Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Best of the Rest of 12: Indie & Electro

In addition to the 20 albums counted down at the end of the year, there were a number of other pleasure-providing musical products from 2012 that deserve note. All this week, I'll be celebrating the Best of the Rest of 12, starting with Indie & Electro, featuring artists coming from the world of small labels and Bandcamp pages.

Package Deal
The Prism from Nicolas Jaar's Clown & Sunset label is a sleek little silver box filled with a sampling of terrific music, much of which features the man himself. It lends a sense of occasion to the listening experience, even when I'm using it at work, and that's certainly something we can use more of these days.

Gotcha Covered
The all-covers album is a stumbling block much of the time. Classic tracks are either bashed out or over-thought, carbon-copied or needlessly deconstructed. Two albums, both released in extremely small numbers, avoided many of the common issues.

Holly Miranda collected many of her various covers, called it Party Trick, and gave it away to some of the fans (like me) who joined her PledgeMusic campaign. Anyone who's heard her smoking rendition of the Etta James standard, I'd Rather Go Blind, knows that she has a way with interpretation. She also has eclectic taste, tackling material by everyone from David Byrne and The XX to Prince and Bon Iver. Highlights of the collection include a searing take on God Damn The Sun by Swans and a version of Forever Young by Alphaville that manages to impose a grandeur and sincerity on the trite song almost despite itself. My appetite is successfully whetted for her self-produced second album, due out soon.

Field Music Play..... gathers covers by the Brewis brothers from the last few years, including a magnificent Suzanne and a charmingly complex approach to Ringo's Don't Pass Me By. The care they lavish on Syd Barrett's Terrapin leads to a result more fully realized than his own recording. It's a short album, almost an EP, and two Pet Shop Boys songs are two too many, but it shows the range of Field Music's talents. They also released the fine album Plumb in 2012, which was nominated for a Mercury Prize. However, to these ears it was a holding action after 2010's incredible double album, Measure.

Back To The Bedsit
Ghost Carriage Phantoms is the joint project of songwriter Michael James Hall and producer Mark Estall (also the proprietor of the cleverly named Marketstall Records), and their debut record, The Boy Lives, is an absorbing trip through a witty and introverted lo-fi universe. Both Woody Allen and The Psychedelic Furs are name-checked - doesn't that just say it all?

Not Grimes
While I don't want to be snarky, the amount of attention paid to Grimes seems disproportionate to the quality of her music, which often runs out of ideas halfway through. Two more promising artists in a similar vein are Twigs and Py. The electronic instrumentals backing Twigs's soprano on her EP feel almost three-dimensional and lend necessary depth to her airy singing. Her melodies are consistently intriguing as she dissects her interpersonal relationships with a clipped precision. I'm eagerly awaiting more from her and Py, who is memorably in the mix of Two Years, a moody track from Breton's Other People's Problems. Get in on the ground floor with her Tripping on Wisdom mixtape.

Marsupial Madness
Fans of Black Moth Super Rainbow and Tame Impala might want to do a little digging and give a listen to Opossom. With better songs than the former and a less slavish sound than the latter, they bring some serious fun to the psych-pop realm on their album, Electric Hawaii. They literally move to the beat of a different drummer - Kody Nielson, who also writes, sings and produces - slices up time in some pretty interesting ways on the drum tracks. He also holds the drum chair in his brother's Unknown Mortal Orchestra, whose second album is out February 5th.

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