Few local bands have married musical sophistication with sweaty garage punk quite as seamlessly as San Jose’s Hard Girls. Their new album Isn’t it Worse, available for download and cassette, but not vinyl until early next year, is their best recording to date. It’s 28 minutes of unique and accessible punk rock.
We caught up with Mike Huguenor (guitar/vocals) to find out his favorite releases of 2012.
Swans – The Seer
Not since Pharoah Sanders’ heyday has a record sounded quite as cosmic or so specifically designed to reach out toward the infinite. But where Pharoah and others did so in the hope of something reaching back, the fundamental lack of the returned gesture is essential to this record. It is a testament to the creation of music as supplanting religion or religiousity: pure ecstatic creation that is its own end, devoid of ideology. Also note that the vinyl track order for this record is vastly superior to the CD/Digital version (in case you needed a reason to buy the vinyl beyond the profoundly haunting artwork). Get this record and be glad that you did, even if it sometimes frightens you.
Sebadoh – Secret EP
Unbelievably, not only did Swans write and release the best album of their entire 30 year career in 2012, but Sebahoh, completely under the radar, released their first new set of songs in 13 years. It’s an extremely good EP that not only features a couple great Barlow songs, but also has what are (to my ears) Jake Loewenstein’s best songs of all time—n particular the uncharacteristically composed “I Don’t Mind.”
The Intelligence – Everybody’s Got it Easy But Me
Few bands sound inspired by The Fall. They either sound like they want to be The Fall, or like The Fall is the absolute last thing they would ever want to sound. Seattle’s The Intelligence is one of the few bands to take clear influence from them, and their new album is full of disparate, motivated and determined urgency. The “trick,” which occurs toward the end of opener “I Like LA” is one of the most inspired bits of proof that punk lives—it just doesn’t call itself punk anymore.
Julia Holter – Ekstasis
It bothers me when people feel the need to say “female-fronted” or “chanteuse” when describing a female singer. No one ever describes a regular guy-rock band as “male-fronted,” or “chanteur” do they? Holter’s Ekstasis is a bizarre and inspiring mix of modern composition, digital-experimental and reverb heavy pop. Like “Everybody’s Got it Easy But Me” it is a record that is packed full of interesting ideas. Also, a fantastic album title.
Spiritualized – Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
Unlike the record-of-ideas, this album would be on my year end list even if it only consisted of “Hey Jane” and “Little Girl.” Sometimes you’re sick of “IDEAS” and really friggin great songs are all you want. Those are two really great songs from this male-fronted rock band.
Tearjerker – Hiding
It being 2012 and all, a little bit of “Chill Wave” is impossible to avoid (better than “Vapor Wave,” right?). Tearjerker’s 2011 single “So Dead” is one of my favorite rock songs of the past few years, and this EP is the Toronto band’s strongest release yet. All four songs carry themselves with a great self-assurance, and match the intensity of “So Dead” with their earlier work’s chiiiiiiiiill.
Raime – Quarter Turns Over a Living Line
If you are familiar with the work of Bohren und der Club of Gore (you are familiar with the work of Bohren und der Club of Gore, right?), then this record may sound a touch familiar to you, albeit in a good way. Akira Yamaoka and Nurse With Wound also spring to mind when listening to this vastly-empty-pitch-dark-hallway of an album. Raime takes goth to its logical extreme by devoiding the record of all human touches, like the animate-inanimate quarter of the album’s title.
Liars – Wixiw
Not sure if this is a “Hey, it’s the Iinternet!” kind of thing to purposefully transition from rock(ish) instrumentation to full electronic, but even thought it is more subdued, this is definitely Liars’ most interesting record since the double-whammy of “They Were Wrong, So We Drowned” and “Drum’s Not Dead.” The videos from this album are also consistently haunting and great.