Jan. 02, 2013 - Issue #898: Apocalypse Not?
Best of the Best of the Best
2012's finest albums, as listed in a list of lists
As 2013 dawns a selection of Vue's writers have offered up their lists of favourite records from the past year. There are plenty of gems to be found here, so if there's something you haven't heard—or even something that you have but haven't given a spin for some time—use these lists as reasons to discover and rediscover something new.
Scott Lingley // firstname.lastname@example.org
Black Mastiff, Pyramids (Independent)
Edmonton's premier power trio demonstrates that it's more than a kick-ass live act with a nigh-perfect album of catchy, sludgy, sexy rock that deserves to be more than a local treasure.
The Coup, Sorry to Bother You (Anti-)
Boots Riley and co. already make the most politically righteous hip hop on the planet, but the new album decimates former musical boundaries. Torching the established order never sounded so fun, and Boots mints a memorable kiss-off to capitalism on "You Are Not a Riot" in the line "I got the invite to your party and I threw it away!"
Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)
David Longstreth's adenoidal vocal affectations still get on my nerves a bit, but there's no denying he's reinventing the pop song in his own egg-headed image, with hooks so sharp they draw blood, eccentric arrangements and an angel's choir of co-vocalists to sweeten the brew.
Father John Misty, Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
Ex-Fleet Fox Josh Tillman wins the prize for penning the most persistent earworms of 2012 in songs like "Funtimes in Babylon" and "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings," while the soaring, psych-tinged folk provides cover for lyrics that mordantly crystallize post-millennial American delusionalism.
Swans, The Seer (Young Gods)
Michael Gira's two-hour symphony of dread is the only mind-blowing work of art on this list. Mesmerizing, unsettling and impossible to categorize, it pulled me back to contend with its jagged edges and deathly lulls repeatedly even when my better judgment commanded me to run the other way.
Five more: Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself (Bella Union); Debo Band, Debo Band (Sub Pop); Meshuggah, Koloss (Nuclear Blast); Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction (Profound Lore); Pig Destroyer, Book Burner (Relapse)
Curtis Wright // email@example.com
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (Def Jam)
An all-access pass of alt-R&B and soul shudder, Channel Orange starts in awe of itself, meddles in an ultramodern Marvin Gaye universe and finishes in brilliance. There's a courageous charm to this album that escapes words.
Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes (Warp)
Much less glitchy, much more refined than any of the predecessors, Flying Lotus subtly comes out of the gates on Until the Quiet Comes. As nuanced as a Massive Attack 3-am mindmelter, this thing will play over and over.
Bahamas, Barchords (Universal)
Bluesy riffs with splashes of doo-wop and breeziness, Barchords doesn't attack as an album as much as it tenderly takes the listener to a lo-fi paradise.
Lee Fields & the Expressions, Faithful Man (Truth & Soul)
Soul might be witnessing a revival, but Lee Fields has always been around. Powerful horns, thorough arrangements and an authenticity built on years in the game.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)
'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is an intensive therapy in "what it is to be opposite of the pop single." Expansive, heavy handed and outwardly pomp stuff, in the vein of wherever your imagination takes you. Godspeed returns more advanced and melodic 10 years later.
Bryan Birtles // firstname.lastname@example.org
Grimes, Visions (4AD)
With the price of oil slipping, Grimes is now Canada's most lucrative export. Her breathy voice feels like a secret in your ear, while the fat-bottomed urgency of the music feels like a head butt to the nose.
Renny Wilson, Sugarglider (Independent)
This sounds like a cross between the slow, emotional talking parts of Michael Jackson songs, '70s porno soundtracks and that YouTube video of the mulleted saxophone guy who keeps rocking out so hard he gets kicked out of the mall.
Peace, The World is Too Much With Us (Suicide Squeeze)
The World is Too Much With Us represents a huge step for the Vancouver foursome: already an absolutely magnetic band, Peace blew up its whole "deal" and came out with a risky, subtle soundtrack to a hangover that stretches from late morning until the next day.
Sea Pinks, Freak Waves (Independent)
If surfers got the blues—and were more thoughtful and articulate than crude stereotypes give them credit for—Sea Pinks would be the music that happens in their heads. Freak Waves floats melancholy images overtop of upbeat, jangly pop music. Like the Archies if they were fronted by the guy in your high school who sat in the back carving into the desk.
Tanlines, Mixed Emotions (True Panther Sounds)
A pop-duo from Brooklyn, Tanlines takes super conventional sounds—there's no heavily filtered Moogs here, no overabundance of processors—and puts them together in a way you could sit and chill to, or even do a funny dance that makes your sister laugh.
Samantha Power // email@example.com
Mares of Thrace, Pilgrimage (Sonic Unyon)
An evolution from The Moulting, Pilgrimage has a cohesion and momentum that compels the listener into the meticulous, heavy world of the Mares of Diomedes. It's unfortunate Mares of Thrace will not be continuing, but thankfully this album will stand as a testament to the truly heavy and intricately crafted work the duo could produce.
Eluveitie, Helvetios (Nuclear Blast)
Eluveitie excels at conveying, with genuine intensity, the meaning and importance in their Gaulish history. Using the Gallic Wars as a concept, the album is a forceful and fascinating tribute to the band's Gaulish roots and an ideal to which folk metal should aspire.
Bison BC, Lovelessness (Metal Blade)
Bison is well known as a band that can create resonating hooks and thunderous atmosphere. For Lovelessness, guitarist and writer James Farwell constructs an album that shouts up from a pit of emotional frustration and harnesses an unrelenting assault of heaviness. It's nothing short of astounding. Just put the track "Blood Music" on repeat. For days.
Melvins, Freak Puke (Ipecac)
No strangers to the bizarre, Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover work with avant-garde jazz bassist Trevor Dunn to create an album that's weird—but entirely listenable—heavy, and leaves you wanting to just start all over again from track one.
Weapon, Embers and Revelations (Relapse)
Weapon avoids the repetitive, staid crutches black metal can sometimes rely on. Instead, the band advances the genre with a precise, growly and unwavering tribute to Satan.
Also: a big 2012 shout out to Southern Lord for finally re-issuing Sleep's Dopesmoker and a hearty "get well soon" to John Baizley and the rest of Baroness. Although I personally don't consider Green and Yellow a metal album, it is a triumph of creativity.
Douglas Hoyer // firstname.lastname@example.org
Grimes, Visions (4AD)
Sometimes you've got to believe the hype. Grimes' breakthrough album, Visions, is quite accurately titled, like an ethereal dream. "Be a Body," "Genesis" and album stand-out "Oblivion" all let the pulsing synths and reverbs take centre stage, while Claire Boucher's vocals are often indecipherable in a perfectly mysterious way.
Ghibli, Rare Pleasures (Old Ugly)
With classical samples co-opted by a house esthetic, Ghibli once again provides the perfect soundtrack to bring poignancy to the loneliest bus rides overlooking our city of forgotten champions.
Chairlift, Something (Columbia)
Simply great synth-pop songs. Caroline Polachek and her band took a glimpse at the '80s for some sonic suggestions, but never let the album become a genre exercise in nostalgia. Fresh, relevant, well written and sincere, Something is a highly recommended pop album.
Travis Bretzer, "Making Love" (Old Ugly)
"Making Love" didn't leave my car's stereo for about three months this summer. Granted, the cd was literally stuck in the player, but I doubt that I would have taken Travis Bretzer's latest album out willingly. A fantastic journey through slackerdom and friendship, "Making Love" goofs around without being goofy, and stands as a reminder that fun is an oft-forgotten ingredient in many rock 'n' roll records.
[Note: a similar review could stand beside either of Mac DeMarco's releases this year.]
Antibalas, Antibalas (Daptone)
Members of Antibalas were involved with arranging afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti's music for the Broadway stage, and it obviously left a strong impact on the group. Recording the bulk of their latest record live off the floor to tape, under the supervision of Daptone founder/producer Bosco Mann, kept the album vivid and vibrant. The political undertones of songs like "Dirty Money" won't be lost on anyone, but never come across as preachy enough to take away from the joy of the jams.
Meaghan Baxter // email@example.com
Anberlin, Vital (Universal Republic)
Until Vital came along, Cities, released in 2007, was regarded by many as the gold standard of Anberlin records, with the band's last two albums achieving commercial success, but leaving something to be desired in terms of sound and content. Vital shoved aside the pop-driven sound of New Surrender and Dark Is The Way for hard-hitting, no-holds-barred rockers like stand out tracks "Desires" and "Little Tyrants."
Grizzly Bear, Shields (Warp)
Taking a more adventurous approach than 2009's Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear has released an album that is detail-rich, full of emotion and sonically captivating. It's an enjoyable listen from start to finish, weaving together well-crafted lyrics with diverse and intricate instrumentation. Stand outs are the album's opener "Sleeping Ute" and "Yet Again."
Metric, Synthetica (Mom & Pop)
The fifth studio effort from the Canadian indie rockers melds '80s vintage electronica and dreamlike soundscapes with heavier industrial beats to back Emily Haines' philosophical lyrics, which are both thought-provoking and uplifting. From the title track—an exploration into resisting the pressures of society—to the catchy beats of "Speed the Collapse," it's as enjoyable to listen to for its lyrics as its instrumentation.
Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
Let's just say it's a good thing the Vancouver twosome decided to ditch talks of disbanding prior to releasing this album. It would have been a disservice to the pair as a band, and for us as listeners. This riotous, chaotic fist-pumper is the ideal soundtrack for those legendary nights you may or may not remember, with "The House That Heaven Built" and "Younger Us" being stand outs on this raw, full-throttle disc.
Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic)
The title's a mouthful and a half, but past the wordy name is a testament to Apple's staying power in music. It's her first studio album in seven years, but it was well worth the wait. The evocative tracks are filled with vivid imagery and craftsmanship, effortlessly incorporating elements of jazz, blues and folk from the smoky, introspective melody of "Valentine," to the piano-driven, pared-down simplicity of "Werewolf."
Yuri Wuensch // firstname.lastname@example.org
Various artists, Reggae Golden Jubilee – Origins of Jamaican Music (VP Records)
Few reggae retrospective compilations receive an official endorsement from the Jamaican government. Featuring extensive liner notes and tunes handpicked by former Jamaican PM Edward Seaga, the Reggae Golden Jubilee four-CD set is impressively comprehensive and essential for aficionados and would-be Rastas alike.
Enei, Machines (Critical Music)
Mirroring Mother Russia's sometimes bleak, cold landscape and harkening to its Industrial Revolution roots, Enei's Machines was one the best and most hotly anticipated drum-and-bass albums of 2012. The Russian DJ and producer's debut is dark, futuristic and densely technical, particularly in terms of drum programming. Machines more than lived up to the hype.
Selah Sue, Rarities (Because Music)
Selah Sue's Rarities nicely complements her self-titled debut, which would have likely made my top 10 for 2011 were I not late to the party. With a range of influences—including reggae, soul and funk woven together with a pop sensibility—the Belgian songstress will hopefully find greater and deserved fame in 2013.
Prins Thomas, Prins Thomas 2 (Full Pupp)
Building on his reputation for spacey, loop-heavy, instrumental disco, Norwegian Thomas Moen Hermansen once again delivered the goods with the doubly eponymous Prins Thomas 2. The beauty of Thomas's productions is their versatility: they are right at home in a chillout, house or techno set, in a lounge or club setting, or curled up at home during mercilessly long Canadian winters.
Various artists, The Reverb Conspiracy Vol. 1 (Fuzz Club)
Now entering its sixth year, Austin's Psych Fest has become a globally recognized destination for psychedelic rock's droning guitars and permeating reverb. Curated by fest founders the Reverberation Appreciation Society (see also the Black Angels), The Reverb Conspiracy Vol. 1 features 19 tracks from acts in Europe's psych scene. The double-LP compilation is available in a limited, hand-numbered edition of 1000.
Paul Blinov // email@example.com
Aesop Rock, Skelethon (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
A rap werido—a sorta slacker-James Joyce type—returns after a five-year absence with his best, most fully envisioned album: stories of rebels and mystics, homemade mummies, hero dogs and tense dinnertable stand-offs spool out in dense lyrical blasts, with details that seem impossible to motor through the way that Aesop Rock does. But for all its complexities, the sheer listenability is what keeps Skelethon moving along: the production and his flow carry the lyrical weight with ease. There is nothing I listened to more this year.
White Lung, Sorry (Deranged)
The album title's misleading: Sorry is pulverizing, spirited punk rock from Vancouver that apologizes to nobody for nothing. A vortex of frantic guitar riffs and riptide drumming that crashes through 10 songs in 20 minutes, White Lung manage to set most kinetic, frothy elements of the genre to record without letting any of the intensity cool.
Help, A Viper in the Mind (Old Ugly)
A Viper in the Mind is rap as a bleak monologue about God, life and the inevitable entropy of everything, as delivered by an unreliable, balaclava-clad narrator with a shattering psychosis and a growing death obsession, backed by stolen samples that waver almost as much as he does. This is what the eventual heat death of the soul sounds like.
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball (Columbia)
Yep: he's still The Boss, everyone. Wrecking Ball's portraits of the down-and-out in modern America are as relevant and scathing as any Springsteen's done. One of his best ever.
Chairlift, Something (Columbia)
Brooklyn hipsters find an '80s sound all their own: Something's not reductive or a retread, just thrilling and romantic in its own terms.
Honourable mentions: David Byrne & St Vincent, Love this Giant; Renny Wilson, Sugarglider; Eamon McGrath, Young Canadians; Jay Sparrow, White; Mitchmatic, It's Always Raining; Japandroids, Celebration Rock.
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