There were some good songs released by humans, however...
Frankie Rose - "Interstellar"
The title track to the new album by ex-Vivian Girl and Crystal Stilt, Frankie Rose, is one of 2012's great early surprises. Even with weeks of press releases hinting at a much cleaner sound for a reigning queen of modern lo-fi fuzz, the glacial ambient build that starts the song is a shocking stylistic swerve. It still rocks out plenty, practically exploding out from still waters at 1:15. Even the shredding sounds uncharacteristically slick and contained. For an artist so associated with retro aesthetics, an embrace of slick futurism is a really exciting counterintuitive leap.
Orbital (f/ Zola Jesus) - "New France"
(streaming at Pitchfork)
Orbital, a definitive act of 90s electronica, has gone eight years without a new album. That streak breaks on April 3rd with the release of Wonky, but that lengthy absence led me to believe that reports popping up of London sessions with super-producer Flood and goth diva Zola Jesus were the beginnings of a new ZJ album. Wrong, as this first taste of the duo's new record proves. The key point of interest here is seeing how Nika's (or Zola's if you want to keep with the pseudonyms) distinctive voice interacts with a less austere production sound. She's used to filling up a lot of empty space on her own. It's a ever-so-slight mismatch, maybe, but the contrasting tone of her melodramatic vocals and the dayglo rave sound is uniquely off, at least.
Prinzhorn Dance School - "I Want You"
(streaming at The Notes tumblr, Clay Class also available on Spotify)
Once you’ve pointedly reduced rock down to three bass notes, a drum thwack, shared shouts and a spare guitar squeal or two, is expanding that sound a sort of philosophical betrayal? Clay Class, the new record by DFA’s resident post-punk duo, Prinzhorn Dance School, raises the question. Their 2007 debut, produced by James Murphy, was simultaneously silly and Spartan, its best songs Dadaist bursts with deadpan emphasis. It was kind of a perfect minimalist statement. In five years since, I haven’t seen much speculation on what the band might do next. Most probably assumed they stung like a honeybee, died from completed purpose. But the record, in addition to a terrific bass sound and more expressive guitar playing, has a shocking secret weapon: gentility. “I Want You” would be another band’s stripped-down ballad. For PDS, its melodic thrust is a sudden bloom into color—soft sighs lending the black-and-white rhythm a surprising splash of pastel.
Local rockers Mr. Dream have become known for their mean grunge crunch. This track is plenty surly, but more crisp and wide open than their previous work. There are bursts of dark wit all over it, but the muted Ric Flair whooos preceding those growly "Milk it" vocal are just too funny, just flat out great. And that brain-burrowing guitar riff. And that awesome youth-baiting chorus. In rock, being bad-tempered and acid-tongued is so much better than being polite and earnestly soulful. A lesson to relearn.
Also check out:
- "In the Same Room", the second track released from Julia Holter's dreamy new record Ekstasis is so good everybody, please go listen to it. (I just talked about her a couple clicks back, so Ms. Holter gets "also check out" status, on account of repetition).
- There's a new 7" single by continually crushworthy British indie-poppers, Veronica Falls.
- Olga Bell, singer for BELL and recently added backup singer for Chairlift, covers Weezer's "Buddy Holly" in a charming solo video.
- "ABC City," a Captured Tracks-released single from Sweden's Holograms, suggests that Iceage's Scandinavian punk revival has swollen to cross-border epidemic.
- I just had to mention this Mirel Wagner song last week, but you should go listen to it again. Even though it creeps you the fuck out.
You can follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_klingman