As a final retrospective article about music from 2012, I wanted to write about some bands I discovered during the year that you might also enjoy.
The Darkness released their 3rd album, Hot Cakes. It is a mix of Queen-like harmonies, loads of power chords, and features vocals that remind me a little of Mika. The music is fairly original but heavily influenced by 70s rock. The AC/DC-ish Everybody Have a Great Time is a great party track. The cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit is a high point as well. I am not sure I will go back and listen to the first two albums from The Darkness and this one is not in heavy rotation on my iPhone, but there are interesting moments and it is probably worth at least a cursory listen.
Defying classification, Django Django’s self-titled premier in 2012 is an original and fascinating adventure in rock/pop. There are some Wilson brother-like harmonies (particularly on Waveforms) and some reminiscing to King Crimson on Wor. The rockin’-ist tune here is the fantabulous Default which deserves heavy radio play. It is really hard to place these guys – they sound like They Might Be Giants on acid listening to the Beach Boys on crack or something. The oriental feel to Skies Over Cairo is fun. The 60s sound of Firewater is also captivating. Definitely another one to check out and enjoy…perhaps with some chemical assistance. Thanks to my friend Al for this tip 🙂
Handwritten is the New Jersey band The Gaslight Anthem‘s fourth album. Like the other one I listened to this year, The ’59 Sound, it is a driving rock album with, go figure, anthem-like songs from beginning to end. I like the rough voice of Brian Fallon. They remind me a bit of The Hold Steady and sometimes even of the Foo Fighters. If there is a fault here, it is that the chords really don’t change all that much throughout the 11 songs. High points include the first two tracks “45” and Handwritten as well as Too Much Blood and Biloxi Parish. Probably the best track is Desire which rocks and has some great singalong “wo ho ho oh oh oh oh oh oh”s in it despite the kind of sappy throwaway lyrics.
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead‘s Lost Songs is their second album and is a handful. It rocks hard end-to-end with no let up. There are few weakpoints here as the opening track Open Doors throws you immediately into the fast driving guitars and subdued vocals. It has a sort of post-punk speed metal goth feel to it – kind of like Susie and the Banshees on speed or something. The rhythm section is great (particularly on Opera Obscura – one of the best tracks) and the guitars are fast and heavy throughout. It would be hard to rest Catatonic through the track of the same name but I think the best track here is the blazing Bright Young Things which is alone worth the price of the disc. It appears that these guys are the bomb in concert so I hope that I get to catch them sometime this year.
I was a little skeptical about Alabama Shakes because what I had heard about them sounded a bit poppy for my taste, but once I actually listened to Boys & Girls I was really impressed. The vocals are gorgeous as is the production. There is this great Motown meets Nashville kind of groove here especially on Hold On. The bass work in particular is great. The style changes just enough from song to song to keep your head nodding and your feet tapping. How this band ever came out of Alabama is a real mystery because I would have pegged them for the midwest in a heartbeat. This was truly one of the most original breakthrough albums of 2012 and you would be a better person for listening to tracks like You Ain’t Alone, Hang Loose, and Be Mine. I cannot help but love lyrics like “They were fucking with the wrong heart”. Run don’t walk for this one.
Howler’s debut America Give Up is a lot of fun to listen to as well. At times it reminds me a little of The Dandy Warhols (Back to the Grave) or the Von Bondies (Beach Sluts) but there is this sort of punk, surfer thing going in the Minneapolis band that is quite addictive. There is even a Strokes feel to This One’s Different. And again, Too Much Blood reminds me a little of Brian Jones Massacre a bit. And yet, everything here sounds original and fresh. I really liked Told You Once and Wailing (Making Out) the best. I wonder where these guys will go from here.
The Canadian duo Japandroids released Celebration Rock in 2012, their third album. It also reminds me a bit of The Hold Steady particularly on the opening track The Nights of Wine and Roses. But actually, each track is original and full of spit and vinegar. Fire’s Highway makes you want to slam the pedal down and drive, Evil Sway makes selling your soul to the devil sound fairly inoffensive. Actually, the band also reminds me of Les Savy Fav but happier and less depressed. Adrenaline Nightshift has a great caffeine boost quality. It is striking how much a duo can do with just two instruments. Here the texturing is impressive and fun. The House That Heaven Built is probably my favorite track among so many great ones. Another big thanks out to my friend Al for pointing these guys out to me.
Speaking of duos, or former duos anyway, Jack White released his first solo album last year, the wonderfully titled Blunderbuss. I love the title because I also appreciated the movie Looper where blunderbusses had a major role. Anyway, I am a huge White Stripes fan and mourned their passing a few years back, and I followed both The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. Here Jack is typically all over the map, playing nearly every imaginable instrument, experimenting in any number of styles and ever challenging the listener to follow him On and On and On. The song I’m Shakin’ is one of my absolute favorites – a work of pure genius and so addictively fun. Freedom at 21 and Sixteen Saltines are classic masterpieces from Jack White. Then there is the wonderful Love Interruption with its great lyrics and downkey recording. I just hope that he keeps up this creative storm that he has been on for nearly two decades because I find he is one of the most creative people in rock today, ever pushing the boundaries and yet so well grounded in both rhythm and in blues.
JEFF the Brotherhood is another rock and roll duo that is hard to classify. “I want a place where I can smoke meat”, really? I love the nuttiness and energy of Hypnotic Nights which is their 7th album. There is a great 80s groove on Sixpack and yet a bit of punk in Hypnotic Mind and a little bit of Smashing Pumpkins in Staring at the Wall. Dark Energy may be the strongest track (reminds me a lot of Weezer) but the opening track Country Life is also a great one. The cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s Changes that closes the album is a great tongue and cheek and is perhaps the most original remake I heard last year. These two are going places.
The most experimental of my list here would have to be the guitar heroics album Standing at the Sky’s Edge by the UK’s Richard Hawley. It is deeply textured and requires a keen ear to fully appreciate. There is a creepy Cure-like feel to Time Will Bring You Winter that is as enigmatic as the album cover. The rock anthem Down in the Woods is one of the strongest tracks (and most conventional on this most unconventional album). Don’t Stare at the Sun and Seek It are the slower yet gorgeous songs in the 9-song collection. There is a sort of Pink Floyd thing going on The Wood Collier’s Grave that is hauntingly beautiful. This was my first foray into the musical genious of Richard Hawley and I was pleasantly impressed and will probably come back for more.
Rounding out the new music that I listened to and liked (I didn’t bother reviewing Niki & the Dove which I found formulaic and boring), is Tame Impala Lonerism. True adepts of psychedelia, these guys definitely deserved a rare 9 on Pitchfork for this great disk. The spectrum goes from a sort of rocking Mind Mischief to a total trippy Apocalypse Dreams. I like what Pitchfork said about this album making you feel a little small – the sounds are indeed big and heavily layered. I have used the word “tapestry” a few times on some of my 2012 posts, but I have to say that it applies particularly to this album. I also loved Keep on Lying, Endors Toi, but perhaps the Black Sabbath throwback Elephant is my favorite. I would be very surprised if this band from Australia didn’t spend an unhealthy amount of time in and near Nimbin 🙂 I can also highly recommend their 2010 debut, Innerspeaker. Thanks once again to Al for the hint.
So there you have it, 11 more albums from 2012 that tickled my ears and contributed to my future deafness. Let me know in the comments if you have heard any of these, or – better yet – if you have some other suggestions. As you can read, I love discovering new music.