Why is Santa’s sack so big? He only comes once a year.
(Much like my review publishing rate in 2012, evidently.)
I think it goes without saying that my musical authority on this site has the approximate utility value of a glass hammer or a chocolate teapot, but I digress. It’s a bit of fun creating these individual year-end lists and collaborating with the staffers on the site’s year-end Best of 2012 list (maybe I can give some prizes away for guessing the staffers’ Top 5 or Top 10 for those interested — let me know if there’s any interest).
2012 was a really strange year for yours truly, with a lot of good and a lot of not-so-good, but I’m thankful that the year happened and I’m looking forward to 2013.
Before diving into my Top 25 of 2012, I want to encourage you to stream the music enclosed with each release if you haven’t already heard the records here. If what’s here piques your interest, then I hope you seek out the albums and support the artists by purchasing their records via whatever method you choose.
I wish you all good luck and good health this holiday season heading into 2013, and I certainly hope that your College Bowl Pick’Em Confidence picks are faring better than mine are currently (thanks for nothing, Fresno State).
All the best, everybody! But first, five runners-up to precede my Top 25 of 2012 list.
All the best, everybody!
30. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Stream: “We Drift Like Worried Fire” [~10:30-conclusion]
Listen if you like: A Silver Mt. Zion, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, Earth
In brief: After being dormant for a decade, Canada’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor return with a record that envelopes and encompasses you, masterfully juxtaposing heightened drama with ethereal serenity. The second half of “We Drift Like Worried Fire”, excerpted above, is especially divine.
29. The Menzingers
On the Impossible Past
Stream: “Gates” [4:07]
Listen if you like: The Lawrence Arms, The Gaslight Anthem, Sharks
In brief: A polite hat-tip to Titus Andronicus for being considered for this spot, but I gravitated towards this record more than Local Business because On the Impossible Past is more cohesive and synced more with my frequent bouts of feeling nostalgic (I miss undergrad a lot for a whole host of reasons, for instance; also, doctoral studies pretty much suck. Why can’t I just work in an office and have a cubicle dog?) “Gates” is the record’s obvious highlight, but “I Can’t Seem to Tell”’s line of “Remember the days when I had a conscience? / Yeah, me neither” sounds so scarily familiar.
28. An Autumn for Crippled Children
Only the Ocean Knows
Stream: “Yes I Know…Love and Death…Always” [4:45]
Listen if you like: Wolves in the Throne Room, Alcest, Leviathan
In Brief: Apparently “blackgaze” is considered a legitimate genre these days, but lush soundscapes and a perpetual rainy-day ambiance make for engaging instrumentation; however, even considering the genre, the production and vocals could have been augmented a bit. The title track, “In February”, and “The Rising Tide” are other highlights.
27. Joie de Vivre
We’re All Better than This
Stream: “At Least I Tried” [2:22]
Listen if you like: Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), American Football, Saves the Day
In brief: I was pleasantly surprised by this record’s atmosphere, but it’s the countless quotable passages (despite the sub-half-hour runtime) that similarly help you feel all the feels right in the feels. However, I refuse to let “I Was Sixteen Ten Years Ago” make me feel old, even if it means I have to pony up and delete my junior high/high school LiveJournals before I get super depressed one night and read how hilariously awful my perspective on life was at the time.
Stream: “Firebreather” [3:54]
Listen if you like: Forever Came Calling, Daybreaker, Thursday
In brief: I was extremely hesitant to give this a whirl after learning that they signed to Rise, but it’s like Daytrader knew that I loved massive, swirling, anthemic choruses! Some ideas could be fleshed out a bit more — the record’s second half is mostly a dud, save for the album closer — but “Firebreather” is the quintessential Jom-loves-this-kinda-stuff track.
Blood of Saints
Stream: “Question Your Place” [4:10]
Listen if you like: Fear Factory, In Flames, Soilwork
In brief: Sometimes the industrial feel is a bit of a mechanized mess, but when passages are given time to build steam, it’s a rather engaging alternative. The vocals are a bit of an acquired taste when mixed with the machine-like instrumentation and dare-I-say-it wub-wub-wub, but if you like “Question Your Place”, you’ll enjoy a significant portion of this record.
24. Dark Time Sunshine
Stream: “Look at What the Cat Did” f/ Busdriver [4:55]
Listen if you like: Sole and the Skyrider Band, Aesop Rock, Child Actor
In brief: I missed the Vessels boat by about a year, so in an effort to genuinely keep tabs on what the other staffers listen to, I caught this record in the fall (better late than never, but at least I kept it in the same calendar year). The production and flow on this record is sublime and relaxed, respectively, and the A-list guest appearances hip-hop’s underground scene are well-timed and perfectly executed (to this day, I am yet to find a guest Busdriver verse that fares worse than “awesome”).
23. Of Monsters and Men
My Head is an Animal
Stream: “Little Talks” [4:14]
Listen if you like: The Lumineers, The Decemberists, Mumford & Sons
In brief: “Little Talks” opened up an episode to Covert Affairs once, and I give this past season a B/B+ (also, Dan Donaldson is apparently the only DJ at Canada’s 93.9FM because a) he frequently plays this song, and b) I think he’s kinda lonely sitting in the studio because he talks a lot in between music blocks). In unrelated news, Of Monsters and Men are from Reykjavík, Iceland, a city whose mayor is impeccably awesome:
22. We are the Ocean
Maybe Today, Maybe Tomorrow
Stream: “Machine” [3:40]
Listen if you like: Deaf Havana, Alexisonfire, Young Guns
In brief: Sure, there are moments where the songwriting is derivative and possibly over-inflated, but it’s hard to ignore how infectious some of these tracks are. As long as Liam Cromby stays away from whatever the hell Ian Watkins has been doing in his spare time as of late, We are the Ocean could remain a major player in the British rock scene.
21. Diablo Swing Orchestra
Stream: “Voodoo Mon Amour” [4:30]
Listen if you like: Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Unexpect, Stolen Babies
In brief: If you’ve dismissed this band in the past, give this record a shot, as its eclecticism and eccentricity make for a compelling listen. The brass, key, and string arrangements are immaculate, and when juxtaposed with the bombastic metal-oriented instrumentation and less-theatrical operatic singing, the record is dramatic and grandiose without being glaringly excessive and overblown.
20. Hot Water Music
Stream: “Drag My Body” [3:20]
Listen if you like: The Gaslight Anthem, The Loved Ones, The Blacktop Cadence
In brief: This album grew on me for a number of reasons, but after seeing them live, an even deeper appreciation brewed inside me upon further listening and reflection. Assertions that the band has watered down their sound or are running on fumes are completely unfounded, and both Chuck and Chris sound as solid as ever, although the former’s vocals stand out more than the latter.
19. Future of the Left
The Plot Against Common Sense
Stream: “Sheena is a T-Shirt Salesman” [2:10]
Listen if you like: McLusky, Pulled Apart by Horses, That Fucking Tank
In brief: Their albums would probably be so much better if they didn’t sound like 96kbps MP3s being streamed over a 14.4 kbit/s dial-up Internet connection. However, Falco’s penchant for sarcastic, snippy one-liners and constant pop culture references are certainly memorable amidst the distortion and buzz, although I’m sure Billy Corgan is none too pleased about being alluded to as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
18. In the Silence
A Fair Dream Gone Mad
Stream: “Ever Closer” [5:57]
Listen if you like: Katatonia, Riverside, Storm Corrosion
In brief: An auspicious and impressive debut with cohesive flow and beautiful instrumentation. Comparisons to Katatonia, Porcupine Tree, and Riverside are inevitable, and while In the Silence aren’t nearly as heavy as their metal contemporaries, they seem to have cultivated a strong songwriting foundation (with palpable room to grow in the future) complemented by stirring, yet soothing vocals.
17. Ne Obliviscaris
Portal of I
Stream: “As Icicles Fall” [9:28]
Listen if you like: Opeth, Hail Spirit Noir, Agalloch
In brief: For a record that garnered a metric fuck-ton of hype leading up to its release, this is a monster of an album, spanning pretty much the entire metal spectrum. Featuring violin, dual guitars, bass, percussion, and both clean and extreme vocals, this record could have collapsed under the weight of its perceived pretentiousness, but with all due respect, the songwriting is masterful: each measure serves a clear purpose, and the diversity in the record’s genre-hopping and stylistic maneuverability should emphatically stand the test of time (“Forget Me Not” is this album’s best track, but I couldn’t condense the file enough; “As Icicles Fall” is a more-than-acceptable compromise).
Stream: “Avatar” [8:58]
Listen if you like: Angels of Light, Have a Nice Life, Death in June
In brief: I’m not going to have an Earth-shattering opinion of this record and I’m also not going to bring anything new to the table. However, if that concession causes a few people to check out an album that runs the gamut of emotions while remaining steadfastly consistent in its temperament and allows for hearing something new and innovative upon each and every listen (the bell melody in “Avatar” is chilling), then maybe I have some utility value after all here (ha, just kidding, like that’s actually ever been true here).
Dead End Kings
Stream: “Dead Letters” [4:50]
Listen if you like: Anathema, Agalloch, Gatling
In brief: Without question, this record has phenomenal production and a beautiful, haunting, melancholic atmosphere, thanks to brilliant melodies and fantastic instrumentation. Also, Jonas Renkse sings much more than he has on the band’s past 2-3 albums, delivering one of his best vocal performances since 2001’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down.
14. In Mourning
The Weight of Oceans
Stream: “A Vow to Conquer the Ocean” [7:20]
Listen if you like: Ikuinen Kaamos, Pressure Points, Novembers Doom
In brief: In albums past, I politely stomached the harsher vocals, but didn’t find them as appealing as I probably should. However, this album personifies balance — and not just with the vocals, mind you — but in its entire melodic atmosphere, which is equally punishing and aggressive as it is contemplative and emotional.
Stream: “Numb” [3:25]
Listen if you like: Chevelle, Karnivool, Breaking Benjamin
In brief: A band that continues to improve with every release and will hopefully shed people’s perception that they’re a paint-by-numbers band riding Chevelle’s, Red’s, Breaking Benjamin’s et al.’s coattails. This record is better than each of the aforementioned artists’ – and a majority of their contemporaries’ – most recent releases.
12. Make Do and Mend
Everything You Ever Loved
Stream: “Drown In It” [3:03]
Listen if you like: Polar Bear Club, La Dispute, Title Fight
In brief: I liked the midtempo songs a bit more, but from start-to-finish, this record sounds seamless, gravitating toward the Polar Bear Club/The Menzingers realm of the punk aesthetic more than the Pianos Become the Teeth/Touche Amore spectrum. “Drown In It” is a beautiful cut, as is “St. Anne”.
Stream: “The Demon’s Name is Surveillance” [4:40]
Listen if you like: Strapping Young Lad, Gojira, Vildhjarta
In brief: HELICOPTER NOISES! Not as satisfying of a listen as obZen was for me, but the groove and heaviness found on this record are nevertheless remarkable.
No Absolutes in Human Suffering
Stream: “Not with All the Hope in the World” [6:22]
Listen if you like: Early Graves, Coalesce, Torch Runner
In brief: While it’s true that they don’t significantly deviate from their chaotic, cacophonous formula on this record, Gaza appear to address some of the grievances aired regarding their past releases. Don’t get me wrong, the vitriol, anger, and brutality are still there, but there is arguably a hint of beauty amidst the venom and malevolence, making this the band’s best release to date.
Stream: “Cognitive Suicide” [3:40]
Listen if you like: A Wilhelm Scream, Strung Out, Strike Anywhere
In brief: Friends predicted that this band would wuss out after the acerbic Supporting Caste. Long story short: the merciless thrash onslaught combined with the Rush influence and some wonderfully introspective lyricism seems to pick up right where the Propagandhi sound left off, assailing listeners for the entire 37-ish-minute run-time.
A Brief Crack of Light
Stream: “Living in the Shadow of the Terrible Thing” [4:00]
Listen if you like: The Wildhearts, Terrorvision, Helmet
In brief: After their somewhat-surprising return with Crooked Timber, there was some concern that the band might overstay its welcome and engage in the proverbial shark jumping. In the spirit of NCAA football season — as Lee Corso might say, “Nnnnnnnnot so fast, my friend!” — Therapy?’s guitars continue to wail and crunch while Andy Cairns’ self-deprecating lyrics and energy seem to indicate that the band is showing no signs of stopping any time soon.
Stream: “The Anarchist” [6:50]
Listen if you like: Yes, Genesis, Queensrÿche
In brief: Although the songs could easily stand on their own, I think the album feels more complete when listeners put their individual spins and interpretations on its concept (assuming that it is indeed a concept album — if I’m wrong, I’m sure there are at least two people here who will let me know accordingly). Concept or not, it’s evident that angels and miracles seem particularly important to Neil Peart, whose instrumentation along with Alex Lifeson is Rush’s best since Moving Pictures, and Geddy Lee delivers the lyrics/story with absolutely astounding grace and energy. The album is obscenely catchy, masterfully written, and congratulations on a well-deserved entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, lads.
Of Breath and Bone
Stream: “In Parting” [9:21]
Listen if you like: Insomnium, Barren Earth, Swallow the Sun
In brief: A near-masterpiece with the guitars thankfully mixed higher to showcase the album’s inimitable sense of melody and melancholy. While Sweden might try to have a monopoly on the melodic death metal market – and no one can deny the classic status of In Flames’ The Jester Race or Dark Tranquillity’s The Gallery or refute that the Gothenburg sound is the most well-recognized “school” in metal) – Australia’s Be’lakor make a statement that they warrant discussion in being a leader in contemporary melodic death metal with releases like Stone’s Reach and especially this record with its phenomenal instrumentation and staggering resonance.
05. Digital Daggers
The Devil Within
Stream: “Still Here” [4:25]
Listen if you like: Depeche Mode, Howls, Frou Frou
In brief: An ethereal, haunting record whose accessibility, creativity, and delicate milieu make for a soothing listen, although the duo does not shy away from adding a little venom or vengeance to their music. Once upon a time, I reviewed this record, which includes a link to stream more songs from it, if you are so inclined.
04. Hilltop Hoods
Drinking from the Sun
Stream: “Shredding the Balloon” [4:45]
Listen if you like: Funkoars, Bliss N Eso, The Herd
In brief: Just to get this out of the way: this record’s production is unbelievable and there isn’t a single bad song on here. It baffles me that America hasn’t yet acknowledged or endorsed just how good Hilltop are. “I Love It” is obscenely catchy, “Rattling the Keys to the Kingdom” is like a mini historiography of their rise to prominence, the guest appearances (Chali 2na and Black Thought are superb on “Speaking in Tongues” and “Living in Bunkers”, respectively) are extraordinary, and the energy and passion displayed by MCs Suffa and Pressure is marvelous. This release solidifies their standing as the best hip-hop artist in Oceania, and I don’t think there’s a single artist on their radar that could possibly dethrone them when Suffa, Pressure, and DJ Debris are as good as they are here.
Stream: “Skylight” [5:17]
Listen if you like: Slumber, When Nothing Remains, Tiamat
In brief: From the ashes of Slumber comes a record that sounds almost nothing like Slumber with its frequent genre-bending arrangements, ranging from post-rock to electronic flourishes to atmospheric doom to progressive and practically every genre within the spectrum. While this may make you skeptical, along with knowing that the vocals are predominantly clean compared to Slumber’s death/doom origins, it is one of 2012’s best releases. As Trey writes in his review, the album is a “keyboard-heavy trek through post-metal soundscapes and doom-laden melodies before slowly evolving into a chill, catchy shoegaze style by the time it’s over. In between, Skylight impresses with its deliberate transition which finds heavy riffs and gritty vocals slowly replaced with mellow proggy melodies, increasingly ambient usage of keyboards, and a slow build-up of atmospheric passages. So, while Atoma aren’t reinventing any genre, they deserve a lot of credit for creating a very solid, compelling work within the realm of atmospheric metal.” An essential listen.
02. The Gaslight Anthem
Stream: “Blue Dahlia” [4:28]
Listen if you like: Frank Turner, The Loved Ones, Bruce Springsteen
In brief: “‘45′” might be the band’s best song to date, and for the sake of being near-hyperbolic, I can’t name a band that has solidified its trademark sound and played it with such persistence, unwavering grace, and consistent energy as The Gaslight Anthem have. In terms of memorable, best-of tracks, this record is in lockstep with The ‘59 Sound and easily surpasses American Slang – “‘45′”, “Handwritten”, “Here Comes My Man”, “Howl”, “Blue Dahlia”, “Mae”, “Keepsake”, practically every song here is an essential listen. I can’t imagine that the band will diverge much, if at all, in future records, but if they’re going to continue to craft such amazing music, they shouldn’t stray too far anyway. A must-own album, and if you haven’t yet, go see them live.
The Sleep of Reason
Stream: “Wolfwrangler” [4:36]
Stream: “The Fall of Bees” [6:07]
Stream: “The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters” [6:30]
Listen if you like: Adebisi Shank, &U&I, These Arms are Snakes
In brief: Album of the year, no contest. When you take an already-stellar Red in Tooth & Claw and improve on it in every discernible way, you get a more developed and cohesive record that features more epic, grander choruses, a multitude of textures and layers that are seamlessly interwoven “in the form of danceable metal and exotic post-punk” and sports lyrics that “[take] a stance for science and [stab] the traditions of religion and pseudo-science and superstition” and are delivered with a caustic snarl and bite expected from the Irish outfit. Based on its groove, thrash, imagination, and cutting social commentary alone, BATS never miss a beat on The Sleep of Reason.
Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays, bitches! Now, if you’ll excuse me…