The longest day of the year is behind us, which can only mean one thing: the year is half-over, and it’s time to get half-retrospective. with that in mind, we’ve assembled a crew of National Post contributors to list their favourite albums of 2012 thus far, and which albums from the year’s second half they’re looking forward to most. Today, thoughts from Jason Rehel.
Lana Del Rey, Born to Die: Lost in the maelstrom of soft-peddled misogyny, bullshit hipster quests for “authenticity” and the plain-old jealousy that’s passed for criticism of Lana Del Rey’s debut album is the fact that her disc contains approximately six out of the year’s 10 best melodies so far. Yeah sure, some of those — the ripoff of the Verve-esque ripoff on National Anthem’s opening, the Alphaville forever Young-like vibe of Summertime Sadness, Chan Marshall-inspired flourishes throughout, but especially on Carmen, and the Britney-gone-bad Radio — are derivative, but could pastiche in fact be the point? the best pop is able to draw disparate influences together into coherent and pleasurable songscapes, to wit, Kanye West’s my dark Twisted Fantasy. What’s different about Del Rey? well, she started by pulling one over on the male-dominated Pitchforkian establishment. She’s not from a poor background, or even middle-class, so no cred to be had there. She’s had plastic surgery, apparently, another no-no for indie gatekeepers. but at the end of the disc, you’re not left thinking about any of this. You’re left with a set of songs for an American summer, a pure reflection of Pynchon’s plastic SoCal, Mary Astor’s Maltese Falcon femme fatale and Marlene Dietrich’s ice blond. L.a. hasn’t been this lushly painted in years.Best tracks: Blue Jeans, Summertime Sadness
Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas: It’s true: His voice may have dropped another octave or two, and his arrangements are decidedly simple here, infused with nods to Klezmer, 1960s Los Angeles lounge and the distinctive acoustic guitar arrangements of his youth. but even if they’re at times overrun by almost schmaltzy strings and keys, Leonard Cohen’s words — those sparks from the torch he still holds aloft amid the darkness of death and the glaring lights of modern life — still shine like the tail of a comet on Old Ideas. the album is a significant addition (particularly at a career stage when most people are no longer about producing new material) to a celestial opus that’s brought us some of the most profound popular music lyrics of the last 50 years. here, we see the artist grappling with the twinned difficulties of death and faith, and with his own desire for a peaceful passage from this world. Tracks such as Darkness and Show me the place remind of the kind of engagement with existential endings that Cohen shows on classic tracks such as Who By Fire and Dance me to the end of love. Going Home is perhaps the most moving self-address song he’s written since Famous Blue Raincoat. By the time we get to the second half of the disc, where the poet-monk offers us the prayer-hymn Come Healing, it’s hard not to feel blessed as a listener that Cohen, at 77, is still at the top of his game.Best tracks: Going Home, Crazy to love You
Islands, a Sleep & a Forgetting: Nick Thorburn’s music can often feel like nursery rhymes for adults — that’s a set of a musical ideas that’s a carryover from the days when the prolific Canadian songwriter was penning songs with Unicorns in Montreal in the early part of last decade. That band is long gone, and as with each Islands disc, the previous version of the band also feels obliterated (ever-changing lineups aid this), with mere aftershocks of what was there before heaving amid new material. what we know: Thorburn had been living in new York, had a significant romantic breakup, and decamped for the sun of LaLa Land. the band is based out of California now, and besides making it easier to weather the Canadian music press’s cold shoulders (they were again ignored by the Polaris Prize jury yet again), the new album is whimisical, with tracks like Oh Maria feeling a bit like Belle and Sebastian on a Latin American holiday. Hallways is this album’s Tender Torture, a standout floor-jumping ruckus, and Lonely love, which gets at the heart of a Sleep & a Forgetting purpose, with its opening: “The only love, is a lonely love, and now you know why …” shows a songwriter maturing in his ideas and grappling with what it means to make a truly introspective album.Best tracks: Hallways, this Is not a Song, Don’t I love You