Archives for posts with tag: Swans

Michael Gira

An awkward silence hung over the Birmingham audience as Swans took to the stage, either too polite, or too intimidated to applaud the arrival of Michael Gira and his legendary New York Experimental/Noise Rock band. It was the last moment of calm and silence that anyone in The Library would hear for over two hours. As Swans’ sucked the air from the room, any traditional concepts of melody or rhythm went with it, and the very idea of verse-chorus song structure probably would’ve been met with a sly smirk.

They opened with Gira shaking the room with his impossibly deep baritone, chanting “there are millions and millions of stars in your eyes” over a hauntingly shrill and sparse rhythm, sometimes singing it off-mic as he drifted around the stage with his own eyes closed. The rest of the band met his volume as they violently snapped through “Mother of the World”, a panting menace of a song from The Seer, Swans equally demented 2012 album. They ripped into it with such fervour that several earplugless individuals immediately fled the barrier.

Swans’ six man line-up ranges from your standard stern faced rhythm guitarist, bassist and drummer, to the more nebulous and hard to define multi-instrumentalist. Thor Harris, who lived up to his name by playing bare chested, literally provided Swans’ bells and whistles, along with brass and fierce percussion. Chris Pravdica provided the punishing bass catalyst of “Coward”, coercing the rest of the rhythm section into the songs intense severity. Gira sang and spat out the unnerving lyrics amongst the troubled rhythms, shouting: “I don’t know you / I can’t use you / Put your knife in me”. He seemed to be aware of every noise and note that each of his band members were making or playing; he would repeatedly beckon to them for more volume, or place his guitar down and conduct their corrosive cacophony with his convulsive dancing.

They played long and unhurried versions of their songs, indulging in long abstract noise rock sections that frequently pushed song lengths well past the 20 minute mark. They would play the same earth shattering mantric refrains until the sense altering volume finally began to white out. After 90 minutes Gira said that there set was only half over, it’s hard to imagine he was joking, and he only found time for one more song before the 11pm curfew.

Their dirge of anguished violent noise was enough to set your brain on fire, engulfing it as it found a form of ecstasy within Swans’ transcendent onslaught, becoming enamoured and alive with frisson as their volume shook your bones, and Gira spouted what must’ve been demonic tongues. The awkward silence had transformed to loud applause by their set’s end, and the band relieved the haunting tension by taking uncharacteristically playful bows.

It’s so easy to call the noise produced by some of music’s loudest bands a ‘wall of sound’. Any band who push their volume far into the red have probably had their live set described this way, but for Swans it just doesn’t feel like an apt description. The noise they created on The Library’s stage didn’t feel like an isolating wall, it didn’t block out audience, it enveloped them. It felt like you were within it, hurtling with it through dark and unsettling scenes, becoming ever more willing to hand yourself over to its all-consuming power, not even caring that it was turning anything caught in its wake to dust.

5/5

Love This Giant

50. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
A brass band playing funk beats and grooves is a hard sell on paper, but the addition of two musicians as great and inventive as Annie Clark and David Byrne turn the concept into a fresh and exciting album. It’s not without its oddities, and Walt Whitman finally receives his first Indie Rock songwriting credit for “The Forest Awakes”. The first world problem lyrics of  “Dinner for Two”, sound great as Byrne at Clark harmonise over the tabla and brass groove. The heavy bass drum stomp of “Who” is powerful and irresistible, even the silly grunts of “huh, ha!” work. This collaboration could have been an awkward mess, but Love This Giant is a strong album that’s all the better for its gimmicks and oddities.
Best Songs: “Who”, “Weekend in the Dust”, “Dinner for Two”.

49 interstellar
49. Frankie Rose – Interstellar
As a former Dum Dum Girl and Vivian Girl, Frankie Rose should know how to make an excellent girl group revivalist album better than anyone. But on Interstellar, her second album, but first solely under her own name, she breaks away from eye liner pop and aims for the skies. Interstellar stays close to its title with both the ethereal “Pair of Wings”, and the sparkly and poppy “Know Me”. The clear bass grooves accentuate her heavenly and glossy multi tracked vocals on “Gospel / Grace”. Frankie, unlike her former bandmates, isn’t content to just bathe her songs in the sun. So she floats off into space, where she can that the sun is just a star.
Best Songs: “Know Me”, “Gospel / Grace”, “Night Swim”.

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48. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
Americana wasn’t the Neil Young & Crazy Horse album I wanted. It was the first album Neil Young recorded with Crazy Horse in nine years, but it was far too weird and conceptual to be enjoyable. But their second release of the year, Psychedelic Pill, instantly sounded far more promising, but it’s possible I got too much of what I wanted. This is a Crazy Horse-ass Crazy Horse album. Almost an hour and half long, spread over only nine songs, one of which is just an alternate version. The opener “Driftin’ Back” is a daunting 27 minutes long, and wastes little time into plunging you into a long meandering guitar jam. It’s a patience testing ride, but its peak are excellence and after a half an hour within the mid tempo guitar noodling you start to miss it as it begins to fall apart. The briefer and prideful “Born in Ontario” is far more digestible, and “Twisted Road” is Young’s joyous celebration of the music he loves. Out of the two versions of the title track, the tacked on Alternate Mix is my favourite, as it’s far less overproduced. The highlight is undoubtedly the colossal “Walk Like a Giant”, with its spaghetti western whistling motif, and long guitar jams that are almost on par with “Cowgirl in the Sand”. Young embodies the giants’ stomp with earthy guitar distortion. This mammoth album proves that the stomp of this aging rock giant can still cause tremors.
Best Songs: “Walk Like a Giant”, “Ramada Inn”, “Born in Ontario”.

47 Swans
47. Swans – The Seer
Even the growing intensity of opener “Lunacy” cannot prepare you for the dark journey that is The Seer. Which is two hours in length with three of the track near or over the 20 minute mark. The most accessible it gets is the dark funk of “The Seer Returns”, in which you can imagine the haunted sly smile on Michael Gira’s face as he sings “You have arrived”. But even that is just the threatening cool down following the 32 minute title track, which features long maddening instrumental interludes that only break for Gira to sing his mantric lyrics;“I see it all, I see it all, I see it all” repeatedly. Even the track’s sparser sections don’t set your mind at ease, with a ragged harmonica playing under shrill strings as Gira returns to growl indecipherably in a possibly made up language. It’s an incredible track, and it makes up almost a quarter of the album. “Mother of the World” is at its most powerful when it’s only, two guitar notes, snare snaps and sweaty panting. This dark and primal album will likely be remembered as a landmark in Swans’ long career.
Best Songs: “Mother of the World”, “The Seer”, “The Seer Returns”.

46 Grizzly Bear
46. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Shields is a less poppy and more ponderous work compared to Grizzly Bear’s near crossover and breakout album Veckatimest. Reviews seemed quick to call it their difficult fourth album and note the lack of a song as immediate as “Two Weeks”. But it heads in as just a rich and interesting direction. Its solid and less dreamy production add more weight to their songs. The steely guitar strums of “Yet Again” and surprise guitar freakout outro sound are far coarser than Edward Droste’s gentle vocals. The Daniel Rossen fronted opener “Sleeping Ute” has crashing and lavish instrumentation, with booming percussion and a guitar sound that goes from clear picking to warped and twisted chaos. The classical guitar breakdown is gorgeous and allows the aching lyrics to resonate. “Speak in Rounds” has an unfaltering acoustic guitar line and one of the albums best choruses. Grizzly Bear do not chase after success, but it did help make Shields their most complex and absorbing album.
Best Songs: “Sleeping Ute”, “Speak in Rounds”, “Yet Again”.

45 King Tuff

45. King Tuff – King Tuff
2012 was an incredible year for garage, alternative and straight up rock music. So good in fact, that even King Tuff, a relatively outsiderish and overlooked figure, recorded a great rock album. That seems to have been his goal, not to revolutionise the long established genre, but to just make a solid and enjoyable album. He succeeded, how can anyone dislike the self-explanatory lyrics of “Alone & Stoned”, or the acoustic guitar hoedown and handclaps of “Baby Just Break”? Glam rock flavours emerge on “Swamp of Love” and “Bad Thing” is an excellent adrenaline shot of power pop. It might be a by-the-numbers album, but it’s easily as good as its influences.
Best Songs: “Bad Thing”, “Hit & Run”, “Alone & Stoned”.

44 Grimes

44. Grimes – Visions
This is Claire Boucher’s third album under this name, but she didn’t really become Grimes,the sort of dorky, sort of stylish pop artist, until this year. Visions was one of the year’s breakouts (on an Indie level at least). It was the album that finally took the dead eyed fans of her ambient music, to the dance floor. “Genesis” and “Oblivion” are perfect pop singles, and Boucher’s high voice blissfully weaves between the first song’s serene synths and the second’s aggressive danceability. Echoey 16-bit-bass scores the punchy “Circumambient”, which Boucher meets with manipulated high shrieks. With Visions, Grimes found a way to breathe life and energy into her electronic music.
Best Songs: “Genesis”, “Oblivion, “Circumambient”.

43 torche

43. Torche – Harmonicraft
Torche made a breed of metal on Harmonicraft, that is as bright and colourful as the cover art. “Letting Go” still shows elements of Sludge Metal but, unlike most songs in the genre, it doesn’t make you wait for the riff to hit after the opening snare shot. The riffs are weighty but move with a great and relentless momentum as the band lean into the groove of “Kicking” and the frantic barrage of “Kiss Me Dudely”. “Walk It Off” is a good argument for it being a pop album drenched in guitar riffs, the crunchy tone provides just as many hooks as vocalist Steve Brooks does. Harmonicraft will blow your speakers out, and leave its pop metal shrapnel in you forever.
Best Songs: “Walk It Off”, Kiss Me Dudely”, “Skin Moth”

42 kendrick lamar

42. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
Kendrick Lamar brings Rosecrans to life on good kid, m.A.A.d city. He fills and populates it, and by the time “Compton” finishes, (or more likely; one its various bonus tracks) you’ll feel like you were there, cruising around with young Kendrick and his friends listening to Young Jeezy on the car radio during “The Art of Peer Pressure”. The track is rap as storytelling, with the repeated phrase “me and the homies” highlighting the spoken word lyrics. It’s one of the many tracks that see Lamar revisit his misguided teenage years. He raps in a high prepubescent voice on the second section of “m.A.A.d city”, with a nervous hesitant energy in his voice. Gunshots rip through the song and Kendrick asks: “If I told you I killed a nigga at 16, would you believe me?” as his voice drifts from left to right and the pitch becomes more and more distorted. Not all of his lyrics are as serious as wondering if everyone who had the same childhood as him is seen as a criminal. “Backstreet Freestyle” is fun and borderline ridiculous. It’s also, strangely, one of 2012’s two songs that feature a lyric about having a dick big enough to fuck the world. “Money Trees” is almost R&B, and it has the albums best chorus. Lamar looks back on his childhood in Rosecrans with fondness and regret, and even though some of the streets still instill fear, it’s fun to revisit it with him.
Best Songs: “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “Money Trees”, “m.A.A.d city”.

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41. Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
The opener of Natasha Khan’s third album The Haunted Man; “Lilies”, sees her joyful proclaiming “thank god I’m alive”. It’s a vulnerable moment that’s completely free of irony. It seems to be a bold attempt for her to be more emotionally raw and shed the theatrics of her first two albums. The album ventures between dance beats and piano ballads, but her lyrics all have the same emotional depth. Khan plays a poetic sex kitten on the slow ascending synth groove of “Oh Yeah”, and a weepy piano ballad songstress on  “Laura”. She’s both personas, and neither, but she’s the woman who can bare the weight of an adult man on her shoulders. She explores the cover arts theme on the title track, a male choir helping her build to another triumphant climax. Khan may never settle on one persona, but The Haunted Man sees her getting closer to complete emotional honesty.
Best Songs: “The Haunted Man”, “Oh Yeah”, “Laura”.

40 Pallbearer

40. Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction
Pallbearer don’t take the ‘doom’ part of Doom Metal lightly. They seem to have real belief in it, and you can imagine the tears rolling down their wiry beards. There isn’t a morsel of hope in Sorrow and Extinction, the crushing and oppressive sludge riffs are bleak and hypnotic. The way vocalist Brett Campbell extends the lyrics “no more hope, no more dawn” on “Devoid of Redemption” is incredible reminiscent of Master of Reality era Ozzy Osbourne. A likeness made even clearer as Campbell ends the song by defeatedly singing “No Void” over and over. Eight minutes is the shortest track length for this five track album. Every track is a building slow burn, wrought with despair. The acoustic chords of opener “Foreigner” melt under a lava flow of riffs. Pallbearer play from the gallows, and every strum is a loud deathknell.
Best Songs: “Foreigner”, “Devoid of Redemption”, “An Offering of Grief”.

39 Exitmusic

39. Exitmusic – Passage
Exitmusic were the best opening band I saw this year. I was immediately captivated by Aleska Palladino’s stunning lead vocals, so much so that I didn’t even recognise her as Boardwalk Empire’s Angela Darmody, despite it being a show that I love. Luckily they were just about to release Passage, an album that captures that same magic. Palladino beautiful voice blooms on the dark and poppy “The Modern Age”, it fully opens up for the powerhouse chorus as she sings some transcendent “Woah, oh”’s. The stormy “Sparks of Light” isn’t far from industrial, its troubled facade is cut by distant piano and the cold fog from her voice. It’s is a slow and intense album, and the moments where its unignorable beauty breaks through are breathtaking.
Best Songs: “Sparks of Light”, “The Modern Age”, “The Night”.

38 Killer mike

38. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
I can appreciate R.A.P. Music partly for being one of the year’s rap albums that isn’t overlong, and for not overdoing it with guest verses and bonus tracks. It’s a lean, aggressive album that doesn’t pull any punches. Killer Mike’s lyrics are resolutely political, and the brutal presidential evisceration “Reagan” is not only a takedown of Ronald Reagan and republican politics, but of the whole concept of a President. Not even Obama is spared. “Don’t Die” goes hard, Mike is at his most angry as he deals with dirty racial profiling police. He plays a violent paranoid narrator, and his lyrics seem to be an exaggeration of his own feelings, and a parody of the multiple rap songs that are in the same vein as “Fuck Tha Police”. He openly worships rap music on the closing title track, and this uncompromising rap album should be enough to make you do the same.
Best Songs: “Don’t Die”, “Reagan”, “Southern Fried”.

37 jessie ware

37. Jessie Ware – Devotion
The run of tracks beginning with “Wildest Moments” and ending with “Sweet Talk” on Jessie Ware’s Devotion, is one of my favourite run of songs of the year. It’s a streak of seven great pop songs, that actually sound like pop songs. They’re not disguised with guitar distortion and don’t feature aggressive EDM influences like the majority of this year’s top 40 hits do. They’re just well sung, intelligent pop songs, that are focussed completely on Ware’s sensual and soulful voice. “Sweet Talk” is sensuous and her lyrics simmer with the guitar licks. She knows to hold back on “Running”, and goes through several gentle versions of the line “And I’m lost again, it keeps happening” before she finally shows off her full vocal range. Her vocal restraint, gives us a taste of her frustration with failed romance. The robotic “Still Love Me” flashes some Kate Bushisms, and the classic lyrical personification in “Night Light” results in a delightful chorus hook. Ware is trying to be a pop star, and understands that she doesn’t need to be larger than life.
Best Songs: “Night Light”, “Running”, “Swan Song”.

36 death grips

36. Death Grips – The Money Store
The first time I listened to this album I called it quits after only two songs, finding it exhausting and abrasive. But even after that abandoned listen the rapid fire vocal hook from “Get Got”, stuck with me and forced me to return. I made it all the way through the second time, and came to love the gritty and transgressive hooks that MC Ride spits. It’s driven by the propulsive presence of Zach Hill who provides fucked up sampled beats and fearless live percussion. Their destructive lyrics paint MC Ride as threatening figure, especially on the nightmarish “Hacker”. The Money Store is ugly and unfriendly, and you can almost smell the stench of blood in the air. But it has a dark allure, and those drawn in by it will carry its addictive hooks with them, like track marks on their arms. Stay noided.
Best Songs: “I’ve Seen Footage”, “Hustle Bones”, “Hacker”.

35 fear fun

35. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
This album has a romantic origin that may or may not be true, it’s a great story but you always have to be a little suspicious when someone adopts a new moniker. The story goes that J. Tillman had a pre-emptive midlife crisis, quit Fleet Foxes, climbed into a van loaded with drugs and hit the road with no clear destination. As his mind began to settle he began to write a novel and found himself again, and at some point his creative impulsive returned to music and he started recording as Father John Misty. Fear Fun is a loose document of this transformative period of his life, and on opener “Funtimes in Babylon” he sings “Look out Hollywood, here I come” as he finally finds direction. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” has a loud stomping drumbeat and steely guitar scraping; it’s an excellent song that is hard to separate from its video. He sings in a high and soft falsetto on the slow dreamlike “Nancy from Now On”, and experiments with a more direct country twang on “Well, You Can Do It Without Me”, he blows his voice out in a way that works.This was an album that Tillman needed to make, and you can hear him finding himself,
Best Songs: “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, “Funtimes in Babylon”, “Only Son of the Ladies Man”

34 dark dark dark

34. Dark Dark Dark – Who Needs Who
Nona Marie Invie’s voice is like smoke wisps amongst her band’s piano heavy Folk music, it makes patterns in the air and is delicate enough to be blown away, but strong enough to linger. It’s Dark Dark Dark’s not so secret weapon, they have let their focus drift toward Invie and her piano playing. So much so that their various brass and string instruments play mostly supporting roles on this new album. “Without You” is one of the few songs that doesn’t open with piano chords, swapping them instead for accordion keys. “Meet in the Dark” is accompanied by plucking bass and a mournful accordion motif, but it’s Invie’s singing of “I’m humming so low you can’t hear me now” that is the most tragically beautiful. Dark Dark Dark played to their strength with Who Needs Who, and made an effortlessly great collection of songs.
Best Songs: “Who Needs Who”, “It’s a Secret”, “Meet in the Dark”.

33 Jack White

33. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Just over a year after the official dissolution of The White Stripes, Jack White finally felt comfortable with returning to centre stage. He wasn’t exactly inactive, but in 2012 he proved himself a master at picking out colour schemes, and released an album with just his name on it. First single “Love Interruption” is a stripped down tender duet with Ruby Amanfu, they’re accompanied only with clarinet, acoustic guitar and light piano chords. The closest White Stripes album to Blunderbuss is the similarly piano heavy Get Behind Me Satan. But White is now free of the minimalistic White Stripes set up, and readily brings in multiple sessions musicians to play on his album, which results in a loud full band, who sound great as they tear through the straightforward rock of “Sixteen Saltines”. He flirts his guitar chops on “Take Me With You When You Go”, a light piano rock song that White upshifts with rubbery guitar and yippy vocals. You always get the sense that Jack White could just throw it all away and do anything, and that’s what makes Blunderbuss, a great, mellow and mature album, such a surprise.
Best Songs: “Love Interruption”, “Hypocritical Kiss”, “Take Me With You When You Go”.

32 thee oh sees

32. Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II
Thee Oh Sees are a staple in the San Francisco garage rock scene, and are celebrated as one of its best live acts. Their explosive and frantic music has always had an edge of psychedelia, but on their newest album they’ve taken another tab and fully embraced it. On the hip shaking “Wax Face” John Dwyer croons in a weary high falsetto, and adds punchy and sunshiney “ba ba ba bah”’s, but it’s followed by the paralyzing title track, with its draining guitars and dusty percussion. “Wicked Park” is like a bad trip bedtime story and “Will We Be Scared?” is filled with taunting “la la la”’s and rippling flute. “Lupine Dominus” is the album’s best track, with dual warped guitar leads and sugary vocal hooks. Their music is still a rush, but this time around you came feel the chemical’s pumping in your brain.
Best Songs: “Lupine Dominus”, “Goodnight Baby”, “Hang a Picture”.

31 Fresh

31. The Fresh & Onlys – Long Slow Dance
The only explanation for The Fresh & Onlys being lumped together with acts like Sic Alps, Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, is Geography. Yes they’re from San Francisco and they play guitars, but their music takes a far more gentle and poppy approach. Their lyrics are sweet, and Tim Cohen’s voice is almost baroque when it’s tinged with reverb on “Yes or No”. Opener “20 Days & 20 Nights” has a surf guitar line that’s still paddling, and a classic jangly solo. The title track offers some of the albums best lyrics: “You supply the innocent mind/ And I’ll bring the guilty heart/ And borne together we’ll make the perfect romance”, “You be the purest of wine/ And I’ll be the dirty cup”. They’re sweet and poetic. Conjuring beautiful imagery and an idyllic romance that Cohen feels unworthy of. You can put them in whatever scene you want, but Long Slow Dance establishes them as a band who favours careful chords over slamming their guitars into the backline.
Best Songs: “Long Slow Dance”, “Dream Girls”, “20 Days & 20 Night”.

30 Pile

30. Pile – Dripping
It’s never clear if Pile’s vocalist, Rick Maguire, even used a microphone during the recording of Dripping. During “Grunt Like a Pig” it sounds as if he just shouting as the band plays, and letting the drum mics capture as much of his cries as they can. I’d bet that their songs were recorded with the band just playing together in a room, with little or no overdubs. It works perfectly for their downtuned heavy riffs, their crackling post hardcore sound is close to Fugazi’s, and they have an organic and shambolic sound. The oscillating chug of “Prom Song” builds to a shining guitar solo as the rest of the band fall in on themselves. The rapid and inaudible vocals of “Grunt Like a Pig” are sung by Maguire like he’s running out of breath, as the clangy trembling bass suffocates him. His voice is powerful enough with or without a microphone, he has great rock shout that carries over the crumbling melodies.
Best Songs: “Grunt Like a Pig”, “Baby Boy”, “Prom Song”.

29 Nachtmystium

29. Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine
Nachtmystium use Black and Death metal as a loose blue print for their inventive sixth album. They still mostly scoff at melody, and you’ll still find the same tinny guitar tone and husky vocal growl that puts so many people off of Black Metal. But midway through opener “Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem” it breaks into a snappy drumbeat, the first sign of a less grating form of Black Metal. The cymbal smashes on the title track somehow sound like a buzzsaw, but the song finds semblance in a glorious heavy breakdown with a messy guitar solo. “Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams” is stadium rock sung through a Black Metal veil, and Blake Judd’s outro cries of “lost in this dream” are punctuated with tearing guitar. Judd sings like a lone rabid choir boy on “The Lepers of Destitution”, growls with the skittish synth of “Decimation, Annihilation” and sound appropriately demonic as he snarls “fall to hell” on the morose “Give Me the Grave”. Silencing Machine is a fantastic album, a heavy metal sub-genre cross breed.
Best Songs: “Decimation, Annihilation”, “Give Me the Grave”, “Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams”.

28 converge

28. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
At this point Converge are Hardcore veterans, the band was founded in 1990 by vocalist Jacob Bannon and guitarist Kurt Ballou. They started young, and are still making frantic and crazed albums. All We Love We Leave Behind is their 8th violent barrage, and they haven’t calmed down at all. Ben Koller eviscerates his snare on “Aimless Arrow” and the panicked onslaught of “Tender Abuse”. The oozing guitar opening of “Sadness Comes Home” is a goosebump inducing album highlight, and the rest of the track’s guitar work is faultless, from the coarse riffs to the sprinting guitar loops. “A Glacial Pace” isn’t as slow as the title suggest, but it has a pulverizing groove compared to most of the shorter and scragglier tracks on this brilliant and convulsive album.
Best Songs: “Sadness Comes Home”, “Aimless Arrow”, “Trespasses”.

27 holograms

27. Holograms – Holograms
The thick accented, synth lead, post punk music of Holograms, made for one of the year’s best debut albums. The Stockholm four piece have turned their dismal financial situations into a band trait, these money troubles are no joke, and when I saw them they asked the audience for a place to crash that night. Their problems fill the album with a desperate energy and longing. Their broken, beaten synth turns “Chasing My Mind” into a defeated and hellacious New Wave song. The band member’s share vocal duties and the group vocals of the bouncy “ABC City” makes them sound like a gang. “Memories of Sweat” is foreboding and gritty with a colourless outro, but “Fever” is mostly cheery with a saccharine synth hook. The album gives you the sense that playing their excellent Post Punk music was Holograms’ only reprieve. But hopefully, as more people begin to take notice, their desperation will fade.
Best Songs: “ABC City”, “Fever”, “Stress”.

26 The Men

26. The Men – Open Your Heart
The blistering, lung hacking, post hardcore punk rock of 2011s Leave Home was fantastic. But it purged The Men of all their bile, and Open Your Heart moves them into a straight full throated rock direction, where the take on the drunken sentiment and power pop sensibilities of bands like The Replacements. “Turn It Around” has a wild guitar harmony lead and ends with a flurry of drum fills. The guitar hum doesn’t even die down for the opening drum patterns of “Animal”. The longform “Oscillation” bursting with melody by its conclusion, and the raucous title track shudders with bass and napalm guitar strikes. “Please Don’t Go Away” has a weeping and gorgeous left channel guitar solo, it’s a solo with a hectic and thrashing emotional arc. “Candy” is their ballad, with jangling guitar, deep bass melodies, and an immediate chorus hook: “When I hear the radio play I don’t care that it’s not me”. For Open Your Heart, The Men tuned up but didn’t turn down the volume.
Best Songs: “Please Don’t Go Away”, “Turn It Around”, “Oscillation”.

25 Lower Dens

25. Lower Dens – Nootropics
“Immortal, electric, infinite, universe, animal, soulless place, controlled by emotion” sings Jana Hunter on “Nova Anthem”, over a bare synth and drum beat. I’m not going to offer up an in depth interpretation of the song’s lyrics, as they don’t have the same haunting quality in writing. Hunter’s lyrics seem to be focused more on imagery than they are story. They’re possibly just evocative words that let her voices nebulous beauty wash over you, which it does with the swirling guitar distortion of “Propogation”, and with high piercing notes on the pulsing “Lamb”. The proggy “Brains” and “Stem” have a gentle momentum, the quickfire mumbling harmonies of Hunter and bassist Geoff Graham become vibrant flashes. Nootropics is a patient album that stays elusive, but it’s a joy to just marvel in its staggering beauty.
Best Songs: “Brains”, “Nova Anthem”, “Propagation”.

24 Bob Mould

24. Bob Mould – Silver Age
Silver Age, handily, arrived shortly after Bob Mould’s Sugar reissues. A listen to the landmark Copper Blue will instantly put you in the right frame of mind for his new album; which is a return to the sound of his Alternative Rock/Power Pop infused 90s music. Mould goes hard throughout the whole album, and the presence of Superchunk and The Mountain Goats drummer, Jon Wurster is instantly welcome, as the hard drums of opener “Star Machine” pound in your chest. “The Descent” is a power pop knockout with apologetic lyrics, the last verse and chorus with its subliminal background vocals is so good that I’d readily forgive Mould for anything. The album is a roaring victory lap Mould. A celebration of a career that may have just gotten even longer.
Best Songs: “The Descent”, “Star Machine”, “Fugue State”.

23 Lotus Plaza

23. Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance
Lockett Pundt’s second solo offering has to outshine two giant looming shadows. His work in his main band Deerhunter, and the solo work of fellow bandmate Bradford Cox. But Pundt’s never seems set on breaking away from the music he and Cox are known for. The stick clacks on “Strangers” begin his collage of loose jangly pop songs. He plays a breezy Indie Pop jam with “Dusty Rhodes”, and the vision blurring guitar opening of “White Galactic One” settles into an easy groove. The stirring “Monoliths” starts the more measured and ambient side of the album. On which he makes use of repetitive groundbed hooks, like the shimmering strings of “Eveningness”. Pundt doesn’t exactly break away from the sound established by Deerhunter, but he proves himself a great sonic songsmith in his own right.
Best Songs: “Monoliths”, “Eveningness”, “Dusty Rhodes”.

22 Goat

22. Goat – World Music
Sweden produced one of the year’s best and craziest Psych rock albums, but World Music sounds like it could have come from anywhere. Goat, the mysterious band?/collective?/solo project? may have planned that, evidenced by the perfect and aware album name. “Disco Fever” has a guitar line that wouldn’t be out of place on a James Brown song. “Goathead” has tribal drums and screeching double tracked female vocal harmonies, its high octane and delightfully overblown guitar solo is ruinous. The frenetic bhangra beats of “Run to Your Mama” and the maddening sax of “Let It Bleed” are both layered over snappy guitar rhythms. Their varied beats and instrumentation makes World Music an almost overwhelming astral journey. It’s a jazzy, funky, folky, and frankly, batshit album.
Best Songs: “Goathead”, “Let It Bleed”, “Goatman”.

21 Foxygen

21. Foxygen – Take the Kids Off Broadway
At 36 minutes in length this debut EP from Foxygen is long enough to be an album. But the duo’s Jonathon Rado and Sam France are clearly music lovers, and are probably waiting until they have more varied ideas before committing to an idea as bold as an album. Take the Kids Off Broadway is an excited work, the two young and eager songwriters readily craft this messy and disjointed throwback. It’s a furious reappropriation of British invasion music, they shred up all their favourite songs and thunder through them. Even when you adjust to the bonkers production the hooks still catch you off guard, their assembled in a way that shouldn’t even make sense and “Make It Known” hits you with: “I’m willing to change ohh woahh” and “I wanna talktalktalk… talk to voices”. The title track throws you off balance with cooing vocal shouts and christmas bells, and they kick away the piano stool with no warning on “Why Did I Get Married?”. “Teenage Alien Blues” is a druggy 10 minute loose blues odyssey containing amorous backing vocals and assaultive spiraling breakdowns. The ‘songs’ are really just ideas; it’s an overstuffed and busy dump truck of noise. But it sounds incredible; as if they just let two excitable music loving kids go mad.
Best Songs: “Make It Known”, “Take the Kids Off Broadway”, “Teenage Alien Blues”.

20 Frank Ocean

20. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Frank Ocean was one of the years true breakouts, a crossover success. His memorable contribution to 2011s Watch the Throne promised it, then a much linked and beautifully written (sort of) coming out letter pretty much sealed it. He quelled the hype and build up by just releasing his debut album, Channel Orange, early on iTunes. Surprisingly, parts of the album sound Lo-Fi, the songs switch from lavish produced smooth R&B songs like “Thinkin Bout You”, to rough bootleg demos, like “Fertilizer”. The transitions come with tactile clicks, forming a loose concept album as you flick through the multiple channels. Ocean’s voice is at its best when he is the most emotionally open, and on taxicab confessional “Bad Religion” he passionately voices his anguish over an unrequited love. “Pyramids” is the albums self-aware and self-important electro centrepiece, and “Lost” has the best beat and most addictive hooks.
Best Songs: “Thinkin Bout You”, “Lost”, “Sweet Life”.

19 Novella

19. Novella – Novella EP
The rupturing left channel guitar solo on “Eat Yourself”, the opener of Novella’s self-titled debut EP is one of my favourite musical moments of the year. The whole band snaps into place for its bleeding melody. Their loud shoegaze guitar crunch makes their influences clear, and the heady “You’re Not That Cool” is clearly indebted to The Brian Jonestown Massacre. “Don’t Believe Ayn Rand” opens with a grimey and jangly guitar line, with vocals that stay soft as the chaotic outro looms. Their songs sound as if they belong on cassette tape, they have the kind of moments you want to obsessively rewind, not even caring as the sound grows more worn and fuzzy.
Best Songs: “Eat Yourself”, “He’s My Morning”, “Don’t Believe Ayn Rand”.

18 Baroness

18. Baroness – Yellow & Green
I’m reluctant to call my favourite Metal album of the year Metal. Baroness sound has been gradually mellowing since their first album, and at this point they’re pretty much a hard rock band. But they’re still Metal enough to embrace the genre’s dumb love for thematics, and they themed their double album around colours. With a distinct Yellow half and a distinct Green half. Double albums are ambitious, they ask a lot of the listener and of the artist. Vocalist John Baizley has said in interview that he intended for the two halves to be able to stand alone, and he expected the listeners to listen to them in seperate sittings. Well I’ve never been able to make myself hit pause, and not jump straight into Green the second the whirring distortion of “Eula” finishes on Yellow. But that is partly because of “Green Theme”, detonates a warbling guitar riff with thunderous snare shots, it always causes a tidal wave of frisson. Yellow’s “Take My Bones Away” is a galloping rocker with squealing guitar melodies and a surprise almost synth rock breakdown. Yellow is clearly more of a rock album, as Green has more interludes and instrumentals. It’s a masterfully sequenced album, whether taken in halves or as a whole.
Best Songs: “Take My Bones Away”, “Green Theme”, “Board Up the House”.

17 Titus

17. Titus Andronicus – Local Business
“I know the world’s a scary place-that’s why I hide behind a hairy face” sings Titus Andronicus’ newly clean shaven frontman; Patrick Stickles. He’s become far less allegorical with his lyrics, on their second album, The Monitor, he sounded like a Punk Rock Ken Burns. His beard shield lyrics could only be autobiographical, and on Local Business he writes with honesty about himself and what he’s seen, instead of staging re-enactments. Rock is still the bands main business, and in “My Eating Disorder” Stickles throws in Iggy Pop’s “Say Yeah Yeah!” from The Stooges “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell”, and “(I Am the) Electric Man” has a groove that could’ve been on Some Girls. “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus” is the happiest song ever recorded about a horrific car accident. They play a loose form of Punk Rock, and closer “Tried to Quit Smoking” is almost longer than an Off! album. Local Business touches on darker topics, but makes sure you still have a good time.
Best Songs: “Ecce Homo”, “My Eating Disorder”, “Still Life with Hot Deuce and Silver Platter”.

16 La Sera

16. La Sera – Sees the Light
Vivian Girls’ Katy Goodman provided one of this years most enjoyable and unchallenging albums under her solo La Sera moniker.  It’s a quick half hour of sunny pop songs, but it detours into shadier straightforward rock with the punky and fuzzy “Please Be My Third Eye” and “How Far We’ve Come”. Her soft voice and high harmonies lend the album an amazing personality, she sounds great as she lazily sings along with the guitar lead on “It’s Over Now”. The albums guitar sound is just a rich in character as her voice: “Love That’s Gone” features a flexing guitar line as she lovingly dismisses a former partner, and “Real Boy” has a playful sunstroked guitar twang. Goodman writes excellent pop songs and Sees the Light is the years most plainly delightful album.
Best Songs: “Love That’s Gone”, “Please Be My Third Eye”, “Real Boy”.

15 hot chip

15. Hot Chip – In Our Heads
You’ve always been able to rely on Hot Chip for some excellent Synthpop singles, and their fifth album In Our Heads may be their strongest offering yet. Their influences are routed in a cynicism-free era of dance music, and they use a wide range of instruments to make an album that has disco, funk, and dance influences, all with an innocent Hot Chip edge due to the soft vocals of Alexis Taylor. “How Do You Do?” is no nonsense Pop, with infectious and bouncy synths. Midway through “Motion Sickness” it falls away and winds up to its hook with a giant drumbeat and industrial synths. The album’s first three songs all have excellent breakdowns, including the outro synth and funk guitar solos in “Don’t Deny Your Heart”. The synth fade-in from “Always been Your Love” would have fit nicely on the Drive soundtrack, and “Look At Where We Are” is a sweet dancefloor ballad. Hot Chip have gotten really good at making bright, vibrant, and joyful music.
Best Songs: “Motion Sickness”, “How Do You Do?”, “Always Been Your Love”.

14 Dum Dum Girls

14. Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze
Dum Dum Girls 2011 He Gets Me High EP, was an important release for the band. It showed the band had more to offer past the heavily reverbed thrills of their debut album, and made the transition to the more personal and vocal heavy second album less jarring. This years End of Daze EP seems like another transition. It was partly written around the same time as Only In Dreams, an album that explored the grief of frontwoman/songwriter Dee Dee, following the death of her mother. End of Daze sees her returning to those songs, to an earlier stage of mourning, and realising how much she has grown and recovered. She expresses her relief for emerging on the other side of grief in “Season in Hell”: “There’s always darkness to endure/on the path to be redeemed” and asks with a shaken but hopeful smile “Doesn’t the dawn look divine?”. “Lord Knows” has luscious guitar strums that seem to echo into eternity, Dee Dee’s voice is a marvel of beauty and regret as she sings the burning chorus. Her music is still shrouded in sonic elements, but they’ve become more of a backdrop, than a shield.
Best Songs: “Lords Knows”, “I Got Nothing”, “Season In Hell”.

13 The Evens

13. The Evens – The Odds
It’s getting close to a decade since the start of Fugazi’s ‘indefinite hiatus’, and Ian MacKaye has been busier with fatherhood than he has music in the last few years. He started one of his newest project, The Evens, with his wife Amy Farina whilst Fugazi were still together. But they’ve taken their time, and The Odds is their first album is six years. Their music reflects their new lives, and The Odds is a laid back and thoughtful album. They split vocal duties, but Mackaye takes charge with his baritone guitar, and Farina follows him with a closely mic drum set. His thick and loose riffs are integral to “Architects Sleep” and “Broken Fingers”. But “I Do Myself” is more of a rumbling vocal duet, showing the perfect space and contrast between their voices. Their playing is perfectly tuned into each other on “Wonder Why”, an instrumental with an excellent mid song drum breakdown. There’s nothing punk rock about having a kid, but they to know this, and they choose to raise their own child. Instead of trying to speak and appeal to the groups of angry youths that they used to belong to.
Best Songs: “Wanted Criminals”, “I Do Myself”, “Architects Sleep”.

12 Screaming Females

12. Screaming Females – Ugly
Marissa Paternoster is an incredible guitar player, and if you add in her untamed wailing vocals she’s like Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein wrapped into one. Her New Brunswick, New Jersey trio, Screaming Females, recorded their newest album, Ugly, with Steve Albini. His distinctive drum sound instantly announces itself as Jarret Dougherty’s crushing snare roll drops Paternoster’s 10 ton guitar lead on “It All Means Nothing”. She shreds all over the opener, first as glinting sparks under the first verse and then as a blazing solo. By the time the chorus of “Rotten Apple” hits the band are fully engulfed. “Crow’s Nest” shows that Paternoster’s playing is still shit hot at half speed, and King Mike’s bass groove on “Leave It All Up to Me” lets her step back into the rhythm section and harmonise with her guitar tone. On Ugly Paternoster’s bandmates let her steal the show, and her playing elevates their genre-dodging Rock and Roll.
Best Songs: “It All Means Nothing”, “Rotten Apple”, “Leave It All Up to Me”.

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11. Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky
It’s almost weird that the Dinosaur Jr. reunion has been so consistently great. There’s been so many awkward reunions in the past, that the idea of a good one is foreign. The original Dinosaur Jr. lineup have been back together for 7 years, and are on their third post-reunion album. They have seemingly carried on from where they left off after Bug, and have made three new albums that are on par with the first three they made together (if you’re willing to strip away nostalgia that is). The tension between J Mascis and Lou Barlow isn’t exactly history, but they’ve found a way to make it work, and that inner band tension might even be the reason they’re still so good. On “Watch the Corners” Mascis’ sings in his uninterested drawl, and lets an emotive solo open up for him, it’s one of his best ever solos. Barlow and Murph make “Almost Fare” move like a funk song, whilst Mascis adds a spasmodic guitar lead. As per reunion tradition Lou Barlow gets two songs on the album, with “Recognition” and “Rude”, which Mascis still stretches his fingers on with a nice double tracked solo. Mascis drops the album title with a new found vocal enthusiasm on “Pierce the Morning Rain”. I Bet on Sky is yet another excellent album from the three piece. Dinosaur Jr.’s legacy was sealed 25 years ago, but they continue to impossibly thrive.
Best Songs: “Watch the Corners”, “Almost Fare”, “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know”.

Ty Segall Twins

10. Ty Segall – Twins
2012 has been a banner year for Ty Segall, and even Twins, the least cohesive of his three 2012 albums is still a triumph. His first true solo album of the year had its work cut out for it, following his two collaborative albums. Its only really fault is that it’s more of a grab bag; “Would You Be My Love” is a sweet fuzz pop love song, but “Inside Your Heart” treats love like an infection and sounds like it’s decaying. It’s hard not to hear shouts of “CHICAGO!!!!!!” in your head as you’re thrown into the hyped up thrasher “You’re the Doctor”, which has a guitar lead like a fire alarm. Segall adopts a faux-sexy falsetto for “Fuzz Love”, and makes it spit poison with a menacing shift on the fuzzed out “Handglams”. “Thank God for Sinners” is a biting opener, it lets loose a snarling twin guitar harmony and a unstoppable chorus. Twins is a lot like listening to his discography on shuffle, Segall darts all over the place, he shouts, shakes and shreds, and makes Twins a dizzying, schizophrenic jukebox.
Best Songs: “Thank God for Sinners”, “Would You Be My Love”, “You’re the Doctor”.

9 Pond

9. Pond – Beard, Wives, Denim
When Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is recording in a self-imposed solace, his bandmates Jay Watson and Nick Allbrook fill their time by performing as Pond. Before being released in March by Modular, their fourth album Beard, Wives, Denim, had been sitting ready for release since 2010. The presence of Parker on the album, both as producer and drummer, no doubt made the album more appealing to Modular. Its release seemed timed to subliminally prepare people for a new Tame Impala album, and it worked, both bands successes seemed to come at the same time. Pond’s album is far more organic than Lonerism, with a harder edge and less pop songs. It’s explosive psychedelic rock, with odd time signatures and intergalactic guitar solos. It erupts with the hollow riff and vortex freakout jam of the volatile “Fantastic Explosion of Time”, and the songs fuse burns straight into “When It Explodes”. Allbrook sings with a urgent squeal on “Sun the Sea and You”, he switches or shares vocal duties with Watson for the majority of the album, but Joseph Ryan shows that he might be the most vocally gifted on the bare harmonies of “Moreno’s Blood”. “Elegant Design” moves with a supersonic shuffle, and “You Broke My Cool” is a quivering ballad with mind frazzling textures. Several great creative forces have been split over two albums, but they’re both excellent in their own right, and deciding which is better will come down to a matter of personal taste.
Best Songs: “Sun the Sea and You”, “You Broke My Cool”. “Elegant Design”.

8 Dirty Projectors

8. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
David Longstreth is a famed perfectionist, and Dirty Projectors extensive live rehearsals and recording sessions, where he would painstakingly agonise over ever beat and note, are almost things of legend. His fussy approach to music wasn’t without moments of genius, and his fine tuning of a group of outstanding female vocalists may have been the most important move he ever made. Longstreth records with the same amount of care, but he seems to have become far less obsessive. Swing Lo Magellan is their warmest album yet, and its sweet love songs make it seem impossible that only one album separates it from Rise Above, Longstreths overly conceptual reimagining of Black Flag’s Damaged. His growing love for his partner and bandmate Amber Coffman appears in the lyrics of the earnest and beautiful “Impregnable Question”, as he sings “You’re my love, and I want you in my life”. All of his love songs have an overspilling joy, it’s a reciprocated infatuation as Coffman responds with heart stopping harmonies on “See What She’s Seeing”. “Unto Caesar” is a fun and loose singalong, that adds horns and leaves in studio chatter, a question of “When should we bust into the harmony?” and hiccuping backing vocals teases another gorgeous harmony. Swing Lo Magellan is an album of unabashed joy, and it sees Longstreth falling in love with something other than music.
Best Songs: “Unto Caesar”, “Impregnable Question”, “See What She’s Seeing”.

7 Cloud Nothings

7. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
“Forget Everything. No nostalgia. No sentiment. We’re over it now. We’re over it then” sings Dylan Baldi on “No Sentiment”, he was sick of everything, and he was growing increasingly distant from his old songs. He took a bold step away from the Bedroom pop rock of Cloud Nothings self-titled 2011 album. His live band became full members and they hired Steve Albini to record the album that would reinvent them. Baldi sings of his distaste for nostalgia, but Albini is famous for it. Together he and Cloud Nothings take the past’s best elements and stomp forward with it. Baldi shakes the pop from his voice for opener “No Future/No Past”, he only sings 11 words through its five minutes, but by its end they shake with intensity. On the oppressive “Wasted Days” a two note bass riff ties together a storm of drum fills and melting guitar distortion, you reach the eye of storm just before the band explodes and Baldi shreds his throat and screams “I thought! I would! Be more! Than this!”. Sentiment” is a hard edged instrumental with an outro jam built around stabbing drum shots, and the 1, 2 of “Fall In” and Stay Useless” grant a poppy reprieve. But the snare slaps and defeatist lyrics stop them from being reminiscent of old Cloud Nothings. Attack on Memory is an album that people are probably going to love and romanticise for years, but hopefully Cloud Nothings will continue to never look back.
Best Songs: “No Future/No Past”, “Wasted Days”, “Stay Useless”.

6 Ty Segall Band

6. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
Ty Segall makes a more tortured strand of garage rock on Slaughterhouse, it’s a fit of haunted lyrics and harrowing fuzzed guitar noise posing as riffs. He wrote and recorded his second album of the year, with his touring band under the name Ty Segall Band. Drummer Emily Rose Epstein, guitarist Charlie Moothart and bassist/backup vocalist Mikal Cronin are all mainstays within the incestous San Francisco garage rock scene, and have all appeared somewhere on odd songs in Segall’s growing discography. Cronin adds high harmonies to the breakneck “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart”, and a slow bass intro to the stoner rock of “Wave Goodbye”, which earns the studio shout of “FUCK YEAH!” after a gnashing dual guitar solo by Moothart and Segall.

Epstein’s relentless beats lead the charge on the space rock of “Death” and the bruising shuffle of “Muscle Man”. “Fuzz War” is a rare moment of self-indulgence, the band completely do away with song structure and play a 10 minute cooldown of looping and droning feedback, it’s Segall’s fuzzed out songs stripped to their Id. Their trio of filthy “extra fast!” covers makes for a funner ending, and they run wild with versions of “The Bag I’m In”, “Diddy Wah Diddy” and Segall’s own “Oh Mary”. Segall is perfectly capable alone, but he couldn’t have made the venom spewing rock and roll of Slaughterhouse without the added muscle of a full band.
Best Songs: “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart”, “Wave Goodbye”, “Diddy Wah Diddy”.

5 Japandroids

5. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Japandroids’ Celebration Rock will make you want to buy at least 50 rounds of drinks. It makes a perfect soundtrack for parties, BBQs, road trips, and even midlife crises. The Vancouver duo have a deep love for rock music, and they seem to be just two normal guys playing larger than life rock anthems. They know that it’s silly for two people who are much closer to 30 than they are to 20 to still be doing this, and Brian King and David Prowse emit a youthful outlook from a worn down perspective, more interested in sharing the good times they had, than they are in trying to recapture them. Their songs make you as likely to drunkenly put your arm around your best friends as you are to push them into the pit.

“Long lit up tonight and still drinking” is the incredible album opening line from “The Nights of Wine and Roses”, they continue to dream of the endless nights of drinking on “Younger Us”: “remember saying things like ‘we’ll sleep when we’re dead’ and thinking this feeling was never gonna end”. King is remembering his cocky younger self with fondness, wishing he still had the same feelings of invincibility, his words are almost too good to just be shouted to the heavens. “The House That Heaven Built” has a giant chorus, and the “oh oh oh!” backing vocals seem designed to make singing along easy for even the drunkest fans. Japandroids perfectly capture the feeling of living the best years of your life, and the bittersweet sadness of watching them slipping away from you. But when you reach the age when your hangovers become unbearable, Celebration Rock will be on hand as a fine alternative.
Best Songs: “Younger Us”, “The House The Heaven Built”, “Fire’s Highway”.

Lonerism

4. Tame Impala – Lonerism
The reclusive Kevin Parker wrote and recorded Lonerism almost entirely by himself. You almost feel honoured that he lets you take the albums heady and introspective journey. The album lulls you into its dreamy mood with “Be Above It” and keeps you docile with the gentle synth grooves of “Mind Mischief”. Parker deals with his social awkwardness and loneliness on “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?”, but shrugs it off singing: “but I don’t really care about it anyway” in a melancholy tone. You discover his affinity for pop melody and hooks within the psychedelic layers, and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is heart fluttering bubblegum pop filtered through synth rock.”. The stomping riff of “Elephant” launches a cascading mid song jam, but the albums best guitar solo is hidden amongst the sonic collage of “Keep on Lying”. Kevin Parker is a man who feels completely alienated, forced to create his own world within his music, and Lonerism is one of his few psychedelic slices of solipsism that somehow made it to the real world.
Best Songs: “Keep on Lying”, “Mind Mischief”, “Apocalypse Dreams”.

3 Fiona Apple

3. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple seems to be plagued by her own creative impulses. She almost sees them as just another of her unshakeable obsessions, which her interview on WTF with Marc Maron from July gives a fascinating insight into. She comes across as weird and childlike in the interview whilst somehow remaining completely likeable. Similarly to her music, the interview makes Apple seem almost empathic to a fault. This works against her strong feelings of misanthropy, which she both hates and relies on, and causes her to repeatedly get her heart broken. The Idler Wheel… has some of her most barbed lyrics, such as the eviscerating hook from “Regret” (“I ran out of white dove feathers, to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth, every time you address me”). She doesn’t give up entirely on love as she sings “Seek me out, Look at, look at, look at, look at men, I’m all the fishes in the sea”, but these lyrics are from a song called “Daredevil”, showing that she still sees love as a risk. Apple has an incredible voice, and leaves it unpolished as she sings, snarls and shouts her equally raw lyrics. Her delivery of “I route for you, I love you, you, you, you, you.” in “Valentine” is stunning, you believe every word she sings. She mostly leads the album with her jazzy piano playing, but she experiments with scraping shoe samples on “Periphery” and the mantric harmonies of “Hot Knife”. Apple’s capricious personality ensures that The Idler Wheel… deals with tragedy and triumph in equal measure, which results in the best album of her career.
Best Songs: “Periphery”, “Valentine”, “Werewolf”.

2 Ty Segall & White Fence

2. Ty Segall & White Fence – Hair
Ty Segall and White Fence both love the same sort of music, but they approach it from completely different angles. White Fence is Tim Presley, who, like Segall, has been in countless bands in and around the California rock scene. As a solo artist he plays Lo-Fi rock with a heavy Psychedelic edge. Segall’s music moves with an anxious breakneck energy, but Presley’s is an oozing haze. This album doesn’t see them sizing each other up, and neither of them creatively dominates, Hair is a true collaboration. It opens in a White Fence like daze with “Time”, as two slow counts of “1, 2, 3, 4” cue a mid tempo Psych rocker, but the crushing guitar outro is all Segall.

A gleaming hammond organ opens the chaotic “I Am Not a Game”, the chunky dual guitar leads are just a step behind each other, but they’re just foreplay for the wild free falling breakdown. The organ shrieks as Presley and Segall break into a call and response guitar jam that is Marquee Moon-esque. It’s a dazzling and disorientating rock masterclass and I highly recommend this version of it (TV Solo!?). Mikal Cronin stops in to play the junkyard piano solo on “Crybaby”, a song that starts with Segall’s mocking and maniacal scream. He and Presley both provide lead vocals. Segall is far more unhinged, but takes care to sing the kaleidoscopic “Scissor People”, which will make you think your record player has exploded as it tears through several frenzied jam sessions. Closer “Tongues” has murky harmonies and an extended hallucinogenic guitar solo. The songs on Hair are just as suited to the Cavern Club as they are to CBGBs, it’s a record with a great reverence for the era when a haircut could make or break a music career.
Best Songs: “I Am Not a Game”, “Scissor People”, “Tongues”.

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1. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
It’s taken Sharon Van Etten three albums to get her confidence back, and her growth is clear if you return to the shy acoustic intimacy of her debut album Because I Was In Love. The presence of the abusive ex-boyfriend, who would tell her music was no good, still looms in her music, and Tramp isn’t exactly a feel good album. It sees her desperately seeking a new direction, and feelings lost as her distance from the relationship grows. But it has an underlying hope to it, and Van Etten approaches the subjects with a fierce new outlook. While she wrote all of the songs alone, the album was recorded in collaboration with Aaron Dessner of The National, who produced the album from his own studio. He pushed Sharon with recording techniques unfamiliar to her, “Aaron walked in when I was messing around and demanded I record it then and there” says Sharon on the genesis of “Magic Chords” in the liner notes of the demo version of the album.

Dessner helps make Tramp Van Etten’s most musically varied album, and a cast of indie stars drop in for cameo appearances, including The Walkmen’s Thomas Bartlett, and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. “We Are Fine” is a twee duet between Sharon and Zach Condon, they sing beautifully together as they help each other through a panic attack. “Serpents” is a thrashing rock song with pointed lyrics: “You enjoy sucking on dreams, so I will fall asleep with someone other than you”. Van Etten’s voice is painfully beautiful, it makes her deeply personal lyrics feel like whispered secrets. “Give Out” sees her battling with social anxiety in a new city, it’s an achingly gorgeous song with some of her most devastating lines: “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city, or why I’ll need to leave”. “I’m Wrong” is hopeful and she turns her ex’s critical quote of: “It’s bad, to believe in any song you sing” into a triumphant-middle-fingers-up-song lyric. “All I Can” has a smouldering slow build, and blooms into a huge crescendo with incredible harmonies. Its lyrics are her most telling and leave you with the sense that Sharon Van Etten has worked through her problems for the final time: “I want my scars to help, and heal”. Tramp is a sad and beautiful album, but it leaves you with a quiet hope that can only hint at a bright future.
Best Songs: “All I Can”, “Serpents”, “We Are Fine”.

My 50 Favourite 2012 Songs

82 Other Great 2012 Songs