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2012: Talya Cooper

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Our Brooklyn writer will remember 2012 for a few small-scale big dreams.

2012: Talya Cooper

I’ve always tried to make year-end lists thinking about what would stand the test of time rather than what best exemplified a given year’s mood and sound. This, I realize, represents a “rockist” mentality, an attitude I recently heard expressed by some codgers at the Russian Baths who boasted of their recent score of $1,600 tickets to see the Rolling Stones at the Barclay’s Center while dismissing “that Britney Spears crap” (side-note: old men seem to have not heard of any pop singers post-Spears). This has its roots equally in nostalgia and anxiety: I want us to create real and durable things that teenagers can look to and mine in 10 years just as kids now sport Nirvana tees. As much as a given pop song (say, “We Found Love,” which I consider a fucking awesome song and will scream in karaoke probably far too long into the future) has tremendous staying power, the machinations that go into creating such a hit sets its generation far apart from the records I find myself drawn to, which emerge from bedrooms and practice spaces and home studios and, often, bear the marks of their making — a small scale, a tape hiss.

So I thought a lot about Grimes’ Visions after I reviewed it, or rather, I listened to Visions a lot, and nodded my head to “Oblivion” when it came on in coffee shops and at parties. Visions somehow brings all these lines of thought to a point. It hearkens the past in a present way, Mariah Carey filtered through Tumblr, and points to a future; it seemingly has no thought besides being catchy and 2012-y. Indeed, as I mentioned in my review of the record, its creator looks back nostalgically to records that were also intended to be as hooky as they were ephemeral. To top it off, Grimes (Claire Boucher) made the record in her room with minimal equipment. At moments, in “Skin,” you realize how solitary she sounds, surrounded just by layers of her own voice; watching the overblown video for “Genesis,” you realize how thin and minimal the song sounds in comparison to big-budget pop hits. This music has all the simultaneous clutter and loneliness of life on the internet.

Merchandise’s Children of Desire sounds nothing like Grimes, but similarly became internet-ubiquitous as it exploded its creators from the house-show circuit to sold-out New York clubs. Its ambition translates sonically: a drum machine beat layered with dense guitar work, multipartite songs that move from shoegaze to noise to pop, the clearly practiced but affecting Morrissey quaver in singer Carson Cox’s voice, the epic backstory in an allusive booklet packaged with the record. The record sounds huge, and its melancholy narrative — the woman you love but have to let go, the music and scene you think can save you but will never prove adequate — may or may not foretell Merchandise’s own rise. Live, though, Merchandise play with a sparse lineup, just vox/guitar/bass/dinky drum machine to fill the tremendous space into which they expand on the record. Can they really make this work, an audience member thinks, and somehow, perhaps just by trying really hard and in large part by virtue of Cox’s odd magnetism, they do. Merchandise’s particular sound (expansive ‘80s, with a hint of goth/EBM they like to talk about in interviews) doesn’t really resemble anything anyone else is doing right now; they will assuredly get a bigger budget from whatever label funds their next record, but, as they’ve already made an epic concept album, it’s impossible to conceive of where they can go from here, whether to dull orchestral indie-rock or to something wholly weird and new.

Merchandise’s live formation reveals a truth hidden in the record’s weave: despite the textural density, notwithstanding their professions of abandoning punk, they are, at heart, still a guitar rock band. The minimal lineup leaves no room for any flubs, and indicates a tight connection between the members. In the same vein, few bands sound more like friendship than Grass Widow. On their third full length, this year’s Internal Logic, they profess to nothing more than guitar rock. That’s enough. They show a future for a form previously considered dead, doomed, or destined to repeat the same sounds and tricks and chord progressions ad infinitum. The songs come from three minds, each as in command of her own instrument and voice as she is aware of her bandmates’ relationships to their own. It sounds like work, it sounds like fun, and few moments of music in 2012 sounded as thrilling as the moment on “Disappearing Industries” — my favorite song of this year — when the bright harmony vocals first chime in.

Some runners-up:

Le1fDark York
Julia HolterEkstasis
Y.N. Richkids – “Hot Cheetos & Takis”
Andy StottLuxury Problems
Irreparables – s/t tape
Honeysuck – s/t EP
CriaturasOscuridad Eterna and live
Lebenden Toten - live
Potty MouthSun Damage
Shoxx – Demo cassette and live
Group IneraneGuitars From Agadez Vol. 3
Laurie SpiegelThe Expanding Universe (reissue)

By Talya Cooper

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