Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012 Part 7

Well here we are. It was a rush at the end, but I made it just in time. As I said in part 1, this was a strange year in music and though there were some good albums, there's probably only one or two that will eventually contend for any best-of-the-decade list. Instead many of these titles might in the future be looked at as turning point albums, after which the artists either achieved greatness or faded away. Only time will tell.

The three albums that sit atop my chart are probably the most polarizing of the list in that there is very little room for middle ground in their enjoyment. Either you'll love them, or hate them. It's obvious at this point that indie shoegaze isn't my thing, so if you're up for more guts and glory, then prepare for battle...

The Seer

This is by some distance the darkest album I've listened to this year, and for a long time before that. The opening track is titled "Lunacy", which is eminently poignant given that large parts of this album sound as if it were written in an asylum. I cannot stress enough how insane it is. That it was conceived at all is near sorcery, and as a recording it is a triumph.

Nearly two hours of sheer terror are the best way to describe this. It's not a heavy metal album, it doesn't have shrieking vocals or slashing guitars, in fact just the opposite. This is a kind of slow torture, a creeping dread, a shrouded evil that seeps into your being in a droning, unrelenting, ever-building manner. You might be thinking "why would I subject myself to this?", and to be fair, you might be right. If you can handle the dark, however, you will go places few other auditory expositors are able, never mind willing, to take you. This is a monumental achievement in post-rock expressionism, and it is impossible to appreciate it from listening to clips or even a single track at a time, but here are some samples anyway. Don't say I didn't warn you.


The Seer Returns


Death Grips
The Money Store

When I first heard "Ex-Military" last year, I didn't really know what to think. In the end, I really liked it. Similarly, even with that past exposure and a general idea of what this album might be like, I still didn't know quite what to make of it on first listen. This is not controlled chaos, this is absolute madness. It makes Kanye's dark twisted fantasy look like a cotton candy carnival ride.

The production on this is just nuts. It's sharks with fricken laser beams on acid. Distorted wub bass, warped vocals, bit crushed kicks, this is future music and how. You probably hate it. Lots of people do. I can't explain why it's so cool, it just is. There is nobody that sounds like these guys, and as if one dope album wasn't enough for this year, they also put out No Love Web Deep, which is almost as awesome and very nearly also made this list. It's just mind boggling stuff that bashes its way into your psyche and leaves you wondering what on earth they could possibly come up with next.

Hustle Bones

I've Seen Footage


Coheed & Cambria
The Afterman: Ascension

I make no apologies for my admiration of Claudio Sanchez and his seriously awesome band Coheed and Cambria. For whatever reason these guys are often dismissed as being pop-punk because they have obsessive fans, many of whom are of the younger generation. They are also a concept band that has a fully-fleshed illustrated fantasy story to accompany the themes of their albums. Frankly, I couldn't care less about the comics. These guys kick ass, plain and simple. Claudio's voice can take some getting used to but writing soaring, epic progressive tracks is an art that he has mastered.

This is the first half of what is a two-part double album, but by itself this is the best album that Coheed have released since their sophomore album in 2003. The return of Josh Eppard to the drums and the addition of Zach Cooper on bass seem to have lifted the band to new heights and given them an energy not seen in ages. Though this is a short album, only nine songs and just under forty minutes, every track is memorable and as a whole the record feels like an adventure. The second part comes out in February and all indications are that it will be just as good if not better. It's been a big year for Sanchez, and long may his new found zeal continue.

Domino The Destitute

The Afterman

Goodnight, Fair Lady

EP #1
Brother Ali
The Bite Marked Heart

One of the good guys of hip hop came out with two discs this year, this being the first and shorter release, and also the best. With seven great tracks that all feature trademark smooth production and even smoother lyrics. The combination of soul and R&B vibes with tight beats keeps you bouncing from start to finish. The Brother just seems to be getting better and better.

Shine On

I'll Be Around


That's all folks! See you in 2013!

Best of 2012 Part 6

Making good progress now, on we go!

Marbert Rocel
Small Hours

Another hidden gem of the past year is this tidy little release from German trio Marbert Rocel. This is a side project of sorts for all three members, and it almost feels like a bit of an artistic release with its light, carefree tone and soothing moodiness. Experimental cabaret might be an accurate description. The production is very clean, almost minimal in parts but there is a subtlety to its depth that can sneak by unnoticed.

Vocalist Antje Seifarth's voice is soft and seductive, melding beautifully with the jazz pianos and acoustic guitars amidst recurring saxophone themes. It's jazzy, quaint, reserved yet ambitious. It could well be the year's most under-appreciated effort.

Whether The Night

Small Hours

Song For You


The self-titled debut solo album of Nick Zammuto will take you by surprise if you are unfamiliar with his previous works with The Books. Even then, while there are certainly similarities between the two, the new material has a distinctly more effervescent feel to it. Piled on top of the little glitchy percussion samples are thick layers of synth organs, effected guitars, and a heavily processed vocals that give a strange, oblique feel to otherwise whimsical lyrics. While vocoders aren't always a good choice, Zammuto achieves a very particular sound with them that just seems to work seamlessly.

Featured among the tracks are a couple that had been previously released on the "Idiom Wind" EP, including an absolute monstrosity of a song that is probably my favorite track released all year. I don't really have any idea what "F U C-3PO" is supposed to be about, though just like the rest of the album the lyrics are captivating not just in content but in construction. It's a bit crazy, in a good way, and illustrates once again that the medium is indeed the message. Just what that message is I can't say, but I'm more than happy to listen to it over, and over, and over.


The Shape Of Things To Come

Idiom Wind

Fiona Apple
The Idler Wheel

For whatever reason, excessively long song and/or album titles really grind my gears. Maybe it was because it made labeling needlessly difficult, but I just don't see the point in trying to make a statement within a title. If one must do so, do it succinctly. Nobody is ever going to call this album anything other than "The Idler Wheel", so why put a short essay on the cover? Thankfully Miss Apple had the decency to abstain from repeating the process with the song titles, which could have annoyed me to the point of disregarding the album completely. Well, probably not, but still. I digress...

Fiona has always been among the more talented singer songwriters around, and her emotional intensity is at its fever pitch on this album, her first in seven years. It's not the type of record you can throw on halfheartedly and enjoy on the first sitting, it requires a certain level of commitment to absorb all of its intention, and even then I must admit there are elements here that feel too uniquely feminine in their experience for me to properly appreciate. It's teeth-gnashing gut-check stuff in the form of musical theater, and it's utterly spellbinding at times. This is arguably her finest work, and certainly her most refined. Worthy of all the plaudits and one of the year's most memorable albums.

Every Single Night



EP #2
The Prize Fighter Inferno
Half Measures

While I am a fan of Claudio Sanchez, I have not, to date, been big on his side project, The Prize Fighter Inferno. This new EP, however, is far more accessible than anything else to come out under the moniker. The electronic backdrop remains, but the guitars are predominantly acoustic this time and the song writing more cohesive. Sanchez' writing style is unique and easily recognizable, though the melancholic themes that have imbued his work thus far remain, they take on a much more upbeat tone this time around. 

Elm Street Loverboy

Half Measures

Simple Fix

Next up, the grand finale!

Best of 2012 Part 5

Into the top 10! Here we go!

Koi No Yokan

Much has been opined about the lull that came over Deftones for several years following their monumental album "White Pony", so let's just leave that alone for now. It's been a couple years since the excellent "Diamond Eyes" signaled a return to form, and this new album proves that the angst-driven sonic malevolence that we've come to know and love from them appears to be back for good. Thank goodness for that.

There isn't a lot of variety, per se, in the sounds on this album but Chino Moreno's vocals are at their brooding best in nearly every track. The album smashes into business from the opening chord and nearly every song features powerhouse guitars with even the rare moments of relative calm convalescing into crescendos of energy giving the album massive presence from start to finish. The result is an even better record than the last, and a reaffirmation of the faith of long-time fans.




Portico Quartet
Portico Quartet

I must bow to Anthony Fantano's superior virtual crate digging knowledge for this pick. If you haven't checked out his reviews on The Needle Drop, I highly recommend you do, he's the best in the biz at the moment. I examined out his best of list a week or so back and found several albums that we agreed on, and several that we didn't, but had never heard of this one before. A big thanks are in order because this is my find of the year bar none.

This isn't the first album by these London-based experimental jazz extraordinaires, but it's the first one I've heard and it's absolutely fantastic. They feature an undeniable electronic influence to the sound that incorporates little samples and synths with at times feels like a cross between Nujabes and Radiohead. Much of the album has a rhythmic ambiance interwoven with various repetitive patterns on a variety of different instruments. It's hard to account for all the truly amazing moments on this album with mere text, so you should just head straight to the music right about... now!



Line / Rubidium

The Souljazz Orchestra

My favorite world music release of the year comes from Ottawa's own ensemble par excellence who should probably call themselves The AfroLatinSoulReggaeJazz Orchestra for accuracy's sake. Seriously, these cats are awesome. They combine all the best attributes of those genres into a funk-filled fusion of fantastical musicianship that makes you want to move. A lot.

This latest album is a real throwback not only in terms of the themes, but the production itself is intentionally lo-fi and gives it a really raw sound, which really just adds to the classic feel. I'd hazard a guess to say it sounds best on vinyl, which I have yet to acquire, or even better yet live. If you've ever felt yourself enchanted by the magical rhythms of Latin American or the a tropical island in the Caribbean, you will love this record. My favorite Canadian album of the year, challenged only by Montreal's Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Two thumbs way up.

Conquering Lion


Ya Basta

EP #3

For me this is the best purely electronic release of the year. Four Tet's "Pink" album is good, but is ultimately a collection of previously released singles, so it's hard for me to count it, and even still I prefer this little six track gem. Hans-Peter Lindstrøm hails from Norway and it's no surprise that his sound resembles Röyksopp, perhaps mixed with Booka Shade. It's analog synth heavy, organic and melodic thought-provoking disco pop. Just please don't ask me to pronounce the song titles.




Getting closer...

Best of 2012 Part 4

Dang I'm running behind, but I'll get there pronto! I was replacing the main hard drive in the ol' computron and it ended up taking a lot longer than I thought, but I'll do my best to get the rest of the list done today!


Marc Mac is the producer behind this awesome disc that has flown under the radar of most of the big music critics this year. Fans of jazzy uplifting hip hop beats will especially eat this one up, as it definitely features the illest chillout grooves of the year. The fourteen tracks on offer feature a mix of funk, soul, latin, jazz, and occasional hip hop vocals.

The album starts with dreamy sounds and smooth lyrics, and slowly works into some slick instrumental grooves akin to something you might hear from Jamiroquai. Things then start to pick up a bit with some really  funky percussion and is never short on horns. There are a couple classic remakes of songs like "Apache" and "Funky Fanfare", but the album never loses sight of its jazzy grounding. The bonus disc features an hour-long mixtape that is perfect for early evening soirees that need some sexy atmosphere. 

Come And Play In The Milky Night

Apache / Shaft In Africa

Back In Time

An Awesome Wave

Once again I laugh at Pitchfork, who absolutely panned this album for reasons I can't understand. Is it too popular? I guess coming from a website that ranked the extremely awkward Grimes album as the best of the year I really shouldn't pay any attention, but I just have no idea, for me this was a breath of fresh air. This album mixes all kinds of different genres in a big bowl under the guise of alternative indie pop, and for all its pop attributes it all fits together very nicely.

Lead singer Joe Newman has a pretty different sounding voice, somewhat reminiscent of Jónsi or The Tallest man On Earth (who also had a good album this year), which contributes greatly to the shape of the album. While it might be an acquired taste, it is mixed quite well and subtle harmonies melted together with really unique instrumentation just seem to compliment it wonderfully. Ignore the singles on this one, give it a good listen to a couple times and I bet you'll be hooked. Amazing debut album.




King Animal

Fifteen long years ago the world said goodbye to one of the absolute greatest rock acts on the planet, and with Chris Cornell embarking on new solo adventures as well as Audioslave, it seemed like we might never hear them again. When it was announced last year that the best was back together it was met with mixed emotions. Joy that such paragons of grunge could revive a dying genre, but also trepidation - would they still be relevant?

The new album was met with equally mixed reviews upon its initial release, and admittedly I wasn't sure of it at first, but after giving it time to sink in I have changed my tune. While this doesn't quite match the venomous power of the band's early days, it stands up as a very good album worthy of the legacy. Kim Thayil's flailing guitar riffs are there as ever, and Ben Shepherd's driving bass line in "Worse Dreams" is one of the highlights of the record. Cornell might not quite have the vocal chops that he used to, but for a band who has been around since Ronald Reagan was in office these guys still kick ass. 


Worse Dreams


EP #4
Julian Jeweil

There were some excellent electronic EPs released this year, and this is my favorite of the tech house genre. It's not usual to see a techno disc receiving critical praise, but Jeweil manages to keep each of the five pulsing tracks unique enough to keep you interested throughout, and it's actually quite difficult to pick a favorite. The overall feel of the record is dark, mysterious, almost contemplative, and the use of atmospheric reverb and a variety of filter sweeps builds pressure nicely as you're locked into the beat.

Hey You


The Gang

Four down, three to go!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best of 2012 Part 3

Decidedly off topic but worth a mention anyway: I saw The Hobbit tonight, in all its HFR 3D 48fps glory. I have to say I can't understand what a lot of the critics were talking about. I had no trouble adjusting to the format and personally I thought it was the best 3D filming I've ever seen. It was as if you were watching the action through a window pane, the detail was incredible.

 The movie itself was very good. Sure, there are lots of things that differ from the book, but the overall feel is there and once the action gets going it doesn't let up until the final scene, which was a terrible tease and once again I can't wait for the next one. Well done Peter Jackson, onwards and upwards. Speaking of which, we have some albums to review!

The Smashing Pumpkins

I can remember as if it was yesterday when Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness made its grand entrance into the world. So many moons ago, but what a moment in time. At that point the Pumpkins were at the absolute apex of the alternative hierarchy, but oh how the mighty have fallen. Well documented personnel issues and an ill conceived voyage into goth rock and drum machines led to their expulsion from the rock pantheon, and yet somehow here we are again celebrating their rebirth with their best album since those famous days of yore.

The first half of this album is as good as any other rock release of this year, but after the pulsing majesty of the epic nine minute title track it tends to fade a little, keeping it from edging into the very top of the rankings. Despite that this album blasts into life from its opening buildup and keeps you on edge for a good forty minutes that is well worth the price of admission by itself. There are little remnants of their pseudo-electronic experiments along the way, but for the most part they are subtle and flow nicely along with the thrashing guitars and punctuating snares. Welcome back Billy, we missed you.

The Celestials




Muy caliente! Una cerveza por favor! I wanted to do the whole review in Spanish, but alas that's about the extent of my abilities in that language. From what I've seen and can certainly hear, it doesn't much matter because it's your hips that do the talking in the South American paradise of Colombia. With beats and grooves like the ones on this album, it's a miracle anyone gets any work done down there ever. Maybe they've perfected the art of working and dancing at the same time.

In a nutshell this is an all-star Cuban ensemble put together by Quantic and Mario Galeano, which just about says it all. With those two leading the way there's simply no way this album could fail, and it doesn't. Mixing just about every kind of rhythm and sound you could possibly hope to find in a tropical locale, this is an absolute must-have for any Latin themed activities you have planned. Saludos!

Linda Mañana


Tiene Sabor, Tiene Sazón

Tame Impala

When I first started to see reviews about this album and gave it a listen I thought "oh joy, another Australian Beatles cover band, just what we need". Having since given the album a thorough going over several times, I can say quite confidently that this is indeed space-tacular psychedelic dream pop heavily influenced by the Liverpool boy toys, but it's actually really nicely done. What we have is something that feels more like an evolutionary extension of the sound, rather than outright repetition.

While several songs are strong enough to stand alone as singles, the album is best appreciated in its entirety. From front to back thoughts of spiraling starlight and cascading rivers of color are conjured amidst swirling synthesizers and the wispy lyrics of front man Kevin Parker. The depth and array of sound on display are impressive, and I have a feeling this one might sound even better in time. A very fine effort indeed.

Feels Like We Only Go Backwards


Apocalypse Dreams

EP #5
Some Other Time

I'll be honest with you, I'm as confused as you are with this one. I haven't really a clue what to think. This is the second EP released this year by British producer Stuart Howard, and they're both really interesting and terrifically produced. I like them both and can't seem to stop listening, but ultimately have no idea how to describe them. He has a unique way of blending trippy, glitchy beatstep with soul and downtempo that just screams... well.. something. There's no sense in me carrying on, have a listen already.

Close Call / Chop Cuts

Forgetting And Learning Again

Strangling You With The Cord

Almost half way, part 4 tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best of 2012 Part 2

Make haste, not waste! On we go...

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars
Radio Salone

From the west side of Africa come the Refugee All Stars, who are not so named merely for effect. The faces of these wonderful musicians tell stories of hardship, but their words ask only for love. I suppose the proper way to categorize their sound is 'world music', but what on earth does that mean anyway? Reggae, soul, calypso, and all kinds of funky percussive grooves color this excellent album, their third LP.

The production on this one is smooth and subtle and frames the playful nature of the third world jams nicely. Like most such ensemble bands, however, one gets the impression that seeing them live would by a truly exceptional experience. That they are such huge supporters of the humanitarian efforts in their home land only adds to the feel-good factor so vibrant throughout this release. The sun shines through this one.

Big Fat Dog


Mother In Law

Wax Tailor
Dusty Rainbow From The Dark

One of the masters of sample-based production is Jean-Christophe Le Saoût, yet another French trip hop genius. Initially a hip hop DJ, his skills on the turntable resonate clearly in a sound that has progressed methodically over the best part of the last decade culminating in this story board conceptual album complete with dramatic narration voiced by Don McCorkindale.

The record features a bevy of other guest vocalists including Sara Genn, Jennifer Charles, and American soul supremo Aloe Blacc. Not forgetting his roots, hip hop lyricist Daryl Parks, aka Mattic, also takes the lead on a couple memorable tracks. Though a couple singles were released this one is best appreciated as a whole, and the running time of 47 minutes feels just about right. Did I mention the stop-motion octopus?

Time To Go

Heart Stop

Magic Numbers


Another spin around the production line, this time with Australian duo Angus Stuart and Luke Dubber. Unbeknownst to many (myself included), these cats have been globe trotting for several years now in support of other acts but with this latest release have started to emerge as legitimate front-liners themselves. Primarily exponents of hip hop in the past, their new album is a far cry from that, sporting an eclectic mix of instrumental glitch hop, groovy trip hop, and big beat funk.

While the track order seems a little off and as consequently makes the pacing a bit jarring, as a collection of songs it stands very strongly among its peers. The big single "Speak Of The Devil" is a bona fide dance floor killer and there a half dozen other tracks that would fit nicely in an electro funk playlist. This is very promising stuff and hopefully we don't have to wait another four years for their next album.

The Villain

Speak Of The Devil

Get In My Life

EP #6
Melancholy And The Infinite Shadness

Clocking in at barely 11 minutes in length, this is a brief yet highly entertaining release from one of Canada's foremost hip hop engineers. Following up on his excellent album "TSOL", this short five track EP gives us a glimpse of what is to come when he drops his next LP some time in the coming year. Shad is notorious for featuring top notch production and once again he kills it with this one. It's not easy to fit as much cool into ten minutes as this release accomplishes, give it a whirl next time you're stuck in traffic. You might even get through it twice.

A Milli Vanilli

It Ain't Over

Old Prince

P-p-p-p-part 3 a demain!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Best of 2012 Part 1

Well the world didn't end like we all expected, so I guess I'd better get to my selection of the best albums of 2012. This year was a difficult one, not only personally, but for the blog and also music in general. Where last year was a year of experimentation this year some of the crazy new sub-genres really reached out further into directions that maybe weren't so expected, and some more successfully than others. Certainly the underground hip-hop scene is alive and well, and the heavier genres like hardcore and post rock had strong years. Not so much for pop music, which was utterly dreadful, and the folk/indie scene seemed to stagnate, though no doubt bigger fans of that stuff will disagree with me.

There were lots of little concept EPs that impressed, which made it quite difficult to narrow it down to a top seven, but the same can't be said for the LP selection. Up until a few weeks ago I had a really hard time trying to come up with more than a dozen albums that impressed me, never mind a full list, but in the end there were some hidden gems that popped out on closer inspection. The albums that made it were pretty good albeit a little lacking, I felt, in the punch and polish that we've seen in the past couple years.

As usual the disclaimer that there are probably several great albums that I completely missed, and lots that just didn't jive with me for whatever reason. For example, you won't find Frank Ocean's "Channel Orange" here. I'm not an R&B guy as it is, and while it was clean and well-produced, I just didn't get much enjoyment out of it. Anyway let's get down to business, shall we?

Oh, and in case you missed them, here are my newly re-coded best of 2010 and 2011 charts.

Dancing Chords And Fireflies

If you asked me who Degiheugi was a few short months ago I would have told you I'd never heard of him, but thankfully all that has changed now that I've been exposed to his groovy beats from France. Trip hop is probably the best way to describe the sound as a whole as it melts elements of downtempo and hip hop together with a jazzy twist.

You definitely get your money's worth with this one, as its running time is just under 80 minutes, though some tracks do feel a bit like filler that should have been relegated to b-side status. Still, for an independent release the production is crisp and cool. Put in on, press play, chill out, and thank me later.

The Consumer

Un Jour Comme Un Autre

I Know A Woman Somewhere

Michal Menert
Even If It Isn't Right

From trip hop to glitch hop, Michal Menert returns after a couple years with his sophomore effort on Derek Vincent Smith's PLM label. His sound is unmistakably similar to Pretty Lights, though it is a little less wobbly and more jazzy. Making up for lost time with a double disc release of twenty seven tracks blended into over 100 minutes, this one might not quite be as engrossing as his mentor's work, but it's very groovy and well worth checking out even if you're not into Pretty Lights.

As individual tracks there aren't many that scream single but as a whole the album works nicely, moving from funky big beats to trippy rollers and then into dubsteppy bass bins. It's a perfect soundtrack for some boarding or a long drive in the sunshine.

The Same Disease


Out Of This World

B. Dolan
House Of Bees Vol. 2

There is no middle ground in modern hip hop. You either write flashy pop-star productions with a million dollar hook, or you stay true to your roots, spit thought-provoking lyrics, and ride the underground train to mid-level notoriety. At least that's what we're led to believe. With his latest release, Bernard Dolan shows that there might yet be room for a little of both. The activist rapper combines his politically incendiary verse with catchy, intelligent production incorporating some classic samples.

His first single "Film The Police" is a fresh re-interpretation of the legendary NWA anthem, and other such historical tracks like "Ohio" are used to compliment the abrasive style. This is Dolan's best work to date, and elevates him among the leaders of the political rap movement alongside contemporaries like Immortal Technique. If you dig serious rap with a brain, be sure to check this one if you haven't already.

Which Side Are You On

2Bad (Epic Beard Men)

Tin Soldiers

EP #7
Wild Belle
Wild Belle

Starting just where we left off from last year's EP list, this one is also self-titled and it's our first look at the Bergman siblings, Natalie and Elliot, who grace the cover of this hip-tacular release. It's a bit of a fusion of reggae and the funky blues sound performed so well by the Black Keys. The production is catchy enough, but it's the lazy seduction of Natalie's voice with a hint of Astrud Gilberto in it that keeps us enchanted. A good start, what comes next should be interesting.

It's Too Late

Keep You


Tomorrow... part 2!