Patti Smith and more...
Architecture of Loss
Reviewed to late to be included in my albums of the year, Valgeir Sigurðsson’s third album Architecture of Loss jumped straight into my number one spot. From Iceland, Valgeir is the leader of Bedroom Community, the label that hosts artists such as Nico Muhly and Ben Frost, producer for the likes of Björk and Bonnie Prince Billy and creator of hauntingly beautiful music such as is found on this album.
Conceived as a suite of music to accompany a ballet, Sigurðsson’s compositions stand alone as a beautiful instrumental album that invokes cold war espionage chases, the Icelandic tundra, and passing (maybe illicit?) love affairs. It envelopes and enriches the listener and bares repeated listening as layers of sonic textures slowly unravel and reveal themselves. This is a modern and daring hybrid of classical and electronica music and ideas that fuses together to create a harmonious, stunning and utterly beautiful album. An album that you just need to go and hear - my words simply do not do it justice. Jez Collins
Patti Smith’s 11th studio album, and first in five years, was inexplicably absent from all the major year-end best album lists. I could have done with a little less Japandroids-championing, but it’s apparent that critics weren’t looking solely for easy pleasures in 2012; so one can only hope that Banga‘s being so overlooked was the result of too much quality output robbing it of the it so crucially demanded. If the highly insightful Smith-written liner notes and an appearance by Television’s Tom Verlaine on the sweet first single “April Fool” weren’t enough to warrant purchase, then the ferocious, Master and the Margarita-indebted title track makes Smith’s importance in this day and age brutally clear. Yet, softer moments such as the Amy Winehouse tribute “This Is The Girl” and the closing Neil Young cover “After the Gold Rush” leave even greater a mark. Banga is worth the attention and love of double the amount of people who said they read Just Kids. Maria Schurr
When the reunited Soundgarden announced they were recording a comeback album, fans winced and gritted their teeth as they hoped for the best but expected the worst. That Chris Cornell’s previous release was the abysmal Scream—and that its commercial and critical failure seemed the impetus for his getting back with his old cohorts—didn’t do much to counter the cynicism. But when fans tentatively pulled their fingers from their ears to give the resulting King Animal a fair shake, the cringes faded and that rare feeling of being glad to have been wrong settled in. Sure, first song (and lead single) “Been Away Too Long” is a dud with its grade-school lyrics, but past that, the record is stellard, filled with the foursome’s defining off-kilter time signatures, sludgy guitars and wailing vocals. “Blood on the Valley Floor” has one of Kim Thayil’s most savage riffs to date, “Bones of Birds” is equally sensitive, menacing and surreal and the work song vibe of “Rowing” replicates the hamster wheel tedium of existence. Though its title initially seems absurd, King Animal is actually fitting, being the bellow of a beast awakening from a 16-year hibernation. Cole Waterman
Death and Taxes
Cape Breton island crowns the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. This is an island where babies are born with hearts that beat in time with traditional music. As they enter the world their cries are lost amid celebratory fiddle and accompanying mandolin and they Highland Dance right out of the womb until their umbilical falls onto the kitchen floor. This is the sort of place where real, unrefined musical talent runs so deep that it’s often taken for granted. The same can be said for Halifax, “the big city” at the epicenter of this small cluster of maritime provinces. It’s from towns like these that the members of the Stanfields come. Their latest, Death and Taxes arrived late in 2012 and never got the attention it deserved despite salt-stained, weathered delivery of a darker, harder traditional song structure and high energy rock. Comparisons to Flogging Molly or the Dropkick Murphys are inevitable—this is not a new idea. But what is new here is the authenticity. This isn’t just “roots-flavoured” or an homage to a sound they appreciated. This is in their blood. Real traditional Maritime music played with such passion that it will turn any living room into a working class pub. Darryl G. Wright
Tender New Signs
Pretty much everyone’s being described as shoegazer these days, but there’s a big difference between some dream-pop dabbling and the lush, all-encompassing soundscapes that San Francisco duo Tamaryn conjures up on its under-the-radar second disc, Tender New Signs. With billowing melodies surging their way through the album that are as imposing as they are gorgeous, Tender New Signs offers more to grab onto than just wispy atmospherics or gauzy mood. Sure, there’s plenty of feedback-y haze, but the honeyed sludge of “Heavenly Bodies” and steady build on “Prizma” feel more muscular than ethereal. Yet what really shapes and molds the free-form soundplay are the crisp, bold rhythmic elements, often keeping things interesting by creating deft textural contrasts, like on the lucid vision of “While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming”, or switching up tempos, as with slo-mo-ish decadence of “No Exits”. With Tender New Signs, Tamaryn proves that head-in-the-clouds music can keep its feet solidly on the ground. Arnold Pan
The Something Rain
For a group known for barroom dreariness, The Something Ran is something of a revelation—an impressively rousing, even buoyant effort that is miles removed from 2010’s Falling Down the Mountain. “At the album’s heart lies the memory of the people we have lost in these last two years, but we were in no mood to be maudlin,” says the Nottingham outfit. “We are still drinking, laughing, crying, fighting, fucking, making our music.” That snarling spirit pervades the group’s ninth studio album. It’s in the richly woven instrumentation, which crackles and spins with funk wah, elegant organ, xylophones, and squealing horn textures. It’s in the jazzy backing vocals, which wrap silkily around Stuart Staples’ familiar baritone on highlights “Show Me Everything” and “This Fire of Autumn”. And it’s in the record’s fierce eclecticism, which stitches together sinister spoken word (“Chocolate”) and sad-eyed funk (“Show Me Everything”), frantic free-jazz (“Frozen”) and hushed muzak (“Goodbye Joe”), into a swirling patchwork that is as seductive as it is unexpected. Zach Schonfeld