2012 is certainly shaping up to be an interesting year for new music. While I don't think I've heard THAT ONE monster "album of the year" yet, there have been many great ones keeping this year sounding fantastic. Here's just a few rocking my world of late.
Lee Ranaldo-Between the Tides and the Times
For my money, Lee has always been the not-so-quiet X-Factor making Sonic Youth one of the best bands of the past 3 decades. While Thurston Moore and Kim Gordan's songs stuck out more, Lee's masterful guitar and unique tracks are what made the band truly an organically beautiful sounding thing. The best thing about this fantastic solo project from Lee is not that it sounds like the stuff we've come to expect from him, but that it contains so many "left-field" curveballs that it shocks me. Acoustic strumming? Background harmony vocals? Slide guitar? Masterful songcraft? Its here in all it's surprising beauty!
Dr. John-Locked Down
At this stage in Dr. John's incomperable career, the man has nothing to prove, which is what makes his 2012 masterpiece "Locked Down" so exciting. Working with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, the two have created an album that sounds as fresh and unique as anything in the good Doctors 50+ year career. This is a must hear and top 10 album of the year for sure!
Founded in 1986, Karl Wallinger's World Party has consistently been one of the best and most underrated bands on the planet. Being a 5-CD box set of unreleased studio and live tracks, I fully understand that "Arkeology" is for fans only. But if you are even remotely a fan; what a treasure trove this collection is! Sounding at times like Prince jamming with The Beatles being produced by Brian Wilson; not many can produce tunes as sweet as Karl Wallinger. Dive in for one of the most enjoyable musical feasts of the year!
As a huge Neil fan I must admit my initial disappointment when I read his first album in 9 years to feature the mighty Crazy Horse was going to be a collection of American folk/rock standards. Neil is one of the best songwriters in the game, so why would anyone want to hear him croak his way though well worn classics like "This Land is Your Land" or "Oh Susannah"?! Well, call me pleasantly surprised. "Americana" is not only one of the most fun collections of songs you will hear, I would say it is also one of the most poignant. While Neil and the band are clearly having a blast playing these tracks, I can't help but feel by playing a tune like "Clementine" Neil is making his own political statement; longing for and trying to remind us of a traditional past that has long been bought and sold. Hear the full album in all it's sloppy Crazy Horse goodness below!
The Toure-Raichel Collection-The Tel Aviv Session
Perhaps my favorite album of the year so far, this magical collaboration between Malian guitar king Vieux Farka Touré and Israli pianist Idan Raichel is the stuff dreams are made of. Captivating and invigorating are small words for how this music will make you feel!
Growing up in Chicago in the 90's there were two things you couldn't escape; the Chicago Bulls and the Smashing Pumpkins. For almost a decade, Billy Corgan wrote the best rock and roll anthems on the planet. And in 2012, after almost a decade of doing the exact opposite, fans and critics had reason to be skeptical of any new material; a reality obviously not lost on Corgan. The fact that "Oceana" is one of the strongest albums (yes, ALBUMS) in Billy's catalog is something just short of a miracle. The songwriting sounds focused, fresh, and most importantly; features those beautifully unique "Pumpkins" melodies greatly lacking in recent years. Welcome back Billy!
After setting the literary world on fire with an ode to her touching relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe ("Just Kids"), the amazing Patti Smith is back to rocking, and sounding sweeter then ever on her first album in 5 years. And I mean literally sounding sweeter then ever! While "Banga" features Smith's trademark "beatnik" meditations inspired from things as diverse as Amy Winehouse, a 15th-century painting by Pierro della Francesca, to the ancient explorers, it also features her best and clearest voice to date. The guitars shimmer and shake, all the while with Patti's voice taking us to places that only she can. "Banga" is by far one of her best.