Here are my top 5 albums of 2012 that didn’t make the list, because they were released in 2011!
However these albums were so good that it felt wrong to not let them shine. So here they are…
#5. Puscifer – Conditions of My Parole
For those who have no idea what a Puscifer is, Puscifer is a project of the lead vocalist of Tool, Maynard James Keenan. Tool already has its own place in my heart for being a band unafraid to take heavy music into a much more psychoanalytical terrain than many of their peers. Then in Tool’s downtime came Keenan’s side band, A Perfect Circle. While the band has its own merits, it never quite felt like home to me the way Tool does. So a couple years back Keenan announced another side project called Puscifer. This time around, the music was basically a playground for a battle between Keenan’s id and his ego. The result was very raw but and very basic. I gave one listen to this album, “V” is For Vagina, and dismissed it with “When is Tool going to make a new album?”
This summer when my partner Terry and I saw Foster The People in concert, there was a Wheel of Fortune style game at the entrance, and I won tickets to see Puscifer a couple weeks later. I was completely unaware there was a second Puscifer album. But I was excited to see any of the genius of Maynard unfold on stage. I had seen Tool at Ozzfest during the Aenima era and the show made me a fan for life. I won’t review the show in full detail, but most of the new album was played and was new to my ears. Crystal clear sharp sound, deep haunting harmonies, drums that roared and ripped through me, vocals that made you stand in attention, and the cherry on top was an audio visual spectacle that enhanced rather than detracted from the songs. A further bonus was the perfect blend of female vocals from the opener, Carrina Round, who I was still unaware was the same woman, now in costume. At the break in the show, I grabbed a copy of the cd from the merch table and over the next couple days listened to it on repeat, remembering most of the songs already on second listen.
This is how Tool made me feel! The music is layered yet bare. The vocals.. my goodness the vocals just cut through me. The rage in the heavy songs like “Toma”. The intricacies in the rhythms of “Man Overboard” that remind me why I loved being perplexed by Tool’s bass and drums. “Monsoons” ended up being my favorite cut. The song starts with a quiet complex percussion pattern and swells with vocals with the self-explaining lyrics “you can bring… the color in”. Beautiful.
I can’t recommend this album enough to fans of Keenan or of Tool. This is the audio version of the battle of the mind and the libido.
“Toma (from Jimmy Kimmel Live)”
“Monsoons”(fan-made monsoon photography video)
#4. Fitz & The Tantrums – Pickin’ Up the Pieces
Some Sunday night in January, I had a bad case of insomnia. By about 4am I gave up hopes of sleeping at all. So I turned on VH1. I forgot that they play videos still in the mornings. So about 5am here comes this video. What is this? White boy soul? In the vein of Amy Winehouse maybe? 60s soul throwback? The singer.. he can’t be under 30! That always gets me excited. In this day and age when a band has immense talent, the lead singer is over 25 and they still have a video on television.. not on vh1 classic, it gives me hope. Hope that artists can surpass the teen imagery and still make people feel the music above all else.
The next day I was talking about videos I saw and my partner Terry mentioned that he also had heard this video, “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” and liked it alot too. Within the next week I was in Best Buy I believe and saw the cd was “up and coming artist” cheap and I took a chance.
Song after song. Okay actually ten of them because it’s not a long album. Each song was soulful and singalong good. I wanted to dance around to the songs and clap my hands to each song. I felt like I knew these songs all along. And not because they ripped off other songs I knew. It was because they got the feeling right. These songs just felt good. I could literally pull any track off the album as a good example, but some highlights are “Moneygrabber”, “Breakin’ the Chains of Love”, and a favorite that wasn’t a single or video, “Dear Mr. President”. Not to be confused with the stellar P!nk track of the same name, this is an upbeat song about downbeat times. I very much am looking forward to their upcoming album that is almost finished, and I have a feeling it will be a fairly big deal.
“Don’t Gotta Work It Out”
“Breakin’ the Chains Of Love”
#3. Grouplove – Never Trust A Happy Song
I have my friend John to thank for introducing me to Grouplove. I was told “you need to hear this”. As with many new bands, on first listen I was interested, but I didn’t fully grasp their vibe. A couple weeks later I checked out their videos on youtube for “Colours” and “Itchin’ On A Photograph”. Here is a band that knows how to marry interesting visuals to the lyrics without robbing the lyrics of individual meaning.
I listened again. This time I was really listening. The many facets of the individuals in this band shine through in different tracks. “Itchin’..” and “Colours” showcase their lead singer Christian and a vocal delivery that reminds me of nineties Flaming Lips without all the weird. Well maybe some. Then Hanna, the female vocalist and let’s call her the band cheerleader, dancer, twirler and joy-bringer, melts things down with her delivery on “Slow”. There’s joyous happy-go-lucky 70’s cartoon band feel good music like “Naked Kids”, about a road trip on a summer day to go skinny dipping. I don’t recommend Googling “Grouplove Naked kids”. Just look up the video on Youtube where things are less perverted. But over the year the song that has won me over, especially when I saw them in concert a few weeks ago is “Love Will Save Your Soul”. Sung by Hanna with such innocent joy. After the second listen I rushed out to buy a copy of the cd. How could I not own this?
And then something happened in the Spring. The big championship episode of Glee featured “Tongue Tied” in that big celebratory victory homecoming moment that all the viewers had pined for in its three seasons. The next day, Grouplove was on pop radio! It was so nice to hear the world finally get to hear this great band. Oh and their concert did not disappoint. It was quite a magical night. It was election night, which further fueled the hope of the people in the room and the love between Grouplove and the audience was electric. You got to see a hodgepodge group of friends have fun making music and living in the moment. Not too shabby for a band of people who had a chance meeting at a songwriting camp in Greece and decided “we should start a band”.
“Itchin’ on a Photograph”
#2. AWOLNATION – Megalithic Symphony
Another band my friend said I had to hear. This one I loved right away on first listen. I latched on instantly because whoever this guy was in this band, his head is put together like mine. Serious and totally not serious at the same. Every genre exists on the same plate with no dividers. The meat and the vegetables and the dessert all running together to become one big musical casserole. And with lines I would later quote like “never let your fear decide your fate”. It was very apparent he (Aaron Bruno by the way, former frontman of Under The Influence Of Giants) is very much afflicted with ADHD. Far before I got to the song “Sail”, with the refrain “Blame it on my ADD!”.
This is the kind of album where every couple days a different song was stuck in my head. And the videos were so creative and strange. “Sail” with its alien abduction story. “Not Your Fault” with its 1960s stop motion christmas special effects even the yeti monster. But 3 songs struck me as extra special. “Guilty Filthy Soul”, part breakbeat and handclaps, part acoustic romp, part soul, part electronica, part insightful lyrics and a happy but odd singalong. Next, “Burn It Down”. Welcome to the future of electo punk rock! Maybe if Sigue Sigue Sputnik had been more than just a fashion idea with guitars and attitude. The video…pure excitement. Ninja Laser Danceoffs! I mean come on! Lightning blast.. BAM! Your courtroom is now a concert. Listening to this album is like that. Lightning blast and BAM! Now you’re in AWOL’s world. “If you feel like I do throw your fists to the ceiling! Some people call it crazy well I call it healing!” before he channels Little Richard’s “WOOOOOOO!!!”. Try not to drive fast while listening to that. And the big song I can’t get enough of, “Kill Your Heroes”. A song about not worring about measuring up to expectations and being truly free. This is not an album, it’s an adventure!
“Kill Your Heroes”
“Burn It Down”
#1. Foster The People – Torches
I am pretty sure this was on my list last year. And so it shall be again this year. Many people are probably only familiar with last year’s introductory hit “Pumped Up kicks”, a dark and misleadingly happy sounding song about bullying and the high school outcast experience. To judge Foster by merely that is pretty unfair. Mark Foster, the writing mastermind behind the band has written some pretty insightful lyrics in this batch. And almost every song has a chorus made to stick in your mind. “Don’t Stop (Color On The Walls)” is that song from commercials that most people would only recognize from its whistle refrain. But the standouts on this album aren’t even those two songs. First you have the leadoff track “Helena Beat” with a falsetto so smooth that I literally thought it was a female even when watching the video the first time I heard it. Then there’s the song “Houdini”, a song about focusing on your strengths and not letting fear get the best of you. Yeah this has song has become pretty personal to me over the past year as a feel good happy place of sorts. And it has one of the strongest breakbeats behind it in hip-hop’s history. Remember Run DMC’s “Here We Go”? Maybe not. Ok well it was originally Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat”. Still no? Trust me this beat is in something you’ve heard before. It makes the song thump that much harder. And lastly, a song that should have been a hit but wasn’t released as a single, “I Would Do Anything For You”, a song that has such a gorgeous melody and so damn catchy! A very simple but very honest love song. Like most of this album, Mark Foster and his gang make it sound so easy and effortless. This group of songs makes me want to search in myself for how to write great simple songs. They would be the new band that I envy the second most, right after Fun. Except Fun.’s album came out in 2012. So that is for another list. Foster The people is another band that I am drooling with anticipation for their next album.
“I Would Do Anything For You (Live)”
“Pumped Up Kicks”
So go discover some new music and enjoy! No matter how much people may gripe, there’s been so much good music out there this past year. You just have to keep your ears open.
– written by Rob Goodman