I’ve really enjoyed everything Francisco The Man has put out since I found out about them with their release of Broken Arrows back in 2011. My only complaint is they don’t release new music fast enough! But when they do, you can tell why it takes so long: their songs are so well crafted it’s clear they are the result of a lot of practicing, perfecting and only then recording.
Their latest release, In The Corners 7″, out via Small Plates on February 9th, is no exception to the high caliber I’ve come to expect from Francisco. The guitars rattle and ring, the vocals howl wildly and the complex bass and drum work steam full speed ahead. It’s a beaming track, and just what I needed to help me wind down after a long week. Listen below:
Here are my favorite albums released in 2012, for your consideration:
10. Passion Pit – Gossamer
Passion Pit has done something really incredible with this album. In a way, it is a grueling homage to the darker side of the psyche – covering topics ranging from alcoholism to suicide to heartbreak. The music feels almost euphoric, but there is a frenzied aspect to it at times, as if the world is about to crumble around the players, and thus the listeners. This only seems to add to the beauty of this skillful composition; it is a labor of love that would a shame to disregard or under-appreciate.
Here’s “Constant Conversations” from the album:
9. Holy Other – Held
Interesting that one of the most intimate records of the past year is a mostly instrumental, chopped and sliced electronic album, created by the UK-artist Holy Other. The surface level of beats, abstract synths and strung-together snippets of vocals and other timbres gives way to a deeper whole – exposing the sound of an intensely personal struggle, of feeling powerful and powerless, simultaneously, of feeling at once closeness, and distance.
Listen to the title track, “Held”:
8. Dry The River – Shallow Bed
This album came out of nowhere, at least for me. I was introduced to it on AOL’s Spinner. They had Dry The River’s album up for streaming, and I gave it a chance at work. A lot of times I get caught up in work and the music I’m listening to can float past me, but Dry The River managed to infiltrate my half-attentive brain to a point that I stopped working completely to just listen. After work, I went back and listened again, and again and again. This UK band has made a truly magnificent record, full of orchestral moments of quiet reflection which lead into incendiary choruses that will blow your hair back. And the chorus of “Weights & Measures” is perhaps one of the catchiest I’ve heard in a long time – simple, yes, but that only makes it more irresistible, and therefore more powerful.
Listen to “Weights & Measures” here:
7. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
It’s hard not to immediately like Alt-J. Their music is exceptionally appealing, with R&B beats and vocals meeting pop and rock harmonies and instrumental riffs. I heard these guys way way back, when they were still going by ∆ instead of using the symbol’s keyboard equivalent (Press”Alt” + “J” on your keyboard in a text box if you’re puzzled) as a more accessible, and more pronounceable, alternative. I’m happy to have a full release to speak on, and it’s great to see these guys gaining some serious recognition for their unique and talented sound, especially in their native UK where they won the 2012 Mercury Prize.
Check out “Tessellate” by the band below:
6. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
It was pretty much a given that any record put out by Andrew Bird would make my list. I’ve loved all the music Bird has put out since I’ve been following him, and 2009’s Noble Beast remains one of my favorite records of all time. The violin and guitar playing prodigy that is Andrew Bird has made yet another well thought-out, beautifully arranged record of whistling-infused folk rock music. It’s infectiously beautiful and becomes more so with each repeated listen.
Check out “Give It Away” here:
5. Tall Ships – Everything Touching
This was a latecomer for me – in fact despite the record having come out in October of 2012, I never heard it until this month, at the very start if 2013. This record takes all the energy and intricate guitar and drum work of the best post and math rock, and combines it with the well thought out and masterfully sung lyrics and complex vocal harmonies largely missing from these genres. This incorporation is what makes Everything Touching stand out, and the final track, “Murmurations” is a 9-minute masterpiece of slowly-building sound construction that leaves you aching for more at its end.
Listen to/download the 1st track, “T=0″:
4. Beach House – Bloom
This record opens with “Myth” (below), and I can’t say I’ve heard a more instantly engaging introductory track to an album in quite some time. A simple beat quickly leads into mingling guitar and keys riffs. The drums build and the riffs continue. Then the stirring vocals of Beach House’s Victoria Legrand join in. And you…are…hooked. Thankfully the rest of the album does not let up, but continues to deliver delicate yet ardent shoegazing pop music that never lulls or begins to blend incoherently but remains distinct and focused. Listen to “Myth” here and don’t blame me if you can’t stop there.
3. Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal
Although My Head Is An Animal was released in Iceland in 2011, I’m counting it in my best of 2012 since it wasn’t released in the U.S. until April. I’ve made many a mention of the truly great music that seems to be streaming endlessly out of the Nordic countries, and Of Monsters and Men exemplify this trend. Their energy-infused folky rock, complete with shout choruses and beautiful vocal harmonies, is just extraordinary. And if you ever get the chance to see them live, please do – they put on one of the most memorable shows I’ve seen in the past couple of years.
Check out their single, “Little Talks”, below:
2. The Helio Sequence – Negotiations
I’ve waited 4 and a half years for The Helio Sequence to put out a follow up to their truly excellent 2008 release, Keep Your Eyes Ahead. In that nearly half a decade, my musical tastes have changed a lot – but my love for this band has never faltered. Their new record, Negotiations, does not disappoint in the slightest. The effect-laden guitars and keys swirl around the authoritative drumming of Ben Weikel, and Brandon Summers vocals soar across this backdrop more persuasively than ever. This band has been together over a dozen years now, and Negotiations is a record only possible because of the cohesive relationship of these two extremely talented musicians. If you’ve never listened to this band before, there’s no better place to start than with Negotiations.
Listen to “October” from the record:
1. Grizzly Bear – Shields
From the moment I heard their single, “Sleeping Ute” (below), I knew Grizzly Bear’s follow up to 2009’s Veckatimest was going to be a special record. The album opener, “Sleeping Ute” explodes out of the gate with a rampage of thundering percussion and crackling guitars. From there the album waxes and wanes, with acoustic and orchestral passages transitioning effortlessly into glorious detonations of sound. Chris Bear’s percussion is at its most complex and compelling, and the vocals of Rossen and Droste compliment each other so precisely it is hard to imagine a better vocal pairing since McCartney/Lennon. This is a warm record, and though it is not without its darker images and blue musical moments, this a record for laying supine, in the cool grass, and, as the name of the album closer suggests, with ‘the sun in your eyes’.
Oh and the gatefold double-vinyl pressing is 100%, Grade-A brilliant.
Check out “Sleeping Ute” and then go buy this album:
Here are my favorite albums released in 2012, for your consideration:
20. Tame Impala – Lonerism
The Australian psych-rockers brought it on this follow up to 2010’s Innerspeaker. The album is hazy without being blurred, and blends classic rock riffs with more modern synth-and-echo textures. Spin the highlight, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, below:
19. All Eyes – Shelf Life
Like the northern metropolis from which this band hails, All Eyes’ debut feels wintry: teeming with brave motion through a dark and frigid landscape, with the hope of warm firesides to guide one through the icy streets. Listen to the Minneapolis quartet’s “Warning Signs” below:
18. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
Damien Jurado is one of the greatest songwriters out there right now. Maraqopa continues in his tradition of intensely genuine, lovingly-crafted songs with just enough texture behind the guitar and vocal base to complement, rather than detract from, the inherent beauty in them.
The story behind this record’s release is both harrowing and inspiring. To put a long-story very short, The Rest had nearly finished this album when a hardware glitch caused countless hours of their work to disappear. After at least a year of thinking it was lost forever, they were able to extract the recordings from the hard disk. The finished product is Seesaw, and it is an orchestrally-minded piece of shoegazing rock n’ roll. It is a magnificent opus, and the clear vinyl pressing (of which I have copy) is worth getting.
16. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
On Tramp, Sharon Van Etten’s beautiful melodies glide across modest compositions that allow the vocals to take center-stage. And rightfully so, as her voice is hauntingly majestic throughout this album.
This Philadelphia group has created an upbeat, catchy yet intelligent collection of songs in this album. For fans of Miniature Tigers, Throw Me The Statue, Dr. Dog, and so on. Stream/download their album from Bandcamp below:
14. The Walkmen – Heaven
The Walkmen never fail me. Following up the fantastic Lisbon, this album feels raw and improvisational, yet it displays a carefully cultivated sound by a band who have had many years to craft their own splendid little niche.
Listen to “Heartbreaker” below:
13. Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit
The first Delta Spirit song I heard came from the computer speakers of a co-worker when I interned at Secretly Canadian records in 2010. Their sound caught my ear enough to inquire about the band, remember their name and go home and buy the album. The song was “Bushwick Blues” – easily one of my all-time favorite songs to date. Delta Spirit’s latest, self-titled album finds the band continuing their own powerful concoction of folk and rock and pop that pours like a finely aged whiskey.
Enjoy “Tear It Up” from Delta Spirit:
12. The Shins – Port of Morrow
The countless fans of Chutes Too Narrow or Wincing the Night Away surely expected big things from The Shins on their first album in 5 years. And at least to this listener, all expectations were met in this masterfully executed collection. The albums starts off with several walloping single-worthy tunes, and when the band does turn down the metronome, it does so with such grace and beauty that this only adds to the splendor.
Here’s one of my favorites, “September”:
11. Sigur Ros – Valtari
Now that Sigur Ros’ frontman, Jónsi Birgisson, has found an outlet in his solo project for the flurrying celebratory sounds that helped drive the band’s dazzling 2008 release Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, this new album takes a step back, verging on pure ambience as melody and harmonic textures take the lead with little to no percussive and rhythmic backing for support. It feels like a calm after a storm, a coming down or a floating away. It is heartbreakingly beautiful.
While it is best experienced as a whole, you can listen to “Ekki mukk” below:
I emerge again from my sporadic slumber to share this with you. The New Division has a new EP and it is fantastic. Everything I could hope for as a follow up to last year’s Shadows. Rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, symphonic. The band progresses musically and technically while retaining their signature sound. And the cameo of Keep Shelly in Athens on the title track is no surprise, given their past remix collabs; still, a lovely change-up in vocal timbre that keeps things interesting and engaging throughout this 4-track EP.
It’s called Night Escape, and you can grab it directly from the band here.
Pinback has been consistently putting out quality music for nearly 15 years now. ‘Loro’ is one of my all time favorite songs; its tranquil rhythm has kept me sane on more than one occasion.
Now, the band is preparing the world for the release of their 5th full-length album, Information Retrieved, and ‘Proceed to Memory’ is a small, delicious taste of what’s to come. Enjoy it below, and get ready for the album release on October 16th, cause it’s gonna be a splendid day.