Grez Top Albums of 2012 : First Listen Regardless of Initial Release Date

As music in general progressed over the past 10 years, more and more musicians are recording and releasing more and more quality material. Couple that with how easily available many of these artists are due to online presence and it’s difficult to have time to keep up. There truly is an overwhelming amount of music to which to listen. So the thought came to my head to review material that is NEW to ME regardless of when the artist released the said recording. Upon compiling the list of 12 recordings (10 was not enough, plus it is 2012), I’ve noticed I still have 4 releases from this year and 9 releases total debuting within the last 3 years. So relatively speaking much of the list is quite modern. I make no concessions nor apologizes. After consulting Shawn Baker about compling such a list he proclaimed: “Do it! It’s your list!” So keep in mind that mine may not be as “up-to-date” as all other critiques.
As well, there is no stipulation as to where or how I came across the releases on this list since the release year does not bind them. Some were recommendations, some loose tips from a night at the bar and some were results of my own research. All though are releases that I’ve listened to at least a few times in 2012 and now have as part of my permanent collection.
Enjoy and responses are welcomed and encouraged. Here is to a year of great music. Hopefully you had one as well, if not there is little but still time. ;)

The List of New Albums to me (Joe Grez) in 2012 (no particular order):

Eyes of the Carnival - Darts & Arrows (billmackay.wordpress.com)

Eyes of the Carnival – Darts & Arrows (billmackay.wordpress.com)

Darts & Arrows Eyes of the Carnival (2012)
It’s hard not to like Bill MacKay personally. Really smart dude and good conversationalist and keen axe man. His second release with Darts & Arrows really proves all that…musically that is. The phrasing and melodic lines drawn by MacKay and keyboardist Ben Boye throughout the album sound as if you’ve known them for years…like some age old truth. “Ivy” starts the 6-song EP as a quick hit leading into the dynamic “Outcry.” Boye’s original “Frequent Vacation” spins a mellow caramel laden dream but picks up some crunch near middle end only to be covered by another smooth finish.
MacKay’s “Mystic” pulls you right back into that dream but rallies the band and listener to a greater plane of acoustics. The abstract “Slipping Through My Fingers” and wind down “Film Music No.2” wrap the package nicely.
MacKay really has something in Boye, bassist Kyle Hernandez and drummer Quin Kirchner. You can read more about Bill MacKay and Darts & Arrows in his exclusive interview for Joup.

Image courtesy of thesonsmusic.com

Image courtesy of thesonsmusic.com

The Sons Third self-titled EP (2012)
It’s easy to make a music list of top music you’ve heard in a year and put three groups your friends are in. But it’s tougher to write that all three are legitimately solid groups releasing music that I listen to ENJOY on a REGULAR basis. When Jay Starr (songwriter/lead vox/guitarist) lost his brother and then drummer Dan, he really had to deal with so much in life, let only his music and The Sons. It took two years to begin to move on…and maybe put his group together. No one blamed him for his needed hiatus. Then something happened…Mike Nuehaus, one of Danny’s closest friends and fellow drummer, showed interest in jamming with Starr, backbone bassist Frank Pratt and second guitarist back-up extraordinaire Sunil Chopra. The initial rehearsals according to Starr went way better then expected and then a performance at a late summer BBQ in ’10 sealed the deal. The next step was to record an EP… and talk about capturing the moment of not only himself but of so many dear friends of Dan and the timelessness of just dealing with life and death in general. This five song EP addresses all three leaving the listener wishing for side 2 of the album. Opening in the classic high-hat and bass driven Sons sound is “One, Two Three” telling an underlying story of lament and wishing for a return by someone missed. Always the history buff, Starr gives another reminder in “Vlad.” A solid track with Wilco-esque cannon finishing the tune: “Time after time, It’s happened again. History rhymed, it happened again.”
But the standout track by head and shoulders is “Hammersmith.” Another story of fame and fleeting fortune for a good legitimate man who through it all sticks by his laurels. Written in 6/8, Starr and Chopra evoke their best ’67 Beatles in the call and response guitar solo. Next is “Lone Ranger,” to which the group shot their second music video. Credit Dimitri Eliopoulos for capturing the song correctly visually through a simple black and white format. Finally “Cortez” wraps up the EP in solid songwriting fashion. A dreamy soliloquy wishing for a better place and better times, but with an overall sense of hope. The slide guitar really sells this song.
The EP can be downloaded for FREE here and yes it is worth it (duh), yes you should spread it around and yes more please.

Image courtesy of David Bowie

Image courtesy of David Bowie

David Bowie Low (1977)
Low and Station to Station are lesser known mid to late 70s albums from David Bowie. The lost period between Ziggy/Diamond Dogs and Mic/Dancing in the Streets. You’ll find “Heroes” in this period but not much more in the form of singles. Low opens with quick hit electro tracks “Speed of Light”,”Breaking Glass” and “What in the World.” You can still hear how progressive Bowie was at that time giving off a Devo vibe well before the group donned their red hats. This leads into the album’s major single “Sound and Vision.” Not many vocals from Bowie up until this point (and even less on side 2) but really the album’s sound leads to vocal spacing. However the end of the this track really drives home the idea of sitting down and getting perhaps hypnotized by media sound and vision.
Critics have said through the years (whether negatively or more recently in retrospect positively) that this is an album of two sides. I agree, yet somehow it works. I think the young Brian Eno’s influence really sews it together. “Warszawa” eerily creeps out of nowhere but builds into an electronic  outer worldly chant. Maybe in the fashion Angelo Badalamenti did in “Twin Peaks”…but we are talking 13 years earlier.
Bowie and Eno go further into the dreamscape with the concluding track “Subterraneans” featuring a haunting saxophone solo by Bowie himself.
If you are a fan David Bowie looking to go further into his catalog look to “Low.” The album portrays yet another side to this classic multi dimensional legend.

Courtesy of Noel Gallagher

Courtesy of Noel Gallagher

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Self Titled (2011)

Every time I listen Noel Gallagher’s first major release with his High Flying Birds, I skip to track 2 “Dream On” and play from there. This is not to take anything away from the opening track “Everybody’s on the Run” it’s a beaut of a song and I usually listen to last but “Dream On” embodies that class Oasis sound I fell in love with years ago. Gallagher still wears his Beatle leanings on his sleeve, but is writing as good if not better music then ever. Yeah often classic “English Shuffle” (as I like to call it) simple but creative in it’s form, progression and melody line but oh so effective. Time and time again. You’ll also find this on the tracks “The Death of You and Me,” “Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks” and “(Stranded on) The Wrong Beach.” The trumpet solo in “Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks” is in fine taste and what I think slight dig (as in a bugle boy calling the troops).
Gallagher brings out his best George Martin on “(I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine” which of course is to be expected out of him. The first single “AKA… What A Life!” sounds like something off of a Coldplay album with it’s driving drums and falsetto vocals. I have no problems with that at all.
So Noel has been able to move on from Oasis and make his own mark, but then again wasn’t he really Oasis anyway?

Courtesy of Amon Tobin

Courtesy of Amon Tobin

Amon Tobin Supermodified (2000)

I know my friend and fellow musician Dave Marsalek digs Amon Tobin, and probably mentioned him but it never hit me. Then I met a mate from Reading, Michael John, now a contributor to Joup. He played me the third track on Supermodified “Slowly.” He played me that track a few time even before I heard the rest of the album. Now I have heard the album in its entirety (a few times because yeah you really should to get the full appreciation of it’s spectrum) and “Slowly” is still the best track. Ultra rich laden reverved guitar leads you into a dream. While the snap brush drumming keeps you just conscience. Throw in echoed horn hits to color the road and…you get the picture. I don’t blame you if skip ahead to listen to this track first.
But “Get Your Snack On” and “Four Ton Mantis” set up not only “Slowly” but the whole work of art.
Tobin goes further abstract on “Golfer vs. Boxer.” I can’t say to know the entire spectrum of drum n bass but I’ll tell you that I liken this track to fit nicely in the middle of it. But Tobin and Supermodified are so much more with “Deo” and “Precursor.” Quality polyrhythmic looping and layering deepens these tracks. The album skews further abstract especially in “Precursor,” but cuts back rhythmically in “Sabotuer” and “Chocolate Lovely.”  The tail end boasts a nice comedown in “Natureland.” If your are unfamiliar to Drum and Bass, trip-hop and perhaps IDM, this could be a nice introduction encouraging you to further explore.

Image courtesy of ABKCO

Image courtesy of ABKCO

The Darjeeling Limited Soundtrack (2007)

This was the only movie from director Wes Anderson I’d not seen for some reason. I guess I needed the right place and time and this year was it. If you’ve not seen the movie, I recommend doing so as to appreciate this collection of music that much more. However this soundtrack, like few can, stands on it’s own. It can by Anderson’s seemless blending of Bollywood classic movie tracks with quality ol’English rock adding a touch of spiritual and a dash of classical.
The stand out tracks for me because of my rock background are clearly The Kinks tracks. In all honesty though I’d never heard “Strangers” till I’d seen the movie. I know, I know… how can I claim to be a Brit rock fan and not heard this track? Like I stated before, this is a list of first listens regardless. I found a perfect introduction. It really hits home when you see the scene but still no doubt this was, is and still will be a deep well written and preformed track (as many Kinks tracks are).
As far as the Bollywood tracks, they all seemed to blend into each other. Not in a mundane here-is-another-one-of-these-tracks, but rather in a trance setting fashion that is ideal to play in the background, perhaps at work. An appearance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner makes the album with their rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A (Op 92): Allegro con Brio. Of course the CSO makes the Windy City culture proud. Might be a bit different for the non Wes Anderson follower, but I feel you will find something (if not everything) here in very good taste.

Images courtesy of Kasabian

Images courtesy of Kasabian

Kasabian Velociraptor (2011)

Another suggestion from an English bloke. This time Chris, that I met in in Hong Kong. And yet another good one, but the thing is I just can’t peg’em. Not that I am really out to mind you nor is this a bad thing, but usually I get a feel for a band within a few listens. Yet every time I listen to “Velociraptor!” I find a different angle. I can hear Muse definitely but then Kasabian brings out some way old school Silver Apples on their drum tones on “Days are Forgotten.” And then a feel good pop vibe (dare I say Billy Joel {at least the timber of Tom Meighan vocals}) on “Goodbye Kiss.” Then come back with a harder dance edge…something like an abstract Graham Coxon Blur track on the title cut “Velociraptor!” Even 8-bit spicing with a haunting chorus on “I Hear Voices”
Further into the album leads to even further inconsistency. From the sing-a-long “Man of Simple Pleasures” to the 80s English beat dance/new wave “Switchblade Smiles” and back to a Blur crunch shuffle in “Pistols at Dawn”
And then finishing with the too cool down-tempo “Black Whistler.”
It’s all there. F#ck I can hear it, I swear. And I don’t care. One more time through please!

Image courtesy of PVT

Image courtesy of PVT

PVT Church with No Magic (2010)
I have had three of the greatest minds in music appreciation at my disposal over a period of my life. They turn me onto music new and old, perhaps known at one time, perhaps obscure, perhaps just ready to break but always in my liking. These three of which I speak are :  Mr. Brown, Sonny V and one Mr. Shawn Charles Baker (Bakes). My co-publisher again brought another band to my attention. He called them a bit of Floyd with other darker leanings. Perfect! Popped that in and yep he was on the money again. He knows that I like my dark music but in good taste and PVT has the right flavor. Maybe a bit of Nine Inch Nails Sound in their and definitely Pink Floyd as Bakes had mentioned. I hear a little Bauhaus and perhaps Joy Division as well in the album especially in the title track “Church with No Magic.” There is plenty of space in the recording as well, sounding as if they recorded the album in a larger dining hall or front room of a castle or large homestead but really don’t know where much of those are down under in Sydney. Need some zone out music…go to “Church with no Magic.”

Image courtesy of Spiritualized

Image courtesy of Spiritualized

Spiritualized Sweet Heart Sweet Light (2012)
My first introduction to Spiritualized was through a gag grab bag gift in 1998. It happened to “Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating Through Space.” Some gift, huh? It turned out to be one of my favorite albums of the 90’s (and oddly enough, to English critics as well) and still played probably once a month when the mood hits. I was fortunate enough to see Spiritualized OPEN for Radiohead. Unbelievable. I followed Spiritualized for awhile in the “Naughts” as the kids are calling them but nothing really hit me like “Ladies and Gentlemen”…till “Sweet Hear Sweet Light.” Inspired by a tour in which the band performed “Ladies and Gentlemen” in it’s entirely note for note, sound for sound. Group co-founder Jason Pierce is the king of turning over line-ups and this recent one for “SHSL” is again changed but that vibe of “L and G” has returned. From the 8 minute multiple part of “Hey Jane” evoking his best Jean Genie Bowie, to the English shuffle “I Am What I Am” with the beautiful swan song “Too Late” packaged in the middle. There is a bit of meandering like in “Get What You Deserve” but that has been the nature of Pierce at times so it works. So yeah nearly 15 years later and the gift of Spiritualized is still giving.

Image courtesy of Foster the People

Image courtesy of Foster the People

Foster the People Torches (2011)
There is a term I like to use to describe a certain kind of popular music: “smart pop.” I guess there is an element of IDM to it, more then likely good vocals but most important legitimate talent writing legitimately good songs.  These three “kids” hailing from Ohio (Mark Foster) and LA (Mark Pontius and Cubbie Fink AKA the People) have found it. Obviously “Pumped Up Kicks” received a ton of airplay (at least in Melbourne and the rest of Oz when I was there) and rightfully so because it’s a damn catchy tune. But the album doesn’t stop there. My favorite track actually is “Call it What you Want” which has a diminished intro quickly tricking out into major seventh tune – smart. And the heart of the album really punches with “Waste”, “I Would Do Anything for You” and “Houdini.” I’ll go on the limb here a bit but I can compare “Waste” a bit to the Beach Boys with the harmonies and ringing church bell. There is also cool 8-bit synth blended through out the album giving it that nice pop sound – again smart.  Yep you can be smart and fun!

Image courtesy of The Black Keys

Image courtesy of The Black Keys

The Black Keys El Camino (2011)
Man these guys are on fire. Seriously. I know El Camino made many people’s list last year but I’ll happily be a bit behind the curve on this album. For years this duo put out terrific blues rock, toured and really earned their dues. I saw them at Lola in ’08 with my Uncle Stan. It was the one group besides Radiohead I wanted him to see. He was floored and we are talking about a man who turned me onto the The Band, The Doobie Brothers and good Grateful Dead at an early age. His record collection is still instilled in my brain. Back to the Black Keys. “El Camino” seriously opens with one of the best 1-2-3 in recent history in “Lonely Boy”, “Dead and Gone” and “Gold on The Ceiling.” Rippin’ solos, telling vocals and fuzz to rattle your brain. The sound of the Keys has really evolved nicely by adding a bass and organ at times.
And the epic tale “Little Black Submarines” chases those demons down.
The middle album cruises smoothly until they pick up again with the soulful “Stop Stop.” They wrap up nicely with “Nova Baby” and “Mind Eraser.” Not one weak track of the lot. So, still not heard or maybe not taken in “El Camino” besides “Lonely Boy?” Make these guys feel wanted. It’ll be worth your while.

Image courtesy of IZM records

Image courtesy of IZM records

Destroyer or Liberator Incoming (2012)
This is Dave Marsalek’s and Matt Tate’s first release from their duo Destroyer or Liberator (DoL) and it’s a solid first effort. What strikes me so much about the EP is how full it is being just a duo…due in large part to the instrumentation of the band with Tate on Chapman Stick (read more about the instrument here) and Marsalek fully versed on multiple drummer styles and an accomplished Cellist to boot (although he “only” plays keyboard on the album). The opening track “Density” provides a good look at their full spectrum of talent. Nicely sectioned parts, telling vocals and just killer performance. They follow with the aggressive “Bop-Bah” with leaning to the live drum n bass chops Marsalek has perfected over the years. The vocals are harsh (no in presentation but content) but yet clever. The technicality of the song is actually outstanding if you have no problem separating the vocal content. The duo goes much darker in “Contra” and “Hyper” but still following their technically precise leanings. Tate destroys his solo in “Hyper” over his own fuzz bass line…the beaut of his instrument to be able to perform both at once. “Hyper” should very well end at the 4:50 when they end the first half of the track. Probably my only real gripe of the EP.
The duo stays uptempo on their title track “Destroyer or Liberator”…again a monster in technical “metal” if you will. Then really shine rhythmically, technically and harmonically on the multi-part “Music Box.” Again Tate’s proficiency on the Chapman Stick becomes very clear when you realize he plays both the rhythm and lead tracks AT ONCE. See it for yourself. It’s a mind blow really.
They wrap with the fascinating almost out take track called “Shred”
It’s aggressive, perhaps REAL “metal” at times (which is fine for me) but if you EQ with some slight bass reduction, DoL comes across precisely as it should. Destroying and Liberating.


There they are my top 12 first listens of ’12. Maybe they’ll make your iTunes as well, or better yet turntable if you can find copies!

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is an artist developer focusing online on front end development and keeping up with new techonolgies. Photography has been his most recent and strongest passion. He’s shot thousands of photos throughout the years only recently display a larger portion of his library here on Joup.

One Response to Grez Top Albums of 2012 : First Listen Regardless of Initial Release Date
  1. [...] last year, I reviewed my Top 12 albums of 2012, but remember that the release dates were not necessarily... joup.co/grez-top-albums-2013-remember-regardless-release-date

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