December 21, 2012

Albums 2012

Following my favorite songs of the year, here are my favorite records of 2012. Thank you so much for reading all year. I'll finish up the year end posts with my guest lists next week.

10 Andy Stott | Luxury Problems
It is hard to put your finger on exactly what is happening on Luxury Problems. Is this electronica, techno, dubstep, drone? Well, it is sort of an amalgamation of all of them and that is what makes it so exciting. Listening to Stott brought back memories of my first encounter with Burial. Rich beats as thick as tar ooze from the speakers and Alison Skidmore's ethereal vocals wrap the album in a blanket of angelic whispers. The album is certainly not something for everyone and for those accustomed to electronic music over the past few years may be spooked by Stott's creations. "Up the Box" may be the most out of place song and is definitely the closest we get to an IDM track, but when it pops up at the end of the record it pulls the listeners attention back from the stratosphere and could be the only song here to be featured on any party playlist. The album is a grower and might be best absorbed in privacy. It's for a slow burning after hours listening session, but the fact that I've mostly enjoyed this album on my own does not take away from it's gratification. Luxury Problems has placed Andy Stott alongside Daniel Lopatin as one of the premiere experimental electronic producers of the next generation. Or at least until Burial releases a full-length follow-up to Untrue.

09 King Tuff | King Tuff
No one in 2012 sounded like they were having as much fun as King Tuff. Straightforward rock about all of the little pleasures in life. It's the kind of record I dreamed up in my bedroom some where around the age of 16, but it's executed with the maturity and skill of today. A punk rock record for the kids who stuck with pot instead of speed. Exactly what you would imagine from the prior front man of stoner-metal outfit Witch once you realize he is from Vermont. However that is not to say there aren't some rowdy tunes. "Anthem" and standout "Bad Thing" each take note from former band member J Mascis, as Kyle Thomas turns up the fuzz for some blown out jams of jangle-punk bliss. Some may have a problem getting past the Eric Cartman vocal stylings, but with hooks as catchy as these, you find yourself coming back to these tunes just like you can't wait to see what obnoxious antic the most ridiculous residence of South Park will try to commit next.

08 Spiritualized | Sweet Heart Sweet Light
If there ever were an album not to judge by its cover, it would be Sweet Heart Sweet Light. The cover apparently refers to leader J Spaceman's mental state during the making of the record. He was undergoing experimental chemotherapy to treat a degenerative liver disease. Huh? could not be a more inaccurate description of Spiritualized's most recent accomplishment. Pierce's love of mixing psych-rock and gospels is as prominent as ever with constant pleas to Jesus sprinkled throughout each sprawling track. Given his state during the creation of these songs, it is no wonder the album acts as a swan song of sort. If this is Pierce's send off, he is going out with a bang. "And I won't get to heaven / I won't be coming home / I will never see my mother again" and "sometimes I wish that I was dead / cause only the living feel the pain" just begin to reveal the anguish one could possibly feel towards the end. And yet as much as you might think the darkened sadness would be ideal for personal grief, the grandiose nature and epic choruses suggest a sense unity in the face of despair. Even as the album closes with the heart-breaking "So Long You Pretty Thing" were still not given a sense of hope but rather the album combusts into an invigorating blaze of glory.

07 Metz | Metz
The self-titled debut from Toronto's Metz isn't as much a listening experience as it is an attack on your ears. For just under thirty minutes, the trio pumps out raw lacerating guitar in the finest form of noise since Shellac. The all out assault is a missile of sound that never lets up as the band clobbers away through ten tracks of pure chaos. Live, the band is just as tight and relentless as they are on wax. They rip through these songs with such urgency it would seem as if their life depended on it. With punk getting a much deserved shot in the arm from the indie community, Metz are at the forefront of the abrasive rush. They might not be playing venues with similar capacity to some of the bands they get bundled with, but their immediacy and intensity feel infinitely stronger. Five years after their first show, this is the first record Metz have under their belt. Some may see that as a lack of focus, but instead it is a display of their ability to refine their sound to near perfection without losing any of their punk aesthetic.

06 Tame Impala | Lonerism
It would be too easy to chalk up Tame Impala's Lonerism as a 60s/70s indebted classic psych rock record. Leave that to bands like Wolfmother. What Tame Impala have accomplished on their sophomore record in some ways makes their first record obsolete as it is better in nearly every way. Kevin Parker's Lennon style vocals, technicolor keyboard solos, and Ginger Baker influenced drum fills come together for an instant classic. When you expect stabbing guitar lines recalling Black Sabbath, you're instead treated to guitars washing over like heavy Cream. The band even plays it smart by not trying to replicate a Townsend or Page style solo. Classic Rock never seems to ever go away. New teenagers discover the joys of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin every year and as long as late night dorm room bong sessions are still soundtracked by Darkside of the Moon there is no reason Lonerism can't be next on the playlist for years to come.

05 Godspeed You! Black Emperor | 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
A lot has happened in the world of post-rock since we last heard from Canadian titans Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Bands like Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Rós have risen to the tops of festival line-ups and been featured in Disney movies. The months before the legendary Mayan apocalyptic prophecy could not be a better time for their great return. The material on this opus date back to the final shows from the band's old self and have even been performed during their recent reunion, so technically some might not count this as brand new material. However, the recordings present on the album are not old tapes. The group reformed (in a different line-up), relearned, and rerecorded this material. The fact that it exists and is good is a statement of the band on its own. The fact that it could be their best is astonishing. Godspeed You! Black Emperor always came across as more of a thought machine than a band. Perhaps it's the fact that the band plays gloom ridden, armageddon doused, behemoth arrangements of doom (having this soundtrack Hurricane Sandy outside my apartment might not have been the best idea) and that they have no apparent front-man, but whatever it is their presence is as strong as ever.

04 the Men | Open Your Heart
Early records from the Men are described as hybrids of hardcore and dooming drones, so when an acoustic track showed up on Open Your Heart, people were a little confused. This did nothing to take away from the greatness of the record. The album is grounded by rock-solid opener "Turn It Around", middle triumph "Open Your Heart" and the finale "Ex-Dreams". What occurs in between are rule breaking punk anthems that tackle psychedelics and the previously mentioned, Replacement style acoustic jam. Metz have honored the essential punk sound (short bursts of hard jams), but the Men have taken punk's ethics and stretched them to fit their own rules. While they're are still sparse on their lyrical content, their sweltering guitars and jackhammer drums are sure to bring the noise. At this point, the Men don't seem to have a clear direction in sight. The road from Leave Home to Open Your Heart  twists and turns more than most would have expected and where that could be a frightening thought for most, for the Men it could mean an entirely new sound of brilliance. And that couldn't be more exciting.

03 Grizzly Bear | Shields
By now you've probably figured it out. Grizzly Bear transcend their peers by making well crafted, ornate, and painstakingly beautiful pop songs. They have evolved tremendously since their ambient out of the woodwork days of Yellow House and have matured into a grown beast capable of creating monstrous pop gems. On Shields, you won't find anything as immediate as "Knife" or "Two Weeks", but instead an album that flows together in an entirely new way. Opener "Sleeping Ute" acts as the soundtrack while you fall down the wormhole into their world. Ed Droste and Daniel Rosen each take a turn in the spotlight to showcase their time stopping vocal qualities and for the first time, we find them using their powers together for the greater good. Their voices duck and cover around each other and create a harmony previously unheard from these distinguished gentlemen. There are a few bands at the moment that don't seem capable of writing bad records (another is next on this list), but Grizzly Bear have the strange capability of making their graceful and elaborate music look and sound so easy.

02 Beach House | Bloom
I can't think of another band in recent memory who has excelled with each release in the same capacity as Beach House. Each album expanded in new and inspiring ways that added to the band's overall arc without changing their brilliant sound. When they released the sensational Teen Dream in 2010, it didn't seem like there was room for improvement. Bloom in no way breaks the band's stride. Lead single "Myth" illuminated from the initial guitar bursts and set high expectations to what was already a hotly anticipated record. The next three tracks only continue to echo "Myth"'s beauty. In fact, the first four tracks could be the finest in the band's entire discography. The band's majestic soundscapes are as rich as ever and even after repeated listens, the sparkle never dulls. Beach House have been occasionally called out by some as writing the same song forty times. Each album is covered with the band's unique fingerprint, the dreamy gauze vocals from Victoria Legrand and the sun stroked guitar of Alex Skelly shape shift from one track to the next. The band hasn't simply been repeating itself, instead they have reinvented the wheel forty times and show no signs of letting up.

01 Fiona Apple | The Idler Wheel...
If you had told me in 2011 that Fiona Apple would announce and release an album this year, I probably wouldn't have listened. After the process behind Extraordinary Machine, I wouldn't have been surprised to never hear from her again. The fact that the album came out and ended up on my list was enough of a shock., but the fact of how good it actually is, seems a little unfair. Lyrically, this is an emotionally devastating record and not something you want to listen to on repeat. And yet that happened anyway. Her song writing skills seem sharper than ever and The Idler Wheel is not only her most mature album to date sonically, it is her best album in general. Where her previous records burst with instrumental pomp, this albums is toned down to her basic core (no pun intended). The delicacy of the songs mixed with the intimate lyrics demonstrate that years after infamous VMA acceptance speech, Fiona Apple is still unafraid to speak her mind. Unfortunately for the subject of her songs, lots of people are still listening.

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