2012 was a very good year for music. Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with enough albums for my year end list, this year the problem was narrowing down my choices. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, watch videos and/or download mp3s. Then comment with your favorite albums of the year.
“…Dala’s penchant for peppy country-pop harmonies and melodic folk-pop melodies fall somewhere between Lady Antebellum and Sylvie Lewis…sweet vocals, tinkling piano and buoyant strings…a pop culture cornucopia with references to everything from Shakespeare to Annie Hall“
“…I expect Eric McGrath won’t be Ireland’s best kept secret for long…McGrath’s intimate singing style and breezy, multi-instrumental compositions often fall somewhere between Bright Eyes and Xavier Rudd, which is an extremely interesting and unique place to be. But even such grand comparisons are tenuous, because Eric McGrath is definitely blazing a creative trail of his own.“
“…Xavier is one of my all-time favorite artists and his music never fails to amaze, uplift and thoroughly entertain me…Xavier wrote, sang and played every instrument (of which there are many) on this spectacular new collection.“
“…Not only does The 2nd Law continue that grandiose marriage of arena rock and classical music, but its futuristic electronic twist allows the album to stand completely on its alone. Definitely one for the year end list…weaving thunderous rock, classical song structure and instrumentation with operatic backing vocals into a glorious, cross-genre cacophony.“
“…the teenage opera duo were this year’s Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent…Talent like Jonathan & Charlotte’s and an album like this doesn’t come along often, so I hope they have a long, successful career ahead of them.“
“…a very splendid and beautiful collection…elegantly serene…Andsnes and the other musicians do a superb job in their individual performances of each work. Even more noteworthy is their musical coalescescence.“
“…shockingly upbeat sound…Cat Power is still as sultry and mysterious as she always was, but the music is very much uptempo…There’s just something so unique about Cat Power’s voice, lyrics and song structure. That unusual quality makes what could be, should be pop songs something entirely different. It’s unpop.“
“…The album explores pop, New Wave and synth rock in a way that is quite a departure from Palmer’s old punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, but it often has the same twisted wit, high energy and frenetic pace…the bombastic Theatre Is Evil is the best argument for fan-funded albums“
“…Have I mentioned I love The Mynabirds? The thumping, catchy, claphappy, fiercely femme indie sound of their new sophomore album, Generals, is somewhere between Lykke Li and Bats for Lashes. Thus the love…the album is deliciously rife with the band’s signature blend of synth-pop, rock, wails, hand claps and stomps.“
“…a tribute to The Mamas & Papas and The Beach Boys…their harmonies are as lovely as ever and very reminiscent of the two bands who spawned them…a sunny, summery, very catchy and surprisingly well orchestrated collection of classic pop covers.“
“…Khatia Buniatishvili’s Chopin is not only my favorite of the Chopin albums released this year, it’s my favorite classical release of 2012…Her nimble fingers are a perfect fit for the classical piano master’s compositions and her selection from his work is superbly diverse. Buniatishvili’s Chopin is an absolutely exquisite collection.“
“…Where did this guy come from?…McPherson’s music is a delicious mix of brassed up retro soul and rumbling vintage blues-rock. It’s been a very long time since I was struck by such an intense sense of awe while listening to an album…sound like classics by Little Richard, Jackie Wilson or The Big Bopper with a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Sun Studios-era Elvis thrown in.“
“…who is this band and how can anyone make an entire album of music this good? Song after song, I would think I’d heard the best of the album only to be even more amazed by the next track. This is music for any band to aspire to and for any music fan to get very excited about.“
“…Norah has finally found a dark, dreamy sound interesting enough to successfully break away from those old coffeehouse categories without losing the mellow charm that made her famous. Produced by Danger Mouse, …Little Broken Hearts spices up pretty post-breakup pop anthems with luscious splashes of noirish electro-rock.“
“…Fiona Apple’s first album in seven years, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, weaves the fierce emotion, poetic lyrics and masterfully constructed compositions of her previous releases with a much more rugged recording style and strong splashes of jazz. The collection is somewhat unexpected and strange, but it’s also exquisitely beautiful and brilliant.“
“…Anaïs Mitchell is like a modern day Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Her epic lyrical narratives echo Guthrie’s masterful talent for blending the literary with the ordinary, while her fierce and unique vocal phrasing as well as her intricately multi-layered arrangements take Dylanesque to a whole new realm….Young Man in America is both an ambitious recording project and a beautifully rich tapestry of classic folk songwriting. Anaïs Mitchell just may be my generation’s most talented singer-songwriter.“
Amanda Palmer just released her sophomore solo album, Theatre Is Evil, with her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra. The album explores pop, New Wave and synth rock in a way that is quite a departure from Palmer’s old punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, but it often has the same twisted wit, high energy and frenetic pace. The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the bombastic Theatre Is Evil is the best argument for fan-funded albums. It more than lives up to the excitement stirred up by the mp3s Palmer has shared over the past few months.
I heard that if you see a star at night
And the conditions are just right
And you are standing on a cliff
Then you can close your eyes
And make a wish and take a step
And change somebody’s life
Theater Is Evil begins with an unsettling blare of German blasting through a megaphone courtesy of Australian “Kamikaze Cabaret” artist, Meow Meow. The English translation is “Ladies and Gentlemen, how can I slit my wrists when I can’t stop dancing?” I could do without the grating sound of the introduction, but it does sum up the album pretty well. Palmer isn’t abandoning her Goth roots, she’s just mixing them with uptempo beats and rhythms. She herself describes the album’s style as “crancing” – simultaneously crying and dancing. Which is probably why so many songs remind me of a mix of The Cure and Depeche Mode.
“Smile (Pictures or It Didn’t Happen)” floats in on swirling, crashing waves of piano that build with Amanda’s voice into a crescendo of melodic melancholia.
The deliciously dark pop number “The Killing Type” sweetly seethes with stalkerish self-denial. It’s one of many standout tracks. Somewhere Siouxsie & The Banshees are smiling.
“Do it With a Rockstar” is a swaggering, taunting glam rock anthem, while “Melody Dean” is catchy New Wave with a spectacular, horn-burnished instrumental interlude.
The downbeat “Grown Man Cry,” in which Amanda skewers an overly needly and maudlin male friend, is a scornful albeit atmospheric answer to The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.”
The classically arranged punk-rock instrumental “A Grand Theft Intermission” reveals why Amanda’s band is called The Grand Theft Orchestra. The song would have fit well on Muse’s The Resistance.
“Bottomfeeder” seems to be both a wry indictment of spotlight chasers and a bizarre and lovely tribute to those lurking in the shadows. Amanda abandons her signature frantic playing for a beautifully sprawling piano melody.
In anticipation of the September 11th release of her new album, Theater is Evil, former Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer is offering a free, legal EP download. The sampler includes four songs from the new album along with three previously unreleased tracks. You can access the mp3s by entering your email address into the Noisetrade widget below…
Former Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer and her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra, will release Theater is Evil on September 11th. “The Killing Type” is the latest free, legal mp3 Amanda is offering from the album. You can download the song below. It fits very well with “Do It With a Rockstar” and “Want It Back“, which bodes very well for the new album.