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Giving the gift of music: Our music dude’s Top 10 Louisville Records of 2012

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Christmas time is here, so buy local, y’all.

It keeps the city growing, but it’s not just that. You can get some really awesome, unique and pretty cheap gifts that were made by your gosh-darn-scootin’ town-mates.

And, music truly is a gift that keeps on giving; it’s a gift that says something about how you view a person, your relationship with them, and how you would like to be viewed by that person.

It’s a statement of your love, your friendship or your blood.

It’s a memory-maker.

After much thought, time, and in-the-field experience, here are your best bets gift-wise, as we reveal Insider Louisville’s … “The Top Ten Local Albums of 2012.” 

10. Wax Fang – “Mirror Mirror”

The Story Behind the Album:

Technically, Mirror Mirror is an EP, but who cares about that. Wax Fang has been around long enough to garner a substantial local following, with local media attention and local business support when compared to other local acts. How’d it happen? They worked hard, and they make good music, different music, and music that leaves the listener clueless when trying to compare anyone else to the Scott Carney Experience. This is a five-year pit stop to Fang’s next record, and while you can kind of feel the dust on these songs, they don’t leave the listener disappointed.

The Reason it’s on the List:

These songs are as loaded with theatrics, storytelling, and tension, as they are the with the classic Wax Fang arpeggio-filled guitar solo, thick bass, and chorus chats.  “Mirror Mirror” is a story, as is “Dawn of the Dead, of the Night, of the Hunter,” and “In Memory” is a reflection of life and death and the very moment that separates them.  The EP holds dark, but fun songs; the mixing is outstanding.  The occasional piano here, layered vocals there, and big dose of octave-filled guitar with just darn dirty tone. You get hit hi, mid, and low consistently.

There was a lot of thought and work put into this album, and the final product was tightly sealed with a ribbon nicely wrapped around it. Listening to Mirror, Mirror is something of a strange trip that you aren’t sure what’s happening, but you can’t help but feel energy.

Best Song: 

“Mirror, Mirror” is the most dramatic and unique song.  “Dawn of the Dead, of the Night, of the Hunter” may be the most marketable. But no song is a greater accomplishment than “In Memory.”  The song is loaded with emotion, as most press offerings enlightened readers to the back-story of the song being about the experience of losing a loved one, and while that experience fuels the emotion of the song, the ultimate masterpiece is the overall sound of this song.  It’s the closest the band has been to their frequent comparison, Pink Floyd. It’s their best overall mix in flexing the best qualities of Wax Fang, and the arrangement is perfect as it ends as it begins.  Find the irony?  Being a song about life and death and all…

The Perfect Gift For: 

Your boyfriend’s little brother in high school who loves Led Zeppelin. Just tell him you think he’ll dig some old school rock-n-roll done in a very new school way.

Where to listen; where to buy:

Underground Sounds on Highland Avenue.  Grab a bagel while you’re at it.

9. The Pass – “Melt”

The Story Behind the Album:

There haven’t been too many local bands hotter than The Pass this past year, and a large part of the buzz is the band’s new album, “Melt.” The Pass is the hipster girl’s dream band as their synthesized sounds, dance-inducing ability, and love-filled lyrics create a headshaking listening experience. The Pass is becoming Louisville’s little Chromeo, as they may be the city’s best dance party hosts that don’t press a play button.

Reason it is on the list:

“Melt’s” melodies, the choruses, and riffs will surely get caught in your head after listening.  It’s also one of the sexiest releases of 2012, and who doesn’t like sexy?  It’s hard to hear “Halo,” and restrain yourself from grabbing the girl in front of you at Macy’s and start dancing.  Melt gives you energy and wings, allowing you to save the $3.50 for that Red Bull you were thinking of buying.

Best Song:

The album’s opening track “Without Warning” takes the cake. The song’s sounds are candy to the ear, and there is a surprising amount of dynamics for an electro-pop song. It kicks off the album, and the party never stops after that, which is a good thing. “Without Warning” is a quick three and a half minute song loaded with fun, surprises, and delayed out keyboards.  What’s not to like?

Who to buy it for:

Get it for your girlfriends, and tell them the 80’s are alive and well, and there is dancing to be done.

Where to listen; where to buy:

Their website.

8. 23 String Band – “Catch 23″

The Story Behind the Album:

Some may say that the summer of 2012 was dominated by one band, and that band would be the 23 String Band.  As NuLu grew, so did the band, and their events at Rye called “Front Porch Sessions.” The monthly events were some of the wildest and most collaborative in 2012 as the 23 String Band had everyone from MMJ to Jalin Roze come and play with them. Many of the songs behind all the live fun are found on Catch 23.

The Reason it is on the List:

Yes, it is awesome when the 23 String Band plays a few Beastie Boys covers live, but “Catch 23″ is a true bluegrass classic; loaded with fire-makers, heartbreakers, and of course, unbelievable fiddle playing.  The eleven songs flow like a poem up and down the emotional spectrum. The instrumental “Catch 23” is a boot stomper, “Bees Knees” is a thumb snapper, and “Leave Everything to Me,” is a tear-jerker.  The best thing about Catch 23 is the influence of non-bluegrass genres, which results in a refreshing style, while still remaining true to bluegrass fans.  Can you hear the jazz-funk influence on “Hey Pretty Mamma”?  I can.

The Best Song: 

Long Summer Days” is a classic that may resonate forty years from now. In the ears of Kentuckians, it’s as powerful as “A Man of Constant Sorrow,” and everyone knows that song.  One again, it’s a classic.

Who to buy it for:

If you have any bluegrass fans in the family, get this to them ASAP.  If you know someone in need of a smile, but can’t find it from Mumford and Sons, here ya go!

Where to listen; where to buy:

Their website

7. Silver Tongues – “Black Kite”

The Story Behind the Album:

Irish brothers David and Brian Cronin are major forces in the local scene, as Dave has found himself on stage with some of the city’s best bands, while Brian has found himself as one of the city’s top studio engineers. But the family comes together with other all-star musicians in Silver Tongues – one of the Louisville’s most unique-sounding bands. “Black Kite” is the band’s first record and finds itself as the most entertainingly haunting album this city heard in 2012.

The Reason it is on the List:

If rock-n-roll existed in the 1400’s, it may have sounded like the Cathedral-filling sounds that one finds on “Black Kite.”  The album has a huge sound centered on the simplicity of an acoustic-songwriter.  Black Kite has that Sigur Ros atmosphere as Silver Tongues create and capture the emotion they are trying to express through the communication that is music. When you put on this record, you really do feel like the band is talking to you in particular, telling you about life, sadness, happiness and the true power of love.  It’s musical artistry at its finest.

Listen here to Wet Dog by Silver Tongues

The Best Song: 

While “Ketchup” may be one of the most original songs I have ever heard, “Wet Dog” comes across as the band’s hit.  The percussion is outstanding, using everything from a woodblock to a shaker, and once that beat gets going, you can’t wait to hear words spoken.  Acoustic guitars do battle in opposite ears, vocals bend a note up, rather than the easier note down, and the piano helps make the excitement level where it needs to be.  “Wet Dog” is really fun, and would appeal to almost all music listeners, especially for those who love a good Irish-toned voice.

Who to buy it for:

Take into consideration this is an album best listened to by yourself with a candle lit.  So, it may be a good album for mom if you get her some bath bubbles and aromatherapy to accompany the music.

Where to listen; where to buy:

This is the most deserving vinyl purchase on the list, snag the wax or the CD right here.

6. Discount Guns – “Odessa”

The Story behind the album:

Two guys move Louisville, have day jobs, and love to play loud on some badass guitars, top-notch pedals and some just downright nasty amps.  They switch off on guitar and drums, drink beer on stage, and just rock out. One year in the Louisville music scene, and they have one record and a few memorable shows for themselves.  They are John Ford and Edward Vincent, and they are in Louisville’s top blues-rock act, The Discount Guns.

Why It’s on the List:

This is an album in sync with today, both music preference wise in regards to American culture, but also in sync with the spirit of the working man, the commoner, and the bar-star.  It rocks, and it rocks so much. LEO easily pointed out the Black Keys comparison, yeah two dudes playing blues-riffs well, but it is so much more than that.  It’s two dudes.  One is a married man, well traveled, who moved here for a job,  and picks up the guitar/drums whenever he can. The other, a black-shirt wearing bachelor, who moved to the city based on the good music coming through town and to keep playing songs with his buddy.  There is character, there is emotion, and there is some serious rock-n-roll on this album.

The Best Song:

“The Water” has the album’s best hook, but knowing this album, and the live show – I was one of maybe ten people at the band’s first show in Louisville last October – the best song on this record is “Things Have Changed.”  Hot dawgy, it’s a fire-burner, and the pair’s dynamics are at their best, both on guitar and drums.  “Things Have Changed” has a solid tempo rise, a huge drop, and the main riff is as if one sped Link Wray’s “Rumble” up about 50 bpm.  Mmm…

Who to buy it for:

If you are a girl, and you dig the previews, get it for your boyfriend and let him know your wild side.  If you are dude, get it for your brother, but make sure to burn a copy after he opens it.

Where to buy it:

On their site, they’ll ship it themselves a day after getting the order.

5. She Might Bite – “Feral”

The Story behind the album:

The band continues to evolve live, but one thing remains true, and that is Tara Kimes can write a sexy song.  Her band She Might Bite is one of the most creative bands in town, flexing things from punk to surf.  A lot of the band revolves around guitar tones, but the vocal harmonies, solid bass riffs, and sense of humor is what makes She Might Bite better than a girl-led punk band.

The Reason It’s On the List:

Simple, it’s good, and is Louisville’s sassiest record of 2012.  The guitar is seductive with raw guitar tones, and Berry-like chord bends.  The harmonies are in sync but also used to spice things up with “Ows,” and “Ha’s.”  It’s just a really fun album loaded with sexual tension, which just makes it so much better. Hear all the fun come alive in “Gimme Orange.”

The Best Song:

“Let Me Down” is “Feral’s” best and most unique when it comes to different styles existing within a song.  This song’s pace is unrelenting, which is dangerous, but She Might Bite avoids a lack of dynamics with hip-swinging guitar solos over a quick “One-Two” beat.  One may guess that this Otis Taylor-like jam started on acoustic guitar, and gradually, it grew into the rock-n-roll hit it always wanted to be.

Who to get it for:

Your little brother who says chicks can’t rock.  Your older sister who believes no girl can rock harder than Alanis Morrisette.

Best Place to Find It:      

Preview Feral in its entirety on their website

4. Jalin Roze – “Grand National Dream”

The Story Behind the Album:

To have a worthwhile hip-hop artist, such as Jalin Roze, is testament to the diversity and talent in the Louisville music scene. “Grand National Dreams” is one hell of a hip-hop record, with some tracks capturing the underground vibe that so many fans love, while also having mainstream appeal. The best thing about this Kentucky rapper is his accurate representation of all things Louisville, and avoids the typical hillbilly parody rap that many Kentucky rappers have fallen into.

Why It’s On the List:

“Grand National Dreams” is a classy, and smart album loaded with confidence, socio-politico commentary, and a good sense of humor.  There are some really great samples like the soul singers on “Ladies and Gentleman,” the indie-pop transposed vocal on “How We Do” and a sommelier explaining the wonders of wine on “Pinot Noir.” Each song has a clear theme, and Roze delivers that theme with confidence and quality storytelling. The album is loaded with the beat – a necessity for a good hip-hop album – and uses classic drum breaks, 808’s, and some impressive drum pattern transitions to hit the listener with a heavy dose of rhythm. With solid rhythm, a solid flow, the classic string arrangement (See ”You Already Know”) and talented writing, Louisville has a record in town just as good as Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar or Kid Cudi, most of us just don’t know it. Roze reflects on the responses of many Louisvillians, “This kid can’t be from Louisville.”

But he is, and that rocks.

Jalin Roze – Give It Up from Visual Space Media on Vimeo.

The Best Song on the Album:

“I Grew Up” is a sensational track about life growing up in Louisville, and we aren’t talking about his youth in St. Matthews.  Roze describes the good, the bad, and the extraordinary while growing up. The song starts lightheartedly, as a stand-up comedian talks about life in the ‘hood, and how his momma would hide the good cereal. The guitar-driven main riff fades in before Roze uses a classic drum break, backed by piano to get the groove right where it needs to be to make a hip-hop classic. The sound is good, the flow is flawless, but the best aspect of “I Grew Up” is the storytelling; it’s a man coming of age in a Louisville that many of us don’t know, but that is where Roze gives us something priceless… a little bit of insight and understanding to his life.

Who to buy it for:

For one of your “girls” you go dancing with, or your buddy who loves hip-hop, but rejects the notion of there being good rappers in Louisville after the KD debacle.

Where to listen; where to buy:

His website.

3. Houndmouth – “Houndmouth”

The Story Behind the Album:

Yeah, they aren’t totally from Louisville, but Houndmouth sure does sound like a real Louisville band, with a sound that could dominate the city in a few years’ time. After touring the country, a Forecastle spot, and a Thanksgiving weekend show here, Houndmouth was one of the hottest music stories locally this year. An absolute perfect EP release, has the city, and far more, anticipating more songs from Houndmouth.

Why it’s on the list:

Houndmouth may be the most successful band with only four songs in the history of the business, but the band’s self-titled debut, “Houndmouth,” is a delicate piece of art, and completely memorable. It takes the Edward Sharpe folk sound that is all the rage, spins it with soul, finds the light, and sings about life near the Ohio River in the 21st Century. Houndmouth finds the sound they are after, and tickle the very emotion they wish to invoke…. And whew, does it feel good.

The Best Song:

“Penititary” is the hit, and it is a radio-hit, and is very similar to The Band’s “The Weight.” “Houston Train” is the song that defines Houndmouth’s identity as a band, though; a band willing to flex multiple lead vocals, but still capture the same overall sound that is otherwise known as the Beatles effect. “Krampus” is the two leads doing battle in a fire of harmonics, sustained keyboard chords, southern rock guitar. “The Big Oil Spill” is the band’s song that has the most to say.  These four songs are of equal worth, and there really is no best of the best. We just need to hear more.

Who to buy it for:

Mom, the girl you secretly love, the boy you want to impress music preference-wise, or yo’ sista.

Where to listen, where to buy:

Their website.

2. Whistle Peak – “Half Asleep Upon Echo Falls”

The Story behind the Album:

Paste had Whistle Peak as Louisville’s most intriguing band via their top ten list, and their album “Half Asleep Upon Echo Falls” will tell you why the indie-magazine believes so.

Why it’s on the list:

Blending electronic and live instrumentation into the duality that is digitalism and organics, in music, is no easy feat. “Half Asleep” is like Neutral Milk Hotel’s best without a heavy focus on brass, substituting synthesizers, pads, drum breaks, sampling, with soft vocals, guitar and uke, all creating a very rich ambience. Don’t believe me? Just listen to the transition from the poetic “Elephants” to the creeper-banger “Play the Ghost.” All of the songs have a heavy focus on the beat, there’s a lot of claps, a lot of tams, and off-beat harmonies, but the album does not budge from taking things seriously, giving it tension, drama, and something a little bit beyond music; it’s almost theatrical, and it’s cool.

The best song:

The album flows effortlessly from song to song, planned in slight brilliance I am sure, as the songs are all connected and bound to the story that is “Half Asleep Upon Echo Falls.” But in choosing the best part of the play, you got to give it to “Wings Won’t Behave.” It really has a Flaming Lips vibe to it, with the drum samples, but the strings-n-things take it to a whole another level.  It’s a happy song, but it’s a dark song, which makes it an interesting song, and ultimately kick ass.   You can dance, you sing, you can cry, you can let loose to this song, because it just has a lot going on emotionally. Musically, “Wings Won’t Behave,” like the rest of the album, is as rich as anything to date by any band I’ve heard.

Who to buy it for:

Your older sister, who has shown you one of the best things about this good ole’ Country, its music. Thanks, Kate!

Where to Listen; Where to Buy:

Their website.

 

1. Whiskey Bent Valley Boys – Whiskey Bent Valley Boys

  The Story Behind the Album:

The boys did it all this year: Made it out of Louisville for a summer, dispelled the idea that playing often in Louisville is a bad idea, cut a killer record and grew their beards a little longer.  The band is an almost necessity for any successful bluegrass bill, and if you have yet to stomp and shout, you’ve got to get with the times.

Why it’s number one:

The self-titled album, Whiskey Bent Valley Boys, is this year’s top album for so many different reasons.

I’ll list a few:

  1. In the digital age, our sense of reality is distorted, by LCD screens, noise pollution, ridiculously biased media, and an over-connected world, which makes music that is as real-life as possible, a really nice treat. “Whiskey Bent Valley Boys” is just that; there’s no auto tuning – I’m 95-percent sure – there’s not a lot of compression, there’s just not a lot besides what the band really is, a few Kentucky boys and their instruments. The album sounds like they are right there in the room with you, and you’re glad to have them over for supper.
  2. The album really is a testament to the economic depression many find themselves in the year 2012. Let’s face it, times are tough, and these are old blues songs that hit the spot for many hard-working, underappreciated Kentuckians, Americans, and beyond.
  3. Think they are just an act? Are they playing old time music just to find a niche with well-planned marketing? Or any other questions loaded with cynicism? I think the answer is no. I don’t know for sure, but so what? The band is doing a good job as a business thus far.
  4. All drama aside, this album is so fun it’s silly. It makes life feel rich, and you’ll look so much cooler blasting “Dogs On My Tracks” than you would be caught jamming 102.3. Yee-HAW.
  5. Because I listened to them all multiple, multiple times, and this one resonated with the most force.

So yeah, a list within a list to prove it’s number one for you fine folks.

The Best Song:

Blues-folk is alive and well in “Graveyard Blues.” It hits you hard, tortures your soul, but you can’t help but feel good and dance to it. It really is the irony of good blues music: one man’s strife, is another’s pleasure. The psychology and philosophy behind that would be fascinating research. “Graveyard Blues” is about falling down and out, and living a life that is driving towards death with your foot all the way down on the gas-pedal; it’s so tragic it’s beautiful. The theatrics of songwriting are hard at work, and as always with the Whiskey Bent Valley Boys, the music is right where it needs to be. This song is timeless.

And the hoots, and hollers are the cherry on top.

Who to buy it for:

Any and everyone.

Where to listen; Where to buy:

Listen free on Spotify, get it off their website here.

There you have it you fine readers you, your “Top 10 Local Albums of the Year.” 

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