Monday, December 10, 2012

2012 Album Index: ****'s or better

There's an Editorial/Confessional/Soapbox post sort of coming, if time allows. But just for the actual bread and butter of this whole ordeal, here's the Index and blurbs for now.

23 Debashish Bhattacharya | 'Madeira'
I saw this East Indian musician sort of on a whim from a friend of mine's suggestion, as he was coming to The Cedar Cultural Center to open his US tour this October. And his show was both jaw-dropping and mesmerizing at the same time, or throughout. He plays this really unique style of slide guitar, I don't recall ever hearing before. It sounds rather Indian-classical, and translated unbelievably well on the style of slide guitar he plays.

And this album it was announced, was a special limited printing release. Something like only 500 copies were printed I guess. So I couldn't pass up the chance of picking up a copy. And after seeing that show, listening to this was in a lot of ways, more of the same.

Some of the intricate and jaw-droppingly fast playing on this I cannot help but be in awe of. Specifically,I'd say the last 1/3 of the opening 16+ minute title piece, along with mostly the entire 2nd piece "Morninggait."And then mostly all of the 3rd track "Jhoom" which includes some wonderful tablas.

Debashish plays some of the fastest and highly technical music I've ever heard. It's really incredible how quickly he moves-on/plucks the strings, with precision and ease it seems.And to think this is the only record of his I've heard thus far. He has a sizable discography on his own, as well as collaborations which among them, one of the credits is the Remember Shakti record.

Of Songs cover art

22 Bruce Peninsula | Of Songs
This is just 1 track the band recorded and went up for sale on their bandcamp page. But it clocks in over 12 minutes and is of the tradition of a lot of multi-part progressive rock compositions.It very well may be the best individual song released in 2012, at least that I heard. It has the Bruce Peninsula tribal drums and percussion along with wonderful gang vocals.But I think they put out something new and unique here, with different textures and the segues working extremely well.

It's a prog epic of a sort, but it's also blending the traditional BP sound, with Post Rock and ambient music. And it's very polished and inspiring. I'm not sure if the "Of Songs" refers to a number "of" songs the band had ideas for, and then managed to transition them together well. Because I think it may be their best composition yet, and I hope there's more where this came from down the road.

21 Water & Bodies | American Dream [EP]
Excellent production and very polished songs. "4th of July" is both dreamy yet in-your-face at the same time.
I actually think this may be the best collection of songs they have made since forming this group under the Water & Bodies name.ther tracks:
"Over Under" has its epic and dreamy moments as well.
"Not Alone" has that echoing chorus that always stays in my head.
"All I Remember" is a tune that almost could be something U2 wrote, perhaps around the Joshua Tree period.

This is just a great, polished collection of songs, that for the 4th year in a row, shows the guys write and record songs I enjoy listening to. I think W&B's are 4 guys who I just enjoy hearing the music they are making, even if it's not Kaddisfly. Chris Ruff has one of those voices that is always enjoyable to listen to. And Aaron Tollefson always comes up with melodic guitar lines that make the songs all the more better.

I'm rather excited to hear what they may do next year, perhaps their next full-length. It wouldn't surprise me it's as good if not better than this.

Dyed In The Wool Ghost cover art
20 British Theatre | Dyed in the Wool Ghost [EP]
This is a wonderful follow up to the Self-Titled EP from earlier in 2012. And I would say everything about that 1st EP got better on this. I might liken this in some ways to more of the lighter Oceansize music, but adding more loops and textures. The electronic rhythms work incredibly with the music.

Pretty much all 5 tracks on this EP I find I love in at least 1 or more ways. Perhaps with the electronic side, and some of those huge harmonic and melodic peaks that I loved with Oceansize often. Many of them are incredibly dreamy, I can't help but get goosebumps.

From some of their posts online, a full-length is not far away for these guys, and I think if the stuff on it compares to this EP, I may not miss the absence of Oceansize quite as much as I have the past few years.

19 Hotel of the Laughing Tree | Mammoth Skin, Pt. 1 [EP]
I've become rather Fanboy-ish for Hotel of the Laughing Tree, really since getting so attached to 2011's incredible debut LP Terror and Everything After. This EP came out just a little over a week ago, and I've probably listened to it more than any other release since that time.

Plain and simple, this is in a lot of ways, a continuation in the quality and much of the style of Terror. These guys are just on a roll to me, as every track on this album I am enjoying more each time I hear it. The only small issue is there is a tiny bit of clipping with the cymbals at times, but I noticed similar moments on Terror as well, and it overall didn't matter.

I'll mention some specifics, if for no other reason, I haven't yet given it just came out.

"Make Waves" starts out with this static, but once it gets going, it seems more and more catchy each time I hear it. It's really a playful tune that includes some trumpet and trombones that the guitar harmonizes and echoes it sounds like, really well.

"People That We Please" is another great riffy blues rocker track, with big, emotional vocal parts, that sound like they were doubled and/or using gang style.

"Flowers and Lawyers" has among different parts I like, this great clappy almost latin section that is really catchy. I just love that fun section every time I listen to it.

"Waterfall Games" is an epic track. It has this opening tribal percussion that Local Natives could have used, easily. And I love the way it goes back and forth between that percussion and these heavy echoing riffs. What follows are nice vocal harmonies, which then climax to AJ doing these HUGE vocal chants, which came often on many tracks off Terror, and have returned really well again with this song..

"Brotherly Thunder" is probably my favorite track among all 5 of these songs. Like Waterfall Games, really great, thick bluesy guitar riffs set the tone.It eventually transitions into a quiet section that AJ has the words "I'd like to talk to you one more time, my favorite part of you" then crescendos to a great guitar solo which these guys (Brandon Peterson I suspect) seem to come up with often. The track then goes into a quiet vocal section with distortion and some organs which close with some static, ending the EP like it began.

This is as I posted a few weeks ago, "Pt. 1" so, if the stars align, perhaps it's going to be followed by something else that will tie-in. Hopefully even in 2013. I really love this band, even if they have had some members leave and lineup changes. I think their core sound remains on this EP with AJ Estrada and Brandon Peterson especially.

The music industry may not catch on in huge ways to these guys, but if at least they can continue making music, especially that they believe in, and are not forced to rely on the industry part of making music, the sky may still be the limit. At least in the near future, as this EP is proof they are making some of the best music/or music I enjoy as much as any artist right now. And if they are able to still record stuff like this, even if it's not every year, but every few years, I cannot complain.

18 Godspeed You! Black Emperor | 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
My take on this record is pretty simple. The the two 20+ minute pieces "Mladic" and "We Drift Like Worried Fire" are for the most part perfect in Godspeed's gradual building crescendo style that when they do it well, even as bleak as it can come across at times, really does work. And there isn't another band who does it better. Including segues and a lot of orchestration. Both of them have more than 1 climax that fulfills the time it takes to get it. Or, doesn't feel as long as it clocks in at. A lot like how much of the Skinny Fists record works well.

The other two shorter 6+ minute Drone pieces, frankly, do absolutely nothing for me as they seem to go nowhere, like more or less all Droney/Sludgey/Doomy music.

But those 2 pieces, that makeup more than 40 minutes worth of music on this record, are good enough to warrant this record to be about if not 4-stars. I am not surprised as the music for this record was written originally not long before they went on the long hiatus in 2003.

Now, what they may create in the near future has me curious. What may the past 9 years do to influence new music that they may write? Maybe more samples or kinds of samples? Maybe more chamber instruments? It should be interesting to see what may come next from these guys, I just hope very little of it are like those 2 Drone pieces of music.

17 The Gathering | Disclosure
I wrote a piece about them and ex-lead singer/frontwoman Anneke van Giersbergen early in 2012, and how I found a new interest in this band's music. In some ways, like how I have found a new interest in Anathema as well, and The Gathering and Anathema are actually stylistically, not incredibly different in more than one way.

Both are from Europe, both use emotion, melancholy moods, different textures really well, and as a large focus on the kinds of heavy rock they make. Both actually have evolved from quite different forms of Metal than the kind of music they are making right now. And both The Gathering and Anathema both were formed/started their careers around the same time in the late 80's/early 90's.

And I would say, this album, is the 2nd best of it's kind to get released in 2012, the best being the new Anathema record.

But specifically, I think the biggest strength of this album is the mood and flow. I can listen to it, and not get bored during any of the songs. The dynamics and textures are really refreshing. As much as she sounds a fair amount like Anneke, I really like Silje Wergeland as a singer and many of the vocal lines that go with the music on this album. Some vocal harmonies and point-counter-point sections included.

The song "Heroes For Ghosts" was released as a single and/or video in 2011, and it still remains one of the best things I've ever heard from this band. It's about 11 minutes, and it works incredibly well in the tradition of the multi-part song, . It definitely is one of the best songs of 2012, one I look forward to each time I listen to this record, as it's a tune I always get goosebumps on.

The Gathering may have found a new Renaissance with Silje on vocals, and this album. Like Anathema, I wouldn't be surprised to see more of their music impressing me in the next few years.

Northern Abbey Cover Art
16 Northern Abbey | Northern Abbey [EP]
Sublime is really the best word to describe this music. It's just so delicate, pretty and creates such a great calm and relaxation. This project I only know about through Jessy Ribordy posting about it and being involved. But he's not the chief songwriter I don't think. And this EP is only 3 songs, but those 3 tracks each time I listen to them, I savor the experience.

Stylistically, it does share things with Jessy's project The River Empires, although it also uses some electronic textures at times. But one thing I think it has in common with TRE is just the quality of the writing. It appears a musician named Nick Lambert wrote everything on it. I don't know Nick's background, but these 3 songs are so good, I really wonder if he's done other work of this quality.

Just in using google, Nick Lambert played guitar on Falling Up's last album Your Sparkling Death Cometh, and very well may also have played on the 2 new records they are gradually releasing right now, specifically the music for the songs from Hours.

But in just looking up his background, he played in a band from Seattle called Paper Astronomer in the past, and he also is involved with Jessy Ribordy with the recording/producing music company Osiander.

This is only 3 songs, and what kind of future Northern Abbey has is unclear. Some of that may be how much time Nick has to do it, and if/when the inspiration may come. I guess I hope there's more to come, but I have seen sadly, many really great EPs get released from new bands/projects, and then they go incommunicado for awhile.I really hope there's more to come from Northern Abbey, as the 3 songs on this EP have got me awfully intrigued what may come next from them.

15 Sucré | A Minor Bird
The collaboration between Jeremy Larson of Canon Blue, Darren King of Mutemath and his wife Stacy Dupree-King of Eisley ended up really terrific. And style wise, it doesn't resemble any of their other bands that much, which in a lot of ways I think was a good thing.

This debut album is a great collection of dreamy, orchestral pop tunes with some twists and turns. I often was in awe of it, namely some of the string arrangements and the way Stacy's vocals went along with them.

I almost felt like I was hearing her account in some fantasy land or some book like Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz at times.

I guess the only issue I had with it, and maybe why I never got fully addicted to it was due to how it did carry a similar sound through most if not every track. Now, that sound is really nice and pleasant to me, but in a way, it seemed a little repetitive to a point.

But overall, this was an album I enjoyed each time I listened to it. I'm a little surprised it didn't see more interest actually, given many connection from the members primary bands. Perhaps more interest will arise in the near future. Maybe even a tour, if time allows.

Favorite tracks: "When We Were Young" 'Chemical Reaction" 'No Return."

14 Media Addicts | Autonomy
The follow up to this band's debut album Elsewhere from 2008, which I only have realized how great that album was over the last year. And this album in a lot of ways, is even better.

This band do a very cool style of heavy, instrumental jazz fusion. Most of the songs on this album build for a little while, but eventually lead to these crazy technical sections. The interplay between soprano sax and guitar at times got my head turning.

The members of this band, I guess went to McNally Smith music school in St.Paul. And they sound like they learned a lot about technique and chops from that. There really is some crazy technical work on this, along with great use of dynamics and shifting moods.

Over the last month or more, I've noticed a lot of people on the forums into the band Thank You Scientist, and I can't help but wonder what they might think of this album as well. And these guys don't have a singer who adds a post-hardcore element that hurts my feeling about Thank You Scientist.

No, this is one epic, diverse, technical, textured, moody record, that each time I listen to it, I enjoy more things about it. Maybe my only issue is, a little bit like Between the Buried and Me new album, the entire record ends up feeling a little longer than I'd like, especially to demand everyday addiction. Although the 15 minute closing piece "Zeitgiest" adds something to that. But that track is mesmerizing, as it has this basic rhythm playing in the background on guitar, and then more guitar, sax, bass and drums playing phrases over that, in a really calming fashion. I actually listen to that track, and think it could go on for a lot longer and I'd be fine. I may have to try hitting repeat on that track sometime in the future to see if I'm right about that.

13 Amanda Palmer &The Grand Theft Orchestra | Theatre Is Evil
This album will be known 1st and foremost for the unbelievable Kickstarter campaign and media attention following it. $1.2 million dollars, for this album along with a book, art shows, and a ton of other stuff. But beyond that jaw dropping accomplishment, this ended up being a really great record. And one I without question prefer overall to 2008's Who Killed Amanda Palmer An album I still really enjoy.

I do think after spending enough time with this album, it's 2-sided in some ways. I find the 1st 8 tracks or so to all have something I like and don't have reason to skip. The best or my favorite probably still being the extremely catchy "Want It Back." That song is pure energy.

I find the 2nd half or tracks after the intermission piece to be a little hit and miss. "Massachusetts Avenue" maybe being the best, as I love the driving rhythm on that track. And the closing track "Olly Olly Oxen Free" does have a great, epic feel to it. Amanda seems to be closing the book on an adventure with that one. The ole, going out with a bang.

Her band, and the string arrangements add a lot to this record, as they did at times on WKAP. The varied styles also make this album rather diverse and ranging with different emotions. I guess it is worth adding, seeing many of the videos, with Amanda of course frequently topless, kind of puts some of the songs on here in a different light.

Is this album a concept album? It may be. I found WKAP also to be kind of conceptual. She never seems to write songs that don't have hidden or multiple meanings. But as the title suggests, this album has it's theatrical side, although most of her music seems to. "Cabaret" almost could be regarded as a sub-genre of theatre anyway.

I should also add, 1st off being a backer to the Kickstarter, I pledged an amount that got me one of the special hardbound books that included the CD of the album. And the book was shiny and very well made. Along with, a free download of the bonus tracks, which I liked more or less every song, namely the "Ukele Anthem" which while it is just Amanda singing a song about playing a Ukele, only singing and a Ukele. That track has some of her best, most brutally honest, funny, pop-culture filled lyrics. I think it may be the greatest song with a Ukele ever written.

All in All, one of the best records of 2012, and to cap it off, she put on another highly memorable and outrageous concert at 1st Ave back in October. So to say this was a big year for Amanda would be accurate. I'm not sure if she'll do another Kickstarter campaign next, as she did for this, but Amanda proved that her music and everything that goes along with her approach as an artist (exhibitionist?) is worth paying attention to.

12 Mike Linden | Bubble & Squeak
This is one of the best jazz or jazz-fusion records I've heard in the last few years. Mike Linden is a guitarist from Burnsville that along with drummer JP Bouvet I guess met keyboardist Dave Mackay and bassist Jason Weiss out at Berklee college of music and the 4 of them formed the band The Super Pilots.

The music on this record is I guess mostly if not all music The Super Pilots wrote and those 4 play on it. I'm not sure why exactly it was released under Mike's name specifically, but I guess it doesn't matter either way.

This band is really tight, as at times they capture elements of a lot of the classic Jazz Fusion stuff like Return to Forever and Weather Report. And at times even some others, such as on the maybe my favorite part of this record, the "Paper Planes" suite, Mike's guitar solo namely, almost sounds rather Marillion or Pink Floyd like.

This record is maybe a bit under 40 minutes, and I often get the sense I could have it last a bit longer. But at the same time, they do so much with each track, it is less-is-more in many ways. Even the last track "The Adventures of Uncle Pennybags" shows Mike's influences by writing what is essentially a country (or bluegrass?) piece. I actually can't help but wonder what the The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra folks might think of that piece. Perhaps Mike and/or The Super Pilots will share a bill with them at some point. The audience for both would seemingly appeal to the other anyway.

11 Anathema | Weather Systems
In a lot of ways, this album is a continuation of what I and many others are considering a modern classic in 2010's We're Here Because We're Here. This record has those powerful, flowing sections of beauty and melancholy that are impossible for me to not give in to. It has those goosebumps I never forget about.

I would even say just say the the opening "Untouchable" suite is pretty much as breathtaking as anything off WHBWH. The way it builds, the textures, the female vocals, and the climax. I almost get to the point after playing that, I'm a bit down that there isn't anything as overwhelming on the rest of the record.

Now, that doesn't mean the rest of it is rubbish, but I think it's obvious, I would have placed this album a bit higher had their been. I mean there still aren't any tracks to skip, including the closing track "Internal Landscapes" which like on WHBWH, they used a clip or sample, but instead of a woman talking about light and more uplifting things, it's about a man whose recalling a near-death experience. And that does kind of give a sense of closure and fulfillment when this album ends.

Anathema keep making terrific records, I almost wonder how long they will be able to keep this up. But they are kind on a roll here, as 2011's re-working of some older material's Falling Deeper finished rather high in that year's index, and now this. In a way, they kind of have filled the void without Porcupine Tree and some others making this style of melancholic progressive rock. I guess I only hope they keep making stuff like this, as it keeps ending up rather high at the end of the year for me.

10 Marillion | Sounds That Can't Be Made
The 1st proper full-length since 2008's double LP Happiness is the Road. I enjoyed that record, but can't say I have ever fallen addicted to it. And of course Marillion are my band, my favorite all-time band, and I have a fanboy bias no matter what they release.

But I can't lie to myself or anyone online here, I am going to evaluate this for what it is, just so I don't appear to be drinking their Kool-Aid to the point of delusion of drunken-ness, haha.

This is a good record, and I've felt more or less since the 1st week of hearing it, I enjoy enough of it to prefer to Happiness overall. But, it also is hardly perfect, nor without music I am skipping still. Although I must not forget how with Marillion, I have had many songs/albums have my opinion change. For better or worse.

But as far as details, "Montreal" is a favorite on this album, and one of the best pieces the band has made historically. I love the epic nature of it, with different parts of a narrative of naturally, their experience going to the Fan Weekends in Montreal. But I think they hit on all cylinders with the textures, dynamics, vocal lines and even the lyrics. I really like how Hogarth used some pop-culture references on it.

My other highlights would be:
-"Power" I always love how it builds to a heavy climax.
-"Sounds That Can't Be Made" which features some great extended vocal lines, which may be more based on how they *sound*, rather than what they say (the whole "Aurora Borealis" section namely).
-"Gaza" an Epic piece, that is rather dark tonally/texturally, but has enough twists and powerful moments, that the love this song often gets is warranted. Although I wish "Montreal" would receive even half the credit that this track gets. Some have compared it to "Ocean Cloud" or "The Invisible Man" but honestly, I never followed those comparisons, save for the fact they were written in multiple-sections. I would liken it more to an epic like "Catherdral Wall" or "House" in that it is subtle and methodical at times, but there's still enough things to enjoy and notice, it doesn't get boring.

The rest of this record, I haven't fallen in love with, but I'd say save for "Lucky Man" I don't hate. "The Sky Above the Rain" is nice and pretty, and uplifting in some ways, that it does work well as a closing track. "Invisible Ink" and "Pour My Love" I enjoyed watching the documentary that came with the Deluxe edition and got some more from them. But I can't say they grab me at this point, like even some of the lighter, quieter tunes in the past have from the guys.

And "Lucky Man" I hope time is more kind to. I don't loathe it, but I just struggle with it more than I should. They made some comparisons to an Abbey Road element on it on the DVD, and maybe that is there, but for some reason it hasn't clicked enough with me yet. But in the case of this band, I'm not going to write it off just yet, such as a tune like "See it Like a Baby" or "Most Toys" from 2007's Somewhere Else for example.

9 Ramona Falls | Prophet
Brent Knopf left Menomena in 2011, more or less to focus on this project or band entirely. And while Ramona's debut record Intuit was really good, and has probably only seemed better through time, I think it's clear Brent's focus on Ramona now showed a lot on this album. Maybe even 1st and foremost in the really unusual cover art/design for the sleeve. But then again, the cool, interactive element to some of the Menomena albums, I suspect Brent had to do with as well.

But I guess the biggest things to mention about this album, Prophet, are it maybe includes the best track Ramona has done, and maybe even Brent's musical career in "Spore." I have loved that tune ever since hearing it last Spring. It's just so perfect. The lyrics "ready or nohhhht, heeeeeere I commmmme" that lead to that catchy interval pattern, more or less has been planted permanently in my brain. When the name Ramona Falls comes up, I likely always will think of that song, and that riff with those vocal lines. It's probably even more memorable than the "Always Right" from Intuit, lol.

But the entire record is not without a song that I'd skip. I think this record is sort of greater than the sum of its parts, which I think Intuit is/was as well. But I think the difference being, Intuit doesn't have anything as good as "Spore."

But just as far as what Brent has done with this album from Menomena, the guitar riffs, vocal range, lyrics, string parts, percussive element, lead piano. I mean he brought it all with him, yet still seems to be adding new things. There's ballads on this album, there's some rather dark tunes. I think the 2nd to last track "Proof" could have ended the album, as it has a great sad, melodic ending. But he included "Helium" as an uplifting and at times almost mystical way to close out the record.

Even on the Vinyl which I recently bought after seeing Ramona for the 2nd time last month, because it was printed on 180 gram vinyl, it ended up being a double LP, and 2 bonus tracks were included. And the 2 extras "Miracle Cure" and "Bveloed" are both as good as most of this record.

Brent Knopf is one of my favorite songwriters working today, really going back to the 1st time I heard "Wet and Rusting." I think like Casey Crescenzo of The Dear Hunter, I hope he keeps making music, especially that he believes in. This album is really just more evidence of his talents as a songwriter and musician. I think there always will be people that enjoy his music. Whether he can get Ramona to the level of "Self Sustaining" like Menomena kind of has, I dunno. It would be nice certainly, but to expect it might be wishful thinking in the short term. Especially since I really didn't see a ton of momentum like I thought there might be when this album came out. Namely from the progressive rock crowd. I think part of that is he's not prog enough for them. And the college rock crowd may be wishing he was still with Menomena. I wonder if Ramona Falls could get on a tour with a band with a size-able fan base, such as Minus the Bear or even Local Natives it might help a lot. I dunno, but I guess for him to keep making music, hopefully how close to self-sustaining Ramona Falls gets, I hope isn't relied on entirely.

Forest Park EP Cover Art

8 Forest Park | Forest Park [EP]
I heard this EP I think literally the same weekend I heard Northern Abbey for the 1st time. And I totally remember being in awe of both of them. I actually think the Northern Abbey EP I preferred just slightly, but I kept going back to this and liking it more.

And maybe it's not so coincidental, how like Northern Abbey, this is a project being made from the Pacific Northwest in Portland, Oregon, where it seems so many artists I enjoy are from.

One thing I totally was wrong about earlier in the year, at least I think.Forest Park does not include any members of the Portland band Typhoon. I think Typhoon may have posted about them on Facebook, and for some reason, I took that to mean it was a sideproject of some of Typhoon's members. But at least in scanning the credits, there are no names listed on their Facebook pages that match.

But, assuming that is the case, it may only increase the upside this band may have in the future, as this is a breathtaking EP that is in some ways, Post Rock of a sort, that may be Post Rock at it's finest. I am blown away every time I hear how incredibly dreamy and sublime the music on here is.

The female vocal harmonies and subtle melodies, with instrumentation that just soothes my eardrums, like a cool breeze on a hot summer day. The trumpet works so well harmonically on the music here, I almost wish I could pick mine up and play along sometimes.

This EP is like 25 minutes long, but I almost always want it to last another 25 or more minutes. The sensations experienced with it, are almost like being calmed and hypnotized by nature at times. Maybe it's the female voices that help and make it so dreamy. I might almost compare them to Warpaint in that sense.

I highly hope there is more from this project in the near future, and I just noticed they made a video for their epic 10+ minute track "Golden" a few months ago, that's on Vimeo. I'll probably post about it in a short while after finishing this, as it was just so wonderful to see the music with the visuals of the band members I think, go about on journeys and really connect with what that tune creates throughout.

I may be ahead of myself a bit, but I may find along with Pepe Deluxe and maybe Gatherer, Forest Park could be my favorite discovery of 2012. This may be the start of even bigger things for them. Especially just within fans of Post Rock, this band could probably gain a lot more fans. But, I always say that, and I'm not sure if it really ever has happened. There's always a 1st (or 2nd and 3rd counting Warpaint and Local Natives I suppose).

I think this EP ranks up there with some other breathtaking EP's over the last decade. Distrails Virginia Creeper , Call Florence Pow's The Strange SituationThe Dear Hunter's Act I: The Lake South, the River North, or  John Arch's A Twist of Fate . It's just *that* good.

7 House of Fools | Versus the Beast
It was a long 5 year wait for this album to finally come out. I absolutely love House of Fools epic debut album Live and Learn from 2007. And with the delay and lack of news from the band, I at one point thought they had to be done.

But thankfully they are not. And this album, while I'm skeptical I will ever grow as attached to it like their debut record, really came out at least as good as I could have hoped.

It's a record that does flow rather well, and unlike L&L, it actually is not as lengthly, nor does it feel long. I suppose track wise, my favorite on it is the heavy energetic rocker "Need to Be Free." I just get goosebumps when I hear it. The whole

"Let's Talk About Me, But I've Got Nothing To Say, No I don't wanna fight I don't want Control, I Need to Be Free...Let's Talk About You, You Got No One To Trust 
Listen! Listen!..I've always heard about it. Misery and Love are company"

The lyrics may not be 100% correct as I can't find them published anywhere, including in the digipack copy of the cd I bought. But like many of the songs and lyrics on L&L, this song speaks to me in some way. It's just a big Fuck You to the music industry among other things they have gone through over the last 5 years. And myself, I can relate as even with House of Fools, you have a band who defies categorization, yet still manages to write accessible, engaging songs. And very few people have ever caught on to them, unlike many other bands, and I scratch my head as to why.

In some ways songs like "Dogfight," "Time" and a few others on here, the same can be said about. "Time" I often get goosebumps from, just in the sad nature of it and the guitar work.

The rest of this record is without a bad song, and many which I have only enjoyed with more time. There's psychedelic stuff on here, there's nice bluesy ballads, there's some happy uplifting parts. And then there's a song like "When the Lights Go Out" which starts out with an alarm that wakes what sounds like singer/guitarist Josh King up in the morning, and then you hear a series of voice-mails, just exposing what goes on with their situation with the music industry. It reminds me of what the band 3 did on one of their earliest records, displaying how they may be too good for the music industry. Sarcastic, yet profound.

But I'm not sure if it is just the industry, but the lack of momentum in fans they never fully received. I think this album is a minor miracle for being released and I would put them along side Water & Bodies, Annuals, and some others (Ramona Falls perhaps?), Bend Sinister maybe, in bands who maybe are just too clever to gain the masses attention long enough. It's not like they can be accused of not having the talent, but like dredg, or even King's X back in the 90's and many others (King Crimson even to an extent), they deserve better, but don't have any business compromising their art.

So like those modern acts, even if they can make music that reaches some people, and can at least play live in their home state of North Carolina's Region, they may at least stick around and do music on their terms for awhile longer. I guess only time will tell. But in the mean time, I still really dig this record, and may still discover new things down the road. A worthy follow-up certainly.

6 Ne Obliviscaris | Portal of I
This was a long time a coming, as I think the 1st time I checked this band out and their now classic demo/EP The Aurora Veil, was in 2009. And a lot of what transpired with their guitarist getting kicked out of Australia and what not was posted in this blog and other places. And then this info came out in late 2011, etc. and this album immediately became a huge anticipation for myself among 1000's of other Metal fans around the globe.

And I guess overall, this album did not disappoint me, as it's highly layered, cleanly produced progressive death/black metal album with great violin arrangements that complement the varied vocals including shrieks, and a lot of the blast beats and guitar work.

But, I guess it was more or less in 1st or 2nd place from the point of hearing it, until about a month ago. I just came to the conclusion, while it does flow well, the structures of the songs don't drag much, and so on, it does end up getting repetitive to a point. It really does sound like Opeth with Violin, but for 45 or 50 minutes, even with a lot of similar parts, might not get old. But when you go over an hour, it gets to be a little bit a chore, I couldn't honestly say it was a perfect record.

Nor is the album I like to compare it to, In Vain's wonderful debut record The Latter Rain. I guess sometimes epic Metal can be a little long for me to listen to, to the point of addiction. And so while I still really love this album and band a lot, I found myself not up for playing it so often. It sort of went into mood territory. And I would say it still is without question the best Metal release of 2012, over some time, it didn't age quite as well with me as I would have expected.

For those unfamiliar, looking to check them out, I would suggest any number of songs. The 5th and 6th 9-12 minute tracks "And Plague Flowers the Kaleidoscope" and "As Icicles Fall" might be as good as anything.

But they have received a fair amount of attention this year for it, so much so, I might call 2012 the year of Ne Obliviscaris in some ways. But what they do next holds my curiosity. The 3 tracks on The Aurora Veil were re-recorded for this album anyway, and they have a new drummer, so their next release might not be exactly like Portal of I. We'll see, and hopefully they will manage to come do a tour of North America (and Europe) at some point soon. See Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus. If those 2 down under bands can tour here, these guys should be able to as well.

5 Bend Sinister | Small Fame
Their 1st album since 2008's masterpiece Stories of Brothers, Tales of Lovers . They released 2 EPs leading up to this record, and it's odd how those EPs were good, but not as amazing overall as their other work. But this record seemed to include a lot of music I love still, so much I enjoy it more than those 2 EPs.

Now, compared to Stories, and especially another previous release like Through the Broken City, Bend Sinister seem to be leaning more towards 2 genres specifically. Power Pop and Classic Rock. Which I can't say I prefer, but also can't say I don't like. This new album Small Fame, maybe has the most music of those styles, compared to any of their other releases.

Just take the shorter, catchy tunes like "She Don't Give It Up," "One Shot," "Got You On My Mind," and "Give It a Rest," all have those little hooks that I enjoy. They also feature some of Dan Moxon's extended vocal lines that I have always loved about Bend Sinister.

But getting more into this album, the tracks that I totally look forward to are the likes of "Quest for Love" which to me is like an Iron Maiden tribute (although Moxon I recall mentioned Dio, which I hear as well). It's really epic, yet it's just over 3 minutes long. I actually think that tune could have been on various radio stations, from Hard Rock/Metal to the college rock ones, and it would have fit. But has it? no, of course not. But perhaps it may in 2013, when they do more touring in the States.

"My Lady" is another I totally love the back and forth/call-and-response element. And the bad-ass bluesy keyboards, have this energy I totally love."Hot Blooded Man" and "She Lost Her Love For Rock and Roll" as well. Really great, infectious melodies, that lead to a twist, which is kind of a Bend Sinister trademark of sorts.

Even the slow, dark ballad "Black Magic Woman" I fall for, as it does kind of remind me of Led Zeppelin (and not Carlos Santana) in some ways.

The only track I skip, is the the repetitive "We Know Better." I'm not sure how or why they included this on the record, but it just seems rather simplistic and namely the lyrics just seem to be repeated too many times. I wish they had included "Things Will Be Better" from 2010's Spring Romance EP instead, but I suppose that song was older and didn't fit with the writing period of the music for this album. But so be it.

I am drinking a little of their Kool-Aid here, but after 6 or more long years hoping this band will finally get their due, I am thinking it may finally come in 2013 when they get to do some more extensive touring in the US. Whether it does happen or not, I am a fan no matter. But it is nice to finally have a little bit of optimism about 1 of MY bands for once. I guess we'll see what happens next year. But in the mean time, Small Fame, another excellent record from maybe my favorite band from Canada (save for Rush of course, :p).

4 Gatherer | So Be It
This band and debut LP sort of came out of nowhere. Thanks to fellow down-under musician Kimbra (who this blog of course knows pretty well), mentioning this group, shouting out to the prog fans, I was led to their music.

I guess first and foremost, the thing I like about them is they really don't sound like any other band specifically. And they also managed to write driving, memorable songs, that combine a bunch of genres, but still don't lose sight of the songwriting.

The two standout tracks on this album I find to be I think the 2 singles. "Thrive" and "Regular Frontier." Both of those have these twists and surprising harmonic and melodic parts, while still being heavy and riffy. Take a band like Faith No More, who combined pop with Metal and experimental elements; Gatherer, while they don't sound a lot like FNM, are sort of doing the same thing.

Their use of vocal harmonies, and their approach to vocals, while I didn't love right away, really began to grow on me fast. I would go back to them and not have issue with them at all after a few times through. Their singer yells, certainly, much in the Punk or Post-Hardcore punk style, but actually he sounds like he has refined his style quite a bit. I say that, after checking out the music they made under the name "This City Sunrise" which naturally, I found shared qualities with Gatherer, but the screaming was more chaotic.

Although, I'll fully admit, I have grown to really love This City Sunrise as well, which is odd because bands like Deftones and even Exotic Animal Petting Zoo (or even a band like The Fall of Troy), I never got past the screaming fully. EAPZ I did to a point, but this band, I think I've found a kind of hardcore screaming I am able to get past. So much, I'm reminded when I got into Between the Buried and Me and so many other of those Extreme Metal bands. There's just too much to offer in their style of music and songwriting itself, the screaming issues become non-issues.

And the fact Gatherer seem to have toned that part of their style down a little bit, may ultimately be in my preference and their favor.

To mention other highlights, I suppose songs like "Camp Creative," 'Elvis Horizon," 'Hammer," "Sinister," "Mr.," all really grew on me, rather fast actually. The whole record did. They also had excellent production work on this. The drummer is quite technical, I wonder if he may enjoy his Jazz or much like Kimbra, a lot of those drummer using poly-rhythms. I actually think the drum work is as great a part of this record as anything. Its just that with it's changing times so often, and odd minor key parts, may be what throw some people off. They sort of remind me of Everything Everything in that sense, in that you can hear the pop side and a lot of their influences, but they seem to blend those with such an unorthodox style of songwriting, they really require some time digest. At least I think for some. Myself? well, I enjoyed Pain of Salvation right off the bat, and many other bands, so I may have a little bit more of an ability to digest subtle things that may bug others right away.

But this album was really not talked about much, save for in their home country. And that was largely due to the build up, as like Kimbra, I guess they built a local fan base gradually every year since their inception, just not yet really outside of their home. Maybe in 2013 that will happen. And maybe like Kimbra, their record will get released overseas and they could even tour here. I think for the avant-garde Prog, Metal, Post-Hardcore, etc fan, this band could really be one to get into. Perhaps with some time, or their next record even.

3 Vuvuzela | The Hollow Choir
I posted about the Kickstarter campaign this project was setting up, during the Summer of 2011. And their goal was to raise enough money to kickstart their work on a Debut EP. And they did reach and exceed their goal in fact, and I do wonder a little bit, if the exceeding of their goal led them to record enough songs for a full-length album.

Now, Vuvuzela is one of Josh Benash's main focuses as a musician, with Kiss Kiss out of commission. Along with a solo record he released earlier in 2012, Josh had a pretty busy and big year in 2012.

Kiss Kiss released an EP and 2 full-lengths in their history. The 2 full-lengths, namely their debut record Reality vs. the Optimist among it's unique qualities, was how short it was. Something like 32 minutes long, but it always *felt* longer, at least to me and some others. And I suspect this debut record of Vuvuzela's was about that long as well, in that I think Josh almost comes by making albums of that length.

There are 8 tracks on here, and while there's a ton of ideas and different twists and turns, the length is absolutely perfect, I've come to conclude. Each track has just enough of their waltzy-prog, to satisfy. Perhaps that is 1 of Josh's many talents, in the ability to compose albums of the perfect length, regardless of how short they look like on paper.

Style wise, this album uses a lot of wonderful harp along with piano, male (Josh) and female (Stephanie Babirak) vocals. Stephanie's are in spots, and harmonies which really complement's Josh impassioned and great range of vocals at times.

I would suggest songs, but I honestly love every song on here. In other words, this album would be best just to listen to all at once. But just to say specifics, "Star Shoes," "Sylvia," 'The Hollow Choir," and "Rings and Things" all have those little sections I totally love. I wrote down some words about this album the other day that describe it:

Dramatic (and not Melodramatic)
Symphonic (just some of the orchestral arrangements, and some of the choir vocals kind of give this element).

I really can't say enough good things about this, although unlike a few other projects like Forest Park, I knew about this a few years ago, and know how good of a songwriter Josh Benash is/can be. So, the end result didn't come out maybe as surprising as some others. But that doesn't change how I love this record and imagine I will go back to often in the future. As in, if I'm up for some Kiss Kiss, I probably will pull this record out as well. In fact, I think in some ways, it may be the best thing Josh has done, which is great to notice. I hope Vuvuzela has a lot more in-store, even with the experience of Kiss Kiss hiatus, perhaps the 2nd time around, will be a little more fruitful for Josh and co.

I must not forget, the upright bass work on this album was played (and written?) by Kiss Kiss bassist James O'Keefe. So, at least part (and more than just Josh) of Kiss Kiss are still making music together in Vuvuzela. But Stephanie Babirak I really enjoy and appreciate her great harp work on this as well as vocals, and drummer Ben Goldstein as well. So, it's not as if Josh didn't surround himself with some great musicians, like he did in Kiss Kiss. But it will certainly be interesting to see what happens with Vuvuzela in the coming years. Hopefully there's more where The Hollow Choir came from.

2 Brice Plays Drums | Man the Animal Cannon
I'm not sure how in-depth I am going to be able to get about this record, in a blurb that doesn't maybe allow it. But simply put, I fucking love this record, and enjoy it more probably every time I listen to it. Just the little nuances, secondary guitar parts, point-counter-point reflective parts between the guitar and bass, or guitar and piano (or more than 1 guitar?).

This album consists of 3 epics, and I would say you likely have to enjoy multi-movement/multi-part songs to dig this. But of course, when they work well, I am a total sucker for them (and probably regard them as greater than any normal 3-5 minute song, even however great it may be).

"Freight Train Blues" I think it's worth mentioning, even though it's kind of obvious, the fact the rhythm at the beginning sounds like a train starting to take off. I failed to mention that earlier this year. But among the 3 epics on this record, I think I lean towards that being my favorite. But between those little sections of guitar parts, or basslines. Some piano, or the drum rhythms. Or even just Michael Higgins vocal lines, despite some that are not entirely understandable, I think he has improved a fair amount as a singer.

"The Jester" includes one of those great, ironic, lyrics "all the while I'm on the brink. I'll make you clap, or make you think, all the while on the brink, I'll fade my loyality to poison-your-drink!"
The organ parts, the wah-wah pedal guitar interludes, fast-picking sections. This track amazes me sometimes, and also it creates sort of a fantasy element, given the name, I sort of imagine it telling a tale taking place in Ancient times, with a King, Queen, subjects, etc and the Jester working for the King, but also being devious and plotting.

"Delta Waves" of course the longest of the 3 epics, but it doesn't necessarily feel the longest (nothing on this record feels long to me anyway). The transitions are excellent, between a bunch of different tempos and guitar and bass lines, along with piano. I really do hear Yes/Steve Howe a lot on this track, sort of in the Tales From Topographic Oceans or Close to the Edge period. The harmonics are happy, and it sort feels uplifting at times, the flow makes it work so well. The 2nd half has this cool marching melody that gets faster gradually, and you just have to follow where it leads. Of course Michael comes up with a line in the epic climax that I always love, "I've got to run before you driiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!"

I really am marveled by this record, a band who just know how to make the extensive, multiple idea-ed (to make up a word) song/suite work so fucking well. Whether the progressive rock scene, and the "super secret society of taste makers" (who need to go on "double/super secret probation" of course :p) ever actually catch on or even just give this band a shot, is totally unexpected. But still not without warrant to want or hope for.

This band among some others, are proof progressive rock is alive and well in Minnesota. At least for however long they can make music. And like Lehto & Wright who made a prog masterpiece in 2010's Children's Songs, and Greg Herriges whose last record, 2009's Telluric Currents, this album and band's music will be around to discover. Cloud Cult is doing progressive rock and from my hometown, which is great, but there are others, like those I just mentioned and on the 2012 Index (Media Addicts, Mike Linden, The Royal Veil, etc) and BPD who could find a wider audience, it just may take some time. Either way, I know I am on board no matter who else catches on to Brice. And I totally can't wait to see what they put out next.

1 Pepe Deluxé | Queen of the Wave
Well well well. The band and album I got into early in 2012, just out of curiosity in seeing this record #1 on's Chart. And I caught on to this fast, but also said I still doubted this would finish as the #1 album by the end of the year. And, while I did confess to later not thinking that, I was wrong. This became a classic with just a little time.

It became one of those records that had so many reasons to like and listen to it. It reminded me of many other bands/artists, and the vintage element helped that. But somehow I totally fell for the cinematic/theatrical side to this, while the energy, catchy-ness., textures, tones, instrumentation (vintage sounding as in Hammond Organ, Harpsichord, Flute, fuzz guitar, surf/Dick Dale guitar channeling), vocal lines, vocalists, and concept just all grabbed me.

I think this band has created over the evolution of their sound, a very unique style. Some have called it campy, I just don't give a shit. The songs, and atmosphere, and layers, and even the length being about 40 minutes or so, just work perfectly.

I guess the only thing that gets me is the way they have this mysterious quality about them. Those short films/videos sort of make you wonder how much money they spent to make them. They look really vintage, like they were taken from films or television from the 1960's. Irwin Allen or something out of The Twilight Zone. And I love that, but also just wonder, what is the deal with them? Their online presence is just mysterious. I suppose I never invested hours upon hours into their background. I know James Spectrum is maybe the biggest force behind this group and Paul Malmstrom also is pretty involved. And those 2 guys are from and may still reside in Finland. But other members of the band reside in other parts. Even just the different female singers, who sound like they are from a Motown group.

One comparison was to Janelle Monae, which that fit with those singers certainly. But there are more than one. And I'm not sure if it's Spectrum or Malmstrom, or someone else who has the deep, baritone Sinatra-like voice, but he has more vocals on their older records for some reason.

I guess as far as Queen of the Wave, like many other records on the index, I like it best as a whole, but of course the tracks that are worth mentioning I suppose
-"Go Supersonic!"
-"A Night and A Day"
-"Contain Thyself" (love the organ on this one, although most of the organ work on this album is outstanding and totally vintage sounding).
-'The Storm" (one of a number of tracks that feature that incredible Dick Dale-esque guitar work)..

One other thing I can't forget is, one band I don't think I ever compared them to was, in little sections, one of my all-time favorites, in Apes and Androids. Some of those operatic, chanting vocals ala Queen, Pepe Deluxe use on this. Just off the top of my head, but there are a few other points where I am reminded of Blood Moon and the cool textures Apes and Androids used. I suspect the people in Pepe don't have any clue who Apes and Androids are, but it would be interesting to learn if they did.

And something I can say that Pepe Deluxe and this album do share in common with Apes and Androids is, I discovered it/them just randomly one day, and fell in love after doubting them. I totally love it when that happens. But it doesn't happen every day, or even to this extent every year. But with them, it did sort of happen this year, and to that I am grateful. Whether 2013 holds for that to happen or not, I have no clue. I do know 2013 there's a boatload of artists who have albums I'm extremely excited about to hear. And it wouldn't surprise me at least in terms of depth, 2013 surpasses 2012. But, 2012 at least did have a number of great releases and EPs namely. But for now, 2012 was only top-heavy, hence why I didn't even rank the releases past 23. But as usual, I wouldn't be surprised if in the coming years, a lot of 2012 albums will come up and impress me, some even that I knew about but didn't have enough time for this year. But with that thought it is time to put this portion (I have an editorial/confessional that's still in the oven, that I should get to finishing soon) of the 2012 Index to bed.

Here's looking forward to 2013....and plans to better the process for myself especially, as I have some new plans again to do this as best as I can.