OK, so this week’s trio of groups wasn’t randomly compiled. They actually came from the first “Best of 2012” list I’ve seen thus far, Paste Magazine’s top 50 albums. And they all came in ranked in the 30s, which means there are plenty more albums on the list that I need to give a listen.
Shovels & Rope
The band consists of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, a couple of accomplished singer/songwriters who came together a few years ago and released the Are You Ready To Die EP in 2010.
They’ve received plenty of praise this year with the release of their debut full-length, O Be Joyful, which fully conveys the group’s alt-country/folk-pop ditties to the masses.
Hearst’s vocals have been compared to those of Wanda Jackson, and they pair well with Trent’s on such standout tracks as “Hail Hail”, “Keeper” and “Birmingham”.
King Tuff is just one of a handful of projects for prolific musician Kyle Thomas. Among his many outlets are freaky folk revivalists Feathers, off-kilter power-pop band Happy Birthday and a stoner metal group headed by J. Mascis called Witch.
But it’s as King Tuff that the Los Angeles-via-Vermont musician is able to spread his wings as a solo artist. He put out a proper full-length debut, Was Dead, in 2008 before taking on the bevy of side gigs. Now, he’s back with a self-titled follow-up, this time on the Sub Pop label.
His lo-fi sensibilities are still present throughout the album, but this time they sound tighter and cleaner. While the first half of the record sounds like something Cloud Nothings might have put out a few years ago, it suddenly shifts gears and becomes much more rocking on tunes such as “Stranger”, “Baby Just Break” and “Hit & Run”.
There are also a couple of slower, almost ballad-like tunes in “Evergreen” and “Swamp of Love”.
Interestingly enough, the highest rated of these three albums is my least favorite. America Give Up, the debut full-length from Howler, a five-pieced based out of Minneapolis, is garage rock in its purest form.
The problem is that nobody wants to hear music made in someone’s garage. Songs inevitably are suffocated by distorted guitars and feedback.
Howler have earned comparisons to The Strokes, but Is This It? this is not. The Strokes weren’t just a welcome diversion from the over-polished tripe that was on the radio a decade ago, they were also a group of talented musicians who knew when to fine-tune their sound or leave things a little rough.
Howler seems content with leaving everything a little grimy. That being said, they do show potential on this album, particularly on the radio-ready “Back of Your Neck”, which perfectly captures the surfer-rock sound that percolates just beneath the surface of much of Howler’s catalog.