My Favorite Albums of 2012 – Part 3

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

The list continues below. Check out Part 1 here if you’re just tuning in…

Rush – “Clockwork Angels”

In 2011, Rush went on a very successful tour with two objectives.  First, they intended to play their most successful album, 1980’s “Moving Pictures” in it’s entirety – a plan that worked fans into a frenzy of renewed interest in the band.  At the same time, they would be playing new, unreleased material as paid rehearsals for what would become 2012’s “Clockwork Angels.”

The 2011 tour was documented in the spellbinding Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland video.  The concert video incorporates hilarious short films providing the “real” history of Rush – an alternate timeline that involves a time machine and the members of Rush playing many roles in the story.  It’s wonderful fun for insiders and new fans alike.

“Clockwork Angels” captures that same magic.  The album has a feeling of looking back in its lyrics as Neil Peart continues to explore his world through intricate songs with Geddy Lee’s voice.  Rush hasn’t been this accessible in a long time, but that’s hardly a knock against it.  Hearing this material up against the juggernaut of “Moving Pictures” gave Rush a mighty challenge.  The result stands alongside nicely showing both the growth and continued creative excellence of the band.  Did they peak in 1980?  Hardly.

Saint Etienne – “Words and Music”

This is a very different kind of album.  It has an almost meta-music theme as the album deals with what it was like to grow up in the music culture of the 80’s.  The first song includes a long, spoken word passage about friends taking trips just to see where Peter Gabriel’s house is.  The album builds from there, incorporating on everything the band holds dear about music culture into new songs.

Many of them are reflective of what it was like to be a music fan over the years.  This may come off as a tad pretentious at first, but the first track’s narrative becomes more of a mission statement than a recurring feature of the songs – which become much more dance-driven as the album progresses.  In this way, the album could be compared to albums from the era hearkened back to on “Over The Border” by bands like Pet Shop Boys (think “Introspective” and “Very.”)

While it might not have the staples of the modern dance-floor, the songs are mostly of that same calorie-burning tempo and great headphone music for active days – or just spirited driving.

Sharon Van Etten – “Tramp”

On her third album, Sharon Van Etten has polished her songwriting with introspective lyrics that manage to stay away from hyperbole.  There’s a kind of perfectly stated honesty throughout – whether it’s love, loss or just some garden-variety anxiety – she’s effective as opposed to emo or understated.

If there’s a drawback to the album it’s that the songs tend to have similar tempos and stick with a minor key.  The perfect rasp on her vocal tone goes a long way with these, but I would have welcomed a little more in the way of variation.

A side benefit of this consistency is that when a song is particularly well-executed, it stands out.  “Give Out” is far and away my favorite track, but that’s not to sell short other highlights including “Leonard,” “Warsaw,” and the sublime “We Are Fine.”  It’s possible her music will get some more attention this year as she’s confirmed to be opening for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Swans – “The Seer”

It’s a double album with eleven songs.  The title track is over 30 minutes long and most of it is a cacophony of droning noise.  This is not for the faint of heart or the deficient of attention.  It’s also an amazing work of art.

Listening to Swans is something akin to surviving a harrowing experience with a friend.  It’s resolution is satisfying, but getting there can be very challenging.  I found it helps to listen to it at a near-deafening level of 85 db or more.  In my case, I played it through my PA system while doing very little else.  Something like a traditional song will suddenly materialize out of the chaos and it’s always a rush and reprieve when it does.

I can’t point to a song that will summarize or whet your appetite for this album.  Instead, here’s a mini-documentary on the band getting ready to play on tour for “The Seer” after a 10+ year hiatus.  If you’re up for a very unique listening experience – set aside a couple of hours alone and let it blast away at you.  I certainly didn’t regret the experience.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – “Out of Frequency”

When Apple abruptly used The Asteroids Galaxy Tour’s first single “Around the Bend” as part of a commercial, the band found themselves with an immediate fan base – and no album.  It was a long period of months before “Fruit” was released in September 2009.

The Danish duo of singer Mette Lindberg and songwriter/producer Lars Iversen has courted that strange combination of dance, pop and sampling that Deee-Lite sprung from.  It’s no surprise that the album’s lead single “Heart Attack” is a nod to that band, borrowing the same underlying sample (and a titular noun) from the smash hit “Groove Is In The Heart.”

Lindberg’s vocal delivery is a cartoonishly-high one and English certainly appears to be a second language.  I can see where some might find her annoying, but I find it’s a perfect compliment to the dance samples and permeating bass on tracks like “Dollars in The Night” and “Out of Frequency.”  The album doesn’t have the benefit of the novelty that “Fruit” did as it was the first album for the band – but it’s a great addition and no less well done.

continue to Part 4


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