Saturday, December 29, 2012

The End of Year Review I: Music 2012

What a strange little year it has been for me in terms of listening to music.  There's not much that caught my attention this year and it was hard to motivate me to do anything more than purchase an album (usually on the Curse-Worthy $5 Amazon deals) and set it aside for my "listening pleasure" later.  It was the later that never really happened.

It also meant I did not really collect that much during the year but then TD5 came around in mid October and dropped a whole lot of music on me, while laughing maniacally the entire time.  He knew fully well that I would have no choice but to do something about it! But joke's on him because I only really listened to about 3 albums he gave me.  Mmhmm.  I'll get to them, TD5, I will.  But for the purposes of the Review...yeah, no.

Thus, I was stuck scrambling trying to cram most of it in at the end of year for this review I insist on writing and torturing myself with.

How fair is this review actually going to be then? As by the standard I did a few years, I listened to my albums and did a song by song rating for a best out of 5.  Of course, there are albums here that were not released this year as per usual and they will be counted towards my review.  In looking at it as a whole, there is probably only one that stood out as great this whole year.  That said, here goes...

9.  Muse - The 2nd Law

I saw it coming over a year ago.  The whole thing with the Unmentionable KHud happened, and I was not expecting much from Muse's new album.  And while it's undeniable that my expectations of Muse are incredibly high; I did not anticipate this level of rot.  Some may say that the album before this one is even more horrid but I think those people are blind.  There is so much to forget on this album that even being the best band in the world to see live, is not enough to bring myself to go see them on this tour.  It's downright cringe-worthy, this mess of an excuse for music.

It's filled with rip offs from other bands (tributes? no...hardly), pop sensibilities that cannot even masquerade within the genre and a whole lot of laziness.

Songs Worth Listening to (you know, if you had to): "Animal", "Panic Station", and "Survival" (the last I'll admit to liking if only that is the only true Muse song in the vein of some ridiculous grandiose thing you might find on Blackholes and Revelations.

H1 vs Or 2: 5 > 6.  A winner is H1 with "Survival" over "Follow Me"

Album Cover Review: Psh.  Cool...I guess.  C-

8.   The Killers - Battle Born

TD5 was swearing by the great narrative qualities as exhibited by Brandon Flowers and while that's true, I could not bring myself to like this album all that much.  It was okay in an average sort of way but it started strong and I had hope.  The first track screamed inventiveness but then the rest of the album quickly descended into a sort of country feel that I could not love.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Flesh and Bone", and "Heart of a Girl"

H1 vs Or 2: 5 > 6.  A winner is H1 with "A Matter of Time" over "Deadlines and Comittments"

Album Cover Review: When it comes to The Killers, they do not often disappoint in this regard.  It's the least they could do.  B

7.  Keane - Strangeland

Admittedly, Keane will forever have a difficult task with any album they put forth after having one of the best albums in existence in Under The Iron Sea.  Yes, I am telling you that I will always be a biased jerk about it but can you blame me?

Strangeland does not come close but in its defense, it does recall the second greatest effort by Keane that was Hopes and Fears.  It does not quite get to that level even but there are some moderately good tracks to enjoy and it's not all a complete waste.  It's actually quite the average album making it non-offending, which is what Keane has become... familiar and familiarly dull.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Black Rain", "The Starting Line" and "Sea Fog".  The last song is mostly good save some bit at the end but it makes me realize that they should stick to songs about the sea.  That seems to work out for them.

H1 vs Or 2: 5 < 6.  A winner is me with "Still Life" over "Dive In"

Album Cover Review: It's a beautiful photograph but what's so Strangeland about it? It's reminiscent of another album cover great - Original Pirate Material.  I loved that one and I love this one too.  A-

6.  Imagine Dragons - Night Visions

At $1.99, I wanted to see what all the hipster fuss was about.  What I got is a very strange, uneven sort of listening experience.  Honestly, when I tallied up the songs total, they did not do so poorly on a song by song basis save that one song that achieved the unattainable - it managed to get a -1 on a sale of .5 to 5 stars.

They could be pretty fun in concert, I reckon but as an album...what exactly is their style? There are familiar sounds of Vampire Weekend (a band I don't care for really), Phoenix, Men at Work, electronic (?!) and one song in particular that is a call back to The Killers' Hot Fuss ("Hear Me") (and I have no problem with a Hot Fuss being that it held a solid place in my End of Decade review.)

Then there's the lead vocalist.  I have no idea what to make of that man's voice.  In keeping with the multitude of styles, his voice often sounds a bit out of sorts.  It's not grating but does not always fit either.  It's odd.

In all, it's a weird, uneven album all mixed together as if it's their first and last which leaves for a jarring listening experience when consumed in its entirety.  Direction? Who needs it.  And why not I guess, in a time when singles make stars and only nerds like me care about an album.

Songs Worth Listening to: "It's Time", "Bleeding Out", "Radioactive" and "Nothing Left to Say"

H1 vs Or 2: 5 < 6.  A winner is me with "Amsterdam" over "On Top of the World"

Album Cover Review: Reminds me of a dark video I watched this year by The Shins.  I like the dark colours and the expanse of wasteland.  A

5.  Menomena - Moms

I did not even know this was out this year! But TD5 and I happened to stumble upon a review of it someplace and it was immediately purchased.  The release of any new album from this bands leaves me excited at the promises of weirdness and uniqueness that Menomena creates.  But then it happened - we discovered that one of the three band members left the band.  I listened with apprehension, hoping that the one member whose vocals I enjoyed the most did not depart...Whilst understanding that they all equally contribute and there is no primary vocalist or writer.

Still... with a founding member gone (again, of which now two members had to create a plethora of sound and layering I've come to expect from them), I hoped for the best while expecting the worst.

From the very beginning, there was an upbeat quality to the usual melancholy.  It was completely unexpected while being completely refreshing.  Lyrically, it was biting and the weirdness and greatness of the music shone - talk about some heavy, in your face bass lines with underlying, accompanying drum beats! Sparse but noticeable piano keys all mixed in with Spaghetti Western sensibilities.  It was almost unrecognizable and daring while all the while retaining the Menomena quirk.

But it would not be Menomena without the brooding oddities with some of the content so sharp and disturbing that it can be quite the cringe worthy experience.  Somehow the album manages to present a more focused effort and that's not a bad thing necessarily.  I'm looking forward to the next and will enjoy this one greatly in the meanwhile.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Pique", "Tantalus", "Capsule", "Don't Mess with Latexas"and "Plumage"

H1 vs Or 2: 5 > 6.  A winner is H1 with "Heavy is as Heavy Does" over "Giftshoppe"

Album Cover Review: Another fantastic, creepy cover.  Just stare into the abyss.  That's right my Master and I will do as you command and give you an A+

4.  The Shins - Port of Morrow

Had I not known that most of The Shins was no more, would I have heard the departure and a completely different band on Port of Morrow? James Mercer's voice is so distinguishable but it may have been a bit difficult and with songs like "Bait and Switch", it would be easy to be deceived by the fun nature.  Yet, as a whole, this album lacked some of the charm of their last (and super stellar - go get yourself a copy now) Wincing the Night Away.  

Maybe I'm just talking out of my arse since I have that knowledge in my head.  It's by no means a terrible album.  One of the greatest songs I've heard this year starts this album strong.  The aforementioned "Bait and Switch" keeps it The Shins happy but I found the album as a whole sort of average good (and on the quiet side) but it certainly is not without its moments of greatness but that's what I found - just some moments mixed into the otherwise solid listen.  Ah, the problems of high expectations.  But as with my initial short-sighted assness on Wincing the Night Away, maybe it'll take me a year or two to realize this one's potential.

Songs Worth Listening to: "The Rifle's Spiral", "Port of Morrow", "Bait and Switch", and "Simple Song"

H1 vs Or 2: 5 < 6.  A winner is me with "No Way Down" over "September"

Album Cover Review: Wait a minute...this seems a lot like Imagine Dragons'...but better!  A+

3.  Two Door Cinema Club - Beacon

I was of the mind to dislike this or at the very least to be very "meh" about it but at TD5's insistence, I gave it an honest go.  What a year or a forced, repeated listen can make! Or maybe, this Sophomore album by Two Door Cinema Club is just better than their first (and I think I gave that a pretty poor review).  So good is this new one though that I have decided that I'll go back and give the first another chance.

Okay, maybe this album is not the best thing since sliced bread and as I'm looking at my notes, there were a few lowly scored tracks but of the 11, the majority were better than average songs much to my surprise.  One song in particular became an instant classic and on heavy rotation on first listen.  What I did like about this album was the musical arrangement on some of the tracks - the fast pace breakdown at the end of many of them or the initial set up (see "Pyramid") but I'm unsure on the ones that sound a bit smug - a (see "Pyramid").  There's some of the hipster sense going on here that angers the blood!

Still, decent work, Two Door Cinema Club.  Not bad at all.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Handshake", "Someday", "Wake Up", "Sleep Alone", "Settle", and "Pyramid" (okay, I'm still not sure on this last one).

H1 vs Or 2: 5 > 6.  A winner is H1 with "Someday" over "Sleep Alone"

Album Cover Review: I can't even begin to express how much I dislike this album cover.  Or wait, here we go:  F - -

2.  Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid

On the one hand, I do not like the pull from different genres making this feel like an unfocused album but on the other hand, the album represents a complete celebration of music.

It's political, social, and off-kilter.  Give me an album that just flows one song to the next and I will be all over it.  With so many influences, it's actually a pretty terrific blend once you get used to the madness of it all.

Vocal maturity and accompanying fantastic musical genius make this album one of the most impressive displays of talent.  It starts like a powerhouse track after track and suffers only for being a bit too ambitious in length with closing tracks winding down the album and for me, some of the weakest.  And I say that yet, it's probably just the style I don't particular enjoy because they are still some solid numbers.

At it's core, The ArchAndroid is a brilliant journey in funk, emotional weight, dance, groove and all done with impeccable style in its artistic blend of classical, soul (and for good measure, a total Jpop styled song) and rock with heartfelt execution.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Dance or Die (feat. Saul Williams)", "Faster", "Tightrope", "Wondaland", "Oh, Maker", and "Mushrooms & Roses".

H1 vs Or 2: 5 < 6.  A winner is me with "Cold War" over "Sir Greendown"

Album Cover Review: I think it's safe to say that you put that cutie Janelle on the cover of anything and I will more than likely swoon.  Make her up to be a doe in headlights Android and I'm okay with that too.  Experimental, weirdly scientific and pure B rated sci-fi mess of a Goddess! ("goddess" term as coined by TD5) A-

1.  Kimbra - Vows

Yes.  In a strange twist that not even I saw coming, I've placed an album by a female artist that sings as my number 1 album for the year.  The fact that I have willingly listened to an album by a female artist that sings on my own is a feat in of itself!

I do it sometimes but... yeah.  I am not known to be partial.

Then that grating, overkill of a song by Goyte came out and everyone and their mothers seemed to be all up ons.  I can't say I cared but H1 did the kindness of showing me the weirdo featured as the guest vocalist on that track in her own video for "Settle Down".  I expressed my shared concern at the sheer weirdness of her hands flailing about but it was when Kimbra had a breakdown dance after some equally odd vocal quirks that I secretly fell in love.  I became TD5 in that moment but kept my interest to myself.

A superb Amazon digital deal later, I "bought" this album under the pretense that maybe H1 herself was interested in listening to it.

She advised me she was not and so I listened with my good pair of headphones (yes...recall that I used H1 as an excuse to buy this album for myself after all but shhh, no one knew!).

I was so drawn in by the vocal prowess of "Settle Down" that it took me a few days to move along.  What I found was so much damned talent, in a brilliantly, superbly high-valued production presentation with layers upon layers of intriguing sounds coupled with layers upon layers of Kimbra's own vocal ambition acting as a the stand out instrument holding it all together.

And then I discovered she could perform live like no other.

This album is nothing short of amazing in its powerful delivery, soul, and sometimes pop like fun.  It's everything I'd expect myself to hate and yet, what's crafted here is just so much diversity and beautiful artistry that it deserves every sort of praise I can throw at it.  Now to get those fools (MC and Frass, two fools!) on board to listen and love as TD5, H1 and I have done...

Songs Worth Listening to: A favour to yourself would be to listen to the whole thing but indulge your ears on "Settle Down", "Cameo Lover", "Good Intent", "Come Into My Head", "Sally I Can See You" and "Warrior" (H1's favourite and her best) and then go grab "Limbo" (bonus track on the Deluxe Version).

H1 vs Or 2: 5 < 6.  A winner is me with "Good Intent" over "Old Flame"

Album Cover Review: It's our cutie black, white and strange.  B+

Currently listening to: "Scarlet Fields" by The Horrors.

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