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Overlooked/Underrated Albums 2012 December 12, 2012

Posted by gwyoung in Lists, Music.
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A lot of my favorite albums of the year (as you’ll see when I post my top 20 in the days to come) were critically reviled and completely trashed by most of the music sites I follow, almost rendering my idea to have an “overlooked/underrated” round-up completely useless. So, instead of focusing on my outrage that s/s/s’s Beak & Claw got a 4.8 on Pitchfork or that Cokemachineglow gave Kishi Bashi a “vanilla%”, I’ll redirect my attention toward all of the wonderful albums that I, too, overlooked during 2012 (at least in terms of my coverage here on this blog.) I’ve been meaning to rave about everything on this list for quite some time, but for one reason or another I didn’t get around to doing a full write-up and, alas, they were ignored by safer in the dark upon their release. Here’s to hoping they’re not forgotten as the year comes to a close:

 

Tour Jammerz Vol. 1Headaches – Tour Jammerz Vol. 1

Headaches toured with Purity Ring this year (serving as the first of three openers) but ended up being the best act of the night: Landon Speers makes chill and mildly psychedelic electronica that would probably best be heard while driving at night, but his shifting, layered grooves had me moving my feet to the beat for his entire set, expressing my feelings about the music through only dance (and my consistent shouts to my friends about how great it sounded). At the end of the show I purchased this EP (which is actually a digital download from his bandcamp site) just on the off chance that I wouldn’t be able to find it elsewhere, and boy was I glad I did. Not only is there no mention of Tour Jammerz Vol. 1 on the internet ANYWHERE (even on the aforementioned bandcamp) but the rest of the Headaches material floating around out there is more ambient-influenced and not nearly as good as what’s on this tour-only EP. As such, this digital download feels even more special to me because I almost missed out on it forever, and though we’re sure to hear more great things from Headaches in the future (I’ve been following him almost religiously ever since) there’s no denying the quality of the four “jammerz” that make up Tour Jammerz Vol. 1.

 

Feed Me DiamondsMNDR – Feed Me Diamonds

MNDR is yet another classic example of a trend that is becoming all too common in the internet era: being hyped too early. With only a few extremely catchy singles to her name, Amanda Warner was already touring the U.S. and being blogged about by almost every buzzworthy music critic, so much so that, by the time she actually released her debut, everyone had gotten sick of her and moved on to something else. And that’s a real shame, because Feed Me Diamonds does not deserve to be ignored. It’s an incredibly infectious record of energetic dance-pop (the likes of which would make Robyn extremely proud), complete with emotional electronic ballads and adrenaline-pumping beats. I would put any one of the songs on this album on a party playlist, not just because I enjoy listening to them but also because I’m proud to know of MNDR and I think everyone else would benefit from knowing of her too.

 

WintervalSam Willis – Winterval

The cover of Sam Willis’ Winterval is icy and bleak (just like the coming months promise to be) but the music within it is vibrant and warm. Willis makes layered electronic pieces with colorful flourishes reminiscent of Four Tet but with a style all his own, and the amazing display of variety on Winterval (ranging from dreamy ambient soundscapes to tail-wagging loop-based instrumentals) makes him a promising contender to watch out for in the near future.

 

The NorthStars – The North

Of all the “comeback” albums of 2012 (most of which were not actually comebacks but just new releases from consistently good artists), Stars’ The North was the most surprising. Stars used to be the masters of unabashed emotional indie pop, and their Heart, Set Yourself on Fire, and In Our Bedroom After the War albums remain some of my favorites from that bright-eyed and bushy-tailed period of my life when I was first introduced to independent music. Since then, though, the band seemed to plummet out of relevance as the musical tides receded away from catchy hooks and boy/girl harmonies in favor of electronica, hip hop, and an endless slew of throwaway genres. Even worse, their fifth album (The Five Ghosts) was a horrible mis-step that served only to solidify their state of decline. Because of this unfortunate track record, I was hesitant at first to even try giving The North a fair listen, but the more I spin it the more glad I am that I gave it a chance. Stars are back, and though their latest might be more of a mixed bag than the best of their earlier work, there are quite a few incredible pop-rock gems that make The North more than worth the while.

 

Whistling While the End is NearThe Viking Progress – Whistling While The End Is Near

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I have to admit I picked this one up based entirely on its album art and especially its similarity to the images evoked by Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the music matched up: brooding folk-rock with emotive (if at times nasally) vocals reminiscent of Jeff Mangum and his Elephant 6 fuzz-folk peers. Very few bands are making this kind of music anymore, and very few of those that do actually do the genre any justice, so Whistling While the End is Near is notable in that it actually lives up to some of its influences. Though it feels slightly out of place in time, I recommend giving it a listen before 2012 is up.

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Comments»

1. tim - December 13, 2012

Add Chris Cohen’s -overgrown path, Young Man’s Vol. 1, and Matthew E. White- Inner (i forget the album title)

2. brettithan - December 27, 2012

… thanks for The Viking Progress recommendation. Hadn’t heard of them, but just downloaded their album from bandcamp. Great stuff. (Also, commenter above, the album is Big Inner and I agree … White and his band backed up The Mountain Goats this year.)


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