Before going into the list, Marc would like to make sure you’re aware of the Sunday Sampler, his weekly radio show on WIUP-FM. Check out his playlists here, and you can also find links to stream his show. Follow him on Twitter: morrisondj.
10. Beth Orton Sugaring Season
I don’t think Beth was ever that traditional of a folk artist; much of her work’s imbued with a modern rock/R&B sensibility. And there are still vestiges of that here, most notably in the lead-off single “Magpie.” But this album has some of her most elemental and stripped-down music, and it’s a nice contrast to what’s come before in her career. Intimate in scale and feel, my favorites are the aforementioned “Magpie,” the languid ballad “Something More Beautiful” co-written with M. Ward, the playful saloon waltz “See Through Blue,” and the steady but insistent “Candles.”
9. Bad Bibles Bad Bibles [EP]
Every now and then you get a real winner when you seek out new music on Bandcamp.com. Here’s four aggressive in-your-face (yet melodic) songs from the self-proclaimed post-punk band out of San Francisco, every one (obviously!) a winner.
8. Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan
The most accessible effort from Dave Longstreth and company to date, but still a long way from the top 40, with Dave warbling the best he can among guitars melted in the sun. It turns out Haley Dekle can “ooooooh” and “aaaaahhhhh!!” just as well as Angel Deradoorian. Typically cryptic prose, and it’s kind of goofy, I’ll admit. And perhaps they would like it if you all thought it was heavier than it maybe actually is, but I like this stuff and find it interesting. Dave actually wrote a song with a killer chorus (Offspring Are Blank), and the looser, more pop song-oriented structures this time around serves them well.
7. Tame Impala Lonerism
Fuzzy, fun psychedelic music from this Australian group. I like it a little better than their previous – it’s a bit poppier, the songs more concise overall.
6. Belleruche Rollerchain
At times new-wavy, funky-here-and-there pop, with a lead singer that reminds me (in her lower range) of a thinner-voiced Norah Jones. Chilly and fairly spare throughout, but what meat’s on there is cherce. Favorites: The insistent (and gradually speeding-up) “Stormbird,” “Wasted Time,” “Reach for the Bottle,” and “Under Fire.”
5. Callers Reviver
One of the lovelier (alto!) voices in music today belongs to Sara Lucas, employed in what I guess could be called art rock. Some very accomplished musicianship all around, in music that’s undoubtedly slick yet compelling. Sometimes their music is kind of dancy, though much of the time it’s more on the meditative side. Beautiful little works of art – music for attentive listening. They also like to play with textures and time signatures, again, something that often tips the scales for my approval.
4. Holobody Riverhood
Siblings Luke and Charlotte Loseth (Sea Oleena) with another winner I found on Bandcamp.com. They seem as comfortable with (admittedly bleached-out and trebly) hip-hop as they are with folk as they are with a gospel feel. Interesting. A nice mixture of homespun, amateurish charm and genuine creativity.
3. THEESatisfaction awE naturalE
A short yet sweet set of a distinctive mix of warped hip-hop and soul from Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons (heard earlier on Shabazz Palaces’ “Black Up”). Very much an “album” to be consumed in its entirety at one sitting.
2. Big Sir Before Gardens After Gardens
Lisa Papineau (Air, M83) and Juan Alderete (The Mars Volta) and lots of guests (including Money Mark on keyboards) with a sober set, skeletal, often austere, yet with a beat. The lyrics seem to have a bent towards thoughts on mortality (Both Lisa and Juan have personal backstories). Those who don’t require party central as part of their modern music may find this worthwhile.
1. The Phenomenal Handclap Band Form & Control
And lest you think I’m totally all about moody, spare, “deep” and willfully impenetrable music (OK, maybe), here’s something that’s pretty much all joy. This band’s first collection was a ragged mix of blues and R&B influences that stretched out and grooved in a way , but was charming in its shaggy way and pointed to further possibilities. This album channels the band’s energies into an unexpected dance-fest that definitely leans toward a 70s vibe. From front to back, a great collection of anthemic rockers to shake your booty to.
Also: I was pleased to see that two of my favorite artist picks from last year, Australian Gotye and New Zealander Kimbra got some love stateside in 2012. “Somebody That I Used to Know” is now officially one of the most overplayed songs on the radio now, but despite that overexposure, it still resonates with me as a very good, moving song (even if the high-school grade lyrics don’t quite match the sublime music). And once his album reached the U.S., it remained intact with no changes.
Kimbra was not so lucky. I don’t know the back story of why six new songs were added, and therefore, other more interesting songs from the original overseas release were removed for the U.S. edition. But it makes a phenomenal album into just an average one after the first half is done. And speaking as someone who waited over a year for this album to be released here…wasn’t happy.
Other enjoyments (some albums, some single tracks): Ava Luna – Ice Level; Deerhoof – Breakup Song; The Neighbourhood – I’m Sorry [EP]; Django Django [self titled]; A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets; Dragonette – “Live in This City”; Andrew Bird – “Give it Away”; Alt-j – “Tessellate”; Marco Benevento – “Limbs of a Pine”; Sharon Van Etten – “Serpents”; Lee Ranaldo – “Hammer Blows”; The Spinto Band – “The Living Things”; Lorelei – “Hammer Meets Tongs”; Amanda Palmer – “The Killing Type”