BlackBook Tracks #3: 2012 First Half Report

Looking sharp, 2012. In our first two installments, we’ve already highlighted some of the best songs of the year so far, like Tanlines’ “All of Me” and “I Love It” by Icona Pop. Here’s a sampling of some other great singles from the past six months.

Django Django – “Default”

This relentlessly catchy cut from the London-based psych-rock quartet demands to be put on repeat.

Hot Chip – “Night And Day”

Hot Chip have always been pretty sexy, and they reach their full potential in that department with “Night and Day.” With a nasty bass line and characteristic humor, the song simultaneously fulfills their established R&B-inflected electro sound and pushes it further.

Grimes – “Oblivion”

Claire Boucher’s ethereal vocals and looping production make this song both expansive and intensely intimate.

Kindness – “House”

An earnest, quietly anthemic love song from the British up-and-comer. Kindess’s debut album World, You Need A Change Of Mind was produced by French studio wizard Philippe Zdar (Phoenix, Chromeo).

Chairlift – “Met Before”

On sophomore album Something, Chairlift moved swiftly past the previous success of “Bruises” and went in a dreamier direction, while remaining just as charming.

Sharon Van Etten – “Leonard”

Sharon Van Etten’s been around for a while, but she’s earned some new fans from third LP Tramp. This highlight from the album lets the singer-songwriter’s voice soar.

Perfume Genius – “Dark Parts”

Seattle’s Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, is known for his stark, minimalist style. “Dark Parts” shows off his ability to distill imagery and make you cry.

Bear In Heaven – “Sinful Nature”

Bear In Heaven’s shimmering electro-pop sounds perfect right about now. With lines like “Let’s get loaded and make some strange things come true,” this song puts romance in a weird place.

New Build – “Do You Not Feel Loved?”

There’s a bit of overlap here, as New Build is a side project of Hot Chip’s Al Doyle and Felix Martin. This track from their excellent album “Yesterday Was Lived And Lost” is gently delivered, but urgent all the same.

Santigold – “Big Mouth”

It took four years for Santigold to make her return, and tracks like the rattling, blistering “Big Mouth” make sophomore LP Master of My Make-Believe worth the wait.

Ladyhawke’s ‘Anxiety’ Leads the Pack of This Spring’s Best Musical Offerings

Electronic effects and treated electric guitars dominate 32 year-old New Zealand alt-rock chanteuse Phillipa Brown’s (aka Ladyhawke) sophomore album Anxiety. Those effects often dress up some occasionally mundane lyrics, but the vocal hooks consistently get stuck in your head, and pretty much all of the songs here have ’em. If this album has an antecedent, it’s ’90s alt-rockers Garbage’s second album Version 2.0: exuberant, expertly produced, and packed with potential singles.

Potential singles are hardly a concern for Nick Zammuto, and there’s hardly a defining moment on the self-titled new album from his new band, Zammuto. Nearly every song sounds like the work of a different band. The album, which features his brother Mikey on bass, retains the spirit of humor, adventure, and experimentation his critically renowned former band The Books has perfected over the past decade. This album is total sonic schizophrenia with a charmingly high "huh?" factor: confusing, amusing, and consistently entertaining.

There’s also a consistently entertaining new album from Brooklyn dream-poppers Violens called True. Lovely melodies and reverb-drenched harmonies abound; think Ecstasy and Wine-era My Bloody Valentine with a Smiths fetish. While there have been some wonderful moments scattered across this Brooklyn trio’s prior releases, this album is where the band pulls it all together and truly earns its place alongside top-tier early-’90s shoegaze predecessors like Lush, Ride, and especially Ian Masters-era Pale Saints (to whom the band most closely resembles). It’s a modern masterpiece of the genre.

Also a masterpiece of its genre is the Cryptocracy, the new full length release from electro music wunderkind Huoratron. Missed your morning coffee? Any track from this album will provide an assaultive jolt of audio adrenaline. Under the moniker Huoratron, Finnish producer and experimental electro soundscaper Aku Raski fills the album with all manner of audio trickery, making pulsating electronic dance music that manages to sound aggressive and raw without being abrasive: First-rate contemporary hardcore techno.

We Are Not the Same, the first album from Seattle-based duo Lux, is a self-released, home basement-recorded tribute to D.I.Y. ambition and a music geek’s affection for their indie rock forebearers like Sebadoh and Black Tambourine (whose song "Black Car" is covered here as a hidden track). The band members alternate vocal duties amidst a sea of echoey synths and warm guitar fuzz, emulating their musical heroes with intoxicating enthusiasm. It’s a total charmer.

Chris and Dexy Valentine, the husband/wife team who comprise indie band Magic Wands, have dubbed the sound of their debut album Aloha Moon "lovewave." This seems to mean either ready-made porno soundtrack music or atmospheric, mid-tempo psychedelic pop that alternately shimmers and smolders. This is what space-age bachelor pad music sounds like in 2012, even though some of the lyrics might inspire laughter in the object of said bachelor’s seduction.

New Build is a new project featuring members of Grammy-nominated alt-rock/dance hybrid Hot Chip, multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle, and drum machine impresario Felix Martin and producer Tom Hopkins. Their debut, Yesterday Was Lived and Lost, gives them an outlet to celebrate their fondness for Human League and Born Under Punches-era Talking Heads with rewarding results. The songwriting is solid, the choruses stick, and there are plenty of nice sonic touches like the computerized steel drums that carry the languid "Finding Reasons" to keep things interesting throughout.