1. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
I liked everything I had heard from these guys before, but they really grabbed me with this one. Normally, I’m not too enthralled when a band based in a good hardcore sound smoothes things out. But--rest assured--in evolving as artists, Japandroids have sacrificed none of their great energy. Also, they are phenomenal live. Go see them.
2. Grizzly Bear – Shields
At first, I really wasn’t too impressed with this one. I like Grizzly Bear. I liked the singles I had heard before its release. But the first complete listen only resulted in a rating of “pretty good,” from me. But the more I listened to the album in its entirety, the more it grew on me. This is one of those albums that I could just sit back and listen to, doing nothing but bathing in its rich, mysterious complexity.
3. Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze
If only this one were more than just an EP. Dreary and beautiful, its only problem is that it ends too soon, leaving me wanting more. And “Lord Knows” is one of my favorite tracks of the entire year, being the sad sap that I am.
4. Django Django – Django Django
The best premiere album of the year, in my opinion. These Scotsmen provide a unique sound and lots of versatility. From beginning to end, whether listening to the funky, thumping rock on “Default,” or the worldly instrumental sounds on “Skies Over Cairo,” you definitely won’t get bored with this one.
5. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
The first album I really dove into this year. I really like the track-to-track progression. Sometimes up-tempo and poppy, while at other times more chaotic, this album always maintains a negative atmosphere, but still manages to be a lot of fun. What can I say? Cynicism loves company, too.
Battleme, Tennis, Purity Ring, Ben Gibbard,
Coheed & Cambria, Grimes, and Tame Impala
I've known for a long while now that Japandroid's Celebration Rock would be my top pick of 2012. I ignored the boys' first album, loathing most of it the first time I listened to it way back in 2009--in fact, the promo disc was relegated to the no-play bin. It was noisy and punk-y just a little bit too much in all the wrong ways; I wanted to slap them and tell them to grow up. But as I've mentioned before, Celebration Rock was...different. It took the best parts of Post-Nothing and slapped it into shape much the way I'd wanted to, polishing the roughness off without losing any of the sharp edges or snark. Music as a whole in 2012 trended towards electronica and siren-voiced women fronting glitch-y, synth-y, almost upbeat Darkwave projects--a reaction against 2011's Americana/folk-y/blues-revival/singer-songwriters who were a reaction against 2010's Lady Gagas and 2009's Animal Collectives and Fuck Buttons and Dirty Projectors. Japandroids reemerged into this whirlpool of futuristic, danceable music with something completely different. It shouldn't have worked. It was a little bit angsty, a little bit celebratory, and a whole lot feedback and ego and straight-up urgency and the sound of young people on the edge of 25 staring into the face of an empty adult world they're afraid of and can't escape. And watching singer Brian King sound-check to Seger's "Night Moves" (after vehemently telling the bar DJ to leave the jukebox on) only made their Minneapolis show all the more ridiculous and flat-out awesome. A floor full of former hardcore kids with tattoo sleeves under their rolled-up button-downs sang back-up to King's thrash-worthy sound saturation guitar-check--and King nailed it.
That said, I loved Grimes' Visions with a vengeance. Hands down, out of everything released this past year, hers was the strangest. Grimes is the sound of jail-bait robot pornography and a murderous Rachael Rosen on heroin dancing to the 1980's with a drum-machine. It's ethereal and dark, and trips my creeper-alert, but remains enthralling and utterly danceable. It's almost grotesque--like a Trent Reznor production--but beautiful and ethereal at the same time. (And inevitably is followed by Sisters of Mercy on my stereo).
That also said, I loved Grizzly Bear's Shields, the Features' Wilderness, most of Jack White's Blunderbuss (though he really needs to stop trying so hard--he's this side of a parody of himself), Django Django's self-titled, and Beach House's Bloom.
Over the years, I’ve learned not to make assumptions about what Jack White will do next. He inevitably makes a left turn and takes his fans down a path we didn’t expect, but are nonetheless, enthralled by. Blunderbuss was no exception. It’s a fantastic record that is equal parts Detroit and Nashville. This record is just further solidifies Jack’s position at the top of the rock ‘n roll heap in the new millennium.
2. Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
3. Ty Segall & White Fence - Hair
4. Tame Impala – Lonerism5. King Tuff – King Tuff
Mark's:Grizzly Bear - Shields
I'm not sure what they're singing about. I don't much care what they're singing about. Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen love to sing their scrawny little cleancut hearts out, and their band works up the sort of intricate arrangements, off-kilter time signatures, psychedelic studio mummenschantzery and sheer polysymphonic volume to let them do just that. The music on Shields is by turns anthemic and intimate, intricate and visceral, serene and chaotic. But it is always as affecting as the voices fading into and soaring out from its mix.
Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't
Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits
Who could have called it that name checking Russian futurist poets and black 'n' white Roman Polanski films would be featured in the lyrics to the year's best collection of driving songs. More than just a Spoon album with synthwork, A Thing Called Divine Fits is testament to what a really fucking good drummer can do to anchor a band's sound while clearing space for geetars and keyboards and the wannabe panties targets flashin' they crotches at the front of the stage.
Damien Jurado - Maraqopa
It evidently takes a lot of mixing board fuckery to make Jurado sound like he's not bangin' sizzurp @ the mike; still and all Maraqopa is one of those LPs that results when an artist and a producer (Richard Swift) mesh so thoroughly they become some third whatsit that can fill a disc with a set of real purty songs fit to sing along to. Maraqopa sounds at times suspiciously like My Morning Jacket covering Nick Drake's Bryter Later: cavernous wall-of-sound approaches to a set of occasionally jazzy singer-songwriter croonings about love and loss and being a dick.
The Green Pajamas - Death by Misadventure
After 30 years and 30 albums worth of doing whatever brand of neopsychgothlunaticfringepowerpop they damn well please (even if that means recording concept albums like this one that would make better librettos or books than records), Seattle's Green Pajamas deserve some reco'nition and love, if only for having the balls to warble lines like “She strips off her girdle, slips off her swastika ring/While 17 boys dressed up as dolls and toys blow the king". Saperlipopette!!
1. The Walkmen - Heaven
2. Lord Huron - Lonesome Dreams
Lonesome Dreams was the warm soundtrack to moving westward to Salt Lake City, capturing the adventure and excitement of new beginnings in every soundscape.
3. Beach House - Bloom
4. Deerhoof - Breakup Song
4. Deerhoof - Breakup Song
5. Black Moth Super Rainbow - Cobra Juicy