Monday, December 9, 2013

MCQ'S FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2013

Okay, readers...this list will change much in coming two months as I close out my 2013 listening, but for holiday shoppers, if you asked me to rank what I've enjoyed this year, this is how I would call it as of today.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDS
1. Trouble Will Find Me - The National
2. Push The Sky Away - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
3. Light Up Gold - Parquet Courts

STRONG RECOMMENDS
4. Southeastern - Jason Isbell
5. Modern Vampires Of The City - Vampire Weekend
6. The Bones Of What You Believe - Chvrches

SOLID RECOMMENDS
7. New Moon - The Men
8. Random Access Memories - Daft Punk
9. Holy Fire - Foals
10. The Silver Gymnasium - Okkervil River
11. Women - Rhye
12. Floating Coffin - Thee Oh Sees
13. Absolute Zero - Little Green Cars
14. Immunity - Jon Hopkins
15. Pearl Mystic - Hookworms
16. Reflektor - Arcade Fire
17. Yeezus - Kanye West
18. MCII - Mikal Cronin
19. Muchacho - Phosphorescent
20. Signed And Sealed In Blood - Dropkick Murphy's
21. Sunbather - Deafhaven
22. Wakin On A Pretty Daze - Kurt Vile
23. Excavation - The Haxan Cloak
24. Silence Yourself - Savages
25. The Electric Lady - Janelle Monae
26. Pure Heroine - Lorde
27. Virgins - Tim Hecker
28. Kveikur - Sigur Ros
29. Fade - Yo La Tengo
30. Slow Focus - Fuck Buttons
31. Pedestrian Verse - Frightened Rabbit

MILD RECOMMENDS
32. We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors - Foxygen
33. Wonderful, Glorious - Eels
34. The Terror - The Flaming Lips
35. Shaking The Habitual - The Knife
36. ...Like Clockwork - Queens Of The Stone Age
37. Head In The Dirt - Hanni El Khatib
38. Nepenthe - Julianna Barwick
39. Tomorrow's Harvest - Boards Of Canada
40. Mosquito - The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
41. American Kid - Patty Griffin
42. The Messenger - Johnny Marr
43. Hummingbird - Local Natives
44. In Guards We Trust - Guards
45. Pale Green Ghosts - John Grant
46. Monomania - Deerhunter
47. Overgrown - James Blake
48. Loud City Song - Julia Holter
49. Twelve Reasons To Die - Ghostface Killah
50. MBV - My Bloody Valentine
51. Wise Up Ghost - Elvis Costello & The Roots
52. The Next Day - David Bowie
53. Repave - Volcano Choir
54. Howlin - Jagwar Ma
55. Anxiety - Autre Ne Veut
56. Jake Bugg
57. Nomad - Bombino
58. 180 - Palma Violets
59. Settle - Disclosure
60. Every Kingdom - Ben Howard
61. You're Nothing - Iceage
62. Innocence Is Kinky - Jenny Hval

NOT RECOMMENDED
63. Wondrous Bughouse - Youth Lagoon

Last Updated 12.09.2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

DAILY LISTENINGS 10 - 05 - 13

So can we talk this morning about the hot mess that is Daft Punk's Random Access Memories.

Worked my way through a second car listen yesterday to this towering, summer smash, a true behemoth of disco nostalgia cheese, and at this point still have no idea how I will ultimately rate it.  Probably no worse than a Solid, but after that all bets are off.

I do know that I enjoy it, and find much of it oddly relaxing, but song for song, it feels like such a slapdash, mixed bag (though in the album's defense, the title is Random Access Memories).

There are parts here that I already love...song of the year Get Lucky and everywhere else vocalist Pharell Williams and Chic guitarist Niles Rodgers step in to lend a hand...parts that I definitely enjoy...including guest star turns by Gorgio Moroder, Panda Bear, and yes, Paul Williams...and parts that don't work for me at all...like Motherboard and the odd auto-tuned Juliana Casablancas number Instant Crush.

But regardless of where I end up on Random Access Memories, it is a fun album with some unreal musicianship, and definitely worth checking out if you've got a craving for some nostalgic, early-to-mid seventies disco/soft rock flavors.

So for a taste, I thought I'd break with the masses and spotlight the album's other Pharell Williams/Niles Rodgers collaboration, Lose Yourself To Dance.



I also listened yesterday to two other albums I'm much less on the fence about.

The first was Mikal Cronin's excellent MCII.  Not going to say much on this one today, other than if you've been digging the present-day, west coast psych-rock movement, definitely give this one a listen.

Here, Cronin offers up a batch of ten crisply produced, warm, garage-pop numbers, all embellished with an intriguing assimilation of Nirvana's explosive quiet-loud dynamic, which serves to differentiate these songs from all the other interesting pysch-rock that's coming out of San Francisco right now.

Here's an in-studio performance of the album's most popular track, opener Weight.



And finally, got in another pass yesterday on what has clearly emerged as my favorite album of 2013, The National's Trouble Will Find Me.

Stick with this one, friends, because it won't impress you at first.

It lacks High Violet's anthemic power, but with repeated listens, its thirteen incredibly consistent tracks (we're talking an early REM level of consistency here) will worm their way into your head like nothing I've heard this year. I honestly can't stop listening to this one.

And talk about instrumental nuance!

I thought High Violet was meticulously crafted, but Trouble takes things to another level...so many brilliant little details that won't even begin to reveal themselves 'til the fourth or fifth listen, all in the service of the most complicated, multi-parted songs The National have offered to date.

And yet, despite that fine touch, Trouble feels like the band's loosest and most unpretentious offering...their excellent, intentionally less ambitious album, fitting into their discography the same way The Rolling Stones' Between The Buttons, or The Beatles' Rubber Soul fits into theirs.

Oh, and it's often hysterical.  I love the way singer Matt Berringer plays his sad-sack, depressive persona mostly for surreal comic exaggeration this time around.

So you get the picture...I love this one. Best eureka album of the decade.

And to show just how solid the album is, here's one of its three worst tracks, Demons (and the second half of this song is still amazing).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

DAILY LISTENINGS 10 - 03 - 2013

Hey Friends,

A couple of fine releases to discuss this morning.

Yesterday, I finally got in a headphone listen to former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell's latest Southeastern , and for a first sampling, I came away quite impressed.

Like most of Isbell's solo work, Southeastern pursues a folksier path than the rousing efforts of his DBT days, and is, if anything, his most stripped-down effort yet.

Primarily acoustic, literate, lean, and chock-full of tales of hard-earned wisdom (most inspired by his recent real-life struggles to get sober, and the woman, now his wife, who helped him win that battle), I can see Southeastern emerging over time as one of my favorite singer-songwriter efforts of 2013.

Here's a sample.



Then there's Kendrick Lamar's 2012 release Good Kid, m.a.a.d. city.

I just finished my final car listen last night, and all I have to say is the critics and fans have it damn straight  This is an exceptional rap album, an easy Strong Recommend, possibly a Highest.

But unlike my other rap favorites of this still young decade (Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Big Boi's vibrant Sir Lucious Left Foot, El-P's Orwellian Cancer 4 Cure), which all wowed me with their vibrant production and ambitious musicality, Lamar wins the day the old fashioned rap way...with his words.

Aside from a few unrelated tracks (Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe, Backstreat Freestyle), the bulk of Good Kids' songs and dramatic interludes...presented with a level of introspection almost unheard of in the gangster rap genre...make up a non-linear but ultimately highly engaging, Boys In The Hood-styled tale of growing up hard in the violent streets of Compton and Lamar's eventual escape through music.

A part of me wonders if Lamar may have blown his load with this CD...will he have anything left, other than new found fame, to write about on his follow-up effort...but for now, with songs as evocative as The Art Of Peer Pressure, Sing About Me/I'm Dying Of Thirst and mega-hit Swimming Pools (Drank) there for the enjoyment, who really cares.

Here's a look at haunting second half of The Art Of Peer Pressure.


Monday, September 30, 2013

DAILY LISTENINGS: 09 - 30 - 2013

Caught my first car listen this weekend to Phosphorescent's Muchacho.

Definitely a solid album, full of appealing, lived-in, lazy, pedal-steel driven ballads, and two fantastic tracks in the slow but urgent Song For Zula and the apocalyptic The Quotidian Beasts, but so far, I don't think it's quite as strong as Matthew Houck's previous Phosphorescent effort, 2010's less orchestrated, but much livelier Here's To Taking It Easy


That said, in an amazingly lackluster year for top tier new releases, it already feels like one of 2013's best bets.  See what you think. Here's Song For Zula.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

McQ's Best Of 2012 Mix Collection

HAPPY ST. PATTY'S DAY EVERYONE!

It's time, once again, to present our annual, multi-volume look back at what Nancy and I found best in rock, pop, and hip-hop in the year that just transpired.

And as will quickly become apparent, the mix titles and the songs may have changed, but the themes remain the same.

You've got Nancy's Favorites, my Best Of The Best, the rap/soul mix, the Coachella newbies mix, the straight-up indie-rock and indie-pop mixes, the weird, creepy art-rock mix, the old timers mix, and so on and so on.

As always, should you chose to download and burn some of this material, each mix is designed to fit on a single 700 mb burnable CD, but this year, you can play all twelve mixes right here on this home page.  Just fire up Spotify, then return here, click on whichever mix interests you most, and start to explore.

But for those of you that still like the additional info on the songs and albums, the printable track listings, and/or the links to iTunes, Amazon, and youtube, click on a mix title here and and it will link you to that mix's dedicated home page.

And that's it.

It was a bear to put this collection together this year given how busy it's been for my family and I, but hopefully, each of you will discover something new here you hadn't heard before that makes it all worth the wait.

So without further ado, I give to you McQ's Best Of 2012 Mix Collection.

Enjoy!

Volume 1 - Best Of The Best:
Once again, we start out with my top choices for 2012  (at least those Nancy didn't swipe for her annual mix).  This year's set includes favorite 2012 singles from Passion Pit, The Shins, Django Django, John Talabot, and Redd Kross, and excellent cuts from favorite 2012 albums by Death Grips, Japandroids, Liars, First Aid Kit, The Men, Killer Mike, Cloud Nothings, Anais Mitchell, Gotye, Frank Ocean, Allo Darlin', and Swans.



Volume 2 - Coachella Starters:
My annual celebration of the up-and-comers (and a few late-career veterans) who impressed me most at the previous Coachella is, as always, a lively, eclectic affair. In addition to cuts from 2012 breakout acts Death Grips, Gary Clark Jr. and First Aid Kit, this mix also includes tracks from Sleeper Agent, Fanfarlo, Les Butcherettes, Other Lives, The Sheepdogs, Wolf Gang, Seun Kuti, Gardens & Villa, The Black Angels, Greg Gin & The Royal We, Fitz & The Tantrums, Honeyhoney, Oberhofer, Housse De Racket, The Vaccines, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Volume 3 - Ghosts In The Machine:
The first of this year's two electronica-oriented mixes is the more experimental and mellow of the two, emphasizing the heavy use of ghostly, processed vocals that has taken over the genre in recent years. Along with Monsters In The House, the most unique of this year's mixes, but this one's a lot easier on the ears.  Includes tracks by Liars, Grimes, The Chromatics, Andy Stott, Laurel Halo, Julia Holter, School Of Seven Bells, Matthew Dear, Arrange, John Talabot, Frankie Rose, The XX, How To Dress Well, Crystal Castles, and Peaking Lights.

Volume 4 - Rock's Eternal Flame:
2012 saw a segment of the indie world make a much desired swing back to traditional rock 'n' roll styles, with some fantastic results. This mix focuses on a few of the best straight-up efforts of the year in the punk, hard rock, bar band, and blues rock niches.  Led by Japandroids, Cloud Nothings and The Men, and also including efforts by Screaming Females, Alabama Shakes, Craig Finn, Gary Clark Jr., Titus Andronicus, The Menzingers, Les Butcherettes and Low Cut Connie...this one is a ton of fun, and along with Volume 8 - 50 Shades Of Pop Part I, the highest energy mix in the collection.

Volume 5 - Good Queen Carole, Good King James, Good Queen Joni, Good King Paul:
This year's mellow acoustic mix has a decidedly more 70's singer/songwriter slant than past editions, hence the ungainly singer/songwriter honor roll mix title.  Includes cuts from Fiona Apple, Anais Mitchell, Sharon Van Etten, First Aid Kit, Kelly Hogan, Andrew Bird, Sera Cahoone, Laura Marling, Father John Misty, Perfume Genius, Matthew E. White, Tindersticks, Soap & Skin, The Lumineers, The Tallest Man On Earth, and Lost In The Trees.

Volume 6 - Psych-Rock:
For about the third year in a row, music that hearkened back to the sounds and feel of the mid-to-late 60s was a big part of the popular music equation.  This year's mix, equal parts psychedelic head-trips and primitive garage-rockers includes cuts from Tame Impala, Spiritualized, Grizzly Bear, Lotus Plaza, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, The Fresh & Onlys, The Allah-Lahs, King Tuff, The Black Angels, Diiv, The Sheepdogs, Dum Dum Girls, METZ, Wild Nothing, Goat, Django Django, and Royal Headache.

Volume 7 - Monsters In The House:
Focused exclusively on the creepiest art-rock and post-rock of the year, there's a tinge of horror, if not outright madness, to every moment of this mix.  Coming in at only six tracks (with three over the twenty-minute mark), it's intended more as a one-time freak-out experience than a mix to return to time and again, but be sure to give it a try, for in Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Mladic and Swans' The Apostate it holds two of the year's truly astonishing tracks. Also includes efforts from Liars, Bat For Lashes, and the ever-insane Scott Walker.

Volume 8 - 50 Shades Of Pop Part I (Bright, Smart, & Bouncy):
The first half of this year's two disk pop exploration locks in on the lively, quirky, guitar jangling indie-side of the equation.  Featuring buoyant efforts from Menomena, Allo Darlin', Gotye, Fun.,
Alt-J, Django Django, Divine Fits, The Magnetic Fields, Cat Power, Hospitality, Beach House, The Shins, Dum Dum Girls, The Walkmen, Redd Kross, The Dirty Projectors and Of Monsters And Men, I have a feeling this will emerge as many listener's favorite in this year's set.

Volume 9 - Revita-Rap:
The most focused of this year's mixes locks in on the only four rap acts and three neo-soul acts I felt mattered in 2012, but be warned, there's no reconciling El-P's pounding sci-fi paranoia or Death Grips all-on industrial-rap assault with the softer, more reflective leanings of the other artists on this mix, and I didn't try. So expect a fitful, mostly mellow listen here, surprisingly devoid of old-school funk, but one that really highlights the new directions forged in these two genres in 2012.  Along with Death Grips and El-P, also includes tracks by Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Killer Mike, Miguel and The Weeknd.

Volume 10 - Nancy's Favorites:
Nancy went blues heavy this year, latching onto barn burners by Gary Clark Jr, Vintage Trouble, Fitz & The Tantrums, and Dr. John to get things started.  After that it's her traditional combination of playful pop, dad rock heroes, and gorgeous, thoughtful adult contemporary.  This year's set, sure once again to be many listener's favorite, includes songs from the aforementioned artists, as well as Chromatics, Rhye, Andrew Bird, Cat Power, Sera Cahoone, Kelly Hogan, Perfume Genius, Wolf Gang, Suedehead, Jimmy Cliff, First Aid Kit, and of course, Bruce Springsteen.

Volume 11 - 50 Shades Of Pop Part II (Electro-AM Shameless):
Part two of this year's pop collection locks in on the decidedly populist, electro-pop end of the spectrum (so populist, I even included Gangham Style). Might be the cheesiest, most mainstream-disco leaning mix I've ever assembled, but still a number of great songs, including hits from Grimes, Hot Chip, Miniature Tigers, Jessie Ware, Major Lazer, Tanlines, Ellie Goulding, Psy, The 2 Bears, St. Etienne, Metric, Lower Dens, and Twin Shadow.

Volume 12 - Dads (& Granddads) Triumphant:
This year's final mix is a relaxed coast through some of the top old-timer efforts of 2012.  Can't say enough about how much I enjoyed Dr. John's gris-gris-laden Locked Down and Leonard Cohen's presumed final testament Old Ideas this year. Jack White and The Strokes Albert Hammond Jr may not appreciate being lumped in here, but hey, their sensibilities fit.  Also includes strong returns to form from Jimmy Cliff, Bob Mould, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Patti Smith, Amadou & Miriam, Bobby Womack, Neil Young, Mark Lanegan, Superchunk, The Smashing Pumpkins, OFF!, Chris Smither, and yes, The Rolling Stones.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 The Year In Review

2012, to me, was not an exceptional year in music, with only one release meriting a Highest Recommend (and sorry, Frank Ocean fans, it ain't Channel Orange), but it was nonetheless a highly satisfying year, and that can be attributed to one thing...

...balance.

Despite an overall lower than average number of quality releases, and no definitive new trend (though straight-up rock, wispy-voice electro-pop and touchy-feely Rap & Soul were definitely ascendant), every niche in 2012 seemed to produce at least one or two genuinely memorable records.

As such, I've decided to review this year's releases by genre first rather than just present one ranked master list.

So over the next few weeks, we'll look at the year that was by category - starting with Indie Pop, then moving onto Straight-Up Rock, Folk/Singer-Songwriter, Electronica/Electro Pop, Hip-Hop/Neo-Soul, Dad Rock, Psych Rock/Shoegaze, and Art Rock/Post Rock.

Following that, I'll offer my thoughts on what I feel were the year's most overlooked and overrated albums, and finally, I'll get to my overall picks for the best songs and albums of the 2012.

But first, to get a sense of how the rest of the world felt about the year just past, here's what four notable periodicals, websites, and critical aggregators came up with as their top choices of 2012, starting with the granddaddy and unrepentant Classic Rock champion Rolling Stone.

1. Wrecking Ball - Bruce Springsteen
2. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
3. Blunderbuss - Jack White
4. Tempest - Bob Dylan
5. The Idler Wheel - Fiona Apple
6. good kid, m.A.A.d city - Kendrick Lamar
7. Here - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
8. !Uno! - Green Day
9. Celebration Rock - Japandroids
10. Psychedelic Pill - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
11. Babel - Mumford & Sons
12. Rebirth - Jimmy Cliff
13. Old Ideas - Leonard Cohen
14. The Only Place - Best Coast
15. Locked Down - Dr. John
16. Sun - Cat Power
17. Born and Raised - Jon Mayer
18. Life Is Good - Nas
19. Mirage Rock - Band Of Horses
20. R.A.P. Music - Killer Mike
21. Attack On Memory - Cloud Nothings
22. Slipstream - Bonnie Rait
23. A Thing Call Divine Fits - Divine Fits
24. Cruel Summer - G.O.O.D. Music
25. Sunken Condos - Donald Fagen

Obviously, a defiantly strong lean towards veteran 60s and 70s artists here, but I'll argue for the Dr. John and Leonard Cohen titles just as loud as RS would, both releases are fantastic.

Now the most popular flip-side of the rock journalism coin - the ultra-contemporary, twee-and-inscrutability loving, classic-rock loathing website Pitchfork.

1. good kid, m.A.A.d city - Kendrick Lamar
2. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
3. The Idler Wheel - Fiona Apple
4. Lonerism - Tame Impala
5. The Seer - Swans
6. Grimes - Visions
7. Bloom - Beach House
8. Kill For Love - Chromatics
9. The Money Store - Death Grips
10. Shields - Grizzly Bear
11. Celebration Rock - Japandroids
12. Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! - Godspeed You! Black Emperor
13. R.A.P. Music - Killer Mike
14. Luxury Problems - Andy Stott
15. Swing Lo Magellan - Dirty Projectors
16. Kindred EP - Burial
17. The Haunted Man - Bat For Lashes
18. Ty Segall Band/Ty Segall & White Fence - Slaughterhouse/Hair
19. Attack On Memory - Cloud Nothings
20. Devotion - Jessie Ware
21. Mature Themes - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
22. Until The Quiet Comes - Flying Lotus
23. Kaleidoscope Dream - Miguel
24. Shrines - Purity Ring
25. Habits & Contradictions - Schoolboy Q

Clearly, a near complete disregard for older or more mainstream artists here, but I do feel few sites do a better job of parsing through the offerings of younger indie artists than Pitchfork, and a very good rule of thumb - those albums that make the year end lists for both Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, are, by and large, the true must-hear albums of that year.

Now let's look at the near final consensus tallies from two of the world's best aggregator sites.

First, www.metacritic.com 's tally, which aggregates year-end rankings from almost every notable English language website and publication.

1. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
2. good kid, m.A.A.d. city - Kendrick Lamar
3. The Idler Wheel... - Fiona Apple
4. Lonerism - Tame Impala
5. Celebration Rock - Japandroids
6. Visions - Grimes
7. The Seer - Swans
8. Devotion - Jessie Ware
9. An Awesome Wave - Alt. J.
10. Blunderbuss - Jack White
11. R.A.P. Music - Killer Mike
11. Kaleidoscope Dream - Miguel
13. Bloom - Beach House
13. Attack On Memory - Cloud Nothings
13. Shields - Grizzly Bear
13. Killer For Love - Chromatics
17. Tramp - Sharon Van Etten
17. Until The Quiet Comes - Flying Lotus
17. Boys & Girls - Alabama Shakes
20. The Money Store - Death Grips
20. Django Django
20. Tempest - Bob Dylan
20. Red - Taylor Swift
24. Our Version Of Events - Emili Sande
25. Sun - Cat Power
25. Swing Low Magellan - Dirty Projectors
25. All We Love We Leave Behind - Converge

And for a more international slant, www.acclaimedmusic.net 's 12/24 tally, which factors in most of the lists Metacritic considers, but also works in final rankings from a wide swath of the world's top foreign language websites and publications.

1. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
2. Lonerism - Tame Impala
3. good kid, m.A.A.d. city - Kendrick Lamar
4. Visions - Grimes
5. Shields - Grizzly Bear
6. Kill For Love - Chromatics
7. The Seer - Swans
8. Coexist - The Xx
9. Bloom - Beach House
10. Blunderbuss - Jack White
11. An Awesome Wave - Alt-J
12. Swing Lo Magellan - Dirty Projectors
13. The Idler Wheel... - Fiona Apple
14. Django Django
15. Celebration Rock - Japandroids
16. Sun - Cat Power
17. Until The Quiet Comes - Flying Lotus
18. Tramp - Sharon Van Etten
19. Devotion - Jesse Ware
20. Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! - Godspeed You! Black Emperor
21. Attack On Memory - Cloud Nothings
22. R.A.P. Music - Killer Mike
23. Tempest - Bob Dylan
24. The Haunted Man - Bat For Lashes
25. Boys & Girls - Alabama Shakes

Interestingly, the albums one would consider most instrumentally adventurous soar to the top of the international list, while lyrically anchored efforts like Fiona Apple's or those firmly rooted in traditional North American rock tropes like Celebration Rock drop, but clearly, over all four of these lists, some consistent titles have emerged.  I'll touch on many of these in the pages that follow...along with some other wonderful releases that I feel also deserve recognition.

And now, onto Indie Pop.

2012: The Year In Indie-Pop

In a way, it might be wrong to start here, as I feel indie-pop was the least significant genre of 2012.

After a half-decade counter to the noise and aggression of the 90s, the pop-rock pendulum seems to  be finally swinging away from the gentile beauty that's dominated recent years back to the harder, more aggressive approaches of decade's past.

That said, nothing is more beloved in music than a great hook, something these albums provide in spades...and significant or not, the titles I've group here under the indie-pop umbrella are among the most colorful and eclectic batch 2012 produced.


1. Europe - Allo' Darlin: Twee-pop Nirvana.  Easily my favorite pop album of the year and one of the year's most instantly endearing and consistently solid releases.  If you've got a taste for early R.E.M.'s guitar-driven flow combined with Belle & Sebastian-styled lilting pop sweetness, this female-fronted jangle-pop gem is the album for you.
STRONG RECOMMEND - Spotify! / I-Tunes / Amazon

2. Making Mirrors - Gotye: Technically a 2011 release but not released in the states until January,  2012, most will associate this record with its ubiquitous summer 2011 hit Someone That I Used To Know, but it's the pop-eclecticism of the rest of the album that blew me away. Recalling a pre-American Idol sensibility where aiming for the pop mainstream still allowed for quirks, adult   intelligence, and off-beat artistry, Making Mirrors evokes the feel of guilty pleasures like Journey, Keane, George Michael, Travis, Stevie Winwood, Phil Collins for sure, but when it's all this well done and this varied, who cares.
STRONG RECOMMEND - Spotify! / I-Tunes /Amazon .

3. Researching The Blues - Redd Kross: An often hysterical, self-deprecating power pop album from an aged group of under-recognized L.A. lifers, Researching The Blues operates in the vein of the best work of Cheap Trick and more recent power-pop stalwarts like The New Pornographers. The riff's often "go to 11" on this hard-chugger, but make no mistake, this is a pop album through and through, with hooks galore.  Uglier, the band's acerbic take on the "joys" of aging, justifies the cost of admission alone.
SOLID RECOMMEND - Spotify! / I-Tunes / Amazon .

4. Sun - Cat Power: Following the breakup of her long-term relationship with actor Giovanni Rabisi, Chan Marshall moves away from the Nashville/Stax-flavored balladry that defined her last release of originals, The Greatest, into the world of quirky, self-produced electro-pop. It's a change that works. The album's back half sags some, but the opening half, especially Ruin, is wonderful, and it's all capped by one of the most unlikely songs of the year, the Hey Jude-like, eleven-minute Iggy Pop collaboration Nothing But Time, written to cheer up Rabisi's teenage daughter, with whom Marshall had formed a deeply felt relationship.
SOLID RECOMMEND - Spotify! / I-Tunes / Amazon .

5. Devotion - Jessie Ware: She broke out last year as a guest vocalist on several releases in the drums & bass world, most notably SBTRKT's self-titled debut, but for me, there's only one way to describe the music contained within this promising debut - Sade reborn.
SOLID RECOMMEND - Amazon .

6. Django Django: One of two genuinely bizarre pop releases to take the UK by storm in 2012 (the other being Alt-J's An Awesome Wave), this is my favorite of the two for its greater bounce and more eclectic feel.  Combining wonderful 60s-garage harmonies with all manner of natural and electronic influences, the band can come off like Devo one minute (Default), and spaghetti-western-inspired surf-punks the next (Hailbop), but it's all done with a sense of off-kilter, David Byrne-like fun.
SOLID RECOMMEND - Spotify! / I-Tunes / Amazon .

7. A Thing Called Divine Fits - Divine Fits: A nifty set of indie-pop tunes from a new side-project fronted by Spoon lead-singer Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs guitarist/song-writer Dan Boeckner.  Fans of any of these bands will find much to like here.
SOLID RECOMMEND - Spotify! / I-Tunes / Amazon .

8. An Awesome Wave - Alt-J: The other big, out-there Brit-pop release of 2012, An Awesome Wave is a much mellower, moodier affair than Django Django, playing more to the Blur / Radiohead side of the Brit-pop spectrum, but a couple of the tracks, especially Tessellate, feel as oddball fresh as any of 2012. Strange, but will be interesting to see how this band evolves.
SOLID RECOMMEND - Spotify! / I-Tunes / Amazon .



Other 2012 Indie-Pop Albums of Note:
Bloom - Beach House
Ghostory - School Of Seven Bells
My Head Is An Animal - Of Monsters And Men
Nocturne - Wild Nothing
Port Of Morrow - The Shins
Plumb - Field Music

Next Up - Straight-Up Rock.