Here are some of the Radio Free Silver Lake staff’s favorite albums and EP’s we’ve been listening to from the past year. Every December as we consider our lists we realize just how much music is out there and how many records we hadn’t heard in the past twelve months. In particular RFSL’s focus on live and local music means that there are many national releases that we don’t get a chance to spend as much time listening to as we’d like. Without attempting to be encyclopedic in any way, but from our point of view, here is the music we like and want to share with our readers from 2012.
Jed, Video Free Silver Lake
Brad Roberts, Senior Editor
I think it's only fair, when making a best-of-the-year list, to admit outright that all I heard was just the tip of the musical iceberg of the world's music. After spending a lifetime with them, I know my musical tastes very well. I know what appeals to me and I know what doesn't, though I try to keep an open mind and am amenable to broadening my horizons, I don't want to waste time on what the music industry terms popular music.
Favorite Albums of the Year (LA Albums)
Earlimart came out with their first record in four years and System Preferences turned out to be an album filled with all the passion, beauty and lush melodies that keep them among my favorite bands. Aaron Espinoza's introspective lyrics and hushed, expressive voice is augmented by the steady vocal presence of Ariana Murray, who's contribution often reminds me of that perfect balance that Christine McVie used to bring to Fleetwood Mac. Contains three of my favorite songs of the year: "97 Heart Attack" "A Goodbye" and "Internet Summer".
2. Lord Huron - Lonesome Dreams
Swept up in a gorgeous blend of indie rock and tropical beats, Lord Huron has released their first full-length, completely fulfilling the promise of their two EP's a couple of years ago. Lonesome Dreams displays such confidence and brims with such joy, one can't resist it. Rob Schneider has a voice so appealing, wrapped up is the fragrant orchestrations that you just want to sit back and let it wash over you. Standout songs include the title tune, "I Will Be Back One Day" and the lovely, tender "Lullaby".
3. Everest - Ownerless
This third album by Russell Pollard's band is their best yet, so far. Strong songwriting in a number of styles keeps interest high as Pollard's voice reaches new dimensions. Often at this stage a band begins to show signs of fatigue, but the opposite appears to be the case with Everest. Their recent live performances only confirm that they're on a course they can continue to build on. Favorite selections include the impassioned "Into The Grey" and the classic rock sound of "Far Off, Away".
4. Sea Wolf - Old World Romance
A wonderful addition to the Sea Wolf canon, Old World Romance shows a new maturity for a band that already had impressive songwriting credentials. Alex Church has crafted an album that ends with such a run of top-notch songs from "Saint Catherine St." through "Whirlpool" that I always want to start this record over as soon as it finishes.
Favorite Albums of the Year (Non-LA albums):
1. Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits
Spewing magnicent bile, the album is a scream of frustration and liberation from a failed relationship. The music is pushy and aggressive, but also exciting and invigorating. The catharsis of coming to terms with all that emotion drives this album and the results are the rockingest album of the year. Divine Fits is Britt Daniel of the commercially successful band, Spoon and Dan Boeckner of the indie/punk/art rock Wolf Parade venting a lot of pent up energy on this initial release from this brand new band. Electrifying live! "My Love Is Real", "Flaggin a Ride", "Would Not That Be Nice", "The Salton Sea", "Like Ice Cream"...hell, all the songs are good.
2. Pinback - Information Retrieved
They do it again. I tried to resist immediately deciding this was my favorite Pinback album, and certainly it took a few weeks for the music to take root in my subconscious. But once it did I realized that by going back to the simplicity of Blue Screen Life or their first album and mixing it with the complex maturity of their later albums they have achieved a certain perfection of their style. The songs are rich and full, beautifully layered with "Glide" and "Sherman" standouts. I can't say for certain whether Rob Crow and Zach Smith have ever used strings before in their music, but the violins of "True North" are so potent and fitting that it is my favorite song of the year. It makes me feel that there is much, much more to come from these guys.
3. Lost In The Trees - A Church That Fits Our Needs
Fueled by the personal tragedy of his mother's suicide, Ari Picker decided to put his sorrow and anguish into the compositions that make up this album by Lost In the Trees. Framing her life, ambitions and disappointment in songs about the constant struggle of an artist to be heard. Beautiful melodies are drenched in lush orchestrations that can be achingly simple or gloriously bombastic all led by the plaintive, emotive tenor of Mr. Picker, accompanied by talented string section. Listen to "Golden Eyelids" and "Gardens" to hear the range of this versatile band/chamber orchestra.
4. Horse Feathers - Cynic's New Year
Although similar to Lost in The Trees in their similarity to a medieval chamber ensemble, Horse Feathers is closer to a real chamber group with less of the sweeping movie soundtrack thrust of that former band. So delicate as to make you lean forward in hushed silence as you listen to the finely crafted folk songs that are carried aloft by the three string players in the band. Among the multi-instrumentalists in the band, besides the guitar/banjo playing lead, Justin Ringle, one violin player doubles on mandolin while the drummer sometimes leaves drums out altogether as he switches to keyboard. Songs like "A Heart Arcane", "So Long", and "Bird On a Leash" are so moving and poignant, they brought me to tears both times I saw them in concert this year.
5. Menomena - Moms
Another album characterized by a biting cynicism (or honesty, depending on your point of view) that erupted after the band went through some rancorous break ups. After riding a wave of critical acclaim following the release of Friend and Foe in 2007, there followed the disappointing Mines in 2010 and the band re-structure. Mom’s mines that experience with revelatory, self-examination and brutal honesty coming up with some top notch experimental rock. No genre can contain Menomena for they set up one direction only to reverse it in the next song. Gotta love a song like "Capsule" with it's lyric: "Now I'm evolving from a child to an aging child, You're maturing from a memory to a legacy" or "Tantalus" saying "I'd say hello if I remembered how to find your headstone". Wit delivered with a knife.
Favorite Albums of the Year (LA Albums )
The World Record - Freeway Special (Squid vs. Whale)
Power pop with terrific songwriting. The album would be worth it for “I Met the Girl (I’m Gonna Leave You For)” alone, but there are easily another three songs (“Say Sayonara” “We’re #1”) on this double LP that are equally worth the price of admission.
Deadly Syndrome – All in Time (self-released)
The Deadly Syndrome have always been a slow burn, and this album is one that crept in slowly as “Whatever Comes Our Way” and one brilliant song after another came up on shuffle, revealing its layered ethereal sound.
Rademacher - Baby Hawk (Part III of III) (self-released)
Plenty of records came out this year, but nothing unseated Babyhawk (Part III of III), a March release, as the album I most wanted to hear. “Minnesota” is a pretty great song about being on tour and feeling unmoored. But my personal favorite of the record is “Who Knew Love,” for both its unexpected optimism and a lyrical turn that makes a popcorn ceiling transcendent.
Auditorium - Nights Worth Living (EP) (self-released)
The songwriting is great and the lyrics are so damn funny. Everything about this band is a little off kilter and that’s what makes it work so well. This guy can sing, he looks like he’s been to a gym more than once in the last decade…it’s goofy, but executed with technical excellence on all levels, and a whole lot of fun to sing along with.
Earlimart – System Preferences (The Ship)
It was exciting to see Earlimart come out with an album after a hiatus that included recording and touring with Jason Lytle on Admiral Radley. Equally refreshing, it is a sign of vitality in the eastside music scene that this duo released an album of their own music with so many competing projects on their plates, after being together as a band for this much time.
Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams (I Am Sound)
This album was a late add because Lord Huron has plenty of boosters, both in Los Angeles and outside the city, to sing their praises. When I first saw them live more than a year ago they were jammy for my taste. But I took a listen, and the album, which covers similar territory as Local Natives, is really quite good.
* Mike Watt Flyer Award
The Henry Clay People – Twenty-Five For the Rest of Our Lives
A successful Henry Clay People record makes you want to go to their show; it functions more as a flyer than an end product, per se. Twenty-Five is a return to a stripped down guitar/drums/bass lineup, that preserves the lean, direct sound of their live show. It’s also a surprisingly good record, for both all-out rockers like the title track and “Every Band We Ever Loved” as well as catchy hooky tracks like “Backseat of a Cab” and “Anymore/ Any Less.”
Favorite Albums of the Year (Non-LA albums):
Japandroids – Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
I played this album in the car on the way to my dad’s funeral. It has a “get me out of here, out of myself” power, an adrenaline-fueled kiss of spirit and an undercurrent of “Fuck. What happened to the time?”
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp (Jagjaguar)
Van Etten is soulful, with rough edges and depth and you get drawn into the story lines and characters in her the songs. Compelling for both the sonic texture and the songwriting.
Kendrick Lamar - good kid,
m.A.A.d city (Interscope)
A lot of recent hip hop releases are flow so smooth that they slip through your fingers and never take hold, like those fondue fountains that glisten because there’s as much oil as chocolate in the mix. Kendrick Lamar’s record has texture and staccato, while sounding completely current. It’s as if he alludes to Old School styles without throwing back to them or getting too nostalgic or fetishizing.
Divine Fits – A Thing Called the Divine Fits (Merge)
Divine Fits didn’t break any new ground with this record, but it’s the rocking’ rollicking good time that is everything rock ‘n roll is supposed to be.
Favorite Songs of the Year:
“I Met the Girl (I’m Gonna Leave You For)” The World Record - Freeway Special (Squid vs. Whale)
“Minnesota” Rademacher - Baby Hawk (Part III of III) (self-released)
“Backseat of a Cab” The Henry Clay People – Twenty-Five For the Rest of Our Lives (TBD)
“Karaoke Freight Train” Auditorium - Nights Worth Living (EP) (self-released)
“Younger Us” Japandroids – Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)