Failed States is Propagandhi’s bitter album. The Canadian punk rockers have always worn their angry, fist-raising politics on their sleeves – a particularly effective formula when mixed with the band’s more recent thrash-punk inclinations – but this time around it’s accompanied by a rather stark sense of futility. Guided by figures such as Chris Hedges, Failed States lambastes the vapid state of affairs which places more value in material culture, political, and religious talking points over genuine discussion. It isn’t hard to find reason for their cynicism; months ago, the band posted an interview of Hedges conducted by Fox News wannabe, Kevin O’Leary. Rather than engage Hedges in a discussion of the Occupy Movement, O’Leary was content in resorting to ad hominem attacks and semantic traps. It was an embarrassing display from what is supposed to be a serious political talk show, and for a band that’s built their career on promoting political activism and intelligent discussion it has to be a bitter pill to swallow. Consequently, much of the Failed States features diatribes against such stupidity, political apathy, and inaction; where previous albums parried against ideological opponents, this time around Propagandhi lament the seeming lack of engagement outside major social movements such as Occupy, YoSoy132, and 15-M. Propagandhi accentuates this with a ferocious blend of punk rock tinged with classic 80s thrash and hardcore, and it’s clear that they’ve never sounded as good or as relevant as they do now. -Mike Stagno
Lonerism is an album’s album—the kind of record meant to be played from beginning to end, one long journey where the songs and emotions bleed into each other and it’s difficult to tell just where you end up, but damn is the trip worth it. What Kevin Parker has done takes all the choicest bits of psychedelia, metallic grooves and Britpop and infuses it with the remoteness of his native Perth, creating a massive collage that is impossible to place in any one time period, isolated from its contemporaries and incredibly easy to get lost in. As daunting as Lonerism seems on paper—a veritable army of effects and tracks that would turn the ghost of John Lennon green with envy—what Parker and producer Dave Fridmann (of the Flaming Lips) have accomplished is an expansive, kaleidoscopic album that is not all inspired when broken down into its component parts, but unpredictable and exquisite when combined under Parker’s unique vision. Lonerism has the very tough task of taking the sounds and clichés of decades past and making it sound inventive and exciting. That Parker not only succeeded but also created a classic to stand alongside those same influences is only the most impressive of Lonerism’s many accomplishments. -Rudy K.
Provincial was the album that brought me back down to earth when I was struggling to make my way around it. Samson takes the everyday nothings of home-life, paints them in the hues only his palette possesses, and suddenly these nothings burst into life. Value is conceived; it squirms and cries and kicks from the insides of video games, master’s theses, teachers’ staff parties. Commonplace and, by some fools like myself, unfairly condemned, these non-events compel a new desire under the Samson touch. Daily vicissitudes of the every-man, once tepid and micro, become vital. But, it is implied, the ordinary is vital. 2012 has been the year of unwelcome but essential revelations for me, and the biggest one was that travelling is not the holy grail I had believed it to be, and that I had been sucked in by the marketing and glamour of life on the road. Provincial hasn’t just made me miss home, it’s helped me strip away the skin-deep allure of the peripatetic lifestyle, and come to terms with home’s unfashionable importance. My experience has been all the better for it. Listen to this album; change your perspective before your location. -Matt Wolfe
As predictable as it is, it’s always reassuring to see John Darnielle release another record. The world is round; the sun rises in the east and sets in the west; DaveyBoy will rave about a questionable album; the Mountain Goats’ new record will inevitably impress—these are things we take for granted at this point. At 45, Darnielle still trudges along with his motley crew of junkies, disorders and blips in history, painting his 3-minute picture books of agoraphobics and dead R&B singers with the more expanded studio brushes he has become accustomed to filling in the edges with. While the birth of his first child may have heralded a change in demeanor, aside from the brazen optimism of opener “Amy AKA Spent Gladiator I,” this is still the same Darnielle you’ve always known, the one who can make desperately waiting for your dealer a warm and inviting proposition on “Lakeside View Apartments Suite.” “The loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you’re never going to see again,” Darnielle sings on “Harlem Roulette,” and it’s that struggle to live, for things to have meaning, that remains the central theme of the Mountain Goats and Transcendental Youth. Just, you know, with more horns. -Rudy K.
Losing a front-man as effective and distinctive as Frank Carter would put paid to most bands, but not hardcore punk quintet Gallows. Using the old real estate adage of investing in the worst property on the best street, the English outfit made the brave choice of replacing Carter with Alexisonfire’s third-choice vocalist Wade MacNeil. While the Canadian’s delivery is more orthodox than his predecessor’s, MacNeil acquits himself amazingly well on the group’s self-titled third LP. Delivering another relentless barrage of ferocious energy; with snarling and angry vocals atop gritty and hard-hitting musicianship, this may be a less distinctive Gallows but it is one more universal in scope. Littered with gang vocals, the surprises here are the anthemic nature of the melodic hooks and the removal of any filler – an issue which plagued the quintet’s previous two releases. The jury may still have been out on the MacNeil fronted band following the ‘Death Is Birth’ EP, but a positive verdict has now been returned for the new – and arguably improved – Gallows! Recommended Tracks: Depravers, Cross of Lorraine, Victim Culture & Odessa. -DaveyBoy
In a time where screamo has become convoluted with all sorts of nonsense, ranging from contrived statements and hackneyed genre bending, it’s nice to see a few bands getting back to the basics: passion. State Faults is one such band. On their debut, Desolate Peaks, the band wastes no time setting the listener up for an energetic and wonderful experience full of heart and confidence. For a mere first release, the band touts sounds that displays a prowess far beyond their years. This is seen in the lovingly crafted instrumental work, as well as the painfully anguished vocals. Everything screams passion, and because of this, Desolate Peaks stands as one of the most powerful and enticing releases this year. -Eli Kleman
“Pretty sure we’re all gonna die/ pretty sure we’re all gonna die,” sings Finn on “No Future,” like casualty is a matter for coffee chats and shrugging at funerals. In death, like every other problem Clear Heart Full Eyes has, Finn’s characters don’t know where they’re going. They have God for that, right? Clear Heart is an album disguised in its religion, but really about overflowing; these characters can’t keep it together even if they have Jesus by their side, and then there are those who have nothing but the four walls around them for company. They’re closing in fast. Finn writes new lovers as new liars and old ones as memories. Where does it resolve? In the stars, usually, and in big cosmic metaphors. Clear Heartrarely overstates the melodrama of its ensemble cast, preferring to treat them with what they deserve, but it twinkles with a rare divine wisdom. Its country twang is its saviour, and looking skyward is a way out of these problems. For a boozy, Springsteen rock ‘n’ roll superhero, upward is a different landscape. -Robin Smith
Max Richter has never been one to shy away from being overly ambitious, but recomposing a piece as highly revered as Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” came as quite a surprise. At the same time, it couldn’t have been more perfect. Richter has always had a flair for crafting reserved and personal music, something which translates very well here. One can appreciate his distinctive melancholic sound that rears its head ever so slightly. But it is when his surprising dramatic streak pops up that we really get to see how wonderfully adaptive Richter is as an artist. It’s the same lovely piece of music, albeit with a splash of something inherently unique. It’s easy to take Recomposed: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons with a grain of salt, and even easier to lambast it as a cheap butchering. Yet approached with an open mind, it exists as a beautiful homage to a true classic. -Eli Kleman
We live in an age wherein reality frequently trumps satire; instead of filing reports from an alternate universe, Andrew Falkous and company are now speaking from a mere parallel world. We can relate to Falkous’ odes to madness, unease, and frustration as he lambasts his targets with his trademark vitriolic sneer. With The Plot Against Common Sense, the now-a-four-piece outfit continue to differentiate themselves from their previous Mclusky outfit, although the frenetic, cacophonous instrumentation, rife with raucous bass and unforgettable hooks, is as spastic and abrasive as ever. With its razor-sharp sarcasm and perpetually loud and aggressive guitars, keys, and percussion to match, this is the real soundtrack to the apocalypse. -Joseph Viney
Whenever someone says “Don’t listen to a word I say”, you can bet your bottom dollar that they really want you to listen to them. But just in case you were to take Of Monsters and Men too literally, the Icelandic outfit beg for your attention with a follow-up “Hey” that is an addictive snap back to reality. ‘Little Talks’, the track from which the aforementioned lyrics are taken, has been omnipresent over the past twelve months, best summing up the accessible brand of indie-folk which the sextet deliver. Combining the folkiness of Fleet Foxes, the catchiness of Mumford & Sons, and the baroque instrumentation & build-ups of Arcade Fire, there is genuine mainstream potential evident on the band’s debut LP ‘My Head is an Animal’. While the fantastic boy/girl vocals capture your initial attention, the superb musical arrangements keep you coming back. And while there are a few too many “Hey Heys” & “La La La’s”, the joyous method in which the often emotional lyrics are produced is borderline brilliant. Be sure to grab the 2012 edition of the album, so you can hear new tune ‘Mountain Sound’ cause these underground darlings to suffer some Mumford-like backlash! Recommended Tracks: Little Talks, Lakehouse, Mountain Sound & King and Lionheart. -DaveyBoy
If the popularity of the ghostwritten Ghostface’s Annual Top 10 Softest Niggas in the Game feature is any indicator, rap can be boiled down to two subsets – hard and soft – with an equally binary value system. So in a year when prototypical “hard” rappers Killer Mike, El-P, and Kendrick Lamar have ascended comfortably into the mainstream, it’s a surprise to see Billy Woods go mostly unrecognized. In all fairness maybe he goes too hard with his grandiose album title, stark Robert Mugabe album art, and lyrics like “Thirty-two bars on how to rob and kill your neighbors / Still got the nerve to ask God to save you.” I can see this aggressive aesthetic getting under the skin of even the most enlightened internet rap enthusiasts, but my real theory is that History Will Absolve Me is secretly the most delicate and emotional rap album of the year. Hidden beneath BW’s nasty, straight ahead flow are lush beats and unexpected moments of poetry: “In bed not sleeping she teasing / Legs spread mouth wet seasonal fruit / Stuck in my head like the perfect loop / Slow burn smokey eyes lotion thighs / Suddenly realizing you’re alive / Like one day I’m gonna die but right now I’m alive / Smell you on my pillows blackberry kush billows.” Maybe the reason we all slept on Billy is we haven’t found that part of ourselves that allows us to embrace the paradox that rap can go hard and still be emotionally vulnerable. Shame on us for being so soft. -Nick Greer
While Veckatimist was one of the better indie albums in a year that, in retrospect, was slightly underwhelming, its tale was one of unfinished business – it was the work of a band within touching distance of greatness, achingly close to springing themselves right to the forefront of the genre, with one song (the doo-wop influenced “Two Weeks”) that showed everybody how special they might be if they got there. The question surrounding Shields was whether it would take that next step. It does. Curiously, though, it does it through refinement rather than inspiration, through honing the craft they already had rather than finding some new external inspiration. Greatness, though, is certainly here; it’s there in the way that the seriously good “Speak in Rounds” slides into the ambient “Adelma” so smoothly that they almost sound like part of the same song, in the command of texture and space displayed most impressively on “The Hunt”, in the rising tension and gentle release of “Half Gate” and “Sun In Your Eyes”, and most crucially, in the quality of songs like “Yet Again” and “gun-shy”. It’s also their most consistent album yet by some distance, and Daniel Rossen’s lyrics have suddenly shifted up about three gears. From every angle, it’s an impressive body of work that’s everything we could have hoped for and more; everybody that got excited when “Sleeping Ute” first dropped must have been ecstatic when they realized that it was probably the weakest song here. -Nick Butler
Seen by this reviewer as an examination of birth, life and death, Clubroot’s self-titled trilogy has, over its four years, subtlety ingrained itself within the psyches of everyone suffering from the hangover of South London’s glory days. Subtle, but as the artwork for his third entry would seem to indicate, Clubroot treats his endgame as a cataclysm on the grandest scale – this is not merely a whimper but the proverbial bang, the enveloping and then rapture of his universe. But it’s a tragedy written calmly and resolutely, treated not with grievance but remembrance. And we, the ever spoiled listener, are rewarded with perhaps the producer’s most all-encompassing work, his most self-assured and fulfilling, and easily his most mature outing to date. Parts 1 & 2 are still there, buried deep in the mix, but III-MMXII uses them merely as reference points, simultaneously appearing as more operatic and dramatic, yet also more mournfully distant and dungeon-rattling than ever before. It’s no easy measure to attempt to construct an album of such weight and intent, but Clubroot has, in almost sheer defiance, more than measured up to the task, simultaneously celebrating and decrying an act that he seems so captivated by to not document. Whatever may come next for this gifted producer remains uncertain, but for someone who has spent his career playing second fiddle to an even greater and more elusive shadow than his own, III-MMXII at the very least secures his right to be seen in his own light. -Deviant.
Earlier this month, in the back room of a tiny Mediterranean restaurant, a slender, nearly seven foot tall man waded his way through a crowd of approximately 150 people. A long microphone cable trailing behind him, making its way back to his bandmates still standing on the stage, he began to speak in a calm, contemplative manner, “Sexism exists because we lie to our children. Racism exists because we lie to our children. Religion exists because we lie to our children.” He swayed back and forth as if the collective breath of the audience was able to push him like a stiff breeze through a forest of birch. “Stop lying to our children,” and then what began was “Not With All The Hope In the World”, Gaza’s final song of their set. No Absolutes in Human Suffering was born from such bleak political statements. It’s churning dissonance and doomy foreboding are a modern day portrait of a landscape cracked with religious hypocrites, institutionalized violence and pestilence, and the overall shit nature of us as human beings. It burns with a truth that things will never get better, peace is just not an option, but that doesn’t mean we have to whitewash it to make it palatable and unoffensive to those who refuse to accept it. Let us tell the truth: life is an ugly and disgusting phenomenon. -Adam Thomas
It’s hard to think of a band that has matured more than Katatonia have. Some might say that their death/doom beginnings were just a means to an end, and if that is so then that end is most definitely Dead End Kings. It is not only the most enthralling, engrossing, and esoteric album they’ve released, it is the very essence of what Katatonia are as a musical entity. I say esoteric because, while the sound is, at its core, aesthetically similar to Night is the New Day, nearly everything else is different in a way that may be a bit tough to swallow. It is a stripped-down, destitute wasteland of ringing keys, soft guitars, smooth riffs, and sinking vocals. Everything melts together wonderfully, fusing the album’s eleven tracks into one harmonic motion; a piece of art that the band have long been hinting at but have failed in one way or another to fully realize. Dead End Kings is monolithic for this band, because it not only is the complete picture of their current iteration, it is the key that unlocked the door to what is possible in the future. -Kyle Ward
To say the melodic death metal gets a lot of flak is to underestimate the sentiment of the metal world toward the genre. Throw progressive elements into the mix and the Opeth comparisons come full swing, usually sent with a scoffing hint of disdain. In Mourning have had a label along these lines since their inception, and while the Opeth comparisons are shallow and the hate for the current melodic death scene does not necessarily apply to this band, it easy to see why they have been pasted with it. The Weight of Oceans unleashes some wicked melodies, and combine that with irregular song structures and you have the makings for an album that takes the brunt of the hammer brought down by both camps. What makes In Mourning different, and what makes The Weight of Oceans more powerful than its contemporaries – or even their previous work Monolith – is the inspiration that the band brings to the table. The massive, visceral “Colossus” is awash with ripping vocal melodies and tidal movements that mimic the breadth of those in the real world. Couple that with the diverging “Celestial Tear”, a down-tempo ballad showing dynamics and diversity, revealing a more complete picture of who In Mourning are. They are no Opeth clone, or even contemporary, and they surely don’t belong tossed in a bin with the scores of other bands who attempt to capture the sound The Weight of Oceans brings forth. Instead, they are a band with a vision, and if anything The Weight of Oceans shows that they have the skill to make that vision come alive. -Kyle Ward
Four years ago a CD-R made its way to the top of a rather large pile of music I had no intention of ever listening to. It was your average hodgepodge of albums friends thought I would like, mixes made by people I haven’t talked to in just as long, and the stray promotional slag/local band demo tape. That album was Hop Along, Queen Ansleis’ 2006 debutFreshman Year. It was a breath of fresh air. At the beginning of the indie-synth boom and the umpteenth rebirth of roots rock revivalism, Frances Quinlan and her brother Mark’s bedroom recordings were pleasantly unique, quirky little numbers. That same year also saw the release of the Wretches EP, a copy of which has nary left my record player since snagging a copy at a house show in Long Beach, which saw Frances imbue her music with a new sense of angst and aggression on top her folky jaunts. Then nothing. Nada. That was until the fabulous Get Disowned. Armed with a shortened name and a refined vitriol of inward reflection and outward jubilation, Hop Along went from Philly no ones to indie-punk darlings being name dropped on upcoming artists lists along with Laura Stevenson and Waxahatchee. It’s well deserved. Frances and co. have never sounded more alive. Songs like “Young and Happy” and “Laments” are irresistibly cute but just as self-aware and biting. Not to mention that when Frances hits that one “…That I do…” in Tibetan Pop Stars she simultaneously melts the hearts of every one from thick beareded orgcore fanatics to malnourished sweater vested college kids trying to get the smell of shitty vodka drool out of their Grizzly Bear v-neck. -Adam Thomas
As an adjective, the word “dependable” gets a bad rap. People seem to only want something to be dependable when they are spending thousands of dollars, otherwise they prefer “exciting”, “unpredictable” and “spontaneous”. Cough up twenty bucks on an Anberlin album, however, and you are assured of getting the whole kit and caboodle. While always showcasing signs of progression and diversity, the Floridian quintet’s strike rate is amazingly high over their previous five albums… and aptly titled sixth LP ‘Vital’ continues that streak. Returning to producer Aaron Sprinkle, this is explosive, energetic & passionate; heavy without sacrificing any of the band’s melodic hooks. Stephen Christian’s majestic vocals are matched by the blazing guitars & pounding drums, while the infusion of synth flourishes not only adds depth, but somehow assists the aggressive tone. From the tremendous opening one-two punch to the epic closer, this consistent LP is a supremely rewarding listen which successfully captures the essence of Anberlin’s live sound on record… Arguably making ‘Vital’ their most definitive – if not necessarily very best – release. Recommended Tracks: Little Tyrants, Self-Starter, Desires, Someone Anyone & Type Three. -DaveyBoy
Rush’s three-and-a-half decade reign atop the progressive rock pantheon has been marked by increasing amounts of experimentation and, depending on how you choose to demarcate your borders, several distinct musical phases. Yet for their 19th studio record the grizzled Canadian veterans chose to eschew all that and produce a relatively straightforward, back-to-basics rock and roll record – but with a slight thematic twist. Steampunk, pirates, alchemy, and tangling with deadly sea sirens may all seem like rather bizarre territory for three middle-aged men to explore, yet Clockwork Angels truly does feel like a natural extension of the band’s trajectory.
Much of that, I wager, has to do with the high amount of intensely memorable instrumental sections scattered generously throughout the record. It’s virtually impossible to resist wanting to tap your fingers along to the thundering bass section that opens “Seven Cities of Gold”, for one, or to not want to air guitar your way into the next room each time an out-and-out rocker like “Headlong Flight” or “Carnies” comes on. Elsewhere, Neil Peart’s lyrics – although frequently draped in fantastical imagery for the most part (“In all your science of the mind/Seeking blind through flesh and stone/Find the blood inside this stone”) – isn’t short on anthemic refrains either: “In a world where I feel so small I can’t stop thinking big!” exhorts Geddy Lee on “Caravan”, setting the tone for the rest of the record.
Elsewhere, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for so long a tremendous thorn in the side for the legions of Rush’s fans, finally decided to induct the band this year. The honour capped off what has been a tremendous past couple of months for the Canadian outfit – even by their astronomical standards –, yet it says a lot about the band members’ respective characters that they have chosen to remain so reserved and philosophical about it all: “[It] made my mom very happy, so that’s worth it,” offered Geddy Lee. -Irving Tan
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My favorite detail of Flying Lotus’ masterful Cosmogramma was the sinister chuckle he used to open “Do the Astral Plane.” It seemed representative of the album as a whole; while everything about the album bent, morphed, jerked, and twisted the listener’s expectations, FlyLo laughed maniacally, like a mad genius who’d returned from the Astral Plane with music our earthly minds could not fathom. So when the Quiet came and went without so much as a smirk, it felt kind of like that episode of Family Guy where Peter returns to his high school and finds his favorite, formerly free-spirited teacher medicated into a dry shell of his former self. How refreshing it was, then, to hear that laugh on Duality. Flying Lotus’ rap album sees the beast unleashed again; under the momentarily mysterious Captain Murphy moniker, FlyLo freewheels, sounding conspicuously close to Tyler, the Creator as he giggles through raps littered with pop culture references both timely (Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy) and dorky (“Pauly Shore?”). Buoyed by a charmingly goofy cult-creation narrative and Madvillain-esque don’t-give-a-fuck-itude, Duality is Flying Lotus at his most uninhibited. “So unorthodox,” indeed. -Adam Downer
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