The Wedding Present
Valentina
(Scopitones)

This is the third album (8th overall) for the Wedding Present, since David Gedge’s hiatus with Cinerama for 8 or 9 years, around the turn of the century. Gedge, the band’s leader and only original member, has not changed his tune that much over the years. He still sings about love and lust and awkwardness over the top of dry and cleanly strummed guitars. Yet, somehow it can always find a way to sound fresh, despite their old tag-line “every song sounds the same.” However, sometimes it sounds fresher than others. I welcomed their return with 2005’s Take Fountain and ‘08’s El Rey, but both of those albums had a short shelf life with me. Neither one urged repeated plays over time, but Valentina sounds revitalized and is my favorite of theirs since 1996’s Saturnalia. Maybe it’s because both of these albums share a little bit of experimentalism and messing about with the tried and true formula. While Saturnalia introduced some old fashioned keyboard layers into the mix (a retro vision of the future kind of sound), Valentina adds an odd minute long burst of noise at the end of the frantic “Back a Bit…Stop,” and then throws us some dual drums on “End Credits.” The focus and unity of this album is what strikes me, as well as the welcome addition of more female vocals (thanks to now former member Terry De Castro and newcomer bassist Pepe Le Moko) to fill out his little love adventures. The album makes complete sense from start to finish – giving it an added vibrancy. But who can deny the joy of hearing Gedge’s consistent and never ending run of short stories about running into his next crush and the trials and tribulations that stem from there on out? It could get old if he weren’t so good at making it so damn relatable and human and filled with self deprecation (“You’re really way out of my league” from the stomping “Meet Cute”). After nearly 30 years of doing this, Gedge has been taking his band out on tour and revisiting high points from the past by performing favorite albums as whole sets, which is both excellent (as a fan of the old material) and a shame, because this new material is one of those high points and shouldn’t get the short shrift. Just check out the uplifting happy ending in “Mystery Date” – “No one could’ve been more surprised than me/ when you wrote your number down and said ‘call me at the first opportunity’/ because this does not happen to me/ things like this do not happen to me.” So good.
(scopitones.co.uk)

The Wedding Present-You Jane




12.


Young Galaxy
“Shoreless Kid” 7”
(Paper Bag)

Oh, this single is exactly what I needed to hear from Young Galaxy - a double A-sided good old fashioned vinyl single with two excellent brand new songs. Young Galaxy has released three albums beginning with 2007’s beautiful sweeping epic majesty of their self-titled debut (that year’s #12 pick for me) and, personally, as they’ve become more electronic with each successive release, my interest has dwindled. 2011’s almost entirely electronic Shapeshifting has a handful of excellent songs, but nothing as captivating as their first album, or the transition album Invisible Republic (2010’s #12 pick seen here). However, when YG get things right, they are so amazing that they will always find a loyalty well up inside of me. So, when this single emerged, I knew had to give them another chance. So glad I did, because the mostly electronic “Shoreless Kid” is a nice little 80s-ish dance number with a set of fantastic lyrics sung in unison by both lead vocalists - Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless - telling the story of an empty life that is so identifiable, it’s a little eerie (“headed to your bedroom / to hear your favorite songs / and dream of the day / when you finally slip away”). I love this song now and I would’ve loved it in 1985/86 when I was a huge Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys fan. This is smart and touching. The other a-side, finds YG giving us another catchy song that holds truer to their earlier work, but more upbeat. “Youth is Wasted on the Young” is another ode to losing oneself (a lonely and angsty self) in music. It drives and grinds like an early Cure single and the chorus gives us an amazing line – one that I so wish I had come up with: “I wouldn’t mind dying at all / if it weren’t for the songs I’d miss.” Maybe now that they’ve solidified a new rhythm section, this is a sign of a promising balanced direction of things to come. They are supposed to be working on that fourth album now and I am really excited for this one, based on this sampling.
(younggalaxy.com)


Young Galaxy-Shoreless Kid




11.


The Raveonettes
Into the Night EP
Observator
(The Orchard/Vice)

Normally I feature full albums in my reviews when reviewing an artist’s output for a year – not singles and EPs. In this case, The Raveonettes Into the Night four song EP is the reason why it is where it is in this silly countdown, why I purchased Observator the day it was released, and the reason I went to see them play live late this Summer. I’m not 100% sure why I purchased this EP in the first place. I liked the little bit of the Raveonettes that I’d heard, especially songs like “Last Dance” and their faithful cover of old favorite “My Boyfriend’s Back” originally by girl group the Angels in 1963. Maybe it’s because songwriter Sune Rose Wagner and “My Boyfriend’s Back” co-writer Richard Gottehrer have done such wonders producing the last few Dum Dum Girls records that I’m so gung ho for, or because the EP was only $3 new in the local shop, or maybe I bought it unheard because Sharin Foo sits on the cover near a window with what seems to be the longest pair of arms in the world reaching down to touch her shoulders. Whatever the case may be, when I played this, I could not stop playing it. The 60s girl group heartbreak songs drenched in a huge wall of Specter-ish sound is always a winner with me, especially when that sound is draped in 80s post-punk band fuzz and dissonance. All of these songs are so such full of magic and spine-tingling moments and massive exaggerated drums solidifying the experience with a deep low heartbeat thud. “Into the Night” leads in with a harshly struck dry guitar notes before exploding into euphoric breathy vocals and inside that full on wall of noise. The lyrics are a simple framework of heartbreak and a need to be taken “into the night,” but it is the effect of the music that drives the message home and makes it so damn powerful. Similarly, the grinding “Night Comes Out” craves the facelessness of the night life and during the stellar buzzing chorus we learn that “when the sun goes down we have fun.” The up tempo “Too Close to Heartbreak” pounds through its 3 minutes in much the same way and will have you happily singing along with the chorus “do you care if I die?” Lastly, is the somewhat throwaway “Bad Ghosts.” It sounds amazing, until we reach the chorus, which is repetitive in all the wrong ways, but the guitar solo bridges and the two verses save the song. The whole experience of this EP is only a little over twelve minutes and it is so freaking perfect sounding! It cannot be cranked enough.

Meanwhile the album is my favorite so far of what I’ve heard from them, but it lacks the wallop and immediacy of the timeless sounding EP released five months prior. The ghostly piano strains throughout give this album cohesiveness that some of their prior work seems to lack for me. Plus it’s to the point. None of these songs over stay their welcome. Naturally two of my favorites are “Downtown” and “You Hit Me (I’m Down),” the two that come closest to the massive sounds of the EP that I am so in love with. But the acoustic country inflected starter “Young and Cold” sets a nice mood that continues in a reflective and simple Velvet Underground manner that continues throughout. This is really good work and after seeing them live, I think I need to take a closer listen to their prior material.
(theraveonettes.com)

The Raveonettes-Into the Night


The remainder of 2012's Top 40 can be found via these links:


















Top 40 of 2012 Part II

30.
Nada Surf
The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
(Barsuk)

Nada Surf’s sixth album (not counting 2010’s covers LP If I Had a Hi-Fi), comes along after four years away and has them sounding refreshed. 2008’s Lucky was a decent album, but a little stiff, and it turns out, not that memorable, which is a let down after their two best albums (2002’s Let Go and 2005’s The Weight is a Gift). Maybe doing the all-covers record gave them a little kick in the pants, because The Stars feels and sounds a lot more alive and loose and vibrant. Maybe it could also be the addition of a second guitarist in the valuable Doug Gillard (Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde, Guided by Voices, etc.) who adds a lot of depth and energy to this recording. When the opening “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” jump starts things, we are immediately welcomed to an added urgency with the extra guitar coloring. The production of the album is mixed with blurred edges in the same way that John Agnello’s work with Dinosaur Jr. does, which gives this a live feel. This works well and is a welcome sign after the hyper meticulous feel of their last album. The highlight here for me, personally, is the reflective “When I Was Young,” which works as a thesis for the bulk of the record overall. Here we find Matthew Caws thinking about his childhood in a dead moment of a late summer afternoon and how his life measures up to his old dreams of the future (“When I was young / I didn’t know if I was better off asleep or up / Now I’ve grown up / I wonder what was that world I was dreaming of”). We find references to lost youth everywhere and a strong desire to recapture the passion of it. “The Moon is Calling,” “No Snow on the Mountain” and “The Future” are all favorites on a consistently enjoyable record. Nada Surf’s sweet melodies will always be welcome.
(nadasurf.com)
Nada Surf-When I Was Young



29.


Black Tambourine
OneTwoThreeFour 2x7” EP
(Slumberland)

What a huge surprise! I never ever thought we’d hear actual new Black Tambourine recordings ever again after they re-released their Complete Recordings a couple of years ago – which cleaned out the vaults! Yet, here we get a double 7” release with four brand new recordings, but not four brand new songs, because oddly enough, these are all covers of old Ramones songs. This is a band that never recorded an album – all of their songs appeared on vinyl singles and label compilations and there weren’t very many of them to begin with. Word has it that this recording was done for the 20th anniversary of the Chickfactor fanzine that vocalist Pam Berry helped create twenty some years ago. Anyway, the music is great! These are all inspired choices (i.e.: old Ramones song that I approve of) that fit right in the what Black Tambourine were best at – dreamy, buzzy, sometimes soft, but usually abrasive, short pop songs - in other words, a perfect setting for Ramones songs. This set opens with the “Rock-n-Roll High School” single “I Want You Around,” which along with “Do You Remember Rock-n-Roll Radio” was the first song I ever heard from that legendary band. Such good memories. Here, BT takes the acoustic strum of the original and stamps it with their own fuzzy atmospherics. The next two songs are culled from the Ramones’ second LP Leave Home with the dreamy “What’s Your Game,” and a cranked up version of “I Remember You.” Finally, Side D finds us touching on the most well known song of the bunch: “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” from 1976’s debut album. Here it sounds like a completely different song – a song that could’ve been found on BT’s By Tomorrow 7” EP back in 1991. This is a nice treat.
(slumberlandrecords.com)

Black Tambourine-What's Your Game?


28.


Superchunk
“This Summer” 7”
(Merge)

This is really cool: a couple of songs released right at the outset of summer by a fantastic rocking singles band! Superchunk’s adrenaline fueled bouncing songs are perfect for this and I’m so glad they’ve taken time out of their busy schedules to grace us with this gift. Mac McCaughan’s high pitched voice opens this sugary sing-along with the perfect line: “This summer / we won’t regret what we cannot know,” inviting us along on their freewheeling road trip in the sun. It is both nostalgic for youth and a call to make the fun happen now. I love it. The b-side is a fun frantic cover of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” which may be cliché, but I never get tired of the original, so this is welcome any time! The download card that comes with the 7” also includes a nice acoustic version of the a-side.
(superchunk.com)

Superchunk-This Summer




27.


Midway Still
Always Ends
(Bitter & Twisted)

Sometimes we all need a good old solid rock band to guide us through the days. Might I recommend the endlessly catchy and straight-ahead band Midway Still? They have been at this off and on for a long long time and have graced us with their 4th long-player. After returning from the obscurity of the early 90s haze of punk and rock out of the blue in 2010 with their 3rd, Note to Self (my 2010 #11 pick – seen here), I kind of figured that they’d disappear back into the ether again, while affirming that they’ve always been criminally overlooked. Yet, here they are with their seemingly effortless ability to write a narcotic laced chorus that leads to addictive repeated listens. This second “comeback” album has the sound of a band refreshed and inspired. Midway Still’s heavy power chords and pounding rhythm section drive us through a batch of angst ridden upbeat numbers that feel comfortingly familiar and fun. How can anyone deny the joys of hearing the big open hooks of songs like “This is How it Ends” – with its huge bring-it-on-home finale, or the frantic punk of “Miss You”? There’s also much to find from the stumbling forward press of “No Guarantees,” and the identifiable and angry “Seeing Red.” I love to simply crank these songs and rock out like a teenager again. The secret weapons on this one though are the mid tempo numbers “Left Behind” and “It’s Easy,” both of which beg to be massive summer time hits that blast from car stereos all over the globe in my strange imaginary world (apparently). The album closes with a cover of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” which continues Midway Still’s run of choice cover songs, and shows us that they are truly back, enjoying themselves and hopefully to stay for a little while this time! They’ve set up their own label and have already started reissuing some of their amazing back catalogue and some other bands as well! Check it out.
(midwaystill.com)
Midway Still-This Time



26.


Eux Autres
Sun is Sunk EP
“Tilt the Crown” 7”
(Where it’s at is Where You Are)

It’s hard to believe that Eux Autres’ last album was in 2010 (my #19 pick for that year – seen here). It seems like I just took that CD off of my heavy rotation. Of course, that pretty much is true. Their succinct 60’s style pop is quite intoxicating and seems to get better over time. Sun is Sunk, their EP from early this year, picks up exactly where their third LP, Broken Bow, left off. Their sound is fuller now that brother and sister, Nicholas and Heather Larimer, have been joined by drummer Yoshi Nakamoto. This has opened up the songbook a bit. The low-fi two-piece days are past, allowing them to develop their old style classic pop sound. They manage to capture a similar reflective vibe that Amy Linton did with the Aisler’s Set (Yoshi’s former group) with the added bonus of two vocalists. All six songs here are strong with the best being “Right Again,” “Broken Record,” the closing “Ring Out” and the restless “Home Tonight.”
(euxautres.com)

The year ended with a very limited edition single courtesy of the seven sevens singles released by WIAIWYA records this year (see Standard Fare review as well). This three song 7” was a very nice surprise and continues these kids’ winning streak of catchy tunes. “Tilt the Crown” is a jaunty ray of November sunshine with its handclaps, tambourines and delightful chorus, while “Smollis Theme” is a short instrumental. “What it is” closes out this slab of colored vinyl with some interesting old organ sounds and soulful falsettos atop of a timeless piece of pop. This is a band that needs much more attention to their consistently great music. Check it out!
(wiaiwya-7777777.blogspot.com)
Eux Autres-Home Tonight



25.

School of Seven Bells
Ghostory
“Kiss Them for Me” 7”
(Ghostly International/Vagrant)

It was about 5:30 am, on this past Valentine’s Day, and I was driving a big rig on the Interstate taking supplies out to a rainy parking lot for a big work fundraiser and I had on the local “alternative” radio station KNRK. Surprisingly, they broke free of their weird post grunge, hard rock, nearly unchanged “alternative” playlist from their mid-90s creation to play an as of yet unreleased song by New York’s School of Seven Bells. I had only ever heard of them up to that point, but turned up the volume in that rare chance of hearing good new music on the radio. The song was the lead off from the third album, “The Night,” and it immediately got under my skin – in all the best of ways. The chiming guitars, grinding bass and ethereal vocals reminded me of the first time I had heard the Cocteau Twins as a middle schooler in the mid 80s. I loved it and had it stuck in my head for several weeks until it was finally released to the public. Despite the warmth in my heart for the pre-LP single, it took me a little longer to absorb the more electronic aspects of the full album. It’s not that I’m against keyboard driven songs and drum machines; it’s just that over time, I have found the more “human” instruments to provide a generally longer lasting shelf-life. Having said that, the clinical approach to many of these songs, began to reveal a nice fuzzy melodic center that melted its way into my psyche for many repeated listens. These songs are somehow danceable and dream-like while mostly firmly based in strong pop song structures. It is a pleasant noise that the beautiful Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis make that at times can hint at a less gritty and angry Curve. It still think they’ve found their best moments in the more straight-forward tunes like “The Night,” “Lafaye,” and the fun upbeat drive of “Scavenger,” as opposed to the cold computerized vocals of “Low Times” and “White Wind.” The album closes with the dreamy epic “When You Sing,” which amazingly swipes the dance beat from My Bloody Valentine’s groundbreaking “Soon” and provides a satisfying flourishing finale.

The Record Store Day limited 45 from these guys revealed a very nice cover version and live staple of Siouxsie and the Banshees, apparently underrated 1991 “hit,” “Kiss Them for Me.” I say underrated, because when Siouxsie released that song, I felt it was a devastating garish sellout from one of the most respectable women from the original punk/postpunk days I have always been so fixated on. But, at SVIIB’s show and with this single, this song sounds fantastic. I love the looping dual beats and am incredibly happy to have it. The B-side “When She Was Me” employs a more repetitive straight ahead dance beat similar to that of the Pet Shop Boys with their Introspective LP (think “I Want a Dog”) and it is catchy as hell. Why didn’t this make the album? I’m so happy I decided to turn up the radio that cold, dark, rainy holiday morning instead of switching it off.
(sviib.com)

School of Seven Bells-Lafaye



24.


Hospitality
Hospitality
“The Drift” 7”
(Merge)

What a pleasant little debut! This is a sophisticated cosmopolitan sort of album that harkens towards big city lifestyles and crafty day jobs. Amber Papini fronts this New York trio (now a quartet) and her cutesy affected style of singing adds a fun whimsy and dreamlike quality to this collection. This all reminds me a little of the long lost and missed Suddenly, Tammy! from the mid 90s, if Beth Sorrentino played guitar instead of piano, while a couple of favorite tracks, like “Betty Wang” and the perfect “Liberal Arts” evoke a little bit of the baroque pop of Ivy. The album is brilliantly produced as all of the varied instruments (guitar, bass, drums, saxophones, strings, piano, keyboards, etc.) really pop. As a listener, it sounds like you’re completely surrounded and immersed by the dry and live sounding instruments. This is a promising and exciting debut.

Meanwhile, their much more recent recordings, released as a double A-side 45, find Hospitality hitting a looser rock-n-roll vibe and it brings an exciting edge. “The Drift” has Amber Papini taking on a kind of shouting faux British accent sing-speak style that feels like something from the early 80s British invasion, before the song drifts into a dreamy quiet middle and the finally closes with an instrumental jam session! Wow! Fantastic! The other A-side is a song written by producer and multi-instrumentalist Nathan Michel and it too is upbeat and alive with energy. With this new single the anticipation for new material only grows.
(mergerecords.com/artists/hospitality or facebook.com/hospitalitylives)

Hospitality-Friends of Friends




23.


The Frank and Walters
Greenwich Mean Time
(Fifa)

I was first drawn to Irish band the Frank and Walters back in 1991 when they drew comparisons to first LP A House (whose singer, Dave Couse, also produced some of their work) with their early EPs on the fledgling Irish record label Setanta. I stayed when their punchy pop songs really caught me. I loved their energy and their somewhat sarcastic way with words. Now after so many years and a lot of albums, they have become pretty obscure on these shores. They disappeared in 2000, with the release of their fourth album Glass, an experiment with electronics that I stayed clear of. They’ve now put out two albums in the last twelve years and after the last, the strong record A Renewed Interest in Happiness, I thought they were finally gone for good. So, here we are, Greenwich Mean Time, is their sixth, and I have to say it is one of their best! To me their peak was with 1997’s The Grand Parade (and the shimmering “Indian Ocean” EP) and the heavy and emotional Beauty Becomes More Than Life (1999), after they dropped the sardonic fun and started making more heartfelt worldly music. This new one finds them recapturing their light-handed seemingly effortless melody stuffed guitar work. Their strength, as always, is the ability to craft hummable tunes and, of course, the good guy vocals of Paul Linehan who has an amazing way of expressing a wide emotional range. Many of these songs rival the best of their work from the late 90s, while the most upbeat songs, like the opener “Indie Love Song,” “20 Years,” and “The Clock,” all remind of their more light-hearted early years. This is a fine and welcome return from these veterans.
(frankandwalters.com)


The Frank & Walters-Indie Love Song



22.

Dinosaur Jr.
I Bet on Sky
(Jagjaguwar)

I’m not sure what brought J Mascis and Lou Barlow back together, but it’s been quite a ride since they reformed the original line-up of Dinosaur (with drummer Murph) back in 2005. It didn’t seem possible due to the public animosity on display, especially from Barlow throughout his various touring indie incarnations. However, here we are with three strong albums in, several tours crisscrossing the globe and no sign of an end in sight. With I Bet On Sky, their tenth album overall, we find Dinosaur Jr. discovering some new territory to cover, which is a pleasant surprise. Check out the opening “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” and the subtle introduction of momentum keyboards underneath the strumming guitars (they still crunch heavy in the chorus), while the end of the song brings in a soft piano melody paired with Mascis’ feed backing guitar. It’s excellent. There are new touches of this expansion throughout. “Almost Fare” is driven by acoustics and a peaceful trance-inducing minor chord, while “I Know It All So Well,” finds some serious wah-wah guitar work and busy and loose drumming that feels brand new. Don’t be scared by these changes though, because this is still Dinosaur Jr. through and through and maybe their best album since the essentially Mascis solo outing Green Mind (check out the rocking “Pierce the Morning Rain” reminding a little of the sweeping power of “The Wagon”). Lou Barlow’s usual two song additions here for the first time don’t feel like he’s holding back, as they have in the past. “Rude” is a propulsive heartfelt driver that rivals some of his best early Sebadoh work, while “Recognition” truly feels like he’s working with the entire band, with the viciously tight bridge, wild drums and an epic Mascis guitar solo. I’d love to see them continue this upward trajectory.
(dinosaurjr.com)

Dinosaur Jr.-Watch the Corners



21.

Stars
The North
(Soft Revolution/ATO)

What a relief this album is. After Stars’ last album, 2010’s The Five Ghosts, I was worried that they were running out of inspiration. Aside from a few songs, it never gelled with me. It also ways felt forced and lacking their trademark all in aspirations. They had been building and steadily improving with each album, from the Pet Shop Boys via The Smiths two piece debut Nightsongs in 2001 to the bigger pastures of 2003’s Heart and then peaking with 2004’s epic and orchestral Set Yourself on Fire. Ever since, the arc has been mildly downward, but hopefully, they bottomed out with The Five Ghosts. This 6th album feels refreshed and reinvigorated. Maybe that’s why The North simply appeared in stores with very little promotion or press, so they could re-introduce themselves to the world and begin again. Musically, they have always taken cues from various 80s pop and indie acts, but their stamp has always been the overwrought melodrama of singer Torquil Campbell and the cool and calming Amy Millan. They are both at their best when they sing together to create romantic narratives – generally of the longing or crumbling kind, as in the closer highpoint of “Walls,” or the outrageously cheesy and fun “Do You Want to Die Together?” The North is not anywhere near their pinnacle, but it reveals itself in a easy and relaxed manner, which is best represented in the oddly mixed together middle section of the album with the aforementioned “Do You Want to Die Together?,” the teenage slow dance “Light Changing Colour,” and electronic atmospheric “The Loose Ends Will Make Knots” – which act as a strange medley. This album for me, however, is front-loaded. My favorite tracks are the first five. The mid-tempo Human League-ish “The Theory of Relativity” kicks things off nicely with a narrative about growing up, while “Backlines” is a stuttering short pop song that explodes into a dreamy atmospheric chorus. That dreamy aspect is revisited on another Millan fronted “Through the Mines,” which is as close as they’ve come to hinting at the so-called shoegaze influence of bands like Lush since her “Ageless Beauty” in 2004. The title track acts as an ad hoc ode to their native Canada and its long winters, as does the piano ballad love song “The 400,” which is a dream song for a stage actor to over sing on Broadway! A song that should really be a hit though is their uplifting song “Hold on When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It.” It’s catchy as hell and has that magnificent New Order bass line at each bridge. So glad to have my Stars back.
(youarestars.com)

Stars-The Theory of Relativity


You can find the remainder of the Top 40 of 2012 via the following links: