At the end of the year, I will do what everyone else in the music biz professes to hate so much, but never misses an opportunity to do: create a top-10 list of the year’s best music. Since the year’s only halfway gone, though, I’m going to limit myself to 5 current faves for now.
1. Alex Winston – King Con. Alex (short for Alexandra?) Winston’s debut full-length album is full of potent rock, dark but catchy arrangements, and sometimes creepy storytelling. It reminds me a little of Lena Lovich’s first album, Stateless, in the way Winston combines her own voice with a group of male voices, often rumbling ominously in the background. And there are echoes too of witchy rockers like Kate Bush and PJ Harvey. I stumbled onto this record while on Soundcloud, where the title of one of her songs caught my eye: “Run Rumspringa.” Rumspringa is the term for the period when a young Amish person goes out into the “real world” before deciding to commit to a life in the old tradition. It seemed an unlikely topic for a song, but then so are songs about incest, blood and guts, and velvet paintings of Elvis – yet they’re all killer tracks.
2. Tiny Victories – Those Of Us Still Alive. Another great debut, this time from a Brooklyn duo who create a lush, glittering sound through electronics, loops, powerhouse drumming and layered vocals. It’s not a full-length, but the 5 songs on this EP were my earliest faves of 2012 and still sound terrific a half-year later. (Damn, that’s faint praise – but I fully expect to see this band on my year-end list too.)
3. Jherek Bischoff – Composed. There’s a statement of intent in that album title: Bischoff isn’t just a songwriter. With his keen ear for orchestration and his flexible take on the usual verse/chorus/verse song format, Bischoff is as comfortable in the so-called indie classical scene as he is working with rockers like David Byrne, Craig Wedren (of Shudder To Think), and Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso. All of whom feature on young Bischoff’s album. Seattle-based but often seen and heard as part of Brooklyn’s new music mafia, Bischoff creates appealing, quirky songs with massive blocks of sound and quicksilver changes of mood. Here, Zac Pennington of the band Parenthetical Girls takes the vocal chores while a studio-built orchestra churns away mightily.
4. The Unthanks – The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons. The folk-singing sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank, from northeastern England, are capable of the kind of harmonies that will send a shiver down your spine. Here, they and their band, recorded live, take on the contemporary songs of two of England’s most unusual and singular musicians – and somehow make them seem like extensions of the old Scottish/English folk ballad tradition and like songs the two of them had just written themselves. Haunted and haunting, modern and timeless, with a variable, acoustic band providing just the right instrumental touches, this is an exquisite recording.
5. You tell me. What should round out my list of the best of the year so far? Tell us your favorite release so far of 2012.