Hope you enjoyed part one of the Underground’s alphabetical round-up of the top albums of 2012. So let’s jump right in to part two.
N is for the Nothing Came First EP by best new Valley band And The Kids
First appearing on the Valley music scene back over the summer, And The Kids – featuring members Hannah Mohan, Rebecca Lasponaro, Megan Miller, Paul Gelineau and Luke Averill – has wasted little time in taking Western Mass. by storm. The band quickly was voted the best new group around by the Valley Advocate’s Grand Band Slam poll, and sold out the Iron Horse Music Hall for the release show celebrating its first EP Nothing Came First. Though its predominant musical style is a bit hard to define, there’s no escaping the young band’s talent. And you can just plain forget about Mohan’s claims that And The Kids is just made up of “moderately attractive people, playing moderately attractive music.” When the group kicks into a groove on “Loner,” or gets down and dirty with “Tonka Trucks,” there’s not a trace of anything moderate to be found.
O is for the Overachievers in Green Day and their three new albums ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!
Though the initial launch of this album trilogy got off to a rough start, now with all three records available listeners can finally sit back and enjoy the boys from Berkeley in all their ragged glory. And the sound does get a bit ragged at times, but that’s part of the fun. Fresh from two rock-opera themed discs and a side-trip down the Great White Way, Green Day is back to reveling in its carefree side. While ¡Uno! mostly showcases the group’s classic pop-punk style, ¡Dos! features a foray into a more garage-based sound and ¡Tré! strives to “epic,” by throwing in some elements of the stadium rock found on the band’s American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown releases. “It’s kind of all around the world with Green Day in 37 songs,” says lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong. Fans take note, and start buying your tickets now.
P is for Patrick Watson, the man and the band responsible for the new album Adventures in Your Own Backyard
On this fourth full-length release, Patrick Watson (the group) seeks a rightful spot atop the indie rock heap. With a voice that is equal parts Bon Iver and Jeff Buckley, Watson (the man) swoons over orchestral tunes so rich that it is easy to get lost in the layers. Trumpets, strings, piano – multiple instruments are thrown into the mix without ever losing sight of the melody, which is at the heart of songs like “Step Out For A While” and “Into Giants.” The title track is a sweeping highlight, and it’s the record’s longest track on the album for a reason, leaving the voiceless closer “Swimming Pools” as a meditative afterthought. Read more in an interview with Watson here.
And watch a video featuring the song “Lighthouse” from “Adventures in Your Own Backyard” here:
Q is for Quietude or Silencio the new album from singer Laetitia Sadier
Best known as the singer for ‘90s indie band Stereolab, Sadier sticks to her guns on her second solo album. Here the French-born singer turns her focus to topics such as politics and the universe as a whole. Opening track, “The Rule of the Game” name-checks fascism, the ruling class and disarmament, while “There is a Price to Pay for Freedom (and it isn’t Security)” employs distant sleigh bells in a verse discussing the societal roles individuals are forced to take on in reality. If these sound like heady topics, they are. Yet, Sadier still finds time to match her weighty lyrics to an upbeat strum on “Auscultation to the Nation” and “Moi Sans Zach” even features Latin rhythms.
R is for Rock…Glen Rock, New Jersey that is, home of Titus Andronicus and its album Local Business
While its last record was a Civil War-themed concept album that clocked in at over 65 minutes, the new disc from these New Jersey punks is a stripped down affair at least in theory. While, the finale “Tried To Quit Smoking” eclipses “American Pie” for sheer longevity, it eschews a mostly acoustic sing-along for a harmonica and guitar filled conclusion. Elsewhere, the cuts “Food Fight!” and “Titus Andronicus Vs.The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” show the band is also adept at lyrically-sparse rave-ups. But for a perfect distillation of the group’s sound listen to the anthem-like “In A Small Body.” It’s gritty music that marches and inspires.
S is for Silver Age the new album from Bob Mould
Arriving a little over a year after the release of his memoir “See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody,” co-written with author Michael Azzerad (“Our Band Could Be Your Life,” “Come As Your Are: The Story of Nirvana”), this tenth solo album from former Hüsker Dü and Sugar guitarist Mould catches the songwriter injecting a healthy dose of nostalgia into his work. Opening track “Star Machine” even contains lyrics that read like a figurative look back at the dissolution of the Minnesota-based Dü. “You told the world you had to fire the band,” Mould sings. “Your little world has gotten out of hand / The star machine will hand your ass right back to you.” But it’s not all about reflection on Silver Age. Supported by bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster, Mould turns in a blazing 38 minute blast of rock shorn of excess and brimming with one memorable riff after another. Listen for yourself by checking out a stream of the whole album here.
T is for The End of That the new album by Plants and Animals
The latest release by this Montreal-based trio has the sound of a band coming defiantly into its own. Where previous records featured 15+ minute songs and lengthy instrumental passages, the material here consists of more concise and focused arrangements. In fact, only two songs go on for longer than six minutes and one, “Crisis,” is a bona fide indie rock jam that is only eclipsed by the album’s title cut, which compliments lines about snorting cocaine with sunny female backing vocals and a catchy acoustic strum.
Watch the video for the song “The End of That” by Plants and Animals here:
U is for The Unthanks and their new album Diversions Vol. 1
On their first live release, sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank tackle two different sets consisting of material written by English artist Robert Wyatt and Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons fame. Recorded at the Union Chapel in London during back-to-back sold-out nights, the disc is a “warts and all” affair with the occasional audience member cough and police siren clearly audible in the background. However, despite the inclusion of such mistakes the record remains a lushly recorded document and one that shines brightly under the glow of the sisters’ warm voices.
V is for Valley band the Sun Parade and its full-length album Yossis
After making last year’s best-of list based on the merits of its debut EP, Northampton’s own Sun Parade has followed up on that early promise with the release of its first full-length album in 2012. Featuring a couple of tracks from its self-titled EP, including last year’s number one song of the year on WRSI 93.9 The River “Need You By My Side,” alongside previously unreleased material, the new record also manages to expand on the engaging folk-rock palette the group pulls its songs from. Lead vocalist Chris Jennings is in fine voice throughout, and the rest of the band – Jefferson Lewis (guitar, vocals, mandolin), Mike Parham (guitar, vocals), Jacob Rosazza (bass) and Colin Jalbert (drums), along with new member Roxy LaBlanc (guitar, vocals) – provides an audible spark and drive to tracks like “Run People, Run” and “Chicago.” Listen to the rest of the disc yourself on The Sun Parade’s bandcamp page here.
W is for Willis Earl Beale and his album Acousmatic Sorcery
Recorded with only a few found instruments, including a cassette-based karaoke machine and a $20 microphone, this debut by the Chicago-based Beal is a model of efficiency and emotion. Tracks such as “Take Me Away” and “Evening’s Kiss” unfold amidst a tender touch and surprising soulfulness, while the opening instrumental collage “Nepenenoyka” features a taste of the more experimental “dissonance” that the young singer dabbled in when starting out. More surprising still is the level of intimacy achieved. And for those who want to get even closer, pick up the phone. Beal has been known to give out his number to encourage his fans to reach out so he can personally sing them a song.
X is for The XX and their sophomore album Coexist
As the follow-up to the band’s Mercury Prize-winning debut, this sophomore effort retains many of the same characteristics that made the first XX record so successful. However, this time around the songs have been shorn of all excess and focus on a calculated minimalism that allows the compositions to breathe in spaces that once weren’t there. Opening cut “Angels” sets the template. Featuring soft, twinkling guitar and the vocals of singer Romy Madley Croft, the track often lets silence answer certain lyrics, creating an intriguing tension that keeps listeners waiting with bated breath. Stiil, this isn’t music for the club. It’s for the cool down after the party, or the long drive home. For more information on The XX check out the band’s website here.
Y is for You Make a Better Door Than a Window by Daniel hales, and the frost heaves
“It’s our best door yet,” Greenfield singer and guitarist Hales says of his band’s latest effort. And for listeners, this means an eclectic mix of college/indie rock, Americana, folk, psychedelia, soul and funk. Album opener “Halo Over My Horns” begins with a pleasant guitar intro before erupting into an upbeat rocker, while two versions of the record’s title track give alternate readings of a song that is revealed to be equal parts catchy sing-along and budding epic. Repeat listens continually reveal hidden treasures. Whether it’s the scratches buried within the mix of “All My Best Worrying” or the sitar flourishes within “Present Perfect Tents,” fans will enjoy digging deeper. Read a fuller review of the album here.
Z is for Lzzy Hale of Halestorm and her band’s new album The Strange Case of…
Opening with lead single “Love Bites (So Do I),” the second full-length album from this Pennsylvania-based quartet is radio-ready and full of attitude. Mixing down-tuned guitars with female vocals that veer from soft to full-on banshee scream (sometimes within the same song), many tracks appear geared towards live performance. “Break In” even includes the mandatory request for listeners to raise their lighters. However perhaps the most unexpected number is “Here’s To Us,” which was recently featured on an episode of the popular television show Glee. There’s an almost country-like tinge to the song’s soft acoustic opening before it evolves into a catchy sing-along that will no doubt be echoing through an arena near you for years to come. Read more about Hale and the time she and her band spent on the Mass Chaos tour alongside Bay State bands Staind and Godsmack here.
Watch the video for “Love Bites (So Do I)” by Halestorm here:
That’s it for this year’s countdown. Hope you enjoyed reading my picks. Got some of your own? Let me hear about them in the comment section.
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