So much of our favorite music of 2012 came out on discs and 10″ records or in downloads too short to be on a “top 10” list of albums. I have mixed feeling about the EP – it’s been nice to get away from the ear of over-long albums (most of the 90s and 00s, if you ask me) and a lot of that was helped by the resurgence of vinyl. A lot more by digital recording and online marketing – it’s easier and cheaper than ever to record your music well, and even easier and cheaper to release it online. Partly democratic, partly disastrous, anyone can put music out there for consideration – one wouldn’t even be able to make enough time to hear it all.
That said, we’ve loved so much loved the music here we thought it ought to get shared. A couple of these would be near the top of our list of favorite 2012 albums if they were longer.
You’ve probably heard some of this music playing in the shop, and we hope if you like it you’ll follow the various links to the artists’ pages.
10 – Parallel Motions by Panther Ray
Panther Ray is a weirdly “quadrophenic” band – not that you can hear some influence of the Who’s 1973 rock opera in their music but because you get a sense of four disparate personalities making compromises to produce music. Nowhere was this more clear than the last time I saw them perform, which was in the Turf Club’s Clown Lounge – the four of them traded places and instruments so often I couldn’t tell if it was mean to be a gag (at least it’s less gimicky than bunch of kick drums).
On Parallel Motions the jangly, jaunty quartet rambles through eight riotous tracks seeped in psychedelia and Sonic Youth-y 90s rock. “Memory Bank” is the stand-out track but there’s moments where the band’s cluttered kitchen-sink approach really hits home. And actually, they’re releasing a follow-up EP next week. We have a copy but honestly haven’t listened to it yet as of posting this (sorry, folks -we just got it). Where is Panther Ray headed next? They’re playing a release show at the Triple Rock Social Club on December 30th and they’re a great live act. Why not find out for yourself?!
9 – “Atlantic Blue” single by Gospel Gossip
So it’s true that the most exciting thing about Gospel Gossip’s new record is that there’s a new Gospel Gossip record!! Pretty much nothing can live up to the expectations left at the end of Dreamland, the band’s 2009 EP that still gets play in our shop all the time, and “Atlantic Blue” falls victim to that. It’s a great single and by any other band it would be a triumph – the long-labored next Gospel Gossip album is taking on an epic stature and I don’t envy the pressure on them to deliver.
8 – Starlings by Very Small Animal
This summer I was fortunate enough to see Very Small Animal perform twice in one day, courtesy of Brian Just who added me (as DJ) to the bill for his end-of-summer show at the 331 Club. A lot of the intensity of their live set is lost in their EP, Starlings, but still very present is the warm, beautiful harmonies of singers Patrick Noonan and Tim Harlan-Marks. It’s probably not cool to be compared to Art Garfunkel these days, but Noonan’s performance on the disc is on par with Garfunkel’s best (and often overlooked) performances from his early solo albums. He and Harlan-Marks sing together like it was their job, although I’m guessing it’s probably not. The six songs evoke not only epic 70s folk-rock but also more underground singer-songwriter music of the 90s. Their heartfelt “Joanne,” for instance, could easily be mistaken for a song by the late Vic Chesnutt.
(If you like the Very Small Animal EP you’re probably also going to enjoy Small Towns, an EP released this year by Warpossums, pretty much anything by Tree Party and – if they still have ’em – the demo disc the Brian Just Band had here at Hymie’s on Record Store Day in April).
7 – Glory, Glory by CLAPS
Like a couple of bands on this list, CLAPS had an album on our favorites list last year; their debut album, Wreck, was a tour de force that demonstrated, if anything, the primacy of “melody and rhythm” (to quote one of our favorite Big Audio Dynamite songs). And this summer’s release on cassette label Moon Glyph (at 30 minutes an album in many ways) expands on Wreck‘s success with rawer, lean arrangements. The five tracks on Glory, Glory have the stretched feel of a 12″ single and the extra space benefits the band’s growing approach. The tape opens with “Simplicity’s Key” and carries the implicit message: CLAPS cuts to the bone and gets to the point. Patrick Donohue’s performance on “Castle” is haunting (surely one of his best yet on record) and the band’s arrangement is evocative and brooding. There is not a wasted moment.
6 – We Are the Chalice by the Chalice
The Chalice rightfully won this year’s “Clicked to Pick” poll of local scene-sters published by the City Pages in October (I was a little embarrassed they published this year’s ballots by name, because I didn’t pick any of the winners even though they were all new-ish bands I really, really enjoyed this year). Their debut EP, We Are the Chalice, is about as perfect a party disc as the Twin Cities has produced in recent years, from the fun of “Ladies Night” and “Crown on the Rocks” to over-the-top “Mama.” Several of the Twin Cities best young producers contributed great stuff to the EP (Including a couple Hymies’ favorites: O-D and Big Cats). Even more great beats were heard on Clare de Lune’s solo EP, New Lion (here), which really ought to have been on this list too.
“Push It (prod. Prophis)”
5 – The Third Coast by the White Whales
Hark ye yet again – the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event – in the living act, the undoubted deed – there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ’tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.
(The White Whales’ bandcamp page is here)
4 – Somos no Joke by Big Quarters
It’s become impossible to separate the day-to-day awesomeness of Brandon Allday and Medium Zach from the music they make together as Big Quarters, and that’s okay with us. Last year’s Party Like a Young Commie found the Bagaason brothers at their best, collaborating with some of the Twin Cities’ best musicians and rapping about education, community and self-reliance. Somos no Joke features eight tracks built on leaner beats than on last year’s album, which leads to tighter raps. It’s still the Big Quarters we’ve grown to love – Medium Zach, who talked about building the Batcave at the start of Young Commie here admits in “Work” that “at thirteen I thought I could design Spawn toys!” And Brandon Allday says in “Never Felt Better” that “I speak to literally.” At twenty-four minutes Somos no Jokes is nearly as long as what some artists put out as an album this year, and since the extra tracks they’ve been posting online (Check out “Americana” on their website) are just as good as the EP, it’s a sure thing the Big Quarters work ethic is in full force going into 2013.
“Never Felt Better”
3 – Double Down by Walker Fields
One of my favorite things about live music is the drummer and my favorite drummer this past year has been Chris Tierney. In this duo with Grain Belt artist Brad Senne, he’s been both innovative, playing with a tambourine in one hand instead of a stick, and dynamic. You know Tierney’s working overtime on Double Down when you forget there’s no bass player midway through “Lucky to be Alive”, the EPs shooting match opener.
Senne’s all in, too, shredding up some ole slide guitar without falling behind and howlin’ the blues like it’s his job. Seeing them play together you can sense how much Senne and Tierney love what they’re doing, and it comes across in the disc. We love listening to it! You can hear Double Down here.
“Lucky to be Alive”
2 – I’m Your Free Lieutenant by Wizards Are Real
The Wizards’ album was our fourth favorite album last year and still a favorite this year. For something so intrinsically simplistic – the band’s own Bandcamp page says they “challenge the notion that instrumental music needs to be melodramatic, bombastic and apocalyptic.” Wizards Are Real is an enormously rewarding record, listen after listen. In last year’s post I compared the end of the last track, “Good Goods,” to the end of a favorite novel – I just wished there was a little more.
Dreams come true – and sometimes they’re not made into movies – and the Wizards chanted a few more mysterious incantations with a follow-up EP (which you can hear here) that isn’t just a continuation but a sequel.
“I’m Your Free Lieutenant”
1 – Places by Pennyroyal
It’s almost impossible to imagine Places as an album, simply because five or six more songs this good seems like an impossible dream. If this were an album it would be at the top of the top 10 list we started posting on Monday. This is our favorite local release of 2012.
According to the EP’s Bandcamp page (here) “co-singer/songwriters Angie Oase and Ethan Rutherford … coincidentally brought in five songs about the places/cities that impacted them,” and rather than can them for a second album they recorded them for this, a shorter release – The result makes Places a “concept EP” (if such a thing exists), driven by a healthy sense of urgency. The two strongest tracks – “Minot (Whynot Minot?)” and “NOLA (Monday/Tuesday)” made up the sides of a 7″ record released last year (frustratingly at 33rpm, making me look like a dumbass every time I play it in a DJ set) but any claims this EP shouldn’t count because it comprises some old material (ie pre-2012) are refuted by the three additional tracks, especially “Cleveland (Aeroplanes & Rockets)”.
You’re not looking at the ‘official’ cover of this EP, by the way. You’ll see it if you click on the link above, this was just what the discs looked like (Yep, anymore the digital release is the ‘official’ one). There is something else really awesome on their page for the EP, too – It implies there will be a second Pennyroyal album, which is sure to be worth the wait.
“Cleveland (Aeroplanes & Rockets”)