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2012 Favourite Albums

I know, I know, I’m very late with this one. People were releasing their best of lists since October!

But it’s a good list and timeless music is welcome whenever is listened to. Maybe you will find a new band to like here. Hope you enjoy the reading and the listening. And have a happy 2013!

  • Port Of Morrow-The Shins
Album cover

Album cover

The Shins had been one of those bands that I had never really paying much attention despite having 2 of their previous albums with me. I didn’t dislike them, but I thought only a few of their songs were catchy. Did someone tell that to James Mercer? In Port Of Morrow he has managed to craft an album full of catchy tunes, something you don’t see much these days in pop music. Supposing the experiments with Danger Mouse playing as Broken Bells had some effect on Mercer’s music style, he definetely perfected and evolved The Shins sound. With a new band backing him they sound full of youth and as if they just had some sort of sonic revelation. Mercer, at 41, must be going thru the new 30’s instead of a mid-life crisis.

The delicate folky-psycodelic-pop sounds make a great contrast with lyrics full of wit of someone who observes people.

The Shins are a great band to enjoy live too. I had the chance to see them at Festival Hall in Melbourne during the tour for this album. I leave you a photo of that gig.

The Shins at Festival Hall

The Shins at Festival Hall

  • Blues Funeral-Mark Lanegan Band
Blues Funeral cover

Blues Funeral cover

When I listen to Lanegan I wonder if Cobain would sound like him was he alive today. After all we are talking about the man who wrote one of Cobains´favourite tunes from the 80’s. When I listen to him I also remember to thank my friend Shelley, a declared fan of everything the man with the deep grave voice has done.

And he has done lots! Lately he had been heard in collaborations with Isobel Campbell (ex Belle & Sebastian) and Soulsavers. You could say he was a bit out of the element you would normally relate him to (that being rock). And that’s when I discovered him. So to hear such a rocky kick-ass record as Blues Funeral was like to finally discover Lanegan’s true musical personality. He does say himself this record is more “something like the music he would listen to”.

I had the chance to see Lanegan at The Forum in Melbourne, a 19th century theatre with an intimate ambience. Lanegan took the stage by assault all with his voice. He did not move nor exchanged a word with the crowd. Not an entertainer but a damn good singer.

Here a link to The Gravedigger’s Song live

  • Master Of My Make-Believe-Santigold
Master of my Make-Believe cover

Master of my Make-Believe cover

In a world filled with colourful Niki Minajs, Santigold is pure gold with less neon. This is just her second album and the sings with the confidence of someone who’s been around for a long while. Backed by production from people from YYY’s and TV On The Radio and with guests Q-Tip and Karen O the record is full of dancing beats and hooks that make it really hard to turn off.

With electronica, hip-hop, dub, dancehall and a melangé of anything danceable the record has a certain Jamaican air to it (having been partially recorded there). The influence of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s seems clear on some guitars and voices, yet the personality of Santigold’s music, eclectic and full of attitude is what shines through. Filling the space left my Gwen Stefani and mixing similar rythms to those that the No Doubt frontwoman has explored with her band and solo.

Check the video for Disparate Youth here

  • Synthetica-Metric
Synthetica cover

Synthetica cover

The voice of Emily Haines is so erotic, surrounded by pretty pop tunes; and her lyrics are so full of attitude that I can obviate the fact they are in the soundtrack for Breaking Dawn. She opens the album singing “I’m just as fucked up as they say” on the beautiful ‘Artificial Nocturne’.

Synthetica sees Metric following on the trend of their previous super popular Fantasies in terms of music. Less catchy perhaps than its predecesor, but more mature, dark and full on content. An attempt to make a concept album with synthetisers about our synthetic selves, about how we stop being human in this plastic modern world and how Haines “correlates when we lie, hide and cry”. But the album is about the human spirit that survives in this confusion, not about the confusion itself. As Haines sings in the title track ‘I won’t let them make my soul a loser…I will keep the live the I’ve got’

With Lou Reed joining in The Wanderer, this album is a great piece of synth-pop about modern times. And Emily Haines is not just a sexy voice. That’s what’s more attractive of her.

Metric live at Billboard in Melbourne here performing Lost Kitten

  • Sun-Cat Power
Sun cover

Sun cover

Chan Marshall likes to reinvent herself. This record doesn’t sound like anything she’s done before. I’m not such a connoisseur of all of her discography, but I can say it is nothing like the soul and jazzy covers of her previous Jukebox or the romantic and somewhat depressive The Greatest, where I heard her first while watching My Blueberry Nights. I was captivated by that song. Since I have been listening to her and discovering little by little her first records.

Marshall took awhile to do this one and the catharsis has paid off after a period of writer’s block and lack of inspiration. Like Metric’s album, with which it shares a song of the same name (Nothin’ But Time) and the guest starring of a monster of rock  (Iggy Pop,  precisely in Nothin But Time; Lou Reed appears on Metric’s The Wanderer), the theme here is more about a new start, a new sun. A record with strong (excuse such a cliché word, but I think in this case is appropriate)  ‘spiritual’ connotations. On Cherokee she sings as if describing a peyote trip. On Sun she says “this is the day people like me being waiting for” as if predicting a shift of ages.

Listen to  Ruin, where she makes a bold and accurate description of modern society: “bitchin’, complainin’ when people ain’t got shit to eat”, and you’ll start to get an idea of the power of this record.

I hope I’m still on time to get tickets to see Cat Power at The Forum in March.

Check here for Ruin live

  • Good kid, mA.A.d city-Kendrick Lamar
Good kid, mA.A. city cover

Good kid, mA.A. city cover

I’m not at all a knowledgeable hip hop fan. But I know how to recognise a classic when I hear it. And this is one. From the beats, the urban narrative of the lyrics and the production team, including the likes of Dr Dre.

This isn’t your typical hip hop record. Not mine at least. Lamar tells of his life in Compton accompanied by beats that create sonic landscapes that bring the genre very close to chill out and electronica wasn’t it for the rapping and the theme of the good kid trying to stay good amidst all the shit going on around him in the neighborhood. An urban album about a kid who refused to be just another man from Compton.

Check Kendrick and Dr Dre at Coachella performing The recipe here

  • Bi-Kevin Johansen
Bi cover

Bi cover

If I was a musician I would be like Kevin Johansen. Born in Alaska of Argentinian mother and American father, the man started playing in New York in venues like the CBGB until he grounded a contract. His lyrics describe to perfection the idiosincratic vision of nationalities (those modern casts we inherited in Latin America). And he plays a range that in one album resembles an introduction to latin rythms for those who don’t know them. Eclectic, in one word.

He has managed to stay fresh and unpredictable for a long time. His formula is similar to that of another Spanish-language singer, Manu Chao. But where Manu has become repetitive and a bit boring, Johansen keeps expanding his sound further from tango, candombe, pop, tropical rythms and other South American folk variations. Now he embraces Brazilian rythms such as Bossanova singing and rhyming in Postuguese as well as Spanish, English, and Spanglish, always with a dash of good humor and wit.

Not only that, this is a double record. Johansen has usually delivered albums ranging around 15+ songs, so why not make a double one? The concept of the album, named ‘Bi’, plays with that and the ideas of love among people of different nationalities or in different ‘times’ (Tan Fácil), sexual orientation (No Digas Quizás, Seventeen), finding oneself in the others (Vecino).

And under this idea he closes the record with 2 covers of classics not easy to cover: ‘Everybody Knows’ from Leonard Cohen and ‘Modern Love’ from Bowie, giving them a nostalgia or saudade that suits and turns them into new songs. That’s a good cover right there.

I was really excited to have tickets for his concert in Melbourbe but it got cancelled. They say perhaps in March. Hopefully y ojalá.

Check the video for No Digas Quizás here

  • Rooms Filled With Light-Fanfarlo
Rooms Filled With Light cover

Rooms Filled With Light cover

Fanfarlo are like a reincarnation of Belle & Sebastian to me. Their music evokes nostalgia but might also elicit a strange feeling of ‘happy’.

On this their second record the remain true to the sound of the first (Reservoir) and add more obvious electronic elements but keep the horns, the violins and other classical instruments that give the album an air of Beirut meets Arcade Fire recorded by the producer of Phoenix. The songs sound as if they could have been recorded in the 80’s for some strange reason. A beautiful pop album that should be more popular.

Check the live performance of Tightrope here

  • Blunderbuss-Jack White
Blunderbuss cover

Blunderbuss cover

I lost track of White after The White Stripes broke up. Turns out the man had been busier that I knew with The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs. It was becoming a question if Mr White would ever go solo. I guess his collaboration with Alicia Keys for the soundtrack of Quantum of Solace was a nod to that possibility.

Turns out he did and Blunderbuss is another example of why Jack White is considered one of the most prolific and talented musicians of his generation. Spiced up with southern rock sounds Blunderbuss is short and straight to the point. You won’t find 7 minute blues or guitar solos here. Half the song are not even 3 minutes long. Yet the album is adorned with honest lyrics and White’s guitar catchy hooks that make it irresistible.

Recorded in Nashville, White has said, this songs are his expression and could not belong to any of the other acts that he is associated with.

I tried to get tickets for this gig too but they went too fast. Next time. And hopefully Jack White won’t take so long to release another solo album. But if it is as good as this one he might get away with it.

Check a live video at Jools Holland show of Sixteen Saltines and Freedom at 21 here

OTHER ALBUMS WORTH CHECKING OUT FROM 2012

  • Here-Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Edward Sharpe opened for Mumford & Sons here in Melbourne. I wanted to go because they have been touring for a while in the US and figured it would be a great concert. But I just couldn’t stand another listen of “I Will Wait”. Maybe a bad call ah? Edward Sharpe sounds more vintage here, keeping the good vibes on a short album that makes you wish for more.

  • Coexist-The XX

It was a hard task to match the success of their first album. The XX have done it with an album that doesn’t get too far from their debut and yet evolves. More intimate and dark, still highly enjoyable. And I’m lucky I will get to see them when they come back in April!

  • Old Ideas-Leonard Cohen

The man who spent a night with Janis Joplin at Chelsea Hotel #3 is still delivering great records. I was listening to this one one day and Mel asked me if it was a funerary march or something. Might as well be. Cohen sounds old and even having an honest chat with himself on track “Going Home”. A halo of the last Johnny Cash record can be felt here. Is Cohen feeling the time has come for him? I hope not just yet. Though somber and dark, this is a great album in the style of Cohen.

  • Come of Age-The Vaccines

What can I say about The Vaccines? Their first album had me believing that catchy rock wasn’t done in a time when everyone seems to be recycling 80’s pop or experimenting with electronica. These guys deliver simple songs that have a happy feel about them and honest lyrics.

AND FROM AUSTRALIA…

  • The Rubens-The Rubens

This young band has released an album full of rock with 60’s taste (just check the cover) that would deceive anyone about it being their debut. The single “My Gun” is as catchy as it gets, with organ that reminds me of Kula Shaker minus the Indian orientation of the arrangements.

  • Broken Brights-Angus Stone

I’m not yet sure of what (if there is such a thing) makes Aussie rock Aussie. So far, in Melbourne I have found am incredible variety of music talent that breaths and gathers from all trends and genres. In the case of Angus Stone I would have thought he was an American bluesmaninfluenced by 60’s folk. No such thing and I guess you could rightfully call it Aussie blues with a nostalgia for the bush and the farmlands. Don’t miss this one.

  • A is for Alpine-Alpine

Went to see Alpine at the Corner Hotel for the launch party of this album and was well impressed. People knew their songs and had a good time. No easy task in a city where people just don’t dance easily (not in a sober state at least).  This is art-pop as sexy as can be with 2 female singers that create angelic atmospheres and a solid beat base.

 

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The Shins at Festival Hall. Melbourne, July 23rd, 2012

I’m not a big fan of The Shins. I’ve had their first 3 records in my Ipod for a couple years and never really hooked with them except for a couple of songs. But their last album “Port of Morrow” is brilliant and though this year has so far been very generous with great albums, theirs is definetely going to my top 10 list of favorite albums of the year. Their country/psycodelic pop is at its best. Every song it’s catchy and potentially a hit. So I decided to get a ticket to their concert even if I had to go on my own.

I did go on my own in the end. Mel doesn’t know The Shins enough as to want to go. So I was wondering what sort of crowd would be there to share the music. Considering they are a band that started back in the 90’s I thought I would find people in their 30s. I was very surprised when I arrived at Festival Hall and a very young crowd was there waiting for the doors to open. I felt so old. But then, thinking about it, it makes a lot of sense that young people identify with the lyrics of James Mercer. He talks about his feelings with an honesty that makes you feel like you wanna ‘hug the guy’ (in the words of a critic).

Also the fact that their rise to fame is directly linked with the movie Garden State, a movie that deals with young and confused people, could be a point here. I wondered though how strange it must feel for Mercer (41) to get on stage and find that the audience receptive to their music is barely legal.

I had never been at Festival Hall before so that was new too. The organization seemed very neat. When the guy at the door  asked for ID I showed him a half-broke photocopy of my passport and just said “trust me, I’m older than 18” . He wished me a good night in Spanish. Cool dude.

First stop was the bar. Beers were Coopers for 6 bucks a pop.  Then I proceded to sit in front of the stage, just 2 metres from the barrier. The place was smaller than I imagined it. Maybe 5 thousand people. In fact I just checked Festival Hall’s website: 5445. Not a bad guess. In any case, it became obvious soon that it was going to be a packed event.

The opening act was Husky, a Melbourne band of which I had never heard. They started at 7pm and their set was a good surprise.  Considering the words of that ‘usher’ at The Palais the week before that stated that opening acts are usually shit, Husky were the contrary. I asked a girl in the crowd if she knew them. She said she had seen them opening for Laura Marling – “they are good, kinda folky”. They did remind me of Mumford and Sons. I took mental note to check out their album.

The Shins got on-stage. There were six of them in live form. They started with their old hits to warm up the crowd and the people responded well and applauding. It had the dynamic of a punk concert for a few songs: very little time between songs and just keep bringing the crowd up. Caring Is Creepy, So Says I were among the songs they played first. Then Mercer paused and saluted the audience. They had just arrived that morning and played a couple of radio shows before that night. But they were not feeling tired.


And then, one by one the songs from Port of Morrow started to come. They played every one of them except for ´Summer of 82´and ´For a Fool´. They all sounded great! I had been warned that the sound wasn´t great at Festival Hall, but it sounded pretty good to me. With sometimes 3 guitars (main, rhythm, and pedal steel), the musicians were amazing. Joe Plumm on drums was putting on quite a show. The Keyboardist had a moment of laughs with the crowd. I had imagined him like a funny guy. Mercer, whom I would imagine as a more introverted kind of person, did not do much talking other than introducing the band and thanking the crowd.

The idiot next to me kept yelling to him ‘get naked’ and thought it was actually funny. Maybe she thought she was in a club or something. She could barely stand on her feet, which meant I spent a good couple of songs with her bumping into me. I don´t think I have ever been so close to elbowing a woman. Luckily she passed out or was taken out by security.

The Shins were done after hour and twenty minutes. They came back for an amazing encore that saw them playing for almost another 30 minutes with one song improvising into an epic sound landscape of pop science fiction proportions lasting up to 10 minutes. Then the gig ended and I was left with a good feeling on my way back home. It was a Monday and so a great week started.

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The Tea Party at The Palais. Melbourne, July 14th, 2012

When Mel and I saw that there still were tickets to see The Tea Party we were first surprised we had not heard about the gig before. That band has a big following in Australia. Critics call it their ‘spiritual home’. I even believed they were Australian. But the truth is I didn’t know much about The Tea Party until two weeks ago. I knew it is one of Mel’s favorite bands and she said once that it was on her top 5 of best gigs ever when she saw them back in the 90’s. I also knew The Palais was a good venue to see them live and one I haven´t been to. Even more, this was their Reformation Tour, so it was meant to be a special occasion. We had our tickets and soon would see Tea Party after they disbanded back in 2005.

That night I had to close at the cafe of the theater where I work. It was Dora the Explorer earlier and after the stampede of babyccinos and hot chocolates, I was ready to go. I told some of my work coleagues about it and one of them said ‘hopefully you won’t be all the way at the back…’ Mel came to pick me up with the car and a sub, yum.  We didn’t know there was a game of footy that night at The MCG and traffic was dead slow. Took us an hour to get from the CBD to St Kilda! I can’t cease to be amazed by how civilised people are here; in Peru it would be a concert of beeps and horns. But we got there!

The Palais and Luna Park on the back

The Palais is a beautiful theatre that dates back from 1927, when it opened to screen films.  It is located in St. Kilda (the Miraflores of Melbourne, if you ask me), right next to Luna Park and a couple hundred meters from the ocean. The place was packed and as expected most fans were wearing black. It was this sudden sensation that we were back in the 90’s, when Tea Party was at their peak.  Like walking back into a tunnel were grunge was just starting to fade but a band that sounded rough was still fashionable. No dominion of boy bands and pop in sight just yet.

We got a couple of drinks and researched the seating situation. Turned out we were at the back, exactly where my colleague had warned me. But that was the least of our worries. We were one seat from the end of the row and 2 from the very last row. Next to us were 2 huge fellas that should have been our legitimate seat-neighbors, but since we got early we just took the seats next to the edge. We ventured down to check the better seats and take some pics. The opening band was almost unnoticeable, an acoustic act for a heavy rock band. In the words of the ‘usher’ they were ‘bad’. We didn’t like him very much for that. I wonder though who designs this deals? Must be hard to be an opening band.

Stage and front

It was clear that our seats were no good. We could barely move. We saw that the very back lane was empty and so we moved there. There we could stand, clap, kiss, sweat, sing and take pics. It was perfect!

Crowd

It was 9pm and the guitar for ‘The River’  started, hypnotic. The deep grave voice of Jeff Martin filled the theatre. The sound was good and the influence of old rock and blues was clear. But I did not know most songs. It is not easy to stand and keep excited as the rest when you don’t know the songs.

At one point they played a song I knew, ‘The Messenger’. I know it from the original author, Daniel Lanois, Canadian like Tea Party. Then came ‘Temptation’ and I knew that one too! In 1997 three Canadian girls came as exchange students to my school in Mexico City. With my friends we ended up being friends with them. And since I have always had the curiosity of recording other peoples music and I recorded a compilation of Canadian radio that had Tea Party, Holly McNarland, Sarah McLachlan and Bran Van 3000 and Jean Leloup. I loved it. So I realised that I knew Tea Party longer than I thought. There was another cover, an unnecessary one if you ask me, of ‘Hallelujah’. Closer to Jeff Buckley’s version but nowhere near it. That song should be left untouched.

Jeff Martin, the vocalist, announced that they were recording their first live album right there that night. The crowd behaved at the level of a live album. And the sounds pouring from only 3 band members seemed to be coming from a larger group rather. With ocassional keyboards and other oriental instruments, The Tea party have a filling sound. At the best Led Zeppelin style, Martin produced a bow at one point and started playing his guitar with it.

They played for more than 2 hours. At the end of the night the people were clapping and thumping on the ground with their feet, asking for an encore.  The crowd was ecstatic. People standing up, yelling. I had not seen this behaviour before in the live concerts I’ve been to in Melbourne. Was it The Tea Party? Was it their audience? I have to say, I felt at home with a lively crowd such as this. A proper crowd and not just spectators. As Jeff Martin put it “you know you are the best rock and roll crowd in the world!”.

They came out and played (yet another cover) ‘Paint it Black’ and 2 more songs. Mel couldn’t believe it. ‘Those were the 3 songs that were ‘missing’ in my mind! she exclaimed’. Spoken like a true fan.

It was a great night. A long concert, good sound, good crowd. Outside it was drizzling. I was thinking who would be the next act that I come and see at The Palais.

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