Thursday, January 31, 2013

Year-End Report: Looking Back at 2012 - Top 50 Albums 30-21

We’re getting to the meaty center of our countdown. Hopefully, you’re enjoying this look back at 2012 so far. This next ten continues the blistering pace of some of the last section but also introduces my left-of-center electronic favorites. As I am writing this, there is still no sign of that elusive My Bloody Valentine album that we were promised. Kevin Shields teased fans at a recent performance by saying it “might be out in two or three days’ time.” Surely, he laughed manically to himself when he was outside earshot of press. Nonetheless, if you need a good shoegaze release to tide you over, one of the best in recent memory is featured among the albums below.

30. Thee Oh Sees - Putrifiers II

San Francisco's Thee Oh Sees strike the perfect balance between garage rock and psychedelia on their 2012 release, Putrifiers II. John Dwyer’s nasally vocals and forceful guitars lead the charge on the perfectly executed tracks like “Lupine Dominus”. Elsewhere, they slow things down with flower child diversions like “Will We Be Scared?”. The prolific band already has a new album coming out titled Floating Coffin. Due out April 16th via Castle Face Records, it was described as “the next chapter in the story of Thee Oh Sees, the one where they fix their fury against the onrushing night,” and that is definitely something to get excited about.

29. Ringo Deathstarr - Mauve

OK, this is the one I was teasing in the introduction. Austin's Ringo Deathstarr have become the pinnacle of modern shoegaze with their latest release, Mauve. There is so much energy, excitement, and creativity within; it’s hard to believe that they were able to capture it all on one record. A brighter, punchier approach allows for noise-pop bursts like “Slack”, “Do You Wanna?”, and “Please Don’t Kill Yourself”. They get even more impactful when they slow down and get weird on “Brightest Star” and “Drag”. This record easily catapults these shoegaze revivalists to the top of the pile.

28. Ty Segall - Twins

The second Ty Segall related project to be featured on this countdown is his only official solo album of 2012. After two collaborative albums, it was astonishing that Twins, a wholly solo affair, could still innovate and impress. Segall borrows bits and pieces of Syd Barrett , John Lennon, and Jay Reatard to piece together his own fuzz-pop neo-psych classics. Twins gets into a groove right at the start and doesn't let up until the finish. Where Goodbye Bread was a calmer more reflective effort, Twins finds him kicking out the jams and screaming in the face of naysayers.

27. Deftones - Koi No Yokan

Whenever Deftones release an album, I am always nervous that it is going to be the one to turn me away from them, but my apprehensiveness is unfounded. The band continues their streak of pushing their sound into more experimental realms that dissociate them from the dreaded genre they were initially pigeonholed into. Koi No Yokan often drifts into a shoegaze territory that perfectly complements Chino Moreno’s ethereal croon. The iridescent atmosphere on many of the tracks is helped along by inviting synths into the mix. They haven’t gone completely soft, however; “Leathers” is every bit as commanding as anything they have released in the past.

26. Beach House - Bloom

Victoria LeGrand sings with a heartbreaking sincerity on every Beach House song and somehow Alex Scally is always able to create the most effective backdrop for such emotion. Together, they have become the often imitated but never duplicated champions of dream pop. Their fourth album, Bloom, is their most expansive yet, inviting the listener on a gorgeous, luminescent journey. The songs, which are some of the best of their career, intertwine to create a rich tapestry of sonically pleasing haze that works best when taken in all at once.

25. Field Music - Plumb

Field Music’s Plumb is a short and concise masterpiece that is meant to be enjoyed from front to back. Each track interlaces with the next to create one of the best progressive English pop records in recent memory. It is evident that the Brewis brothers have perfectly executed their vision of creating a lasting impression that could sit on the shelf next to their heroes in XTC and The Beatles. From the bubbly dance beat of “A New Town” to the synth shuffle of “Choosing Sides” and the weighty stutter of “Who’ll Pay the Bills?”, it’s a trip you’ll be happy to take with them. “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing” ends the record with pure pop brilliance, albeit one that will leave you craving more. This is their very own Sgt. Pepper’s.

24. Death Grips - The Money Store / No Love Deep Web

So much has been written about Death Grips over the past year that it seems ludicrous to add anything else. A lot of people were saying that their early self-leak of No Love Deep Web with it’s extremely NSFW phallic cover was a gimmick. When the dust settled, it looked like they really did just play by their own rules and had a falling out with the label, Epic, because of it and were subsequently dropped. I am in the minority, but overall, I found No Love Deep Web to be the more rewarding album of the two they released in 2012. It was more experimental and embraced their nastier, more abrasive tendencies. The Money Store was their “pop” effort, if you could call it that, with addicting offerings like “Get Got”, “ I've Seen Footage”, and perhaps my favorite of their 2012 songs, “Hustle Bones”.

23. Zammuto - Zammuto

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of the Books and even though it came at the expensive of the band, I was still excited about Nick Zammuto’s solo effort. The "Idiom Wind" 7” released back in January of 2012 showed that Zammuto certainly wouldn’t be lacking in the creativity that drew me to his songwriting in the Books. However, the songs on Zammuto aren't as reliant on samples and found sounds, but keep the cut-and-paste frantic pop structures. “Groan Man, Don’t Cry” is the best example of how he sets himself apart from the former project. It features his vocoded crooning over a cacophony of organs, bleeps, and staccato guitars with mesmerizing results. If you are looking for a truly unique aural experience, I couldn't recommend anything more than this.

22. Dan Deacon - America

Dan Deacon continues his maturity from quirky hipster EDM into avant-garde electronic composition with America. On the surface, it still sounds impossibly exuberant, however many of the sounds are now produced with live instruments and explore an introspective side of Dan Deacon that I think many of us thought we may never see. Nowhere is there more evidence of this than the orchestral “USA” suite, which has to be experienced all at once to appreciate its ingenious nuances. Thankfully, we still get the noisy party blasts like “Lots” in the first half to balance things out.

21. Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet on Sky

Dinosaur Jr. are the undisputed kings of the comeback. They reentered the scene with 2007’s Beyond and never looked back. The third record since the band's original line-up reunited, I Bet on Sky, continues to defy the expectations of aging rockers. It is the quietest of the reunion albums and less immediate, showing that Dinosaur Jr. aren't immune to writing a classic ‘grower’. Opener “Don't Pretend You Didn't Know” displays this evolution by featuring piano in the chorus. I know, piano in a Dinosaur Jr. song, what is this madness?! They haven’t changed too much, though. “Watch the Corners” is as anthemic as anything they have ever written and ‘Pierce the Morning Rain” is a classic Dino Jr. scorcher. The obligatory Lou Barlow tunes, "Rude" and "Recognition", up the ante from his previous work. And of course, there are still those mind melting solos!

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