There’s this prevailing thought that seems to kick up around this time of year without fail, that–behold!–the guitar is making its return. Guitar bands are coming back to sway the public from those dudes with laptops who aren’t making “real music” anyway. Yeah, sure. I spent a large portion of my 2012 in some ambient music induced k-hole, far removed from The Vaccines and Palma Violets, or whoever NME’s touting as the savior of their beloved brit-rock–the next band to keep the simmering torch lit by Blur and Oasis alive for another year. I’ll admit a certain sort of ignorance to their clangy inclinations, but I still listened to a lot of “guitar music” this year (whatever that means). Here’s eight (or well, nine) of my favorites in alphabetical order. I mean, maybe everyone’s sold their guitars to buy turntables and maybe people are starting to sell their turntables to buy guitars, but these bands are evidence that that holy grail of guitar music has been right under the music press’ collective nose the whole time.
This Philly based practitioner of Pac NW mope rock (think Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith) puts his focus decidedly toward his lyrical expressions, but his brand of straghtforward indie rock feels at once familiar and refreshing. Both Rules and Trick were released over the course of this year and hit at the right moment. They’re downers, but Alex’s nasally voice trudges through the intertwined vines of the instrumentation to create something cathartic and beautiful.
This list could have honestly just ended up a list of the 10 best records released on Burger, an LA based refuge of the sounds of years past, perhaps best known for pressing the works of Ty Segall and OFF! to cassette. Gap Dream’s self-titled LP came out earlier this year and functioned a similarly nostalgic look at years past, but as much as their self-titled relies on the intricate guitarwork that marks the label’s releases as a whole, its decidedly more reserved and laid back. Gabriel Fulmivar’s drawl is laconic in a way that J Mascis might admire but instead of ramping up the chaos around his voice, Fulmivar is content to just float along and let his sparse guitar lines do as much of the talking.
Grass Widow’s particular brand of post-punk relies on driving guitar work as much as it does their patiently intertwining vocals. Tracks bounce along, sometimes atonal guitars resting atop the consistent pattern of kraut-indebted drumming all the while Raven Mahon, Hannah Lew and Lillian Marling conjure a heavenly float overtop their dangerous din. The sonics of early twee without the sloppy playing and the griminess of bass heavy post-punk without the Manc-y bark that often accompanied it. Highly recommended.
I’ve lavished my praise on Lower’s 2012 EP elsewhere, but just to recap, they’ve got the melodies of Echo and The Bunnymen, the knife’s edge attack of countrymates and Escho labelmates Iceage and a unique warped lyricism all their own. It’s a game of spot-the reference-point, but a rewarding one, not lacking in overwhelming guitar rush.
Portland’s the Memories make sloppy lo-fi rock and roll rave ups about like, girls and getting high. It’s sleepy at times, its simple, its the sort of record that reaffirms why the guitar exists. It’s all pop and hiss and love songs.
Sam Ray–the man at the heart of Teen Suicide–may take objection to I Will Be My Own Hell… being termed a guitar album, given his stated goal to write pop songs, but many of the brightest moments find Teen Suicide taking a post-emo strut. Ray begs to be released from his earthly body on “Give Me Back To The Sky” and wails his way through the driving “Have You Been Eating That Sandwich Again.” He trades the guitar for piano on “Grim Reaper” and synth on “Cop Graveyard,” but never loses the spirit of the album. He’s aimed for the ascendant and achieved it. Teen Suicide broke up a couple of weeks ago, but if there’s an album to go out on it’s this one.
The Tough Shits take the best bits of The Mats’ endearing hooks and marry it to a scuzzy sort of garage rock that could only be found on Burger Records. Lyrically simple, but endlessly catchy and wholly at home within the Burger catalog. It’s endlessly bouncy and happy even if the lyrics take a turn toward the dark at points, as on the Free Energy-indebted anti-self-harm rant of “Early Grave.” The band’s a bit tighter than you might imagine, and makes room for more than a few solos.
Mac DeMarco made a couple of the year’s best guitar records, but our love for his sound has been pretty exhaustive. In Walter TV, his bass player Pierce McGarry takes the lead on a set of tape warped tracks way weirder than DeMarco ever attempted. These songs play like flanged guitar based takes on Animal Collective’s kaleidoscopic pop, all the while featuring guitar lines that had to have come from DeMarco himself in their immediate catchiness. Weird, enrapturing and decidedly mushy on the production end, Appetite shows a lot of promise from what could be dismissed as a side-project to a much buzzed about band. If you always dreamed of a version of Mac DeMarco that was burned out from too many psychedelics, here’s your record.