5. Spiritualized
Sweet Heart Sweet Light
[Fat Possum]

Thanks to the simple cover design of the latest Spiritualized release, which puts a single questioning word in the middle of a green octagonal outline, I’ve had to spend much of the year reminding myself that one of the best albums of 2012 isn’t actually entitled Huh? It shouldn’t be that difficult for me. For one thing, the actual name, Sweet Heart Sweet Light, deliberately courts a Velvet Underground comparison that is perfectly representative of the album as whole, from the knowing wink to the influential house band of Andy Warhol’s Factory in the title of long-burning workout “Hey Jane” and the aching minimalism of “Freedom” to the buzzing guitars throughout the whole thing. It is a tightly controlled explosion of sonic energy, vibrant and gripping. Each song moves with its own splendid force, a fiercely unique sense of purpose.

Spiritualized frontman and chief creative force Jason Pierce may very well have had cause to have his own artistic sense of purpose fortified. He already famously faced down mortality during a serious bout with pneumonia in 2005, and he revealed in the run-up to the new album that he has long-term degenerative liver disease (the “Huh?” on the cover correlates to his addled state of mind from the resulting treatments). He would surely be forgiven for becoming despondent or indulgently bleak, but the opposite is true. The music on Sweet Heart Sweet Light is strong, powerful, staggering in its force. At times, it’s like a blast furnace of song, and Pierce needs space to burn off all the heat. About half the songs stretch over six minutes, the extra time always necessary.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for mordancy in his words. “Headin’ for the Top Now” might look celebratory on the track listing, but the lyrics tell a different story: “We should be heading for the top now/ But we’ll be crawling on the floor/ Instead we’re losing all we got now/ To cry a hundred thousand more.” Across the album, lines are steeped in pointed irony and outrageous fury, directed both outward and inward. Pierce is shouting out answers to questions that he’s still in the process of formulating, his art serving as the anxious articulation of his mental journey. If he’s staring down a dying of the light, Pierce makes it clear that he’s got a multitude of methods to deploy in raging against it. – Dan Seeger

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