December 28, 2012 by Daniel
Best Album I Reviewed:
I have a different relationship with albums that I have to review than with ones that I approach in a more natural way. The need to meet a deadline and the pressure to write out a fair, well-argued opinion in a short amount of time means listening to and thinking about an album more than usual within a condensed period. To that end, it’s only the really good albums that stay in my listening rotation post-review – and there’s no record that stayed there longer than The Elwins’ debut And I Thank You. Maybe it’s the fact that I saw them live once or twice before the album was relased, or maybe it’s because both of my bands had played a few shows with them beforehand. But more likely, it’s because And I Thank You is an extremely confident collection of sunny indie-pop hooks. The laid-back attitude, sonic diversity, and tight runtime of this record made it the perfect soundtrack for any lazy, chilled-out day. As a side note, my original review for it can be found here.
Runners-up: Modern Superstitions – S/T, Flowers of Hell – Odes
It was an incredibly insightful move to get Toronto native Jim Guthrie, who has since become the indie game songsmith, to score this amazing documentary. While every aspect of Indie Game’s production serves to heighten the emotional impact of the creation stories of Super Meat Boy and Fez, the most effective tool in its arsenal is Guthrie’s soundtrack, which, frankly, blows his previous, already-great work on Sword & Sworcery EP out of the water. It’s a stunningly cohesive piece of work – evoking the video game theme without using a bunch of hackneyed chiptunes and weaving repeated musical themes in and out of the tracks at will. It’s a soundtrack that is meditative, exciting, melancholy, and victorious all at once, and yet it’s also so subtle and peaceful that it has since become the only album that I can put on while I’m writing; I’m listening to it right now, in fact. Even without the context of the film, this is an incredible bunch of music, and, like the film, I’d recommend you go check it out right now.
Runners-up: ParaNorman, Hotline Miami
Most Disappointing Album
Tenacious D – Rize of the Fenix
I’m a huge fan of The D. I heard their first record when I was in high school, but I still go back to it every year or so, and it’s one of the only albums that I can actually sing most of the lyrics to. The misconception that people have about Tenacious D is that they’re just some joke band about Jack Black’s dick – what they fail to notice is that the songs are undeniably kick-ass and the comedy, while still lowbrow enough to contain a bunch of dick and sex jokes, is actually quite a bit more brilliant than they get credit for. So it’s really just a bummer that what will probably be the last D album is kind of lame. I mean, it’s okay – the title song is awesome throughout, and most of the tunes are pretty interesting musically. But the second half of the equation – the comedy – really falls flat for me. I’m not going to get totally into it, as what I have to say about it is a much longer piece. The quick and dirty of it is that Tenacious D’s earlier material serves as a huge parody of the “myth-making” aspect of rock n’ roll, what some would even consider to be the lifeblood of the genre since it’s rise to popularity in the mid-60s. This culminated in The Pick of Destiny, where Tenacious D were not just perceived as a huge rock band that have crazy sex all the time, but an actual world-saving force. Rize of the Fenix pulls back the curtain: on this album, Tenacious D is just a Hollywood actor and another guy who no one really knows – i.e. what they are in real life – and this completely destroys the illusionary tension of their previous albums. Instead of tight, incisive parody, all that we get is a bunch of “fucks” and….well, jokes about Jack Black’s dick. It’s just not smart like their first two albums are, and it really suffers for it. Long live the D for their still-excellent live show, but it’s a shame they had to go out like this.
Runners-up: Reel Big Fish – Candy-Coated Fury, The xx – Coexist
Best Use of Fuzz Bass
Goddammit, I love fuzz bass so much that I actually find it kind of hard to put into words. The combination of deep bass tones and scoops of nasty distortion is one that just sounds pleasing to my ears, and its inclusion makes me like any record I hear it on about a hundred times better. There were a lot bands discovering the joy of fuzz bass this year, but no one pulled it off better than Welsh noise-punk band Future of the Left. Just listen to the way that oppressive, pulsating bassline mixes with the pounding drums and snarky vocals – it’s just gross in all the right ways. I just wish I could roll up the fuzz bass in this song and eat it for breakfast.
Runners-up: Deerhoof – “There’s That Grin”, JEFF the Brotherhood – “Hypnotic Mind”
The 100 Lovers Commemorative Award for “Grower” of the Year:
Every year there’s just that one album that sneaks up on you – that one that you shrug off on first listen, but that somehow manages to come back into your rotation time and time again. I don’t even know the names of most of the songs on Husky’s beautiful debut album, but I know every part of it intimately. There were just enough intriguing things on Forever So to make me return to it – an interesting lyric here, an odd song structure there, a smart melody elsewhere – and it’s since become an album that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with a penchant for interesting folk loveliness.
Runners-up: Flowers of Hell – Odes, Parlovr – Kook Soul
Sleepytime Album of the Year
The delicate vocals and soft, often sparse instrumentation of Adventures in Your Own Backyard seems to make it the perfect album to cradle your head and lull you off into slumberland. In truth, I’ve never been able to fall asleep to it because it’s so damn interesting to listen to that it keeps me up at night. It’s a shimmering rumination on nostalgia, childhood, and personal growth, full of surprises and with some of the most dynamic songs I’ve heard all year. Even if it couldn’t successfully bring me to a night’s peace, Watson’s whispering but powerful approach makes it seem like he’s talking to you directly, telling a bedtime story so you’ll be able to wake up with a full day’s worth of youthful energy. Sometimes, just having that vibe is enough.
Runners-up: Husky – Forever So, Mac DeMarco – 2
Every single person I’ve shown Owen Evans’s project Roar to seems to come away absolutely adoring them. Part of this is their mastery over the EP format – the first one, I Can’t Handle Change, was fifteen minutes of absolute pop splendor, and it was so short, with so many amazing moments packed within, that it demanded immediate repeat listens. While it would have been great to see what Roar could do with a full-length, the fact of the matter is that I’m Not Here to Make Friends, is every bit as perfect as that first EP. While somewhat less immediate, Evans makes up for it with thicker instrumentation, amazing lyrics, and a more confident sense of direction. It’s such a great companion piece to I Can’t Handle Change, such a solid continuation of those original concepts while still showing a definite sense of growth, that I honestly can’t listen to them apart anymore. If I were you, I would go over to Quote Unquote Records where you can download both of these for free like right now. Seriously.
Runners-up: Wide-Eyed Tour Guide – Sharp Tongue Pillow Talk, Hodgy Beats – Untitled EP
Song of the Year
When you’ve listened to so many fantastic albums in one year, picking a single song to acknowledge becomes a very difficult task. I kicked around a lot of ideas in my head, but when I really thought about it, the only song that seemed right was Mac DeMarco’s hazy love song for his favourite brand of cigarettes. This song captured me from the very first time I heard it and led me to one of my favourite albums of 2012. It’s just so perfect – the dreamy, blissed-out vintage vibe, lazy vocals and hooky lead lines of the first two-and-a-half minutes would have been enough to get me, but the way it busts out for the last little bit, awash in neat guitar interplay and crooning yells, brings a smile to my face every time I listen to it. And I listen to this song A LOT – I don’t think a day has gone by since I saw DeMarco live about a month ago that I haven’t listened to “Ode to Viceroy” at least twice. That infectiousness, that ability to keep me coming back for more even though the song is so damn simple, is what makes it an obvious choice for my favourite song of 2012.
Runners-up: Dan Deacon – “True Thrush”, Passion Pit – “Cry Like a Ghost”