Pittsburgh Union of Record Geeks electronic

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lou's Top 20 of 2012, Part 2

1.    Ben Kweller – Go Fly A Kite (The Noise Company)

A consistently brilliant artist over a decade-long solo career, Kweller comes up with a platter of pop greatness here worthy of masters like Cheap Trick, Badfinger, ELO, and Rundgren. The guy just churns out hooks, shines equally on rockers and ballads, and has developed his penchant for sappiness into  mature but plainly heartfelt songwriting. Kweller proves himself more than ever as a singular talent here.

2.    Damien Jurado – Maraqopa (Secretly Canadian)

Damien Jurado has moved progressively away from the spare, ultra-melancholy approach that without a doubt served him well over the course of what for most singer-songwriters would be a very accomplished career. But nudged along by producer Richard Swift, he has pursued an expansion of his sound that reaches new heights on Maraqopa. The trippy acid guitar of opener “Nothing is the News” and perhaps even more trippy child backing vocals of “Life Away from the Garden” set the tone for this enthralling dream sequence. While the songs on the second half of the lp hew more closely to Jurado’s past work, each ranks among his best, with Swift’s accents only burnishing them.

3.    The Darkness – Hot Cakes (Wind-up)

It’s easy not to take the Darkness seriously, but if you’re not too self-important to have any soft spot for cock rock, it’s tough not to acknowledge their brilliance at it. They rock as much as you always wished Queen would have, cast hooks worthy of KISS, and deliver the crunch of AC/DC along with the lyrical subtlety they lost with Bon Scott. They seamlessly tie in art rock flourishes and the sentimentalism of the finest power ballads. And over the course of their three releases they without question have grown more adventurous and accomplished without losing grasp of the unbounded enthusiasm that filled the arenas in the first place.

4.    Sera Cahoone – Deer Creek Canyon (Sub Pop)

Cahoone’s haunting voice and aching melodies each reach new heights on her third lp, whose tracks strike the perfect balance between rootsy and modern, melancholy and (well, relatively at least) uplifting. Perfect complements of banjo, steel and strings make this an exceptionally well constructed record.

5.    Spirit Family Reunion – No Separation (self-released)

It’s as easy to imagine this motley band performing on the back of a flatbed somewhere in the deep South in the ‘40s or ‘50s as to picture them in their real-life Brooklyn street corner and subway station haunts. So it’s no surprise that their debut full-length is as authentic as any bluegrass/Americana release in recent memory, yet infused with a youthful spirit and new perspective which frankly gives me renewed faith in something much bigger than just the music here.

6.    Langhorne Slim & The Law – The Way We Move (Ramseur)

Slim continues his tenure as the troubadour of a searching generation feeling its way into adulthood, aptly conveying its optimism and jubilation with his energetic folk tunes despite self-doubt and the inefficacy of society as a whole (see “Great Divide”). In more heartfelt moments, he beautifully confronts the mortality of a loved one with “Sid’s Song” and his own coming of age on “Coffee Cups.” Another triumph for this gifted performer and songwriter on his fourth full-length.

7.    Lauren O’Connell – Quitters (self-released)

I’ve just discovered Lauren O’Connell, but at age 24 she is on her third full-length and it’s one of the most encouraging things I’ve heard in a while. From moody, powerful opener “Every Space” and its beautifully layered vocal parts, to the gritty roots-rock of “I Will Burn You Down,” on to the sneeringly Dylanesque “If Found” and the sparse, aching “What Breaks (and What Doesn’t),” a uniquely gifted singer-songwriter is evident from beginning to end of this album.

8.    Great Lake Swimmers – New Wild Everywhere (Nettwerk)

Tony Dekker’s ability to craft alternately aching and buoyant indie-folk and envelop it in understated yet markedly creative arrangements seems to have become almost formulaic by this point, but it’s a formula which seems to get more intoxicating each time he concocts it.

9.    Woods – Bend Beyond (Woodsist)

The most focused Woods record yet, Bend shies away from the extending jamming which somewhat marred 2011’s Sun and Shade for me. Instead the songs stand out, with great hooks and Jeremy Earl’s incisive vocals—along with just enough psych accoutrement—delightfully coloring the jangly/rootsy tunes here.

10.    Trembling Bells Featuring Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – The Marble Downs (Honest Jon’s)

Bonnie’s past couple full-length efforts have seemed to me the most unremarkable of his generally brilliant career, but this collaboration is a breath of fresh air. The songs and adventurous instrumentation of (the heretofore unknown to me)Trembling Bells are unlike anything else to which he has lent his often thrilling voice, what with its amalgamation of British folk, baroque, psych, and Americana. His recent penchant for excellent work with female duet partners continues with Lavinia Blackwell, and the excellent songs of Alex Neilson are augmented with a somewhat hair-raising rendition of “Riding” from BPB’s past life in Palace Brothers and the late, great Robin Gibb’s “Lord Bless All.” Hopefully participating in this project will help end the uncharacteristic funk in this great artist’s own work.


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