Top Albums of the Year
1. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
On the way back from Louisville, Kentucky, my roommate and I put this on. For the duration of the album, we said nothing to each other. The windmills of Indiana cloaked our background. The lyrical mix of musings on love and religion spoke to us the way that a mother does when she is lulling her child to sleep. On the last song, “So long you pretty thing,” Jason Spaceman starts singing with his child. The song starts at a pinpoint and expands to a cosmic rumbling before you can almost hear the opening lines of genesis. As the song faded out, we kept out eyes forward on the road before one of us said “I bet he’s a great father.”
2. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
When I saw Frank Ocean at Lollapalooza, I went by myself. Everyone else went to Red Hot Chili Peppers. I knew that what I was about to see would be historic. Even by the standards of Lollapalooza, the show would be intimate. But it’s easy to do that when your music reads like disturbed diary entries. Ocean’s lyrics are peppered and haunted by shadows of drug use, a coming to terms with oneself, and unrest. Those subjects lend to a multitude of song structures, crooning methodologies, and heartbreak.
3. Swans - The Seer
This album has the lyric “your light pours into my mouth.” I feel like this album was written and recorded by a pack of gypsies in flight from an insane asylum that was hidden away on K2 or something. This album has another huge variety of songs on it from the folk-drawl of “Song of a Warrior” to the explosive drone of “lunacy.” The textures of unease is rampant throughout. Michael Gira apparently dropped acid 300 times before he was 14. On an album like this, I can believe it.
4. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
There’s enough that’s been said on Fiona Apple’s life, lyrics, and pain. So I won’t go there. What I will say is that this album is honest. I took my sister to her show at the Chicago Theatre. Apple’s set features a lavish backdrop of talented musicianship. This feature applies to the songs on this album, somewhat less manic than “extraordinary machine,” less visceral than “When the pawn...” but somehow more resonating. Fiona doesn’t hide what she’s trying to say in metaphor because the metaphors she uses are so on point that the listener doesn’t even think of them as such. There’s a lot of hope on this album and a lot of love.
5. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
The first day I bought this album, I listened to it six times in a row. Just flipping one side to the other while reading. I remember the first time I heard the nearly-nine-minute slaughterhouse of “wasted days,” and Dylan opened his vocal chords like a gash to the wrist - he screams “I thought I would be more than this!” And god, it makes so much sense since Steve Albini produced this album. But Dylan is like 20 years old! Of course he’s gonna be more than this - he’s like 1/4 of the way through his life! These songs are so mature that it’s easy to forget that this songwriter is only a kid. Man, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
6. Spider Bags - Shake My Head
Well these guys definitely get band I saw the most of 2012. My buddy Kyle and I saw these guys like three times in two weeks. Dan McGee of Spider Bags actually gave me this CD like six months in advance. There’s so much country swagger to these guys that it’s easy to forget that Dan doesn’t drink beer because it disagrees with his stomach. This album was recorded with Memphis Rock Royalty, a la the boys who run Goner and alike. It’s easily the most rock n’ roll oriented of their albums and easily the best. “Simona La Ramona” has such a great build and swell to it that at the end, the cajoling falsettos sound like a touchdown celebration. Really fun stuff here.
7. Woods - Bend Beyond
“Find them Empty” was one of my favorite 7”s of 2011 and when I found out that it was gonna be on “Bend Beyond,” I was beyond psyched (didn’t mean to use beyond two times in such close proximity but I’ll take it). When I popped this on the turntable, and the swamp-like growl of the guitars on the first song “Bend Beyond,” I knew I was in for a completely different Woods record. Slap on the San-Fran-psych-rock of “Cali in a Cup” directly after and I’m hooked. This record is so much fun and a real joy to drive to. Or clean buckets to. Yeah, I did that.
8. Ty Segall - Twins
Yeah, he did it. Ty Segall released three amazing albums in one year. I think Ty just won music. This album most closely resembles a typical Ty Segall album, meaning that there are creepy lyrics, rock n roll revelry, and energy. Ty clearly has a soft spot for classic rock, which comes across in this album. “Thank God for Sinners” is an anthemic tour de force. When Ty played this on Conan, I could almost hear a generation murmur “Oh, so that’s rock n’ roll! Hey, i kind of dig that.” Thanks for the lesson, Ty, and for G-d’s sake, don’t stop believing.
9. Stripmines - Crimes of Dispassion
This is the best hardcore album of the year. I actually had an interview lined up with these guys. I had been corresponding with lead-singer Jeff Young for a while. And then the band broke up. Whatever. These guys are one of the latest and greatest bands from the Raleigh Hardcore scene fueled by the amazing label “Sorry State Records,” which seems to never put out anything but hits. The first song “Hate Crime” has a powerviolence blast of energy to it, but then breaks down into a percussion-frenzied ending. If you’d like to know more about these guys, they had a really good interview with Maximum Rock n’ Roll. Really hope they keep making tunage like this in other band capacities.
10. Converge - All You Love You Leave Behind
Converge has never put out a bad album. In fact, Converge has only put out amazing albums. These guys are fronted by Jacob Bannon, an artistic wunderkid who seems to be able to do almost everything. His prints are rich with religious puzzlement and splatters of metallic-tinged color. He’s also in what I believe to be the best metalcore band of all time. This album varies up the pacing a little bit, evident from even the first song “Aimless Arrow,” which starts with a more human sounding Jacob before spiraling into what I picture as him as a demon, screaming above a double-kick drum. This is some aggressive stuff and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
11. Death Grips - The Money Store
I still don’t know whether this band is a gimmick. All the press behind these guys is absolutely baffling. First, they decide to release two albums this year. Secondly, they put a phallus as the image to indicate the second album (put simply, there’s a penis for the second album cover) and then they release that album for free even though they’re signed to a major label. Is this the punkest thing that happened this year or incredibly contrived? I really have no idea. At any rate, this album is totally trans-genre and has some really fun songs on it. “I’ve Seen Footage” is an ode to the digital era of Youtube and other hit movies. It’s also got an amazing swirling background. These guys probably eat adrenaline all day.
12. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes
Ariel Pink is my favorite modern-day songwriter. He’s also the person who has influenced my music the most I think. Ariel doesn’t have a certain sound. He’s got an ethos and a methodology which is that he records everything into his phone via his mouth, including vocals, drums, and guitar lines. Then he plays that for his band and they figure it out. It’s a really neat idea and shows how someone who writes a 60’s throwback like “Only in my Dreams” can be the same person who wrote “Good Kids Make Bad Grown Ups.” A lot of people think of Ariel Rosenberg as an elaborate prankster. Does he really think he’s making good art? Like his music, Ariel’s answer changes in nearly every interview (probably due to the plethora of drugs he consumes at all times).
13. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City
I really didn’t do my fair share of hip hop listening this year. I think I listened to probably five hip hop albums of 2012. I listened to exclusively hip hop and latin music until I was 17, but I truly started listening to music when I was 14 and my friend Shaun and I were amateur b-boys, trying to figure out how to get more than two spins on our heads. It sounds weird because I obscenely embody White-people stereotypes now, but whatever, it’s the trooff. This album kind of gives me more hope about where mainstream hip hop is going now. It shows that a great lyricist can still sign to a major label. But more than that, it shows how the trend of hip hop is going towards honesty. There’s still a need for drama in this album and still an emphasis on bravado and a need for mind-altering substance, but it’s rendered with an almost regret. The ending of this album shows that there is hope and it’s evident because it’s easy to see where Kendrick has gotten. Everything that his posse Black Hippy does is pretty great - I’m not a huge Schoolboy Q fan, but I’ll listen to it. Ab-Soul rocks. But Kendrick is the monolith around which the artists gather. He’s the man with the plan. (Insert another generic compliment here).
14. Nachtmystium - Silencing Machine
I got into black metal hard this year after I saw Liturgy perform at the Duke Coffeehouse. You read that right. Liturgy performed at the Duke Coffeehouse. IT WAS AWESOME. But once I saw them, I realized that there was a huge deficit in my knowledge of music and that was metal. I started listening to second-wave norwegian black metal and when I moved back to Chicago, I found out that we actually have an unreal metal scene. And these guys are my favorite. Blake Judd, lead singer of Nachtmystium, has this piercing howl (or is it a growl?) that fronts an always changing sound. It’s common knowledge that this band’s last two releases were more psychedelic metal than black metal, but then they decided to make (in Judd’s words) “a fucking black metal album.” I still hear a good deal of the psychedelic in this album, but it’s definitely more true to black metal form. There’s also a lot of pop in this album. The choruses and hooks will bring you back. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to that. But these songs are all based on pop-structures, which is cool.
15. Cult of Youth - Love Will Prevail
Sean Ragon jumped off the stage at the end of this show and ran into an alley and I followed him where we talked about his return from rehab, his need to shelter himself in a room in order to write songs, and his first beer after giving up drugs. It was really cool to see a songwriter that I really admire be so open with me. I hung out with his band all night and they were really welcoming, which made me feel awesome. The songs on this album lose a bit of the celtic-centricity of his previous works, but they really amp up the energy, which is evident on songs like “Love Will Prevail.”
16. Horseback - Half Blood
This band is incorrectly labeled as metal. That’s not to say they aren’t inspired by metal, but aside from Jenks Millers’ vocals, there’s not a lot of metal on this. There’s a LOT of americana though. It’s something you hear very rarely - if not exclusively on a Horseback record. Horseback had such an awesome year with the release of this record on Relapse records, the reissue of part of their first record on Three Lobed (a label which seems to always just get better and better), a split twelve inch with Chicago noise band Locrian, a seven inch, and a new cassette on All-Day Records. These guys and California’s Crowhurst got me into noise music this year. I don’t see myself looking back any time soon.
17. Ty Segall & White Fence - Hair
Dreams do come true. Tim Presley and Ty Segall made an album together. There is so much psychedelic swagger to this record it’s not even funny. The song “I Am Not a Game” is a huge song. It sounds so big. And the rest of the album is varied like a White Fence record. He released a double album this year called “Family Perfume vols. 1 & 2,” but I feel like that was a subdued version of what was on this album. The songwriting on Family Perfume is incredible, but I felt like the production limited it, otherwise, that album would have made the list. Ty and Tim really balance each other out on this as you can see from the raucous volume but also the precise songwriting. I really hope this is indicative of more collaborative works from these two.
18. Mean Jeans - Life on Mars
This album is a party. The first song “Ready 2 Rip” is totally the perfect way to start any day, especially if you’re about to go to the beach (surf’s up). The album never loses any momentum and never has any pretensions over what it is, which is a rock n’ roll record.
19. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
One of my happiest moments this year was when I saw that Japandroids covered The Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy.” I must have looked like an absolute goofball with my giddy-smile that I’m sure stayed on my face for a week. The production on this album is much better than their first album, but the sustained adrenaline is still there, which is cool. Songs like “Continuous Thunder” also show that the band doesn’t need to simply wallop you over the head every time. It plays a similar role to “I Quit Girls” did on their first record. These guys also have some amazing lyrics. It’s the story of adolescence compressed into forty minutes.
20. King Tuff - King Tuff
“Bad Thing” is the best song on this album. The line “Cause all I ever wanted was everything” is one of the coolest lines I heard. I remember running to that song on repeat. And we’re talking like a 40 minute run. The whole time I listened to that song. And then I think I made some spaghetti to it also. That’s gotta be like 60 minutes of badness. Pretty cool. I actually prefer this to Tuff’s other band “Happy Birthday,” who released a sweet record on Sub pop a couple years ago. The songwriting on here is more forward and straight up. It’s also really fun. “Swamp of Love” has some really fun lyrics. It feels like if someone’s 80’s prom actually were in a swamp. How about that.
William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops
Royal Trux- Accelerator
Horseback - Impale Golden Horn
Mount Moriah - s/t
Feedtime - The Aberrant Years
Donnie & Joe Emerson - Dreamin’ Wild
Sleep - Dopesmoker
Royal Headache - s/t
Total Control - Scene from a Marriage
White Mystery - People Power
All those awesome Double Negative 7”s
Whatever Brains - RSD 7”
Best Live Acts:
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Cult of Youth
Labels of the Year:
Dirtnap Records (White Wires, Guantanamo Baywatch, Mean Jeans)
Sorry State Records (Stripmines, Joint D, All those awesome Double Negative 7”s, Whatever Brains )