The Best Music of August 2012

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This is not an attempt at a MLK-level speech, although I did have a dream last night. I dreamt that we had an office that doubled as a venue. It was a quaint room with a bar and a stage. I never saw any desks or computers, but I perceived it as our office – interpret that as you see fit. My dream took place on closing day, as we toasted one last time to the bittersweet sting of our hard work. In what seemed like seconds, it was the following day. A restaurant had opened in our former office, a huge hit in dining that my friends and family loved. I was miserable. I had to serve my friends and family meals rather than discuss the vanguard shifts in hip hop. It was a dream requiring the struggle to shake free from it.

Our independent magazine is 10-years strong and one of the few remaining indies. We had many peers in the early Aughts, who are either extinct or bought up by corporations. Our motto: Not Dead Yet. I woke from that dream at 6:40 a.m., startling my girlfriend. As I threw on clothes, she asked in a drowsy fog what was wrong, to which I responded, “too much to explain, just inspired”. I knew I sounded like a lunatic, but I kissed her on the forehead and went into the living room to do work that gives me peace, even when it comes as a nightmare stealing my rest. Our “Best Music” list is quaint most months. It's not the list that gets you a European tour or a indie-major deal or into the Festival circuit, but it's an honest list. We promise to never make a list just to boil your blood with omissions and audacious ratings in the almighty name of SEO. We will do as we've always done: give props to the things we love most.

August was a tough call. Do we give it to the gut-wrenching, nerve-testing risks of Swans 30-years-in-the-making record? Do we give it to Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang for making our summer one of overwhelming and infectious joy, basically being the quintessential warm vibes album? Or do we give the honors to an underdog from New Jersey known as Spook Houses that made a reckless youth punk album, on a tried-and-true indie, that never gets old? Do we give it to all three?

The best albums of August 2012

Swans,Seer (Young God Records)

Following up the Swans re-activated debut after a 13 year break with My Father Will Guide Me With a Rope Up to the Sky; Michael Gira enlists vets like guitarist Norman Westberg, vocalist Jarboe, Karen O, and members of Akron/Family to bring you the largest Swans experiential album to date. If the opener “Lunacy” draws you into the epic void, Gira and company invite you to stay for the much talked about 32 minute epic title track and so much more.

Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang, En Yay Sah (Luaka Bop)

If the thought of young indie rock musicians from New York appropriating world music makes readers weary, don’t despair, Nabay arranged The Bubu Gang with great care. In fact, it’s partly The Bubu Gang’s extremely proficient grasp of the genre’s traditional performance that makes En Yay Sah such a compelling listen. En Yay Sah is an album fraught with contradictions that manage to endear, a modern instrumental approach that never abandons Bubu’s traditional humanity and Nabay’s vocals that majestically encapsulate the human experience.

Spook Houses, The Trying LP (Evil Weevil Records)

We've all been there: “I'm drunk and I feel like shit.” When Spook Houses' lyrics stumble out of their nauseous and pained vocals, it's clear they want to make songs that tell it like it is. “American”, the first song released in preparation of their 12-inch The Trying LP, envisions the glory, shame, and idiocy that comes with youth.By embellishing their songs with their feelings of regret and anger, Spook Houses become an endearing and truthful outfit.

The best music of August 2012 (in no particular order)

Dan Deacon, America (Domino)

The latest melody for the American Dream is the sound of Dan Deacon’s big ambitions and bigger ideas hitting the cacophony of synthetic sound in modern America; imagined into a desertscape sucked dry and joyously singing. Deacon dreamsAmerica in a four- part epic on the B-side of his latest record, celebrating independent creation, voicing (if not audibly) discontent, and drawing moving pictures of our country’s inconsistent yet magnificent landscape at high speeds.

Lower, Walk On Heads EP (Escho/Blind Prophet)

Four songs, Eight minutes. “Walk on Heads,” is absolutely lean, raw meat, cuts the fat with a switchblade. It is oppressive in a way that is inviting, as if the band has found a way to turn frustration into a clangourous celebration.There are few bands as intoxicating as Lower. Walk on Heads, as aggressively sexual as much as it is undeniable frightening, is without a doubt the best EP I have heard this year.

Haleek Maul & Supreme Cuts, Chrome Lips (MISHKA)

Frigid is one of the words that comes to mind, in listening to Haleek Maul's collaborative album with Chicago production duo Supreme Cuts.Chrome Lips is the natural progression taken to the highest of heights as every track builds an epic battlefield for Haleek to explore the dark hedonistic instincts in his young skull.

Graveface's Charity 7″ Series: Mount Eerie, Dosh, Serengeti Package

A portion of the proceeds from each package will go to charities of the artists' selection. Mount Eerie are sending money to Friends of the ACFL. Dosh is sending money to Building Dignity. Serengeti is donating to RBI: Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities.A fine investment and possible tax write-off (don't quote us on this).

Holy Other, Held (Tri Angle Records)

Containing all the fog machine atmospheres you have come to expect and hope for.

Cate Le Bon, CYRK II with “What is Worse.”

Tracks like this are what we love the most about Ms. Le Bon, where if you listen, close your eyes you are transported to timeless places and sounds.

Ela Orleans, Dirty Beaches, U.S. Girls, and Slim Twig, Statement (Clan Destine)

This is crammed with short tracks from Slim Twig, Ela Orleans (who is helping out at Clan Destine these days), and U.S. Girls, and one really long one from Dirty Beaches. Slim starts it out with some of his dreamiest synth work yet, his baritone munching through the sweetness and marching us forward together. Next up is Dirty Beaches' 10 minute long experiment in aggressive ayurvedic guitar, with a drum beat to match. Ela's contribution is some sweet low-key fuzz pop. I think Ela is doing the dark pop songstress thing better than anyone right now. Her voice has just the right amount of baroque tone to really add that heavy weight to the tracks. Lastly, U.S. Girls puts her set down on the floor and smashes it to bits, punching through her own harsh aesthetic to add a romantic chant.

PHORK, Discrepancies (NNA Tapes)

PHORK is a delicate still life of mellow, trancy beat music. It's almost like a still-life of dance; every single wooden box tap and arrhythmic hiss sounds placed just-so. You can easily imagine Neil, awash in the bliss of his organic process, hovering his cursor over a track in Pro-Tools, inching it slowly to the left, slowly to the right, until it is exactly where it is supposed to be.

Lillerne Tapes Compilation #2

A darling comp featuring absolutely KILLER weird tracks from some favorites that we've written about before, like Casino Gardens, CVLTS, and Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk, and people that we are ashamed to have never heard of. Take for instance, Free Weed, whose song about smoking weed in his bedroom was also probably made while smoking weed in his bedroom, or Radiator Hospital, whose track “Dead As Dreams” is a wonderful addition to the sincere singer-songwriter canon that only the Midwest can do with sincerity.

Slug Guts, Playing in Time with the Deadbeat (Sacred Bones)

On more than one occasion in Playin’ In Time With the Deadbeat, Slug Guts mesh all instrumentation into one massive soundscape, a frighteningly grinding omen; the word ‘doom’ easily thrown around. The band brings to mind other filthy punk bands of Australia’s musical past, most namely Venom P. Stinger with their haunting growls— vocals that demand you listen though the words are blurred.

Stealing Sheep, Genevieve7″ (Heavenly/Cooperative Music)

The UK trio brings styles of craft-day psychotropics with sequin lined guitar bliss pop splendor on a single and provides the supplementary the supplementary The Melting Mountain Mix CD of the group's contemporaneous listening selections during the recording process.

Natural Child, Mother Nature's Daughter 7″ (Jeffery Drag Records)

These Southern boys give you their sludge and slug fest “Hey, Hey, My, My” tribute “Mother Nature's Daughter” that you have to hear for yourself to believe. With these dudes around, who the hell needs nostalgic music? They can deliver it on demand. Also, is that a 13th Floor-esque aluminum jug effect I am hearing in the background?

TEEN, In Limbo (Carpark Records)

After putting out a digital EP on their Bandcamp, Carpark picked them up and sat them down at a studio in rural Connecticut with Sonic Bom and made them record In Limbo, featuring tracks like “Better” which isn't a retro song at all; they build on this beat to create a wall of sound that is punctuated by whoops.

Golden Retriever, Occupied With The Unspoken (Thrill Jockey)

Jonathan Sielaff and Matt Carlson gather up their audio electric and let the sound weaves form a blanketing web around your mind.

Andy Human, Freeze LP (Chromewaves Radio Records)

Andy Human has fallen out of touch on “Land of the Dinosaurs”. The Oakland boy just wasn't made for these times. It's a striking dilemma he's explored since his band LENZ's “Leaving (The 21st Century)” 7″. Andy Human is not interested in iPads, condominiums on Mars, robot pets, and music genres with the word “wave” tagged on the end.

J Bizness, Flight Plan, (Mello Music Group)

Cuts like “Nonstop” invites the action with coasting keys, top shelf snare and hand claps on demand. “Turbulence” with rumbling bass cloud and robotic synths as you soar the friendly skies.

Courtship, Hope EP

Patric Fallon's compositions are personal and handmade, like the opener “Handwritten” that leads into the assertive anthem, “My View” or the isolation of “Midwestern Humility” and the presence and loss of friends on “The People Around You”. “My Friends” brings you down easy like Sunday morning, with the sobering closer “Dishwater Blonde”.

Onuinu, Mirror Gazer (Bladen County Records / Bad Cop Bad Cop)

Portland, Oregonian Dorian Duvall made an appearance on an Apes Tapes compilation a little while back while Duvall's current sound directions on “Happy Home” takes the pinings of “I hope you'll be around, it's been a long time” to great positive-mental-attitude heights with help from the Jeremy Sherrer production keeping vibes big, synthed up and bounce-y.

Kid Simpl, Escape Pod EP (Hush Hush Records)

Seattle electro wiz Joey Butler brings sparse ambient keyboard approaches and restrained use of autonetune. On the title track, Butler works a methodical snare clasp through a slow brewed concoction to create a head zone that makes your physical surroundings seem small in comparison.

Matthew Dear, Beams, (Ghostly International)

Electronic mastermind Matthew Dear crafts a brand of music that flies in the face of these trends, even the very notion of “trend,” on fifth full-length, Beams. Indeed, Dear channels something far darker; synth-stabs that reach into the blend of morose pop that Dave Gahan once built into an empire. Though nothing about Beams sounds contemporary and none of it sounds particularly dated. Each moment feels careful, tactile even. In the age of the DJ raising his arms away from his tools as his song rides on auto-pilot into the break, Matthew Dear wears a suit and tours with a three-piece band, an artist comfortably in and out of time.

OMBRE, Believe You Me (Asthmatic Kitty)

Julianna Barwick & Helado Negro (Roberto Lange) unite here in the spirit of their label, providing a challenging and hopeful project full of lost melodies and a dose of the exorcized “other.” It is outsider pop for artists and listeners who have carefully placed themselves outside the confines of traditional pop mores, a retreat in the wilderness in both practice and theory.

So Many Wizards, Warm Nothing (JAXART)

The album’s opening number, “Never Wake Up,” matches floating observations with the frustration of inactivity. It shouts WAKE UP and lulls you to sleep in the same sugared breath. “Inner City” sounds oddly like a Christmas carol, but the narrator squashes any holiday spirit, feeling trapped and stripped of something he remembers as better. Still, Kazerouni asks the subject of his song to “hold on,” confident that everything will change. In a falsetto so high-in-the-sky it’s almost untouchable, Kazerouni sings, “I hope you don’t die” to a stuck-in-the-mud companion in “Peru,” reaching backwards into the void to offer a hand out.

Castratii, Eora (Time No Place)

Moss's voice is a low alto, with a good bit of smoker's hoarseness added in, in a Kathleen Turner kind of way. But Moss is in the shadows, which Kathleen Turner never was. I also don't know where Moss is from, although it's likely she's Australian, like the rest of the group; however, she masticates syllables and rolls them around in her mouth, giving the words a weird distance from any geographical place. Without the orientation of an image, or place, we are left to take Moss' vocals at face value; they are slow-moving and snake-like.

Leisure Birds, Globe Master (Moon Glyph)

Constructed as a concept album, Globe Master tells an otherworldly origin story that begins with a soupy ambience, launches into the final frontier with all the longing and toughness of a true space cowboy, and then crashes to earth, where things only get weirder.