Let’s just jump in and talk about albums as a whole that I thought were very good listening experiences from end to end. Listening to an entire album is something I find I have to often discipline myself to do nowadays. I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way, as most music consumers that skew younger today are more of a download generation, and I think this trend allows people to pick and choose a la carte what they want and not bother with the rest, so the idea of an album that is conceived as a piece may be harder to put over to listeners. In any case, what I’m getting at from my point of view is, I count myself as a part of that group, so if a singer/group inspired me to pick up the disc or download the entire album, I think that’s saying something about the general excellence of the product. I’m also chagrined to say that even with this commitment of sorts, that (for me) I still haven’t spent enough time with a lot of these albums to know and love them inside out, which I think they deserve. But further exploration is always on the horizon.
After thinking about it a bit, if you asked me what my personal #1 album pick of the year would be, I would have to say it is “Before Today” by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. I had stolen a line from someone else’s music blog or whatnot that the music reminds me of “70’s AM radio filtered through a windowless dungeon.” While there are some slight stylistic variations (garage rock remake, goth rock homage), the entire album has a kind of twisted easy-listening vibe with old synthy sounds and mellow groove that I really like. “Round and Round” is easily my favorite track. Even if this is not its intention (they could be playing all this ironically for all I know), it comes off as earnestly anthemic, in its opaque way.
Probably wouldn’t have paid all that much attention to The Dead Weather’s “Sea of Cowards” if not for G. picking it as an early choice on our “First Impressions” record review show over the summer. But, it’s a solid chunk of what I hear as Led Zeppelin/Black Sabbath-y guitar rock, only streamlined for maximum hook appeal. No wanker solos here, just lean mean killer riffage and appropriately wailed vocals from Alison Mosshart and Jack White. So vocally in sync with each other, too, that when they’re in their upper registers it’s tricky for me to figure out who’s wailing. Highlights for me are the opening one-two punch of “Blue Blood Blues” and “Hustle and Cuss,” as well as “Gasoline,” “No Horse,” “Jawbreaker,” and “Old Mary.” (a great coda to it all…Supposedly there’s some overarching narrative to the whole thing, but I don’t think it’s necessary to enjoy the album fully). But it’s all pretty kick-ass, immediate stuff. I'm very glad it was put in front of me!
That’s pretty much as heavy as it gets for me on my list, although there are a few stray tracks from other artists this year that rocked convincingly enough for me (I listen to some of this ‘heavy’ music today that’s overly self-conscious of being ‘heavy' and ponderous and 'life is hell' and I just think, ‘wankers.'):
One of my fave tracks of this year “Art Czars” by Japandroids kinda addresses this, the words of the song seemingly addressing disappointed fans that the group isn’t ‘hard’ enough for their fans (they could be making this up, sure, or maybe not). “I’m really sorry if you want more screaming. You missed my heart, but you’ve got my ears bleeding. Here’s your money back, here’s your punk rock back.” Ironically, despite their contrariness, this things smacks very much of punk to me. And the refrain burrows its way in.
I can’t say I’m over the moon about Ty Segall’s album “Melted” —though very well executed, it’s a bit too one-note for me, the garagey-fuzz-noise pop, but there are two tracks that have received a good number of plays for me throughout the year, and that’s two more than the majority of albums that were released this year. I love “Finger”s surprise chord changes, like someone suddenly put their hand on a turntable and slowed it down a whole step or so. And “Sad Fuzz” is a great singalong, if only I could make out the words.
Crystal Castles’ “I Am Made of Chalk” is of course its own kind of ‘hard,’ and while perhaps it’s not really representative of their newest album as a whole (more people probably like the dancy stuff than the noisy stuff, maybe?), it made an impression of me, Alice Glass’s deliberately muddied and desperate-sounding vocals drowning in an electronic soup. Sorta unforgettable, if you’re into that sort of thing. I admired the rest of the album dance and experimental pieces alike, even if it wasn’t something I spun a lot.
Surely one of the coolest album covers of the year.