January has come and gone. In some parts of the world Lana Del Rey‘s “Born To Die” has already been released to mixed reviews, nowhere near making as big a splash as was anticipated by some. I’ve given it a listen, it’s fine, but, as I expected, nothing remarkable. In not-LDR-related news, there have been plenty of good releases so far in this past month, with Cloud Nothings, Porcelain Raft or Hospitality dropping very solid albums. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg to what looks to be like a great year for music.
Below is the first part of what my personal picks (I want to emphasize that part, though some overlap, these aren’t the site’s picks, just mine) for great albums I hope this coming year brings. Supposedly it’s the last one we’ve got, and though I don’t really believe the 2012 hullabaloo, I really hope all these artists bring their A-game and blow me away just in case it actually is time to go.
Be sure to also check out Part One, which we posted yesterday.
News Of The Fire – TBA (Late 2012)
On the “Motions and Hints” EP News Of The Fire released about a year ago, the band displayed surprisingly strong songwriting abilities for a band so young. Standout songs like “1996” or “Faces” were good showings of indie rock, with strong guitar riffs and catchy melodies that made the EP a consistent and enjoyable listen.
After featuring the band’s video for “1996” from their Jam In The Van session, lead singer and guitarist Dan Fromhart contacted me to thank me for the feature, and I asked him about new material. I was excited to find out that there is an album in the works and though he couldn’t give me a guarantee, he did say that they would try and get it out by the end of this year.
Of course, the record is still in very early stages, but that’s good enough for me to put it on this list. It’s yet to be seen if News Of The Fire can live up to their promise, but I’m sure they won’t go down without a fight.
Nick Waterhouse – TBA (May 3)
Like other artists on this list, Nick Waterhouse could have easily made music in another era without sticking out. His style is similar to Mayer Hawthorne’s, revisiting classic Motown sounds with fat horns, vocals full of soul be they lead or backup. Unlike Hawthorne, though, Waterhouse doesn’t seem interested in making things sound current. Whereas with the former you could a get feel that it’s not quite from the 60’s and 70’s, it’d be much easier to confuse the latter with an artist from that period, particularly because of the production choices made with his music, which sound like they’ve been recorded on vintage analog equipment (and, as far as I can tell there’s nothing to indicate otherwise).
So far the California singer has only released a handful of songs, which combined don’t reach 15 minutes worth of material, but it’s been enough for us to declare him One To Watch for this year. Giving his songs a listen it’s easy to see why, but the brevity of the material isn’t quite enough to quench my thirst. Of course, I could always go listen to classic Motown, but where’s the fun in that? Until we have a proper album from Nick Waterhouse, due out May 3rd, I’ll keep playing his EP, though owning it digitally doesn’t feel right.
Passion Pit – TBA (TBA)
2009’s “Manners” served as the introduction to Passion Pit as a fully fleshed out band. Prior to that, singer/creative force/frontman Michael Angelakos had put out an EP, “Chunk Of Change” that displayed an interesting, pseudo-experimental direction for a synth-pop band. The record ended up on my personal year-end list thanks to its strong hooks, high energy and sonic variations in a genre that I consider one of my favorites. It was a collection of hits, almost all of which could have easily been singles, packaged in an album format, all killer no filler, if you will.
It’s been well over two years since “Manners” dropped, and it’s been known that the band has been in the studio for quite some time, which all seems to indicate that we will, in fact, get a new Passion Pit record at some point this year. Details are close to none, but Passion Pit fans, such as myself, are eagerly awaiting them. So far we also know that the band has a couple of summer festival dates lined up for the summer, so hopefully that means things are wrapping-up.
Phoenix – TBA (TBA)
French band Phoenix put out a killer album in 2009, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”, which garnered them well-deserved worldwide fame after a decade making music. The record, their fourth, was incredibly consistent, with 7 synth-pop tunes that were as best as they come for the genre and a two-part experimental piece that served as a break in between the hooks that songs like “Lisztomania”, “1901” or “Armistice” (I could have listed any track, really) presented.
It doesn’t look like we’ll be getting an album anything like “WAP”, or any of its predecessors, though. Lead singer Thomas Mars has gone on record saying that he’s tired of pop music and the band were working on a minimalist experimental style. While that description makes me a bit weary as to the type of songs the album will present, the five-piece from Paris are known for putting out consistent albums that have gotten better with the years and experience, so it’ll still certainly be one to watch for.
POLIÇA – “Give You The Ghost” (February 14)
This one is a bit of cheat, as I’ve had the record since I first introduced the band, but it really is one that I’m anticipating to be widely available for more to enjoy (you can enjoy the digital edition of the album if you pre-order it, actually). POLIÇA is not for everybody, though, but those who enjoy vocoded vocals and experimental R&B in the style of Active Child (but much less angelical and more hard-hitting instead) are most likely going to enjoy “Give You The Ghost”.
The tracks that have dropped so far, “Lay Your Cards Out”, “Wandering Star” and “Dark Star” are all fantastic shows of what the POLIÇA and the album is all about. I will say that they are album standouts, but that’s no reason not to give the rest of “Give You The Ghost” a fair listen and see just how good the band really can be, and the reason we touted them as Ones To Watch.
Sharon Van Etten – “Tramp” (February 7)
To be honest, I’ve never been completely sold on Sharon Van Etten’s previous material. The singer has released two records to date, “Because I Was In Love” in 2009 and “Epic” in 2010. The first was a much more acoustic record, that for me got a bit bland by the end, but it did contain the beautifully moving “For You”, a reason why I kept the Brooklyn singer in the back of my mind. “Epic”, a cross between an EP and an LP, was an improvement, benefitting from the added instrumentation, and again tracks like “Don’t Do It” or “Save Yourself” sparked my attention for what could come next.
And what came next was “Serpents”, the first song from Van Etten’s third album, “Tramp”. To be honest, if it weren’t for that song I doubt this would even be on this list. The track is great on its own, but her live performance made it even better. “Serpents”, while moody and dark, still remains catchy and upbeat in nature, and while seemingly contradictory descriptions, I can’t think of a better way to do so. It’s more aggressive than most (anything, I would say) of the singer’s previous material, and I’m really excited to finally be able to listen to “Tramp” in its entirety starting February 7th.
The Shins – “Port Of Morrow” (March)
I will admit to only being a casual fan of The Shins. I’ve listened to, and enjoyed all three of their albums and, while they contain some tracks I love, as a whole they fall a little short of the “great” mark for me. Regardless, my love of a few songs on each release always keeps the James Mercer-fronted band on the back of my mind.
Really, the thing that got me excited for “Port Of Morrow” was lead single, “Simple Song”. It contains much of what makes me love The Shins’ songs that I do, such as plenty of swells and changes in intensity and tempo and yet another great vocal delivery from Mercer, one of my favorite elements of both The Shins and his side project with Danger Mouse, Broken Bells. The song is built for arenas, with massive reverb on the vocals, something that reminds me of one my favorite tunes by the band, “Australia” off their 2007 release “Wincing The Night Away”.
While I’m not as excited for “Port Of Morrow” as I am for some of the other releases on this list, I am looking forward to giving it a listen and see if there’s another standout I can add to the list of songs I love by The Shins, or if maybe they finally put an album out that wows me from start to finish.
Sleigh Bells – “Reign Of Terror” (February 21)
Back in 2010 we awarded Sleigh Bells‘ debut album “Treats” our album of the year award, though that was definitely a polarising decision, and towards the end of 2011 they announced its follow-up “Reign Of Terror”. Whilst the first couple of songs we’ve heard from it in “Born To Lose” and “Comeback Kid” haven’t been as assaulting and punchy-in-your-facey as the standouts form “Treats” they do still pack that extra 15lbs of explosives that other bands can rarely handle.
To whet your appetite, check out the previously mentioned “Born To Lose” and “Comeback Kid” and with three weeks left until “Reign Of Terror”‘s release, you better pick your melted face back up off the floor in time for the album drop.
South Of France – TBA (Early Spring)
South Of France have been labeled one of our Ones To Watch for 2012 based on the strength of their “Kings” EP which they released last year. The three songs on “Kings” were very much in the Cults vein, with a seemingly upbeat, 60’s pop influenced style loaded with hooks, although done in a more distorted manner. The music contained a lot of subtleties, though, which kept the three short songs interesting even on repeated listens.
When I contacted the band about a full-length, anxious to hear more, they told me that it was definitely in the works, they were very happy with it, and they were hoping to have it out at some point in February. So far, there’s not much news coming from their front, but my eyes, and ears, are peeled.
Twin Shadow – TBA (First Half of 2012)
Twin Shadow’s “Forget” arrived late in 2010, and I hopped on the bandwagon even later, but the album grew on me in such a way that it ended up in my personal top 3 of that year. The Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear)-produced album presented a very 80’s dance-groove aesthetic with lo-fi production. The songs were instantly memorable with plenty of hooks and catchy melodies that didn’t grow old on repeated listens, but rather got better.
One of my favorite songs on the album, “Shooting Holes” ended up being a year-end standout, but was just one example of George Lewis Jr.’s strong songwriting skills. And while most of the album was best when it was upbeat, the title track, which closed off the album, demonstrated that Twin Shadow was also able to keep things interesting and engaging even when slowed down.
Last year the project also dropped a song, “Changes”, which was a cover of an obscure 80’s Italian band, and presented a more pop-y direction for the band, but one that suited them well. As of right now it looks like Twin Shadow’s sophomore album is looking to be released in the first half of the year. Whatever that means, I hope it’s sooner rather than later.
Vampire Weekend – TBA (TBA)
As good of an album Vampire Weekend’s 2008 self-titled debut was, I’ve personally found myself revisiting its 2010 followup, “Contra” a lot more. Although both records maintain a lot of the same characteristics, the subtle (or not so subtle) electronics and experimentation used on “Contra” made for a more exciting listen for me. Songs like “Run” or “Giving Up the Gun”, despite their differences, were both strong shows that Vampire Weekend wasn’t going to let themselves get eaten up by the critics expecting a more than subpar follow up to their first album. The band took risks, such as sampling M.I.A. or closing off the album with the slow building, acoustic guitar-featuring “I Think Ur A Contra”, and they paid off, as they were executed to near perfection.
Now, Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanjli, Chris Baio and Chris Thomson are working on what is to be their third album. Despite saying themselves that they needed a bit of a break and Rostam’s solo tracks, released last year, it doesn’t look like Vampire Weekend is going anywhere just yet. For me, that’s great news, as I find their albums thrilling and refreshing. It’s still not entirely clear whether album number three will actually drop this year, so it’ll be a waiting game, and hopefully it’ll be worth the wait.
Woodkid – “The Golden Age” (TBA)
Woodkid is the stage name of French director Yoann Lemoine, famous for directing videos for Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and, more recently, Lana Del Rey herself. Already labeled as One To Watch for this year, Woodkid is currently at work to follow up his “Iron” EP which he released last year. While the title track was a dark, brooding number with spacey synths and thick drums, the remaining three tracks presented a much more acoustic path, so it’ll be interesting to see where Lemoine decides to take his sound.
Despite being early in the recording process, the record seems to already be titled “The Golden Age”. From the pictures that have been released of the sessions, it’s looking to be a grand record, as Woodkid seems to be recording with a small orchestra. He’s already demonstrated he’s a man of talent, so I’m anticipating the direction choices he makes for his first full-length album.
The xx – TBA (TBA)
The xx went into the studio late last year to write and record a follow-up to 2009’s haunting “XX”. The album’s minimalist sound on the album I feel marked an inflexion point in modern music, as since then there’s been a heavy emphasis placed on ambient sounds from numerous electronic producers that have chosen to keep things minimal, placing heavy emphasis on atmosphere. It’s funny that, in the same year that I loved albums by Passion Pit and Phoenix, both bombastic albums with tons of added instrumentation, “XX” also ended up as year-end favorite. It’s actually pretty incredible what it accomplishes with so little, in clear case of “what you see (hear) is what you get”.
Since the release of that album, the only member of The xx that’s managed to stay in the news has been beatmaker/producer Jamie xx. The produced dropped an album reworking Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’m New Here”, titled “We’re New Here”, few noteworthy tracks and remixes including “Far Nearer” and a stellar remix of Adele’s chart-topping “Rolling In The Deep” as well as some production credits on two of last year’s biggest releases, Drake’s “Take Care” and Rihanna’s “Talk That Talk”.
So far all we’ve heard from the new album, which the band is hoping to drop before their festival releases, is a hauntingly beautiful demo of a song titled “Eyes Open” that maintains the same train of thought as their debut. Jamie xx has gone on record saying that the new album is very inspired by club music, so we’ll have to see how the band are able to incorporate the new direction while still maintaining their style.