Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top 30-ish Albums of 2012

Here's where I admit that I didn't listen to a whole lot of new music this year. Maybe it was high school ending, maybe it was college starting, maybe it was me playing more of my own music, or maybe it was just a weird form of laziness, but my backlog is pretty fucking massive, and it only got bigger this year. So, this list isn't necessarily the most extensive and well researched, but then again what list is?
All that being said, the highs for this year were really fucking high. All of these albums are pretty incredible, and the numerical ranking pretty much becomes irrelevant in the upper 8 or so. 

Albums That Were Pretty Cool That I Would Need To Listen To More To Rank Numerically
(In Alphabetical Order)

Aidan Baker - The Spectrum of Distraction
TMBG's Fingertips, except with instrumental rock/drone music and lasting for two hours. 
Animal Collective - Centipede Hz
The Antlers - Undersea
Nice EP, though I worry about The Antlers going in a direction that will make me cry less.
Balmorhea - Stranger
Recently getting into these guys. Good stuff.
Rad Krauty kinda stuff.
Death Grips - The Money Store
Dweller On The Threshold - S/T
Good Enemies List-core, but really disappointingly short.
Fang Island - Major
It's fun. I hate fun.
Jack White - Blunderbuss
Thumbs up if you're one of the 9% of people who still listens to REAL music
James Blackshaw - Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death
Good minimal folk guitar stuff. Song with vocals is pretty iffy though.
Jonny Greenwood - The Master Soundtrack
Ponderosa - Pool Party
Good ol' indie pop.
Portico Quartet - S/T
I wore this out pretty quickly. Good stuff though.
Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras, The Congos - FRKWYS Vol. 9
Happy Song is fucking incredible. Rest of the album is alright.
Victor Villarreal - Invisible Cinema
Good emo twinklin'
Honorable Mention Kinda: Macintosh Plus - Floral Shoppe 

I guess this album came out in 2011, but it was the poster child for vaporwave, so whatever. Slowed down 80s music for nostalgics. Yum yum!
Here's Another One: Masturbation Goes Cloud - 20.12.2012

This just came out a few days ago, so I haven't had much time to give it a numerical ranking of any sort. That being said, this is a great album by a really cool band that put out another album last year. This has the band evolving a bit, using more electronics and the like. Great stuff!

15. Literature - Arab Spring

I think this album technically came out in 2011, like, in the last few days or something, so it might not actually belong on this list. But, release year notwithstanding, this is a fantastic song cycle of irresistible, fun, catchy as all hell jangle pop that breeze by like a summers day. Definitely not something to miss.

14. Mount Eerie - Ocean Roar

One of two albums by Phil Elverum's Mount Eerie put out this year, Ocean Roar is the darker, grander brother of Clear Moon. With some massive sounds in opener Pale Lights and probably the best 'instrumental' songs in Elverum's discography, Clear Moon is more obviously a continuance of his 'black metal album' Wind's Poem. Clear Moon is great in it's own right, but aside from some cheesy use of children's voices (see the title track), Ocean Roar comes out on top.

13. Maps and Atlases - Beware and Be Grateful

Maps and Atlases are masters of math-pop, and on their new album they show off more of their pop chops. A bit more darkly tinted than their other work, a lot of these songs are somber and nostalgic, and pretty beautiful in parts. Old Ash is a highlight, with probably the most passionately performed vocals in the band's discog. Good stuff!

12. Dads - American Radass (this is important)

With that album art and that album name, and song titles like Groin Twerk and Bakefast at Piffanys, it might be easy to dismiss Dads as some kind of joke. But don't be fooled - this album has a lot up it's sleeves. Fantastic instrumentation matched with some really personal (and in turn, incredibly relatable) lyrics about relationships or lackthereof, this has all the makings of a classic album of revival emo. Not to be missed.

11. Eaststrikewest - We're Important And We Keep The City Running. We're Important. We're Important. We're Important.

If I were to describe this album in one horribly overused word, it'd be 'epic'. Soaring instrumentation and inspired vocals are front and center in this band's kinda-sorta post rock final album. Foot stomping is required.

10. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light

This album encompasses everything that's great about J. Spaceman - catchy pop structures with trippy, spacey instrumentation. Bookended by two incredible tracks, this thing's a groovy one. Hurt a bit by kinda shitty production (though I might be in the minority with that opinion).

9. Scott Walker - Bish Bosch

An album of songs in the loosest sense of the word. This thing is fucking weird, but somehow hilariously catchy. Jumping from genre to genre and spitting in the face of song structure, this thing takes you to the darkest realms of Walker's mind, while also using farts as an instrument and yo mama jokes as lyrics. 

8. Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory

This is some pure fuckin' rock and roll right here. 33 minutes of non-stop yelling and shredding and pounding. Dig on it. 

7. Grizzly Bear - Shields

The newest album by these mellow rockers is more of the same stuff from 2009's Veckatimest, which is just fine for me. They're masters of hazed out acoustic plodding, and Shields is no different, though there are some shining moments of motorik beats (A Simple Answer) and epic crescendos (Sun In Your Eyes) that keep this album interesting. Good for late nights by the fireplace. 

6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

Probably one of the biggest 'moment' of this year happened one night around 2 am. Numerous threads were popping up with pictures of a brand new vinyl record by post rock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who hadn't released anything in nearly a decade. Matching their grand mythos they've built up, a new album of two tracks and two drones was quietly released at one of their gigs, and instantly the internet held their breath for a vinyl rip. This album comprises of two recorded songs that they've been playing for years, so it's not necessarily the newest thing on the block, but nonetheless it's incredible music. The two 20 minute tracks are grandiose epics in the style of Yanqui UXO, and the drones show a bit of a new territory for the band. It's not their best album, not by a long shot - but Godspeed's worst is still a lot better than most of the other post rock being thrown out there. 

5. David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant

Truly a collaboration made in weirdo heaven, this album pairs David Byrne and Annie Clark together, gives them a brass band, and makes a strangely incredibly sexy album (that might mostly be Clark's doing...then again, that David Byrne...). It's definitely a unique pop album, equal parts organic and synthetic, beautiful and ugly, and all the way through catchy and danceable as fuck. I'd say the Clark-sung songs are probably the highlight, but tracks like Who and I Should Watch TV have Byrne doing what he does best, and his best is pretty fucking great. 

4. Moonface with Siinai - Heartbreaking Bravery

The next album by Spencer Krug's fantastic Moonface project pairs him with spacey krautish rockers Siinai, to create an album entirely different from last years Organ Music, yet has that Krug charm through and through. In this case, all the music is provided by Siinai, and the vocals and lyrics by Krug (certainly his most recognizable artistic trait), and the two come together to make a bombastic song cycle about nostalgia, love, and of course, heartbreak. In Krug's other projects, the music and lyrics are made by the same soul, which makes it all a bit more personal and concise - Heartbreaking Bravery isn't necessarily that deeply intertwined within itself, so Krug is almost left to catch up with the grand (in a different way!) nature of Siinai's music - and really, he does so to fantastic effect. 

3. Menomena - Moms

In 2011, Brent Knopf left Menomena, to pursue his other project Ramona Falls (who, in fact, put out an almost insultingly boring album this year). Moms is their first album as a duo, and before it came out, I was concerned. Menomena is the band that really got me to explore the music world, and after a decade of stellar music, I was worried if they could fare well as a duo. Turns out my concerns were ultimately ridiculous - Moms might be the best album Menomena has put out. The vast majority of this album was written about the relationships the two band members have with their parents (hence the album name), and is unabashedly personal and intimate because of it. These songs get dark, they get vulgar, and really incredibly beautiful and poignant. Without a doubt the most grandiose thing they've ever put out,  Moms proves that this band will go plenty far - maybe even farther than they would have. 

2. Skeletons Big Band - The Bus

This album was randomly released one day in September, after about a year or so of Matt Mehlan saying that there was a Big Band album in the works. I remember listening to it at least three times in a row that day.
Skeletons have always been hard to label, and The Bus really only makes it harder. Part afro beat, part post rock, part avant-pop, all of it undeniably Skeletons. Unlike their other stuff, the majority of this album is instrumental, and much like the Byrne/St. Vincent album, led by a massive sounding brass band. Equal parts absolute beauty and absolute chaos, this is something that is not to be missed.

1. Swans - The Seer

Lets put aside the immense impact that Swans have had on my life, and look at some objectives. Despite the other worldly, almost deity-like pedestal that I place Soundtracks For The Blind on (and continue to do so... I really need to write something about that!), I can easily admit that it's not a very consistent album. Certainly not the most consistent in Swans' immense, ever evolving discography. So what is?
It's The Seer.
Gira wasn't kidding when he said this album is the culmination of everything he's ever done. Over two hours, Gira presents everything Swans ever was, all while continually advancing what it will continue to be. Lunacy crashes through with appropriately insane repetition - lunacy, lunacy, lunacy, lunacy...your childhood is over. Quickly we move into the two note plodding of Mother of the World, building into a tower where Gira can spout his mad babbling, before the whole thing comes crashing down in a soft acoustic ballad for mother nature. The Wolf lulls us into a false safe haven, before erupting into the 32 minute centerpiece, The Seer. A swirling mass of noise and rhythm, coming together to create the loudest fucking thing you've heard in a long time. Equal parts growth and decay, the blasts of sound become ever more scarce, until we're left with scarce vibrations of strings, quickly changed into a slow dance led by indecipherable spoutings by Gira, yet again. The Seer Returns continues on the groovy side of things, with probably the most easily dance able thing Swans has ever done. 93 Ave. Blues and Daughter Brings The Water show another extreme juxtaposition - pure chaos leading to a pretty acoustic ballad.
The second half is where The Seer proves to be something truly inspired and other worldly. After a nice acoustic track led by Karen O, we delve into Avatar, containing probably the greatest crescendo and payoff this side of Helpless Child. The album concludes with the musical equivalent of having the spirit of God burst through your body, giving you no choice but to shake and scream him out. But in between these two incredible, incredible pieces of music is A Piece of the Sky - a true, absolute masterpiece if there ever was one. A choir of angelic voices (provided by Jarboe [yes!!!]) shine through sounds of fire, leading to an army of hammered dulcimers and other ringing instruments. A complete tirade of pure beauty on your ears, jumping directly to what I can only assume is the climb up the rope to the sky that Gira prophesied in 2010. Subtly building with piano (piano in a Swans song!), guitar and drums, an absolutely incredible chord progression boils and simmers, before the clouds part and Gira sings to us. Harmonized vocals match the pure, unadulterated beauty that is the "song" part of this song. Lyrics questioning identity, purpose, and persona gently follow the music, before it culminates in what might be the ultimate question: "are you in there?" My tears can't be avoided.

Gira clearly has something figured out. For the past thirty years, he's been working toward this point: music that is, above all else, real. Listening to Swans and The Seer have let me get as close as I might ever get to feeling, and maybe even understanding God, or Truth, or whatever is really out there. This stuff lives, and exists through the artists. I can only hope that, whatever happens in the next life, music like this really did give some sort of preview.