Updated Thu, Dec 27, 2012 12:13 am
Woods, Bend Beyond: I've been into Woods for a few years now, but this is their best record by far, and I think the best entry point. Fantastic songs and amazing instrumentation, full of melodies that just get jammed inside your brain all day. Bouncing back-and-forth between Crazy Horse-style jams, sparse, haunting acoustic songs, and perfect Kinks-y weird pop songs. My favorite album of the year.
Ty Segall, Twins/Ty Segall & White Fence, Hair: One of my favorite newer musicians has been Ty Segall, who has put out some great albums the past few years and put out THREE this year. I think his newest, Twins, is one of the best: Pure rock and roll, packed with distortion, yelling, solos and the catchiest damn songs around. Ty also did a great album with fellow Californian Tim Presley who plays as White Fence. They made a masterpiece called Hair, full of psychedelic riffs and trippy rock and roll.
White Fence, Family Perfume Vols. 1 and 2: White Fence also put out another great record of his own this year, in two parts that have recently been collected into a two-LP set. It's an experience, supposedly cut down from around 90 songs to 30 by Tim Presley. Despite its obvious nods to psychedelia and fuzz-laden pop songs of old, Family Perfume sounds fresh and new at the same time. Listen to "She Relief" real loud and you'll see what I mean.
Dirty Three, Toward the Low Sun: I have loved Dirty Three since my high school days. There's something about these three musicians, unbelievable in their own right, coming together to make something so unique. Warren Ellis, Jim White and Mick Turner do it again with Toward the Low Sun. And even a bit crazier too, launching into pretty serious stuff right off the bat with the opener "Furnace Skies." Mr. Ellis has been spending a bit of time rocking out with Nick Cave in both The Bad Seeds and Grinderman (along with a few sweet soundtracks as a duo) but it was nice to hear him playing with Dirty Three again.
Bob Mould, Silver Age: Awesome. Bob Mould is a personal favorite of mine. I can still remember hearing Husker Du's Zen Arcade for the first time. His solo career has often fell flat for me, but Silver Age makes me almost want to say the dreaded cliched phrase "return to form." It also features one of the most badass drummers around (not named Bryan Gibson), Superchunk's Jon Wurster.
The Men, Open Your Heart: I came across these guys randomly after seeing the name pop up for awhile, and boy am I glad I did. They have an especially great set on YouTube from a KEXP in-store at a bike shop in Austin during SXSW that is worth watching, too. Lots of energy with these guys, both live and on record, sounding like a sloppy Dinosaur Jr. that tends to go on fuzzier, noisier forays in-between their riff-y, tight rock songs. And two solid songwriters/vocalists never hurts. Looking forward to more records from these guys.
Swans, The Seer: Holy crap, this album is intense. Not surprising, giving Michael Gira's track record with Swans (and to a lesser extent with his other recent project, Angels of Light). This one hasn't quite matched up to 2010's My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, but I think it could get there after a few more listens. This record is heavy, scary and wonderful, and not at all just in the sense of volume. I listened to The Seer a few times at the office and had a couple moments where I just stopped what I was doing and was just blown away and..well…frightened. But in a good way.
Lee Ranaldo Band, Between the Times and Tides: I have always loved Lee's Sonic Youth songs and have some of his more experimental stuff and other assorted things. But this album plays like a full record of Lee Ranaldo Sonic Youth songs, and I say that with the highest level of respect and excitement. His live set at this past year's Nelsonville Music Festival was one of my favorites of the weekend, and having Steve Shelley on drums made it even better. I still regret not going up to him backstage later that day to play cornhole with him as I watched him toss a bag back and forth by himself. That would have been a cooler story to include here if I had done that.
Mount Eerie, Ocean Roar: Washington's Phil Elverum (who used to record under the name The Microphones) released two albums this year under his Mount Eerie moniker. Both are fantastic, but I chose Ocean Roar over its companion Clear Moon. Mount Eerie albums are just perfect atmospheric music, heading into interesting directions but never seeming too self-indulgent. Good stuff. And be sure to check out The Microphones (especially the classic "The Glow, Part Two") if you like this one.
Lotus Plaza, Spooky Action at a Distance: Deerhunter's Lockett Pundt is one of my favorite guitarists in newer music, especially in a live setting. He manages to dance a fine line between noisier, pedal-driven, delayed space riffs and nice, clean pop songs, and he does the same thing with the second album from his solo project, Lotus Plaza. On his newest release, I think this project comes into its own a bit more, with strong songs and even stronger spaced-out weird stuff in-between.
HONORABLE MENTIONS + CLOSE CALLS:
Torche, Harmonicraft; Dinosaur Jr., I Bet On Sky; Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!; Guided By Voices, Class Clown Spots a UFO; Water Liars, Phantom Limb
Brian Koscho forgot to leave Athens after graduating from OU some years back. He works at Stuart's Opera House and co-founded and helps run Aquabear Legion. He's played in a bunch of Athens bands over the years. His new band doesn't have a name right now, but it exists. He loves the end of the year but secretly freaks out because it makes him realize he needs to start working on the Nelsonville Music Festival.