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.
“…This brilliant collection of songs beautifully marries modern indie-pop with retro rockabilly and soul. The sound is Sun Records meets Raising Sand.“
24. Dala: Best Day
“…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“
“…Sylvie’s elegant voice and delicate melodies elevate even the most simple of tunes to a higher level…a jaunty fable of star-crossed love with just the softest, lightest hint of jazz“
“…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.“
“…this gorgeous, classic folk song cycle sounds like it was recorded decades ago…the entire album is lovely and sure to be on my best of the year list.“
“…atmospheric electronics and somber melodies…brimming with all the emotions of a lifetime of regret and a heart full of love…a very pretty and innovative collection.“
“…Most of it is sheer, breathtaking brilliance…truly exquisite ballads…the spectacular far, far outweighs the bad“
“…Many bands have tried and failed to capture The Boss’ throne, but The Gaslight Anthem have successfully proven themselves to be the true heirs of Bruce Springsteen.“
“…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.“
“…grandiose, rocked up electro-pop drama fronted by a wailing red-haired banshee. Their new album successfully captures and modernizes their snarling past glory.“
12. Cat Power: Sun
“…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.“
Cat Power: Ruin (mp3)*
“…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.“
The Mynabirds – Body of Work (mp3)*
“…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.“
“…Escort is a seventeen-member “disco orchestra”…definitely one of the more unusual and delightful acts I’ve heard…I can’t imagine a more fun and catchy album being released next year.“
Escort – Makeover (mp3)*
“…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.“
“…The songs on The Fourth Wall break the barrier between folk and pop and also genre-hop through blues, gospel and rock…all wrapped up in dulcet harmonies and strikingly beautiful instrumentation.“
“…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.“
*all mp3s, streams & videos uploaded by & posted w/ permission of artists, labels and/or their PR reps
What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is Russian-American singer-songwriter Regina Spektor’s latest release. I’ve been chewing on this album for a long time and I still have frustratingly mixed emotions about its eccentricities. Most of it is sheer, breathtaking brilliance. I especially love the cinematic, piano pop opener “Small Town Moon” – seriously, even if you don’t buy the album, you must download this fantastic song. You can stream it and watch the video below.
Other noteworthy tracks are the buoyant, bilingual ditty “Don t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” and “Rowboats,” which is a cleverly conceived masterpiece about masterpieces.
The album also features some truly exquisite ballads, including the gorgeous, wistful simplicity of “Firewood,” the oh-so-pretty and sweet love song “The Party” and “How,” which could easily be a classic soul song.
Unfortunately, there are experimental elements in other tracks I personally find very irksome. The entire pseudo-Italian gangster anthem “Oh Marcello” really, really gets on my nerves and the otherwise lovely “Open” is absolutely ruined by the gasping, choking noises that punctuate the second half of the song. Every single time I’ve listened to the album, I go from thinking “Wow, why haven’t I reviewed this yet? This’ll be my #1 of the year!” to “What was she thinking? It sounds like she recorded something dying.”
Of course, I’ve felt this conflict with most of Regina’s post-Songs work. It seems the success of Soviet Kitsch made her so self-aware of her own quirkiness that she sometimes takes it too far to be enjoyable. I respect Regina’s experimentation, but it makes for a jarring listening experience. Especially when randomly thrown in to what is otherwise a very beautiful collection. Such is art, I suppose. I respect the haphazard artistic technique of a Jackson Pollock, but I’d much rather look at a Van Gogh.
The spectacular far, far outweighs the bad here, so I still love the album and I highly recommend it for Regina’s lyrical wit and wisdom alone. What We Saw From The Cheap Seats will be pushing another artist off my year end list – coming soon!
Muruch is giving away Joshua Bell’s new CD At Home With Friends, which features collaborations with Regina Spektor, Sting, Chris Botti, Kristin Chenoweth, Josh Groban, Tiempo Libre, and many more. See contest details below.
One U.S. winner will receive:
1 copy of Joshua Bell’s new CD At Home With Friends.
Comment to this entry with “Joshua Bell” and your email address. All new comments are moderated to avoid spam (which is why you must include the name of the artist in your comment), so it may take a day for your comment to appear if you haven’t commented on Muruch before.
Note: This contest is only open to U.S. residents, and all contestants must enter with a valid email address and the name of the artist in order to qualify. The winner of the contest will also be required to provide me with their full name and postal address for shipping purposes.
The contest will end on Friday, October 30th. The winner will be chosen at random and contacted via email.
Go now go! And tell others.
At Home With Friends is the new collection of instrumental and vocal duets by Grammy winning violinist Joshua Bell, who is joined by an eclectic mix of guest musicians and singers. Among Bell’s collaborators are Sting, Regina Spektor, Kristin Chenoweth, Josh Groban, Chris Botti, and Tiempo Libre. The album will be released on September 29th.
The covers that Bell selected for At Home With Friends are as varied as its performers, beginning with a tender rendition of “I Loves You Porgy.” The sweet strings of Bell’s violin blend beautifully with the lonely jazz of Botti’s trumpet on the Porgy and Bess ballad.
Sting lends his voice to the sixteenth century love song “Come Again,” a version of which appeared on Sting’s The Journey & The Labyrinth. I preferred the simpler lute rendition on Sting’s album, but Bell’s arrangement is also very pretty.
Josh Groban’s voice makes a good companion for Bell’s violin in the theme from “Cinema Paradiso.” However, it’s my Cuban boys Tiempo Libre who steal the show with “Para Ti.” The song alternates between peppy brass coupled with rhythmic Latin percussion and soft orchestral interludes.
Kristin Chenoweth’s operatic soprano is lovely, but seems an ill fit for “My Funny Valentine.” And while Bell’s instrumentation in “Eleanor Rigby” is flawless, I think the cover would’ve been more effective had he chosen a different singer or recorded it sans vocals. Frankie Moreno’s voice is nice, just not strong enough to tackle this particular Beatles classic. A better choice may have been Nathan Gunn, whose powerful baritone follows in “O, Cease Thy Maiden Fair.”
Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can hear Rachmaninoff himself play piano in “Grieg: Sonata No. 3.” Bandoneon player Carel Kraayenhof joins Bell on two of the album’s instrumental tracks, most notably the theme from “Il Postino.” And Chris Thile’s mandolin gives the elegant melody of “Look Away” a plucky boost.
Unfortunately for me, Regina Spektor’s “Left Hand Song” is missing from the Sony advance. But it will be included in the final cut of the album. Until then, the hauntingly exotic “Variant Moods: Duet for Sitar & Violin” makes up for its absence. Written by Ravi Shankar, the piece features his daughter Anoushka.
I personally prefer Bell’s classical works – such as his previous release Vivaldi: The Four Seasons – but it is refreshing to hear him experiment with style and play with such a diverse group of musicians.
I was not granted permission to share an mp3 and there are no audio samples available online yet, but there should be streams added at the links below before the release date.