Of course there are overlooked records. Like any and every year, there’s always too much music to consume and give appropriate time to. I personally find it hard to get on top of every great thing, and when end of year lists roll out across the web and in magazines and such, I get a little dizzy and depressed at just how many supposedly amazing records i’ve not listened to. I try to listen to lots, but I enjoy spending time with a record, getting to know its ins and outs. Even if a record isn’t perfect or worthy of eight thumbs up, I still like to travel through it over and over, seeing if time helps me appreciate other aspects, or at the very least, just to respect the album format. Thus, here are a few records I believe it’s worth either investing some time in, or just revisiting a few times more.
I’ll confess that as the year trundled on, I came to almost completely forget about Paralytic Stalks. And that’s a shame because it was something of a return to form for of Montreal, who didn’t execute another Hissing Fauna, but still show they have plenty of gumption left in them. A track like “Ye, Renew The Plaintiff” has everything I want from an of Montreal track in this day and age, and the likes of “Dour Percentage” and “Spiteful Intervention” are glorious pop numbers hiding between the erratic curves and contours of Kevin Barnes’ unpredictable/schizophrenic bursts of energy. I still think the second half of the album leaves a lot to be desired (only to be enjoyed when you’re in need of particular kind of Georgie Fruit-turned 16th Century morbid philosopher-turned avant garde composer on a severe LSD trip fix) but at its best the album reminds you why you hold out on this band.
Self-titled albums are often perceived as an artists or band’s most honest, confessional work, and in the case of Timberwolf, that’s spot on. Samuel Tucker Young’s debut self-titled is a journey through the ups and downs of coming out of a relationship, complete with suicidal lows, regrettable near-voyeuristic stalking, reassuring talks to one’s self, and (eventually) acceptance. From that you might surmise that Timberwolf is a heady record that pulls at plenty of emotional strings, and again you’d be spot on. It can be a little overwhelming sometimes, and when you don’t expect that lowest lows and highest highs, they can catch you off guard and leave you a bit winded. It’s an album that takes you through the motions, but then again, relationships (and their demise) will do that.
Kody Neilson’s Opossom project will unfortunately be overshadowed by his brother Ruban’s work (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and that’s a shame since it’s meant that Opossom’s debut Electric Hawaii has either completely eluded people or just been swept under the carpet. It’s a tight album, running little over half an hour, but still manages to throw out ten tracks that each have something offer. It might be argued that Neilson never quite nails that sound he seems to be aiming for, but it adds to the loose feel, and part of the joy of revisiting Electric Hawaii is listening to that sound that’s something like Belle & Sebastian on a desert island – and even a desert island has its own little treasures to be found.
[Box of Cedar]
The Sister is a record that suffers from being overshadowed, too. Marissa Nadler’s self-titled from 2011 was one of her strongest albums to date, and The Sister which is quite literally a “sister album” to it. What’s odd though is that it’s the darker of the two records that is overshadowed by its brighter counterpart. The Sister features plenty of ghostly cooing, and for most part features nothing more than Nadler alone with her guitar, and as a consequence has a chilly edge – even the optimistically titled “Love Again, There Is A Fire” sounds like it’s shuffling about in burnt out ashes. Nonetheless, the album features some of Nadler’s best song that’ll compare to anything else loved from her catalogue, such as the darkly spiralling “The Wrecking Ball Company,” the sublime “Apostle,” and lulling wordless harmonies of “To a Road, Love.” Sister in title, yes, but even though every parent is lying when they say so, they love all their children equally, and the same should go for Marissa Nadler albums.
To The Soul
As far as many are concerned, Jens Lekman can rightfully claim the title of “Best Album From A Swedish Person” for 2012 (and The Knife seem a dead cert for the award in 2013), but as any explorative music fan will tell you, there’s more to Sweden than Mr Lekman. Frida Hyvönen is one of those artists who has been tinkering away behind her piano for years, weaving tales from past memories, relationships that have come and gone, and trying to figure out plenty of unanswerable questions in between. Her third proper album To The Soul is actually something of a contrast to Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn’t: Lekman sought to strip away a lot of the fanfare while Hyvönen has beefed up her output, with tracks full of more instrumentation. Personally I don't find it quite as enamouring as her previous album, Silence Is Wild, but Hyvönen is an artist who can catch you by surprise with a simple phrase of melody, and To The Soul has plenty of them on offer.
Beautiful Idaho, The Gem State
Earlier this year my fine colleague Rob Hakimain was sporting enough to post about a project I was involved with, which involved a group of musicians/Sufjan Steven enthusiasts coming together to complete the infamously abandoned Fifty States Project. Since then there has been seven more states tackled, and one of the most notable efforts is that of Daniel Headington who took on Idaho. There’s plenty of Sufjan imitation in the song titles and the minute long instrumental tracks that are mere melodical codas to the previous song, but there’s also plenty to honest-to-goodness enjoyable music here. The album begins with Headington wanting to follow in the paths of a past love, and take up residence, where they once were. While he’s there he goes from adoring the place, sounding like a State-approved pamphlet, to despondently singing of wanting to go home. It’s a tremendous album, and with a track like “Ada, Boise,” you could easily mistake the whole thing for a Sufjan album in the making. The crux, though? Headington is a Sydney-based musician who has never stepped a foot in Idaho. Beautiful Idaho: inspired by Sufjan and inspiring in itself.
Break It Yourself
[Bella Union/Mom + Pop]
I heard a lot of people describing Break It Yourself as “boring,” which led me to defend it as an album for Andrew Bird fans. Finding enjoyment worth revisiting in Break It Yourself comes from being familiar with Bird’s back catalogue, and understanding it as a piece of an ever-evolving jigsaw. Of course, it’s not all stuff that requires a PhD in Bird-omonics, as evidenced by the sprightly “Give It Away” or the hypnotizing and elegant “Hole In the Ocean Floor,” but I won’t deny that knowing where this sits in Bird’s archive makes it a more enjoyable experience overall.
House of Tolerance
First and foremost: “The Sad Facts” is up there as one of my favourite tracks of the year. It’s just one of those songs that can go out of your mind for a while, and when you come across it again, you wonder why you ever stopped listening. Cambriana are hard act to pin down style or genre wise; they’re a band best listened to so as to gain an understanding. Admittedly their debut album House of Tolerance sits in an odd place with me. I think it’s a wonderful album, full of ebbs and flows that are comforting and ever so slightly disconcerting – like a warm tide pulling you ever so gradually further away from shore. However, I came across it when I was going through a transition in my work that I wasn’t in favour of, and I would listen to this on my way to work, and I can’t decide if it deepened or dispersed the depressed dread I felt every morning. What I know is that the association seems fixed for me, and even though it recalls me of a low time in my life, I still want to hear it again and again.
After a few impressionable live encounters earlier this year, everyone seems fixated on Kishi Bashi and his theatrical take on Andrew Bird/Owen Pallet’s violin loop technique. And rightfully so, as far as I’m concerned. And while this helped build excitement for his debut album 151a, the chatter of one of the most promising talents seemed to fade away. Perhaps he was spending too much time with Kevin Barnes? Possibly. Maybe 151a wasn’t really that good? Definitely not. In fact, I’d be convinced you hadn’t even spun 151a once if you utter a statement like that. It’s an album for your ears to gorge on, full of wonderful, glowing melodies; crescendos that will sweep you off your feet and land you safely on the ground again; and sonic effects that are hidden in plain sights, like the simple sound of some handclaps. 151a is a record to be proud of, both for Kishi Bashi having made, and for having listened to repeatedly.
With Sinaii: Heartbreaking Bravery
Heartbreaking Bravery might seem an odd choice here, as plenty of people paid it attention upon its release, and most spoke favourably of it (as fans finally seemed to accept that Spencer Krug is much more than just Spencer Krug from Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown). But it also slipped out of people’s minds and unless there’s the slightest ruffle of Krug reigniting the fire from one of his previous outfits, then people don’t seem that interested in what he’s doing, or in this case, what he has done. With Finnish band Sinaii, he creates an alluring world that I keep coming back to. I want to say “Yesterday’s Fire” is a raucous stomper, but it’s not exactly raucous as it is restrained and fuzzy, and not really stomper, but more of a strangely involving chug. There’s something about this inbetween world that Krug and Sinaii occupy that draws me in, whether it be with the woozy Siren-like synths of “Faraway Lightening” or the just that extra drumbeat in “Quickfire, I Tried, ” there’s just something I can’t quite put my finger on. And until I can find the right word to describe it, or pinpoint what it is about Heartbreaking Bravery that I like enough to want to play it again and again, then I’m just going to keep enjoying it as much as I can.
Artists:Andrew Bird, Cambriana, Daniel Headington, Frida Hyvönen, Kishi Bashi, Marissa Nadler, Moonface, of Montreal, Opossom, TimberwolfTags:2012: The Year In Music