September more than made up for August’s lack of color. Maybe there wasn’t anything as dense and mindblowing as The Seer, but I seriously doubt I could’ve handled another one of those anyway. What follows is a fitting goodnight to the long days of summer. And as much as I hate grouping these albums into posts like this, other aspects of life are getting in the way of individual recommendations. So, these types of posts will have to serve as ‘better than nothing’ for the time being.
Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre Is Evil
(8 Ft. Records, 2012)
As I said in my review of their show at the Gothic Theatre earlier in the month, Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra take you on a midway ride operated by a drunken carny with Theatre Is Evil. Palmer claims the album came to her fully baked, every note existing in her head before the (now infamous) Kickstarter campaign earned its first dollar. If this is true, then Palmer’s mind is an expansive space, because the final product is such that it requires everyone to go through the full cycle of emotions (anticipation, excitement, love, loss, disappointment, fear, and even nausea) before being set back down on the dusty ground, disoriented and forever changed (for the next few minutes). Not being a huge follower of Palmer’s work, I probably would have missed out on this release if it weren’t for the controversy surrounding it, and that would have been a true tragedy. To be honest, I’m not sure how long these songs with continue to hold their magic, but even if Theatre Is Evil does not stand the test of time, it is nothing less than perfect in its moment.
Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra – Trout Heart Replica
Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
Feels was my first exposure to Animal Collective, and it is still my favorite album by a group that has defied every unwritten rule about what it means to be a popular band. Second only to Radiohead in terms of bringing challenging music to the masses, it is my opinion that AC have just released their best work since 2005. There is a level of intensity and insanity on Centipede that I found lacking on Merriweather Post Pavilion. To me, it sounds like the next logical step from Feels — it’s when the creatures find their way out of the forest, only to discover the city is a much wilder place. I can appreciate Merriweather for what it was, but Centipede is a welcome return to form. And to those who wanted Merriweather II, you need to open your mind a little bit — diversify your palette a little — respect that AC are now nine albums in and show no signs of dropping a King of Limbs on us.
Animal Collective – Today’s Supernatural
Cat Power – Sun
After a six year new material drought, Chan Marshall ran the risk of becoming just someone that we used to know, but the moment her voice calls out on “Cherokee”, it’s as if no time has passed at all. I believe that is Marshall’s greatest advantage over her peers, she comes on like an old friend. I have never met her, and I’ve only seen her perform as Cat Power once, yet I feel like I know the girl — like we went to different high schools together. She is familiar and sings about familiar things. And on Sun she continues down the glossy, high production road she was traveling on The Greatest. Those that preferred the lo-fi Cat Power of the past might be disappointed, but I’d find it hard to believe anyone could be disappointed in an album in which Marshall pours herself over the listener like warm syrup.
Cat Power – Ruin
Cult of Youth – Love Will Prevail
(Sacred Bones, 2012)
Cult of Youth is a band I discovered last year when I took an interest in Sacred Bones, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not get into their debut album. There was something missing — something uncomfortable about the album, and not in a good way. It was because of this that I approached Love Will Prevail with a certain level of caution. And this is where I expose my lack of a true understanding of music. At first glace, Love Will Prevail just continues on where Cult of Youth left off. In fact, most of the songs are interchangeable. Love Will Prevail is another document of neofolk where the dark things hide in plain sunshine, yet I am completely comfortable this time around. That is not to say this album is more accessible, or muted, than last year’s debut, it just appeals to my senses more. And that’s about all I can say about that.
Cult of Youth – Man and Man’s Ruin
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
I’m going to get honest early and admit that this album failed to meet the high expectations I had for it. I have an unhealthy obsession with almost anything David Byrne does, and St. Vincent blew me away with last year’s Strange Mercy, but this is a perfect example of 1+1 equaling something less than 2. That being said, once I got over my initial disappointment and stopped trying to compare this to the best work of each artist, I realized there really was something special on this album. There is plenty of time for each artist to shine at center stage, and some of the harmonies really do work, but the giant horn section really makes this album a unique listen. It is too bad that Annie Clark and David Byrne came up with something less than the sum of their parts, but a disappointing album from these two still outshines the majority of what’s happening in music today.
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Who
Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud
Devin Townsend is one prolific dude. He’s released something like 500 albums since he put that skullet out of its misery. OK, maybe not that many, but still, the dude likes to create music. Some of these have been epic displays of progressive power metal, some have been experiments in ambient soundtracks, and some have been just plain awful. Epicloud displays his Devin Townsend Project in its best possible light — as a gigantic, technicolor progressive metal beast that has no shame when it comes to incorporating pop hooks into heavy-as-shit songs. I would say Townsend is a guilty pleasure if he wasn’t such an incredible musician. This music isn’t for everyone, sometimes I even question myself while listening to it, but you can’t deny the power of the riff, and on Epicloud it has never been so damn fun!
Devin Townsend Project – True North
Empty Flowers – Six
(Translation Loss, 2012)
Empty Flowers are a still relatively unknown band from Connecticut. They are a rock band with crunchy, heavy tendencies. They are also on the verge of blowing up. Stereogum picked Six as the album of last week. Pitchfork debuted their first single the week before. Yet they still only have a handful of listens on Last.fm and just over 100 likes on Facebook. This is going to change quickly as word on Six gets out. On this debut, Empty Flowers are able to take advantage of the recent 90’s nostalgia, while still sounding of their own time. I’m looking forward to watching the trajectory of this young band.
Empty Flowers -Ice On Wings
Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital EP
In a time when so many so-called ‘indie rock’ bands continue to disappoint, Scotland’s super-sensitive Frightened Rabbit consistently release quality material. And although State Hospital is just a stopgap EP, it provides hope that the next album will be just as good as the last two. Containing only 5 tracks and a runtime around 20 minutes, this EP does leave you feeling a little unsatisfied, but I would rather be left wanting more than have a double album of mediocre music to dig through. As far as I’m concerned, Frightened Rabbit can take their time with the next album, I’ll make do with these five songs and the back catalog for as long as they need.
Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital
The Gaslamp Killer – Breakthrough
The Gaslamp Killer is a name I’ve heard for quite some time, and I’m sure I have heard some of his remixes, but Breakthrough is the first time I’ve paid any attention to the producer who earned his nickname by killing the dancefloor vibe in San Diego’s Gaslamp District. This native of my old hometown, born William Benjamin Bensussen, has relocated to Los Angeles, but the locale switch-up has done nothing to change his found-sound production style. Loosely based on instrumental hip-hop, Bensussen enlists fellow Brainfeers Daedelus, Gonjasufi and Samiyam to add flavor to his manipulated beats and samples. Some of these samples are immediately recognizable, while others come from deep in the crate. One particularly humorous one come from one of the first .wav files I ever heard on the Internet (back in ’93 or so) explaining the endless uses of the word ‘fuck’. The only complaint I have about this album is that it really feels like a collection of track rather than a cohesive album. That being said, the individual tracks are definitely worth your time.
The Gaslamp Killer – Father
Patterson Hood – Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance
Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance is probably the perfect title for a solo album from the Drive-By Truckers’ wordiest storyteller, so it’s not the title that surprises me. What surprises me is that I like this album. Coming from a diehard DBT fan, solo releases from Hood have never been exciting events for me. In all reality, Patterson Hood is my least favorite singer-songwriter in (past and present) DBT. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is absolutely essential to the band, I just feel his long winded tales of Southern things only work when augmented by (the man of few words) Mike Cooley, Jason Isbell, and even Shonna Tucker. A full album with nothing but Hood is an exhausting affair. Yet, the fact that Heat Lightning started out as a novel is a benefit to this latest release. There are long stories on this album, but in reality, the whole album is just one long story…but it’s a good one. Actually, it’s sad and dark and depressing — lacking any hope whatsoever. But it’s a story worth hearing…as a cautionary tale if nothing else. This time around, Hood was able to stretch one story across 12 tracks instead of trying to fit it into 1. This format worked to his benefit, transforming the misery of his past into an enjoyable listen for his fans.
Patterson Hood – 12:01
How To Dress Well – Total Loss
My biggest complaint about Love Remains was its extremely shitty production. I’ve got nothing against lo-fi, but I felt it really ruined what could have been some great tracks. Total Loss manages to up the production value, while still maintaining the How To Dress Well aesthetic that makes Tom Krell such a unique artist. This is head-in-the-clouds r&b from the most unlikely of producers. Once again wearing his heart on the outside, Krell continues to find beauty in the pain that seems to follow him around every dark corner — at one point he literally says goodbye to a list of people who are no longer a part of his life. I do feel the songwriting on Love Remains was stronger, with some tracks on Total Loss feeling unfinished, but the production alone makes this a more enjoyable listen.
How To Dress Well – Cold Nites
Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
(Secretly Canadian, 2012)
I’ve never been a big fan of Jens Lekman. The Swedish musician has always come across as too sugary sweet for my tastes. But with I Know What Love Isn’t, I believe he has made the second most beautiful album of 2012 — second only to Perfume Genius’ Put Your Back N 2 It. And like that album, I Know What Love Isn’t acts as one man’s confessional. On this album, Lekman is able to reflect on life’s lessons learned with enough distance as to be able to laugh at things that would have seemed anything but funny while they were happening. Honest, humorous, real, heartbreaking and fun — this is one of the best ‘pop’ albums of the year.
Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
Menomena – Moms
Many bands get ripped on for not growing. Bands that essentially release the same album over and over again without changing or experimenting with their core are deemed less worthy of your time. Menomena are one of those bands that are able to always sound the same (i.e. you’d never mistake them for anyone else), yet every album is a slight step in a different direction. I would never compare Moms to Fun Blame Monster or Friend and Foe, because every release is essential to the story of the band — everyone might have their ‘favorite’, but no one can deny the power of each release. Moms is probably their grittiest album to date, and I mean that in the best possible way. The absence of Brent Knopf is hardly noticeable, and I mean that in the best possible way as well. Like Frightened Rabbit above, Menomena is among the few ‘indie rock’ bands that continue to impress.
Menomena – Plumage
Mount Eerie – Ocean Roar
(P.W. Elverum & Sun, 2012)
You never know what you’re going to get when Phil Elverum releases a new album. This year were were treated to not one, but two Mount Eerie album. Ocean Roar is the second of the pair, coming mere months after Clear Moon. And for my money, it is the better bet. Dark, claustrophobic rock music that incorporates Elverum’s love of thick atmosphere without actually crossing the line into the extreme. Most Mount Eerie albums go too far in one or another direction for my tastes — they usually lose me by the halfway mark, but Ocean Roar is an incredible listen the whole way through. For the first time, I can relate with the critical praise heaped upon a Phil Elverum.
Mount Eerie – I Walked Home Beholding
Rewind: (pre-September albums on heavy rotation)
Anhedonist – Netherwards (Dark Descent, 2012)
Ash Borer – Cold of Age (Profound Lore, 2012)
Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge, 2012)
Niki & The Dove – Instinct (Sub Pop, 2012)
Redd Kross- Researching the Blues (Merge, 2012)
Why? – Sod In The Seed (Anticon, 2012)