This is the graduating class from 2012, the bands Dirty Impound fully expects great, surprising and delightful things from in the future. So promising are these first steps that our faith is high that they have much more to give. As we wait for what comes next, we have these damn fine platters to savor and study.
Dirty Impound’s Top 12 Debut Releases of 2012
Brand New Trash: self-titled
This is one of those outside-of-time slabs that reminds one how bloody fucking satisfying the genre can be when a band stops trying to be some clever hyphenate and just leans into being the gritty, grunting thing rock is at heart. Anchored to brothers Vince and Jimmy Dewald (formerly of fine SF band Buxter Hoot’n), Brand New Trash trucks in ugly-beauty, using the “F” word and ringing guitars like rusty scalpels to get at where love, truth and other juicy, vital things live. “The music allows for chaos but is not centered around it,” says Jimmy, and he’s on the money given their music’s spiritual kinship with the Stooges, Captain Beefheart and the Fugs (albeit run through an ace boogie filter). An unexpected (and unexpectedly cool) Tupac cover (“Brenda’s Got A Baby) sits next to an unconstrained sojourn “Go” and just makes sense in the context they’ve sculpted, a milieu free of hipster stink where shrapnel flies and the sky vibrates with color and electricity (captured with utmost nuance by producer Charles Gonzalez, who wisely leaves a good deal of grit in the gears).
Chris Robinson Brotherhood: Big Moon Ritual / The Magic Door
The Black Crowes’ lead singer-songwriter had absolutely nothing to prove when his main gig went on hiatus a couple years ago. Shit, given the grinding tour schedule the Crowes keep, he probably should have taken a lengthy vacation. Instead, Robinson handpicked a very gifted, very intuitive group of collaborators – including his Crowes’ bandmate keyboard wiz Adam MacDougall, who is an off-the-leash wonder in this setting – and set out on an even heavier touring schedule. 120 shows later, the road tested, cosmically in-tune quintet – rounded out by Neal Casal (lead guitar, vocals), George Sluppick (drums) and Mark Dutton (bass, vocals) – entered the studio and cut this pair of albums. The vibe of the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service floats in their smoke but with a distinct personality derived from this particular convergence of individuals. Chris has never sounded freer or moved with greater boogie-addled sashay, a bird in free flight able to explore his passions with near-zero baggage. At times the music is willfully complex but it always returns to its swing core, by and by – movement/ bodily engagement is a necessary response to the CRB. Mostly what these albums make one want to do is start some newfangled acid tests with these pranksters soundtracking the experience. (CRB live review & photo gallery)
The Congress: Whatever You Want
Few young bands so ably straddle riff-rich classic rock and sharp-toned modern rock as Colorado’s The Congress. Their long awaited debut album pulls bits and pieces from the past 40 years and reassembles them into fresh shapes that somehow make Grand Funk Railroad and Radiohead seem like natural bedfellows. Lead singer (and now bassist in the group’s current trio configuration) Jonathan Meadows has real mic presence, a voice that reaches deep inside himself in ways that make the listener take a similar journey. There’s heft and height to this music, a boldness that’s refreshing in this calculating, frankly timid age where folks admire U2 and other giants but assume that kind of potent rock is a thing of the past. The Congress rejects that notion, mixing big and intimate in ways that scream to be played on huge stages under open skies with thousands of voices helping them send the walls that surround us tumbling down. (DI Questionnaire with The Congress)
Diamond Rugs: self-titled
Any band that contains both Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin should make you curious before you’ve heard a single note. Throw Robbie Crowell (Deer Tick), Ian Saint Pé (The Black Lips), Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate) and Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite) into the mix and things grow curiouser and curiouser. Set them loose on lusty odes to drunkenness, hookers and other themes AC/DC, Jerry Lee Lewis and Phil Lynott would approve of, and then jump back and raise your lighters high. Earthy, immediate and funny, this side project birthed in McCauley’s new home of Nashville betters a lot of the work these guys do in their day jobs, but more importantly, it’s a heaping helping of meat-n-taters rock totally uninterested in being cool. It’s messy and careens with an abandon that’s intoxicating. This is what you throw on when you set out on a night of debauchery that intends to end with you necking with a new acquaintance by the dawn’s early light. (original review)
Field Report: self-titled
This is perhaps the most emotionally dense, achingly true listening experience DI encountered in 2012. The world shimmers with a clear-eyed glow in Chris Porterfield and his compatriots’ vision. A one-time member of DeYarmond Edison – the same short-lived outfit that’s given us Megafaun and Bon Iver – Porterfield offers up patient, lush, downright poetic music that is deliciously human – warts and all – and eerily, sublimely beautiful. Rush by it or listen in the background as some lifestyle accessory and you’ll miss it, but snuggle in close and open yourself up to the things this set probes and caresses and you’ll come away tenderized, happily eviscerated by a truth teller with gorgeous melodies and smart, leaping verses that bridge the gap between despair and hope. (interview with Porterfield coming to DI in January)
Foxygen: Take The Kids Off Broadway
There’s an album’s worth of ideas in opening track “Abandon My Toys,” and another album’s worth in many cuts that follow. Yet, it never feels overstuffed. This is a banquet served up from the same creative kitchen that gave us Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star, The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, and especially Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy. Rock as the ultimate crucible of possibilities – both serious and silly – is reaffirmed in Foxygen’s debut, which throws the doors wide open, imagination given a pretty free rein but tied to stealthily excellent classic pop instincts. Early on they sing, “It’s so hard with both feet on the ground,” and then proceed to show how music – freely conjured, nicely raw and blissfully rangy – is one way we might levitate a few inches. And we don’t have to wait long for the follow-up, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, which arrives January 22, 2013.
John Fullbright: From The Ground Up
Some of the purest, finest singer-songwriter fare to come across the DI desk in a long while. Only 23-years-old, Fullbright has the ensnaring undertow of early Steve Earle with a sprinkle of Todd Snider’s cheekiness, though touched with a lot more Biblical overtones than either man. More world weary and wizenedly wise than any 20-something has a right to be, Fullbright’s songs are what we call “bindle stuff,” meaning tunes perfect when one must travel light and only carry the essentials. Don’t be surprised if you see the troubadour godfathers like Kristofferson and Prine tapping this Oklahoma boy as their opener in the near future – game recognizes game. (original review)
Jay Gonzalez: Mess of Happiness
From the Night Flight ready cover art right into the 12-pack of just plain great pop-rock that awaits you inside, the solo debut from the Drive-By Truckers keyboardist is a charmer of the first order. There’s the lilt of early Todd Rundgren and 10cc to this but not in some stinky nostalgia courting way. Gonzalez just has a major knack for hooks and other sweeteners that snag the ear and make one’s heart skip a little. The layered harmonies, plush but uncluttered arrangements, and other lovely production polish give one a lot to enjoy, but what mainly remains when the record comes to a stop is the sense of, well, happiness to have met this artist and his work. (keyboard questionnaire with Jay)
Mana Maddy: Another Trip Around The Sun
Simply put, this is the arrival of a serious pop classicist on par with the much ballyhooed Adele. Strong words but the singer and her songs live up to them on this just-enough-to-leave-em-starving-for-more 6-track EP. The former lead singer of Oakland’s Antioquia shows a sophistication and vocal range and style that’s positively captivating here, and a far cry from the earthier, more Patti Smith/Meredith Monk-esque flavor of her work in that band. The title tune is something Burt Bacharach would be proud to pen and Dionne Warwick would have turned into a hit in the 1960s. If “Blue Nightingale” had been sung in French by Francois Hardy it would be a staple of every Francophile hipster from here to the Champs-Élysées, and closer “Flying a Kite in My Underwear” is as charming and windblown as its title suggests. The opening “Prayer” moans, “Oh Lord, there’s music in me/ Oh Lord, help me set it free!” and this feels like a creative torrent on the verge of breaking free.
The True Spokes: self-titled
In every fundamental way Seattle’s The True Spokes are as fine a rock unit as one could want. A long, circuitous history lays before this debut studio effort – co-produced by the band and Tim Bluhm (The Mother Hips) – but the reward for that winding road is music that feels classic in a way rock bands rarely do these days – unshakeable musicianship, well crafted songs that one just knows will hold up for decades to come, warm and inviting voices, a band ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Journey, Doobie Brothers and any of the other staples on AOR FM radio. What’s wonderful about the Spokes is how they don’t ever come off as calculated, nothing trying to be clever or strange for the sake of attention. They just put their shoulders into making good, accessible music – simple as that but not really simple at all. It’s a testament to their talents and instincts how well put together every cut is here and how each straddles the line between live-in-the-studio energy and subtle production tweaks. This is a quintessential “grower” of an album that develops a richer patina the longer one lives with it – a principle that also applies to the band itself. (DI Questionnaire with The True Spokes)
Van Ghost: The Domino Effect
Hey Fleetwood Mac, got your perfect opening act for the 2013 tour right here! No other young band so readily springs to mind when thinking of a modern answer to the kind of dead solid playing, swirl of male/female energies, and unimpeachable songwriting craftsmanship that made the Mac so big in the 70s. Chicago’s Van Ghost takes that template and gives it a modern rock kick, sharpening the edges but nailing the same kind of hope-tinged melancholy. What’s so great about Van Ghost is they’re a live circuit/festival honed group with broad universal appeal that didn’t come out of a major label lab or stupid singing show (Simon Cowell will answer for his crimes in the afterworld). They’ve got two kick-ass singers in Michael Harrison Berg and Jennifer Hartswick – who shine both individually and in their creamy blend together – plus tunes that get better with each spin (seriously, each time DI revisits this album after a few weeks it gets stronger to our ears), and a band that can deliver on cue again and again. When so many budding young independents go out of their way to be anything but mainstream, Van Ghost happily takes up the challenge of reforming the sorry state of affairs in the mainstream by making good music eager to connect with anyone and everyone.
Water Liars: Phantom Limb
Right out of the gate Phantom Limb reaches down to one’s roots, tangling itself in subterranean things where decay and germination mingle. Hearing the Water Liars’ first song cycle is akin to meeting Centro-matic or My Morning Jacket – i.e. bands hell-bent on getting real AND making it work in a way one can hum during one’s own slouch towards understanding and self-acceptance. This set is skillfully unrefined in a way that’s healthy for the soul, the compost of living stuck to notes in a way that makes nostrils flare, the air suddenly thicker than a moment before. Justin Kinkel-Schuster is a haunting songwriter and his trembling guitar and equally tremulous voice combined with the empathetic, intuitive percussion of Andrew Bryant make for music that lingers in a really impactful way.