Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 40 Albums of 2012 - Part I: 30 from 40

It's finally done. After much debate, mostly with myself, and a two-week span of going back and listening to a lot of these records, the list has been made. And here it is. The first part of our Top 40 Albums of 2012. So let's get to it and take a quick run through #40 to #11. The albums that made me turn up the volume, that made me want to dance, that made me swoon, and in some cases, made me feel uneasy. And of course, what post here is complete without a mixtape. Stick around and have a listen.

Random Ramblings & Mixtapes: Top 40 Albums of 2012 (#40 - #11)

40. The Seer - Swans
Michael Gira isn't known for making music that can be described as "easy listening." That said, The Seer is a monstrous album. Two hours of music, spread out over two discs, with three songs clocking in at over 19 minutes each. Getting through a full listen is challenging at the very least. It's ominous and punishing, like alternately getting punched in the gut and smothered with a pillow. But at the right moments, it's an oddly exhilarating rush.

39. Give You The Ghost - Poliça
I usually stay away from indie bands that get described as having R&B influences. Mostly it's because those bands come across more awkward than sexy. Poliça doesn't have that problem. There is a definitive seductive streak all throughout Give You The Ghost. Alas, I'll stick with my go-to description of the band as "dreampop masquerading as makeout music."

38. (III) - Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles may not stray too far from their previous two self-titled albums' sonic approach. Synths and beats still swirl then collide with reckless abandon. The only difference is now, the duo of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass, give each other as well as the listener, some time to catch their breaths. That new found sense of dynamics gives more impact when both tempos and pulse rates quicken.

37. Whispers - The New Highway Hymnal
2012 was the year that my love for the Boston music scene was rekindled. Having so many great bands seemingly right in my backyard made it easy to be out every night absorbing music. I almost feel guilty for not having seen The New Highway Hymnal sooner but once I did I became a believer. Their debut album, Whispers doesn't disappoint one bit. Raucous, boozed-up and fuzzy psych rock at its finest.

36. Shrines - Purity Ring
Judging by the sounds coming out of their debut album, Shrines, Canadian electronic duo, Purity Ring, dwell in the shadows. But rather than being obscured by fog machines, there's a little bit of warmth trying to seep its way out of the fractured beats

35. Scattered & Buried - The Foreign Resort
Like many bands, I discovered Denmark's The Foreign Resort based on a whim. I had read about them and they were described as a mixture of shoegaze and New Wave. That alone won me over. But one listen to Scattered & Buried and I was won over as not only was the shoegaze and New Wave influences very evident but there was a good amount of spiky post-punk and yes, even a touch of goth thrown into the mix. About a week after discovering their music, The Foreign Resort happened to be in Boston for the Deep Heaven Now 6 Festival and wouldn't you know it- they were just as awesome live. A band worthy of excitement.


34. Oshin - DIIV
It wasn't until this Brooklyn band changed the spelling of their name that I gave them a chance. Truth is, it was also the fact that they acknowledged the Belgian industrial band, Dive, as being a catalyst for the spelling change. Thankfully I gave in and gave their music a chance because Oshin is a striking release of dreamy, almost 80's-influenced guitar pop with plenty of shoegaze shimmer. An impressive feat for a band that doesn't even look old enough to be let into the clubs that they've been playing.

33. Coexist - The xx
On the surface, Coexist doesn't stray too far from what made their debut album so engaging. But its the subtle differences that carry the album to its own world as slithering basslines and pulsing beats hint at a distant dancefloor as if the club was the backdrop to an intimate conversation that was taking place between the band's two singers.

32. Mauve - Ringo Deathstarr
Austin's Ringo Deathstarr proudly wore their influences on their sleeves on their excellent 2011 album, Colour Trip. But where that album served as a lovenote to The Jesus And Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, Mauve is their move towards their own singular sound. Sure, they're still mining the shimmering guitars of late 90's alt rock and shoegaze, but the end result is something familiar yet timeless.

31. Endless Flowers - Crocodiles
Crocodiles are one of many bands on this list that fall under the noise-pop/shoegaze category. What sets them apart is that they've managed to evolve from a lo-fi pop duo to full-fledged noise-pop band. On Endless Flowers they emphasize the "pop" portion but still manage to drench their songs in enough reverb and feedback that things are catchy as well as bone-rattling.

30. Love and Regret - Cold Showers
LA's Cold Showers is another one of those bands that gained my attention based solely on description. There's a very dark post-punk feel to their debut album, Love and Regret. But instead of focusing on the gloomier side of bands like Joy Division or The Cure, Cold Showers moves towards the slightly upbeat end of the spectrum.

29. Bloom - Beach House
Beach House doesn't need to reinvent the wheel, especially when things fell so perfectly into place with their 2010 masterpiece, Teen Dream. With Bloom they still lay plenty of weight on the intoxicating voice of Victoria Legrand and thankfully she's once again up to the task.

28. A Different Arrangement - Black Marble
Brooklyn's Black Marble put out two releases this year: the great Weight Against The Door EP and this, their full-length debut album. Both showcase the duo's tendency to walk the tight rope between shadowy post-punk, and minimal synthpop revealing that sometimes it's better to sit back and keep your cool rather than giving in and trying to take over the party.

27. In Time To Voices - Blood Red Shoes
I'm still shocked that Blood Red Shoes hasn't broken big here in the States. They're another in a growing camp of guitar-and-drums duos who sound much bigger than their seemingly stripped-down setup. In Time To Voices continues the band's evolution, with a well-balanced collection of blistering rockers and mid-tempo ballads. What more can anyone ask?

26. I Love You, It's Cool - Bear In Heaven
Terrible cover art aside, I Love You, It's Cool is Bear In Heaven's foray into unabashed dance-pop. Well, almost, at least. "The Reflection Of You" and "Sinful Nature" come closest with their bigger-than-life choruses. But there's still plenty of fuzz and psychedelic weirdness to keep it just out of reach from the mainstream.

25. ƒIN - John Talabot
A surprisingly warm collection of electronic music that's geared equally towards dancefloors as well as headphone listening. And what helps make this such an engrossing listen is how Talabot weaves in key reference points borrowing from electronic music's rich history picking up some tricks from Depeche Mode here, or Cabaret Voltaire, there. Even more impressive is how this album has already stood the test of time since its January release to make it onto the Top 40 of 2012.

24. Attack On Memory - Cloud Nothings
Cleveland lo-fi power pop Wunderkind takes a step towards bratty pop punk. It's clear to hear Steve Albini's influence on the record as Dylan Baldi shreds both his guitars and his throat.

23. Worship / Onwards To The Wall - A Place To Bury Strangers
It should come as no surprise how quickly A Place To Bury Strangers became one of my favorite bands. The first review I ever read about them described their music as a mixture of The Jesus And Mary Chain and Ministry (back when they were good.) So years later, I'm as obsessed as ever, thanks not only to their mindblowing and eardrum-destroying live shows, but also due to the fact that their music has gotten better with each release. This year brought us the Onwards To The Wall EP followed by Worship, both of which finding the band expanding their sonic palette to include some post-punk and yes, even some goth.

22. 2:54 - 2:54
It didn't take long for me to fall for London's 2:54. Dreamy, sultry, shoegaze that sounds like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club fronted by Polly Jean Harvey. Equally swoon-worthy as it is just flat-out rocking.

21. Peel It - Indian Jewelry
For a band that gets lumped in as psych rock, Indian Jewelry sure sticks out like a sore thumb. While there are definitely elements of psych and shoegaze in their music, Peel It, has a more menacing quality about it. There seems to be a bit weirdness underlying much of the album making it difficult to pin down. But it's also that same quality that makes this such an engrossing listen because even after a few listens there are still some unexpected twists and turns.

20. Light Asylum - Light Asylum
Brooklyn duo, Light Asylum is like a godsend to me. Minimal synthpop mixed with more than a healthy dose of goth and industrial. Add to that the powerhouse and imposing vocals of Shannon Funchess whose voice is like the coming together of Alison Moyet and Grace Jones.

19. Future This - The Big Pink
Bridging the gap between shoegaze and electro-rock, The Big Pink followed up their excellent debut, 2009's A Brief History of Love with what was essentially a more accessible album. And while Future This had its flaws, its success stories far outnumbered its shortcomings. One can't fault them for having lofty aspirations because when they hit their mark, they really excel.

18. Blunderbuss - Jack White
Jack White can pretty much do no wrong in my mind. Just a badass at everything he does, it's no surprise that his first solo record wouldn't disappoint. Even the surprise twists on the record were somewhat expected since he got to experiment with different sounds a little bit on Get Behind Me Satan. But on Blunderbuss he follows his every whim.

17. A Thing Called Divine Fits - Divine Fits
What would a year-end countdown be without an ex-Wolf Parade member? With Divine Fits, Dan Boeckner (also formerly of Handsome Furs) joins forces with Spoon's Britt Daniel, and Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks on a great collection of New Wave-tinged power pop. Knowing what both Daniel and Boeckner are capable of with their other gigs, it's no surprise how easily they'd gel as Divine Fits.

16. Confess - Twin Shadow
Of all the albums I listened to in 2012, Confess was the one I was most pleasantly surprised by. A huge improvement on its predecessor, George Lewis, Jr. takes his New Wave indebted pop out of the bedroom and into bigger spaces making songs worthy of soundtracking the best John Hughes prom scene that he never got to film.

15. A Place Without Time - Avoxblue
As a member of Boston shoegazers, The December Sound, Jimmy Rossi, Jr. creates gloriously ungodly noise out of his guitar. But as Avoxblue, he switches gears and makes some of the dreamiest and most enchanting electro-pop. A Place Without Time is downright addictive.

14. Master Of My Make-Believe - Santigold
Santigold should be a HUGE pop star. It's a mystery to me why this isn't the case yet. Her second album, Master Of My Make-Believe comes from so many directions -- dancehall, hip hop, pop, New Wave-- that it can potentially be a dizzying ride, yet the album is as cohesive as can be.

13. Forty Eight Hours - Yan Wagner
Yan Wagner is one of my most recent discoveries. The first time I heard the title track to this album, I was blown away. Straightforward electro-pop that takes influence from the likes of OMD. But then that voice, a deep baritone that cuts through the synths just perfectly. But what really makes this album so engrossing is that the songs are so catchy that you just might find yourself singing along upon first listen.

12. Beak>> - Beak>
Geoff Barrow has a way with making Krautrock sound almost sexy. For instance, the last Portishead album Third, had plenty of that motorik influence. And he even left his fingerprints all over The Horrors' Skying (which took the top spot in last year's album countdown.) So with Beak> he delves even deeper managing to turn drones hypnotic earworms.

11. Sweet Sour - Band Of Skulls
UK power trio just makes no frills, straight ahead rock. At times, it's bluesy, and at times, it's as big sounding as Led Zeppelin and in either case it can be face-melting. Sweet Sour is the band's manifesto of all things worthy of air guitaring, headbanging, and devil horns. Band Of Skulls may not be as big as The Black Keys yet, but they're already infinitely better.


30 From 40 (Top 40 Albums of 2012: Part I)
40. Swans, "The Seer Returns" (from The Seer)
39. Poliça, "Dark Star" (from Give You The Ghost)
38. Crystal Castles, "Kerosene" (from (III))
37. The New Highway Hymnal, "Out With The Lights" (from Whispers)
36. Purity Ring, "Obedear" (from Shrines)
35. The Foreign Resort, "Delayed" (from Scattered & Bruised)
34. DIIV, "Doused" (from Oshin)
33. The xx, "Sunset" (from Coexist)
32. Ringo Deathstarr, "Do You Wanna?" (from Mauve)
31. Crocodiles, "Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)" (from Endless Flowers)
30. Cold Showers, "Violent Cries" (from Love and Regret)
29. Beach House, "Lazuli" (from Bloom)
28. Black Marble, "A Great Design" (from A Different Arrangement)
27. Blood Red Shoes, "Stop Kicking" (from In Time To Voices)
26. Bear In Heaven, "The Reflection Of You" (from I Love You, It's Cool)
25. John Talabot, "Depak Ine" (from ƒIN)
24. Cloud Nothings, "Stay Useless" (from Attack On Memory)
23. A Place To Bury Strangers, "You're The One" (from Worship)
22. 2:54, "Sugar" (from 2:54)
21. Indian Jewelry, "See Forever" (from Peel It)
20. Light Asylum, "Hour Fortress" (from Light Asylum)
19. The Big Pink, "Hit The Ground (Superman)" (from Future This)
18. Jack White, "Love Interruption" (from Blunderbuss)
17. Divine Fits, "Baby Gets Worse" (from A Thing Called Divine Fits)
16. Twin Shadow, "Beg For The Night" (from Confess)
15. Avoxblue, "Footfall" (from A Place Without Time)
14. Santigold, "Fame" (from Master Of My Make-Believe)
13. Yan Wagner, "Forty Eight Hours" (from Forty Eight Hours)
12. Beak>, "Yatton" (from Beak>>)
11. Band Of Skulls, "Bruises" (from Sweet Sour)

So there you go, the first of two parts of our Top 40 Albums of 2012. If all goes right, then tomorrow night, we'll get through the Top 10. So until then, as always, listen loud and become immersed!

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