March 13, 2012


Best Album of 2012: Spiritualized Talks Chemo, Pop Sound

British psych-rock vets Spiritualized, the brainchild of singer-songwriter Jason Pierce, aka J Spaceman, have hugged the fringes of the mainstream throughout their 20-year-plus career. The success of their best album, 1997's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, was dampered by Radiohead's OK Computer, but four years later its glorious title track did appear in the final scene of the Tom Cruise-starring Vanilla Sky. While devotees later flocked to the Ladies and Gentleman album concerts in 2010, most music fans hardly recognize the Spiritualized name. It's an atrocity, but it's true.

When I received the advance for Spiritualized's seventh album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light, in January, I was thrilled. Then I started listening. Over and over and over. It quickly became clear: Not only is Sweet Heart Sweet Light perhaps Pierce's best work, it's poised to be the best album of 2012. It's a masterwork—dreamy, narcotic space-rock with memorable hooks and heart-stopping lyrics of pain, love and religion (listen!). It's his poppiest yet and it'll be very tough to best. It's March now and still nothing even comes close.

So I had to chat with Pierce. When I sat down with him recently at New York City's Ace Hotel, the notoriously druggy Pierce—who nearly died in 2005 due to double pneumonia, documented on his excellent LP Songs in A&E—spoke frankly about his latest health issue, degenerative liver disease. He underwent six months of chemo during the LP's recording sessions: "I knew I had to do it. I didn't tell the [studio] engineer. If I disappeared for two days, he probably just thought that's how it is working with me."

Pierce also talked about working with his nine-year-old daughter, who receives a songwriting credit on the release, and the poppier sounds of Sweet Heart Sweet Light: "I wanted to embrace the bit of Spiritualized that I'm not so easy with. I like the abstraction and distortion. But these songs resisted change." Pierce even told us about his favorite psych-rock bands, like the 13th Floor Elevators, that have influenced his sound. Watch both videos below.

So what do you think of Spiritualized? Will Sweet Heart Sweet Light top year-end best-of lists? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section!

Check out photos of Spiritualized's New York tour stop at Terminal 5.