My favorite albums of 2012

I come back from my voluntary hiatus just to share with my few loyal readers the albums that kept me company during this odd and awkward 2012. The rules are the same as last year, which means that the albums listed are not necessarily from 2012. Also a fair share of these albums are not the genres I used to review.

And here we go…

# 10 – Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

bon-iver-for-emma-forever-agoAn honest, down to earth album that won many hearts (mine included) with its intimate setting  and an incredible ability to make you feel isolated out in the wild, pouring your feelings for your loved one into this collection of amazing songs. Yes, everybody will think that you are probably just listening mainstream hipster music, but who cares anyway.

 

 

 

 

# 9 – Persephone’s Bees – Notes From the Underworld

persephones-bees-notes-from-the-underworldBack in 2006 I remember listening to one particular song I liked, but it wasn’t until this year that I got my hands on a copy of this elusive album. By the second time listening this album I knew this was more than just your typical album worth one or two songs. Surprisingly powerful but with enough indie attitude to it. An album to keep on repeat for days.

 

 

 

 

# 8 – Boards of Canada – Trans Canada Highway

Boards of Canada - Trans Canada Highway (2006)Another 2006 release, this is the last we heard from Boards of Canada (as of 2012). This is the kind of album that might get you high only by listening to it. It has a particular way of capturing your imagination and get you lost in an eargasm of analog synthesizers, but also expect a nice side serving of ambient downtempo. A taste of the futuristic old tunes by the always cryptic Scottish duo.

 

 

 

 

# 7 – Foo Fighters – Wasting Light

foo-fighters-wasting-lightYes, I am completely aware that this album was included in my list of favorite albums for 2011, but those of you who are familiar with this album will know that you can never have enough of it. One year later and it is still on my regular playlist rotation. Those last 3 tracks are the perfect climax for a decent rock album.

 

 

 

 

# 6 – Deftones – White Pony

deftones-white-ponyI remember listening to Deftones on the radio 10 years ago and for some reason they never got my attention like they did this year. This album is prehistoric by almost any standard but still I found it to be the rebirth of my new found love for my rock side. Alternative metal + cryptic lyrics + trip hop influenced tunes equals the signature Deftones experience.

 

 

 

 

# 5 – Infant Sorrow – Get Him To The Greek

Infant Sorrow - Get Him To The GreekAn excellent joke album by a non-existent artist. Yes, the eccentric Russell Brand is the voice behind this movie soundtrack, and the songs are just clever jokes, but surprisingly enough you get a feeling of satisfaction while listening to this. You almost wish that this project would have turned into a real band, but I guess the last thing the world needs right now is a real Aldous Snow walking among us.

 

 

 

# 4 – Röyksopp – Senior

royksopp-seniorIt’s a shame that this album was not even close to Röyksopp’s previous album (which was an absolute joy to listen over and over again) in terms of popularity. And it’s a shame not because this album lacks the quality, but because it is the misunderstood, quieter sibling in the family. I found myself lost on unexpected journeys of discovery in this haunting place of trip-hop influenced downtempo tunes, and that’s something that can only be achieved with the help of the likes of this Norwegian duo.

 

 

# 3 – Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children

boards-of-canada-music-has-the-right-to-childrenI lost countless hours to this album during this year. It’s a very old release and I was the happiest bunny of them all when my physical copy arrived in the mail, because it felt like I was finally the owner of one of the most iconic releases by this band, and also the fact that I still like to buy physical copies of the albums I really like. Sure, some might argue that Geogaddi is better (I have yet to decide that), but for me this album represents one of the earliest entry points on my journey of self-discovery outside the mainstream music.

 

 

# 2 – The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium

the-mars-volta-deloused-in-the-comatoriumOh yes, 2012 wouldn’t be the same for me without this 2004 release. This was a year of profound changes on my comfort zone and I was about to find out that just as the same time that this album caught my attention. Sometimes it feels like a reminiscent of days that aren’t here anymore, and some other times it feels like the calculated, self-contained chaos that it actually is. Personal memories aside, this is the perfect album for someone willing to get his feet wet on progressive rock.

 

 

# 1 – Deftones – Koi No Yokan

deftones-koi-no-yokanI’m a sucker for this band, I have to admit. The general perception is that the best Deftones album is and will always be White Pony, and I mostly agree with that. However, Koi No Yokan is more mature and I’m willing to risk my sanity saying that is also the pinnacle of years and years of refining the signature Deftones sound. But it doesn’t end there, there’s more to this album than just the sound, it is that uncanny ability to get you in a sort of inner trance. Pro tip: listen to the full album, not just the radio singles, you will be blown away.

 

 

Also there are a few albums that didn’t make the cut to the top 10 this year, but they get a special mention anyway:

 

 

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

lana-del-rey-born-to-die

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geb.El – From a Distant Point of View

geb-el-from-a-distant-point-of-view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas Lemmer – Relieve

thomas-lemmer-relieve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stripmall Architecture – Feathersongs for Factory Girls

stripmall-architecture-feathersongs-for-factory-girls

The unspoken hiatus

Wow, it’s been a while since my last update here. The fact that I have a blog and also the fact that I should update it regularly honestly slipped into the back of my head for way too long now.

I will be brutally honest, I’m lacking the inspiration and the motivation behind this sort of journal / documentary about my musical taste that I was trying to achieve here. It’s not like music is no longer one of the things I certainly enjoy the most in my life, it keeps being one of my favorite things ever as usual, I just don’t feel like I have the drive and the creative push necessary to keep this thing going, at least for the foreseeable short-term future.

I’m sure that at some point that creative tingle will return to me, maybe when my life settles down on what I’m hoping for, but for now it’s been a really chaotic, messy, bizarre experience I’ve created by myself (and apparently for no reason) for the last couple of years and I don’t feel my brain is up to produce something worth reading while I take the necessary steps to fix it. It’s up to me to figure out first what’s inside my head before I can write it down and wrap it nicely for you guys to read it.

This is not a goodbye, it’s more like an unspoken hiatus (which is ironic because I’m already speaking about it). I’m just taking all the time in this world to figure out myself, and when I finally find myself being remotely interesting again, I will begin to write something that you might find interesting too.

In the mean time, keep the good music playing 🙂

Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country

Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country (2006)

Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country (2006)

Let’s Get Out of This Country was one of the last albums I picked up based on personalized recommendations before I abandoned my paid subscription to LastFM about two years ago in favor of independent radio. I remember it was a time when I was merely starting to realize the vast unexplored territory ahead of me, thanks to bands like Camera Obscura and The Postmarks just to name a few. To this day I still regard this album as one of the first few albums that opened the door for me to new and exciting experiences.

I believe that the vintage sound of Camera Obscura has the advantage of becoming an instant nostalgic memory even if you’ve never heard it before. It’s not the only thing going on for them of course, but that being the trademark on their sound I wanted to get that out of the way first. For me it was a nice discovery in the middle of a sea of indie bands sounding pretty much the same (I was a newcomer back then and everything was pretty much the same for my uneducated ear), and even though some might argue that this kind of approach is just a gimmick I’m confident that the sound as a concept becomes secondary once you discover the real intentions and the meaning behind the music.

But beyond technicalities and sound discussions, I must confess that I wanted to talk about this album after all this time because I just love how honest and down to earth the songs are. The lyrics are never trying to drag you out of your mind and into bizarre and unknown worlds, they are actually pretty much ordinary and mundane stuff, and that honesty makes you really make an emotional connection based on your own experiences being mirrored on this enjoyable tunes. Let’s Get Out of This Country thus becomes a collection of mostly love and broken heart songs, and even though that might sound like a depressing formula to some folks, the interesting thing is that this album does that in a somewhat ironic yet surprisingly bright way… and those are some ingredients that you don’t usually see mixed every day.

And without much fanfare you end up being absorbed into this concept. The best part is that you realize you’re lost with no chance of going back once the songs start to cycle and instead of becoming something repetitive you discover you’re enjoying them even more than the last time. I have yet to discover a song that I really dislike from this album, and I’m starting to suspect that it is not going to happen, and even though a good amount of the tracks are discrete to say the least, each and every one contributes to create a solid experience. Sure, there are a few moments here and there that will caught your ear more than the rest, and yes, you can select one or two favorites and stay with them for the most part, but I’m sure you would be missing a lot if you just do that.

When you reach that moment when you believe you know this album inside out, I dare you to stop listening to it in the traditional way and start a whole new adventure by trying to discover new details and aspects you didn’t knew were there. I wouldn’t recommend that with many albums, since most of the time you just want to listen to your favorite tracks and listening the rest is an enormous sacrifice… Let’s Get Out of This Country is one of those cases where you can actually enjoy it from start to finish.

Vargo – Beauty

Vargo - Beauty (2004)

Vargo – Beauty (2004)

I don’t have a problem when an album tends to drift through a romantic note for the most part of it… Such albums are not my cup of tea, but this one had a little something going on, and certainly it is a major shock when said album comes from Germany. I always had a hard time trying to understand Vargo’s Beauty, simply because the last place you would expect an album with such characteristics would be Germany. Now, prejudice and bias aside, let me try to make it some justice, because I believe it deserves it.

Ok, maybe I’m being a little bit unfair here. It’s not like Germans don’t have a right to have an album charged with happy vibes and nice feelings, actually I’m still surprised at how good this album is, and the wide range of emotions it portrays. It worried me a little bit at the beginning the fact that 85% of the tracks (12 out of 14) are a mix of some sort, and it was not until some time later that I learned that Vargo had one successful hit (Get Back to Serenity), and then spend a couple of years assembling this compilation of songs that would of course include said track. That explains all of the bizarre mix titles, I guess…

The fact that this album is a compilation disrupts any kind of continuity you would expect in a normal studio album. One minute you are listening to some reggae /electronic influenced track, and the next you are busy with an ambient one. It isn’t as bad as it sounds though, is just that you might find yourself lacking that feeling of unity and cohesion that an album usually has. That being said, I don’t want you to believe that this album is a collage of completely unrelated songs, I just want you to expect a few subtle changes of pace through it.

Beauty never attempts to disguise its completely electronic nature. There are a few tweaks and some experimentation, thanks to the freedom a mix compilation gives you, but once you’ve heard the first couple of tracks you can be sure that the rest of the album won’t fall far away from that. Once you get past style conventions though, you will be greeted by some really warm and surprisingly refreshing moments, which is what caught me off guard at the beginning.

Maybe I’ve been exposed for far too long to the well-known electronic / chill out / ambient formula that it is a little bit difficult for me to accept the fact that there can be some really emotional moments buried under the formalities that the genre implies. Last time I experimented something like this was with a Worldwide Groove Corporation album, and even there I had some paradigms to break before fully embracing this approach to the genre. Once you overcome that, you stop thinking of albums such as Beauty as the same sound and formula recycled over and over again and you start to finally uncover the secrets that lies beneath.

My stint with Beauty wasn’t that long, probably less than a year since I got it, but it surely was more than enough to get myself used to it and feeling comfortable talking about it. Considering the fact that usually it takes me way, way longer than that before I can start thinking about talking about an album, I believe that it’s safe to say that we have some easy listening material in front of us. Not in a degrading way of course, just letting you know that whenever you want some chill out vibes with some nice female vocals on the side you can always pick this up and enjoy it right away. It won’t be a complicated and puzzling experience, that’s for sure, so you can just relax and enjoy it.

 

Loquat – It’s Yours to Keep

Loquat - It's Yours To Keep (2005)

Loquat – It’s Yours To Keep (2005)

One of the earlier drafts of my review for this album included an odd comparison between Loquat and some sort of americanized version of Morcheeba. I wrote it ages ago, probably more than a year ago actually… and I discarded it immediately. It’s funny how much your impression of an album can change granted you give it enough time, and that’s pretty much what happened with It’s Yours to Keep.

It’s Yours to Keep blends pop, electronic and trip hop influences under a single package, and the end result is this trip hop / dream pop hybrid that combines the best of both worlds. I know, trip hop and dream pop are pretty much like siblings, and sometimes is difficult to tell one from the other, but think of this as a trip hop influenced dream pop album. It works better that way than the other way around, trust me.

At the beginning I was caught off guard, I honestly wasn’t expecting much of what I found here. And it was not an issue of expectations, the few tracks I’ve had listened before getting the full album were superb, but were going for a completely different attitude and tempo than the rest of tracks that were awaiting for me here. I was pretty much exposed only to the downtempo / trip hop dominant parts of their music, and wasn’t even aware of how versatile they can prove to be. It’s an awesome feeling, and certainly my intention is not to spoil this to everyone willing to listen to Loquat, I’m just trying to let anyone interested know that there’s more than a few melancholic trip hop songs here.

My surprise was even bigger when I found out that not only the music sounds good, the lyrics are awesome too. Sometimes we tend to focus too much on the execution of the idea that we forget to pay any attention to what should matter the most, and that is the idea itself. I’m still not sure if I fully get what Loquat’s music is all about (lyrically speaking), but it seems to me that there’s really a story behind most of the tracks, and even though I can’t say that I can see myself on all of them, my opinion of this album as a whole changed completely. Now these tracks seem more personal to me, and not personal in a sense of false self-appropriation, personal because I reckon they come from someone’s experiences, and to me they become just that… honest music, an honest attempt at recreate someone’s experiences through music we all can somehow relate.

Maybe all of the previous surprises made this album a little bit more difficult for me to understand, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we want the experience to be as straightforward as possible, and we tend to discard those who aren’t… which in this case would have been truly a shame. I’m not suggesting that It’s Yours to Keep is a specially difficult album, it’s the complete opposite actually, it just doesn’t follow a linear path in order to deliver its cargo. And when it finally delivers it… I hope you’re ready.

I’ve noticed that I’ve grown fond of the San Francisco music scene in the past 3 or 4 years, thanks in no smaller part to the folks responsible for bringing SomaFM to the world. Loquat was one of the nicest discoveries I’ve made while exploring the always vast trip hop territory, and while not completely trip hop in nature, this album makes a very nice and subtle transition from electronic influenced pop and trip hop to a more elaborated dream pop experience.

 

L’Altra – Different Days

L'Altra - Different Days (2005)

L’Altra – Different Days (2005)

Since the first days of this reviewing adventure I’m in, I always said that indie music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. That seems a little contradictory under the light of the sheer amount of albums belonging to the genre I’ve reviewed this far, I know. And here comes yet another indie album, so bear with me.

This Chicago-based indie band has been around for some years now, and I’m ashamed to admit that even though I’ve had this album in my possession for at least 5 years, I have never been curious enough to pursue the chance of getting some of their more recent material. Shame on me.

Different Days is sometimes labeled as indie rock, and that might be a little odd for someone who is more used to the usual “dirty” and kind of messy sound (almost like a cliche) associated to indie rock. Truth is, Different Days sounds and feels way more sophisticated than what you would usually get on your favorite indie rock radio. I’m almost tempted to discard the indie rock label and classify them as just contemporary adult melancholic pop… Ah screw it, I’ll refrain myself from even mentioning the indie rock tag on this review.

The fact that the vocal work is shared between Lindsay Anderson and Joseph Costa through the entire album gives Different Days an interesting touch, because not only they seem very comfortable sharing the microphone duties, each one features in their very own set of solo songs, which seems very appropriate after hearing the end result. Anderson’s songs are a reminiscent of any good trip hop, female-vocalist driven music, while Costa tends to go for some more melancholic effect. In either case I can safely assure you that they were careful enough to focus on what suits their individual styles the better.

Lyrically and musically speaking, this album shouldn’t be regarded as an uplifting experience, as it tends to wander through some melancholic moods (without getting into mellow territory though), so if you are in the mood for an introspective session and want to have something to go along with that, Different Days is a very good choice for that. I’m not warning you against this album if you are in a brighter mood though, this could also be very helpful if you’re looking for something elegant to rev you down a little bit, or if you are already on a slow and quiet state of mind this album might even actually provide some reassuring company.

It has been many years since I wanted to talk about this particular L’Altra album, because in a personal level it does have a special meaning due to everything that was happening around me at the time. I would like to point out that besides my personal attachment to it, this would have been reviewed anyway, so don’t pay attention to my feelings here. And even after all those years, this album still evokes the same set of emotions and feelings, so yeah, you could say that it has passed the test of time… is there any greater feat for an album?

There’s just one thing I can’t promise though… and that is stop reviewing indie albums, seems like lately I just can’t get enough of them. Might as well be on my way to get some other L’Altra albums while I’m on it.