Friday, February 1, 2013

Year-End Report: Looking Back at 2012 - Top 50 Albums 20-11

The ten albums that start my Top 20 countdown contain many that others were disappointed with but I still loved. Whether I have an affinity towards the odder entries in a band’s discography or I’m just a hopeless fanboy is for you, the internet troll to decide. Either way, these records left an indelible impression on me. I believe that a lot of these have simply evaded other music critics and are remarkable albums that deserve a larger audience, so I urge you to check out everything after the jump.

20. Moonface - With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery

It seems like a Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) project makes it into my ‘best of’ coverage every year. The man is a workhorse and continually outdoes himself with innovative new projects. This time around he pairs his solo effort under the guise of Moonface with Finnish krautrockers Siinai, who shine through on songs like the dizzying “Shitty City”. The result is unlike anything we have heard from Krug before. What remains is the unparalleled intensity brought on by his distinctive vocals and contemplative lyrics, which soar to new highs on the tracks that bookend this release.

19. Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself / Hands of Glory

Everyone’s favorite classically minded singer/songwriter graced us with not one but two fantastic, well-composed records in 2012. Noble Beast was the more traditional Andrew Bird record with swelling strings, surreal whistling, and his transcendent vocals. The opener alone is a show-stopping introspective gem that stands out in his immaculate discography. He balances a lot of traditional styles on the record, which is taken to the extreme on the companion piece, Hands of Glory. Less orchestral and more rustic, the album was recorded on a single microphone placed in the center of the musicians. The aural sepia tones take the listener back in time with a warm mixture of Americana, gospel, and blues.

18. Damien Jurado - Maraqopa

Singer/songwriter Damien Jurado has somehow kept a low profile over an extremely fertile career. Beginning with the psychedelic swirl of “Nothing is the News”, Jurado continues to reinvent conventional folk. His worldly vocals lend to some truly moving songs like “Working Titles” and “Museum of Flight”, which have become instant classics in the eyes of his followers. No one could have done justice to these exceptional tunes the way producer extraordinaire Richard Swift has here. Maraqopa contains some of the more breathtaking arrangements since Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter and Swift captures them magnificently.

17. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music

Politically conscious rap seemed to have made a major comeback in 2012, but nowhere was it bolder and louder than on Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music. Although the album was released by the Adult Swim-related label Williams Street, it is about as serious as one can get. Adding to the vitality is the production by El-P, which is steeped in transition yet intrinsically modern. The standout has to be centerpiece “Reagan” where Mike blasts away at the President’s legacy and resonates with every shot. Killer Mike finally delivered the masterwork his fans knew he had in him and solidified his legacy as one of the most insightful and intelligent rappers in the game with R.A.P. Music.

16. El-P - Cancer 4 Cure

Edging out Killer Mike’s superb effort was El-P’s own 2012 release. It takes El-P an average of five years to put out a new solo effort, but that is understandable since he is busy with production work, guest spots, and his Def Jux imprint, which has unfortunately gone on hiatus. Opener “Request Denied” is a good example of why it is always worth the wait. The track starts with booming bass that could be fooled for a Chemical Brothers beat, and ends with El-P spitting so much fire, it works into an inferno. The blaze continues with the funky single “The Full Retard” and it’s demands to “Pump that shit like they do in the future!” The album culminates with the epic “$4 Vic/Nothing But You+Me (FTL)", which displays how much emotion is underneath his scorching flow and how his production can magnify that intensity.

15. Animal Collective - Centipede Hz

Centipede Hz was apparently a big letdown for everyone, but I honestly enjoyed every second. Most people thought that Animal Collective would continue down the path of their poppy 2009 effort, Merriweather Post Pavilion, but in typically fashion, the group had other plans. Centipede Hz is an all-around noisier affair that brings back some of the psychedelic chaos from Strawberry Jam on spacious tracks like “New Town Burnout” and “Monkey Riches”. The bouncy "Wide Eyed" is the first AC song to have Deakin take the lead and the outcome is one of the album’s brightest spots. Another highlight is the brilliance of Animal Collective’s lyrics and their ability to captures the life’s frustrating uncertainty in songs like “Today’s Supernatural” where Avey Tare elaborates, “You'll find something you believe that you should do / And sometimes it won't come so easy / But sometimes you gotta go get mad!”

14. Future of the Left - The Plot Against Common Sense

Future of the Left is a band built around the sardonic wit of frontman Andrew Falkous. This is a man who created one from last year’s best headlines when he posted a scathing retort to a middling review from Pitchfork's Ian Cohen. I can't say it wasn't warranted because although the effort is a bit more polished, it is an overall more adventurous and experimental release that ranks with their best work to date. The added focus on synths makes it a much more interesting affair than the past. That doesn't mean they have lost their ferocity, as the destructive robotic battering of “Failed Olympic Bid” is proof that they still have their infamous bite. "Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop" contains a hilariously psychotic rant about modern film before erupting in one of the year’s most memorable breakdowns. With a beefy 15 tracks, there is no shortness of interesting moments to keep you enthralled the entire time.

13. Ty Segall and White Fence - Hair

My favorite of the three Ty Segall releases in 2012 was the one I least expected to like. Hair is a collaboration with Strange Boys member Tim Presley, who performs under the guise of White Fence. When it came to the material from White Fence, I have been always been “on the fence” (I’m so sorry about that). However, here the two work in perfect unison to create a fuzzed out psychedelic masterpiece. Many of the songs sound like they have been displaced from a 60’s cult favorite that got lost in a bin somewhere and was recently dusted off. The searing guitars in “Scissor People” are made even more intense by the over-the-top studio tricks that hearken back to when producers were just discovering new techniques and taking them to the extreme in order to construct a trippy listening experience.

12. Screaming Females - Ugly

Screaming Females have outdone themselves with Ugly, the ‘other’ Steve Albini produced album from 2012. This is the real place to examine the impact his skills behind the board has for promising bands. Singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster’s shaky vocals rattle with purpose as she delivers some of the best shreddin’ this side of J Mascis on songs like "Doom 84", a monolithic stoner jam. Other tracks like opener “It All Means Nothing” possess a raw energy similar to early Sleater-Kinney. This is a good old fashion rock record. I remember thinking that Screaming Females were “alright” before listening to the record, and subsequently being blown out of the water by dirty, nasty blues riffing. “Alright” changed into “incredible” pretty quick.

11. Spook Houses - Trying

Spook Houses are a couple of Jersey boys that have a style full of playful discontent reminiscent of Boston’s Fat History Month. “I’m trying my best to try” a voice sighs as acoustic guitars gently stumble out of the speakers before it all builds to a purposeful burst. The pensive slacker vibes certainly bring about comparisons to Pavement and Built to Spill as well. The initial moments of “American” display the confliction these tunes were born out of: “Hold on to these quiet moments / Savor them soft / Don’t let them pass / But right now I don't feel like it / I'm drunk and I feel like shit.” The song then vents through a post-punk breakdown. Although short in length, the album succeeds because each tale of ennui is delivered with such an energetic distillation. You can see for yourself at their bandcamp where it is available with a name your price structure.

No comments:

Post a Comment