30. The Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud
It’s a slick and polished album, the closest he’s ever come to mainstream rock and – dare I say – pop. While an album as polished as this may be an area as of yet unexplored by Townsend and other metal guitarist’s solo work as well, the mainstream rock sound isn’t new territory in general even if it’s new to him, and he unfortunately falls to some of the genre’s conventions here and there. Still though, even if it’s sound isn’t too experimental, Townsend seamlessly slides into this poppy new sound, boasting a powerful contrast between technical riffage and poppy melodies, and most pop music would sound a hell of a lot better if it was helmed by Townsend as skillfully as it is here on Epicloud. – breakingthefragile
Stream ‘Kingdom’ here.
29. Amenra – Mass V
Mass V does nothing but further cement Amenra’s place in the upper echelon of sludge/post-metal. Drawing influences from the heralded Neurosis, Amenra specialize in the creation of dark atmospheres that are combined with heavy, downtuned riffs. Unlike most of their peers, though, Amenra’s brand of dark, sludgy post-metal manages to sound invariably vigorous because all their records have excellent, oppressing atmospheres. They feel alive and pull the listener in, tingling his senses and forcefully taking control of his emotions. You can always get lost in an Amenra record, and Mass V is their best yet. The darkness and especially despair that the band strive to encapsulate in aural form take a firm grip on the listener just a few minutes into ‘Deadborn and Buried’, the album’s opener, and never let go. On the contrary, Amenra focus on abiding ascension of tension, with each passing second of the album forcing the listener to dig deeper into the depths of his inner thoughts. The album is only a little over 40 minutes long but it envelops in a way that time stops for its duration, since Mass V sounds so organic and real in its bleakness (even the album cover channels it, being of a defunct World War II bunker in Northern France). The best way to describe Mass V would be to compare it to a dark trip to the spiritual world. It’s haunting, but exciting and, in its own way, beautiful at the same time. Take the trip is all I can recommend. – Metalstyles
Stream ‘Boden’ here.
28. Dark Time Sunshine – ANX
ANX is one manipulative beast. It convinces the listener, very steadily, that it isn’t capable of convincing us of anything. At first the release is exciting, sure, but it doesn’t really seem to possess the breadth of 2010’s Vessel. Things change, though, and after some time ANX actually upstages its predecessor with two very pivotal functions: uniformity and self-assurance. This album is bold in all the best ways, from killer features to incredibly ambitious beats per Zavala. ANX is meek when the music calls for it, too, which makes sense considering the album’s theme of anxiety. The title track handles the subject of panic attacks as sensitively as one would expect, and the song even replicates the sensation frighteningly well, with the hazy ambiance echoing Onry’s narration about his trip to Aspen. There’s something deeper here, the indisputable feeling of acceptance. Everyone’s a victim more than they’ll own up to, and no amount of foolhardiness will change that. But there’s something beautiful about what one can do upon accepting it, upon letting the immutable things go. At the end of the day that’s why ANX has stuck with me, because the album’s a call-to-arms against what we can change. We may not have all the cards in our hand, but we’ve got enough. – OmahaStylee94
Stream ‘Take My Hand’ here.
27. High On Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis
I liked Snakes For The Divine, but it sure as hell was the weakest High On Fire album out of the last four they had released. The title track brought the metal, but many of the other cuts were too drawn out, often suffering from a lack of variation, overly polished production, or lack of creative fire. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t, but as a whole, the record was devoid of the special spark that Blessed Black Wings and Death Is This Communion had. Taking this into account, it’s an utmost pleasure to proclaim that De Vermis Mysteriis is a heavy-hitting banger of an album and features a reignited High On Fire. Not since Blessed Black Wings has the band sounded this convincing and fresh. De Vermis Mysteriis contains a whole bucket full of enticing sludge riffs that are aided by the gritty production courtesy of Kurt Ballou. The faster tracks here (‘Bloody Knuckles’, ‘Fertile Green’) are delightfully forceful and the slower ones (‘King of Days’, ‘Warhorn’) feature massive riffs. There’s nothing to dislike about De Vermis Mysteriis if you’re a fan of metal: it’s instrumentally powerful, the songwriting on offer is great, the solos and leads are really tasteful, Matt Pike’s gruff vocals are some of his best, and High On Fire have made sure that the word “dull” wouldn’t creep anywhere near their latest offering. Simply put, if you love metal, you’ll also love this album. – Metalstyles
Stream ‘King Of Days’ here.
26. Neurosis – Honor Found In Decay
The usual batch of winding, caustic, thundering compositions you’d expect from post-metal titans Neurosis. Being among the dwindling number of surviving bands in the post-metal genre, – that was a small community to begin with – Neurosis are still, on the tenth studio album into their career, venturing into unique territory in both dark ambient music and progressive death metal. At this point, they’ve only refined their talent of seamlessly blending droning elements and sludgy riffs together to the point of absolute mastery. Post-metal may be dead, but Neurosis have proved with this album that they are the honor to be found in the genre’s decay. – breakingthefragile
Stream ‘My Heart For Deliverance’ here.
25. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
I’ve repeatedly made the bold claim that Skelethon is the strongest release yet from Aesop Rock, and I still stand by it. Chalk it up to nostalgia if you must – the album essentially served as my Comic-Con tour guide, after all – but the assumption is far from the truth. Indeed, Skelethon is the most concise and controlled Ian Bavitz has ever been, the most sensible the Bronx-raised rapper has ever approached the microphone. The beats are bombastic, hissing and popping about as much as Aesop’s multisyllabic rhymes themselves. These two important ingredients to Skelethon, music and lyrics, coexist in a very tightly-knit manner. It’s impossible to imagine what ‘Grace’ would sound like without Aesop’s eccentric lyrics, because the track’s tailored for them: the reverse frequently feels true, too. But where Skelethon truly succeeds is not only in maintaining the listeners’ interest, but piquing it throughout its runtime. Aesop’s latest actually packs the biggest punch towards its denouement, with ‘Saturn Missiles’ signifying that the end’s near. And the song is the greatest one here because it perfectly displays how poignant Ian Bavitz has become, both as emcee and musician. The track is frantic and impatient, and does something very pivotal for those listening closely enough: it marks the first time Aesop Rock’s music has felt truly vital in hip-hop. – OmahaStylee94
Stream ‘Saturn Missiiles’ here.
24. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Tame Impala have always focused on solely one concept when approaching their music, combining the abstract instrumentation of Psychedelic rock with the catchy melodic ornaments of Pop, and that’s what makes the group’s sound so infectiously irresistible. It’s music that flourishes in eccentric and cosmic atmospheres, yet still manages to remain accessible enough for even the average music enthusiast to enjoy. Lonerism isn’t too different from its predecessor, Innerspeaker. Whether it’s the lo-fi approach to its production or the disorienting surreal textures that coat its sound, making Lonerism an all the more gratifying album for fans and certainly a brilliant sequel. Lyrically, Lonerism returns to the familiar themes of adolescent woes. The sexual and social awkwardness, personal insecurities, and the ever wavering concern of what the future holds- Kevin Parker explores all of these sentimental thoughts inside a psychedelic scenery meant to alter our perception, while describing situations so personal and emotionally universal, that it’s as if he’s directly illustrating moments from our own life. If given the chance, Lonerism has the potential to mesmerize the listener right out of reality. From dream-like soundscapes that surround us in a trippy haze of sensuous delight, to hard-hitting and abrasive rock grooves, Tame Impala spare no expense at introducing us to all of the different musical styles that comprise their artistic aspirations. – PaperbackWriter
Stream ‘Why Won’t They Talk To Me?’ here.
23. Anathema – Weather Systems
Anathema’s Weather Systems reveals that the tinkering minds of the Cavanagh brothers, the band’s creative impetus, while buried deep in the books of song writing, still remain fresh and effective. It was a pleasant surprise; the predecessor, 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here, pledged a high approval with its entrenched anthemic quality. Was it even possible to further cement their journey into contemporary prog? The Cavanaghs answer this in slightly less than an hour—an hour that honestly feels half its length—through towering build-ups, contrasting textures and a lingering sense of melancholy. Such elements, tried and tested with success previously, perform their tasks to similar degrees, only this time with flawlessly unquestionable efficiency where not a single minute feels wasted. The compositions themselves, with familiarly melodic and haunting cores, bloom not only under a patchwork of shimmering guitars, a calmed piano and the subtle fracture of Lee Douglas’ vocals (see ‘Untouchable, Part 2’ as a prime example of all three), but also alongside the pleasant additions of glittery strings and Christer Cederberg’s golden production. The brilliance that ensues from the entire ensemble succeeds in cradling powerful emotion (mainly conducted between the voices of Vincent Cavanagh and Douglas) that tastes bittersweet, where even the most desperate of calls sound gleaming and positive. Certainly, Anathema’s yearning to rise from an undergrowth of shadows and out into the sky isn’t yet complete, but it’s damn close; Weather Systems, in fact, brings it closer than ever. – Taylormemer
Stream ‘The Beginning And The End’ here.
22. Every Time I Die – Ex Lives
It wouldn’t be unfair to call Ex Lives the perfect summation of Every Time I Die as a group. The album features everything that’s made them the household name they are in the metalcore scene: killer, southern-tinged riffs, impressive sonic force, sharp delivery, Keith Buckley’s distinctive vocals – it’s all here. Ex Lives doesn’t exactly offer anything new from the band’s perspective, but it does give the listener a taste of Every Time I Die at their greatest, and that’s all that should be asked for. After 2009’s New Junk Aesthetic, I (for whatever reason) found it hard to believe the band could return with an album just as intense and fun as that one, but Every Time I Die did it. A perfect continuation from said record, Ex Lives manages to keep the tension levels up from the first frantic seconds of ‘Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space’ to the last ascending tribal melodies of ‘Indian Giver’ (if we exclude the bonus tracks, which are, unsurprisingly, just as fine as the rest of the album). It’s dashing, riffy, and most importantly, fun metalcore. Grab your helmet and your balls, because with Ex Lives you’re in for a wild ride. — Metalstyles
Stream ‘I Suck (Blood)’ here.
21. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Just how much Shields shows all the possible places that Grizzly Bear can take their sound is truly something to behold. They’re very exploratory artists, finding a place to firmly plant their sound where they can cast a line out to delve into other areas. Shields has a consistent central texture that is earthy and organic, yet its vast atmosphere is flourishing with the decorative color scheme of baroque pop, which makes for a contrast that is distinct and works. Shields is many things; it’s artsy, colorful, rustic, rocking, deep, psychedelic, and it all works together well because Grizzly Bear layers all these elements with remarkable craft in a way that is above all, ridiculously hooky and infectious. – breakingthefragile
Stream ‘Yet Again’ here.
20. Ne Obliviscaris – Portal Of I
Portal of I is a work of art. There is simply no other way to put it. It’s an embodiment of both imagination and ambition, amalgamating a vast variety of genres to compose a unique sound that coaxes the attention of the listener with ease. At times the music is utterly abrasive, releasing the impassioned yet discordant essence of Extreme Metal, but Portal of I also enthusiastically ventures into other territories as well. Whether it be Jazzy instrumental segments like that in ‘Of The Leper Butterflies’, or classical folk arrangements reminiscent of traditional Celtic melodies which are most evident in a song like ‘And Plague Flowers The Kaleidoscope’. This is truly a remarkable album, and what makes it so impactive is that the band is able to fuse all of these influences in a way that sounds so natural, as if it were no challenging task at all. Portal of I really has something for everyone, containing enough brutality for the headbangers, while exhibiting enough experimental credibility to intrigue those who seek more elaborate songwriting. Ne Obliviscaris serve to remind us what the true essence of Progressive music is supposed to be- to push the dynamics of music while focusing to incite an emotional response from the audience rather than impressing them with displays of overly complex musicianship. – PaperbackWriter
Stream ‘And Plague Flowers The Kaleidoscope’ here.
19. The Chariot – One Wing
The first word that comes to mind when listening to The Chariot’s One Wing is blistering. There isn’t a moment on this album where you don’t feel the fierce intensity of the band, even in its most contemplative passages. It’s a crazed affair built around the chaotic brand of hardcore, yet The Chariot revel in making this brief 30-minute ride intoxicating. They merge their ferocious, oddly reassuring style with ostensibly eccentric, left-field detours into piano balladry, ambient and even spaghetti western music. Decidedly these eyebrow-raising segments provide the disc with a breath of fresh air that breaks through a relentless onslaught. There’s no place for randomness though with every track deliberately planned and structured. All in all, The Chariot show limitless potential for growth and One Wing is their most cohesive and ambitious record thus far. – greg84
Stream ‘Tongues’ here.
18. Niechec – Smierc W Miekkim Futerku
The golden age of Jazz is certainly long gone, though it remains all but forgotten. There are still a vast number of musicians that continue to keep the spontaneous virtuosity of the genre alive. Niechęć may not be a name that is instantly familiar to most, but they’re a group that deserves the attention of any modern day Jazz fan. Niechęć combines the improvised musical aesthetics of traditional Bebop and blends it with a modern day twist that incorporates elements of both rock and electronic music. Don’t think of this album as a typical Jazz experience though, Śmierć w miękkim futerku is an endeavor into a deranged musical experience. The music fluctuates under its own agenda, as each instrument seems to be utterly infatuated with the notion of being as unpredictable as possible. One minute we’re helplessly spellbound by a calming saxophone solo, and before we even realize the change in scenery, we find ourselves us descending into an abyss of cacophonic discord. The musicianship may be working on a more obscure level here, but the sensations and reactions they want their music to inspire within the listener are executed with absolute perfection. Śmierć w miękkim futerku is a haunting and wild voyage through expertly constructed chaos. – PaperbackWriter
Stream ‘Niespokojny Relaks’ here.
17. The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth
The iconic man, who wanted to become a poet and ended up a musician instead, has crafted yet another phenomenal album that is an outright testimonial to a process of refinement that has been incrementally becoming more artful, insightful, and tasteful over the past two decades ab initio of his career. Depending on who one asks, the reasons given for why Transcendental Youth commonly made many people’s list of favourite albums from 2012 will likely vary only marginally. It is pretty clear that there are two main aspects that strongly accentuate the release. The first is that the lyrical content of each track paired with the beautiful guitar, piano and brass melodies provide a valuable piece for music aficionados, as well as the veriest music tyros, to appreciate and enjoy alike. The second is that there are a myriad of wise -albeit prophetic quotes that highlight and lend perspective. Darnielle’s friend John Hodgman had described each song as being “about people who madly, stupidly, blessedly won’t stop surviving, no matter who gives up on them”. That statement was perhaps strengthened when built on by an assertion from moderator Channing Freeman when he reviewed the album. He claimed that “what you find in Transcendental Youth aren’t answers to any big questions, but instead questions to a bunch of answers that never meant anything before but now seem exceedingly important”. Thus it is clear that the album is not only rich instrumentally, but also offers deep insight through the fictional stories of others in neatly articulated segments of the lyrics. So, while Transcendental Youth may be at an arms-length from being classic, it was certainly one of the best and most important releases of the past year, as future Mountain Goat albums will likely be for their irrespective future years too. – Eclecticist
Stream ‘Lakeside View Apartments Suite’ here.
16. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Let’s be honest, Japandroids looked forward to the 2 year tour following their debut album a lot more than they actually did recording it in the studio. The sole reason they’re in the music business is because they simply love performing their music, which is music made to be best performed live. They don’t want to feel as if they’re containing and limiting the volume and energy of their live songs with studio recordings and refining. For good measure, Japandroids figure that the only way Celebration Rock is going to top their debut Post-Nothing, is if it follows the same strategy they use in making each concert they do best the preceding one, and that strategy is simply raising their personal standard bar of how loud and noisy they can make their music. The duo cram this album full of songs best suited being heard in an arena, where all the fist-pump inducing anthems would exhibit the extent of their purpose in the raw element of rush. Celebration Rock still brings the punk out of rock, and the rock out of punk, all with such exuberant noise and head banging power, that regardless of if it’s more of the same, it’s still impressive that this much marvelous power can come from only two people. – breakingthefragile
Stream ‘Fire’s Highway’ here.
15. Anberlin – Vital
Maturity is vital. In the most literal way, if one does not grow, they cannot continue to live and many bands have found this to be true. Innovation and reinvention is the key to having a career longer than two albums- Anberlin has done both. They have shed basically all traces of pop-punk that dominated their first three albums. It would be too easy to make songs with shallow verses that exist just to lead to a golden hook for a decade; it’s time to move on. This is alt-rock: on the surface, it’s even lost all of its Christian influences. Sure, there are songs like ‘God, Drugs & Sex’ that are drab, but it’s still a well-constructed song with a decent meaning. The ballads are stronger than ever, the album’s opening combination of ‘Self-Starter’ and ‘Little Tyrants’ is an aural assault that hits extremely hard and all the hooks are still catchy without trying too hard to be. Vital is different and not because it has to be, it’s because it wants to be. – FromDaHood
Stream ‘Little Tyrants’ here.
14. mewithoutYou – Ten Stories
At first I couldn’t help but think Ten Stories would be another It’s All Crazy, It’s All False… For one, Ten Stories is an allegorical representation of a fictional train crash filled with circus animals in 19th century Montana. The lead single and first song ‘February 1878′ illustrates the story of this circus train being derailed in the icy Pacific Northwest by an elephant. The album chronicles the tales of select animals as they seek refuge and figure out what to do in the aftermath of said wreckage. So right off the bat it already sounds like it sets itself up to be another whimsical tale that’ll no doubt play out similarly to their previous record, but it’s a surprisingly welcome nod to past ideas. Contrary to what’s been circulating via the net, Ten Stories sounds nothing like [A--> B] Life or Brother, Sister, but songs like ‘February 1878′ and ‘Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume’ unmistakably hearken back to the days of Catch For Us the Foxes.
Personally, I like to think of Ten Stories as an album divided into two halves: the first half being very pop-centric (barring ‘February 1878′), and the latter being a revisitation of some of mewithoutYou’s post-hardcore roots, as well as a plunge into a more atmospheric mood. Aaron Weiss is still as skillful a songwriter as he’s ever been, and he hammers lines with a deft display of conviction, but Ten Stories is certainly a different kind of mewithoutYou album. However, despite it being a fictional concept record revolving around an absurdly quirky premise that ultimately sees Weiss stepping outside of the persona he’s created for himself, the struggle with accepting God is an ongoing and integral part of his writing, subtle as it may seem even when he’s omitting the veil: “I don’t know if I know/Though some with certainty insist no certainty exists!” (‘Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume’). Weiss still employs the use of metaphor in his writing, but Ten Stories seems like a great middle-ground between the old and the new; Weiss never comes across as suffocatingly abstract or reminiscent, it’s seemingly a perfect blend. Songs like ‘Elephant in the Dock’, ‘Nine Stories’ and ‘Cardiff Giant’ might detract from the album’s momentum, but Ten Stories is undeniably an acceptable and wholeheartedly enjoyable segue from It’s All Crazy! It’s All False!. – Gyromania
Stream ‘Grist For The Malady Mill’ here.
13. Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
I’m not sure if Until the Quiet Comes is Flying Lotus’s best album–Los Angeles and Cosmogramma, the other two in what I’m now totally calling his Big Three, are at least as good–but it feels like some sort of apex. Steven Ellison, formerly just some Adult Swim-watching facsimile of J Dilla, has now fully transformed hip-hop into his own metaphysical playground. UTQC is where he metamorphosizes into an artist of John Donne-like stature, twisting and inverting the structural components of his futuristic beats until they seriously seem to exist somewhere outside themselves. I don’t even know what that means and I don’t expect you to, but it’s something undeniably there in the percussive polypeptides that frame this profoundly easygoing follow-up to Cosmogramma, which now sounds like an album of Top 40 Radio hits when stuck next to this beautiful mess of an album. The charm of UTQC is almost paradoxical, suggesting its full-blown jams rather than directly presenting them to us–that is, until the ecstatic ‘Me Yesterday//Corded,’ its climax rendered all the more potent by the relentless subtlety with which it is surrounded. Skeptics might assume that Ellison’s new-yet-ages-old approach is informed by the DMT he and Thundercat dreamily praise halfway through the album. I might be old-fashioned, but I think the answer hews somewhat closer to that third track: this is Ellison’s warped little version of ‘Heave(N)’. You’re all invited. – Robertsona
Stream ‘See Thru To U’ here.
12. Coheed And Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension
Considering the back-to-basics approach taken on The Afterman: Ascension, it’s clear Year of the Black Rainbow was a calculated experiment. The inclusion of Chris Pennie, a drummer as well-versed in arithmetic as music, undeniably had much to do with the shift. However, Coheed and Cambria’s 2012 release shows its fans the group is still aware of its strengths. The first half of the The Afterman is chock-full of catchy anthems, heartwarming ballads and aggressive fan-pleasers, a surefire sign Claudio and crew aren’t messing around. It’s rewarding as a long-term Coheed fan, too, to see the return to form the group has employed here. I can’t pen down exactly who said it, but I recall someone writing about how this album is, more than anything, a collection of what Coheed and Cambria do best. This is the best way to put it, because each moment of Ascension hones the group’s sound rather than expanding upon it. The album’s brevity surely helps, too, with each powerful track receiving more attention. In the end, though, there’s no doubt Coheed and Cambria are back, and The Afterman: Ascension will go down in history as one of their most celebrated releases yet. – OmahaStylee94
Stream ‘The Afterman’ here.
11. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
It requires a lot of guts to call your album R.A.P. Music and place the picture of your son on the cover. You need to take into account that your endeavour may be dismissed as overly straightforward or pretentious by an increasingly superficial audience. However, the new Killer Mike record truly lives up to its title standing for everything that hip hop should encompass in 2012. It’s the kind of defiant rap that was popular two decades ago, but it feels surprisingly in touch with the economically uncertain times we’re living in now. Aptly then, the LP abounds in anger, with Mike bashing an increasing commercialization of hip hop, dishonest cops and political corruption. The scope of interest in his lyrics is much wider though. His delivery often tends to be narratively inclined (‘JoJo’s Chillin’) or even greatly inspirational, like in the record’s blissful, double-punch climax consisting of autobiographical ‘Willie Burke Sherwood’ and the title track that’s a poignant ode to the music that respects its heritage.
It’s not only Killer Mike who’s throwing his heart and soul into his craft on R.A.P. Music. At one point he states “This album was created entirely by Jamie and Mike“, acknowledging the enormous contribution of El-P. As unexpected a rapper/producer collaboration as it may be, El-P complements Mike’s impeccable flow with his futuristic blend of Southern rap and soul to startling effect. The fact that the music has been crafted with hardly any guest appearances is only a testament to Jamie and Mike’s genuine talent cutting through every single moment of this seminal album. – greg84
Stream ‘Willie Burke Sherwood’ here.