[It Was A Very Good Year]: 2012

Well, this list may seem somewhat late, but I wanted to expand on last year’s ‘Best Of’ to incorporate more than just ‘Best Albums’ and make sure it was right. So without further ado, here are my best moments from 2012…

Best Albums

SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT CANADA INC. - Leonard Cohen

10.Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

Leonard Cohen has always been old before his time and Old Ideas sees him wearing his age comfortably, like his well-cut suits. Though his output is resigned to a per-decade basis these days, these autumnal meditations on mortality show that Cohen’s bright star remains undiminished.

9. Hubbert

9. RM Hubbert – Thirteen Lost and Found

Reasons Why I Like Independent Record Stores #8: Hearing an album in-store that you fall in love with and buy immediately. Such was the case with RM Hubbert’s stunning collection of collaborations with friends and contemporaries.

8. Godspeed

8.Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

What is there that can really be said about Godspeed, which hasn’t already been said? Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is Godspeed doing what they do best and is yet another jewel in their post-rock crown.

COVER

7. Lee Fields and The Expressions- Faithful Man

Criminally underrated for over four decades and still howling like a man half his age, Lee Fields is finally getting the recognition he deserves. With the departure of Solomon Burke (R.I.P.) in 2010, Fields may be the last of the great soul singers and Faithful Man proves just that.

6. White

6. Jack White – Blunderbuss

Jack White has always had a sense of the American Gothic around his music and just one look at Blunderbuss’s cover, which seems like a modern version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, will give you a pretty good approximation of the album’s sound. Like a rag and bone man, White picks up scraps of whatever musical detritus is lying around and tinkers it into something which is new and recognisably his. Here, elements of traditional country and bluegrass are forged with White’s blues-punk sensibilities to create an album of astounding quality and musical ingenuity. Blunderbuss oscillates between riffy vitriol and melodic nursery rhyme, and my God does it sound good.

5. Chromatics

5. Chromatics – Kill For Love

There always has to be one album I stumble across while compiling these lists which shoots straight into it. This year it’s Chromatics’ Kill For Love, whose bewitching blend of 80’s electro-pop and Italo-disco snatched it a place in the top five. As with all Chromatics related projects (Desire, Glass Candy, Symmetry), there is a heavy focus on the cinematic and visual quality their music possesses. Here on Kill For Love, Chromatics deliver a collection of beguiling nocturnes presented in glorious Technicolor.

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4. Bill Fay – Life Is People

Full of sublimely soulful music, this album signals the return of a major songwriting talent. From the majestic opener ‘There Is A Valley’ to the contemplative closer ‘The Coast No Man Can Tell’, it is clear that Bill Fay has endured a lot in his absence from the music scene. But Fay delivers his experiences and tribulations without bitterness, just hard-won compassion. Gospel singers and triumphant instrumentation buoy up the record, while Fay delivers his perceptive lyrics in a bruised, yet magnanimous, voice. Tragic and sweet, this is an album about overcoming hardship and looking back on it from the other side with your love for humanity still intact.

3. Ocean

3. Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE

What I suppose you could loosely term a concept album, Channel ORANGE is a sprawling collection of musical vignettes which moves between genres effortlessly, from hip-hop and jazz to funk and psychedelia  Themes of sex, love and other drugs are masterfully interweaved throughout the album, where quieter and more self-aware moments such as ‘Pilot Jones’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ sit comfortably amongst more audacious tracks such as ‘Bad Religion’ and club opus ‘Pyramids’. For me though, it’s the throwaway interludes such as ‘Start’, ‘White’ and ‘Not Just Money’ which really tie the album together and evoke an atmosphere of late-night misgivings. ‘Thinkin Bout You’ might also be one of the most simple and beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard. Channel ORANGE is quite simply an album that feels utterly original

2. Poliça

2. Poliça – Give You The Ghost

What a monster of an album. Poliça tread a fine line between warm intimacy and cool claustrophobia. Glacial synths and Channy Leaneagh’s echoing vocals provide a clinical frostiness, while resonant bass and cascading percussion give their sound an organic virility. These blend together into undulating waves that break against you in a way that is both sedating and stimulating at the same time. It’s a heady, intoxicating mix, which draws you in and envelops you on the first listen.

1. Augustines

1. We Are Augustines – Rise Ye Sunken Ships

This is a band that a friend from home turned me onto and for that I owe her a huge debt. Finally seeing release in the UK earlier this year, Rise Ye Sunken Ships was born out of the disintegration of Pela and the untimely deaths of frontman Billy McCarthy’s brother and mother. With McCarthy’s wounded heart stitched firmly to the record’s sleeve, We Are Augustines channel this emotional intensity into twelve beautifully crafted songs. Surging and uplifting, not since Eels’s Electro-Shock Blues has heartbreak and personal loss sounded so jubilant or indomitable.

Best EP

EP. Frabbits

Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital

State Hospital is a claustrophobic and chilly collection that seemed perfectly appropriate when it landed late last year, just as the Scottish winter started to kick in. There are very few moments of optimistic solace available on these brutally abrasive tracks (even ‘State Hospital’s anthemic refrain ‘All is not lost’ seems borne out of desperation), but there’s no denying the emotional truth delivered in their maudlin messages. State Hospital points to a style that is rougher than previous album The Winter of Mixed Drinks, but is no less complex for the un-sanded edges. And Aidan Moffat’s bitter drawl is always welcome as far as I’m concerned

N.B. I may not have appreciated State Hospital so much if I hadn’t also had Josh Ritter’s Bringing In the Darlings to thaw me out after. Equally wintry themed, but whereas State Hospital is the biting winds that make your eyes water, Bringing in the Darlings is the fire that warms you on those cold nights. Ultimately State Hospital is more varied, but Josh Ritter’s effort is definitely worth checking out as well.

Best Reissue

EP. MBV

My Bloody Valentine – EP’s 1988-1991

This was very nearly Massive Attack’s reissue of the twenty year old Blue Lines, which still sounds as fresh and intriguing as ever. However, for sheer repackaging and bang-for-your-buck I’ve chosen My Bloody Valentine’s EP’s 1988-1991, which collects the now-rare  You Made Me Realise, Glider and Tremolo EP’s with a few extras thrown in for good measure. Twenty years on, My Bloody Valentine still sound as kaleidoscopic and baffling as ever. And while their recent surprise follow up to Loveless (also reissued alongside this compilation), m b v, is worth the hype, this collection proves that the band had already made their mark and perfected their game before Loveless.

Biggest Surprise

Snoop Lion

Twenty years into his career, Snoop Dogg changes his name to Snoop Lion. You seriously couldn’t make this stuff up. Can’t fault him for not having a sense of humour though:

Let me know what your favourite moments from 2012 were =)

 Most of ‘Best Albums’ taken from my Hercules Moments article, with the exception of Frank Ocean (i.e. I changed my mind writing this up, sue me).

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[Interview]: Mike Frankel of Merchbox

Merchbox
There seem to be a lot of subscription delivery services these days. From healthy snacks to dog treats and all points in between, whatever you fancy arriving on your doorstep once a month, there’s probably a subscription service for it. But, nothing sounds better to the folks at Hercules Moments than a box chock-full of music-related goodies (with a few oddball trinkets thrown in for good measure), tailored specifically for you. With Merchbox, that’s exactly what you get, all for $10 a month (+ shipping), or $20/about £13 if you don’t live in the US. We caught up with Merchbox guru and all-round nice fella, Mike Frankel, to find out more.
First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Thanks for taking the time, really appreciate it! Me? I’m addicted to startups and music.
What music are you currently enjoying?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Motown recently. As far as new music, I created a playlist of current artists that have Manhattan neighbourhoods in their band name. Ludlow Thieves, Bowery Riots, Nolita Knights, etc. Sonically, it’s not the most strategic way to organise a playlist, but on some level, it works.
What was the first record you ever bought?
I wish I could say it was something cool like London Calling from The Clash, or Rocket to Russia by The Ramones. Truth is, it was Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morrisette. It was the ’90s, don’t judge me.
Which do you prefer: MP3, CD or Vinyl?
Artwork is a huge part of the music experience, and I think vinyl highlights that. It’s a completely inconvenient medium though. I think CDs are a great way to discover new music because they’re relatively convenient, and still provide a visual experience.
We love the idea of Merchbox over here at Hercules Moments. How did Merchbox start? Where did you get the idea from?
I ended up in a college dorm a few months ago (don’t ask), and noticed how different it looked from when I was in school (which wasn’t too long ago). There were no posters on the wall, CDs on the shelves, books on the desk. No stuff. It was sterile. Everything needed was on a laptop or phone. Definitely convenient, but kind of boring. I came up with Merchbox as a way to get tangible entertainment back into people’s lives.
You also run FreeIndie with your friend Alex, so you must be a pretty busy guy. How many of you work on Merchbox?
Yeah, and I also help run Wreckroom Records. Very busy. I have two other people who help out with Merchbox. The reason I’m able to do so much is because of my great team.
Could you tell us a bit more about Wreckroom Records?
Wreckroom is a singles label. Each week we team up with an up-and-coming artist, produce a studio track, film a live video, and then put it up online for people to enjoy. We have an awesome team – the label was founded by Adrian Grenier, and includes Giraffes guitarist Damien Paris, and an incredible young gun engineer, Brian Koerber. Really proud of what we’ve done there.
Looking at some of the Merchbox on Tumblr, there seems to be quite an eclectic mix of goodies you throw in there. Could you describe what goes into the average Merchbox?
If you like getting presents and discovering new artists, just imagine what an ideal package would look like. That’s a typical Merchbox.
Where do you get the items from? Some of those knick-knacks look hard to source.
Very hard to source, but that’s part of the fun. We love to throw in some vintage throwback items, and finding those in bulk is tough. However, they’re out there.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start up a service like yours?
Don’t. I don’t want any competitors. Makes my life harder.
Finally, what would go into your ideal Merchbox?
Good question. A vinyl David Bowie album, a CD from an awesome band I’ve never heard of before, a Clash button, and a piece of the wall from CBGBs.
So if you fancy receiving some Merchbox goodies in the post, get yourselves signed up here. N.B. Pieces of walls not included (probably).
Originally posted on Hercules Moments.

[Live Review]: Frightened Rabbit, Music Hall, Aberdeen – 27/02/13

frabbits‘Is that you in front of me coming back for even more, exactly the same?’

The first time I ever heard Frightened Rabbit, and I mean the first time, was at a gig they played last year at The Tunnels in Aberdeen. It was a no pre-sale, queue-on-the-night affair and I went along simply because a load of my friends were going. The night was freezing and the queue was out the door, round the corner, up the hill, but we were lucky enough to get into the 300 capacity venue. The queue should have tipped me off, but that night I discovered a special band whose back catalogue has made up a considerable proportion of my listening last year. Incidentally, The Cheeky Girls were performing elsewhere in Aberdeen that night. I’m pretty sure I chose the right gig, but then again, I guess I’ll never know the joy of seeing ‘Cheeky Holiday’ live now.

Now with major label support and touring in support of Pedestrian Verse, which entered the UK Album Chart Top 10 in its first week, it makes sense that Frightened Rabbit step up to the Music Hall. However, the question still remains in my mind when queueing (on a much more clement night, mind) whether the FRabbits would be able to create the same atmosphere of intimacy and camaraderie in a venue over four times that of the venue in which I’d first been wowed by them.

First up are Three Blind Wolves, delivering their heavy brand of folk with gusto. The Glaswegian band have progressed from a small EP on Communion Records to having a fine repertoire of accomplished and fleshed out songs. The visceral chemistry between the band is accentuated by the beautiful harmonies the band produce, reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash or, as my friend pointed out, a barbershop quartet. This is especially noticeable on slow-burner ‘Emily Rose’, which escalates into a rollicking barnstormer.

Wintersleep up the ante once Three Blind Wolves have exited the stage. Hailing from Halifax, NS, these lads may not have a large following in the UK, but that’s sure to change in the near future. Dealing in skewed riffs and idiosyncratic grooves, their set fully kicks the crowd into gear. ‘Resuscitate’ and ‘Martyr’ particularly stand out as songs which will garner them considerable airplay in the future. Catchy, yet intriguingly complex. Check out some of their tunes over here.

When Frightened Rabbit finally take the stage, flanked on either side by two stately three-armed crosses, they are greeted with with a wave of cheers from the crowd (well, after that period where the crowd mistakenly cheer the roadies preemptively). The band kick off with the surging ‘Holy’ from the new album, before laying into recent single ‘Backyard Skulls’. While not exactly falling flat, it is only on reaching older standards such as ‘Nothing Like You’ and The Modern Leper’ that the band really start to dig in and fill the room. Scott Hutchison is on stirling vocal form, yelping and crooning in his borders burr. Meanwhile, the band nail every cue and the progressive complexity of their later songs are held together by the band’s tight chemistry. Old favourites such as ‘Old Old Fashioned’ and ‘My Backwards Walk’ sit comfortably amongst recent songs ‘Dead Now’ and ‘State Hospital’, which take flight into the room-filling anthems they always had the potential to be.

Towards the end of the main set, the band leave Scott to perform a gut-wrenching rendition of the blood-letting ‘Poke’. Scott’s tender extended vocal refrains are echoed back at him softly from the crowd, deepening the intimate atmosphere. Guitarist Andy Monaghan joins him on slide for ‘Good Arms vs. Bad Arms’, which sees the rest of the band return during the bridge. The audience are then engaged in a ‘human accordion’ experiment to ring in ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ before the band tear through PV opener ‘Acts of Man’, which culminates in a raging wall of sound and lights. The band return after a short break for mid-tempo rocker ‘The Woodpile’, kept on track by Grant Hutchison’s muscular, military drum beat. The band then tear through The Winter of Mixed Drinks standards ‘Living in Colour’ and ‘The Loneliness and the Scream’. The grins on the band’s face as they go for the home-run makes it clear that they are loving every minute of it, as the crowd roars the vocals back at them.

Aberdeen crowds are a notoriously fickle breed, but once you’ve won them over they’re yours for life. The deep affection of longtime followers is felt as old tunes are greeted with cheers and sing-a-longs. Early in the gig Scott reminisces about playing to ten people in Snafu (just a quarter of a mile down the road) early in the band’s life, and comments on how playing in the Music Hall felt unattainable. As the band leave the stage, Scott Hutchison lingers as the audience carries on the vocal refrain of ‘The Loneliness and the Scream’ (which carries on for a good few minutes after he has left as well). Grinning from ear to ear and clasping his head, he knows that they have definitely arrived.

Frightened Rabbit embark on a US tour on 8th March. Pedestrian Verse is available now through Atlantic.