Oh, hello there. It’s been a while.
My apologies for the crazy long time between posts. I’ve started a new habit of working two jobs and writing and recording an album with my band, and things are finally calming down a little bit. I normally would still grab a random song or clip and throw it up here occasionally, but that hasn’t happened in a while, so my bad on that. I hope this isn’t a permanent habit, but for now, let’s jump back into the “normal” swing of things with the end-of-the-year celebration posts!
Now, I know I hadn’t written on or reviewed a number of these, but that obviously doesn’t mean that I still was not listening to and analyzing them on my own. Hope you enjoy the list, and feel free to leave any comments or opinions.
POLAR BEAR CLUB
"Live at the Montage"
Released on July 31, 2012 by Bridge Nine Records
Yeah, obviously this isn’t a release of new material, but it was a simple, memorable and fan-pleasing release by the boys from Rochester. Highlights included Jimmy Stadt’s giggling during the ending of “Bug Parade” and the recognition noises and instant singalong by the crowd during the cover of Saves The Day’s “At Your Funeral”. I’m massively biased towards this band, but it’s for good reason, and this album shone a new light on a catalogue of solid material.
"Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t"
Released on March 6 by ANTI-
Rather that craft tunes out of handpicked samples and noise created by thrift-store records and computers, Tim Fite decided to invite several friends into his studio to record random snippets of sounds on their instruments for his latest weird opus. It’s still just as oddball as any of his releases, but with a more organic, warm feel, which adds a new, somehow friendly dimension to his catalogue. Nothing Fite makes is normal, but this one ain’t too far away from that.
MINUS THE BEAR
Released on August 28 by Dangerbird Records
Ah, forgiveness. I absolutely hated Minus The Bear’s previous release, “OMNI”, so I was significantly doubtful that I would enjoy “Infinity Overhead”. That said, Minus The Bear has been one of my favorite bands for over a decade, so I was willing to give them the benefit of said doubt. This album feels like a microcosm of the best parts of their entire career, from the subtle math-rockings of their beginnings (“Listing”) to the slower, building jams they mastered on “Menos El Oso” (“Heaven is a Ghost Town”) to the proggy noise of “Planet of Ice” (“Cold Company”). Plus, the killer breakdown in album opener “Steel and Blood” is worth the price of admission alone.
"Clear Heart Full Eyes"
Released on January 24 by Full Time Hobby
2012 saw two solo albums by two of indie rock’s finest songwriters: Benjamin Gibbard’s “Former Lives” and Craig Finn’s “Clear Heart Full Eyes”. Both are great albums, but this is no surprise, as anyone who is even remotely familiar with Death Cab for Cutie and The Hold Steady knows just how great of songwriters Gibbard and Finn are. I give the slight edge to Finn because his album is a good deal more solid and unique, while Gibbard’s sounds just like every other DCfC release (again, not a bad thing). However, what really moves me about Finn’s work is how the songs feel personal: Often Finn will write songs about recurring characters or events with The Hold Steady, but those characters seem absent from “Clear Heart Full Eyes”, which makes the songs seem to be directly about Finn as opposed to allegories and stories. This makes heartfelt ballads such as “Rented Room” hit a different emotional resonance, even though they aren’t necessarily stronger or better written than anything Finn or The Hold Steady has put out.
MAPS & ATLASES
"Beware and Be Grateful"
Released on April 17 by Barsuk Records
Significantly dancier and electronic-feeling than their previous releases, “Beware and Be Grateful” is another dazzling collection of pop songs by Chicago’s most talented foursome. I thought that it would take a bit of time to get used to, but the songs are instantly memorable. While the technical elements may be spread across electronic elements in the band’s sound rather than highlighting eight-finger guitar tapping (although there is still plenty of that), everything still works remarkably well. There’s really not much else to say; nothing this band writes will ever, ever be bad, ever.
MOTION CITY SOUNDTRACK
Released on June 12 by Epitaph Records and The Boombox Generation
Similar to Maps & Atlases, Motion City Soundtrack seem incapable of writing a bad song throughout a career with several albums. This album may not be quite as gritty as their previous record, “My Dinosaur Life”, but nothing is lost in the more polished sound that doesn’t sacrifice anything that has made them famous over the years. However, when the best song (“Bottom Feeder”) is b-side, some discounting has to happen. Still, that just proves that everything these 5 Minnesotans touches turns to gold, albeit gold that gets stuck in your head for weeks at a time.
Released on February 21 by Fueled By Ramen
When this album came out, I was sure it would be the album of the year. While it met longtime fans of the band with mixed results, it garnered in millions of new fans largely because two of the songs are now played in every commercial for every product or TV Show EVER. So does it fall a bit simply because it was overplayed? Maybe. Is it as good of an album as “Aim & Ignite”? Definitely not. That said, hearing the intro to “Some Nights” nowadays can be a bit more of an annoyance than the fit of ecstasy that it used to cause me. However, there’s a reason why some things are popular: Because they’re good. This album is just that. Not perfect, but certainly great.
Released on July 24 by Sargent House
Fang Island’s 2010 eponymous album was my favorite album of that year, and is still one of my favorite albums of all time. The band has become a must-see-no-matter-how-early-you-have-to-wake-up-the-next-morning live act, and I’m convinced that tapping into their sunny attitudes could solve a majority of the world’s anger issues. That all said, I had very high expectations for this album, and it delivered. The hymn-like chanty vocals are now much more pronounced and clear in the band’s sound, but it just adds to the neatly wrapped package of happiness. Put this record on and try your hardest not to high-five everyone ever.
“A Flash Flood of Colour”
Released on January 16 by Ambush Reality and Hopeless Records
When making this list, (spoiler alert!) my number one choice was pretty easy. However, the battle between 2 and 3 was a bit more of an internal debate. Both this album and the album I chose as second are brilliant albums. One by a band I’ve admired and put on a pedestal for the majority of my life, and another who I’ve always been fascinated with but have never really fully embraced. That second band released this stunning album this year, and the embrace is now engaged full time. The four hyperactive Brits in Enter Shikari have been creating some of the most interesting and engaging heavier music, and they have created their magnum opus this time around. The electronics are a bit more dubstep-y than techno-y, but the songs surrounding them are complex and simple at the same time, if that makes any sense. Every single note seems to have a purpose, and even if you may not fully understand or support the band’s strong political statements, you still want to jump out of your seat and start a revolution with every repeat play.
Released on May 15 by Pine Street
It’s sort of amazing how mewithoutYou exists in our day and age. In a time where every band has a Twitter account for each member as well as social media staff dedicated to keeping fans posted on every move, these Philly gentlemen have a knack for following off the radar for years before emerging with a new album. Three years ago they did it with It’s All Crazy… and it happened again this year. Granted, I also don’t go out of my way to research what they actually do in their downtime, as I like to keep the mystery unsolved as much as possible. mwY’s fifth album is a perfect microcosm of their unique sound and distinctive talents; it’s a perfect mix of the aggressive sound and stream-of-consciousness delivery from vocalist Aaron Weiss that filled their early work as well as the folk structure and instrumentation that debuted with It’s All Crazy…. Throw in a running storyline about freed circus animals and end it all with the catchiest and cleverest round-based song in “All Circles”, and you have what has been come to expected with mewithoutYou: A stunning collection of songs that seems to set the bar higher and higher for the indie rock genre.
Released on October 12 by Western Vinyl
Balmorhea write gorgeous music effortlessly, so I assumed this album would cause instant goosebumps for me. The band has been prolific recently in the studio and on the road, so when they disappeared for months to record this album, it was obvious big things were coming. Rather than focus on piano or acoustic guitar as the centerpiece for each song, this album seems to have been written entirely around the electric guitar. Of course, the band employs gorgeous string arrangements in the songs, but there also is a new emphasis on new sounds like calypso drums (“Days”). Yes, there are a few weird moments, such as the punk-like buildup and fuzzy distortion in “Artifact”, and “Islet” is little more than a throwaway filler song. However, the absolutely gorgeousness of “Jubi” and “Pilgrim” (which is the most similar to any of their previous work, meaning based primarily on piano and minimalism) and the high-energy jaw-dropper that is “Dived” make this clearly the best album of this year, written by who I consider to be the consistently best songwriters in the world.