Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Year-End Report: Looking Back at 2012 - Top 50 Albums 40-31

It’s amazing what ended up paired together when I was finished my Top 50. The ten I previously posted were mostly laid-back indie rock albums, but these next ten are some serious rockers. 2012 had its fair share of amazing garage rock releases and they start to appear in this set. In fact, last year was kind of a flagship year for lo-fi aggressive rock ‘n’ roll. Apart from the aforementioned garage rock, below you will also find some metal, post-punk, and avant-garde tunes. I know you are dying to dig in, so I'll spare you the longer introduction.

40. Pontiak - Echo Ono

“How did I not know about this band?!” is all I could think after I finally discovered Pontiak. The stoner rock trio consisting of brothers Van (lead vocals, guitar), Jennings (bass, organ, vocals), and Lain Carney (drums, vocals) managed to escape me until the release of their 2012 album, Echo Ono. The record is one that you absolutely need to own on vinyl. It transitions between spacey acid rock and headbanging proto-metal in short, concise bursts. The good thing about having been unfamiliar with them is you have a pretty stacked back catalog to peruse as well. If you have the chance to see them, they also put on an electrifying live show.

39. High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis

It’s time to crown High on Fire the kings of stoner metal. There is no better than the trio of vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike, bassist Jeff Matz, and drummer Des Kensel. With each release, they reinforce their ability to bludgeon listeners with scorching guitars and devastating rhythms. The blazing riffage in “Fertile Green” results in one of my favorite metal songs of the last decade let alone year and the lumbering “King of Days” contains some of their most earthshaking sludge work yet.

38. Blacklisters - BLKLSTRS

2012 was the year where everyone tried to become the torchbearers for one of my personal favorite bands, the Jesus Lizard. While critics were drooling over METZ, Blacklisters quietly - or actually, really fucking loudly – released one of the best records in that style. Bordering on demonic, the UK band’s debut full-length is an unrelenting mixture of pummeling guitars and manic vocals. The thing that makes the band so superior is that among all the aggression and noise are surprisingly tight hooks and almost danceable rhythms. It’s hard to picture something this pleasantly brutal going under the radar for too long; the real question is “When are they coming to the States?”

37. Deerhoof - Breakup Song

Admittedly, the first time I heard "The Trouble with Candyhands", the first single from Deerhoof’s Breakup Song, I was turned off by its Latin flavor. I decided to give the album a shot anyway and by the time the opening trio of songs had passed through my eardrums, I was in love. This is a headphone masterpiece if there ever was one. The video game soundtrack on acid songwriting results in an audacious and confident record. Each song is a complex mixture of electronic bleeps and angular guitar riffs that can overwhelm with excitement. Although only half an hour in length, there are more than enough “Wow, I gotta heard that again!” moments to keep you coming back.

36. Jack White - Blunderbuss

Much like everyone, I was devastated by the news of the White Stripes' breakup. But having followed Jack White through all of his projects, I knew there would be no threat of his distinct talent going to waste. On his first official solo album, he works classic blues structures like a mad scientist. Unparalleled songwriting and a rebel approach led to modern classics like “Sixteen Saltines” and “Love Interruption”. The Vince Guaraldi meets Queens of the Stone Age shift in closer “Take Me with You When You Go” was one of my favorite musical moments of 2012.

35. And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Lost Songs

It seems like every time Austin’s And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead release an album, critics are ready to proclaim it their “return to form”. Well, this time I’m going to have to be guilty of that. I feel like this is the record everyone has been waiting for since Source Tags & Codes (or Worlds Apart if you are like me and actually loved that album). On Lost Songs, they finally strike the balance between their post-hardcore influences and prog-rock tendencies. Despite the title, which may also be confused for a b-sides collection, this is the least lost they have sounded in years. The heart-pounding crescendos and hair-raising caterwauls found throughout their career have returned, but this time with impeccable execution.

34. Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse

Here we have one of three records released in 2012 by prolific garage rock maestro, Ty Segall. Slaughterhouse was created with help from his touring band and is marked by its metallic aggression. Much of the album is a distorted assault full of punishing feedback and relentless rhythms. Others just sound like a demented version of the Ty Segall we have come to know like “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart”, which is a doo-wop song that has been possessed by the devil. It’s funny to think that people in the 50’s were rioting when they heard “Rock Around the Clock”; I would love to see what they did if you played them this instead.

33. Guided by Voices - Let's Go Eat the Factory / Class Clown Spots a UFO / The Bears for Lunch

One of the more exciting stories of 2012 was the reunited classic line-up of Guided by Voices. It had to be the most fruitful reunion of all time with not one but three full-length albums released within the year. Let’s Go Eat the Factory and The Bears for Lunch were great in their own right, but it was middle child, Class Clown Spots a UFO, that nailed the Guided by Voices aesthetic we were all craving. Songs like “Keep It in Motion” and “Tyson’s High School” bled into each other with a lo-fi anthemic glory that had everyone screaming “They’re back!” Oh, and in case you were’t aware, they have an EP that was just released and another full-length coming soon.

32. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory

Dylan Baldi orchestrated a successful reinvention of Cloud Nothings for their latest offering, Attack on Memory. Much was said about Steve Albini’s production, which definitely lent to the raw sound on the record, but it was the improved and much more personal songwriting that made it so impactful. There weren't many instances as emotionally candid in 2012 as his screams of “I thought I would be more than this” surrounded by a cacophony of guitars in “Wasted Days”. You can read my full review to get a much more in-depth look at the record.

31. King Tuff - King Tuff

Kyle Thomas has had a quietly prolific career over several musical projects. It was the self-titled album under his King Tuff moniker where people started to notice just how great his songwriting can be. The record perfectly clashes retro structures with modern slacker rock to establish his own unique brand of drug-addled weirdo pop. The carefree vibes will have your lonely, fuzzy head bobbing along to “Alone & Stoned” in no time. And as I stated before, I’m pretty sure that’s the way Thomas would have wanted it.

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