October turned out to be a HUGE month for new music. The return of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a double album of original material from Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the debut from Kendrick Lamar…Death Grips bypassing their label with the graphic NO LOVE DEEP WEB, hardcore shit from Pig Destroyer, Enslaved and Converge…the return of Bat For Lashes, Chelsea Wolfe and Beth Orton… It was all a little overwhelming. Here’s to an amazing close to a great year in music! 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.
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
(Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope, 2012)
Kendrick Lamar has been my favorite rapper since I first heard Section.80 last year, but even his incredible live performance at the Ogden earlier this month couldn’t prepare me for his first major label release. Unlike so many that fall victim to record label influence, Lamar has release a true hip-hop masterpiece in his autobiographical good kid, m.A.A.d city. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say this is the most important album that has been released in a deteriorating scene since the 90′s. That’s not to say this is something I will want to listen to (from opening scene to ending credits) every day, but like so many other releases this year, what might be difficult to consume proves to be worth the effort. Art isn’t always easy..in fact, the best never is. good kid, m.A.A.d city deals with some difficult issues, but Lamar manages to turn certain scenes into bangin’ singles. The West Coast Legends made the right decision by passing the torch to the latest kid to come straight outta Compton.
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – Lost Songs
(Richter Scale / Superball, 2012)
There is no doubt that Austin’s …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead peaked with 2002′s Source Tags & Codes. That first album for Interscope built on the foundation of the previous two recordings, while catapulting the band to new heights. Unfortunately, the two albums that followed found Trail of Dead in the clouds with an inflated sound that might have gained the band some new followers, but left many lost and confused. I actually didn’t mind those records for what they were, but I am happy to report Lost Songs is a return to form from a band some thought long lost. Looking forward to catching their set at FFF next week.
Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man
If I am being honest, I don’t like Bat For Lashes all that much, but I do like Natasha Khan quite a bit. Khan’s voice is haunting in a Kate Bush / Fumbling Towards Ecstasy-era Sarah McLachlan sorta way, but with Bat For Lashes, it’s too often smeared across an electronic canvas with artificial drums and cheap sounding syth. That being said, The Haunted Man is still worth your time, for tracks such as “Lillies”, “Laura” and “Winter Fields” alone. The tracks where Khan’s vocals rise above the chaos are truly stunning, and with good headphones and a little patience, there is beauty to be found within the more produced selections as well. The Haunted Man is a very good album, but if Khan’s voice was as naked as she appears on the album artwork, it could be something great.
Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
When I got back into metal a few years ago, I came across Converge’s Axe To Fall, and I hated it. All I heard was screaming. As time went on and my palate came back around to the extreme, I learned to appreciate Converge for the hardcore powerhouse that they were, but I never became the avid fan that drools over Jane Doe. That’s why I’m a little surprised by how much I am enjoying All We Love We Leave Behind. Maybe it’s just that I’ve become conditioned to aggression over the past few years, but what I hear now is a balanced and varied aggression. This is the first Converge album where I can actually differentiate tracks from one another. These dudes might be getting old for a hardcore band, but in my opinion, they are getting better with age.
Death Grips – NO LOVE DEEP WEB
If there was any fear that Epic Records would have a mellowing effect on Death Grips, The Money Store put that to rest. If there was a debate as to whether Epic Records would have ANY control over Death Grips, the release of NO LOVE DEEP WEB ended that conversation. As if going around their new label to release the album for free on the web wasn’t a big enough ‘fuck you’, they went ahead and put an erect penis on the cover. Death Grips ain’t nuttin’ to fuck wit! And while I still believe they have yet to top the Exmilitary mixtape, they are proving to be one of the most exciting acts to stir up the system in quite some time.
Enslaved – RIITIIR
(Nuclear Blast, 2012)
Norway’s Enslaved are one of the most popular black metal bands in the world. Hailing from the birthplace of the outsiders’ genre, they have the history and pedigree that allow them to be part of the true scene, yet Enslaved have morphed into something rarely resembling the black-and-white, lo-fi recordings that marked the violent beginnings of this harsh musical outlet. After over 20 years as a band, RIITIIR find Enslaved as a truly progressive metal band, and while many will praise (or write-off) this album on spec, it took me quite a few listens to form an opinion. On first listen, I found the interplay between the clean and gargling-black metal vocals to be disorienting. The transition is not a smooth one. But after subsequent listens, I find these sharp switches are by design. Extreme forms of metal should not be an easy listen — they should keep you on edge. RIITTIIR manages to keep things heavy and uncomfortable, while at the same time ushering the form into the future. They are not the only band trying to do this, but this album makes an argument for them being the best.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
If Godspeed You! Black Emperor had announced their first album in ten years with via a giant, drawn out marketing campaign, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! would have been one of the most anticipated albums of the year. It would have never lived up to the hype. So instead, the Canadian collective just released the album at their merch booth at a recent show, without saying a word beforehand. Genius. The fact that the album is a legitimate addition to their their legendary discography, makes this October surprise even more newsworthy. ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is classic Godspeed instrumental post-rock for the modern world. ’Allelujah to that!
Indesinence – Vessels of Light and Decay
(Profound Lore, 2012)
British doom/death metallers Indesinence are the latest band to join the folds of Canadian ‘it’ label, Profound Lore. Unfortunately, their debut for said label was delayed quite a bit due to issues with the manufacturing of the packaging. The digipack version of their follow-up to 2006′s Noctambulism was set to ship with a full hardcover booklet, and evidently there were problems with getting this done. The packaging itself might have been a little overhyped, but the music contained within was not. As with almost every Profound Lore release over the past few years, Vessels of Light and Decay is a monster of an album. More decay than light, the band manages to present a nightmare apocalypse, while still being (relatively) accessible. So many bands defined as death/doom blend together with indecipherable sound, where Indesinence managed to separate themselves from the pack. This is an album that I would recommend to my diehard metal friends, as well as to my friends who avoid the dark side due to frustration with death growls. It’s rare to find a band with a truly unique sound such as this.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
(Macklemore LLC, 2012)
May 29th, 2012…the precise date I first heard Macklemore. We had just got out of the Broken Bells show and my buddy was playing The VS. EP on our way to the next bar. ”Irish Celebration”? Really? A white guy from Seatle rapping about getting hooked on sizzurp? It would have come across as trite, if it weren’t for how good he sounded. The beats weren’t half bad, and this Macklemore had quite the flow. Fast-forward a couple years and I have to admit I was getting pretty sick of those few songs, not to mention the exact same set every time I saw him live. By the time The Heist was released, we were long overdue for new material. Turns out, it was worth the wait. If Macklemore is anything, he is a storyteller, and with help from Ryan Lewis, those stories come to life through hit singles. Personal, autobiographical stories that manage to hit on many of the issues facing America today. Everything from a timely argument for opennesss when it comes to homosexuals in hip-hop to the choice of postponing the album until he was able to put it out himself, rather than get ‘fucked’ by the industry. The Heist is an awesome display of positive hip-hop. My only complaint is that sometimes the lyrics can come across as high school poetry. Aside from that small complaint, this album is well worth your time.
Tift Merritt – Traveling Alone
(Yep Roc, 2012)
Ms. Merritt has been on my radar ever since 2008′s Another Country. Her albums have always been enjoyable, but always fall just short of holding my attention over an exteneded period of time. Traveling Alone is not a giant step forward, or in any direction, from her previous albums, but I think the subject matter just hit home for me. I’m sure there has been a lot of good country music released this year, but for my money, Traveling Alone is a contender for country album of the year.
The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth
The Mountain Goats have become my go-to “indie rock” band. Recent history has proved them to be the most reliable in the game. My expectations and their output are in perfect harmony. I don’t expect John Darnielle to top his early 4AD output, and in return he rewards me with an almost-great album every year. With Transcendental Youth, the master storyteller has doubled-up on my yearly reward with his best album since 2006′s Get Lonely. It has been a long time since I’ve had so much fun at the expense of Darnielle’s characters’ miserable lives (and deaths).
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
My indifference toward Neil Young has always baffled me. Legendary singer-songwriters are my Achilles’ heel. Waits, Dylan, Cohen, Springsteen…I forgive them all their missteps and praise their every breath. But for some reason, I’ve always separated Young from the equation. That is until I witnessed Neil Young & Crazy Horse in full form at Red Rocks earlier this year. To say the show exceeded expectations would be a criminal understatement. I was seriously blown away. And the funny thing about that show, as I learned after, was that many of the songs they performed were unreleased. Those songs (“Born in Ontario”, “Walk Like A Giant”, “Twisted Road”, “For the Love of Man”, “Ramada Inn” & “Psychedelic Pill”) are all included on the first album of new material from the band since 2003 — an hour and a half collection of unapologetic classic rock from true masters. I can’t say this is their best album, because I haven’t spent much time with their work, but I will say it’s one of the best albums I have heard all year. I am a believer!
Beth Orton – Sugaring Season
Beth Orton could recite the phonebook and I would listen. There’s just something about her voice that makes me feel like the world is alright. Her last album, ironically titled Comfort of Strangers, was a little slice of peace in the month I spent in Australia in 2006. Having just came from six months in SE Asia, the travelers in Australia were an assault to the senses in a variety of ways. I caught Orton’s show in Brisbane and her album was on repeat for the rest of my journey. Six years later, Sugaring Season finds me in a different place (physically and mentally) altogether, but Orton’s voice is no less comforting. If you’re in the mood for a collection of simple songs, sung by a woman blessed with a beautiful voice, Sugaring Season is my pick of the month.
Pig Destroyer – Book Burner
Before ever hearing a single blast from Pig Destroyer, I had read about J. R. Hayes’ amazing lyrics. Not being all that familiar with grindcore, I have to admit I was expecting to ‘hear’ these lyrics when I listened to my first Pig Destroyer song. Instead, I was treated to ear rape like I had never experienced with any other form of metal. Like Converge above (but completely different), I just couldn’t wrap my brain around this form of noise. Now, it’s been a few years since my slow crawl to the dark side has became a full-on skydive, and although grind is probably my least favorite subgenere, I don’t shun it altogether. And if you’re going to give grind a chance, in my opinion, there isn’t a better band than Pig Destroyer. As for those lyrics, yeah, they are there…you’ll just have to read them off the sheet.
Titus Andronicus – Local Business
Titus Andronicus are one of my favorite bands working today. The Monitor was my #3 pick for 2010, and their live shows are always a highlight of the year. I am also a huge fan of The Airing of Grievances, so Local Business was never going to be a disappointment for me. I wasn’t expecting them to come out and try to make something ‘bigger and better’ than The Monitor. I actually didn’t want them to do that — it would have been exhausting for both band and fan. Local Business is exactly what I wanted in 2012 — a collection a passionate punk songs with no overarching concept, but altogether just as intelligent and well written as anything they’ve done before.
Willis Earl Beal – Principles of a Protagonist
(XL/Hot Charity, 2012)
Acousmatic Sorcery was one of my most anticipated albums of the year. Based on the youtube videos, backstory and live performances, I had no doubt it would top my list of releases for the year. Unfortunately, the absolute lack of production killed the album. It sounded like shit. I would have preferred Beal sing me a song over the phone, like he did for so many who dialed his posted personal phone number. So it was a nice suprise when he relased Principles of a Protagonist as a free download. This EP presents five tracks from Acousmatic Sorcery, recorded with true production value. This is what Willis Earl Beal SHOULD sound like!
Chelsea Wolfe – Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs
(Sargent House, 2012)
Chelsea Wolfe came out from behind the veil sometime last year, but with Unknown Rooms the artist is exposing herself in a way I would have never thought possible. There has never been any doubt about the range in which Chelsea’s voice can penetrate — from a secret lover whispering in your ear to a dark shadow in the alleyway whispering the last words you’ll ever hear. This give-and-take of black and white — the interplay between the object in the spotlight and the shadows against the wall — is what has made Chelsea Wolfe the unique entity that she is. Whether it be onstage with a band, solo in one of many arresting photo shots, or even the girl smoking a cigarette in front of the club, to those who don’t know her, Chelsea Wolfe is more an image than a person. With Unknown Rooms, Chelsea becomes a person. She becomes more than just the ghost in those funeral songs that we all know so well. On a personal level, I have seen Chelsea come a long way in the past two years, and I think this was a brave album for her to make, but now that she’s done it, I am looking forward to the true (full band) follow up to Apokalypsis.
Rewind: (pre-October albums on heavy rotation)
Gallows – Gallows (PIAS, 2012)
Witchcraft – Legend (Nuclear Blast, 2012)
The xx – Coexist (Young Turks, 2012)