Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s time for every music blog, website, and magazine worth its salt to come up with highly divisive best-of lists for readers to argue over, deride, and generally fault for not being the same as their own. Still, with all that being said, the Underground is participating in this year-end tradition anyway. And this year, we’re going alphabetical.
Read below for part one (A-M) of the Northeast Underground’s list of the best albums of 2012, and check back next week for part two (N-Z).
A is for Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
This newest album from the BJM is an updated take on the band’s affinity for ‘60s psychedelic revivalism. Frontman Anton Newcombe keeps his vocals to a minimum, but still manages to conjure an eastern-influenced sound merged with an ‘80s dance vibe. “It’s as if the record was conceived during a fantasy trip where during their stay in India the Beatles went out clubbing at night with the members of New Order.” Read more about the album with excerpts from an interview with Newcombe here.
B is for Bonnie Prince Billy and his album Now Here’s My Plan
Though it consists merely of six tracks that have all been previously recorded by Billy (aka Will Oldham), this release is a compelling reimagining of what each song could’ve sounded like when given an alternate arrangement, and also serves as a precursor to the singer’s recently released autobiography “Will Oldham on Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.” Producer Steve Albini contributes to the EP’s overall no-bullshit approach, but it's guest vocalist Angel Olsen who almost steals the show during the duet “Three Questions.” Read more about Now Here’s My Planhere.
C is for Cat Power and her new album Sun
On her first disc of all-original material since 2006’s The GreatestCat Power (aka Chan Marshall) returns with a record that dabbles in several different genres. For instance, discarding the more soul-influenced sound of her last album, Marshall turns her focus to electronic music for the opener “Cherokee,” which features repetitive samples, a drum machine, and even handclaps. “Silent Machine” is anything but silent, with a catchy guitar intro and pounding beat. But most surprising of all is probably the appearance of veteran rocker Iggy Pop, who duets with Marshall on “Nothin But Time.” Though his vocals don’t spring up until nearly the six minute mark of the almost 11 minute track, Pop doesn’t feel out of place on the number, managing a charming croon alongside Marshall’s plaintive lead.
D is for The Dandy Warhols and their new album This Machine
Recorded during 2011 at the band’s studio and entertainment complex the Odditorium, this latest from the Portland, Oregon-based Dandys is proclaimed as a return to a more “guitar-centric” sound than the group’s last three records, which featured a more electronic-influenced style. “We've been told that it’s our gothiest. I thought it was our grungiest. So I'm really hoping it’s a hit with goths who are, um, really outdoorsy,” says group frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor. And he might get his wish. The much-hyped cut “The Autumn Carnival” includes songwriting contributions from David J (Bauhaus, Love and Rockets), and describes an ethereal journey through what sounds like a funhouse from another dimension. Read more from an interview with Taylor-Taylor here.
E is for EP as in The Secret EP by Sebadoh
While only available online or on the merch tables during the band’s summer tour, this fresh blast of indie rock marks the first new material from Lou Barlow and company in 14 years. New drummer Bob D’Amico (Fiery Furnaces, Circle of Buzzards) adds a propulsive drive to the mix, but the real joy is in hearing Barlow and Jason Lowenstein cut loose on tracks like “Keep the Boy Alive,” “My Drugs” and “All Kinds” just like it’s 1999 all over again. Listen to these tunes and more yourself by visiting the band’s bandcamp page here.
F is for Funeral as in Blues Funeral from the Mark Lanegan Band
On his seventh studio album, alternative mainstay Lanegan teams with producer Alain Johannes and fellow rockers Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs, Gutter Twins) and Jack Irons (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam) to craft a varied but satisfying disc filled with meditations on boredom and addiction. Opening track and first single “The Gravedigger’s Song” pulls listeners in with lines about “piranha teeth,” and Queen’s of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme shows up to lend guitar flourishes to “Riot in My House.” Strangely, “Ode to Sad Disco” casts Lanegan’s brooding baritone over a synthesizer and drum machine beat, but much like the rest of the album, the track works with surprisingly positive results.
G is for Grass Widow and its new album Internal Logic
This third full-length from a trio of San Franciscan females is a gorgeous slice of indie pop. Opening track “Goldilocks Zone” sets the mood. After a brief bit of sound resembling an outer space transmission, some surf rock guitar emerges with a pleasant twang and three voices begin gliding smoothly over the proceedings. Elsewhere, the majority of numbers fly by in a rush of airy vocals, sometimes making individual words indistinguishable. Still, when everything comes together like on “Milo Minute,” listeners will have a hard time not singing along. Read more here.
H is for Hoonah also known as Sarah Smith with her album Sneak
Delicate and powerful – two words to describe both singer/songwriter Sarah Smith (aka Hoonah) and the unique sound found on the PVPA grad’s first full-length release. Though musically the album consists largely of soft finger-picked melodies and playful vocals, tracks like “Primitive Patches” evoke strong emotions amidst ominous piano chords and raw lyrics. Elsewhere, Smith isn’t afraid to put her heart on her sleeve with lines inspired by relationships and nature. “I like stories,” she says. “I like hearing them and telling them. I think that people who like my music like that it’s personal and about me but also something that they can relate to in some way.” Read more here.
I is for I Bet On Sky the new album by the Valley icons of Dinosaur Jr
Since reuniting in 2005, the three original members of Dinosaur Jr. – J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph – have been busy. In between tours, side projects and other band-related ventures, the Western Mass natives have also managed to turn out three albums, much to the delight of alternative music fans who clamored for the trio’s resurrection in the first place. On their latest disc, the guys further cement their ongoing partnership with a record that ranks among their best. Read more about the disc in an interview with bassist Barlow here.
Watch the video for the new Dinosaur Jr song “Watch the Corners” here:
J is for John Cale and his new album Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood
On his first studio album since 2005’s blackAcetate, former Velvet Underground member Cale crafts perhaps the most inviting avant-garde record of the year. The opener “I Wanna Talk 2 U” is the result of a spontaneous session between Cale and Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) with a solid acoustic strum providing the foundation amidst numerous electronic effects. And “Nookie Wood” is a strutting invitation that beckons listeners with a gratifying yet ominous groove. The track could also be a joke. But at 70 years old, Cale is the one getting the last laugh. He’s still breaking new ground, and doesn’t show signs of stopping.
K is for Kelly Hogan and her new album I Like To Keep Myself in Pain
Stepping back into the spotlight after years spent serving as a popular back-up singer for artists like Neko Case and Jakob Dylan amongst others, Hogan charms listeners on her latest solo release. Displaying the stamp she’s put on a collection of tracks written by the likes of such indie faves as Andrew Bird, M. Ward, Robyn Hitchcock and more, the singer exudes confidence and even shares her own ability as a songwriter with “Golden,” a song she wrote in tribute to friend and frequent collaborator Case. Much like the rest of the disc, the song goes down smooth and provides inspiration for others in the background to step forward and take their moment in the sun. Listen to a stream of I Like To Keep Myself in Pain here.
L is for Lion the new double-album by comedian Stephen Lynch
Easily the most ambitious and lushly recorded project of his career, the new album from comedian Lynch is two treats in one. The first disc features 13 tracks of risqué humor played mostly to the sound of acoustic guitar, banjo and harmonica, while the second disc consists of live versions of each song played with the help of collaborators Rod Cone, Courtney Jaye and David Josefsberg. Longtime fans will note a more refined style, but the subject matter is still classic Lynch. Juggalos, genitalia, and even the state of Tennessee all become fodder for ridicule. But even after all these years the singer’s wit is as sharp as ever, and despite all the easy jokes his talent has become undeniable.
M is for Magic Castles the double-album by the Minnesota-based group of the same name
Hand-picked and released on the record label run by Brian Jonestown Massacre leader Anton Newcombe, this self-titled disc is an entrancing nod to the summer of love and all things psychedelic. Created by six guys with a love for farfisa organ, atonal guitar leads and hypnosis-inducing chord patterns, the album is also a return to days when listeners treated the idea of listening to records as an experience, not just as a means to kill time on the way to work. “I believe in [the Magic Castles] project enough to release it with my own money as a document,” says Newcombe. “Actions speak louder than words. Music is meant to be heard more than talked about. I love the way some of their songs make me feel.” Find the band on Facebook here.
Come back next week for part two of this alphabetical best-of featuring letters N-Z.
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