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2012: Music in Review

The Mayans had decreed that a life cycle would end on December 21, 2012. Of course, common sense prevailed and here we still are. Needless to say, a LOT of musicians seemed to take the doomsday prophecy to heart, and 2012 saw a deluge of prolific outputs. Double albums were at their highest numbers since the late 70's (especially in the electronic and metal worlds), artists released multiple albums (Death Grips had two, El-P produced two, Ty Segall knocked out three, Robert Pollard/Guided By Voices combined for five), and the pop charts carried on demolishing good taste as if to say it wouldn't matter by the end of December.

Music has always had the power to restore spirits. After a horrible start to the year personally, I was ready to ask questions of whether it was worth keeping up to date, following the trends and getting excited about something so superficial and ultimately unnecessary as popular music. In the end, I quickly realized that it is the small things in life that keep boredom and complacency and even sadness away; small things that include discovering music and keeping an open mind about what it can say, where it can go. The music world kept sharing its generosity, and I have again expanded the list to 50, with several albums left peeking in. Life without music is a sad thing, and here are the albums I wanted to share with you all.

Albums of the Year



50. LHF, Keepers of the Light

What better place to start the list than with a perfect encapsulation of so much of this year's themes we will see as we scroll along: double disc; dubstep-flavored; collaborative. The shadowy LHF collective (producers No Fixed Abode, Amen Ra, Double Helix and Low Density Matter) from London has released a handful of EP's to date, but exploded out of the gate with that rarest of moves, a double-disc dance album that does not feel overlong. Instead of a single vision stretched too thin, the four producers showcased here trade tracks back and forth, keeping the flow and interest going strong - this feels like some unreleased compilation of tasteful late 00's dubstep, classicist sounding and out of step with today's jagged explorations. Essential.

Amen Ra - Akashic Visions

49. Liars, WIXIW

After spending their career careening between wild extremes and never sounding like anyone else, Liars add a liberal dose of electronics into their mix and make what is their best sounding album. On first listen it is mellow and pleasant, something like Kid A sanded down; but listen closely and the paranoia, the loss and grief, start to crawl in. The balance between tension and calm has rarely sounded so good.

No. 1 Against the Rush

48. VCMG, SSSS

Vince Clarke. Martin Gore. Bass-heavy house music with a stone-faced commitment. Thirty-odd years after Clarke left a little band called Depeche Mode, things come full circle on this riot of a dance record, mastered at an enjoyably savage volume that loses none of the details, all the little details and cold synthy goodness that any fan of Depeche Mode will recognize and immediately love. This is hard house that can be enjoyed at home, a sound that might appeal to the legions of teenage dubstep fans (read: Skrillex), but will likely speak to fans of either Clarke or Gore's previous works - two old pop stars making a banger for the hell of it.

Zaat

47. Petar Dundov, Ideas From the Pond

Your enjoyment of this album will depend largely on how melodic you like your techno. Dundov makes his techno like a chocolate torta, layers of nuts, jam, chocolate, more jam and some more chocolate to top it off. His productions are serene, and busy; there is always something happening, some snatch of melody or chord change washing over you, lulling you into a happy place, riding the fluent waves for eighty minutes of bliss.

Brownian Interplay

46. Kasra, FabricLive 62

Drum n' bass is like a snapshot of where dubstep will end up, divided into several camps that offer a different interpretation of what the sound is like; Critical label chief Kasra offers his tasteful interpretation heavy on selections from his own roster, and other like-minded beatmakers. He keeps the tension building through the start of the mix, carefully reining in the aggression before allowing for a thrilling ride at 170 BPM and finishing with an appropriately brutal climax. Kasra does a great job of highlighting the various permutations d'n'b is capable of without losing its general voice, and crafts an essential showcase of not only his label, but the sound itself.

Leap into FABRICLIVE 62 (Official Fabric)

45. Daphni, Jiaolong

"Set against the backdrop of bland and functional dance music and the mind-numbing predictability of the EDM barfsplosion currently gripping the corporate ravesters, there is a small world where dance music lives up to its potential to liberate, surprise, and innovate. It's there that I hope DAPHNI has a place." - Dan Snaith. Make some space people, Daphni is here.

Springs

44. Frankie Rose, Interstellar

After cutting her chops in various girl groups like Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls and her own Frankie Rose & the Outs, she finally releases a solo debut as in thrall to the current gauzy Brooklyn scene as to the pretty gloom of the Cure (or are they both the same?). What tends to set her apart from the glut of dream-pop is the strength of the songs: not content to merely float, but saying something, and going places. She is also unafraid to get a pulse going, throwing in some strong percussion into songs like "Had We Had It" and the opening title track. These are fully fleshed paintings, and they make for a great overall album to relax to.

Night Swim

43. Alt-J, An Awesome Wave

There are few things the UK music rags love more than a splashy new band and controlling their destiny: tons of pre-release hype leading to huge sales and critical grousing, often topped off with a ballyhooed win of the homeland's prestigious Mercury Prize. Of course they tend to drop the band from favor soon after and move on, leaving the Franz Ferdinands and Klaxons and Arctic Monkeys on the outside looking in. There seems little doubt that Alt-J is bound to follow; there can hardly seem a plausible scenario in which a debut this precocious, precious, unbearably twee and, yes, at times awesome, is followed up by some sort of coherent second album. However, for 2012 and our musical scene, this album will do just fine.

Tessellate

42. How to Dress Well, Total Loss

Tom Krell deals with heavy subject matter on his first official full-length, as if the title wasn't indication enough. He brings a higher budget to the musical proceedings, leaving much of the shadows and empty spaces of Love Remains behind, and clearing up his usually warbled and treated vocals; he knows when to utilize a bare voice, and when to let his R&B samples and instruments do the talking. A difficult, rewarding album.

Talking To You

41. Grimes, Visions

Canadian electro-chanteuse and zeitgeist harnesser Claire Boucher explodes out of the gate after two self-released albums from the past year with this collection of bleeps and bloops, warm analog sounds and her indecipherable falsetto vocals, creates a tapestry of very Now electronic music that you either love or hate. The pop melodies shine though the spectral murk and offer a sturdy foundation for your enjoyment.

Genesis

40. Animal Collective, Centipede Hz

Animal Collective's trajectory since 2005 should have anticipated the style they would explore: from the mellow Feels to the frantic Strawberry Jam to the tranquil Merriweather, it has been a fairly predictable trend, and anyone unimpressed by the sanded edges of their previous album should have found a lot to love on this spastic new one. Walls of sound, from broken TV jangles to washes of synths and some welcome yelping marked AC's return to the forest, armed with technology.

Today's Supernatural

39. Silent Servant, Negative Fascination

An utterly strange and beguiling album from producer Juan Mendez from the Sandwell District collective, a blurring of the lines of 4/4 techno into post-punk bleakness - spoken word, dub and noise thrown together into a disorienting half an hour of fascinating experimentation.

Temptation & Desire

38. Cooly G, Playin Me

One of Hyperdub's flagship artists dropped her oft-delayed debut to sighs of relief and the flicker of candles. Much like King Midas Sound's classic, this album is a product of lover's ruin, a future-jungle tapestry of hushed vocals, sensual keyboards and tasteful drum patterns. Opener "He Said I Said" floats by on some jazzy R&B synth washes, while "Good Times" is arguably her finest song to date. A late-night album to cherish.

Come Into My Room

37. Witchcraft, Legend

After nearly five years away, with band members playing in different combos (like Spiders) and starting new bands (Troubled Horse), it was looking like Sweden's thunderous blues-metal titans Witchcraft were destined to be fondly remembered, rather than dropping new material to blow our minds. Thank the stars above! Metal boogie, crunchy sweet riffs and that warm analog sound remain, and while it can be compared to their past output, that is like saying Da Vinci created too many great things. Crank this one up to 12.
A special shout-out to Sweden's metal scene in general this year: alongside this album, there have been incredible releases from Graveyard (Lights Out, their second amazing album in as many years), Troubled Horse (Step Inside, adding a little country to their psychedelic riffage), Spiders (Flash Point, female-vocals fronting proto-metal riff blues), and Goat (World Music, an unholy amalgam of voodoo/disco/psych/blues). I would highly recommend having yourself a psychedelic Swedish weekend!

It's Not Because Of You

36. Chromatics, Kill For Love

Icy blue skies. Neon city lights. The grip of leather. A flicker of an eyelid. Lip gloss. Gentle stream. Chrome exhaust pipe. Glint of a steel knife. Pomade. Glazed eyes straight ahead. Candlelight. A vibrating bass string. Black. Red. Pink. It is hard to escape Johnny Jewel's misleadingly meandering album: it will suck you in and immerse you completely.

Lady

35. Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind

Hungry like a band half their age, Converge strip the sheen of the past decade and turn up the Raw, recording their 8th studio live with minimal overdubs and capturing the ferocity of their live shows - while keeping the sense of wide-eyed contemplation intact. In a sense, this album is the logical follow-up to 2001's watershed Jane Doe, all thrashing instrumentation, twisting passages and inscrutable lyrics delivered by Jacob Bannon in shouted tones rather than his standard screams. It takes a deep knowledge of the band's past work to compare this to a specific album of theirs, but in terms of absolute heaviness and startling imagery, few do it as well as Converge.

Sadness Comes Home

34. Ty Segall, Twins

The second of Segall's three albums in 2012 (and the only one that bears only his name, written and recorded almost exclusively by himself), this welcome blast of scuzzy feedback and chunky blues puts Segall squarely in a category of his own: endlessly skilled, pliable within genres while retaining his own voice, a songwriter to be reckoned with. The combination of sticky sweet melodies and glorious guitar fuzz (think of the Beatles as interpreted by the Who at their loudest) made for a fantastic throwback album, something you could enjoy only as long as it took Segall to take off into a completely new direction. It may be hard to keep up with his output, but he rewards you amply for your efforts.

Thank God For Sinners

33. Blondes, Blondes

Since Axel Willner is entitled to some time off (wait, didn't he release something as Loops Of Your Heart this year?), New York duo Blondes stepped in to fill the techno-trance-Krautrock void with some delicious lengthy tracks to let you float away. There is not a lot to objectively say about this dance music's intrinsic value: if it makes you dance, if it puts a smile on your face, if you can listen to it sitting down and enjoy the sound scapes, I would say you have a good album with you. This is one of those albums.

Wine

32. El-P, Cancer 4 Cure

Undisputed 2012 MVP of all things hip-hop, Jaime Meline was unsatisfied with merely producing Killer Mike's incredible album; he had to stick to his schedule and drop his first album in five years, his first solo record since the end of Def Jux, and yet another in a sterling career of envelope-tearing paranoid underground rap. As dense, as furious and as tender as ever, in a year where little went right, El-P was there, as always, to reflect society's ugliness in a jagged prism.

Stay Down

31. Daniel Avery, FabricLive 66

An almost perversely good entry to the Fabric ranks from somewhat-newcomer British DJ/producer Avery, one of the growing number of DJs weaned on the sounds of guitar music as a youth and allowing that sensibility to seep into their works within the dance framework. If anything is on display here, it is Avery's uncanny ability to take a large number of disparate strands of electronic music and mold them into something unmistakably his own: his own productions peppered throughout the mix are the glue that keep it together, and the effortless sequencing is made the star after he stops the mix completely halfway through, as if to say "you liked side A? Wait until I hit you with side B." You will be stunned.

Have a stab at FABRICLIVE 66 (Official Fabric)

30. Baroness, Yellow & Green

Savannah, Georgia's Baroness have long been more than a metal band on Relapse Records; from the very first, their sound has been friendly with elements of prog rock and the blues, and anyone expecting a more metal path after Blue Record was slapped with this audacious double-disc offering. Two sides of the same coin, with two different instrumental intros to each disc, and a sequencing that could only work to have the 75-minute album divided in two, this album was laden with acoustic workouts, proggy pop songs, and a not-unformidable amount of the usual heavy guitars that we have come to expect. Also, another classic Baizley cover.

Cocainium

29. Rush, Clockwork Angels

How many official concept albums do Canadian legends Rush have under their nearly 40 year old belt? After 2012, one. Yes, they proclaim that the steam punk flavored new collection about a journey of self-discovery is their first official concept, 2112 notwithstanding. After a late-career jolt in 2007, they have kept the wheel turning, bypassing typical concept tropes like 20-minute songs, and instead crafted a 12-track album of regular length, with a linear storyline. In the process, they sound totally rejuvenated with great performances, and songs that stick through the sheer commitment they put into them. They could teach bands half their age a thing or two about keeping it classy.

The Garden

28. LV, Sebenza

Part of the exciting boundary-melting that today's technology makes effortless, and building on their 2011 collaboration with beat poet Joshua Idehen (Routes), the London-based production team returns to Hyperdub with South African vocalists Okmalumkoolkat (whose previous collaboration for the label, "Boomslang," was a huge success), Spoek Mathambo and duo Ruffest for an album of irrepressibly manic UK funky and kwaito energy. The productions match the mood of the vocalists: dark and murky for Mathambo, cheeky and wild for Ruffest, and all over the map for primary vocalist Okmalumkoolkat - this is party music with a killer global flavor, unafraid of limitations or of destroying your subwoofer.

Spitting Cobra

27. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city

Ready to Die. Illmatic. Enter the Wu-Tang. good kid, m.a.a.d city. Kendrick Lamar shot high, and landed in the stars, in a genre that values the insanely lauded perfect debut more than others. The production comes courtesy of a large roster of skilled craftsmen, but it is Lamar's show as his lyrics are the perfect blend of hip-hop braggadocio and introspective reflection. He twists partying on its head ("Swimming Pools"), he barely escapes a B&E arrest ("The Art of Peer Pressure"), and he reps Compton with Dr. Dre by his side (umm, "Compton"). A fantastic debut to stand with the best.

The Art of Peer Pressure

25. Lone, Galaxy Garden

Sometimes it becomes hard to remember the joy that dance music had: the mainstream hyper-masculine aggression of EDM, or the envelope-ripping alienation of the underground leave little room for the smiles and day-glo colors that your childhood was built on. I hope to not sell Lone short: he has been one of the most interesting producers kicking around in recent years, and the neon lights his music brings to mind is euphoria of the classic sense. This is the sheer thrill of dancing all night, the highest point before you crash. However, the brightness of the music betrays the depth of texture lurking underneath.

The Animal Pattern

24. Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes

After the suburbs, the cosmos. After the cosmos, the soul? Steven Ellison painted himself into a corner after 2010's inimitable Cosmogramma, a masterwork of Everything music taken to the extreme, so he decided to look inwards for a mellow, just as complex exploration of the human spirit. His skittering hip-hop beats are still the skeleton of his tracks, but they take a smaller presence here; the emphasis is on atmosphere, synths, bass and disembodied voices (here, Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke). A slow-burning gem from one of our era's most important voices.

me Yesterday//Corded

23. Killer Mike, R.A.P Music

"This album was created entirely by Jaime and Mike." As in, New York super-producer El-P, and Atlanta lyrical slayer Killer Mike. On paper this makes about as much sense as Ice Cube and the Bomb Squad, but throw the slab of plastic in the boombox and this album hits you hard - has it really taken this long for this collaboration? Mike has been underrated as an MC for years, typically relegated to choice guest verses for lesser rappers, while El-P is of course one of the firebrands of hip-hop, with a critical adored CV; both manage to hit new heights on this concise, political charged album. El-P's East Coast aggression makes for a perfect bedrock for Mike's Southern quirks, with massive drums echoing off his booming voice; "Reagan" is a thrilling exploration of black rage that dismissed all politicians as talking heads, while "Don't Die" sounds uncannily like Ice Cube-style street justice. If this collab is a one-off, we are that much luckier to have it.

Reagan

22. Donato Dozzy and Neel, Voices From the Lake

Leavening the year's barrage of savage experimentation in the techno realm, Italian techno producers Donato Dozzy and Neel dropped a debut that was partially explored at a Japanese festival from 2011, and listening to this album at home, you are hard pressed to imagine it playing at an outdoor techno festival. This is music almost strictly for home listening, a seamless journey through a bubbling, organic-sounding stream of analog warmth, gently billowing strands of synths and cushioned drum machines. Its anachronistic nature with respect to the general mood of techno this year makes it an essential addition to the mosaic.

Meikyu

21. Raime, Quarter Turns Over a Living Line

Let the post-dubstep splintering and sub-genre bastardization begin! Let the meathead masses keep their bass drops and wailing diva sirens, Rihanna posturing and bludgeoning; give us the hybrids, the fascinating experiments and the new future. UK label Blackest Ever Black drop their debut long-player with this reclusive duo's mix of post-rock, post-dub techno, industrial and sleekly black, thumping along like a prehistoric noir beast. It is an unholy sound, the tipping point between madness and genius - the future may sound like this, but it made today that much more exciting.

Exist in the Repeat of Practice

20. Royal Thunder, CVI

Metal sirens made a hell of a wail in 2012, where bands like Christian Mistress and Jess & the Ancient Ones released truly heavy metal with a formidable female singer, but none did it as well as Atlanta's Royal Thunder. Marrying a healthy blues strutt to their serrated guitar tones, the true star is Mlny Parsonz and her powerhouse vocals - Stevie Nicks fronting a sick blues-metal band. They are far too melodic and expansive to be a simple doom metal band, and their willingness to draw out songs (half the tracks are over 6 minutes), natural journeys rather than a repeating riff/motif, allows for breathing room and a varied attack that never feels as long as it is. A fantastic debut.

Blue

19. Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE

"Expect big things", I signed off as Ocean's mixtape was the kickoff #30 on my list last year - who would have thought just HOW big? The undisputed runaway winner of the year, ORANGE feels like the immediate classic that we always demand but rarely receive, though I suspect that if Ocean reneges on his veiled statement of not releasing any further music, he has something truly special in him. Consider this an early-70's Stevie Wonder album before he caught fire and released all masterpieces - I challenge Ocean to fulfill his massive potential and do the same.

Super Rich Kids

18. Ricardo Villalobos, Dependent and Happy

The return of the mighty Villalobos has been eagerly anticipated for years now, and the announcement that his new album - on Perlon of all places! - would be a 5X12 LP epic, as well as a mixed 11-track CD, was greeted with barely concealed euphoria. After, this is the man who is the closest to a living DJ deity, returning with a stockpile of goods to enjoy before the world ended. The sheer heft of it (get up every 12 minutes or so to flip the vinyl, nine times - this man makes you work for your pleasure) was hardly cause for concern: this is classic slowly-percolating Villalobos goods, tongue-in-cheekily called "traffic house." It was always the same, but never the same.

Die Schwarz Massai

17. Laurel Halo, Quarantine

Easily one of the queasiest albums in recent memory, Halo's attempt to unify her sound and provide an entry work into her past works - courtesy of Hyperdub, coming off a sterling year - this can be equal parts off-putting and utterly enthralling. The main element here is Halo's voice, which she wields like The Knife and manipulates to no end; a child-like coo here, abrasive atonalities there, a warm wash when the moment calls for it. For an electronic album, there is little in the way of a beat, and the grappling with ideas can be frustrating, but hard work will win the day, and this album's secrets will be solved one day.

Light + Space

16. Gojira, L'Enfant Sauvage

France's heaviest environmental-themed death metal/prog band makes the move to become one of the heaviest in the world, period. Like the very best metal albums from recent years, Gojira merge their brutal, technical assault with moments of levity, their surreal and at times lovely lyrics with a menacing semi-growl, and produce it with just the right amount of sheen to make the speakers crackle with life. "The Wild Child" (and not "baby sausage" as I misread) makes for one of the most dazzling displays of technical metal virtuosity in quite some time, and should be remembered as a classic.

Born In Winter

16. Levon Vincent, Fabric 63

A sterling edition of the London nightclub's long running mix series, but ostensibly a near-solo edition for the New York producer who to date has been recording for a decade, but only releases new tracks on vinyl - every new offering is an event, but always leaves you wanting more. This mix should satisfy. Vincent features a selection of like-minded NY-based producers and includes seven of his own tracks for a seamless, sleek tour-de-force of understated and tasteful house music, all mood and tension, severe bass and twisting melodies, darkly anthemic tracks jigsawed seamlessly. It was a mix I constantly played through the year, in any setting, though it sounded best on a late night highway drive in the fall.

Polar Bear

15. Andy Stott, Luxury Problems

After a suffocating pair of EPs from last year catapulted Stott into something like mainstream recognition, he quickly followed them up with this stunning long player, enlisting his childhood piano teacher (who just happens to be a classically trained opera singer) to provide vocals that he chopped into snippets of sound to complement his usual dead-eyed drone. This album is paradoxically airy and oppressive, and like the best of his past work, utterly immerse you in its world, the snatches of vocals lulling you to calm even as the lurching beats creep towards you.

Sleepless

14. Vessel, Order of Noise

Fascinating electronic vignettes from Bristol, arguably the bleakest place in the UK if you were to base it on its native sons (chirpy folks like Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky). Newcomer Vessel crafted an album of elegant, evocative productions that relied on the familiar tropes of broken beats, thick bass and haunted vocals, with a peerless level of sophistication and artistry. In a sense similar to Actress' latest, this collection of sketches struggles to coalesce on first listen, but when it finally does, reveals itself as a dark and beautiful work able to stand beside his forebears.

Plane Curves

13. Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland, Black Is Beautiful

The past few years have seen no shortage of inherent weird, out-of-reach music in the electronic sphere, and the group formerly known as Hype Williams make their LP debut on Hyperdub with a doozy of a labyrinth. The sounds of detained radios in adjacent rooms, woozy female vocals, rough edits, rudely interrupting radio transmissions, whispered nothing's and endless Krautrock loops. It keeps you at a distance but lets you fully admire the view.

2

12. Colour Haze, She Said

2012 was involved in a strange struggle between the old and the future: electronic music brazenly pushing the envelope of where music could go, while a huge contingent of artists used current technology to replicate the sounds of the past. Germany's stoner rock group Colour Haze did the past better than most by focusing just as much on the songs as the analog: their psychedelic freak-out exploration were truly otherworldly, journeys in excess of ten, twelve minutes at a time, a double-disc that never left you wearied,but rather energized by the stunning musicianship on display.

Breath

11. Shackleton, The Drawbar Organ / Music For the Quiet Hour

Electro-shaman Sam Shackleton has made some of the most bewitching electronic music of the past half-decade, and disappears completely down the rabbit hole with this double-disc offering consisting of a collection of EPs and an hour-long spoken word post-apocalyptic treatise. To state this album's inherent strangeness is to undersell its finer points: in today's age of instant gratification and flashes in the pan, Shackleton makes music to immerse yourself in, two hours of labyrinthine micro-beats, organ squelches and quaking bass to lead you on a journey into the netherland.

(For the) Love of Weeping

10. Tame Impala, Lonerism

Taking Kevin Parker's attention to detail to its logical extreme, Tame Impala's sophomore album was nearly dismissed as Same Impala, a near-identical composite of what made 2010's Innerspeaker such a delight: fuzzy guitar tones, analog synths and the classic dry drum sound. Here, he blows the sound up and continues his streak of writing inescapably catchy verses. The snaking vocal lines of "Elephant", "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" and "Why Won't They Talk To Me" are better than most pop bands could ever come up with, and of course the sounds are pure bliss at high volume. In a year when a lot of rock bands looked to the past for inspiration, few managed to capture the sound and feel quite as convincingly as these Aussies did.

Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

9. Deftones, Koi No Yokan

Can we still mention nu-metal without sounding gauche? I suppose, looking back from our vantage point, we could argue that Deftones were never seriously considered part of that movement: there was always something willfully artful about their approach, and by the time White Pony dropped, it was as similar to Chocolate Starfish as it was to No Strings Attached. Their output since 2000 has been never less than strong, and even after bassist Chi Cheng was left in a vehicular coma in 2008, they have kept their M.O. unchanged. Now, they have arguably peaked with this latest triumph, a near-perfect blend of their standard aggression, spacy experimentation, and Chino Moreno's inimitable art-rock vocals, all aided by a steady flow between tracks. It would be a shame to continue to underestimate them.

Romantic Dreams

8. Jam City, Classical Curves

Machinery meets more machinery in this startling vision of a strangely fun dystopian future from producer Jack Latham - mischievous robots come to life in a stainless steel factory and run amok, bleeping and smashing equipment, chased by drone motorcycles and guard dogs. It doesn't reach the avant-garde of full-out experimental music (this is like a modern day Art of Noise), but Latham uses the electronic realm to fight itself in a thrilling mash of noise, and creates a snapshot of the future with the nitrate of the past.

Club Thanz

7. The Invisible, Rispah

London band and industry stalwarts likely had something different planned out for the followup to their Mercury-nominated self-titled 2009 debut, but as it always does, life interfered. During the recording process, singer/guitarist Dave Okumu's mother passed away, and the Kenyan lamentations that women sang during the funeral inform much of the mood here - melancholy after the instrumental "A Particle of Love", joyous as the album's outro during "Protection." This is a much more introspective and haunted effort, seamlessly sequenced, and smoldering with the band's incredibly tight chemistry. The more upbeat songs from the debut are missed, but they are still capable of keeping true to their sound while pushing things forward. A sensational album that definitely needs to be more widely heard.

Protection

6. Jessie Ware, Devotion

What could easily have been a shameless "diva wailing over dubstep" cash-in, or worse, a watered-down Adele homage, instead turns into something a bit trickier to pin down. After making a name singing over productions by Joker and SBTRKT, Ware enlisted three guiding voices (Dave Okumu of the Invisible, producer Julio Bashmore, and singer-songwriter Kid Harpoon) to help mold a singular vision in this magnificent debut. The three strands are held together by Ware herself, who co-wrote all but one song, and uses her voice to suit the song; she never overpowers the material, and as such provides a sterling entry into today's new R&B scene, a bright beginning for a seasoned performer, and one to watch out for in years to come.

Still Love Me

5. Actress, R.I.P

Darren Cunningham's music as Actress has been a microscope of increasing strength. Starting with a broad purview of dubstep/techno, he has zoomed in on the beats to the point where he is looking at single pixels - R.I.P is inscrutably close, with only brief snatches of the familiar, leaving you adrift in space, connected to the music by the slightest gossamer strand. What is frustratingly out of reach at first becomes cherished the further you are willing to explore.

Ascending

4. John Talabot, âIN

Pleasuredome dance music, the ideal balance of dancefloor euphoria and headphone bliss, Talabot's eagerly awaited debut album so perfectly balances the melancholy strands of disco, house and indie dance that it could very well be the template for aspiring album-oriented producers for years to come. A rare dance album that is carefully crafted as a complete statement.

When the Past Was Present

3. UFOmammut, ORO: Opus Primum/Alter

Ninety-four minutes of epic doom/prog metal, split into ten tracks over two discs: Italian metal gods UFOmammut upped the stakes from their previous high point (the 45-minute concept about the first woman, 2010's Eve) and reached a new high point (wink). Descriptive words are lost on music like this: extreme, exhilarating, all you can really do is crank the volume. Memorably described by the Quietus as the soundtrack to Homer Simpson's famous chili-induced desert hallucination, this monolithic psychedelic metal opus burns with a seething fire, peaking and relaxing as it pleases, keeping you enthralled in its loving lava grip. Did I mention to turn up the volume? Don't expect to be the same after completing this journey.

Oroborus

2. Death Grips, The Money Store / NOLOVEDEEPWEB


Trying to choose the better of these two albums is like trying to decide between rolling in barbed wire or hot oil: both will give you pleasurable pain, with a different path taken. Called the only punk group that matters, Death Grips exploded straight from leftfield with last year's Exmilitary mixtape, and kept the fire raging on these two disparate long players: The Money Store is like dance music grown diseased, all atonal melodic bloops and abstract beats supporting a black hobo shouting obscenities, while NOLOVEDEEPWEB takes a more primal approach, minimal industrialism that exacerbates their rage, murky and dark. They leaked the latter album before its release; the action got them dropped from Epic; you get a sense they could not care less (that black bar on the cover is not covering a bunny rabbit), and you just wonder how in the hell L.A. Reid signed them in the first place. I'm not entirely sure how a man my age and general disposition would be moved to call such dissonance and abrasion some of his favorite music of the year - this is nasty shit I would not be comfortable showing to my wife - but in the right mood, this satisfies. We should be lucky to live in an age when such a startling and vital band lives up to their punk ethos.

The Fever (Aye Aye)


Come Up and Get Me

1. Burial, Kindred / Truant / Rough Sleeper


Music should not have to shoulder such burdens. To be the primary sense association with moments in a person's life, good or bad - it is unfair to ask so much of static things. Due to these associations however, music loses its stasis, its unmoving facade; it is these associations that bring it to life, change its shape and meaning, make it More. Anyone who has read my year-end reviews for the past few years has probably noticed a single name coming up repeatedly, but I assure you this is hardly a blind love-in for the shadowy producer, nor, with it's ample 32 minute runtime, is it "just an EP.". Taken on its own, Kindred represents a stunning leap forward, a change of pace and authority in Burial's music that nearly renders Untrue as some poppy past mistake, lightweight.

However, it is the aforementioned associations that truly give weight to music, and it is sheer coincidence (or just terrible luck), that this music was released within days of the greatest catastrophe of my life, the type of event that reaches its grip across anything close by, and smothers it in its unforgiving shellac. Before that event (three days before, to be exact), this was the triumphant, melancholy return of my favorite artist, making the kind of progression that creates legends. After the event, this was music to plunge me into the deepest waters - an unavoidable soundtrack to the saddest, most relieving, tragic and beautiful day of my life - something I would self-annihilatingly listen to so I could yearn to return to the time and place. I could even now barely consider ranking music that has become nearly religious in its meaning, but when the only way to pick the best is to go with what has changed you irrevocably, there could not be an equal.

Not content to leave things as they were, Burial announced and quickly released a follow-up EP late in the year, consisting of two further tracks 12+ minutes in length with four or five song ideas crammed into each: the title track is classic Burial taken on a ride from 5am introspection into cutting anxiety, while "Rough Sleeper" throws in organ and a music box melody that could be a decayed house piano refrain. Taken together, the two EPs are about the same length as Untrue and cover as much ground; this vignette style of music is a natural fit for Burial, and if there's no full-length coming anytime soon, I am quite content with these substantive bits of vinyl dispersed throughout the year.

Ashtray Wasp

Truant

Songs of the Year

Tame Impala - Elephant

Burial - Rough Sleeper

M.I.A. - Bad Girls

Death Grips - I've Seen Footage

Boddika & Joy Orbison - Swims

Usher - Climax

Two Fingers - Sweden

TNGHT - Higher Ground

A-Trak ft. Juicy J, Jim Jones, Flatbush Zombies, Flosstradamus & El-P - Piss Test (Remix)

Jessie Ware - 110%

Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe

Miguel - Adorn

Frank Ocean - Thinking Bout You

Kendrick Lamar - Swimming Pools (Drank)

Japandroids - The House That Heaven Built

Grimes - Oblivion

Frank Ocean - Sweet Life

Adele - Skyfall

Django Django - Life's a Beach

Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Know

Hot Chip - Night and Day

Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes (Short Film)

Frank Ocean - Pyramids

Todd Terje - Inspector Norse

Pearson Sound - Untitled

Psy - Gangnam Style (COME ON YOU KNOW THIS HAD TO HAPPEN)

Concerts of 2012

Strangely enough, this has never been a category that I include in my year-end write-up, even though I tend to see a handful of shows every year (usually this group of knights and gentlemen), so I will start it here. I was going to rank them, but then realized maybe I didn't see as many as I originally thought, so here they all are.

Coldplay, Scotiabank Saddledome, April 18

This was my third time seeing the British rockers (the first was in 2003, then again on their triumphant Viva la Vida tour in 2009), and the law of diminishing returns seems to have hit them. Their most recent album Mylo Xyloto barely even registered with me (keep in mind, they had the top album in 2002 on my list), but I was willing to go have a good time - they have always put on a good show, and did the same here. It was only the second date of their North American tour, and there were some kinks to work out, but the gimmicks were cool: the wristbands we were issued were controlled to simultaneously flash during songs (far too infrequently for my liking), and they did their standard B-stage performance in the section next to ours. They even played one of my favorite songs - and fucked it up royally. However, the new material is much too processed on record to translate well live, and the "appearance" of Rihanna was completely needless. However, I would definitely see them again.

Mastodon / Opeth, Macewan Hall, May 4

A double bill made in metal heaven. It was my second time in six months seeing Opeth, and they largely stuck to the same setlist of their proggier, more mellow tracks. Headliner was Mastodon was as brutal and efficient as you could hope for, the new material from The Hunter translating well. However, a little more communication would have been nice - nobody wants to wait until after the final song to hear the drummer offer thanks!

Van Halen, Scotiabank Saddledome, May 9

My goodness, what a doozy! The return of Van Halen - a longtime favorite of mine - with a brand-new album (albeit of songs written back in the 70s) and a full-fledged tour was something to warm my heart. Their soulless performance with Sammy in 2004 was best left forgotten; the 2007 semi-reunion with Diamond Dave was surprisingly great, and hopes were high for this show. DASHED! The band was in fine form, Eddie in particular looking healthy and relaxed, but whatever Dave drank or smoked before the show made for a vocal performance so terrible, it was amazing. I doubt there were five correct notes the whole time, the phrasing was too off to be intentional, and his hammy stage presence was surreal. I am glad I witnessed it, but I would have preferred to pay less for it.

Refused, Macewan Hall, August 24

The reunion of staunchly anti-capitalist Swedish punk band could have been greeted as a hypocritical cash-in on the tremendously successful reissue of their 1998 masterpiece The Shape of Punk to Come - except that the performances were as passionate as ever. Easily the best concert of the year, this was pure musicianship and passion, an exhilarating outpouring of emotions: I have rarely been happier to be jumping around in a pit, screaming along to the music of my forgotten youth.

M83, Macewan Hall, September 6

I have never held much stock in a lightshow - probably because I had never seen overwhelming ones - but from the word go, M83's show was a genuine rush, a perfect commingling of synth and sight. The creepy monster from the cover of Hurry Up, We're Dreaming started the show in the dark, shooting lasers from its fingertips, and then it was all sound. The pacing of the show felt off; placing a quiet vocal interlude leading to the encore right after the monstrous "Midnight City" made no sense, but overall it was a euphoric experience.

The Weeknd, Jubilee Centre, September 27

Buzz R&B singer Abel Tesfaye brought his live band to perform at the cavernous concert hall of the Jubilee, ensuring the best possible sound with a great vocal performance, some lightly utilized dance moves, and choice lighting. Among the sea of scantily clad girls sipping cocktails and beefed-up brovines, I had a realization: this is not my scene. His self-loathing indie R&B translates quite well to the stage though, though how much longer he can milk the same songs is to be seen.

Rush, Rexall Center, September 30

The holy triumvirate, in all their glory! Rush have been the most consistent touring bands of their time, and their shows are like well-oiled machines: the musicianship is flawless, the pacing is effortless; they are simply a joy to behold. Acting as their own opening band, they played an hour-long "warm up" set heavily favoring their 80's output, especially Power Windows, before a short break commenced the "proper" two-hour set showcasing their excellent new Clockwork Angels album. For the first time in their career, they even played with other musicians (the Clockwork Orchestra I believe they were called, a string octet). It was a great show, though I could say more about Edmonton's general lack of enthusiasm, especially in the upper bowl where we were obligated to sit for three hours, after a three-hour drive and another three hours of driving to come.

Smashing Pumpkins, Scotiabank Saddledome, October 4

The 90's are long gone. The Pumpkins - in the guise of Billy Corgan and his band of replacements - remain. To be fair, the talent he has now is arguably better than the original Pumpkins (barring Jimmy Chamberlin), and Oceania is an impressive-enough album to be getting so late into their career. Which is good, because the show started off with it. The entire album, played front to back. Classic move from a typical ego! The crowd wasn't overly happy, but they stuck through it (my two cents, it sounded just fine) and were rewarded with the classics they came to hear: "Disarm". "Ava Adore". "1979". "Cherub Rock". "Zero". "Today". All the classics of my youth and the aching pining I felt for it were conjured up live and put a big smile on my face. It was also cool that the concert was free!

Paul McCartney, Rexall Center, November 29

Top off the year right with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a living Beatle live, drawing on his bottomless well of classic songs, playing uninterrupted for three hours; there could not have been a better concert to see, ever. Sure, there was a little sticky situation with our seating and being forced to occupy them instead of standing and cheering like any normal person watching ONE OF THE BEATLES would, or having to take Paul's supposed piety and hammy stage-acting at face value (oh, here is a special video starring some people called Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman), but you quickly overcome that sourness and remember the songs you watched Paul play. To list them all would take forever (you can view the setlist here if you wish). Needless to say, hearing some of these gave me chills and thrills and a childish grin. This is a concert opportunity that should not be passed up.