Midyear Report: 12 for '12
Randee St. Nicholas
The year is nearly halfway over, and in an effort to keep up, I've been crafting a Spotify playlist containing the notable albums that have come out this year. Even though there are six months and change to go, it has surpassed the 3,000-track mark. Here are 12 songs that have risen to the top of that massive heap, arranged in something resembling a playlist order. (To hear the tracks, check out the Voice's music blog, Sound of the City.)
The Flaming Lips feat. Ke$ha and Biz Markie, "2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)." In honor of Record Store Day, the Flaming Lips put out Heady Fwends, a series of cortex-damaging collaborations with the likes of Nick Cave and Yoko Ono. Their unhinged ode to this year's possibly impending apocalypse has glass-shard guitars, a bleat from Biz Markie, and a tour de force performance from pop's queen of hedonism, Ke$ha, who should really think about fronting a noise band once the Dr. Luke hooks dry up. Recommended listening for reading Twitter during a peak in the news cycle.
Evans the Death, "I'm So Unclean." A rumbling throwback to the earliest days of indie, this crashing barn burner about a woman so paralyzed by romance that all she can do is stare at her cat and her TV is made transcendent by the vocal performance of Katherine Whitaker, who provides a voice to the kind of despair that seems frozen on the surface but is engaging in an absolute rage fest just below it.
Kindness, "That's Alright." British DJ/producer Adam Bainbridge flips Trouble Funk's space-age go-go track "Still Smokin' (Hug a But)" into a shivery, shimmering plea from a woman looking for her potential lover to put up or shut up. Probably the song I've danced to around my home office (yes, that's my bedroom) more than any other this year.
Adam Lambert feat. Sam Sparro and Nile Rodgers, "Shady." American Idol's superstar runner-up pays homage to "Superstition" and Chic with this slinky slow-burner of a track, which has a star turn from Rodgers on guitar.
Sylver Tongue, "Creatures." Charlotte Hatherley, formerly of Ash and her own sparkling guitar-pop efforts, picks up the synths for her new project, which is equally inspired by early new wave and sci-fi heroines. (Its name is a hybridized homage to the Philip Pullman heroine Lyra Silvertongue and Japan frontman David Sylvian.) Her whoops and hiccups on this all-momentum track reveal that her superpower might very well be her ability to mimic her instruments with her voice.
Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny, "Sweet Tooth Bird." Horns and strings and an angelic choir give this loopy song the feeling of a particularly fanciful powerpop track, or perhaps even a half-animated movie musical's centerpiece number. The British songbird's voice is velvety smooth as she tells a tale of happiness being marred by glimmers of grief; it's like listening to a fable from someone who appreciates the pomp-rock craft of Queen and Jellyfish as much as she does the lessons handed down by Aesop or the Brothers Grimm.
Arctic Monkeys, "R U Mine?" 2005's Next Blog Thing is still mashing away, creating pub-ready anthems that predict post-last-call adventures. On this track, lead singer Alex Turner gasps his way through a rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness recollection of love gone astray, and he's framed by gunning-motor guitars and a Greek chorus of falsetto-straining mates.
FOE, "A Handsome Stranger Called Death." A languorous ode to flirting with the Grim Reaper but not feeling good enough about his overall deal to fully commit to his dark charms, this slice of gothy pop is dragged along by Hannah Clark's silky, grouchy voice (her sinuous "la-la"-ing imprinted itself on my brain immediately after I first heard it) and a twisted late-night-lounge atmosphere.
R. Kelly, "Feeling Single." Not an exact Michael Jackson homage, but definitely operating in the spirit of the departed pop superstar (and former Kelly collaborator). This up-tempo lite-funk track about getting over an ex by moving on to the next one isn't as romantic as, say, the bombastic Sam Cooke homage "When a Woman Loves," or as giddy as "Ignition (Remix)." But this single from the r&b genius's forthcoming record Write Me Back is nevertheless pretty relatable, and could easily slip in between "It's Raining Men" and "I Will Survive" on a pregaming playlist.
Rebecca Ferguson, "Nothing's Real But Love." The British version of Simon Cowell's talent competition The X Factor is responsible for the boyband One Direction (who are back in town for a Madison Square Garden show on Friday). Next on the "conquering America" docket is Ferguson, a raw-voiced Brit who was a runner-up on the show in 2010; the first single from her album Heaven is stunningly simple, a simply produced love song to the emotion itself that should perk up more than a few of those ears that went crazy for "Rolling in the Deep" last year.
Fiona Apple, "Every Single Night." The fiery Apple will break her long hiatus between albums on June 19, when she releases The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do—her first full-length since 2005. Its opening salvo is an ode to the kind of insomnia that involves lots of 3 a.m. bargaining with the self and staring at the ceiling in a futile attempt to shut off the brain. "I just want to feel everything," Apple sings at the song's bridge, which sums up both the source of the song's internal conflict and the appeal of her music since the era when she was an MTV staple.
Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe." Yes, still. Reading the status updates from people of all ages and proclivities who have given into this ebullient love song's charms—sometimes grudgingly, sometimes happily—has been one of the few redeeming things about this year's iteration of the socially networked world. Why not give it a spin?
Listen to all of these songs on the Voice's music blog: blogs.villagevoice.com/music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.