My favourite albums of 2012

Bloombloom
Beach House

Apparently “dream pop” is a musical genre. News to me. Also, if, like me, you want to know what that genre sounds like, apparently you should listen to Beach House’s Bloom. It does the trick.

Yes, their sound is dreamy; but it’s still approachable—even, you guessed it, popular. It’s at turns sweet and pleasant, mournful and full of grief.

Weirdly, and with apologies to die-hard fans of Beach House, I can imagine an alternate universe in which the castrato-pop sensation, Justin(e) Bieber, released this album.

TAKE IT EASY, SELENA GOMEZ.

Jiaolongjiaolong
Daphni

If you input “Jiaolong” in Wikipedia (my go-to resource for answers to most of life’s questions), you find it is, “a polysemous aquatic dragon in Chinese mythology.” What then to make of this album? Is it spiritually akin to a crocodile? Is it manlike, or a mere fish?

Fuck if I know. Might as well be a Chinese lizard. I suppose, if you dabbled in meditation or controlled substances, listening to this album while entranced might produce visions of such far-east reptiles of lore. More likely, however, you’ll want to reach for a glow-stick and sway back and forth like an idiot for seven straight hours.

But I digress. This is a solid album, if you like music of the electronic variety, which I do occasionally.

Indeed, Daphni—also known as Caribou, previously known as Manitoba, actually Daniel Victor Snaith—has a long and productive history of making good shit. His previous effort, Swim, as Caribou, was so good I included it among my favourites of 2010. I couldn’t really ignore this one, especially since it’s equally good, albeit a little more downtempo. Anyways.

SOOTHERS ARE FOR BABIES.

Django Djangodjango-django
Django Django

I haven’t really played video games of any sort since the early 90s. Rest assured, I don’t feel short-changed. And even if I did—I don’t!—I think this album makes up for it.

For reasons I can’t quite explain, Django Django’s eponymous debut reminds me of those early games on the NES. A B A B UP DOWN LEFT RIGHT START. So few buttons; so many possibilities! Shitty graphics. Simplistic story lines. (Rescue the Princess! Eat the bananas! Kill the bad guys!)

Moreover, this album could’ve easily been used as the soundtrack to that brilliant bit of product placement wizardry, The Wizard. Pop this album in your CD player, or more appropriately plug your iPod into an analog auxiliary jack and connect it to the analog input of your Bose Soundwave, then watch this movie. You’d swear Django Django is to The Wizard that Dark Side of the Moon is to The Wizard of Oz.

Yes, I realize this hardly constitutes a review of the music. Whatever. I gather this album is on many best-of lists this year. Read those if you want to know what this band actually sounds like.

USE THE WARP WHISTLE!

The Lion’s Roarthe-lions-roar
First Aid Kit

What is it about the Swedes and excellent Americana music? Seriously. Utterly delightful. America should rest a little bit easier: on this one front, they’ve been beaten by a country other than China.

In the same vein as Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, the Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes and, ahem, The Tallest Man on Earth, the sisters Söderberg, Johanna and Klara, have put together a truly beautiful album. Their song, “Emmylou,” might just be my favourite song of the year.

FUCK IKEA.

Visionsvisions
Grimes

More dream pop. WTF? Apparently, I like this shit—and I don’t even own a glow stick, let alone many glow sticks that would necessitate an entire rack.

Actually, I think I dig this album because, like so many on this year’s list, it features a female vocalist who, aided by some wicked synth-pop melodies, makes some bad-ass tunes.

CHICKS RULE.

Shieldsshields
Grizzly Bear

This is a very enjoyable album from a talented bunch of grimy hipsters from Brooklyn. It doesn’t grate on your nerves and test your patience like, say, Arcade Fire. In fact, what makes this album so good is it seems to take the nice bits about Arcade Fire, while discarding the wailing from that band’s female vocalist. Oh, and on this album, not every song sounds like the last one. So there’s that, too.

I suspect the fact I’ve drawn (badly, too) a comparison between Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire will prompt the die-hards, true audiophiles, and readers of actual music magazines to castigate me as a know-nothing—or worse, simply throw me in with the Bieber-loving masses. Fine. I liked this album; I tend to wince at the shrill tones of Arcade Fire. If that makes me an uninformed hack, so be it. I’ve been called much, much worse.

JUST DON’T CALL ME LATE FOR DINNER!

Port of Morrowport-of-morrow
The Shins

I really like the The Shins. I’ve been a faithful listener for years. (Granted, I was completely unaware the lead singer dissolved the old band and brought together a new group of lads before releasing this album, but I’ve already established myself to be an uniformed, stereophonic slut.) Their latest, Port of Morrow, is a real treat.

I suppose what I like most about this album, their first in five years, is how much the sound of the band has evolved. True, the lead vocals are as haunting and unique as they were on their first album, back in 2001. The synth remains, too. (Thankfully. I adore the synth.) And yet, there’s something else, something new and fresh and, well, more poppy about the thing.

Sure, those college kids who adopted, “New Slang,” as their anthem are likely to be thrown into an existential crisis—recorded in real-time with endless Facebook updates and constant Tweets, befitting the millennial generation. Thankfully, I’m immune to such things: I long ago adopted Huey Lewis and the News’, “Hip to Be Square,” as my anthem.

FORE!

There’s No Leaving Nowtheres-no-leaving-now
The Tallest Man On Earth

The Swedish folkie strikes again! This time in the form of male vocalist Kristian Matsson.

There’s No Leaving Now, Matsson’s third album, is a solid offering from start to finish. And, while Matsson isn’t actually the tallest man on Earth (again, visit Wikipedia for those stats), he does manage to sing like someone reaching for great heights.

When I reviewed his 2009 album, The Wild Hunt, I remarked: his vocals are haunting, raw, and unique. The same can be said of him today. However, I’d add infectious. Indeed, Matsson’s music has a way of burrowing into your brain. Not in that earwig-from-Star-Trek-Wrath-of-Khan kind of way, but in the way that makes your toes tap, your head bob, and a smile in the corners of your mouth whenever you hear one of his tunes.

ENOUGH SAID.

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1 comment
  1. Barbara said:

    I just love reading your music review Kris. It makes me even more aware of how detached I have become from today’s music. The only familiar words were “Justin Bieber” and “Arcade Fire”. It’s almost like I live on a different planet. Rock on Gordon Lightfoot! LOL. xox/bja

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