Leave me a comment about your favorite local release of 2012!
The Jump Starts - "What Hides Inside"
Justin Johnson is a busy guy. Between singing for the Jump Starts and his role in Pretty Little Empire, one would figure that Jump Starts tunes would suffer for lack of attention. This is not so on this duo's indie pop confection of a second record, which calls to mind the collected works of A.C. Newman and Belle & Sebastian, but with better boy-girl vocals. Even drummer Sarah's "ba-dum, ba-dum" scatting never wears on the ear; neither does her skittering funk-influenced playing.
Spelling Bee - "Caterwaul"
Taking its name quite literally, this is possibly the loudest, weirdest album of the year. But after a few listens, you can pick out fellow KDHXers Mabel Suen and Joe Hess' intentions behind the walls of noise. The duo bangs, screams and shreds in equal measure, evoking no one more than Japanese noise mavens Melt Banana, whose albums certainly inspired this one. But at the same time, above all of the heavy and the noise and the chaos, there is a tunefulness, a playful sensibility that is hidden in there, making this record both a head-scratcher and a definite repeat-listen.
Née - "Finches"
The secret to success for a band like Née is that their music sounds fun, despite their lyrics being dark as hell. It's an electro-pop funhouse of a record, balancing the touching sweetness of pop music with the fragile poetry of some singer-songwriters. A push-pull exercise in wringing joy from pain, the lyrics delve deeper than one would expect from a band whose videos are so full of dancing.*
Suzie Cue - "11 Years of Lo-Fi"
The comparisons many make to Ani DiFranco are both apt and kinda wrong. Yes, Suzie does have the tight arpeggiated strumming style popularized by many in the anti-folk era of the '90s, of which DiFranco is a superstar. At the same time, in what must be a conscious move away from DiFranco's early days, she does temper the Angry Girl Folk Singer image ("76 Seconds" "So Blue") with tender existentialism, particularly "Just Break Your Heart" where she sings "I just don't know if I'm for real just yet." She also reaches for some vocal highs that stray into Joni Mitchell/Tori Amos territory, as she does in "Anymore," setting herself just a touch above the Folk Girl rabble.*
Burrowss - "Don't Take It Slow"
It's hard to nail down one single thing about this record that makes it so good. Not because it doesn't exist, because it does, but because it somehow takes in all of indie rock past and present and crams it into 30 minutes of a near-perfect EP. There's a '90s-leaning aesthetic that works in their favor: The burly "Cut Your Film" with its driving guitar calls to mind Guided by Voices, as does their fuzzed-out vocals on the title track. It's lean, sloppy fun that sounds like it was recorded in a weekend on a whim and a prayer. The resulting feeling is like catching the band live, which one can assume was their goal.
Ryan Wasoba - "Music for No Reason"
Former So Many Dynamo and current RFT columnist turns in a shockingly witty and urbane collection of pop tunes and damn if there aren't nearly enough of those these days. Lyrically amusing, like Nick Lowe fronting Death Cab For Cutie, Wasoba's songs stick to the ribs and stick in your brain. The resulting record is a torrent of self-referencing, goofy piss-takes on established indie rock clichés, perfect for an evening of listening and trying to count the number of times Wasoba says "I'm not getting my security deposit back" on the opening stream-of-consciousness track "Book of Clichés."*
Karate Bikini - "Sauce of the Apple Horse"
Tim McAvin is a hooky, poppy powerhouse, even when he's just playing solo. But here, on the first Karate Bikini album, he's got a backing band that knows just when to jump in to enhance his awkward narratives. The hilarious "Hot Box" and "Medic" alone are worth the price of admission, but the album itself is jammed with powerful hooks and lyrical cul-de-sacs that are worth exploring, because there's a hidden depth there that can be overlooked by the solid jams happening all around. They play fast and loose with genres, but generally stay in the power-pop region with touches of accordion, piano and whatever else they can think of because, simply put, the song requires it. This all might sound like damning with faint praise, but it cuts to the heart of KB's appeal, which is that the group is imbued with pop -- the heart and soul that few indie musicians take the time to cultivate.
Aquitaine - "American Pulverizer Pt 1"
First they were Supermoon, then they were Supermaroon, now they're Aquitaine. Whatever they decide to call themselves, this was the perfect time to release a killer clutch of '90s-indebted tunes recalling the best parts of XTC fighting with the best parts of Oasis. They even one-upped that comparison by actually doing Oasis as part of An Undercover Weekend 2012. If you remember the '90s in a positive light, if you love British bands from that time period, this collection of tight, focused songs is just right for you.
The Great Grandfathers - "St. Anthony's Fire"
It's hard to make a new record sound classic these days, but the Prize brothers (and friend Ryan Adams, yes THAT Ryan Adams) have done just that. This record of almost effortless pop and Warren Zevon-style singer-songwriter storytelling has the organ and guitar of a record 30 years older than it is, providing you with new thrills via old sounds. It's a present/past crash-course that actually works, despite what it might sound like on paper. The resulting infectious lyrically dense and musically sweet record is something to behold.
Hidden Lakes - "Model Airplanes"
Imagine a record with the wry vocal delivery of PJ Harvey, the slide-guitar elegance of Mazzy Star and the sharp keyboards of New Pornographers' "Mass Romantic" and you've got "Model Airplanes." Actually, New Pornographers and Belle & Sebastian are likely the best comparisons that come to mind when talking about Hidden Lakes, as they share indie-pop, feel-good-even-though-you-feel-bad vibes, tendencies towards similar song titles ("All the Files and Paperwork" could be a lost B&S single) and records that enthrall. Where the distinction comes in is lead singer Kory Kunze. Previously known as frontwoman in STL legends Fractured Army, Kunze is a formidable presence here -- a force to be reckoned with -- delivering killer vocal performances throughout.
Union Electric - "Time Is Gold"
Spectator - "In the Brick"
Ou Ou - "Rhythm & Blues Vol. 1"
Middle Class Fashion - "Girl Talk"
Lantern Lights - "Lantern Lights"
The Haddonfields - "The Skin Is the Best Part"
Fister - "The Internal Paramount"
Estevan - "Gloria"
CaveofswordS - "Silverwalks"
Bruiser Queen - "Swears"
Vandalyzm - "The Proposal EP"
Editor's note: Portions of the * reviews also appeared in Eleven Magazine.