Saturday, January 5, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2012

30) Lee Ranaldo - Between the Times and the Tides

With Sonic Youth "end[ed] for a while" (whatever that means), Ranaldo and Thurston Moore have done a good job holding us over. This record won't be mistaken for an SY record, but Ranaldo's guitar sounds great on these songs. Beneath the surface of what are generally basic rock songs is a dense atmosphere that gives this album tons of personality.

29) The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Aufheben

Not a band I've listened to extensively, nor one I really know much about, in part because they seem to incessantly genre hop within albums. I was immediately struck by how catchy these songs are; I've since come to terms with the fact that this is psychedelic rock with a  middle-eastern flavor, not something I'd usually indulge in, but it's too infectious for me to care.

28) Swans - The Seer

Any record that's over two hours will overstay its welcome. I never listen to this all the way through in one sitting, but this thing is pretty consistant in its plodding rhythms and general heaviness (not in the metal way). This band does dark and bleak better than most. I don't know why, somehow it's extremely, uncomfortably convincing.

27) Dying Fetus - Reign Supreme

One of my favorite metal albums of the year, and my favorite death metal. Kind of surprised me since I've never liked their stuff before (perhaps should relisten) but I'm clear on why Reign Supreme works so well for me. It's punishingly heavy, impressively technical and groove-laden. To my ears, more so than the dozens of other metal albums I've listened to this year. Usually, my favorite death metal album of a given year isn't among my 30 favorite.

26) Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory

A post-hardcore album that's more spacey than spastic, with an excellent, raw drum sound. Repetitive vocal lines that feel relatable, mainly by the way they're sung. They're learned a thing or two from Jawbreaker, Drive Like Jehu, and the like. Good company. The first half of the album is notably better than the second, to me anyway.

25) Bear in Heaven - I Love You, It's Cool

Lazy, blissful, synth-based "dance" music. It's dense and textured. There are vocals but they don't add much. Occasionally this hits upon a truly spectacular moment of noise, such as on the track "Sinful Nature."

24) First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

A little odd it took this long to get to some folk music, though perhaps this has more of a country edge. This was a grower, but it feels so authentically rural. Rustic, charming, humble, and observant. The vocals are really pretty, especially when they harmonize. Not doing anything new, not pushing any boundaries, but definitely doing something special. I never tire of this stuff.

23) Baroness - Yellow & Green

A double-album. One hour and fifteen minutes long, spread across 18 tracks. A band taming their atmospheric sludge metal into something mellower but, somehow, this is actually done to great effect. It's a lot of music, and a departure from their sound on their very good previous albums, but hardly a disappointment. One excellent song after another, each quite different from the last in sound but not quality.

22) Andy Stott - Luxury Problems

If you're going to include techno beats in your music, burying them under layers of sythensizers is the way to go. It makes this a chilling album, not at all welcoming or personal in any way, but immersive nonetheless.

21) Circle Takes the Square - Decompositions: Volume Number One

This was released on December 21, so I've only been listening to it a few days but am entirely convinced it deserves to be here. These songs, which may be called screamo, create such tension that the outbursts are actually less exhilarating than the build-ups. I don't know why it took them eight years to follow up their debut, but the wait was worth it.

20) Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Somewhere within the massive hype storm over this album are claims of this being one hell of a fist-pumper. That's about right. These songs are played with such enthusiasm that it's hard not to be reeled in by the feeling of positivity inherent in these chords.

19) The Pines - Dark So Gold

Dark, somber folk songs. There's a real sense of melancholy here but it comes across as full of emotion and, thus, beautiful. The one upbeat song, "Chimes," is my favorite track, but the rest of this album creates a mood I find profoundly comforting.

18) Pinback - Information Retrieved

I've listened to all five Pinback LPs but haven't spent enough time with their past work to really get to know them. To my ears, this isn't far removed from what they've been doing for over a decade now. It's breezy guitar-based indie rock with subtly complex rhythms. It typically doesn't sound like they put a lot of passion into their music, which isn't to say they don't, but the apparent laid back attitude doesn't mask some really catchy moments.

17) Yakuza - Beyul

Another exciting metal album, but one harder to categorize than Baroness and Dying Fetus. Users of the website rateyourmusic have categorized this as progressive metal, avant-garde metal, sludge metal, post-hardcore and jazz-rock. This cocktail of subgenres gets us close. I certainly get the sludge and prog labels. It's a creative, trippy album with heavy riffs and great melodic bits, both of which are exciting.

16) DIIV - Oshin

DIIV's songs seem to float through the air, striking upon some lovely guitar tones, but they have a real sense of momentum making this... exciting dream-pop. I didn't think those two terms could go together. Dream-rock, maybe?

15) Alt-J - An Awesome Wave

A melange of electronic, folk, pop and a very fuzzy bass, the discovery of which was one of the my exciting listening experiences this year. The band is hard enough to describe that they have been called "art-rock." I accept that because I can do no better. The vocals have a snarky tone to them, at times, that actually reminds me of something that happens in mainsteam hip-hop. How that didn't bother me is a mystery.

14) Matthew Dear - Beams

Post-punk mixed with IDM is a terrific recipe, but I had that figured out last time this guy released an album (2010's Black City). Thanks to a deep, emotionless voice and bass-heavy beats, Matthew Dear's music feels incredible gloomy but catchy as well. Really interesting stuff, nothing quite hits me the same way.

13) Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

Par for the course: two highly-engaging 20-minute orchestral guitar-based post-rock pieces, dense and incredibly emotive in ways only the best of this genre are. Grandiose and kind of overwhelming at times. Two shorter (14 minutes total) drone pieces too. Widely considered one of the most innovative bands of their style, I've never been blown away by them. There is some spectacular music here though and their back catalog has awesome moments as well.

12) Sigur Ros - Valtari

I could just repeat anything good I've ever said about their music. I just really like their sound. It's thrilling music, really does something wonderful to my mind when its on.

11) The Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth

John Darnielle's songs sometimes play like high-school poetry, albeit written by a highly-observant, articulate, emotionally reasonable youth (though he's 45 years old). He releases so much music, it's hard to keep up with, but the attitude of these songs is what makes him worth listening to. This is my favorite album of theirs since 2008.

10) Beach House - Bloom

Full of moments of rapturous beauty. I don't think there's a modern band of their kind who do this quite as well as they do, and they have lots of contemporaries.

9) Paul Banks - Banks

Gloomy, heavily electronic solo album from the singer of Interpol. I think he sounds good over these tightly-wound beats and subdued guitar lines. Feels quite mechanical despite the prominent use of standard rock instrumentation.

8) The Tallest Man on Earth - There's No Leaving Now

Third record from my favorite contemporary folk singer, and it's easily my least favorite of the three. I think he's one of the best lyricists in recent memory and he plays lively, intricate guitar melodies. Previously it was usually just an acoustic guitar and a voice, but the use of electric guitars and light percussion doesn't totally diminish how lovely his songs can be.

7) The XX - Coexist

Everyone in the world seemed to admore their first album and find dissappointment in this one; I think this one is better. This is still incredibly spacey, minimalistic music with soulful, conversational vocals, but it seems to have been done with a bit more feeling this time around.

6) Simone Felice - Simone Felice

Simone used to play the drums (and sing a few songs) in the Felice Brothers, along with two of his brothers. He left that band in 2009 to play music in which he'd play a more central role, which makes sense because his style is a lot smoother and more soulful than his brothers' more rustic approach to folk music. This album is full of dark and sorrowful lyrical themes but he sings in a such a calm tenor that it has a comforting effect.

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

After a few records that went too far in search of grandiose prog rock, they've gone back to basics. They rock pretty hard when they want to and this thing has tons of energy and momentum with a strong melodic sense. Their most intense record in years.

4) Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind

Nothing to say about this that doesn't get said every time they're talked about. Fifth consecutive album of incredible, over-the-top, abrasively heavy music. And as has become the norm, they really excite on the slower, quieter songs too.

3) The Walkmen - Heaven

Simple songs, sung so earnestly. It's hard not to find music like this uplifting. It's so full of positivity. Plus this has some supremely catchy songs ("Heartbreaker," "The Love You Love," "Heaven").

2) Mewithoutyou - Ten Stories

Impassioned post-hardcore of the highest order. For a "religious" band, they manage to avoid sounding preachy, shallow or closed-minded, which is why I can listen to them. Their lyrics are articulate and often pretty meaningful. The music is furious, catchy and pretty at various points.

1) Shearwater - Animal Joy

It must not be easy to be an offshoot of a more-famous band. Shearwater was once a side-project of members of Okkervil River. The two bands sound nothing alike. Shearwater are very dramatic, even theatrical. It sounds bold to me, very intense at times, expansive, powerful. Other adjectives like that.

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