Thursday, January 17, 2013
Although the world didn't end and Romney didn't become president, there was plenty of bad news to shock you in 2012 (see shootings, natural disasters). There were a lot of surprises coming through my stereo too, but they were mostly good ones. My top 10 list this year is full of albums that subverted my expectations.
Father John Misty - Fear Fun. This album will be a contendor for album of the decade for me. I listened to it for the first time completely cold, knowing nothing about it. The humor drew me in and I never left. The whole thing is so musically sound that it would be a great rock record even if it wasn't so smart. The rigorous dedication to making all of the commentary ("Now I'm Learning to Love the War") and characters ("Only Son of the Ladies' Man") sound great all the time is what makes Father John Misty's debut masterful.
Witch Mountain - Cauldron of the Wild. There's this problem with metal in which a lot of the most interesting stuff rhythmically and melodically doesn't have a ton of soul (see Baroness). The bands that do have a lot of soul can be kind of old-fashioned (see Witch Mountain's first album). On the third record from this long-running doom outfit, they take all the right risks.
The Beach Boys - That's Why God Made the Radio. The band's first album with Brian Wilson in about 20 years plays like a greatest hits album only all the songs are new. The poppy, surfy numbers ("Isn't It Time") are really sticky, and the heady, divine trio of songs that conclude the record are the perfect note to go out on for this timeless band that will probably never record together again.
Atriarch - Ritual of Passing. I never really got why black metal and goth had to be so lo-fi. It always felt like the music was hiding behind the indistinguishable fuzz. I don't need it to be radio ready, but why should it sound like a cassette you find on the road after an Alaskan snow melt? On this sophomore release, Atriarch lets their craft shine by stepping up the production just a little bit. It goes a long way.
Federale - The Blood Flowed Like Wine. When the premise of your band is to soundtrack imaginary spaghetti western films, there's a lot that can go wrong in terms of dead horses by your third album. This orchestra of sorts heads east with this record, with a sound that seems to emanate from far off deserts, and a movie someone should make.
Ramona Falls - Prophet. This might be the most ambitious album of the year. You can feel the hours of labor in every layer of buzzes and chords. The end product is surprisingly humble and inspires a mixture of awe and pity like a hand-painted fresco.
The Killers - Battle Born. Albums these days have to grab you quicker than they used to. There was a time when, if you bought an album and it sucked, you'd listen to it over and over anyway because you wasted good money on it. After a while, you might start to like it. That's what happened here for me. I did not like this record on first listen. But since I was writing about it and didn't really know what to say, I listened to it over and over in the background of my cleaning and driving. Suddenly, I was singing along and feeling uplifted. The Killers succeeded here not only in reviving the forgotten song form of the power ballad, but also in making a record that functions as if from another time.
Anthrax - Worship Music. I've never been a big Anthrax fan, probably because their name and Scott Ian's facial hair are stupid. But I definitely felt a kinship to this record. The album is the equivalent of a show with no stage. Anthrax is on a level playing field with the listener here, and it's enthralling.
Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan. When you've painted itself into a corner of post-a capella weirdness, what can you do? Take off your clothes. This more intimate perspective on an instantly recognizable band plays a like a prequel, and everyone likes a good prequel.
Trampled by Turtles - Stars and Satellites. This indie-blue grass crossover slows it down on this record to remind the world that poppy songs with a country bent don't have to be asinine.