The best albums of 2012 A-Z part 2

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

Nothing Came First EP - ATKFirst 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 be “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

Titus Andronicus - Local Business coverWhile 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

Sun Parade - YossisAfter making last year’s best-of list based on the merits of its debut EP, Northampton’s own The 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

The xx CoexistAs 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. Still, 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.

And, don’t forget, there’s still time to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter in 2012. Just click on the icons below.

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The top albums of 2012 A-Z part 1

BJM logoWell, 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 Plan here.

C is for Cat Power and her new album Sun

On her first disc of all-original material since 2006’s The Greatest Cat 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.

Watch the video for “Cherokee” by Cat Power here:

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

Blues Funeral - Mark Lanegan BandOn 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

Lion - Stephen Lynch1Easily 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.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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