Because of the flood of new titles released, we end up leaving many albums out. But it is unfair for them to be lost in oblivion, so we have reclaimed some of them (ten, according to pop and rock coordinates) in this first catalogue of should-have-beens.
We hereby inaugurate a new section, where on a bimonthly basis we will pick up releases that, for one reason or another, we didn’t review when they came out. Everyone knows that we try to review as many albums as possible at PlayGround, but there is such a flood of albums released these days that we have decided to catch some of those albums in a series of reports in hindsight, so that we don’t miss any important ones. This is the section for albums that stand out above the rest when we look back, like a sort of lost and found in the sea of new works. These albums deserved attention, but fell through the cracks, whether because of a lack of space or the sheer volume of interesting new albums. These albums should have been there. And here they are.
Below you will find ten titles recovered from the summer crop, among which you will find song classics, softened heavy metal, a foul-mouthed hip hop ambassador, and an emerging singer-songwriter with the stuff classics are made of. So here they come.
1. Angel Haze: “Reservation” (True Panther / Noizy Cricket / Biz 3)
R&B is clearly suffering from a lack of divas as its vital signs are slipping. Rap is seeking a definitive reformulation that will bring life to it, and the alpha males of hip hop are getting glossier every day... Black music is going through an exciting phase of uncertainty with a double reading: ideas are getting stuck for some, while for others they are flowing into new and exciting emotional channels, especially as far as crossover pop goes. Angel Haze is the star of the new chapter in this story. She is 20 years old, for the last four years she’s been really hitting it from her YouTube channel and she really couldn’t care less about anything. Raised in Detroit in the bosom of a very religious family, Haze is as supposedly bisexual as Azealia or Nicki Minaj, two names that come to mind along with hers; she does know how to differentiate herself from them, though, as an artist with a clean face, without make-up and media paraphernalia. Her bombastic mixtape “Reservation” contains major hits like “New York”, with a Gil-Scott Heron sample included, but not only that: try out bangers like “Jungle Fever” or “Werkin’ Girls” and you’ll see how they get this party started. Wicked!
2. Baroness: “Yellow & Green” (Relapse)
Shortly after releasing “Yellow & Green”, the members of Baroness and their team were in a dramatic bus accident in England, a fateful piece of news that overshadowed the reception of their riskiest, most adventurous album. With it, the Georgia band have distanced themselves from the core scene to definitively integrate a string of styles into their sound that they had only flirted with before. It must have been very hard for their most demanding fans to replace Torche with Radiohead ( “Back Where I Belong”), or to swallow bites like the post-rock of “Stretchmarker”, the funk of “Cocainium”, the folk of “Twinkler” and the pop push of “Board Up The House”. But balance dictates that this has also allowed the group to manage to reach a portion of the indie audience that had rejected them until now because of their metal background. The songs on “Yellow & Green” –mostly composed, as singer John Dyer Baizley confesses, while his daughter was sleeping in the next room– speak to us of a Baroness that is equally as medieval in essence as before, but modernised. A smooth Baroness, yes, but with a heart that is still solid rock. It’s not fair to say the long set made up of the hardened “Yellow” and the delicate “Green” is in need of a nice snip: the way that Baroness display their emo aptitudes here can only be called detailed and ambitious.
3. Bill Fay: “Life is People” (Dead Oceans)
Almost every year, the industry decides to rescue some singer-songwriter that it buried alive in his or her day from oblivion. In 2012, it was a man who Mojo christened as the “Salinger of British pop”, a Bill Fay who has been practically invisible since he released two wonderful albums in the early 70s. Forty years later, he is back with “Life Is People” to sublimate the concept of the torch song into a sad, beautiful album that is so emotionally overpowering that it seems like it might just crack up at any moment. He is backed by a band including musicians who had already worked with him on the sublime “Time Of The Last Persecution” (1971) and others from the circle of, gulp, Noel Gallagher, as well as one of the main supporters of his return, Jeff Tweedy. The leader of Wilco accompanies the deceptively lively “This World” with his voice, and Fay even goes so far as to return the favour by masterfully reworking “Jesus, Etc”. Disturbing on compositions like “Big Painter”, which Marianne Faithfull would kill for, “Life Is People” is a dramatically curative work, for which reason Fay has stipulated that all profits will go to Doctors Without Borders. So now you know: if you want to help him make the world a better place, then buy it!
4. Go-Kart Mozart: “On The Hot Dog Streets” (Cherry Red)
In answer to a comment about the pictures of Harry naked in Las Vegas, Neil Tennant recently explained to the newspaper El País that England is “witnessing a gradual erosion of our freedom due to electronic and digital spying”. This probably doesn’t matter at all to Lawrence, as the incorruptible British composer moves with complete freedom on what he says will be his last album as Go-Kart Mozart. Like Momus, whose ignored “Bibliotek” should also be reclaimed for this year, Lawrence does his own thing, taking the piss out of the A&Rs from the beginning of an album ( “Lawrence Takes Over”) that recognises itself to be influenced by both Edwina Biglet and Wiley. As already took place with “Tearing Up the Album Charts” (2005), “On The Hot Dog Streets” reclaims songs from Denim’s never-released fourth album, and it couldn’t come at a better time: it’s the perfect soundtrack to go with the film “Lawrence Of Belgravia” and the recently published book about Felt. In case there was any doubt, it’s also new proof of Lawrence’s hilarious ability to turn pop around and set it right-side up again. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, pop was this: satire, contemptuous keyboards, melodies like tattoos and a studiedly (un)transcendental manner. “Elysium”: intelligent pop? Hmmm…
5. Matthew E. White: “Big Inner” (Spacebomb)
Our star founded Spacebomb in the attic of the building where he lives in Richmond (Virginia). It is a label-production company he heads alongside bassist Cameron Ralston and drummer Pinson Chanselle. The first recording news about it is this fabulous “Big Inner”, one of the most mature debuts that you’ll hear in 2012. In it, White has sought to crystallise all of the lessons learnt so far in his musical career: from the baggage he acquired with his avant-garde jazz band Fight The Big Bull to his fascination with velvety 70s soul, including cosmic American music and his obsession with Randy Newman, the maestro whose door he knocked on in Los Angeles to show him his art. As the title says, “Big Inner” is an album that has big insides created by languid, persevering compositions that wrap you in gospel caresses, vintage strings and a soothing voice that reminds one of several of the greats. Songs like “ Brazos” are some of the best medicines for this time of despair.
6. Neneh Cherry & The Thing: “The Cherry Thing” (Smalltown Supersound)
As juicy as the ones on the Divine Fits album that we bid farewell to the summer with - and infinitely cooler than the ones in the logo of any famous discotheque - the two cherries on the cover of “The Cherry Thing” are about to burst with ripeness. Their juice is the result of the alliance of two artistic personalities: the unexpected return of Neneh Cherry along with The Thing, a striking Nordic free jazz trio. To give shape to the eye-catching collision, the beauty and the beasts decided to choose a repertoire that would live up to the challenging nature of the encounter. And the truth is that they hit the nail on the head, choosing hearty authors who would be able to stand up to the onslaught. Besides two original songs, works originally by Martina Topley-Bird, MF Doom, Don Cherry, The Stooges, Ornette Coleman and Suicide are torn apart in an album that is suitable neither for purists nor for tourists. It’s an album with strange blood and out-of-joint bones, which pushes you away the first few times you listen to it, perhaps because it requires more attention than usual; however, it ends up becoming a true delight for those who dare to try a drop of its unsettling brew.
7. Nude Beach: “II” (Nude Beach)
Nowadays, if you think that running all over Brooklyn with a nice string of pop-punk songs is going to make the world your oyster like it did The Strokes, you’d better think twice. No. Rock isn’t in anymore and the best you can hope for is to play non-stop in seedy clubs or, if you’re lucky, for a label to reissue that album that sold out the few copies of it that you managed to have made in its day. This is what has happened with Nude Beach, a trio originally from Long Island that is determined to breathe some life back into the power-pop ideas of icons like Tom Petty and Elvis Costello & The Attractions, seasoning them with a few fits of Cheap Trick or The Replacements. They know that there are a thousand canonical pop-rock albums like theirs waiting their turn, but what is noteworthy is that this hardly seems to matter to them at all. They give themselves over body and soul to a formula that is overworked, but no less effective for it, a formula that focuses on the past, but wearing jeans put on in the present. The songs sing, without sounding clichéd, about the same things as always: teenagers that are sometimes bad, sometimes innocent, who don’t care at all if they’re seen crying over love. It’s a work that is crunchy and refreshing, without tricks or faking.
8. Ombre: “Believe You Me” (Asthmatic Kitty)
Julianna Barwick put out the mystical album par excellence of 2011, “ The Magic Place ”, which contributed depth of field to the resurgence of the new age, over and above hippy-cosmic whims. After something so telluric, it was hard to imagine what the princess of Asthmatic Kitty’s next step would be. What she has decided to do is wrap up the debut of a project that she has been involved in since 2010. Ombre is the fruit of her collaboration with label partner Roberto Carlos Lange, an Ecuadoran laptop producer better known as Helado Negro who collaborates with, among others, Guillermo Scott Herren and Bear In Heaven. Working together to stitch up some Southern jazz and spontaneous field recordings, they have created “Believe You Me”, which gets carried away and reminds one of Julian Lynch’s “ Mare” at times, like the two parts of “Noche Brilla”. This is an album which, if we were trying to pair its peripheral strangeness with another contemporary project, we could interpret it as the luminous flip side of that fraternal exercise in escapist music that is “ Mirroring” (Foreign Body).
9. Ty Segall Band: “Slaughterhouse” (In the Red)
Ty Segall is winning the prize for the most prolific rocker of the year the hard way, and he is even on the way to surpassing his godfather John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees) in popularity. He releases them so quickly it’s hard to digest his albums and let them settle, even though that isn’t really necessary for us to realise that we are looking at one of the most brilliant champions of current rock. With 2011’s splendid “Goodbye Bread” still ringing in our ears, Segall rang in 2012 by releasing the very fun “Hair” with White Fence, and he’ll end the year with an anxiously-awaited “Twins” that is about to drop. Along the way, there was a third work that couldn’t have had a more fitting title— “Slaughterhouse” is, if Michael Gira will excuse us, the most abrasive thing to happen to rock this season. It is a seminal album, pressing and saturated, which puts the fear of God into you as few can anymore, a big ball of fire filled with grunge that razes everything in its path as if it had been launched from the past by a Stooges flamethrower. The credits this time are for Ty Segall Band, a band that plays its guts out to show them to us with no holds barred, squeezing out every last drop of blood as if their guitars were daggers and their riffs were slashes into skin.
10. Various: “Just Tell Me That You Want Me. A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac” (Hear Music / Concord)
It was only to be expected that sooner or later, there would be an album in homage to the band most heavily reclaimed by the indie community. Sadly, the tribute to Fleetwood Mac doesn’t seem to have done as well as expected. Why? There might be a few reasons. From the penguin on the cover to the fact that this type of release doesn’t tend to generate great interest, not to mention the most likely reason of all: it’s difficult to resuscitate the pristine magic of the great group of musicians who beautified Buckingham and Nicks. The repertoire of “Just Tell Me That You Want Me” had to be designed in keeping with what the participating artists decided to cover. Personally, yours truly isn’t entirely convinced by how little attention was paid to Buckingham, although the great selection of songs from the favourite “Tusk” is satisfying. All in all, we’ll be more benevolent than most of the critics we’ve read and look back on some of the juicier moments of this hour and a half of versions and perversions. Among them, the contributions of Antony, Tame Impala, shoegazer Lykke Li and the way that The Kills dissect “Dreams”. The worst thing: the vulgarity of St Vincent’s “Sisters Of The Moon” with Craig Wedren (Shudder To Think), though after listening to her recent album with David Byrne, I’ve already almost forgotten about it …