If you already like Spiritualized you’ll love this album. Spiritualized has been doing the same thing, really, really well for a very long time- they mix gospel & blues with strings and psychedelic feedback to create one of the best mixtures of dissonance and beauty since the Velvet Underground. The subjects are fast living, drugs, sin, self-loathing, God, redemption & death. After a small dip in quality during the beginning and into the middle of the last decade, Spiritualized and their leader J Spaceman are again on a roll- 2008’s “Songs in A&E” was a return to form and “Sweet Heart” is arguably better, highlighted by its epic centerpiece “Hey Jane”, one of the best stone cold jams in their entire discography.
A year ago if you would have told me that the best oldster album of 2012 would be made by Dr. John, I would have found that pretty hard to imagine. Though the good Dr. has never really stopped recording, he hasn’t really felt all that relevant since the early 70’s- albums like “Gumbo” and his fantastic debut “Gris Gris” are the only of is to really ever be called “great”. Red Hot producer Dan Auerbach (singer/guitarist of the Black Keys) asked to produce “Locked Down” and really does a phenomenal job. He captures the Dr. John sound of voodoo psychedelic Cajun swamp blues and gives it a slight update for the new century. Auerbach plays guitar (very effectively) throughout the record and amazingly, the 71 year old John’s voice shows no wear & tear. This is true groove music and hopefully this opens up a legendary but still somewhat underappreciated artist to a whole new generation.
Beautiful & intricate Italo-disco, which sounds like a perfect mixture between synth-pop, EDM & ambient chill out music. Almost a third of the tracks are instrumentals or near instrumentals and the double album is well over 2 hours long. “Kill for Love” is Chromatics 2nd full length and will no doubt increase the group’s profile as well as their record label, Italians Do It Better, stable of like-minded artists. There are hooks and earworms scattered throughout “Kill for Love” but the ultra slow tempos of tracks like “Lady”, “Back from the Grave” and especially the title cut make should be radio hits ultimately less immediate but even more pleasurably on subsequent listens. What New Order may have sounded like if they got their start in the early oughts rather than the early eighties.
Buy Kill for Love – Kill for Love
*Track not available via Amazon
Buy Lady – Kill for Love
*Track not available via Amazon
Divine Fits is a supergroup or sorts which includes Spoon frontman Britt Daniel & Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs co-frontman Dan Boeckner as well as the drummer for the New Bomb Turks and a keyboardist, formerly unknown but playing a prominent role. Daniel and Boeckner split the vocals and songwriting duties and Wolf Parade and especially Spoon certainly come to mind depending on who is singing. Though they may not be reinventing the wheel Divine Fits is a very worthwhile endeavor and apparently not a mere vanity project. They toured all through last year and have plans to release more albums in the future. Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs are broken up and though Spoon continues to record great stuff on a staggeringly consistent level, Divine Fits stands right alongside it and the presence of Boeckner along with the heavy use of keyboards make them nowhere near redundant. There isn’t a weak track on this album and a handful of great tracks like “Flaggin’ a Ride”, “Baby Get Worse”, “My Love Is Real” and my personal favorite “Shivers” (a cover- though I don’t know the original) push the album from good to very, very good.
Like Spoon above, New York City’s the Walkmen have been churning out really good albums for over a decade now. “Heaven” could be their best offering since 2004’s breakout “Bows + Arrows”. Moving toward their mid 30’s, “Heaven’s” primary subject is actually domestic bliss which sounds almost revolutionary coming from such an angsty band during our current contentious times. At least half of the tracks on “Heaven” are mellower than much of the band’s former output and it took me some time to fully warm up to the album. While at first they made the album drag a bit, after subsequent listens they help highlight the album’s handful of standouts. Both “Heartbreaker” and the title cut are already two of my favorite Walkmen cuts and “Love Is Luck”, “We Can’t Be Beat” and “Song for Leigh” aren’t far behind. Drummer Matt Barrick is a master behind the kit and one of the best unknown drummers in indie-rock and vocalist Hamilton Leithauser again leaves everything on the table with every note. The Walkmen have pretty quietly produced quite a discography. If you don’t know them already “Heaven” is as good a place to start as anywhere else.
Classical music as a rock opera for the apocalypse. I’m not sure I’ve seen an album cover in awhile that perfectly matches the music found within. Godspeed are a legendary underground Canadian collective who have been on hiatus for the good part of a decade. “Allelujah” was another pleasant surprise after the band recently reformed for touring purposes. And unlike so many rock groups their new material matches the quality of the original. The nearly 60 minute album is only made up of 4 “songs”. The two main tracks are both 20+ minutes and the other two mainly mainly fill in as effective window dressing in between.
DIIV is vibe music. They aren’t quite surf music or shoegaze though they’re related to both and they certainly have nothing in common with jam bands. These guys are all about a distinct sound. Their songs can run somewhat together and several of them are fully instrumental. They are guitar centric but they guitar playing is mellow and jangly- like the New Jersey band Real Estate but with more feedback and with the vocals laden with reverb and pushed pretty far back in the mix. DIIV’s sound evokes nature- particularly water. It’s a summertime album meant for chillin’ out over partying. Each song builds on the next one and contributes to the overall flow. Great debut!
At this point these Brits are probably being docked points for consistency. “In Our Heads” is their fifth proper album and 5th straight damn good one (though I haven’t actually heard their debut- I’m going off of what I’ve heard). “In Our Heads”, like the Walkmen above, is a mature album. The members of Hot Chip our fathers and family mend and their lyrics find them addressing religion, devotion & commitment. Luckily the bands sense of humor and playfulness is still very much in tact and “In Our Heads” is a blast to listen to from start to finish. With tracks like “Motion Sickness”, “How Do You Do”” and “Flutes”, Hot Chip has quietly become the most consistently great electronic dance band since probably New Order in the 80’s. Not bad for a gaggle of pasty looking Brits.
“Swing Lo Magellan” was a true grower for me in 2012. My first few listens I was at least mildly disappointed. The album’s predecessor, “Bitte Orca” was my introduction to the band and one of my 40 or so favorite albums of the whole decade. While I still don’t think “Magellan” matches “Bitte Orca’s” magic, it’s a pretty fine album in its own right. The Projectors sound is downright quirky and can be very polarizing to some- singer Dave Longstreth’s falsetto can be a turn off to some and the band members stretch themselves musically- playing notes and time signatures just because they can. The female harmonies still soar and sound almost otherwordly. That all said “Magellan” is really a far more accessible album than their previous two. If you still can’t get into these guys now it will probably never happen. Tracks like “The Gun Has No Trigger”, “Offspring Are Blank” and “Dance For You” are incredible cuts and the rest of the album stands up enough to make it anything but a letdown for me.
I think “Centipede HZ” is likely the most underrated album of the year. It has been all but trashed by most critics and longtime fans. Following up the instant classic “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was certainly a tall order and “Centipede” is definitely the lesser album. Though there are a few clunkers on it, I hear at least five great cuts and a few other damn good ones. “Centipede” is slightly less accessible than “MPP”, but still much more listenable than much of the band’s (still sometimes great) earlier, more experimental stuff. So maybe “Centipede” is really half a great record but put on tracks like “Father Time”, “Moonjock”, Applesauce” and “Today’s Supernatural” or listen to the great 2012 non-album single cut “Honeycomb” and realize these guys are still in a very fertile period. They’ve seemed to find a signature sound but they tweak it enough- song to song never mind album to album- to keep things very interesting.