THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND STARTS HERE... with FAVES 2012! I occasionally hear from folks who want to know what music -- from among all of the posts I do here -- I recommend. To some degree, I recommend all of it, unless I expressly write otherwise (e.g., it's not my thing, but it might be yours). With the holiday shopping season upon us, I have tried to make a list of reasonable size. It's an unordered list. I likely will have overlooked something that I really dig. And some of these are grouped together, because that's the way they occurred to me at the moment. And note these are my faves; I'm not purporting to list the "Best" albums of the year.
THE BLACK KEYS, FEIST and GRIZZLY BEAR: I might not rate El Camino, Metals or Shields as the best albums these bands have made (though some would in the case of Shields). But they are really solid outings from bands reaching as close to critical mass as we might expect from alt-rockers on a fragmented musical landscape. I have always rooted for the supposed mainstream to be as influenced by such bands as by the more obvious mass appeals; once this meant rooting for U2 and REM to compete with Madonna and Bon Jovi; now it means rooting for the Black Keys, Feist and Grizzly Bear over Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. And the passage of time also instructs me that the good stuff from better bands tends to outlast the brilliant moments of the more transient artists (though the latter remain worth remembering). I might also put MUMFORD & SONS' Babel into this lump for this reason, despite it falling into the sophomore slump box, imho.
THE dB's: Maybe it's because I just saw them (humblebrag), but once the reunited band's Falling Off the Sky made it back into my rotation, I became more impressed with it. Smart as always, if more wise than precocious. In particular, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey once again demonstrate they are two of the most unique songwriting talents in America and never better than when supported by Gene Holder and Will Rigby. They all bring their post-dB's experiences to the table, and yet the result is undeniably dB's.
BOB MOULD: I suppose I might have put Silver Age into that opening bloc, but someone with the self-awareness to call an album Silver Age desrves his own slot. Perhaps the most perceptive review of this album discussed the sort of melancholy that accompanies writing that an album represents a "return to form." But the Sugar-y sounds of Silver Age are a welcome renaissance for Mould, if not a truly golden one.
JAPANDROIDS: Youngsters looking for their own Husker Du or Sugar could do much worse than Celebration Rock, aptly named and anthemic, even when the topics turn less pleasant. Pete Townshend's comment about rock not solving problems so much as allowing you to dance over them for a while is also appropos here.
TITUS ANDRONICUS: Much of what I wrote about Celebration Rock applies to Local Business, which gets its own slot because -- as the hardestcore version of Springsteen or Hold Steady, frontman Patrick Stickles seems to grasp (knowingly or not) that the local is often more universal than one would suppose... and that the personal is more universal than one would suppose.
CLOUD NOTHINGS: I hope Attack on Memory won't suffer from short memories. This January release manages to be naive, loud, and nuanced in various measures, sometimes simultaneously. I still have a natural preference for the hookier material that bridges from Dylan Baldi's debut, but he's more ambitious and emotional here, which is also a good thing. A good companion to the Japandroids and Titus Andronicus offerings.
SHARON VAN ETTEN; Some will call Tramp more coherent than Epic; some will call it more same-y. Both camps have a point. Her third album is laden with cameos from her indie colleagues, but they rarely distract from her songs and her voice.DJANGO DJANGO: This combo's self-titled debut is filled with a very particular flavor of psychedelia. It's not heavy, Hendrix-esque stuff, or day-glo pop, or even very garagey, except for moments. Rather, it tends to a more downbeat, acoustic flavor -- a less-arranged Byrds, a less-Latin Love, an un-Anglo Kinks. Aside from being jsut palin good, it's nice to hear a band with such quiet self-confidence.
TAME IMPALA, otoh, wears its psych influences more on its sleeve. And while I never completely warmed to "Elephant," which seemed to be the bloggers' track of choice, there's plenty of trippy goodness to enjoy on Lonerism. Again, it may be more overtly retro, but I'm fine with that if you can do it well, and Tame Impala does.
TWIN SHADOW: I feel much the same about George Lewis. Confess is a seamless melange of 80s synthy-pop, from the Human League to Prince to The Cars and more, with at least a hint of Morrissey in the crooning vocals. Yet one never gets the feeling of a direct steal, and it serves a particular romanticism that rock seemed to have lost once MTV stopped playing music.
ARIEL PINK'S HAUNTED GRAFFITI: Mature Themes may not wear as well as Before Today, but it does occupy the unlikely space between Tame Impala and Twin Shadow, marrying some truly trippy, Syd Barrett-esque lyrics to mellow grooves more common in 70s soft R & B, or Spandau Ballet. An acquired taste, but one for which the hankering recurs.
AC NEWMAN: Shut Down The Streets finds the New Pronographers' songwriter taking a solo paternity leave through the 70s singer-songwriter genre. It was thus not surprising that the two main critiques of the album were that Newman did not use the occasion to get even more personal in his lyrics, and occasionally broke the mood with tracks that seem better suited to his maing gig. Nevertheless, for me, Newman's sheer tunefulness carries the day, which here is probably a rainy Sunday afternoon.
DIVINE FITS: Britt Daniel (Spoon) and Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs) collaborate, sometimes sounding more like one than the other. But Daniel's funky, uptight bass thing and Boeckner's more wild guitar thing usually end up working like the musical equivalent of the peanut butter cup. So why there's a cherry on the cover of A Thing Called Divine Fits is a mystery.
LEONARD COHEN: I feel as silly putting Old Ideas on a list as I did listing the last Tom Waits album. You either dig him or don't, and I do. Old Ideas can still be as good or better than new ones, or so James Bond tells me.
DIRTY PROJECTORS: Dave Longstreth's idiosyncratic project makes a breakthrough of sorts with Swing Lo Magellan. Reportedly distilled from a wealth of demos, this LP is the project's most direct and coherent to date, while maintaining enough of an element of mystery to draw repeated listening.
FATHER JOHN MISTY: I thought J. Tillman's departure from Fleet Foxes to be madness, but his freak-folky solo vehicle is almost enough to convince me there was a method as well.
TEAM SPIRIT: End of Year lists will be far more likely to focus on Passion Pit's Gossamer than the EP from this side project, which is power pop for now people. Similarly, DUM DUM GIRLS will fall off most radars this year, but their End of Daze EP shows an increasingly confident combo honing its craft on the downlow.
THE HEAVY: If 2011 had a glut of classic soul revivalists, 2012 had a drought. So it was a good thing The Heavy returned with the Glorious Dead album. How do I like them now? Pretty much as much as always, even if this offering lacks the ubiquitous smash hit.
A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING: It's always somewhere on the net.
WKRP: "Turkeys Away," in its entirety. And here's the turkey giveaway by itself.
THANKSGIVING has a lot of myths, both traditional and the new "Pilgrims were evil" ones taught in some public schools. Not to mention the fights over kindergarteners dressing as Native Americans. However, if you read the journal of William Bradford -- who served some 35 years as governor of the Pilgims' colony -- you quickly discover that the Pilgrims' relationship with the natives was complex. Ultimately, Bradford quieted internal discontent by doing away with the collectivism of a company town and granting property rights.