Thursday, 31 January 2013

My Top 10 Albums Of 2012

 I usually like to wait a little bit into a new year before I finalize what I think are the previous year's best albums. Sometimes a little bit turns into five months, but the generally it's about a month This lets me finalize my lists and clear opinions up in my head (I was shuffling this list around up until a few days ago.) As the first month of 2013 is about to come to a close, without further ado, I present My Top 10 Albums of 2012.

Maybe a little bit of ado.

10. Anathema-Weather Systems
Progressive Rock

 Untouchable (Part 1) (Apparently this album does not exist on grooveshark)

 With every album release, it gets a little bit harder to believe that Anathema started off as a death metal band. A history lesson isn't necessary for a top 10 list, but Weather Systems is probably the most mellow Anathema has ever been. Of course, that's not to say their music isn't intense, only now it just takes them much of a song to get there. The songs on Weather Systems are all built around simple motifs-usually led by acoustic guitar and piano at first, these nine tracks all start off bare, but build up to huge extremes as they go on. Backed by a full string section and occasional electronics, Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas' vocals have never been so passionate.

9. Sigur Ros-Valtari

Ekki Múkk by Sigur Rós on Grooveshark

 Everyone's favorite (ok, just mine) Icelandic whale imitators are back, and after a lengthy hiatus, they have returned with their spaciest album to date. And not space as in space rock. Sigur Ros prove with Valtari that they are still the masters of holding your attention while doing very little at all. As per usual, the quartet is backed by a string section, and on two tracks, a choir, but on Valtari sometimes it sounds like it's the other way around. The drums drop out of the album halfway through, and Jonsi's voice, the bass, and guitar soon follow, until the final track is just all four of the band members on piano. However, if you find this notion discouraging, Sigur Ros is not for you. The album's name translates to Steamroller, and though it may not be the heaviest album, Valtari certainly is a powerful and emotionally demanding album.

8. Robert Glasper-Black Radio
Jazz/Hip Hop/Soul

Cherish The Day (Feat. Lalah Hathaway) by Robert Glasper Featuring Lalah Hathaway on Grooveshark

 Hip Hop and Jazz often borrow from one another. It's pretty easy to put dominant chords over your rap, as it is to throw hip hop beats into a fusion tune. However, they've never been quite as unified as they have been on Black Radio, Robert Glasper's second album after adopting the "Experiment" band (and their first full length, as Glasper's previous album was half "Experiment" and half traditional jazz.) Black Radio is always in the center of the venn diagram between jazz, hip hop, and soul, never fully crossing in any one direction. While featuring a slew of some of the best guest performers in the genre (including Erykah Badu, Bilal, and Mos Def), the real attraction of the album is the Experiment band themselves, who make their way through the album with an incredible sense of groove and passion.

7. Swans-The Seer

Lunacy by Swans on Grooveshark

 It seems like there's a new alleged apocalypse every few months, but 2012 was the big one. December 21, 2012, was the day that the Mayans apparently decided that the world would end, and we as a society chose to take them seriously for some reason. But while that fabled apocalypse never did come, one wouldn't think it after listening to The Seer. Getting it right out of the way, The Seer is an extremely long album, stretching 11 songs to just under two hours, and requiring almost entirely uninterrupted listen for full effect. This is not an album for the faint of hearted, or those without a lot of time. But if you happen to be on a long plane ride, or simply have a lazy sunday afternoon, The Seer is a fantastic place to invest your time. Over it's lengthy run time, Swans take us through their own apocalypse-a journey into and then back out of madness. The songs, generally ranging from ten to thirty minutes, build up from simple drones into utter chaos, often with frantic and bizarre vocal performances from bandleader Michael Gira and frequent Swans collaborator Jarboe. Though the album does have a few brief peaceful moments, overall it is a harrowing, but overall extremely satisfying journey. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't listen to this album on a plane.

6. Polica-Give You The Ghost

Wandering Star (Feat. Mike Noyce) by POLICA on Grooveshark

I happened upon Polica while randomly wandering at the Osheaga festival this year, and they are easily my favorite discovery of the weekend. Their stunning debut album weaves together slick R&B grooves, beautiful synth textures, and ethereal, double-tracked and heavily processed vocals. The band has two drummers, allowing for some very inventive percussion. The result of all these elements thrown together is something that doesn't really sound like any other band out there. Polica have the potential to go very far, and I really hope they do.

5. The Mars Volta- Noctourniquet
Progressive Rock

Zed and Two Naughts by The Mars Volta on Grooveshark

 Last week, The Mars Volta's break-up was formally announced. Fitting then, that their legacy ends with the least "Mars Volta-ish" album they have ever put out. Continuing the trend from 2009's Octahedron, Noctourniquet is the most mature album the group ever put out (For those not trained in the language of music writing, "most mature" means "least wanky"). Omar and Cedric stick solely to writing songs here, not extended freak-outs. And while I enjoyed the jam aspects of their earlier work, Noctourinquet is easily the Volta's best album since Frances The Mute. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zvala's talents are put to their truest showcase here-surely this is the album to silence the critics who claim that all he does is wail like a banshee. Cedric has always had a real talent for writing great vocal hooks, and Noctourniquet has some of the best choruses and most accessible writing of the band's career. Guitars are often traded in for synthesizers, and electronic drums are showcased more than acoustic, but at it's whole, Noctourniquet is a Mars Volta album through and through-just a more focused Mars Volta than before. If you're a fan, this album is a necessity, and if you're not, this album could be the one to convert you.

 4. Tame Impala-Lonerism
Psychedelic Rock

Feels Like We Only Go Backwards by Tame Impala on Grooveshark

 It seems like all the popular bands from Australia these days are playing some form of retro-rock. Wolfmother, Airbourne, Jet... And then there's Tame Impala, by far the best of the lot. And despite the fact that they come from an environment with such strong ties to music from the past, and that Kevin Parker's voice really does sound almost exactly like John Lennon's, and that psychedelic rock is a 60's genre in and of itself, what is really amazing is how damn modern Tame Impala sound. Parker takes just as much influence from Oracular Spectacular as he does from The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and it shows. Lonerism, Tame Impala's second album, features a stellar, space-rock atmosphere and a total groovy feel, but it also has an impeccable sense of songwriting-it always knows when things have gone on for long enough, or when to keep going. It has incredibly catchy vocals, and most of all, despite coming out of one of the most time-sealed music scenes today, Lonerism is impeccable, relevant, and just as good for serious listening as it is for mindlessly zoning out... or, sorry, was that stoning out?

 3. Crystal Castles-(III)

Plague by Crystal Castles on Grooveshark

On their first two albums, the Canadian duo of Alice Glass and Ethan Kath contrasted pristine beauty with harsh dissonance. On their third album they combine them. Technically the band's third self-titled effort, III is easily Crystal Castles' most consistent, fully realized, and just plain best album to date. The flashy, glitchy rave freak-outs are all still present, as are Alice's intensely screamed punk rock vocals, but now instead of isolating the harshest elements into separate tracks, Crystal Castles have begun consistently writing more dynamic, shifting, and overall much more gripping songs. There are still pop crowd-pleasers, and there are still sweeping textures, but now, all of Crystal Castles' elements are combined more efficiently than ever before.

2. Jack White-Blunderbuss
Blues/Garage Rock/Folk

Love Interruption by Jack White on Grooveshark

You've probably heard Sixteen Saltines. You've definitely heard Freedom At 21. Maybe you've even heard Love Interruption. The reason I picked Blunderbuss' lesser known deubt single to represent the album is because, despite what the bigger hits would have you believe, Jack White by himself doesn't really sound all that much like The White Stripes. There are elements of them, sure, but there are also elements of all of his other bands, and elements that no one has really seen out of him before. Blunderbuss combines the heavy garage rock that White is known for, mixes in all the blues that had influenced him, and drenched it all in acoustic guitars and pianos both acoustic and electric. The albums' truly loud moments are few and far between (and mostly showcased on the radio), leaving the far more interesting material for the far more interested listeners. The melodies are fantastic, the song structures are compelling, and the lyrics are scathing, bittersweet, and yet joyous at the same time. To sum it all up, Blunderbuss confirms what we've known ever since "Fell In Love With A Girl" hit us back in 2002-that Jack White is the most talented songwriter in today's mainstream rock.

1. Caspian-Waking Season

Long the Desert Mile by Caspian on Grooveshark

 It's so easy to lump the majority of today's post-rock into cookie cutter "crescendocore". That's why it's so refreshing to hear a band like Caspian, who take all the classic elements of post-rock, and, while never breaking out of the established tropes of the genre, are putting all their dough into the cookie cutters and ending up with muffins. Waking Season has all the elements that one would expect a post-rock album to have; dramatic crescendos, soaring tremolo guitar figures, lengthy songs that slowly build up from quiet textures into gigantic climaxes, and the occasional subtle electronic drum tracks. That's why it's so incredible that Caspian don't really sound like any other post-rock band. They've taken all of the genres' most cliched elements and twisted them enough to build something truly grand and unique. But despite all this talk of Capsian's take on post-rock, one thing is still perfectly clear. Waking Season is, simply put, one of the most emotional, passionate, and at times visceral post-rock albums ever released. Every melody is brilliant, every crescendo is perfectly timed, and every time you heard that keyboard choir effect, you know that shit is about to get real.

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