Part 2 is here
Part 3 is here
I don’t know if it was my insistence to listen to every damn release I could get my hands on, but this year was absolutely KILLER for new music. In the past, the prospect of making a top 50 list was daunting, but this year I actually had a hard time narrowing this list down to 50. I’ll save you the ‘year end lists are absolutely ridiculous’ spiel that every other blog seems to be spitting this year before completely contradicting themselves and just say that I love making these things. While the concept of ranking albums that attempt to elicit completely different emotions from the listener may not really make sense, its a great way to reflect on the state of music in any given year. It seemed like every niche and genre in the musical universe had it’s share of noteworthy releases this year, and it’s safe to say that 2012 will remain in everyone’s minds as one of the best years of modern music, regardless of what you’re into. That being said, the following 50 albums I’m going to present to you these next few days are objectively, without a question the best releases of the year, regardless of your opinion.
Nah I’m just kidding.
No I’m not.
50 – Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours
Aside from the obligatory bangers and soul-infused charmers, Big Boi’s second solo full length acts as his love letter to indie-pop, calling on collaborators from Little Dragon and Phantogram to Wavves. While it balks in comparison to 2010’s Sir Luscious Left Foot, Vicious Lies is, at times, a fascinating look at what could potentially (hopefully) be the future of pop rap. I mostly just put this on the list, because it came out so late in the year its guaranteed to be on almost no one else’s lists and I didn’t want Big Boi feeling left out. I see you!
49. Yeasayer – Fragrant World
I used to hate this band so much its not even funny. Not funny at all. The sheer amount of overblown cheese that was Odd Blood made me want to initiate nuclear war just to rid the planet of any trace of its existence. So the fact that these guys are even on my list this year should be a pretty good indicator of the quality of this album. They’ve ditched the cheese almost entirely and started writing some actual fucking good songs. This album should probably be higher on the list but residual hate prevents this from occurring. Oh, subjectivity.
48. Holly Herndon – Movement
This album may not necessarily be one of the best albums I’ve heard all year, but it managed to produce such physical and emotional effects in me that I just had to include it. I remember being genuinely frightened the first time I heard this album, by myself in the middle of the night in the dark. The third track on the album, “Breathe” was actually effecting the way that I was breathing and this scared the shit out of me. The final track, “Dilato” inspired a similar experience. Extremely impressive shit. Not to mention the other, actual songs on the album, “Fade” and “Movement” are some of the best straight up electronic songs of the year.
47. Emeralds – Just To Feel Anything
I wasn’t a huge fan of Emeralds’ last release, Does It Look Like I’m Here?, but I understood the appeal. The transcendental nature of the swirling loops and guitars was great to vibe out to, but the one-note nature of the album got kinda boring. Just To Feel Anything separates the monotony of the classic Emeralds sounding songs with darker ambient pieces that work to make the other tracks sound like journeys back towards the light. Instead of sounding choppy, the addition of darkness to the night completes the Emeralds experience.
46. Dan Deacon – America
This should’ve been the best album ever. Freakout factory Dan Deacon’s album-length ode to his country, including a 22 minute long song called “USA I-IV” that included a full brass and string section. It’s by no means the best album ever, and at first, that angered me and I rejected it. After a while I stopped being such a bitch and listened to it again, and realized what my absurdly highly expectations had made me miss out on. Embracing subtlety for the first time, Dan Deacon is aging well.
45. Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland – Black is Beautiful
Every second person is an electronic producer these days, but the fractured, fuzzy world of Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland (usually going by the Hype Williams alias) manages to stand out due to the lack of a fuck given for any current trends right now. This is ageless, other-dimensional music that clings desperately to humanity through Copeland’s haunted vocals. This year, Grimes’ Visions strived for a post-everything otherworldliness, but Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland are already there.
44. Carter Tutti Void – Transverse
This one-off live show and recording featuring three original members of Throbbing Gristle is a solid reminder of why TG were so essential in the first place. Only having a basic idea of how the songs would play out, this set is largely improvisational, and is focused on the musical relationship between the three. These fours tracks are an experiment on rhythm and dissonance and the seasoned nature of the musicians keeps the music constantly evolving in an interesting and evocative matter. Given the volatile relationships of the members of TG, a recording like this will likely never happen again, making this largely essential to any industrial / noise fan’s discography.
43. Laurel Halo – Quarantine
Laurel Halo’s first full length received a lot of attention – positive and negative – over her decision to use no vocal enhancing effects, even if she kinda sounded like shit that on that particular recording. This fearlessness is also shown in the music of Quarantine, which only engages with the very fringes of typical electronic music. Halo invites you deep inside of her digital world, and just when it seems like no escape is available, closer “Light + Space” brings you back out into the outside world. The album art is also really cool.
42. Old Man Gloom – NO
Old Man Gloom is a supergroup consisting of members of Cave In, Isis, Doomriders, and Zozobra, among other bands. And while most supergroups tend to be a coagulation of each member’s individual sound, Old Man Gloom serves more as an outlet for these guys to push their music to the furthest, most difficult extremes. While NO contains its fair share of straight up heavy hitters, it is mostly comprised of some of the most abstract and noisy music any member of this band has been associated with. OMG’s last album came out ten years ago; here’s to hoping we don’t have to wait that long for a follow up this time around.
41. Julia Holter – Ekstasis
While Laurel Halo’s Quarantine existed in a cold, digital maze, Ekstasis feels a lot more like being invited to walk through some sort of beautiful, electronic garden. It holds the same amount of mystery, yet Ekstasis is much more playful and mystical, like some sort of tranquil oasis where anything can happen. Holter’s pure, almost pixie-like voice acts as a presence which guides the listener through these 10 gorgeous tracks, and in doing so, Julia Holter makes unconventional music that ends up being more inviting than the catchiest of pop songs.
40. Cemeteries – The Wilderness
I caught this album just as the cold of Ottawa winter started creeping up, and it couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. This album is a reflection of the melancholy of the season, though it isn’t quite as dark as the band name might imply, as Cemeteries spend as much time thawing the frost as the do creating it. The Wilderness is a fantastic piece of post-Deerhunter new wave, be sure to keep your eye on this band in 2013.
39. METZ – METZ
The GTA has always been a hotbed for forward thinking hardcore, and METZ is surely the biggest band in the scene right now. After building a strong following with a series of singles, EPs and endless touring, METZ released their self-titled album earlier this year to international acclaim. And for good reason; METZ is an incredibly well-crafted, realized debut that offers an energetic and adventurous take on post-hardcore. This album hits hard and the live show is nuts so make sure to check these guys out if they hit up your town.
38. Liars – WIXIW
Liars’ decision to make an electronic album is one that makes almost too much sense, but a close listen to the album reveals that WIXIW is just as brilliant and off-kilter as any of their other records. Their lack of experience in the computer-based music world leads to some great experimentation that has brought warranted comparisons to Radiohead’s Kid A. Yet instead of sounding dreary like the aforementioned record, Liars maintain the sinister tone that they have developed over the years; it’s just delivered in a much more low-key manner. WIXIW is yet another reminder of how Liars is one of the most essential bands on the planet right now.
37. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Lost Songs
Wherein Trail of Dead ditch the proggy pretensions of the past two albums and stick to what they do best: writing epic post-hardcore songs that absolutely shred. Tao of the Dead wasn’t exactly bad, and I personally really liked The Century of Self. Lost Songs is the first album in a long time by this band that feels as exciting and vital as the record that they’ll always be remembered for: Source Tags & Codes. A powerful harkening back to the days when ‘indie’ and ‘hardcore’ weren’t really that far apart from each other.
36. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles III
I’ve always liked CC but I’ve always felt they were extremely overrated. The watered down electropunk of the first and second album felt more gimmicky than heartfelt, and Kath’s production was pretty one-key if you really think about it. Ba-da boom, ba-da psh, ba-da boom, ba-da psh….over and over again. I know you know what I’m talking about. III more than makes up for this monotony with a collection of extremely unique tracks that sound like all the classic Crystal Castles sounds taken to their logical extremes. Its a challenging, dark affair, but it sounds more real than they ever have before.
35. Joe McKee – Burning Boy
McKee both plays into and artfully dodges standard ‘solo album’ conventions with Burning Boy, crafting a record that sounds like it would’ve been the logical next step for Snowman, if they were still around today (may they rest in peace). Burning Boy casts McKee as a haunted singer-songwriter amongst a sometimes lush, sometimes sparse backdrop of acoustic guitar and strings. McKee will likely live and die an unsung hero of the Australian music scene, so give this record a listen and allow yourself to become part of a legacy that will never be.
34. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
In 2011 Andy Stott carved out two pieces of sprawling, dark techno with the Stay Together and Passed Me By EPs, putting his name on the map after a long career. This year’s Luxury Problems sees him perfecting and expanding upon this sound with the addition of professionally trained vocalist Alison Skidmore, and her presence throughout the album creates a great sense of cohesion across the album’s diverse eight tracks. This album’s share of noise and bleakness cast a sense of doom over the tracks, yet the pounding, resilient four-on-the-floor beat grimly pushes the album forward to its beautiful conclusion.
33. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber
Yes, it is worth noting that Melody of Melody’s Echo Chamber is dating Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, as he had a hand in the production of this album. What’s more important to note, however, is that with or without Parker, Melody Prochet is one hell of a songwriter. MEC shares a similar psychadelic sound as Tame Impala, but this band uses more modern sounding production techniques to create a really trippy, sugary vibe that Prochet’s voice soars through, riding melodies so infectious that they prove that Prochet is so much more than just some rockstar’s girlfriend.
32. BATS – The Sleep Of Reason
I’m not too knowledgeable on the Irish post-punk-hardcore-whatever scene, but if BATS are any indication, I wouldn’t have a problem packing up and settling down there for good. Think Minus the Bear instrumental chops but with balls and lyrics about scientific theory and the folly of religion instead of lyrics about drinking wine and walking around doing nothing, like a douche bag. Minus the Bear really suck.
31. Lower Dens – Nootropics
Lower Dens kinda sound like if Beach House decided to make The King of Limbs. As awesome as that would be, its never going to happen, so Nootropics will have to do for the time being (not that that’s a bad thing!). Lower Dens make a brand of extremely tight kraut rock for the 21st century that drifts on a vibe suggestive of the album title, yet unpredictable enough to keep you out of narcosis.
30. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
The best hardcore band of the 21st century returned this year to defend their title, not that there’s really any competitors when it comes to these guys. And surely enough, Converge delivered, as they always do, with another nuclear record bursting at the seams with emotionality and brutality. While some worried about the return to a rawer sound after the highly successful experimental nature of Axe to Fall, AWLWLB crushes any doubts right from the get go with “Aimless Arrow” and “Trespasses”, the later of which serving to be one of the heaviest tracks Converge has ever torn from their beings. They truly are the kings, and AWLWLB is one of their finest.
29. Field Music – Plumb
Think about the songs and bands that dominated the Billboard charts back in the day. The Beatles…Pink Floyd…The Walker Brothers…these were bands in the strictest sense of the term. Yet what they produced was pure, genuine pop music, just through the lens of their own respective genres. Field Music are a band that remembers these times and doesn’t understand why this can’t be the case in this day and age. Plumb serves as a fractured look at what our musical universe could sound like if psychedelia and prog were willing to embrace the melodicism of pop music once again.
28. Every Time I Die – Ex Lives
What is it about ETID that separates them from countless cookie cutter metalcore acts? There’s a lot of good answers to this question, but I think the best one would have to be ‘personality’. ETID manages to turn one of the world’s blandest genres into something so original and distinctive that it could only come from them (which is hilarious considering the number of copycats they’ve spawned). Ex Lives, the band’s sixth album, is a triumphant return to the top after their last two releases verged on mediocrity at times. Its a vicious deconstruction of aging that has the band sounding at their best since 2003’s classic Hot Damn!
27. Crypts – Crypts
Crypts has gotta be one of the most frustratingly lowkey projects I’ve ever come across. I didn’t even know they existed until about a month before their album dropped, which is fucked considering vocalist Steve Snere is THE Steve Snere of the Best Band Of All Time These Arms Are Snakes. TAAS’s break up was one of the most devastating days of my entire life. So the fact that this project managed to slip by me for so long is truly astounding. When I FINALLY came across this album in late October, I was incredibly stoked to find that it was every bit as awesome as I could have hoped it would be. Crypts offer a fascinating look into a potential future of heavy music, where the heart of post-hardcore can exist without the limitations of actual instruments. Inspiring stuff and this is clearly just the beginning for these guys.
26. Actress – R.I.P.
Have you ever been just about to go to the club but right before you leave you’re like fuck it and you take a huge shot of absinthe that messes you up waaayyy too much. So much that you spend all night just kinda sitting off to the side drinking a soda and tripping the FUCK OUT? If so, this album will make a lot of sense to you. Actress makes dance music for introverts; I mean, you COULD kick it to this shit, or you could turn off all the lights and lie in bed and get lost in the loops like Actress himself surely did during the creation of this album. Music for the night you could go out to, but also decide to stay in instead.
Thanks for reading! My #25-#10 albums will be up in the next few days, featuring more arbitrarily ranked music that has little or no relation to another! Stay tuned!