Here we are, about halfway through the year. Working through this month's releases, we touched base with a new kind of Americana and also reached towards “The Continent”; we saw a resurgence in independent rock music as only Baltimore and the West Coast can do it, and we encountered an incredible mixtape of works created off of a truly epic sample, culled from the rocks of the West Bank and ringing with the sands of time. Enjoy, in no particular order, our picks for the best music of 2012.
The Best Record of May 2012
The lo-fi safety blanket that insulated their debut, Twin-Hand Movement, has been removed, the reverb dialed back, allowing Jana Hunter’s sullen vocal talents to pervade the foreground. The sharp distorted guitar riffs favored in the past have been replaced by brooding synths and subtle rumbles of guitar that drift alongside each other in harmony. The combination creates a nebulous cloud that envelopes the pulse of the percussion which takes on two faces: live and electronic. By emphasizing individual talents in with the new recordings, as opposed to creating a wall of sound, the ten tracks of Nootropics have room to stretch and grow into the lengths the band isn’t used to exploring.
The Best Releases of May 2012
In a musical climate where “Americana” indicates the pedestrian, finger-picking pastime of aged punks, its refreshing to hear American Snakeskin hijack the brittle exoskeleton of country and blues, imbue the bones with a distinctly Southern mysticism and shatter them with modern neuroses. Of course, considering American Snakeskin “Americana” requires some imagination, but their music seems informed by Florida. They carry on the region’s musical lineage distantly, and epitomize Florida’s recent legacy of uneasiness. Whatever regional characteristics or water-borne ailments compel the citizens of Florida to eat each other’s flesh seems at least partly responsible for Turquoise for Hello.
French film-maker Pierre Gauthier was traveling through Nablus, which is a Palestinian city on the West Bank. He heard a Muezzin issue a Muslim call to prayer, and due to the shape of the valley where Nablus sits, the call echoed off of the walls of the city and the nearby Mount Gerizim, creating a naturally ethereal and echoey recording. Luke Carrell and Coco Zoabi decided to create a mixtape, asking a group of artists they knew to make songs that all incorporated this recording. The result is a beautiful group of varied but familiar songs by artists and groups such as Helado Negro, Lee Noble, Arclight, and MEGAFORTRESS.
Big-hearted and loose, Royal Headache’s debut has the best qualities of a literal flash in the pan – quick, golden, and promising. This may not be a perfect record, but it’s likely the sign of greater riches to come.
How the DJ in the moniker comes into play is still a mystery, as the contents on his Never EP seek the shadowplay of dystopian post-punk. The Never EP operates in that bridge between the late 70s and early 80s as Joy Division bled into New Order and Human League bled into Gary Numan. DJ Dingo Susi cooly plays selector of influence, but the Never EP does not suffer from lineage.
Listening to Dominant Legs' “Make Time For The Boy” now, it seems terribly obvious that the Bay Area indie poppers wrote a song fit for a rap remix. But, to reach that conclusion it took DJ Ammbush and Main Attrakionz to slow those twinkling keys to a codiene syrup crawl and toss some hollowed out drums over it. Presto change-o, a track from Dominant Legs' Invitation LP (2011) get the cloud rap treatment.
As always with Doseone, there's a process of excavating his cave of poems, but there's also a fine opportunity to not get all wrapped up in interpretation and nod in approval to his Buff Love beat box sample and the chaotic polyphonic outro that sounds like an outtake from Themselves circa The No Music.
Everything is sped up, and though there is still the tinkly little cymbal hits and rim shots, but instead of the psychedelic ooze, this is clearly Psychic Feline's punk record. Non Dot”, is an instrumental jam with a really punchy guitar line that reminds us of some of the Pacific Northwest's classic post-punk bands, like almost half as fast as a Popular Shapes guitar solo but with the same high-pitched fervor.”
Colette and Hannah Thurlow keep tracks like “Creeping” crawling with sparse scuzz drenched guitar that never overcomes a steady beat and electric organ moan produced and mixed by the legendary Alan Moulder. “You're Early” is filled with that hollow guilt you feel when you arrive late to that special date, forget that birthday, steal that last Belgian beer from the fridge without replacing, show up to the party with buzz kill stories about the sensitive fungal maladies that afflict sensitive friends and plenty more scenarios that will be evoked from 2:54.
Shady Blaze teamed up again with Blissed Out, bringing us the following debut of their latest collaborative track “Hit Man.” Shady brings the Bay Area cloud flow over the NYC producer's sarcophagus of sound, as the two align forces to become the synergistic team known as Blazed Out. Taking both of their sounds to the next level, Blaze releases sick flowing RPMs with enough energy to ignite the Bay Bridge, while Blissed slows down siren keyboard samples to the sound of ominous choir vocals.
Comprised of David Otto on guitar and vocals with bassist Thomas Sommerville; the duo has staked a reputation through their pawn shop keyboard edge, hacked recording programs and an infectious pop sound that is putting them on more than a few journos' watchlists. If this seven song cycle is any indication, Slam Donaue could be a household name by Thanksgiving this year thanks to fresh jams like “Where Are You,” “How to Be Cool,” “It's Scary,” “No More Talking” and more.
Existing somewhere between political hardcore and gritty post-punk, Moss Icon recalls bands like Warsaw before their emotional ‘80s DC brethren. Frontman Jonathan Vance’s stream of consciousness vocals create a tension between harsh choruses and the pronounced guitar arpeggios of Tonie Joy (of Born Against fame).
Both sides of the tape – each a single ten minute+ track – feature a big sound that defies the classical norms of ambient music by refusing to be sublimated into the background and insisting on expanding to occupy all available space. Just how it reshapes that space once it’s there is highly subjective, as bass, guitar, and synths invite listeners to do a little deep listening and interpreting of their own.
Craft Spells, Gallery [Captured Tracks]
Craft Spells' bright brand of indie synth melancholia on their new EP somehow leaves you feeling upward rather than otherwise.
Singles “Big Beast” and “Don't Die” provide the bridge we envisioned of a mainstream artist meandering in the muck of the industry links up with a producer for hire that's without a label or roster for the first time in a decade. It's some story book shit that's been lingering in the realm of possibility for over five years and come mid-May that celebration of gap officially bridged might be real this go-round.
The name Hot Sugar has haunted me at every turn, since appearing on Big Baby Gandhi's No 1 2 Look Up 2 mixtape. It took the form of a wizard wand in his video for “#MindControl”. It took the form of a beat lent to Open Mike Eagle for his most recent EP. It took the form of lounging on a Cadaillac, sporting a mink, in Gandhi's “Been A Villain” video. (I'm also just learning he produced “Sleep” from The Roots'undun record.) Now, it's taken the form of permission to debut the second single from his upcoming Moon Money EP.
Elizabeth Morris will capture your heart like the first time around from their self-titled album with singles like “Talulah” and “Capricornia” from their new album Europe. If you thought “Talulah” had them pinned as innocent twee name droppers, “Capricornia” showcases California-sun-loving power pop that we can never get enough of as Allo Darlin' enchant and leave you wanting more.
Familiar to most as frontwoman of Follow that Bird, Lauren Green is also wrapping up a recording with fellow Austin bandmates while dropping her solo work as LRG GRN, where she goes from Texan desperado folk as featured on “Quilts” to the electronic frontiers of “Pinholes” before going to back to her own line of echoplex Americana.
Spacey, aka Magnus Johansson, crafts some of Sweden's forward thinking electro grooves that originate from the earth while vocals sing in the mother tongue of Malmö, Sweden, moving like sleepy mist pierced by the aurora borealis beams from the northern lights.
Sweden is one of the world's most fascinating network hubs of the international electronic/dance/ambient community's successful translators of dreams. The duo of Hampus Klint and Einar Andersson create an Ibiza sunrise score to enjoy a sunrise with good company and the remaining contents of a half drunken jug of Tempranillo on the single “Månljus (saknad).” Perhaps the EP can best be described as the musical equivalent to watching pangea in slow motion, bridging bodies and straits of waters to conjoin disparate and lonely coasts.
The duo of producer Every and rapper J| | | | |M, make up Jim Henson In The Vice Grip and we're thoroughly pleased with its reclusive blend of codeine-muddled production and split personality rap bravado. J| | | | |M splits time in the baritone and tweeked-up alto tones, but neither side is the angel on the shoulder opposite the demon. There's no altruistic filters in J| | | | |M on “4TEEN”, just pure brain numbing hedonism. Chilling J| | | | |M's madness is Every, who submerges the cold croon of Denali's “Gunner” into a trap rap sound pit.
Get ready for some artistic posturing and intriguing unconventional lyrics and stand alone songs from the Seattle by way of Oakland duo, Casy & Brian. “Rumble in the Jungle” is a herky-jerky exercise in frenetic rhythms and grating, trebly tones that recalls what critics meant when they wrote “post- punk” in 2002, when it was danceable. “Now You’re Dancing,” treads similar territory, only with an emphasized crudeness and immediacy, a quality often arising in groups more comfortable performing at clandestine warehouse parties than slick clubs. The EP’s first track and single, “Understanding Sound” casually hones percolating synth melodies with a raw industrial backbone that the groups forthcoming LP is likely to resemble.
When original Craft Spells member Frankie Soto didn't follow the band to Seattle, he gathered his Stockton crew of Eddie Zepeda, Alfonso Robles, and Jose Medina to create sentimental and earnest songs that treat twee rock styles with serious attention to guitar forward rock and roll. Spotted at both this year's Noise Pop and SF Pop festivals, Surf Club is the best news to come out of Stockton since Pavement. Their record Young Love marks the first release ever on the new label Death Party Records, an imprint founded by Portland's Michael Avishay of Ghost Animal.