Songstress Lisa Germano has a clear penchant for the gothic. Morbid album cover? Check. Eerily-titled album tracks? Check. A haunting falsetto? Check. But how dark is too dark? How far is too far? On No Elephants, Germano goes deepâ€”but does she escape?
Germano opens her disc ominously on â€œRuminants,â€ with sounds of birds cawing and feathers fluttering. Distorted keys enter the picture, giving the track an immediate, carnivalesque feeling. Germano, though, holds out: Her breathy, feathery, falsetto of a voice doesnâ€™t chime in until the one-minute mark. It seems a little too late, and gives the disc a timid, dream-state of a start.
Her second effortâ€”the albumâ€™s title trackâ€”follows that same sleepy path. Germanoâ€™s voice is garbled and distant, a ghost, and the piano, her backbone.
Thatâ€™s a telling trait, and one that follows No Elephants to its end. From the aptly-titled â€œApathy and the Devilâ€ and â€œHauntedâ€ to the barely-there, nearly-instrumental â€œBack to Earthâ€ and â€œStrange Bird,â€ Germano often stumbles and stutters through her self-made depths.
â€œDiamondsâ€ and â€œâ€¦And So Onâ€ showcase the talent she so often hidesâ€”and one thing is clear: Itâ€™s time for Germano to find her light.
No Elephants is available on Badman Recording Co. on February 12.
It is hard to believe that 2012 is coming to a close in a matter of days, but it has been an impressive year of releases from across the musical spectrum. Members of the Drive-By Truckers stepped out on their own, Dr. John re-emerged with a little help from a Black Key, and Alabama Shakes took the airways by storm with their debut, Boys and Girls.
And this is only the tip of a mountain of monumental music.
The members of Team Honest Tune have taken some time and put together their personal top album lists. The lists are as varied as the personalities we have on staff here, from rock to bluegrass to metal. Spend a little time with our lists, check out any albums that you haven’t heard, and be prepared to enjoy some fine, fine music.
Tom Speed – Editor in Chief/Publisher
- Dr. John: Locked Down – Full of funky gris-gris and retro soul, Dr. John proves on this collaboration with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach that even in his 70s, he is still the king of Voodoo.
- Jack White: Blunderbuss – The first album in Whiteâ€™s already extensive oeuvre to actually be credited to him as a solo artist, Blunderbuss is a wide-ranging display of his rock bombast craftsmanship and his appreciation for moving American music forward.
- Tame Impala: Lonerism – This lush slice of pastoral psychedelia is both a blast to the past and an entrancing excursion into modern day sunshine pop.
- Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons: Happy Book – Thereâ€™s nary a clunker on this double-disc collection that feels like the culmination of Josephâ€™s decades long career as a prolific songwriter, a collection that is all the more glorious for harnessing the unique maelstrom that occurs when his songs are expressed through the Jackmormons.
- Alabama Shakes: Girls & Boys – One of the most buzzed about bands of the year shows why on this stunning, soulful debut.
- Hurray For The Riff Raff: Look Out Mama – Look Out Mama is a gorgeous, timeless work of wonder. Alynda Lee Segarra and company deftly mingle Americana sounds from all over the map; dust-bowl ballads, old-timey string bands and folk blues all play prominently, all the while hearkening to times gone by.
- Jimbo Mathus: Blue Light – In just six songs, the Mississippi maestro cooks up a cauldron of blues, R&B, soul and country that celebrates rock-and-roll at the molecular level.
- Dent May: Do Things – Ditching the ukulele and instead delving into synth grooves, dance-floor shenanigans and Pet Sounds pop, May produced the summerâ€™s most summery release.
- Howlin Rain: The Russian Wilds – Hard rock ainâ€™t dead. Itâ€™s alive and well on this expansive, scorching ’70s flashback of crunchy, lighter-waving rockers, replete with feedback, some horns and songs about werewolves.
- The Lumineeers : Self-Titled – While Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers, and other stalwarts of the so-called roots revival movement may have garnered more mainstream buzz, the best record of the genre came from this Colorado-based trio and their self-titled debut, a record infused with vocals both plaintive and rousing and an infectious energy that elevate a prodigious selection of original songs to great heights.
Josh Mintz – Managing Editor
- Tedeschi Trucks Band: Everybody’s Talkin’ – It’s almost unfair to put a live album as number one, but this album is so good it warrants it. It shows the Tedeschi Trucks Band where they should be – onstage, absolutely tearing through their catalog with reckless abandon. From Trucks to Tedeschi to the brothers Burbridge, the album gives all of the players a chance to shine.
- Avett Brothers: The Once and Future Carpenter – The Avett Brothers have matured into one of the best bands on the planet, and The Once and Future Carpenter is another large leap forward.
- Chris Robinson Brotherhood: Big Moon Ritual – It’s spacey in all the right places, and groovy in every way, just as psychedelic music should be.
- Howlin’ Rain: The Russian Wilds – Another phenomenal offering from one of the best little-known rock bands on the planet.
- Alabama Shakes: Boys and Girls – There’s something magically raw about this debut release. It’ll be tough to follow up.
Jamie Lee – CD/DVD Reviews Editor
- Patterson Hood : Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance â€“ Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood delivers on his third â€“ and best â€“ solo album. It is vivid, gritty, and full of feeling.
- Neurosis : Honor Found in Decay â€“ To say that Neurosis are in the zone would be an understatement. This album sounds as if the instruments are playing the musicians, and they donâ€™t let up.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit : Live from Alabama â€“ Jason Isbell continues to cement his reputation as one of the eraâ€™s premier songwriters, and he proves on Live from Alabama that he can not only write, but he can perform.
- Baroness : Yellow & Green â€“ Baroness reinvented themselves on Yellow & Green with succinct, rocking songs that lack the progressive leanings of previous releases, but make up for them with pure, concise power.
- Howlinâ€™ Rain : The Russian Wilds â€“ Howlinâ€™ Rain canâ€™t help but nod to â€˜70s-era rock, and they do so with warmth, muscle, and a freshness that is rare.
- Glossary : Long Live All of Us â€“ Glossary continue to churn out soulful songs that showcase Joey Kneiserâ€™s songwriting and infectious harmonies he shares with wife Kelly. Long Live All of Us may have flown beneath the radar of the mainstream, but that in no way indicates the impact of this album.
- Isis : Temporal â€“ Two years after calling it quits, Isis return with aÂ collection of rarities that hits all of the right spots. The sonic mastery of this band is to be reckoned with, even on stripped down demos found here.
- Stew & the Negro Problem : Making It â€“ Brimming with polished compositions and clever wordplay, Making It is a cinematic collection by Stew and cohort Heidi Rodewald.
- Royal Thunder : CVI â€“ Atlantaâ€™s Royal Thunder followed up a solid 2010 eponymous EP with CVI, a debut that is Sabbath-thick and heaving. At the forefront are the breathtaking vocals of powerhouse Mlny Parsons.
- Mike Cooley : The Fool On Every Corner â€“ On his first solo album, Mike Cooley is captured live, acoustic, and rummaging through covers and songs from his Drive-By Truckers catalog. With banter that is engaging as the music is spirited, this album clearly articulates his stellar songwriting prowess.
Tim Newby – Features Editor
- Dr. Dog : Be The Void â€“ Dr. Dog have been on a hot streak of late, from Fate to Shame, Shame to their latest album, Be the Void.Â This is classic Dr. Dog, full of quirky songs that wear their Beatles, the Band, and Neil Young influences on their sleeve. They are loud and proud, sounding like they were written for drunken campfire sing-alongs.Â That is a good thing … a really good thing.
- Justin Townes Earle : Nothing’s Going to Change the Way You Feel About Me Now â€“When you are the son of Steve Earle and named after Townes Van Zandt, you have some big shoes to fill. On Nothing’s Going to Change the Way You Feel About Me, Earle proves just how big his feet really are as he crafts a songwriterâ€™s masterpiece resplendent with horns, Nashville soul, and a lyrically open frankness that is at times a troubling, personal narrative of the demons he struggles with.
- Jack White : Blunderbuss â€“ Jack White has been on tear, and everything he touches seems to turn to gold, from the White Stripes to the Raconteurs to The Dead Weather, and now with his first solo album.Â Despite the strength and greatness of all his various projects, heading out on his own has freed White up to go where he pleases with little concern.
- Alabama Shakes : Boys & Girls â€“ Refreshingly retro with their rock-and-soul sound, Alabama Shakes follow up last yearâ€™s massive hype with Boys & Girls, their full-length debut, and they do not disappoint.Â All throaty-howl and swampy-grooving guitar, the Shakes make music that, while clearly reminiscent of classic-rock-long-gone, is also as equally forward looking with a hint of punkâ€™s unbridled fury and indie-guitarâ€™s angst.Â Music like this makes it fun to get up each morning.
- Cloud Nothings : Attack on Memory â€“ Itâ€™s easy to try and peg Attack on Memory as a ’90s nostalgia trip, with sludgy guitars, Pixies- Nirvana soft/loud dynamic, and Steve Albini manning the production duties. However, the nine-minute second track, â€œWasted Days,â€ quickly blows that theory out of the water, as it more closely resembles Televisionâ€™s guitar-freak-out-jam â€œMarquee Moon.â€Â That is the genius of Attack on Memory, the way it subtly hints at past greatness, but creates its own unique path.
- Punch Brothers : Whoâ€™s Feeling Young Now â€“ While rooted in bluegrass, the Chris Thiele-led Punch Brothers explode across the musical universe with their hyperactive kid approach that finds them taking choices coaxing unimaginable sounds from their simple acoustic instruments.Â It is space-age bluegrass.Â For proof of their otherworldly creativity one only need to listen to their mind-blowing cover of Radioheadâ€™s â€œKid A.â€
- Grizzly Bear â€“ Shields â€“ Shields is not an easy album to get to know. It is deep, dark, and complex, requiring multiple listens to truly absorb all its beauty.Â It is not an album that lends itself to loud parties or drinking with friends, but rather one that unfolds over time, revealing itself slowly, before rewarding the patience of the listener with a gorgeous aural trip.
- Anders Osborne â€“ Black Eye Galaxy – Black Eye Galaxy is a well-developed song-cycle with Osborne leading the listener on a brutally honest, painful journey from his past demons into his future.Â It is an open book to a manâ€™s soul, a painful reminder of how flawed we can all be, but told with a touch of unflinching beauty and thunderous guitar.
- Cris Jacobs â€“ Songs for Cats & Dogs â€“ After a decade spent as the driving force behind The Bridge, Jacobs has stepped out on his own and released his solo debut-album, Songs for Cats & Dogs. With his storytellerâ€™s eye, passionate guitar, and fiery, expressive voice, he has created an album of deeply, powerful music which defies easy categorization.Â It is an album that has an intoxicating, irresistible, rootsy groove that seems to explode from the past with its timeless quality.
- Beach House â€“ Bloom â€“ Bloom is all ambient glory and huge, undulating sonic-landscapes awash with singer Victoria Legrandâ€™s ethereal voice filling the sky above.Â Following up 2010â€™s masterful Teen Dream, Bloom expands on the ideas first presented there and finds the Baltimore duo infusing their songs with a hook-based approach that allows those dreamy, textured moments to explode.
Honorable Mention â€“ Dr. John : Locked Down, Gary Clark Jr : Blak & Blu, Jimmy Cliff : Rebirth
Sarah Tollie – Contributor
- Ed Sheeran : + – With his simply titled album +, Ed Sheeran has brought about a rebirth of the bare-boned, bare-souled songwriter in his native Britainâ€”and this year, heâ€™s made waves stateside. The Brit Award-winner is now Grammy-nominated with his lead single â€œThe A Team.â€ Other memorable offerings from + include â€œLego House,â€ â€œSmall Bump,â€ â€œYou Need Me, I Donâ€™t Need You,â€ and â€œGive Me Love.â€
- Annie & the Beekeepers : My Bonneville – Boston-based Annie & the Beekeepers have been festival-circuit darlings for several years, and thatâ€™s due in large part to two key things: 1) Annie Lynchâ€™s stuck-to-your-bones vocals and 2) her groupâ€™s excellent knack for creating excellent albums. This yearâ€™s My Bonneville, with such gems as â€œAn Islandâ€ and â€œAlways My Heart is True,â€ is no exception.
- Mumford and Sons : Babel – With Babel, Marcus Mumford and company have crafted a second full-length set filled to the brim with sonic gems. It comes as no surprise, then, to hear of the bandâ€™s recent honors: From radio-ready and critic-friendly lead single â€œI Will Waitâ€ to Grammy nominations to their highly successful Gentlemen of the Road tour, Mumford and Sons are riding highâ€”and rightly soâ€”on the strength of this set.
- Silbermond : Himmel Auf – Silbermondâ€™s name might conjure up classical music thoughts, and its latest album title, confusion for non-German speakers, but this Teutonic band speaks volumes and breaks barriers with its music. With Himmel Auf (or roughly, â€œSky openâ€ in English), Silbermond connects with listeners on a deeper level: The discÂ plays boldly, beautifully with ever-ethereal vocals from Stefanie Kloss and driving beats from members Andreas Nowak, Johannes Stolle, and Thomas Stolle.
- JD McPherson : Signs and Signifiers – JD McPherson serves up semiotics, soul, rock, and blues on his much-abuzz major label debut. Signs and Signifiers sets fire with tracks such as â€œNorth Side Galâ€ and the aptly-titled â€œFire Bug.â€ Rolling Stone has caught McPhersonâ€™s flame, too, naming him an â€œArtist to Watchâ€ in its November 19 issue.
- Ellie Goulding : Halcyon – Following the still-building buzz of her debut single â€œLights,â€ British electro-pop songstress Ellie Goulding returned triumphantly this year with her sophomore effort, Halcyon. From the pulsing lead single â€œAnything Could Happenâ€ to the emotive track â€œOnly You,â€ Gouldingâ€™s whisper of a voice shouts and softens at all of the right moments.
- Hanson : Â No Sleep for Banditos – The Tulsa trioâ€™s mini studio effort No Sleep for Banditos was released earlier this year as part of an exclusive fan club package. But, on the strength of this five-track set, one thing is clear: Hanson warrants a wider audience. The standout song is the EPâ€™s fourth track, the rousing and rocking â€œHeartbreaker.â€
- Shovels and Rope : Oâ€™ Be Joyful – Itâ€™s possible that Shovels and Rope might have never happened: Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent had carved their own sonic paths with their own full-length efforts, Lions and Lambs and The Winner, respectively. Luckily, Hearst and Trent released their second effort, Oâ€™ Be Joyful, earlier this year. Key tracks on this funk and folk, country and rock set include â€œBirminghamâ€ and â€œTickinâ€™ Bomb.â€
- Gossip : A Joyful Noise – After a brief foray into the solo world, powerhouse front woman Beth Ditto fully returned to her band this year with Gossipâ€™s fifth full-length set, A Joyful Noise. Following the delightful bop and pop, disco and dance of Music for Men, this album finds the worldly (by way of Arkansas) band breaking new sonicâ€”and certainly, stuck-to-your-bonesâ€”ground. Catchy, dance-y keepers include the Madonna-esque lead single â€œA Perfect Worldâ€ and â€œLove in a Foreign Place.â€
- Alex Band : After the Storm – Former frontman of rock band The Calling, Alex Band is back with another brief, but haunting, set. After the Storm finds Band traversing the darker depths of childhood, love, and relationships. Set atop sweeping, mid-tempo beats, â€œTake Me Back,â€ â€œRight Now,â€ and â€œKing of Anythingâ€ show Band at his best.
Brett Bickley â€“ Contributor
- Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons : Happy Book – Yes, artists still release double albums. And this? It is the best rock album of 2012.
- Trixie Whitley : Fourth Corner – Forget Adele. Trixie is the most brilliant female artist performing and recording today.
- Mike Dillon : Urn – I don’t even know where to begin. But trust me, this guy is the real deal.
- Lettuce : Fly – Fly is just one of the many reasons why Eric Krasno is one of the most amazing musicians recording today. Plus, you can dance all night to it.
- Medeski, Martin & Wood : Free Magic – This ain’t your father’s jazz. Intriguingly intricate, interesting, and damn fine.
- Wil Blades & Billy Martin : Shimmy – How can two Caucasians sound this funky? Apparently, quite easily.
- Will Johnson : Scorpion – If My Morning Jacket love this guy, you can’t go wrong. You can feel the sand and tumbleweeds as you listen to this slice of desert Americana.
- Gaslight Anthem : Handwritten – Next to Bruce, the band that makes me proud to live in New Jersey.
- Chris Robinson Brotherhood : Big Moon Ritual/The Magic Door – Forget Phish. This is the band that will replace The Grateful Dead.
- Swans : The Seer – The genius of Michael Gira returns to us in walls of emotion and noise. It is guaranteed to peel your soul open and lay it bare.