If I had to peg trends: "Revenge Of Shoegaze" would be an underlying current that was a recurring theme in my listening. Just no beating sugar-coated noise in my book, and with the likes of DIIV, 2:54, Young Prisms, Violens, Echo Lake, and others making waves, it was a banner year for clouds of guitars. Also, it should be noted: For a year in which none of their 'superstar acts' released LP's, it was another strong year for North Carolina based Merge Records. Along with Hospitality's #2 showing, great albums came from the likes of Divine Fits (#16), Bob Mould, Lambchop (#13), and the Mountain Goats.
For the coming year, new albums from The Joy Formidable, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Yo La Tengo are at the top of the anticipated list. As this year's list would indicate, though, these days it's best to cast anticipations aside and just see where the current takes you.
25) ECHO LAKE: Wild Peace (Slumberland)
24) SCREAMING FEMALES: Ugly (Don Giovanni)
23) GRIZZLY BEAR: Shields (Warp)
22) LEE FIELDS and the EXPRESSIONS: Faithful Man (Truth and Soul)
21) DIIV: Oshin (Captured Tracks)
20) AMANDA PALMER: Theatre Is Evil (8 Ft Records)
19) TY SEGALL: Slaughterhouse (In The Red)
18) VIOLENS: True (Slumberland)
17) JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD: Hypnotic Nights (Warner Bros.)
16) DIVINE FITS: A Thing Called The Divine Fits (Merge)
15) TAME IMPALA: Lonerism (Modular)
14) DIRTY PROJECTORS: Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)
13) LAMBCHOP: Mr. M (Merge/City Slang)
12) BEACH HOUSE: Bloom (Sub Pop/Bella Union)
11) FLYING LOTUS: Until The Quiet Comes (Warp)
10) CATE LE BON: Cyrk I/II (Control Group)
9) SHEARWATER: Animal Joy (Sub Pop)
8) 2:54 (self-titled) (Fat Possum/Fiction)
7) SHARON VAN ETTEN: Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
6) JENS LEKMAN: I Know What Love Isn't (Secretly Canadian)
5) MELODY'S ECHO CHAMBER: Melody's Echo Chamber (Fat Possum)
Melody Prochet finds her dream sound, courtesy of Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), who's production provides the launching pad for her hypnotic trip, disregarding the basic laws of music genres, and seamlessly moving wherever she wants to go. An astounding debut.
4) PEAKING LIGHTS: Lucifer (Mexican Summer/Weird World)
Hypnotic is the theme, and nobody does better whatever the hell it is that Peaking Lights is doing. Lucifer is one solid trip of an album, with track divisions seeming only a bureaucratic necessity. The catchy songs stay with you, but it's when the album shifts into dub overdrive, that's when it transcends. Speaking of dub, for bonus points, this month sees the release of Lucifer In Dub.
3) CLOUD NOTHINGS: Attack On Memory (Carpark)
"Forget You All The Time" from 2011's Cloud Nothings LP was the perfect warm fuzz drenched song that had me looking forward to this album. Throw that out the window, in a good way. Attack On Memory is a savage detonation of a record that slots in with Madonna-era Trail Of Dead in terms of intensity and execution. Dylan Baldi left the bedroom recording behind, putting together a band that takes it even further live. Steve Albini nails the production on the hard rock record of the year.
2) HOSPITALITY: Hospitality (Merge)
Sometimes articles of faith are rewarded. Not since the glory days of SST have I taken a flyer on a band just because of their label affiliation, but the gamble paid off with this gem from Merge. Faith is the key here, buying into the concept that a guitar pop record can have any kind of credence these days. The saving graces are Amber Papini's insistence on gray areas, imbueing the song's with a bittersweetness that belies her years. Musically, guitarist Nathan Michel and Shane Stonebeck share production duties, and the album is full of marvelous unexpected moments. "Sleepover" is the track that best distills the magic, lulling you in, then slyly building to a tough guitar crescendo. Magic.
Josh Tillman has been kicking around for a bit, known mostly as the drummer for the Fleet Foxes, and his own quiet folky records. After departing the band, it seems he was in a mood to shake things up, and did he ever. Describing Fear Fun to friends, the best pitch I could come up with was: "If Harry Nilsson spent the early 70's hanging out with Hunter S. Thompson instead of drinking with John Lennon." The setup is simple, starting out like a skewed '70's singer/songwriter album before knocking you over with the controlled Crazy Horse menace of "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings". Humor is the saving grace, ("I'm Writing A Novel"), and moments of true beauty, ("O I Long To Feel Your Arms Around Me"), hide between the shaggiest of shaggy dog stories. As a bonus, the liner notes themselves are a veritable novel, and while I don't usually pursue videos in conjunction with a record, the series of videos done for this definitely shed some light on the situation.
This record is a journey, and the album's legacy is cemented when he moves beyond the drug fueled craziness in "Now I'm Learning To Love The War", and closes with the heartfelt epic, "Everyman Needs A Companion". There are no missteps here, and musically it measures up as well, aiming for the country rock hybrid that seemed so promising in Gram Parsons dalliances with the Stones, before the Eagles put it in a sack and drowned it in a lake, damning contemporary country to this day. Having taken his long strange trip, Tillman shares it as Father John Misty, and reclaims something for us all.