’Tis a blessing and a curse to live in a time of so much music. It makes a critic’s job akin to Lucy’s at the chocolate factory; the upside is that we’re never short on sweets. Try as we might — and with print and time the ostensibly finite resources they are — we simply can’t tell you about every single record that catches our ears each year. Here, then, are 10 albums that didn’t get their due in 2012.
(As a side note, I’d like to throw in that if there was an album that just had Sky Ferriera’s “Everything Is Embarrassing” 10 times in a row, that would probably have made it.)
And with no further ado. . .
MICHAEL ANDOR BRODEUR
“Children of Desire”
This was not a great year for Florida, and I’ll leave it at that. One glimmer of hope came in the form of the young post-punk Tampa outfit Merchandise, whose darling status across the blogs was surprising if only because Carson Cox’s words often take bites out of the shallow personal branding of indie-dom. Cox croons and their songs churn — a stormy mix of big guitars, clicking rhythms, and a thoroughly modern meta-melancholy. You’d never guess it was from the Sunshine State. M.B.
“The Inner Treaty”
Cameron Stallones — the man at the valve of Sun Araw’s ceasless output — not only put out the extraordinary collaboration “Icon Give Thank” (teaming up with reggae legends the Congos and experimentalist M. Geddes Gengras), but his sixth solo effort is another refreshing dip into the primordial ooze of his music. As guitars interlace with stray squiggles, dubby heaves, and mushy rhythmic deltas, Stallone comes off less like a producer than a sculptor of potential energy. M.B.
“Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs”
On last year’s “Apokalypsis,” this Los Angeles singer-songwriter came across like a dark-hearted siren in love with her Diamanda Galás records. It was a shock, then, to hear Wolfe clear out the cobwebs on these organic songs that allow you to connect with the music beyond Wolfe’s stranger quirks. With an opening riff that distorts the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” a song like “Flatlands” beats with the heart of Cat Power and PJ Harvey before suddenly unfurling into an orchestral hymn. JAMES REED
The last words you hear on “QueenS,” the irrepressible anthem from THEESatisfaction’s debut on Sub Pop, are, “You better bring yourself.” That’s exactly what Stasia Iron and Catherine Harris-White, who are partners in music and life, did on this album of fiercely independent hip-hop and neo-soul. THEESatisfaction is a collaborative effort for the Seattle-based duo — Harris-White typically sings, and Iron raps — but they both construct the melodies and write the words. And they both explore issues of identity — what it means to be a woman, what it means to be an original. J.R.
Listening to this Mexican singer-songwriter’s latest, you immediately lose sense of time and geography. A soft-focus mix of jazz, lounge, cabaret, and indie-pop melancholy, “Déjenme Llorar” lives up to its title, which in English means “Let Me Cry.” The record, which is sung in Spanish, has such an unassuming but earthy vibe, it’ll remind some listeners of the late, great Lhasa de Sela, except with more pop polish. It’s no wonder it was recently nominated for a Grammy for best Latin rock, urban, or alternative album. J.R.
“He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes”
At least to the casual gospel fan, the name Arizona Dranes doesn’t register the way it should. Dranes, a blind pianist who brought an ecstatic fervor to gospel starting in the 1920s, was a precursor to better-known pioneers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Which makes this compilation from the Tompkins Square label such an important and invigorating find, particularly for its extensive notes about Dranes’s life. Her piano playing borrowed from barrelhouse and ragtime traditions, but Dranes’s voice was its own marvel: a pinched, potent wail that must have made a believer out of anyone who heard it in church. J.R.
“A Tear in the Eye Is a Wound in the Heart”
Featuring members of the Decemberists, Black Prairie is an indie-folk supergroup of sorts. It’s also a band of incredibly talented musicians who put a pan-global spin on Americana that brings the genre fully into the new century. “A Tear in the Eye Is a Wound in the Heart,” the quintet’s sophomore release, skirts the edges of various strains of folk music while injecting it with rhythms from klezmer, jazz, and pop. The songs rarely end up where you expect them to, and that’s what compels you to keep listening.
The former Dire Straits frontman continues his impressive post-band career with this double whammy of an album that runs the gamut of his musical interests from buoyant sea chanteys to haunting ballads to bluesy rockers to rootsy ruminations. All of them are topped off by his achingly elegant guitar work and beguiling bray, which manages to balance wry humor and melancholy sometimes within the space of a single song.
Kasey Chambers and
“Wreck & Ruin”
Aussie singer-songwriter Chambers followed up her recent album of covers, “Storybook,” with this charming acoustic collection of traditional country and roots pop originals that reteams her with her hubby and fellow songwriter Nicholson. Unsurprisingly the couple continues to demonstrate excellent chemistry with hand-in-glove harmonies, lyrics that range from heartbreaking to spirited, and warm production on everything from the old-timey boot-stomper “Flat Nail Joe” to the idyllic “The Quiet Life.” S.R.
“Glad All Over”
After a seven-year recording hiatus, during which Jakob Dylan pursued a solo career and many of the band members fanned out to work with others, the gang reconvened. With help from producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Emmylou Harris) and Mick Jones of the Clash, and former Red Hot Chili Pepper Jack Irons on drums, “Glad” offers the band doing what it does best, straight-up rock ’n’ roll with rootsy flourishes. S.R.