January 1, 2013

The Very Best of 2012

Ladies and gents, I present to you 2012 in a nutshell:



Just kidding - 2012 was more like this:


And now... here it is, spacerockers! My Top Ten Albums of 2012:

1. The Men - Open Your Heart
2. Tame Impala - Lonerism
3. Pond - Beard, Wives, Denim
4. Thee Oh Sees - Putrifier II
5. Six Organs of Admittance - Ascent
6. Sleepy Sun - Spine Hits
7. Liars - WIXIW
8. Howlin' Rain - The Russian Wilds
9. B. Hamilton - Everything I Own Is Broken
10. Diiv- Oshin

Honorable mention:
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
Pontiak - Echo Ono
Flavor Crystals s/t
Swans - The Seer 
Torche - Harmonicraft
Maserati - VII
Goat -World Music
Magic Castles s/t
Dan Deacon - America
Guardian Alien - See The World Given To A One Love Entity

Reissues:
Can - The Lost Tapes

Feedtime - The Aberrant Years
The Azusa Plane - Where The Sands Turn To Gold
Sensations' Fix - Music Is Painting In The Air
My Bloody Valentine - EPs 1988 - 1991 

But I've got a lot more than that for you, my lovely spacerockers! What follows is four hours of the tastes of 2012! Spiritualized is a no-brainer, of course; every release of theirs is accompanied by an epic-feeling vibe of the everything-just-changed-and-yet-it-remains-the-same variety. Their 2012 release is no exception, as this motorik barn-burner illustrates. Howlin' Rain emerged fully formed from the ashes of Comets On Fire, or at least from the skull of their guitar mangler-in-chief Ethan Miller, who has stripped away some of the lysergic splatter of his former band and revealed an adeptness at classic rawk that it seems obvious that it was there all the time. Classic sound, innovative arrangements, soaring harmonies and extended guitar jams make their third album one of the best of the year. If it wasn't so grounded in the traditional (thus less space than rock) it might have made Number One, although they make me realize what I love about classic 70s radio to begin with. Sleepy Sun lost one of their founding members (and only female vocalist) but they not only weathered the change but seem the better for it. More mature songwriting and continued tightening of dynamics make it a real "grower". Pontiak managed to streamline their sound even further, but the resulting dark minimalism actually makes for greater impact. The songs from this year's release virtually burst out of the speakers like explosive embers. Continuing the trad-rock-tinged-with-psychedelic that seems to to be re-emerging of late (a welcome trend, to be sure), The Young conjure not only namesake Neil, but the legacy of dark psych their hometown of Austin, Texas, is famous for.

The prolific Sean McBean and his Black Mountain managed to squeeze in some soundtrack work this year, and while some of it is the requisite hazy, sketchy instrumentals you'd expect, at least half of it lives up to their best work, as this track can attest. White Hills continued refining their genre-defining space rock and ramped up the acid dosage on their latest. Moon Duo further distinguished themselves from their sister band Wooden Shjips with deeper explorations of moody motorik psych. And Richard Hawley pulled off the sleeper of the year with his leftfield homage to pastoral, yet bombastic, classic British psych-folk.

Dirty Three just get more and more vital, and experimental, over time and their many albums, perhaps due to recent reinvigoration with Nick Cave in his Bad Seeds and Grinderman. The mighty Beachwood Sparks triumphantly returned (hence the title of this song) with some of their best material yet, further chronicling their Flying Burrito Brothers/Byrds country-psych obsession. The modfather Paul Weller continued to prove he's even more prolific, and daring, as he ages with this diverse collection of new material. Another leftfield hat trick was pulled off by obscure Danish trip-poppers Choir Of Young Believers, whose brand of atmospheric post-whatever channels everything from Sigur Ros to Portishead, while sounding like none of them.

Speaking of Comets On Fire (see first paragraph above), can you imagine what they would sound like fronted by singer/shredder Ben Chasny (whose career as Six Organs Of Admittance has been all over the solo guitar map, from Fahey-esque finger-pickin' pastorals to unsettling dronescapes to all-out space-blooz extravaganzas)...?!?!? Well that's exactly what the new full-band Six Organs joint is all about, a marriage made in heaven, definitely a contender for best of the year. Speaking of marriages made in heaven, how about one-upping it to a menage-a-trois made in avant-folk hell? Well, start with the previously mentioned Mr. Six Organs, add one Sir Richard Bishop (leader of the intrepid experimentalists and world music iconoclasts Sun City Girls) and one Chris Corsano (who somehow manages to drum for the decidedly arhythmic free-folk freaks Sunburned Hand Of The Man) and you have the illustrious trio known as Rangda (aptly named for a Javanese demon queen).

Geoff Barrow, the instrumentalist behind Portishead, put out his second installment as Beak>, and it one-ups its precursor in dabbling in motorik, kraut-tronic, experimental and progressive psych with sublimely dark and eerie results. The acoustic psych-folk of Woods also received a beefing-up with a full band and modern studio production, without sacrificing any of their playful precociousness. As heard on previous installments (and you'll be getting plenty more of them in installments to come, because they RULE), Pond, upstart sister band to the band who swept the last couple years of Best Ofs, the illustrious Tame Impala, further honed their own brand of psychedelic pop with embellishments of stone cold soul and swaggering R&B.

Busting out of the garage and into outer space, the massively prolific John Dwyer singlehandedly put the San Francisco neo-garage scene on the map with The Coachwhips and Pink & Brown, but with his latest project Thee Oh Sees he seems on the verge of world domination. With their infusion of kinetic, spastic motorik and frenetic, cathartic post-punk they leave the dry, spent husk of yet another resurgence of garage rock behind. Also ripping themselves free of the constraints of garage orthodoxy, former "shitgazers" Sic Alps put out a stunningly mature collection of a new hybrid genre unto themselves. Lo-fi ramblers White Fence have garage associations but stand heads above the rest due to a healthy dose of early-Pavement snark and Syd Barrett whimsy. B. Hamilton (a band name, not a person) also hail from the SF Bay Area's garage scene (Oakland, specifically) but manage to stand out via massive guitar tone, ballistic rhythms and dang fine songwriting. One of the year's best, if only for how unique their sound is.

Speaking of ballistic, the metal-gaze juggernaut known as Torche set everything they touch on fire with their manic energy and shimmering guitar workouts. Which leads us to... The Men. With an incredibly diverse almost indescribable amalgam of old school SST punk, mantric Spacemen 3 psych, and a somewhat more refined "pigfuck" (Melvins, Jesus Lizard, et al.) aesthetic they put out what is unquestionably THE BEST ALBUM OF 2012. Somewhat in the same vein, obscure Kiwi weirdos feedtime's body of work was collected on a 4-disc reissue this year, and we're all the better for it. And to complete the first HALF of this month's playlist, LA post-post-punk drum and guitar duo Japandroids turned in another fine album and a tasty cover of one of The Gun Club's most seminal tracks.

For you traditionalists who don't mind streaming from this site, the following tracks should appear in the first player below:

The Spacerock Continuum Theme - bRambles
Hey Jane - Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Self Made Man - Howlin' Rain - The Russian Wilds
Creature - Sleepy Sun - Spine Hits
Lions Of Least - Pontiak - Echo Ono
Livin' Free - The Young - Dub Egg
Breathe - Black Mountain - Year Zero Soundtrack
Pads Of Light - White Hills - Frying On This Rock
I Been Gone - Moon Duo - Circles
Standing At The Sky's Edge - Richard Hawley - Standing At The Sky's Edge
That Was Was - Dirty Three - Toward The Low Sun
Sparks Fly Again - Beachwood Sparks - The Tarnished Gold
Drifters - Paul Weller - Sonik Kicks
Paralyze - Choir Of Young Believers - Rhine Gold
One Thousand Birds - Six Organs Of Admittance - Ascent
Idol's Eye - Rangda - Formerly Extinct
Wulfstan II - Beak> - >>
Bend Beyond - Woods - Bend Beyond
Fantastic Explosion Of Time - Pond - Beard, Wives, Denim
Wax Face - Thee Oh Sees - Putrifiers II
Wake Up, It's Over II - Sic Alps - s/t
Swagger Vets & Double Moon - White Fence - Family Perfume 1 & 2
Me And Margaret Counting Countdowns - B. Hamilton - Everything I Own Is Broken
Letting Go - Torche - Harmonicraft
Ex-Dreams - The Men - Open Your Heart
Dead Crazy - feedtime - The Aberrant Years
For The Love Of Ivy - Japandroids - Celebration Rock



But don't forget, you also have the option of spacerock to go:



1. Click on the Divshare logo instead of pushing the play button in the player above.

2. Click "download" when redirected to the Divshare site (put it on your desktop for easy access).

3. Once downloaded, drag it to yer iTunes and sync it with yer pod.

And I must reiterate, this is the way to take your spacerock mix to go! You can DOWNLOAD it! It's YOURS now! It's an mp3 mix that pops right into your iTunes - it couldn't be simpler.


And that was only part ONE. But as I said, this is a double-duty installment, with twice the spacerockin' goodness. Here's part TWO:

I didn't coin the term "metal-gaze" that I used to describe Torche above (as well as a few other bands every now and again) but it's implication should be obvious: a melding of heavy metal's buzzsaw propulsion and shoegaze's undulating textures. It's even more apt to describe France's entry into the genre, Alcest. Their (basically his - the man known as Neige) appropriation of the more grandiose aspects of either genre makes for some majestic, blissful and heady stuff. Speaking of blissful and heady (I'm always speaking of "speaking of", eh?), Flavor Crystals are sweet, sweet head candy: their murky, pointillist, textural psychedelia has forebears in artists like Flying Saucer Attack and Roy Montgomery but they make it all their own, bringing a sense of dynamics to a somewhat static genre. As seen in November's installment, My Best Fiend's pathos-drenched power balladry is not really space rock, but the slow-burn dynamics and fuzzed-out guitar frenzy is total ear candy.

Echo Lake are purveyors of many well-known elements, from reverb-soaked 60s girl band harmonies to classic 80s and 90s bliss pop, but they bring them together so well, another confection for the ears, mind and soul. Ringo Deathstar manage to bridge the blisspop/shoegaze gap on this track, with the verses swaying gently like psychedelic hammocks until instrumental interludes blow a squall of dissonance and feedback at them until we're left spinning (and loving it). Of course, nobody did (does?) it like My Bloody Valentine, and this track from their recently reissued EP collection illustrates both sides perfectly. Who doesn't need a relatively unknown track like this one to remind us of their utter genius (though we shouldn't hold our breath for the endless promise of new material)? Broken Water take a slab of MBV bliss and slather it with early Sonic Youth noise and suddenly it's 1990 again. And how about another track from those youngsters in DIIV who have appropriated choice elements of these genres and end up sounding like some of the best of the era, twenty years gone, that you never heard of?

The enigma known as Liars returned this year with one of their best releases, capturing all the disparate guises the band has taken on, from lurching no wave, to dark experimentalism, to scattershot electronica, and distills it down into a package ranking in our Top Ten this year. Peaking Lights pick up the white kid dub where this Liars track left off, but that's their whole MO: repurposing Lee "Scratch" Perry or the Mad Professor and their ilk for the avant garde set. Their lo-fi yet deep dub riddims are enhanced by nursery rhyme vocals for a soothing accompaniment to your next mescaline trip. As long as we're on the tribal-beat nursery rhymes, Fabulous Diamonds know a ditty or two; although dark motorik is more their style, this track fits right in.

Time to pick up the pace now, which with a Maserati is always furious, bolting down the 25th century autobahn, careening around clifftop corners and narrowly missing plummeting from the precipice of their high-minded driving musick. Continuing at that speed, Dan Deacon takes you from Maserati's cruising of coastal Italian byways to the backroads and superhighways of America, which he explores in a 10-part suite he released this year. Since we're now entirely in electronic mode let's include some stellar new works by O. G. noise-collage absurdists Black Dice, and daft German bad boys Mouse On Mars, both of whom put out amazing albums in 2012. And to bridge this electro-acoustic divide, what better than Tussle's tribalism to tie them both together with analog krautronics and organic instrumentation in equal representation?

The wild card (and another sleeper) of the year is Sweden's Goat, who combine fabricated voodoo mysticism, syncopated afrobeat rhythms, rapturous group chants, and 70s acid guitars to create larger-than-life lore that in no way overshadows their enchanting debut album. A truly unique experience - can't wait for more. Another truly odd bird is Blues Control. About as contrary to their name as possible these avant gardists focus on circular piano figures augmented by anything from stand-up bass to distorted brass to fuzz guitars to electronic loops. How can anything be so head-scratching and so groovy at the same time? Maybe "Jazz Control" would be a better name. Magic Castles also conjure a mystical place and time, more pagan than even the arch-druid Julian Cope himself, at least in sound. They should be right up his alley - wonder if he knows about them...?

By and large one of the current crop bands who should endure the test of time, precisely through their homage to the past and solid foot in the present, Tame Impala's second full-length is every bit as bold a statement as their first, though they've shown signs of growth and divergence (baroque Lennon-esque pop is a somewhat new focus) and, as before, every song is a standout. Like their first, this new one is remarkable from start to finish. Another giant leap forward with roots in the past is Michael Gira's Swans, who on their sprawling new album combine the brutal tribalism of their early work with their recent foray into Nick Cave-style confessional murder ballads and lyrical Americana. And we wrap it up with freaky Finns Pharaoh Overlord, spinoff of long-standing enigmas Circle, and who can tell where one band ends and the other begins... anyway?

So happy New Year! Here's hoping 2013 brings a cornucopia of equal goodness to us all as 2012 has done, both musically and otherwise.

For you traditionalists who don't mind streaming from this site, the following tracks should appear in the first player below:

The Spacerock Continuum Theme - bRambles
Summer's Glory - Alcest Les Voyages de L'├éme
Broadcaster - Flavor Crystals - Three
Cracking Eggs - My Best Fiend - In Ghostlike Fading
Another Day - Echo Lake - Wild Peace
Tambourine Girl - Ringo Deathstar - Colour Trip
How Do You Do It? - My Bloody Valentine - The EPs 1988-1991
Drown - Broken Water - Tempest
Air Conditioning - DIIV - Oshin
Octagon - Liars Wixiw
Cosmic Tides - Peaking Lights Lucifer
Lothario - Fabulous Diamonds Commercial Music
San Angeles - Maserati - VII
Guilford Avenue Bridge - Dan Deacon - America
Pinball Wizard - Black Dice Mr. Impossible
Seaqz - Mouse On Mars - Parastrophics
Yumi No Muri - Tussle - Tempest
Golden Dawn - Goat - World Music
Love's A Rondo - Blues Control - Valley Tangents
Ballad Of The Golden Bird - Magic Castles - s/t
Elephant - Tame Impala Lonerism
Avatar - Swans - The Seer
Rodent - Pharaoh Overlord - Lunar Jetman



But don't forget, you also have the option of spacerock to go:



1. Click on the Divshare logo instead of pushing the play button in the player above.

2. Click "download" when redirected to the Divshare site (put it on your desktop for easy access).

3. Once downloaded, drag it to yer iTunes and sync it with yer pod.

And I must reiterate, this is the way to take your spacerock mix to go! You can DOWNLOAD it! It's YOURS now! It's an mp3 mix that pops right into your iTunes - it couldn't be simpler.

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