Five years is a lifetime in the music scene but that is exactly how long it has been since the release of The Shins last record Wincing The Night Away . The band of course changed as The Shins are mostly James Mercer now but the music remained whole. With the help of talented guests Port Of Morrow moved into a more sonic and layered depth direction that still had a trademark jangle to it but also had a touch of classic rock vibe going on which gave the record a timeless appeal and a solid new found structure for The Shins. This new energy made for a great listen and a solid number 30 on our list for 2012.
The Shins: Port Of Morrow [Fire Note Review 3/23/12]
Grizzly Bear’s last record, Veckatimest , topped the chart and was number one in our 2009 Blazing Top 50 year end countdown so the pressure was on for Shields. From its intricate musical craftsmanship and memorable harmonies Shields had all the pieces but you could hear that Grizzly Bear took everything out a step farther. Upon first few listens Shields was not as easy to get into which was reflected in our review but it was after multiple spins and discussion that Grizzly Bear shot into the chart. Shields is full of grand ideas with an expansive canvas that did not take hold immediately but when it finally clicked; it rightfully slid into spot 29 on our Top 50 this year.
Grizzly Bear: Shields [Fire Note Review 9/19/12]
Tom Krell’s How to Dress Well has one of those falsettos that are hard to get out of your head. On their sophomore album, Total Loss, the emotion just resonated from every track as its R&B flavored pieces made for a sophisticated mix. What we liked about Total Loss was that the listener didn’t feel a need to dive into the lyrics and extract their meaning – their meaning is evident in how the song is sung and produced. This alone made the album worth every minute and secured its position at #28.
How To Dress Well: Total Loss [Fire Note Review 9/20/12]
If there is ever an artist that seems to be on the verge of breaking out I would say that Brooklyn singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten is close to the top of the list. Her confident siren vocals were the instant focal point on her new record Tramp but her lyrics that covered loneliness, cautiousness around others and an overall sense of uneasiness gave the record its depth, cohesiveness and staying power. All of this made for an excellent listen and even if Van Etten is not a household name yet, Tramp has a superb replay value and most certainly has everything moving her in the right direction for a bigger audience.
Sharon Van Etten: Tramp [Fire Note Review 2/9/12]
It has been 15 years since Redd Kross last had a record on the shelves with Show World  so it was really anybody’s guess for what this outing was going to bring. I am not even sure if the younger generation can appreciate a new Redd Kross record like Researching The Blues but for anyone that was around for the heyday of their 90’s material this album hit every power pop chord in your body – and that was a good thing. The power pop gem “Stay Away From Downtown” sticks in your head and with only a total album running time of 32 minutes there was absolutely no filler. Redd Kross brought their 70’s power chords back in all their glory throughout Researching The Blues while once again making their style of power pop very modern. This not only made for a fun listen but it made Researching The Blues one of the best records released this year!
Redd Kross: Researching The Blues [Fire Note Review 8/6/12]
The Only Place left Best Coast’s lo-fi output in the dust and came at its fans shooting for the moon with its much brighter and polished sound. We initially thought the missing lo-fi pop was a huge mistake but The Only Place won us over in exactly 2 minutes and 43 seconds, on the first single and opening title track. The record still featured Cosentino taking on all songwriting, vocal and rhythm guitar duties while Bobb Bruno is on lead guitar, bass and drums but now placed Cosentino’s vocals right out front and guess what – she really can sing! The album is a tidy 34 minutes and only gets more addictive with repeat spins. Not only did The Only Place turn out to be one of the catchier records we have heard this year but Cosentino will keep us coming back for more and we can’t wait to hear what she does next!
Best Coast: The Only Place [Fire Note Review 5/14/12]
Is it possible for a record to be both avant garde and accessible at the same time, to be both simple and complex? If the record is Swing Lo Magellan, the new album from Dirty Projectors, the answer is most definitely YES! Its success was simple: the music was not as dense and all over the map which seemed to open the band up to a new audience but it was still weird enough to please long-time fans. Swing Lo Magellan was loaded with multiple layers; from the production, to the songwriting, to the playing, and the singing. It was a remarkably rich listening experience that brought something new each time you played it and with that said certainly earned its spot in TFN Top 50!
Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan [Fire Note Review 7/27/12]
It has been 5 years since Pinback released their last studio album, Autumn of the Seraphs , and you absolutely wouldn’t know it after taking in the sonic adventure that was their new outing Information Retrieved. The duo of vocalist/guitarist Rob Crow and bassist/vocalist Zach Smith once again came out of the gate with their trademarked layered harmonies, soaring melodies and quick shifting rhythms. Information Retrieved was not a return to form – it is Pinback’s form. The album never hit you in the face as it just slowly took you over with its little catchy nuances. For all of these little pieces working together and a strong return to form, Information Retrieved ranks up there with Pinback’s best and found its self properly placing at number 23.
Pinback: Information Retrieved [Fire Note Review 10/16/12]
I think it goes without saying that sometimes we really like odd music. Not in the sense that it is crazy or freaky if you would hear it but just that you might scratch your head and think to yourself “I don’t get it”. King Tuff was one of those records that might fall into the above mentioned category but its carefree rock n roll had elements of lo-fi, punk and garage all wrapped into its satisfying 40 minute running time and clearly stood out from the album stacks immediately. King Tuff had a focused progression that could be in the form of a ballad, Southern rockabilly or just straight up punk. Everything from the album cover, the somewhat nasally delivery of leader Kyle Thomas to the furious two weeks of recording in Detroit, King Tuff screams caution but it only takes one listen to the bigger rock sound to hook you with its simple sincerity. It made for a great time each moment it hit our speakers and easily glided into our Top 50!
King Tuff: King Tuff [Fire Note Review 5/30/12]
15 years is a long time to hit all the right keys but I feel the seventh long player from Spiritualized accomplished just that as Sweet Heart Sweet Light is Jason Pierce’s best record since his unforgettable Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space . This might come to some fans surprise as Sweet Heart took over eight months to just mix. All of the pieces here worked together and drove Sweet Heart Sweet Light to its spectacular listening point. The bottom line on Sweet Heart Sweet Light is that it was well worth the wait and once again placed Spiritualized up into the elite category of artists that consistently meets the high expectations!
Spiritualized: Sweet Heart Sweet Light [Fire Note Review 4/19/12]