Tag Archives: alternative music

The Most Under-Appreciated Albums of 2012

2012 has been a pretty good year for music.  Every genre has received some kind of hit record: for folk-indie, there was Mumford and Sons’ Babel; for R&B, there was Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange; for hip-hop, there was Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, for pop, there was Taylor Swift’s RED.  Perhaps it’s because it was a good year in music, there’s been several albums that have kind of fallen by the wayside.  The collection of albums below have gone through 2012 without much appreciate.  Here, this means that the album didn’t receive much critical or commercial attention — Grizzly Bears’ Shields is excellent, and underappreciate by audiences at large, but it was championed by critics and it has found its way on many “Best Of…” lists already.  The following list of albums is by no means ordered.  Stay tuned for a list of the most disappointing albums of 2012 coming soon!

damon albarn Dr Dee

Damon Albarn — Dr. Dee
It would be hard to Damon Albarn to release anything that goes under the radar.  Sure, Dr. Dee was noticed, but it was largely dismissed upon its initial release.  The album is a folky British opera that chronicles the mysterious John Dee — a consort to the queen, scientist, magician, mathematician, and astronomer.  Who would have thought that audiences weren’t interested in traditional operas about obscure 16th century alchemists?  The album is littered with Blur-esque acoustics by Albarn, but the majority of the album is traditional opera.  Critics were hoping for a small scale, intimate set, but instead, they got a strange, esoteric passion project.  SAMPLE THIS:  “Apple Carts” and “Preparation.”

liars WIXIW

Liars —  WIXIW
Those fans that were hoping that Radiohead would return to their uncompromising, electronic tendencies (Kid A and all) got their wish with last year’s King of Limbs.  Anyone still feeling a bit unsatisfied should seek out Liars’ WIXIW (pronounced “Wish You”).  The band has been no stranger to changing their sound between albums or being inaccessible: WIXIW changes none of that.  On the face of it, it’s an electronic record set with many of dance-ready beats.  A deeper listen reveals the paranoia and menace of the album.  It’s an album that rewards repeated listens, and while it may take a few to get used to the dense electronic atmosphere the band creates, it’s well worth the time.  What initially feels like a claustrophobic and harsh set of songs gradually opens up to be a surprisingly open and rich record.  SAMPLE THIS: “No. 1 Against the Rush” and “His and Mine Sensations.”

Django Django

Django Django — Django Django
It’s the band so nice they named it twice — four times if you take into account this is a self-titled record.  When I first listened to Django Django’s debut record, I knew that this was the record that everyone would be talking about in 2012.  The album has everything a listener could want: it’s well produced, it’s catchy, it’s fun, and it spans an array of genres, constantly keeping you guessing what comes next.  The band effortless shifts between surf-rock, electronic music, traditional Egyptian, and world music, but they never forget to give the listener a melody to remember.Django Django opens with the sound of nature before giving into the sounds of an arcade-like PacMan synthesizers.  It’s the perfect metaphor for the album itself: it’s an album that marries very natural sounds and melodies with fun electronics.  The album came in went with some people noticing it (NPR), but for the most part, it was lost in the rush.  Check this album out!  SAMPLE THIS: “Hail Bop” and “Waveforms.”

Grass Giraffes transportation

Grass Giraffes — Transportation
The Athen, Georgia-based band carries on the musical traditional.  The band’s debut release, the Transportation EP is a stellar mix of pop-rock and psychedelia.  Grass Giraffes’ music is sure to please anyone looking for more music by the Elephant Six collective.  The EP is only 5 songs long, but the band leaves its mark on the listener by giving the audience melodies that are irresistible and spot-on musicianship.  The lyrics here are just as smart and sharp as the lyrics, and if Transportation offers anything, it’s the hope that this kind of music (whose epoch seemed to fade out after Neutral Milk Hotel’s excellent In The Aeroplane Over the Sea) isn’t quite on its way out just yet.  SAMPLE THIS: “Backstories” and “Better Alone.”

Dan Deacon america

Dan Deacon — America
Dan Deacon has been skirting around massive audience appeal for some time now.  He’s a hard guy to pigeonhole:  his background is in classical music, but he is constantly trying to push the boundaries of electronic music.  America offers one of the best examples of what Deacon is capable of: the first half of the record is a handful of short, melody-heavy pop songs, and the back half of the record is a sprawling instrumental.  It’s hard to understand why Deacon isn’t a bigger figure in the mainstream consciousness — his music is either too electric for classical listeners or too classic for electronica listeners.  America does a great job marrying the two approaches, and if any release this year makes electronica fun, smart, and beautiful, it’s this one.  SAMPLE THIS: “True Thrush” and “USA II: The Great American Desert.”

Jesca Hoop the house that jack built

Jesca Hoop — The House That Jack Built
Tom Waits once described Jesca Hoop’s music has refreshing as “going swimming in a lake at night.”  It’s a surprisingly apt description of her music, and on that front, The House That Jack Built succeeds.  Hoop, who recorded this album after touring as part of Peter Gabriel’s band, pushes herself in a ton of different directions.  This album is a bit more streamlined than her previous work, but it’s also more accessible — fans of Hunting My Dress may be a bit disappointed with the decidedly poppier approach Hoop takes here, but it pays of in dividends.  Although Hoop’s musicianship is pristine here, what really shines is her lyrics; the material spans a wide array of subject material, but nothing is as profound as her reflection of death on the haunting and minimalist “D.N.R.”  Hoop’s music feels too poppy for the indie-audience that she records for, but here’s hoping this fantastic album finds its audience.  SAMPLE THIS: “Ode to Banksy” and “D.N.R.”

Aimee Mann charmer

Aimee Mann — Charmer
Aimee Mann has been around for a while now, but 2012’s Charmer feels like she’s found new inspiration.  The 90’s alternative rocker’s latest album is a fun, slick record that never forget to put the melodies up front.  Complimenting Mann’s guitar this time around is a Cars-like synthesizer. The album is accessible, but it’s immensely listenable — this is a record that never fails to just be a fun record.  Even though some of the subject matter turns sour (“Disappeared” or “Living A Lie”), Mann couches it all in poppy songwriting.  Collaborations with James Mercer from the Shins and Tim Heidecker from Time & Eric give the songwriter enough room to maintain her own personality while offering new takes on her music. SAMPLE THIS: “Charmer” and “Soon Enough”

Exitmusic-Passage

Exitmusic — Passage
Celebrities playing in bands is not a new spectacle.  Everytime you here about a Keanu Reeves and Dog Star or Russell Crowe and 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts, it’s hard not to imagine that these are ployed attempts at artistic credibility.  These celebrities play in their band, but they never want that to be the focus of the music; Billy Bob Thornton, for example, nearly cancelled a live interview because the radio DJ singled him out in a question.  Exitmusic, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like a gimmick at all.  The group is a husband/wife duo featuring Boardwalk Empire’s Aleksa Palladino on vocals.  Their album, Passage, has all of the atmospheric bombast that a Sigur Ros record has, and it’s just as beautiful.  Simultaneously beautiful and haunting, this is a record that works both as background music and music to lose yourself in.  SAMPLE THIS: “Passage” and “Sparks of Light.”

Hot Chip in our heads

Hot Chip — In Our Heads
Here’s an album that initially received a bit of a buzz at first only to seemingly sizzle away.  Hot Chip has been around for a while now, and their records have been mixed at best.  Sure, some are better than others, but none of them have been as consistent as In Our Heads.  Part R&B, part electronica, part dance, this British group’s latest record features the band at its very best.  The band’s positive outlook makes In Our Heads not only a great album, but one that you’ll enjoy spending time with.  If the music isn’t trying to create a groove to dance to, it’s dropping melodic hooks that will keep listeners coming back for more.  SAMPLE THIS: “Motion Sickness” and “Let Me Be Him.”

Future of the Left plot against common sense

Future of the Left — The Plot Against Common Sense
I don’t know the last time I listened to an album so brutal.  Future of the Left’s The Plot Against Common Sense is noise-rock at its finest, made all the most harsh by the fact that they just don’t seem to make bands like this anymore.  Not only is the music aggressive, but the lyrics are just as sharp as the melodies here.  Moving from cynical to satirical, Future of the Left tackles subjects such as the music industry, Hollywood, the Occupy Movement, and um, bad restaurants.  It’s one of the year’s best, as long as you’re willing to endure the fast, noisy, and raw sound that’s thrown at you.  SAMPLE THIS: “Sheena is a T-Shirt Salesman” and “Beneath the Waves an Ocean.”

Honorable mentions:
La Sera — Sees the Light
Mynabirds — Generals
Hopsitality — Hospitality

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So…You Want to Listen to Mike Patton?

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Introduction:
Mike Patton, often championed by a very vocal minority, can be a tough artist to become acquainted with.  As the lead singer of Faith No More, Tomahawk, Fantomas, Mr. Bungle, Lovage, Mondo Cane, and Peeping Tom, it can be hard to find a good place to begin listening. As esoteric as some of his music may appear, there’s a reason why he has earned his heralded status.  With any luck, this guide will serve as a roadmap to Patton’s weird, experimental, prolific and intimidating discography.

Possible Beginnings:
THE REAL THING, Faith No More’s first album with Mike Patton as singer.  This album made a huge splash when it first appeared thanks to singles “Epic” and “Falling to Pieces.”  THE REAL THING is notable for its willingness to experiment with genre.  The aforementioned “Epic” mixes rap and hairmetal to wonderful results.  The experimentation here isn’t obtuse or off-putting.  Apart from the singles, the album works really well together as a whole and would later influence a host of other (somewhat misguided) bands. This possible gateway serves as a good introduction to Mike Patton’s vocal delivery; while he would croon and scat in later albums, THE REAL THING offers some of his most accessible work.  Standout tracks: “Epic,” “Falling to Pieces,” and “From Out of Nowhere.”

The next logical step is forward a few years to Faith No More’s second album with Patton, ANGEL DUST.  ANGEL DUST has many of the hallmarks of Mike Patton’s work: ever-changing vocal deliveries, strange lyrics, songs that blend genres in the space of seconds.  One critic even cited Faith No More’s followup to THE REAL THING as “one of the more complex and simply confounding records ever released by a major label.”  With that said, ANGEL DUST is at times strange, but it also packs really strong melodic hooks to make all the weirdness all the more accessible.  The lead single, “Midlife Crisis,” was not the hit that “Epic” was, but it provides a decent enough hook that it promoted the album well during its release.  The international release of this album showcases the cover of Commodores’ “Easy,” whose tongue-in-cheek delivery is both silly and reverent.  Standout tracks: “Midlife Crisis,” “Easy,” and “Land of Sunshine.”

If you enjoyed both THE REAL THING and ANGEL DUST, the remaining two albums in the band’s catalog (KING FOR A DAY, FOOL FOR A LIFETIME and ALBUM OF THE YEAR) are enjoyable, but not quite as consistent as these past entries.  They find complications in the band’s lineup affecting its output: Founding guitarist Jim Martin left the band, opening a guitar-player hole that was never quite filled and Mike Patton and keyboardist Roddy Bottum both became increasingly involved in side-projects.

Next Steps:
While Faith No More secured Mike Patton commercial and critical success, his original high-school band Mr. Bungle is what many fans claim to be his best work.  Unlike with Faith No More, the best place to start with Mr. Bungle is their very last release: CALIFORNIA.  I recommend CALIFORNIA as being the next step after Faith No More because it sounds like the band’s logical evolution after ANGEL DUST, and boy is it a whirlwind of creativity.  This album is filled so many ideas and so much instrumentation that it will be confusing or intimidating for anyone not already somewhat acquainted with Mike Patton’s musical style.  CALIFORNIA finds the band at its most accessible. Songs like “Retrovertigo” and “The Holy Filament” even sound as if they could have appeared on a Faith No More record.  From the laid-back beach tune “Sweet Charity,” to the Armenian-Polka-Metal “Ars Moriendi,” to the Italian-film-inspired “Pink Cigarette,” CALIFORNIA has unimaginable breadth.  Mr. Bungle’s prior two albums follow this vein, but before moving in this direction, I would recommend trying out more of Patton’s accessible work. Standout tracks include: “Pink Cigarette,” “Vanity Fair,” and “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.”

Another fantastic avenue to try after Faith No More is Patton’s recent MONDO CANE.  Finally fulfilling a long-promised passion project, MONDO CANE is a live album of orchestral Italian pop-hits from the 40’s-60’s.  Sounds esoteric, right?  The album doesn’t flirt with the bizarre; instead, it focuses on the melodies and the beautiful instrumentation of these songs.  While none of the songs are in English, the album is full of catchy tunes that put Patton’s vocal range on display.  This willingness to try out new ideas and concepts has marked his career.  Standout tracks include: “Senza Fine,” “Deep Down,” and “Il Cielo in Una Stanza.”

Also somewhat recently, Mike Patton attempted a pop album under the name Peeping Tom.  His first release under this moniker, PEEPING TOM, has many really good, catchy tracks.  Influenced by pop, rap, and R&B, these genres are given the Mike-Patton-treatment.  Notably, this album is a collection of collaborations with other artists (Norah Jones, Massive Attack, Dan the Automator, etc…).  This selftitled debut may attempt to be a pop album, but it isn’t quite mainstream or ready-for-radio.  Instead, the songs focus on delivering catchy melodic hooks and beats.  Highlights of PEEPING TOM are the Norah Jones duet “Sucker” and the Dub Trio mixed “We’re Not Alone.”

Advanced Studies:
If you’ve made it this far, chances are you will enjoy most of what Mike Patton has to offer.  Here are the highlights and some gateways to his other bands:

DISCO VOLANTE, Mr. Bungle’s sophomore album finds itself often bizarre and avant-garde (even more so than CALIFORNIA).  The songs here do not have the same pop sensibilities as CALIFORNIA; it’s less immediate but just as rewarding.  While I consider this to be one of Mike Patton’s best efforts, I cannot stress enough that this is not an album for the beginning listener.  Much of the music here is more abstract, often including dissonance, strange time signatures, and awkward song-organization.  Standout tracks are “Carry Stress in the Jaw” and “Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz.”

Fantomas is Mike Patton’s avant-garde metal band.  The best introduction to his body of worth with the band is THE DIRECTOR’S CUT.  THE DIRECTOR’S CUT is a collection of horror movie film-score covers.  The band is heavier and more frantic than Mike Patton’s other work, but this is a great place to start listening.  Standout tracks are “The Godfather Theme” and “Fire Walk With Me (Twin Peaks).”

A collaboration with Jennifer Charles and Dan the Automator brought the world Lovage. Their sole album Lovage: MUSIC TO MAKE LOVE TO YOUR OLD LADY BY has been discontinued, but it lives on in MP3 format.  Marked by corny and cheesy songs of seduction, many of the electronic-tinged songs are worth listening to.  The smokey voice of Jennifer Charles works great alongside Mike Patton.  Standout tracks are “Lifeboat,” and “To Catch a Thief.”

Another interesting collaboration is the three-album run by the band Tomahawk.  Working with Duane Denison, Mike Patton serves primarily as vocalist (the creative control of the band lies with Denison).  Their selftitled TOMAHAWK is mostly good, and it gives a good showcase of Patton as the leader of an alternative rock band (similar to Faith No More).  Standout tracks are “101 North” and “Flashback.”  The other two albums from the band (MIT GAS and ANONYMOUS, an album composedly entirely of native-American folk songs) are both solid efforts as well, but they never quite live up to the work of Faith No More.

There are other collaborations/projects that are worth exploring, but the above mark the most significant.  A one-off collaboration with composer John Kaada, ROMANCES, is a strange, atmospheric and avant-garde album.  A one-off EP with math-rock band Dillinger Escape Plan, IRONY IS A DEAD SCENE, is short, but well regarded amongst most hardcore fans.  And finally, in later years, Mike Patton has gotten around to composing for films.  Two of his most recent scores, Crank: High Voltage and the Solitude Of Prime Numbers, are completely different from one another but offer interesting moments.

Spots to Avoid:
Because Mike Patton can be so experimental, some of his projects don’t quite pan out.  These following albums are only for enthusiasts:

Solo album ADULT THEMES FOR VOICE.  This entire album was recorded while on tour in various hotel rooms.  You won’t find much here besides screaming, nonsense lyrics, and scatting.  It will try the patience of the deaf.

Fantomas’s DELIRIUM CORDIA is one track long.  It’s only one track, but it’s one track that is as long as a full-length album.  The concept behind DELIRIUM CORDIA is surgery without anesthesia.  Much of what made Fantomas interesting and exciting is missing here and replaced with spooky ambiance.

The one-off collaboration, Maldoror’s SHE.  This is a experimental noise record.  Not noise-rock, just noise.  Lots of cartoon sounds, echoes, sirens, electronic bleeps.  It gets pretty grating at times.

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