Over the next five days, Geek will reveal my Top 50 albums of the year. It should be noted that I compile my list based on what I like to listen to, and what I’d recommend to someone who asks, “Hey, what did you like this year?” So, you’ll notice an absence of some notable LPs I rated pretty highly for the print version of Geek (Flying Lotus’s beautiful Until the Quiet Comes and Neurosis’s Honor Found in Decay, for two examples). Great albums. Aesthetically pleasing. Important releases. Did I listen to them at all this year during my leisure time? Not really.
More than other years, it was pretty difficult to compile this list because of the sheer quality of releases. How do you leave off The Coup’s Sorry to Bother You? Or Converge’s All We Love We Leave Behind? Or Beans on Toast’s Fishing for a Thank You? Or Dan Deacon’s America? Or Tyvek’s Triple Beams? Even stalwarts like Ben Gibbard, Jack White and Norah Jones (yes, that Norah Jones) released solid albums this year. But, in the end, I had to go with what really struck a nerve with me. So, here you go. Please let me know what you listened to in 2012 in the comments.
Maybe it’s just some personal experience with having difficulty polishing off a master’s thesis, but John K. Samson’s Provincial (and its hit song “When I Write My Master’s Thesis”) really struck a nerve this year. One of North America’s great songwriters, Samson expertly finds ways to make everyday occurrences tuneful. Provincial is Samson’s best work since The Weakerthans’ Fallow and Left & Leaving made every emo release of the late 1990s and early 2000s seem silly by comparison.
After releasing the widely panned Camp in 2011, Childish Gambino’s Donald Glover did what any self-respecting rapper would do. Release a free mixtape that’s 1,000 times better. Like any great mixtape, Royalty granted credibility to the Community star’s career. The album features guest spots from veterans such as Beck, Ghostface Killah, Bun B and RZA, alongside hip newer rappers like Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and resident oddball Danny Brown. Glover’s very contemporary production choices augment the guests. Sure, Glover’s lyrics are caught between his career as an indie rapper and his career as a comedian, but it’s a lot of fun listening to him sort it all out.
One of the most compelling vocalists in punk rock, Steve Snere cut his teeth in Minnesota’s brutally intoxicating Kill Sadie before fronting Seattle’s aural assault known as These Arms Are Snakes. Then news broke that he’d started an electronic project—a shift that under normal circumstances might indicate that, well, Snere had lost his sneer. He hasn’t. Crypts doesn’t quite live up to the lofty legacies of its front man’s previous bands, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Snere rants and hollers deep in the mix, enveloped by threatening gothic beats, almost certainly granting Crypts the title of “Scariest Dance Album” for 2012.
Like any songwriter, Chelsea Wolfe had more than a few odds and ends leftover from the past few years that never made it onto her other albums, The Grime and the Glow and Apokalypsis. So, she pulled some of them together and refashioned them into a cohesive album. Unknown Rooms presents a different side of Wolfe, whose previous albums were a lot creepier due to their experimentation with noise and doom. Here, she’s still haunting, but also sentimental and sexy. Unknown Rooms is the perfect campfire album for slightly emotionally-damaged lovers.
These Australians avoided a sophomore slump after their beloved 2010 debut album Innerspeaker with the release of Lonerism. The band brought Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann into the fold, and the results are a staggering mix of psychedelia and whimsy. “Endors Toi” sounds an awful lot like a never-created, futuristic Beatles tune, while the rest of the album sweeps listeners on a puffy cloud of whatever strain of kind bud they’re growing down under.
Damien Jurado’s a difficult musician to classify. He’s a singer/songwriter first and foremost. He envelopes his music in a delicate melancholia achieved by only a few musicians. Elliott Smith comes to mind, but where Smith kept most of his music pretty minimal, Jurado’s been experimenting with some maximal orchestration with the help of producer Richard Swift. Maraqopa ranks alongside Saint Bartlett and Rehearsals for Departure as Jurado’s best albums. He’s so consistent (and prolific), though, he often gets overlooked. He’s OK with being overlooked, but you shouldn’t be OK with overlooking him.
Pallbearer narrowly edged out Neurosis and Converge as the metal/hardcore representative on this list, probably primarily because they’re newer, and these kinds of lists tend to skew toward the new and exciting. The band perfectly melds their love of Black Sabbath with slow-driving, post-apocalyptic metal for all-encompassing cathartic swells. It’s easy to lose yourself in Sorrow & Extinction’s maelstrom and forget you’re listening to something created of the now, and not of some kind of terrifyingly awesome future where alehouses spin doom. Get swept away.
2:54 emerged out of the U.K. as one of the better new bands of 2012. The Thurlow sister’s self-titled debut album draws from a number of influences (Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Melvins) none of which feature a woman’s touch. Under their careful guidance, 2:54 takes a transcendent journey through stoner rock, pulling in some gothic tinges no doubt supplied from The Cure. The sisters take their name from the time signature of their favorite part of a Melvins song, so it should be interesting to see just how heavy they end up as their songwriting matures.
These New Jersey punks return with another workmanlike effort on Local Business. A Springsteen-meets-punk look at America, the album chronicles the struggles of small business people in the globalized world. For those of you looking for a fist-pumping, beer-drenched punk outfit to listen to on St. Patrick’s Day, and if you have grown bored with The Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, Titus Andronicus might be your answer. They’re more of a thinking man’s drunken good time band.
In a year that saw a resurgence of Riot Grrl ideals both stateside and abroad due to Bikini Kill launching an extensive reissue campaign and the Pussy Riot trial in Russia, Corin Tucker’s Kill My Blues was particularly apropos. Tucker’s second solo album since the breakup of Sleater-Kinney, Kill My Blues marks her return to rocking after a milder interlude on 1,000 Years. Now 40 and a parent, one might have expected Tucker to mellow out like countless musicians before her. Kill My Blues shows she’s got a lot of riot left.
Click below to check out the next 4 parts:
Geek Music Top 50 of 2012 – Part 2 (#40-31)
Geek Music Top 50 of 2012 – Part 3 (#30-21)
Geek Music Top 50 of 2012 – Part 4 (#20-11)
Geek Music Top 50 of 2012 – Part 5 (#10-1)