We’re posting our favorite local albums of 2012, adding a new one to the blog each day until we reach #1 next Friday. The past twelve months saw so much great Minnesota music that this list has been re-written and revised a dozen times since we started working on it after Thanksgiving. Without a doubt there are ten more LPs or CDs of new music by Minnesota artists worth the same recognition.
This list represents not just ten of the best local albums of the year, but ten albums we listened to here in the shop A LOT. The comments section on our site hasn’t been working lately because of the abundance of spam comments, but we welcome your additions to our “top 10” list. Send ’em to here), and a band long ago adopted as a local favorite. Swallows are Minneapolis music veterans, when it was a band long ago adopted as a favorite. This band is good enough to have survived being called Swallows for more than four years, and on Witching & Divining, they’re a band that’s settled successfully into an impressive, original style.
A little prog rock, a little classical, a little old Sabbath-type metal, a little Old World folk. Here’s an album with the same feeling as a 70s classic and the same sound as a 90s epic. It has the best and worst features of each, and reminds this record nerd how much fun the worst can be. Even the overwrought, melodramatic moments on Witching & Divining are invigorating. The album is an amazing alchemy of roots music, often dark but never depressing and consistently exciting.
Our review linked above mentioned the album’s production as an improvement over the band’s previous releases, but it’s worth mentioning again. Swallows produced the album themselves (with assistance from Randy Gildersleeve at GilderSound in Forest Lake) – capturing their unconventional instrumentation very smoothly. Throughout the album cellos and guitars work together, rather than playing over each other; you really get a sense of the collaborative sound in “Roam.” Drummer Justin DeLeon’s integral performance is captured perfectly, and it is often the drums that make the arrangements so exciting. This is an album that sounds great on vinyl and on a big stereo. “Roam” and the albums bombastic opener “Long Hard Road,” for instance, are fun songs to hear loud.
“Long Hard Road”
If Noiseland produces another compilation LP like last year’s American Buffalo to capture the great-sounding albums they’ve made for local artists, I hope they will consider including a track from Witiching & Divining.
Also worth a moments’ consideration is just how good this band sounded at their release show in October. Swallows, like a lot of local bands, suffers because their sound relies on a member who lives out of town.Tyson Allison’s multi-instrumental contributions are integral to the band’s sound, especially in the songs from this new album.
The band perfectly frames Crandall’s rootsy lyrics and give rise to his moving performance. Witching & Divining never really feels like it’s his show but he is often at its heart – he is handily compared to Tom Waits at times, although the songs have an older, folkier feel. In places Crandall croons like a 70s arena rocker, and he certainly has the passion and emotion of Robert Plant or Roger Daltry, if not the range. He and cellist Aaron Kerr have been playing together for around a decade, but neither has sounded as good on record as they do here.
The Star Tribune compared the album’s sound to “autumnal weather” but as we’ve passed into winter it seems less to me about a season and more about our relationship to the natural world around us. It seems like an album you should listen to in the woods, but I guess it would be a lot of work to drag your stereo out there.