The 2012 Album Review Part 2

Here we are again. Lot of new music this year. I covered the first half of the year (or so) in the Half-Year Album Review 2012, so check that out again if you’d like. This will cover the other albums I listened to. At the end, I’ll compile both lists – just the artist names and album titles – into the system I use, so you can compare and undoubtedly complain and argue with me. Do so! I enjoy music conversations, and also showing other people that they are wrong.

Without further nonsense, the 2012 Album Review:

Mid-Range

 The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

You know, I’ve always been wary of getting into The Mountain Goats. There’s such a back catalogue of albums, and I have no idea where to start. I picked up Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree on the recommendations of a friend, and both were good. But I think I might be better served by getting any new albums that come out, and maybe in off years – do they have off years, when they don’t put an album out? – maybe then, I can pick up a random album from their past.

Anyway, the album. The first song is nice and seems to want to create a direct connection to me. Well, to anyone listening, really, but since I am listening, then it wants to bond with me. And it works!

Man, the third song, ‘Cry For Judas’, really grabs me.

Also – horns! I knew it! 2012 is the Year of the Horn!

All in all, the album does want to talk to me on a personal level, and I like it for that. It isn’t overly dramatic – it’s like chatting with a cool lady at a bar, except she has Josh Darnielle’s voice. If we hold to this analogy, then the conversation starts off strong, lags a bit in the middle, but then towards the end we get super deep into real life stuff and we bond over it. Maybe we slow-dance, while she whispers secrets about herself in my ear, but with Josh Darnielle’s voice.

I’m saying it’s good but maybe uncomfortable in an okay way, and also that I would be weirded out if a lady had Josh Darnielle’s voice.

Honestly, this is probably the best album after the Half-Year Album Review. But it still isn’t Top Tier. Maybe there’s too much forced intimacy all at once?

 

Blood Red Shoes – In Time to Voices

Blood Red Shoes has some kind of pull for me, and I don’t understand it. They’re like an off-beat Metric (in a good way, and not literally off-beat). In Time to Voices opens with the title track, and the droning words are a little obscured. And it works perfectly. The pickup that hits at about the halfway point is really good too.

Now that I think about it, yeah, they’ve definitely got a Metric thing going on, and it totally rocks. They’re a bit more on the rock side than Metric.

The way some songs shift into the next song made me double check to make sure that one song had ended and the other began. And yet they are able to maintain such a different sound. It’s very pleasant.

All in all, this album is very good. What is holding me back from putting it in the Top Tier is the slow songs. While good, they don’t fit the album, and the band has this urge to make every songs kind of confusingly noisy. So, while the slow(er) songs are good, it’s like they are partial covers of faster, more up-tempo songs; it makes for a strange dissonance, and not a good one. Still, well worth a listen.

 

Kaki King – Glow

Ahh, an instrumental album. Well, if anybody can pull it off, it’s Kaki King. She knows what the hell she’s doing. And she shows it on this album.

The sound varies pleasantly. It isn’t just “Hey look at what I can do on the guitar”, she’s actually building themes and concepts in the songs themselves. I would say ‘soundscapes’ but I always feel needlessly pretentious when I say it.

On the other hand, it’s an instrumental album, focusing on the guitar. There are 12 tracks. They can’t all sound so different from the others that the album won’t blur at some points. And that’s the problem – the album totally blurs together at points. I lose track of when a song ended and where one began, but not in a good way, not in a ‘I’m so into this album that I got myself mentally lost while exploring it”.

Kaki King has made a good album, but I can’t sink into it. I hear it but don’t feel it. Mid-range.

 

Missy Higgins – The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle

My initial impression is that this is an upbeat album. And I like it. Missy Higgins, I used to think, was a little out of my normal range – she seemed a little bit more pop-oriented. But I think I’ve grown into her style. The first three songs really pulled me into the album. It’s a nice trio powerhouse, all of them snapping right along. She seems to want to make a good first impression on the album, and she does. Then it slows down for a song, picks back up a little. It’s a nice variation; simple but effective. I think I talked about this when I reviewed Jenny Owen Youngs’ album An Unwavering Band of Light.

The song Temporary Love has a little bit of a country beat to it, but not so much that I’d call it a country song. Not sure how I feel about it – I think I like it, but I need much more time with it.

Overall, worth at least a listen through. Gets too ‘love-song’-ish after a while, but pretty good all the same. Upper Mid-Range.

 

Dark Dark Dark – Who Needs Who

It has been damnably hard for me to get a grip on this album. It’s … well, I hate it when album reviews call an album ‘contemplative’ but now I have to stuff it and say it myself. This album is contemplative. And I like it. The album, as a whole, makes me imagine an elderly couple dancing a slow dance a grandchild’s wedding. They’ve seen it all, they’ve had the good fortune to see their grandchildren married, and they’ve lived and suffered and rejoiced together. And now they are dancing, surrounded by family.

But of course that tells you nothing about the album, and that’s because I just don’t know. It doesn’t leave a powerful impression on me. I don’t dislike it, but I’m not sure it’s really moved me in any significant way.

All that aside, it’s a decent album.

 

St. Vincent and David Byrne – Love This Giant

Oh, how I wanted to love this album. St. Vincent very quickly became one of my favorite artists, from the time I found one of her songs while YouTube surfing. Annie Clark – driving force behind St. Vincent, and she is a force, I assure you – is just the best. Great range, totally capable of cutting loose in a song (and isn’t afraid to do so), puts on an amazing live show. Just really pleasant for music all around.

The other half of this album, David Byrne, has one of the most monotone singing voices I’ve ever had the displeasure of enduring. And that’s what you have to do – endure it. And Annie Clark is like an angel. So when I listen to this album, it’s like trying to listen to sweet audio manna falling in sound waves from heaven, while a guy stands next to you and just absolutely blasts you in the ears with a vuvuzela.

Here. This is what David Byrne sounds like to me.

So yeah, my opinion of this album is mixed. ‘Who’ is a nice tune. I guess I don’t mind it. Weekend in the Dust is much better, as it is a St. Vincent track, lacking any Vuvuzela Byrne. I don’t love Dinner for Two, but it has a little airy flute that makes me giggle, so I can’t hate it.

Ice Age, the fourth song, is where the album really shines for me. Behold!

It sounds like a St. Vincent track – like Clark wrote this song and made it, and then just put it on the album. Love it. I’ll come back to Ice Age in a bit, when I talk about my broken dreams in relation to this album.

One thing I noticed – a lot of the songs where David “Hollerin’ All the Time” Byrne is the lead vocalist, Clark does backup vocals for him. But in the St. Vincent lead vocal songs, Clark has no backup. Now, I’m obviously biased, but I feel confident in asserting that it’s because Clark doesn’t need the help, and Byrne does.

Oh, I almost forgot – holy shit does this album have horns. Every song is like “What’s that? You want a brass section breakdown? Yeah well here it is.” It’s as if Love This Giant was recorded under a trumpet and saxophone orgy. I Am An Ape starts with horns – then the song directly after it, The Forest Awakes, starts with horns. And that’s not the barest extent of the horn action on this album. It’s a little much.

In the end, I just can’t like this album. There are songs I really like, but none of them are David Byrne songs. As an album, it’s just….bleh. Part of the tragedy for me is that I can imagine so many other pairings for St. Vincent that would create an amazing album. For example: check out this video, where Annie Clark sits down with Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards.

They have similar thoughts on music, an approach it from similar places, but their end products are so wildly different. I could not even imagine what a collaboration between these two would be like, but holy shit would I ever like to hear it. Or we could have had the album I was hoping for when I heard St. Vincent’s Krokodil. Holy shit, right? Splendid!

Alas, we get Love This Giant instead.

 

Sarah Blasko – I Awake

Sarah Blasko is pretty great. And I like this album. It doesn’t have a song like Planet New Year, but it has some good ones. Bury This has a bit of a mystic feel, Fool has a nice swell at times. And the title track is decent too. I Awake is a slower album than I am used to from Blasko. It’s a bit quieter as well, which is disappointing for me. I tend to enjoy her faster paced songs better.

Overall, I Awake isn’t as good as What the Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have. But it’s solid from start to end.

Julie Doiron – So Many Days

Man, this album starts off unlike other Julie Doiron albums. I only know her as a musician who creates terribly depressing music, but Cars and Trucks is not that at all. It’s almost toe-tapping.

‘Another Second Chance’ sounds more like the Julie Doiron I know, slow and steady guitar while she sings about sad stuff. It’s good. Most of the album follows the Doiron Plan, as I call it. The Doiron Plan is a way of making albums that make me feel sad and happy at the same time. It’s a confusing way to make an album, but hell, it works. Then again, the whole album is mostly just that, with little variation. The changes in tone that exist aren’t enough for me.

You can listen to the entire album here.

 

Jessie Ware – Devotion

I know nothing about Jessie Ware. Most of the other artists on this list – or the Half-Year Review – are names I’ve typically been following, or at least knew about. Devotion is a recommendation from Tim.

While there are some interesting sounds, as a whole the album seems to be a kind of strange R&B. And it’s not a kind of R&B I’ve ever heard, and I like it better than most other stuff from the genre that I’ve heard. I can’t pin it down; it’s not bad, but it’s not my thing.

Well, her Wikipedia page has her under a few genres. Pop-soul seems to be the closest. Anyway. Not bad, not my thing.

 

Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory

This is Andrew Bird’s second album in 2012. I also think it is not as good as Break It Yourself, which I wasn’t really digging. It’s a slow moving album, and I don’t mind that, but I feel – as I did with Break It Yourself – that this is a distant album for me. I can’t emotionally connect to it. It doesn’t take me anywhere. It’s okay background music, inoffensive, but ultimately I am not into it.

Plus, Bird has this terrible habit – in many of his songs, he’ll sing a line, then sing it again for emphasis and really put too much emphasis on the second one. Like, there’s a song with the line “but the county remains dry,” and he follows it up immediately with “but the county remains dryyyy”. I can’t stand it. I know that repetition has a place in music, but this is so irritating. Overall, low mid-range. Very low mid-range.

 

Bottom Rung

Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal

Remember when Little Talks was a big thing? Well, what if you made an entire album of similar sounding songs? You’d have this album.

Really, I sometimes have trouble telling what song I’m listening to, and while I like the sound of Little Talks, I really wanted more variety. I want a little variety in all albums. So this album feels unambitious and a bit uninspired. If you haven’t heard the album but you have heard Little Talks, you’ve heard the album. I wouldn’t bother with the rest.

 

___

And now, the compiled list, for the entirety of 2012. I would like to take a moment and remind everyone of my deep love for Regina Spektor’s music. So, while her album What We Saw From the Cheap Seats came out in 2012, it would be unfair of me to compare any of these albums to such a fine work of art. Let’s just consider Spektor’s work to be above and beyond anything else on this list, so that I don’t have to rave madly about it while shouting.

If I reviewed the album individually, not as part of the Half-Year Album Review 2012, I’ll link to the post where I reviewed it.

 

Top Tier

Jenny Owen Youngs – AN UNWAVERING BAND OF LIGHT

iamamiwhoami – kin

Carina Round – Tigermending

Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man

 

 

Mid-Range

Ingrid Michaelson – Human Again

Ladyhawke – Anxiety

Cate le Bon – Cyrk

Cate le Bon – Cyrk II

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do

Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre is Evil

Kaki King – Glow

Grimes – Visions

The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

Blood Red Shoes – In Time to Voices

The Ting-Tings – Sounds from Nowheresville

Chromatics – Kill for Love

Missy Higgins – The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle

Esperanza Spalding – Radio Music Society

Sarah Blasko – I Awake

Sigur Ros – Valtari

Dark Dark Dark – Who Needs Who

St. Vincent and David Byrne – Love This Giant

Julie Doiron – So Many Days

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

Best Coast – The Only Place

Metric – Synthetica

Jessie Ware – Devotion

of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks

Beach House – Bloom

Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory

Shearwater – Animal Joy

 

 

Bottom Rung

Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind

The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet

Purity Ring – Shrines

Neon Trees – Picture Show

Marina and the Diamonds – Electra Heart

Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal

Twin Shadow – Confess

Buckethead – Balloon Cement

The Shins – Port of Morrow

 

 

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About seansynthetic

"...so I says the the guy, I says to him, 'No, YOU ain't allowed back into this Chuck-E-Cheese.'"

Posted on January 18, 2013, in Album Reviews, Regina Spektor Gets Her Own Category and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. oh man, i have to get kaki king from you. And before january ends i promise to come up with a much shorter list without descriptions. Oh and how disappointing is it that of monsters and men is in the bottom… i dont even know if i have that album… but that one song was pretty okay. “Cyrk 1&2” and beach house are probbbably in my top 5.. but yeah a lot of those middle tier albums were just okay enough or kind of underwhelming. That mars volta album probably shouldv had its own bottom-bottom tier. Im not really sure where im going to put fiona apple. And im going to have revisit blood red shoes because i remember really liking it but i havnt listened to it in forever.

    • Beach House was not good! It was adequate. And I thought about giving The Mars Volta album a separate category, the sub-strata of seriously shitty, or something like that. Because yeah, holy shit was that album terrible.

      I really wanted the Amanda Palmer album and the St. Vincent album to be Top Tier quality and they were not. Very disappointing. The Amanda Palmer album probably came closer, as there are many good songs on it, it just needs to be shorter. St. Vincent has earned a pass – I’ll just try to forget about this album. I’m putting most of the blame on David Byrne anyway.

  2. gasp! i made a list!
    10.ingrid michaelson – human again (blood brothers)
    9. amanda palmer – theatre is evil(do it with a rockstar)
    8. jenny owen youngs – unwavering band of light (wake up)
    7. regina spektor – what we saw from the cheapseats (small town moon)
    6. beach house – bloom (new year)
    5. iamamiwhoami – kin (kill)
    4.crystal castles – III (pale flesh)
    3. grimes – visions (be a body)
    2. bat for lashes – the haunted man (Oh Yeah)
    1. cate le bon – cyrk 1&2 (fold the cloth)

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