By the BTR Editorial Staff
Now that 2013 is finally here, it is only now that we at BreakThru find it appropriate to pass judgement on the musical output of the year 2012 proper. With that in mind while trying to commemorate a year we felt was very important for music, we also felt the need to publish a feature that wouldn’t end up being a drop in the great ocean of end-of-the-year lists, where it appeared that this year, either you worshiped at the altar of Kendrick Lamar … or Bruce Springsteen.
So instead, we conducted a poll of our DJs a few weeks ago asking for a list of their ten favorite album releases of the year that they felt were “criminally ignored” by the mainstream music press. As you can probably expect, our editorial team was inundated with a wide array of answers on ballots which we each narrowed down to a top five (accounting for somewhat disparate criteria for what could be called “criminally ignored” and word length restraints). Today, we bring you today the first of two installments in an annual feature we’d like to call the ‘Best Music No One Told You To Like in 2012.’
Host of DJ Drew BTR on Sundays and the BTR Raggae Hour
1. Ugly – Screaming Females [Don Giovanni]
These New Jersey natives began their career in the underground basement scene of New Brunswick seven years ago. To man the boards for their fifth record, they tapped the infamously coarse Steve Albini whose presence on the year in music needs no introduction. Bolstered by boisterous riffs, Ugly is a sludge pop bonanza punctuated by the lazer-guided snarl of Marissa Paternoster’s fingers and vocals.
“So Ugly — it’s pretty,” writes DJ Drew, of the title for a record by a New Jersey three piece who thrashes pop progressions while Paternoster’s “meaty guitar and voice cuts through it all. They transcend whatever garage/punk label they get since they can actually play without watering down the grit. So loud for only a three piece.”
2. Zoo – Ceremony [Matador]
This bay area quintet began their careers in 2004 with a 13 track, 13 minute-long LP called Violence Violence, where they earned the reputation of being a “powerviolence” band in their native Massachusetts legion hall scene. With Zoo, the band drifts away from their noisier, more punctual tendencies and takes on ‘60s garage melodicism.
“Hardcore music for indie sensibilities,” as DJ Drew describes Zoo. “This album continues their trend of becoming not as loud, fast, or angry as early Ceremony. While I miss their powerviolence days, this change reminds me of Husker Du’s mid-career transformation from being a band so full of rage to one so full of emotional depth.”
3. Geometric Shapes — Sleepy Wonder [No Chocie Music/ BMG Chrysalis]
Jamaican born Sleepy Wonder is not only a solo reggae artist and producer, but also the CEO of his label, No Chocie Music Group. Sleepy told the media that touring and recording with the famed electronic duo, Thievery Corporation, taught him to be more conscious of not just the music industry but the world around him. The experience gave way to his latest, a concept album and brainy dissertation on everyday designs and symbols that he categorizes as complex “geometric sequences.”
“Thievery Corporation’s most energetic vocalist and talented ‘80s dancehall DJ has definitely been influenced by the duo and came strong with a solo record that has all those dub, hip-hop, downtempo vibes the Corp has been known for,” writes DJ Drew, adding — “Killer!”
4. Natural History — Dope Body [Drag City]
Dope Body is a product of the Baltimore, Maryland low-fi and noise scene. The album is named after the venue where they played their first show, The Natural History Museum. Opting out of the bone-crunching weight of their last showing, Natural History is dominated by two-chord nuggets and nods to other noise acts like Holy Ghost Party.
“If you like tasty feedback, you’ll like this album,” says DJ Drew. “If you don’t like feedback at all, stop reading my list stupid.”
5. Playland — ChooChooShoeShoot [tant rêver du Roi/Rejuvenation/Kythibong]
ChooChooShoeShoot churns a muscular brand of math punk through their second album, Playland, with female vocals stumbling rabidly between an effeminate Mark E. Smith and a drunk Patti Smith. Little on the internet tells us much else about the hardcore act from Nantes, France other that they make “noise viscérébrale” with three noteworthy hardcore labels: A tant rêver du Roi, Rejuvenation, and Kythibong.
“A brutal nod to Jesus Lizard here, probably the closest I’ve heard to that sound since Pissed Jeans,” DJ Drew tells us of Playland. “They are French and fronted by a bad-ass rocker chick, so brownie points there too. Moments on this that cut to the bone. Dig in!”
BTR Co-Editorial Director, Host of DJ Emily BTR, Alt Country with DJ Emily, Ladies Skate Only, BTR Top 10, and Revolver
1. Icky Blossoms — Icky Blossoms [Saddle Creek]
Three friends formed Icky Blossoms two years ago in the Oberst brothers’ back yard of Omaha, Nebraska. Their self-titled debut has one foot in the vogue of ‘90s electro lounge acts like Le Tigre, and another in the rhythm driven, primitive new wave of Liquid Liquid. Songs like the standout “Babes,” with repetitive choruses chanting “girls, girls, girls, women” make for the perfect counterbalance to a label so defined by their more cathartic voices.
2. Animator — The Luyas [Paper Bag Records]
The first three (of nine) minutes on the opening track of Animator, “Montuno,” comprise of little conceptual continuity besides playful banter between woodblocks and chamber instruments but unfurls into one hell of a rumination on mortality. Composed after the group found out about the unexpected passing of a mutual friend, the Canadian quartet fashioned a well mannered requiem in the fires of eerie existentialism as expressed through poignant yet tactfully restrained orchestrations.
“If you’re one that just listens to the melody and the overall feel of the song, you might miss the dark, brooding lyrics which contrast the bands somewhat poppy vibe,” writes Emily in her poll ballot. “Overall a beautiful tribute to their friend.”
3. Correct Behavior — Eternal Summers [Kanine]
Riding on the strength of standout tracks like “I Love You,” Correct Behavior is a new wave summer soundtrack for lusty, love sick, and rebellious kids and the third release for the Virginia trio. Branching outside of their close-knit scene in Roanoke, VA, where they recorded Behavior, Eternal Summers assigned mixing duties to Sune Rose Wagner of The Ravonettes, who strikes strikes an artful balance between the band’s peaks of Duran Duran-worthy pop and valleys of Ride-worthy shoegaze.
“Dreamy pop music, rock and post- punk, this album from the Roanoke, Virginia group is all over the place,” notes Emily, adding “but it works.”
4. God Is My Bike — Maia Vidal [Crammed Discs]
The infantile twee suites of Maia Vidal can claim many countries of cultural descent. She was born in the US to Japanese parents of shared European heritage and went to school in Montreal. This informs not only her versatile musicianship but also the flurry of disciplines on display throughout God Is My Bike. Loaded with old and new world melodies sung by a voice so young, Vidal’s lyrics touch on youthful detachment from the inescapable trials of the world at large: “I don’t read the news, but it still touches me,” she sings on “Alphabet of My Phobias.”
“God is My Bike’s European release date was back in October of 2011. Why the heck did it take nearly a year to get to the United States?” cries Emily, who describes the long-awaited release as “charming folk music from an artist who, at age 24, is quite seasoned as a songwriter, musician and performer.”
5. Gold Fields EP – Gold Fields [Astralwerks/Capitol/EMI]
The self-titled debut EP from the Australian band is “ear candy at it’s finest,” according to DJ Emily. With only four songs to this insatiable record, Gold Fields packs an unapologetically catchy post-punk and dance driven punch that proved too irresistible for the BTR staff — it was the one of three other albums on this entire list to be mentioned by multiple DJs. But if this efficient set whets your appetites to the point of starvation, no need to worry — Gold Fields will be releasing their first full length album on Astralwerks Records in January.
“The poppy and enticing sound of their track ‘Treehouse’ is irresistible — so undeniable, that I’m pretty sure it’s my most played song of 2012,” says Emily. “Literally every time I put a show together I wanted this to be a part of it. So good.”
Host of DJ Lottie BTR on Thursdays, Spotlight on the City, and Lottie’s Sideshow Acts
1. Ain’t, Ain’t, Ain’t — Tim Fite [Anti-]
Tim Fite has made a name for himself in the oversaturated market of Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalists in the early ’10s through his penchant for displaying genre-hopping textures in the same song. His last album, 2008’s Fair Ain’t Fair drew on lo-fi and hip-hop sources while his newest release features a less opaque presentation, all tempered by Fite’s gripes on getting older.
For all his diary-read confessions executed with steady handed bravery and stark optimism, Lottie finds Mr. Fite to be “one of the most under-appreciated artists in music.”
“I love everything that he does and this album is beautiful,” she writes. “He has put out over 10 albums in the past seven years along with tons of music videos, short films, and art. His live show is theatrical and passionate and he engages his audience with his amazing energy. A true artist.”
Recommended tracks include “We Are All Teenagers” and “Bully.”
2. Go Outside — Hot Panda [Mint]
Chris Connelly and company don’t claim to reinvent the wheel on Go Outside the same way their album cover doesn’t reinvent vulgarity. However, their approach is delightfully nuanced, as both their sound and image demonstrate an awkward yet welcoming sense of vulnerability.
As Connelly weaves out of a mumbled bark routine, the light social commentary sets in as an afterthought — setting Go Outside far outside traditional protest music. Lottie calls Hot Panda “quirky Canadian indie rock at it’s finest… Go Outside, incorporates lush musical backgrounds with Chris Connelly’s offbeat and frenetic vocal delivery. Pop music for weirdos.” Indeed. Tracks recommended: “Boats” and “Winter Song.”
3. Mumps, etc. – WHY? [Anticon/City Slang]
“Genre-bending hip-hop weaved into electronic and rock instrumentals with a wide array of samples while white boys from Ohio spit about life,” DJ Lottie says of WHY? The Anticon staple act tacked hard on their least approachable attributes with Mumps, etc. The results that were met with a very polarized reaction from their fans and the press. I mean, just look at that cover art.
But the album’s fouled rep had no effect on DJ Lottie. “Yoni Wolf’s unique rapping style sets him apart from typical hip hop performers, especially those on his label, Anticon,” says the BTR DJ. “An excellent album from beginning to end.” Tracks recommended: “White English” and “Sod in the Seed.”
4. The Salesman and the Shark – Sean Rowe [Anti-]
“Sean Rowe is an artist that would please fans of Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen,” recommends Lottie. “His raw, emotional lyrics and deep, sexy vocals are what stand out in his songs. The songs are romantic as hell. He could woo any lady in the room with his music!”
With scowling and sharp guitars, baritone vocals, and songs of triumph and treachery on the open American road, Sean Rowe updates an approach most artists on Anti have been refining for a little over a decade now by mixing Americana, the blues, and the dirth of hard living, and, of course, polka. Recommended tracks include, “The Lonely Maze” and “Joe’s Cult.”
5. The Bad Ones — Blonds [Gluck]
There are a lot of gimmicks surrounding Blonds — White Stripes-style color schemes, promotional logic graduated from the Lana Del Rey School of PR, and opaquely lit videos in the compositional tradition of Eraserhead. But the Floridian duo carve their own identities with the sound of The Bad Ones, comprising of a dreary pop circus of guitars, razor-cut samples, tribal percussion, and tragic mellotrons weaving mercurially between personal descents and rapturous affirmation.
“Blonds are a bad ass female-fronted rock outfit,” says Lottie. “The album combines elements of rock and roll, soul, pop, and punk with out sounding like they have intentionally copied acts of the past. I love the lead singer’s voice.” She recommends the title track and “Run” for starters.
Host of DJ Madalyn BTR on Saturdays and Godblessweirdmerica
1. Better Luck Next Life — Royal Baths [Kanine]
After starting their careers in the sunnier psych scene of San Francisco, Royal Baths decided the Big Apple was a good place to mellow out and cut their latest record, 2012’s Better Luck Next Life. Many in the mainstream music press decried the album’s especially dour, monochromatic tone and the change in locale that seemed to inspire it, but not DJ Madalyn.
“Another personal favorite of mine. This band is dark — dark, dark, dark. It could almost be the soundtrack to a bad dream- not quite a nightmare, but a bad dream,” writes Madalyn. ”It’s not really like anything else I’m listening to, and these guys have such a perspective that you can’t help but love them. Plus, their songs still manage to be catchy. You can’t beat that.”
She recommends tracks like “Black Sheep,” and “Nightmare Voodoo” for starters.
2. Our House on the Hill – The Babies [Woodsist]
The initial reviews may not have been clamoring as much as the year-end lists would, but nevertheless, 2012 was a big year for the Babies, as they fleshed out their lineup and released Our House on the Hill to what would become a growing hoard of press attention. “The first track on this album, ‘Alligator,’ says it all,” writes Madalyn, “It’s that thing you can’t put into words, but you know it’s really, really good.”
Tracks like “Slow Walkin'” epitomize the Babies’ equally dead pan delivery of both their lyrics and stroking sound — keeping both the simple and stupid in perfect equilibrium.
3. King Tuff – King Tuff [Sub Pop]
Like Teenage Fanclub before them, King Tuff stepped into the world like something out of a powerpop wonderland — an alternative universe where Alex Chilton is actually as much a household name as that Replacements song would let on, and the only thing that sets this band apart from the groundswell of Cranberries revivalism is how well they can mimic Robert Schneider’s nasally weeze. Of course, this is not the world where we live — in which case, King Tuff is in a league of their own.
“Oh man, I love these Vermonters so, so, so much,” writes Madalyn. “This band is proof that rock and roll sometimes just needs to be good. They’re not rewriting the book or anything, but the songwriting and guitar sounds on this album are so good that nothing else really matters.”
4. Would You Stay – Steffaloo [Mush]
Steffaloo is the monicker for Los Angeles-based bedroom auteur Steph Thompson, who makes her debut on Mush Records count by transcending the tape hiss and reverberating cliches of solitary confinement with disparate harmonies, off-color chord progressions (see “Lonely Night”), and plenty of genuine grief to go around. A soundscape here, a little rain effects there, and chorus-ridden guitar lines backed by synth-based kick drums, Steffaloo proves compelling heart break is compelling heart break is compelling heart break — no matter whether the sound is any older than the words etched Elliott Smith’s gravestone.
“This is Steffaloo’s second album, and I can’t believe she hasn’t gotten more recognition yet,” writes Madalyn, ”Her quiet, weird songs are very fresh and satisfying. This album definitely deserves a listen if you haven’t heard it yet.”
5. End of Daze EP – Dum Dum Girls [Sub Pop]
While the boys club of jangle-dominating Brooklynites swims in their own fair share of acclaim (cough, cough, Real Estate) Sub Pop’s Dum Dum Girls keep plugging and chugging. Thankfully, many end-of-the-year lists were kind to the initially ignored End of Daze EP. But how could they not? At this point, the band is demonstrably running full laps around Beth Cozentino’s brand of lovelorn balladry while consistently delivering an unrelenting current of hollow-bodied buzz burners, like the pulsating “Mine Tonight.”
“This is technically an EP not an album,” writes Madalyn, “but I love Dum Dum Girl’s hazy, romantic brutality so much I had to include them on this list. Dee Dee’s sound just keeps getting better and better.”
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of our feature, including contributions from DJ Meredith of the Afrobeat Show and more!