KINGBLIND: Music, Art & Entertainment Music News, Album & Concerts Reviews, MP3's, Music Videos, Art / Entertainment and much more!

Archive for December, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

KINGBLIND TOP 15 ALBUMS OF 2012 (#5-1) (PART 3 OF 3)


Here is what you have all been waiting for. The top 15 albums of 2012. Broken down into 3 parts. (15 thru 11) – (10 thru 6) -(5 to 1)

Today we have our final batch.. So enjoy numbers 5 through number 1..

Kingblind.com is going on Christmas break, We will return in early January.. Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!!

1. Lee Fields- Faithful Man

Lee Fields, he’s paid some dues. He packed up and fled from Wilson, North Carolina in 1967, following the footsteps of his heroes to New York City. He began to sing and dance in clubs where people literally threw money at his feet. He began a recording career two years later, releasing cuts that go for silly money on auction sites. After a tough couple of decades, his stock began to rise with the advent of crate-digging hip hopsters, giving him a new lease on life and leading to a true re-emergence with three albums for Ace.

On his second album for Brooklyn’s Truth & Soul, he’s been backed the label’s in-house band The Expressions (also to be heard on Aloe Blacc’s I Need a Dollar and records by El Michels Affair, Adele, Liam Bailey, Ghostface Killah and Jay-Z, to name a few). With this support, he looks set – five decades into his career – to follow similarly inclined and rejuvenated acts such as Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones into a broader spotlight.

Tracks like I Still Got It reaffirms that this dude, even at 61, is “cool and dangerous” – and back, back, back. You’re the Kind of Girl, Moonlight Mile and I’m Still Hanging On each hark back to the sweet, swishy, southern-states soul of Al Green, and to The Moments’ idolisation of the ladies. Nicknamed ‘Little JB’ in his early years, he was seen as a sort of mini-me James Brown, but there’s no Little JB here, more echoes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Percy Sledge. This is no pastiche however, and Fields has found in The Expressions a band that can flip from Muscle Shoals to Philly soul lushness to sweaty talcum shuffling, showcasing his versatility and establishing him as very much his own artist.

With the last few years seeing a revival in ‘authentic soul’ via the likes of Amy Winehouse, Plan B and Adele, it should be no problem for Fields to find a new audience with this collection. The man is worth some love.

2. Jack White- Blunderbuss

Having recently divorced his wife of six years, it’s tempting to interpretJack White’s debut solo album as his very own version of Dylan’s breakup classic, Blood on the Tracks. After all, with its bruised, scabrous lyrics – full of nosebleeds, burst lips, missing limbs and pummelled digits – and preoccupation with love gone not so much bad as cataclysmic, it sounds as though the erstwhile White Stripe has been eviscerated by his loss.  

But it’s important to remember that, not only was the split apparently amicable (his ex sings back-up on three songs here), but that White has never been a confessional songwriter in the conventional sense. Despite his deep devotion to the blues – that most ‘authentic’ of musical genres – he’s a conceptual art-rocker at heart, inhabiting his own unique crossroads between theatrical artifice and bloody-minded sincerity.

There’s a sense throughout Blunderbuss – trust him to choose such an archaic weapon – that White is positively revelling in the role of the wronged lover. So you never get the sense that he’s being entirely serious; he’s too eccentric and machismo-camp to suggest otherwise. It’s what defines him as an artist and it’s why he may be the only great rock superstar of recent years.

While this isn’t a major musical reinvention, it certainly develops his trademark synthesis of stripped-back garage-rock and Americana. Despite his guitar God reputation, White – ever the contrarian – relegates his axe to a supporting role, favouring instead a sort of aquatic country-blues dominated by Rhodes electric piano and the punk-Liberace glissandos of pianist Brooke Waggoner. She’s part of a small group of musicians who never detract from White’s minimalist aesthetic – Meg may be gone, but the primal rhythms remain – and who hit upon a particularly delightful sound on the breezily Kinks-esque Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy and the compact mini-opera Take Me With You When You Go.

During those moments when White’s guitar does come to the fore, it fits and squalls as though it’s having a breakdown, although he still swaggers with the best of them on the likes of Sixteen Saltines and on a raucous cover of Little Willie John’s jittery hoodoo, I’m Shakin’.

After all these years, there’s still nobody quite like him.

3. Frank Ocean- Channel Orange

I’ve been trying to pinpoint why Frank Ocean’s astonishing success is one of music’s most heartening stories in recent years. The simple answer is that we want to see talent rewarded. Too frequently the hype around a rising artist is just that, variations on I-was-there-first nonsense. If anything, Frank Ocean’s ascent has been gradual and a bit understated. He built his clout early with some songwriting credits for established hitmakers and as a member of Odd Future, a collective bursting with oversized personalities. Despite already being signed to Def Jam, Ocean self-released his debut Nostalgia, ULTRA in early 2011. The album eventually gained the attention of industry royalty and resulted in a gorgeous Beyoncé track (4’s “I Miss You”) and a star-making turn on last year’s mammoth Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration Watch the Throne. Proof that life can be poetic: one of Ocean’s killer hooks was for a song called “Made in America.” Indeed.

One of Frank Ocean’s gifts is a rare purity; another is an equally rare modesty, which can be deceptive. Comparisons to Stevie Wonder and Prince are apt, but only to a certain extent. Ocean’s style, more than his ingenuity, matches those masters’ – for now at least. If I had to point to another artist who Ocean recalls, it would be Mary J. Blige. Like Blige, Ocean radiates compassion and warmth despite the bleak themes and broken people of his songs. Ocean is an observer, especially of woe, and the woe is often his. There’s nothing boastful or sexy about him or his music. He is the antidote to the kind of swagger and decadence albums such as, well, Watch the Throne celebrate. I suspect that’s why Channel Orange, Ocean’s first major-label album, has been met with such enthusiasm. How can you not root for this guy?
And then there’s the matter of Ocean’s sexuality. Last week (on Independence Day) Ocean published a letter on his Tumblr in which he mentions once having been in a relationship with a man. He describes the two summers they spent together:

And on the days we were together, time would glide. […] By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love. It changed my life.

The industry responded to Ocean’s candor and bravery with an outpouring of support. Let’s be clear: it was a big moment for LGBT acceptance in the predominantly homophobic world of R&B and hip hop. It was also genuinely heartbreaking.

Channel Orange was born of distraction, of Ocean’s need to create “worlds that were rosier” than his. A cursory listen of the album and its parade of drug addiction and unrequited love would suggest Ocean failed at his task. In a recent New York Times feature, Ocean described his songwriting as “an extension of [his] talk therapy.” His lyrics approach dysfunction in a sort of matter-of-fact manner that avoids preachiness, and his aching delivery communicates nothing but sympathy. When he focuses on his own pain, as he does in “Bad Religion,” the results are devastating.

Channel Orange’s scale and scope are impressive to behold. It spans time and distance – from Ancient Egypt to the modern Las Vegas strip (on “Pyramids”), from Ladera Heights (the “black Beverly Hills”) to the temples of India – and for all of its 55 minutes, it’s brilliant. Unlike Nostalgia, ULTRA, the hooks on Channel Orange are less immediate and woven into the album’s sprawl. The more you untangle, the more you’re ensnared. The “Benny and the Jets”-quarter-note piano vamp on “Bad Rich Kids” (and its Blige interpolation); the breezy swing of “Lost”; the miraculous electric-piano-driven chorus of “Sweet Life”; the drum-kit clatter of “Monks”; the naked, organ-drone confessional “Bad Religion”; the astounding two-part R&B fantasia “Pyramids”: these songs are hard to shake. Taken together, even with the bloat of intros, outros, and interludes, this group of stars forms a constellation. Forget the number of producers and contributors (most notably Earl Sweatshirt and André 3000): Channel Orange is the work of an auteur. Ignore its genre trappings (house, hip hop, rock): the album is pure soul.

“I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore,” Ocean wrote on his Tumblr. The truth is, the post was unnecessary. He’d already outed himself on Channel Orange. Still, the album does contain one revelation: Frank Ocean. And the secret is out.

4. Metz- S/T

When he was a teenager in the early ’90s, Metz bassist Chris Slorach had it all figured out. Whenever he was home alone, he’d pilfer his dad’s credit card, dial the Sub Pop hotline and order the label’s finest new LPs. Nirvana. Afghan Whigs. And hey, the crime paid. Spat out of Parkdale, home of the Toronto hardcore scene they pretty much invented, Slorach and his bandmates Alex Edkins (vocals) and Hayden Menzies (drums) make music far more ferocious than you’d expect from men who look like a bunch of dropout chemistry students. In fact, Menzies is a dropout chemistry student.

Turns out, the trio’s self-titled debut is full of torment. ‘Headache’ makes a deliciously bad impression, yelling about media angst, while ‘Get Off’ careers in with the depraved, junkie squall of heavy metal being twisted out of shape. It’s pure American hardcore, as Metz channel Hüsker Dü and The Jesus Lizard – the pre-grunge guitar gods of Slorach’s Sub Pop heroes. Their pace doesn’t let up, nor does their ire. Best is ‘The Mule’, seething with the disaffected confusion of being “left behind”, before ‘Negative Space’ delivers a final, thundering thwack of testosterone.

Metz deliver the same righteous anger that informed much of their favorite music in the early ’90s. The players might have changed but the problems remain the same: those affected by youth unemployment and conservative government can find salvation in hardcore. Metz are here to offer you redemption.

5. Alabama Shakes- Boys and Girls

This still-green quartet was just a small-town northern Alabama bar band a year ago. Now Alabama Shakes is one of the most talked-about new rock acts thanks in part to some good fortune (an early anointing by Drive By Truckers’ Patterson Hood) and a whole lot of show-and-prove on stage

The buzz centers on the dynamic presence and towering voice of singer-guitarist Brittany Howard. On the band’s full-length debut, she’s as good as advertised, singing with an unhinged gusto, threatening to lose her composure — if not her mind — any minute, as she leaps into boy-girl narratives with evangelical zeal. She often sounds like she’s having a conversation with a close friend or God, or just telling herself not to give up. “Didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old,” the now-23-year-old Howard sings on “Hold On.”     

The songwriting and arranging are steeped in values drawn from ‘60s and ‘70s music, when rock bands channeled soul and R&B. Think of the Rolling Stones visiting Muscle Shoals, Ala., in the early ‘70s to work with the studio musicians who backed up Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers

— that seems to be the sweet spot for the Shakes, all of whom are in their early to mid-twenties. The gospel plea “On Your Way,” the call-and-response vocals in the rousing “I Found You,” the rave-up finish to “Be Mine” – these songs pack a wallop because the band knows how to lay back and leave some space in the arrangements, rather than playing all out, all the time.  

The rough-hewn production wouldn’t pass muster on a major-label budget: amplifiers audibly hum, voices crack with emotion, a few bum notes crop up here and there. But this band is terrific all the same, changing speeds, rising and falling to keep up with Howard. “You Ain’t Alone” is all about those dynamics, Howard pushing higher to an ecstatic warble and then falling to a whisper, the band shading her every step.

And yet for all that, fans of the band may quibble. There are even better versions of “You Ain’t Alone” on-line from the band’s justifiably lauded concerts. The Shakes are novices in the recording studio, and they sound almost reserved here compared to their live performances. So “Boys & Girls” isn’t the best way to experience Alabama Shakes. But it’s a heck of an introduction.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

KINGBLIND TOP 15 ALBUMS OF 2012 (#10-6) (PART 2 OF 3)


Here is what you have all been waiting for. The top 15 albums of 2012. Broken down into 3 parts. (15 thru 11) – (10 thru 6) -(5 to 1)

Today we have our second batch.. So enjoy numbers 10 through 6.. Our final batch, numbers 5 to 1 will be here on Friday!!!!

6. Father John Misty- Fear Fun

Once the drummer for Fleet Foxes from 2008-2011, Father John Misty’s J. Tillman has been releasing solo music of his own since 2003. After a bout of depression in Seattle, Tillman set out to traverse the western coastline with no particular destination. Fuelled by mushrooms, wanderlust, and other substances, the resulting material came forth in the form of Fear Fun, the debut under Tillman’s new nom de plume, Father John Misty.

Fear Fun’s 12 tracks provide an aural parallel to a drug and whiskey afterglow– the aches and pains of the morning-after hangover, wincing at bright sunshine filtering through the blinds. Tillman sculpts a sparkling album that’s equal parts morbid, ambling, and luminous. The monotone droll of opener “Fun Times in Babylon” provides a languid overture to 40 minutes of sinister lyrics with disarming veneers.

This theme is best exemplified on lead track “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, notable for its driving backbeat and casual handling of death and strange love (“Jesus Christ, girl,” Tillman croons, “It hasn’t been long so it seems since I was picking out an island and a tomb for you at the Hollywood Cemetery.”) “Nancy from Now On” provides a dreamy, Harry Nilson-inspired retro feel and a wonderfully NSFW-dominatrix-themed video. A quarter of the way into the album, it’s apparent that Tillman is an enigmatic man with many vices, though he claims to simply be seeking an outlet for bottled-up ennui in the making of this album: “I didn’t want any alter-egos, any vagaries, fantasy…any over-wrought sentimentality. I like humor and sex and mischief.” Well, it’s all there: the ladies’ man story lines, “smoking everything in sight,” gagged and tied bodies in the backs of vans—dark images and reckless memories packaged into a whirlwind trip put forth in album form.

The character of Fear Fun lies in its multitude of influences. Tillman explores the West Coast road-tripping sound (“Writing a Novel), ’70s country tumbleweed twang (“Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2”), and depression-haze (“O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me.”) Organs, pedal steel, acoustic harmony, and clashing minor chords are used artfully throughout, contributing to the fog-filled atmosphere of the album. A striking, adept piece made accessible by Tillman’s clear-as-a-bell voice, Fear Fun is the ideal companion for a weird headspace.

7. Japandroids- Post-Nothing

For critics who keep an ear to the rock n’ roll underground, it seems inevitable that 2009’s year-end accolades will coalesce around a trio of art-rock albums by Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and the Dirty Projectors. But as this hot summer wears on, there’s no denying whose tunes have been stuck in my head most frequently, and my hipper sensibilities are wanting for an argument against the mathematical evidence of my Last.fm play count. Maybe its sunstroke, but I feel compelled to suggest that two young Canucks trading in sludgy punk-pop tunes may have crafted a rock album that gets closer to perfection than any other album this year so far.

Nothing about Post-Nothing suggests that Japandroids—consisting of singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer/backup singer David Prowse—are pop auteurs, but while most indie messiahs tend to wear out their halos once the hype dies down, this duo’s brilliant debut seems engineered for maximum replays. And though it’s often said that the high-concept experimental stuff rewards multiple spins, Post-Nothing positively compels repeat listens—the type of start-over-from-track-one obsession that would’ve burnt holes in LPs and cassettes back in the analog days. The eight-minute run of “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “Wet Hair” alone makes getting to the album’s second half a feat of self-denial.

Indeed, it’s easier to describe the physical rush of listening to Post-Nothing than it is to explain its power in musical terms. There’s no gimmick that, laid out in qualitative terms, separates Japandroids neatly from either the better second-gen emo acts of the late ’90s (Christie Front Drive, Hot Water Music, Get-Up Kids) or the cohort of no-frills noise-rockers that have recently come into critical acclaim (No Age, Wavves, Times New Viking). About the best I can venture is a suggestion that you blast the album from the opening track, “The Boys Are Leaving Town,” and marvel at how the righteous noise of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth has been streamlined into a straight-ahead ode to adolescent yearning, then brace yourself for “Young Hearts,” which shows the same fuzzy density fused to a propulsive shout-along that transcends its garage-rock production with arena-ready force. Japandroids like to rock with their ambitions scaled low and their hooks set toweringly high, all of it drowned in fuzzy riffs, stampeding drum fills, and some of the best off-key caterwauls to grace any recent punk release.

Though aesthetic simplicity is a huge part of Post-Nothing’s appeal, it would be wrong to suggest that Japandroids is a one-trick act. Before the album taps out at the 35-minute mark, King and Prowse throw a few curveballs: “Heart Sweats” alternates a stunner of a chorus with funky, groove-driven verses (they don’t even need a bassist to lock the rhythm down), while “Crazy/Forever” runs through an extended instrumental session that uses its freight-train chug to wash down the first half’s keening vocals. Moves like this temper King’s emoting with gritty, hard-rock swagger; Japandroids always keep their nervy, heart-on-sleeve earnestness in check, ably splitting the difference between the purely melodramatic and the irresistibly anthemic. “I Quit Girls” stretches a simple but eerily resonant lyrical refrain over a five-minute slow-burn—a sighing comedown after an album fraught with hedonistic jams.

Those set pieces aside, Japandroids sound surest when they don’t try to be interesting. “Sovereignty” catches them at their best, with King and Prowse wailing over each other in a track whose inarticulate paeans to fuck-it-all immediacy perfectly encapsulate the urgency central toPost-Nothing’s aesthetic. To cap off a tune about—what else?—driving around and singing along to the radio, King urges the listener to forget all his or her friends back home, then shouts, “It’s raining in Vancouver/But I don’t give a fuck/Because I’m far from home tonight!” That’s Japandroids: No guilt, all pleasure, and all the better for it.

8. Swans- The Seer

The Seer is a masterpiece to be considered alongside Swans’ best albums: 1984’s brutal Cop, the more nuanced Children of God (1987), the majestic White Light from the Mouth of Infinity (1991), and the sprawling and inspired Soundtracks for the Blind (1996).

Following Soundtracks, bandleader Michael Gira called time on the group. After more than a decade, during which time he worked on solo projects and with new band Angels of Light, a reconfigured Swans returned in 2010 with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.

If that album illustrated that Swans were back because they had more to say – the direct opposite of the impetus behind most reunions – The Seer exceeds this, and confirms them as one of the most vital rock bands on the planet.

Rock history suggests the phrase ‘double-album’ is a synonym for ‘zero editing’, but despite pushing two hours The Seer doesn’t feel bloated. Even the 32-minute title track feels honed from something larger, as opposed to an elongated jam. The realization arrives that Swans don’t really write songs, but shape psychic and emotional territories.

Their approach means the longer songs in particular operate almost symphonically, shifting radically between movements. A Piece of the Sky proceeds from field recording to vocal collage to anxiety-laced drone, then through a heady gamelan section into a honky-tonk stomp. It finally arrives at a gorgeous, chiming coda, with Gira’s crooned vocal sounding like Devendra Banhart.

The Seer is an often violent experience, but even amid the crashing climaxes of the title track, or the dissonance of 93 Ave. B Blues, you’re never too far from a vein of beauty. Acoustic tracks Song for a Warrior (with a vocal from Karen O) and The Daughter Brings the Water are the most obvious ones, but even the relentless attack of Mother of the World eventually slows, trading aggression for haunting reflection.

Swans are famous for power of their assault, and justly so, but their lethal weaponry is intricately patterned. It’s this contrast, ultimately, that makes them so potent. The Seer might not be the album you spend most time with this year – it’s too emotionally demanding for heavy rotation – but it’s one you’ll be listening to for years to come. Also, Watch the documentary for The Seer HERE

9. Baroness- Yellow and Green

You’ll recognise John Baizley’s voice if you’re a Baroness fan, but there will be some immediate doubts; doubts that border on apprehension, as this is a markedly different album than its predecessors.

Yellow & Green sits apart from the stunning sludge of Red Album andBlue Record, material that made everyone from the metal press to the indie sheets sit up and take notice of the Savannah, Georgia quartet. This double album effort is a distinctly mellower affair. The abrasive vocals of yore are only hinted at, and the instrumentation has taken on more of a sprawling rock sound. But it’s brilliantly realised – the kind of album that will set Baroness apart from their peers in years to come.

Yellow & Green is so good that, despite the quite dramatic change in style, it may well become your favourite Baroness album. From the Yellow half of the album, the driving and brooding Take My Bones Away will be the first to latch onto the singing-to-yourself part of your brain. It’s followed by the rumbling melancholy of March to the Sea, the underwater echoes of Sea Lungs and the wonderfully emotive Eula.

What’s already an excellent record grows further come its Green side. More upbeat from the straightforward rock of Board Up the House onwards, this half of proceedings ebbs to an even more reflective position. Stretchmarker and Foolsong are the notable diamonds, but this is a sea of jewels.

The quality of songwriting and amount of raw passion on show throughout is striking. A shift from such a well-supported branch of heavy metal to what could be perceived as a more commercial sound is a difficult one to achieve.  But call a band led by a man as staunch in his artistic rites as Baizley sell-outs at your peril. This nearly flawless collection is simply the next step in the Baroness saga, and it’s a beautiful one.

10. Grizzly Bear- Sheilds

There’s a harmonic convergence going on in indie-rock these days. Key groups like Fleet Foxes, Midlake and Grizzly Bear all focus on where human voices embrace. Simply by the way they sing, they make music that speaks of cooperation and intimacy.

Sound too kumbaya for comfort? Certainly, it’s an approach that could easily turn gooey or tame — like America for hipsters. Happily, it hasn’t turned out that way, especially for Grizzly Bear.

More than ever on the Brooklyn band’s fourth album, “Shields,” they draw on uncommon chord structures, odd tunings and daring arrangements. They even shook up their approach to their signature sound: vocal chorales. While past albums found the whole band chiming in at key moments, creating lush or ominous choirs, here they more often sing solo. Often they achieve their harmonies through overdubbing the same singer, by melding the lead voice with a wash of empathic sound effects, or simply through echo.

Somehow all these innovations only seem to have made the band’s music more ravishing than ever.

So, comes the question: Exactly what kind of music does Grizzly Bear make? Imagine The Byrds if they had less ’60s folk-rock and more of this century’s freak folk. That means fewer nods to American root styles and more to choral music and art-song. Essentially, this band makes modern madrigals, especially in those moments where all four voices fly as one.

The clearest antecedent for the band’s chord choices are floating guitar progressions of Jeff Buckley. There’s a similar dreaminess — though one that, crucially, remains rooted in a firm sense of melody, as well as in a satisfying, if changeable, feel for rhythm. The album’s first single, “Sleeping Ute,” epitomizes much of what comes after. It pivots on a furious arpeggio of acoustic guitar, anchoring the vocal cascade.

Vocally, the focus falls on the group’s two leads: Edward Droste (he of the lower voice) and Daniel Rossen (the higher). Despite the pitch difference, both sing in soft-focus. There’s some attempt to butch up the choirboy effect this time, at least in the case of Droste, who allows more strain to show. That’s a good thing. If unchecked, the silvery beauty of Grizzly Bear’s sound might seem too precious by half.

To further ward that off, the music speeds busily along, especially in a song like “Speak in Rounds.” They also add dissonance to a piece like “Sun in Your Eyes,” giving the music extra texture. Throughout the disc, minor chords come into play, as do innovative soundscapes — all for a useful purpose. They give Grizzly Bear’s warm music a necessary touch of the weird.

Monday, December 3, 2012

KINGBLIND TOP 15 ALBUMS OF 2012 (15-11) (PART 1 OF 3)


Here is what you have all been waiting for. The top 15 albums of 2012. Broken down into 3 parts. (15 thru 11) – (10 thru 6) -(5 to 1)

Part 2 comes on Wednesday and Part 3 on Friday. Today we will start our first batch.. So enjoy numbers 15 through 11..

11. Bob Mould- Silver Age

Bob Mould’s 00s work, albums such as 2002’s Modulate and 2008’s District Line, saw the former Hüsker Dü man mixing up his trademarked loud guitars with electronic textures and Auto-Tuned vocals – a nod, speculated critics, to Mould’s increasing comfort with his status as an out gay man, not to mention his new sideline as a house DJ promoting his own club night, Blowoff.

As is befitting of a rock’n’roll veteran of several decades standing, though, Mould’s career has progressed in cycles. And Silver Age – somewhat unbelievably, his 10th solo album – constitutes a return of sorts: to the bracing and loud guitar anthemicism of late-period Hüsker Dü and, most of all, his short-lived early-90s power trio Sugar.

This is not a complaint. Mould excels at this stuff. The opening Star Machine is a snarling and acerbic rock strut with a quiet-loud dynamic that reminds you just where Nirvana got it from in the first place. The careening Keep Believing is a sleek fusion of gleaming distortion and breezy angst shot full of uplifting vocal harmonies.

Elsewhere, Steam of Hercules, perhaps befitting of a song with a title that sounds like a rather risqué gentleman’s sauna, stretches out luxuriantly. It’s full of warm blasts of guitar, marked by Jason Narducy’s wandering bass notes.

There is an occasional sensation, on numbers like the Copper Blue-ish The Descent, that we are watching a man reinvent a perfectly good wheel. But that does rather beg the question: what do we want from our rock’n’roll elders? Experimentation is one thing, but don’t underrate the pleasures of hearing a man doing what he does best, enjoying his very own silver age.

12. Spiritulized- Sweet Heart Sweet Light

“I am what I am,” Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce declares on his band’s seventh studio album in two decades, more matter of fact than
defiant

Pierce has reason to be self-confident. He remains obsessed with certain sounds – the Velvet Underground’s mash-up of noise and melody, German art-rock rhythmic trance, gospel ecstasy, orchestrated soul, free-jazz skronk – and he keeps reconfiguring them for each album. “Sweet Heart Sweet Light” (Fat Possum) is no exception, another variation on those go-to reference points that is by turns grandiose, melodramatic, joyous and doom-ridden. It’s another one of those get-lost-between-the-headphones experiences that Spiritualized have been producing since their 1997 masterpiece, “Ladies and Gentlemen … We are Floating in Space,” and Pierce wouldn’t have it any other way.

The lyrical themes should be familiar: Drugs, death, God, redemption. They’re orchestrated into musical dramas that ebb and flow for six, seven, eight minutes at a time. Pierce is a savvy producer; no matter how dense the arrangements – strings, horns and choirs piled atop guitar, bass, drums and keyboards – he leaves a clear path for the melody. Amid the chaos of strafing guitars and wailing saxophones, he gives us something to hum or sing along — the amiable bounce of “Hey Jane,” the little duet with his 11-year-old daughter that opens “So Long You Pretty Thing,” the nursery rhyme sung by female voices at the close of “Headin’ for the Top Now.”

Pierce collapses despair and ecstasy; he’s the weary, strung-out narrator who sees life only in extremes. He wants to be “saved” but doesn’t see how. Self-pity elbows into the mix; “I won’t get to heaven … I won’t see my mother again,” he laments on “Life is a Problem.” There’s nothing sappy or draggy about the music, though. It can be crushing and corrosive, with just a hint of sweetness and hope. That tension suits Pierce. No wonder he stays so resolutely on the same path.

13. The Walkmen- Heaven

How you feel about listening to the sound of a band “maturing” is inextricably tied up with whether or not you believe that rock’n’roll is at its best when the preserve of the snarling, chaotic and hungry young.

The Walkmen have been around for over a decade now – so youth isn’t quite on their side these days. But so lauded are they that the quintet could release a cloud of smoke and it would receive gushing reviews from a cluster of critics. But the New Yorkers’ seventh studio effort is a glossy record that will speak to more important people than writers with established preconceptions – and it may well speak to them quite profoundly.

There are some wonderful moments for sure: The Love You Love, to pick one immediate highlight, is a doozie. As vocalist Hamilton Leithauser wails, “Baby it’s the love you love – not me,” the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s a thrilling three minutes in the mould of The Walkmen circa 2002, reminding the listener of those dog days when the band, and all the rest of us too, were a lot younger.

That classic Walkmen aesthetic is also tenable on the album’s seductive title track. Here, the production skills of Phil Ek – who helped to make Built to Spill and Modest Mouse into something much greater than the sum of their parts – are evident, as tightly wound guitars blend with a taut, beauteous rhythm section.

However, as The Walkmen’s youthful braggadocio fades, certain pipe-and-slippers moments mar proceedings. The vocals-led stop-start antics of No One Ever Sleeps, Dreamboat and Southern Heart are self-indulgent, dull and messy. All is not lost, though: the compelling 1960s doo-wop jangles of Heartbreaker and the sultry, impassioned plea of Nightingales put things back on the straight and narrow.

There has to come a point in life where writing a film script or a novel begins to better express your feelings about the world than writing a song. But The Walkmen haven’t quite reached that point yet, as Heaven is a record with the power to grab your heart, like an ex-lover you just can’t shake off – no matter how many years you’ve been without them.

14. Cloud Nothings- Attack on Memory

At 20 years old, Cloud Nothings mainman Dylan Baldi is a good example of someone being annoyingly good at an age when most people are really shit. In interviews he admonishes the current trend towards what he calls “hazy, electronic-y nostalgic music that is making up the ‘indie’ scene”.

On record, he steals only from the best, sounding like The Replacements being elegantly savaged by The Jesus Lizard. And while a chorus like ‘Wasted Days’’ (“I thought!/I would!/Be more!/Than this!”) suggests your typical grungeadelic nonsense, all subtlety and optimism disappearing up the bong of boringness, you have to suspect he’s getting at something a little less, well, nothingy.

See, unlike all those hazy, taut-lipped troubadours and day-glo dickheads with a manifesto for the future of mediocrity, Cloud Nothings appear to be worthwhile because they know what’s up with music, and they actually, you know, do something about it. This is borne out by ‘Attack On Memory’, the Cleveland trio’s second LP. Recorded by trash-rock lothario and ‘In Utero’ producer Steve Albini, it exhibits a precise mastery in crafting silkily threaded, post-hardcore rock songs that charm the birds from the trees before tearing the trees from their roots.

Word is, Albini spent most of recording playing Facebook Scrabble, but his influence could hardly be writ larger. Take the chain-gang drudge of ‘No Future/No Past’, Baldi’s jagged groans slicing at a barren melodic carcass, while eviscerated guitars pick and spit on its bones. Gone are the childish larks of their debut – an altogether clumsier business – and, instead, Baldi and co give precedence to a dystopian dread fit for economic blackout: clanking, zippy riffs, barrelling minor-key pianos and drawn-out, churning progressions employed like sturdy joists.

Interspersed with seminal flashes of blissy power-indie – the spiralling ‘Fall In’, the raspy ‘Our Plans’, the hermetic ‘Stay Useless’ – ‘Attack On Memory’ peaks with the nine-minute thunderpop masterpiece ‘Wasted Days’, a song so righteously, unapologetically needy it renders most luminaries of the now-defective ‘emo’ banner a shower of irredeemable ninnies.

There’s a scene at the end of Gus Van Sant’s Last Days where protagonist Blake, a prickly bastard with rubbish hair and a startling likeness to Kurt Cobain, lies lifeless on the greenhouse floor. Through the windowpane, we watch his translucent frame clambering from the naffed-out corpse and departing the physical plane. The movie’s tagline? Rock And Roll Will Never Die. So, basically, you can have your nostalgia pie and eat it. Truth is, for all the reformed cheese doing the rounds, Cloud Nothings are the tastiest treat in town.

15. THEESatisfaction- awE naturalE

Turn off the swag and check your bag. This is the advice that Catherine Harris-White gives at the beginning of “QueenS”, as a sultry, disco-funk melody starts to creep into the arrangement. It is sound advice; one should not come into this album expecting “swag”, in the modern sense of the word. AwE naturalE is pre-swag. It has the kind of energy that people used to call “having soul”. While intending to place themselves within the great canon of afrocentric American music, THEESatisfaction remain fundamentally distinct from the majority of what is placed in that category today. They are more Bobbi Humphrey than Lil B. More Gil Scott-Heron than Tyler, the Creator. Still, this does not necessitate that their music is dated. Quite the opposite, as the duo’s ability to draw on R&B, hip-hop, soul, jazz, disco, and funk while being firmly rooted in their own aesthetic results in a sound that is persistently and effortlessly fresh.

THEESatisfaction (Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons) hails from Seattle and is often described as “that group that works with Shabazz Palaces.” While this is true (the duo made a memorable contribution to “Swerve…” off of Black Up, one of last year’s best albums) it will soon be an unnecessary reference point. It is helpful to begin to digest THEESatisfaction by way of Shabazz Palaces, in that both groups share a musical philosophy that involves equal parts bass, groove, and what Sun Ra called afrofuturism, but it is also a mistake to deny them their fierce individuality. Harris-White and Irons’ approach is unique for a number of reasons: singing and rapping combine harmoniously, as Harris-White’s silky voice is not merely an interlude between verses but a fundamental part of the sound; the ladies compose and produce all of their own music and all of the instrumentation, save for one sample, is live; and, while the disjointed, spoken-word style of rapping is similar to that of Palaceer Lazaro’s, the verses are more emotional, humorous, and human.

The opening track, “awE”, begins and ends in a jolt. It is a brief but potent roadmap for what is to come. Funky synths wind in and out of an off-kilter rhythm; the bass comes in heavy and the drums build into a hip-hop break; voices chanting “yeah” linger in the background. It is an effective prelude but, like a classy amount of cleavage, it only gives you a small inkling of the bounty that’s in store. “Bitch” changes the pace. The stark musical backing, courtesy of Tendai Maraire’s percussion (which also graces Shabazz Palaces) and E. Blood’s bass work, lets the leading ladies establish their unmistakable groove. They proclaim themselves the “bitch[es] on the side” with equal parts irony and pride.

The bouncy “Bitch” leads into “Earthseed”, a brooding, jazzy number that ends with the first bars of the album. After two minutes of Harris-White’s hypnotic crooning, Irons’ lyrics burst onto the track like a gunshot. In this case the lines are as poetic as they are political (“Hitler stashed Obamas wearing army colored sashes/ rainbow flags blowing, burning crosses, sprinkled ashes/ in the oiled waters of the dollars dropped on masses/ THEESatisfaction could give a fuck about a fascist”). There is no more to say after that; the track fades out and most listeners will, if not they have already, realize how great of an album they are in for. In that vein, the next track “QueenS” is a groovy, infectious anthem that revolves around the refrain “whatever you do, don’t funk with my groove”. No one would dare.

Near the end of “QueenS” the duo sings “sweat through your cardigan”. The absurdity of the line and the way it’s delivered made me laugh out loud. This is one of many wonderfully quirky lyrical turns throughout the album. On “Deeper” Irons notes that “the world is flat/ flatter than your ass” and that “if a monster were to attack/ it wouldn’t find me at night/ because I camouflage to black”. Apparently, she watches “Good Times in bad times” and on “Enchantruss” she discusses the racial aspects of her education, recalling the “black jesus” who “of course was white”. Irons’ cadence is built to tuck in these sharp witticisms. It’s a flow that needs to be peeled back layer by layer, revealing new arcane references (see Archie Bunk) every time. It’s easy to draw attention to the humor in their lyrics but the majority of the content is not meant to be laughed at. The duo are continually delving into questions of justice, love, and identity (being gay, black, female hip-hop/R&B artists is hardly a well-traveled path).

THEESatsifaction have seemingly put all of the creative energy that has been swirling in them and between them into awE naturalE. They have a few tapes to their name before this but it is clear that this is meant to be their mission statement. It is a pride-infused, soulful space journey that demands as much hip shaking as it does poetry analysis. On “naturalE”, Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons proclaim themselves the “queens of the stoned age”. Long may they rein.