November 6, 2012
In indie-rock's era of the blogosphere, where the constant ticking-over of Twitter and Tumblr begets a constant din of noise, it's pretty common to become a buzz band. But fewer are the bands who take that budding buzz and turn it into a bona fide breakout. The acts below all entered 2012 as comfortably-underground entities, but by the year's end they'd become known names to the indie music world at large; and, sometimes, even, to the realms of popular music lurking beyond...
Italians Do It Better
The last time Chromatics released an album, back in 2007, you could make a case that it was another, slightly lesser breakout year. Releasing their Night Drive
LP alongside an album by sister-act Glass Candy and the sound-minting After Dark
compilation, it marked a breakout year for Glass Candy/Chromatics producer Johnny Jewel, his downbeat-disco sound, and the Italians Do It Better label that releases all these records. After some wilderness time, Jewel —a confessed perfectionist
— returned with a landmark work: Chromatics' latest LP, Kill for Love
, an epic double-album that functions as imaginary soundtrack. A sure standout album of 2012
, Kill for Love
was wildly acclaimed on its much-awaited
release, and it propelled Chromatics, for the first time ever, into a world of festival appearances and endless tours.
When Diiv began the year, they were, well, they were still called Dive
. They were, really, merely Dive. Just a Beach Fossils side-project. But as their debut album, Oshin
, began to loom on the horizon, the buzz began to build, and a change in spelling seemed to arrive at the moment when Diiv's time had come. They were no simple jangle-pop spin-off, but one of the year's best new bands
, with Beach Fossil bro Z. Cole Smith staging a sincere taking on indie music's eternal infatuation with jangly guitars. Drawing from the chiming six-string sounds of Television, The Feelies, The Smiths et al, Oshin
is an LP where the guitars are pushed to the foreground; striking a chord with listeners who grew up in the alternative era's guitar-centric day.
Django Django were effectively unknown outside the UK when 2012 began; yet, by the time the year came to a close, the London-based Scots had toured the globe over, traversing continents whilst taking their overworked, genre-razing, psychedelic-art-pop to the people. The catalyst, was, of course, their self-titled debut, which crammed a million hooks into 48-minutes; playing at once as dancefloor-friendly fun and eggheadish chin-scratchery. Upon its February release, the LP introduced Django Django as one of 2012's best new acts
, primed them as one of SXSW's true buzzbands, dented the UK charts, and even ended up earning a Mercury Music Prize nomination
. It was, in short, a charmed year for an oddball outfit.
Beer-guzzlin', party-startin', rather-be-skatin' party bros Fidlar have taken the burnout-rocker poses of Wavves' stoner-bro pantomimes and turned it into a radical, righteous, ridiculous, wholly-realized act of performance art. Reading the cold, hard facts is hardly revelatory: they have a single called "Cheap Beer" and an EP titled Don't Try, after all. Yet, that standard-issue punk rebellion is amplified to extremes; with the music becoming, in turn, a barreling, boisterous, barked-out rush of noisy nihilism. "I drink cheap beer/So what?/Fuck you!" may be the very stupidest chorus committed to tape this year; but, like Black Lips, Fidlar are staging a smart play on stupidity; binge drinking and riff-rockin' becoming a form of absurd theater, played out nightly on dive-bar stages.
Forget the rest of the people on this list: Claire Boucher has essentially treated 2012 as her own personal breakout party. It started before the year ever even begun, when Grimes dropped "Oblivion
," the genius first single from her third album, Visions
. After she followed it up with "Genesis
," it was clear both that Boucher was about to blow up big, and that Grimes had stitched up album of the year
status before 2012 had barely begun. Since then, the year has played out as a series of endless tour dates, persistent photo-shoots, demented videos
, and the constant thrum of unending buzz. Yet, never has such buzz seem so deserved, and never has hype been so in sync with my heart.
Japandroids totally became a buzz-band on the back of their impressive 2009 debut
, which introduced their fuzzed-out, ultra-amplified duo set-up, and lyrical preponderance for remembering the joys of a rock'n'roll adolescence. It was a theme they picked up on with Celebration Rock
, a true breakout album that catapulted Japandroids into realms of bona fide crossover; not least of all that it landed in the Billboard
Top 40. The LP's title, its overdriven, anthemic riffs, and its mood of non-stop fist-pumping all seem to suggest an album marked for good times, but there's a sadness tinging the Canadian duo's celebratory jams; whose memories of the "Younger Us" are as much studies in time's cruel march forward as they are instances of righteous nostalgia.
Back home in the UK, Adam Bainbridge has been tipped for Next Big Thing status since, like, 2010. This year, with the release of his debut album —the beautifully-named World You Need a Change of Mind
— the mythically-maned Kindness stylist made good on all those past prognostications. The album paraded a series of oddball pop-songs that drew from various Funky sources —Arthur Russell
, Cerroné disco, Prince, French house (courtesy of producer Philippe Zdar), Jamie Lidell— and even show a choice hand at covers, finding the common-ground between Replacements nihilism ("Swingin' Party") and the Eastenders
theme-song. It was a perfect album for the times; a collection of influences synthesized and recombined in a Tumblresque spirit.
For fans of the Our Band Could Be Your Life era of the American underground —those nostalgic for the days when indie-rock defiantly rocked— The Men were this year's breakout band to embrace. The Brooklyn-based outfit play loud, gnarly, discordant jams that hot-wire big, classic-rock melodies amidst nasty, overdriven fuzz and gravel-gargled vocals; seemingly suggesting a childhood spent listening to The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Killdozer, Flipper, etc. The Men first stirred up some buzz with 2011's Open Your Heart, but 2012's Leave Home was the record that took them to the outdoor-rock-festival masses; the band's third LP riding a Best New Music nod to the lower reaches of the Billboard charts.
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
's ascent has been of the slow, steady variety; the opposite to the meteoric, overnight rise of the new-millennial buzz band. Since her 2009 arrival
with the mournful Because I Was in Love
, Van Etten's sad, confessional songs and glorious voice have surely gathered a devoted audience. After 2010's Epic
inched her closer to a breakout, this year's Tramp
did the deed. Bolstered by a snarling, rocking first single, "Serpents
," Tramp's louder, more band-oriented sound proved better suited to outdoor festivals and late-night TV appearances; and the fact that the LP featured Julianna Barwick and members of Beirut, The National, and Wye Oak surely caught a few extra ears.
When you put out three LPs in a year, your name's bound to be bandied 'bout the blogosphere plenty. Yet, it wasn't just the release-sheet omnipresence that took garage-rock lifer Ty Segall from unassuming undergrounder to cover star for the digitally-relaunched Spin
, even if it surely helped. With his various LPs in various guises (the all-Segall solo disc Twins
, the Ty Segall Band's Slaughterhouse
, and the Ty Segall & White Fence collaboration Hair
), the Californian stayed true to the staunchly-DIY, constant-creation methodology of the grass-roots garage scene; harnessing a vital energy that also radiates through his wild, psychedelic, noisy jams. Segall didn't change what he was doing, the world merely changed around him; garage fuzz itself having a kind of breakout.