Seems like this post comes later every year. This year, my excuse is my other site I’ve been spending too much time on. And to be honest, I haven’t been that hugely excited about much this year. There are a lot of albums I like, but nothing that really jumps out as number 1 material. So I used my standard highly-unscientific sort method to come up with this list.
EDIT: I started writing this post back in January, and it’s now mid-April. I need to just finish it and get it out there, so I apologize for the way the writeups get shorter and shittier near the end. Enjoy the music!
Or right-click, Save As if that’s the way you roll. And there’s an 8tracks player at the bottom of the post, though the full MP3 flows better as I’ve been able to manage transitions.
|White Fences – For The Recently Found Innocent
Raven on White Cadillac (00:00-02:43): White Fences is a low-fi 60s-style psych pop project by Tim Presley. This is the project’s fifth album, and the second I’ve heard. I guess you can’t swing a cat without hitting this kind of music lately, but I dig this one. A very strong but complete pop sensibility, like a Guided By Voices that can finish a thought.
|Panopticon – Roads to the North
Where Mountains Meet the Sky (02:43-15:22): Panopticon was near the top of my list in 2012, and his followup is very strong as well, continuing the juxtaposition of Appalachian folk with black metal, but foregoing the fire of the coal mining union protests from the previous album Kentucky for a more traditional, but still American, black metal bleakness, resulting in a less impactful, more atmospheric work. Still a great listen.
|The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits
Another Night (15:23-20:48): Sometimes it seems like these guys are on my list every year. And in fact I think this is the 4th year running, but they keep coming out with good music, and it’s never just the same old shit. This year’s version is a little looser, a little more toned-down/classic-rock than most of their previous output, but if you’re a guy who grew up on classic rock, that’s not such a bad thing.
|Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lose
Laramie (20:48-28:52): Lose is a indie rock album about losing what and who you love, but it’s not inward-gazing or even very sad. Instead, it goes big, swinging from one anthemic rager to another. Laramie starts as a falsetto ballad but crunches into an noisy, driving, epic rocker before long.
|Fucked Up – Glass Boys
Warm Change (28:52-33:55): Fucked Up appeared on my list in 2011 for their previous album, the epic David Comes To Life. At the time, I described them as a sort of punk rock version of the Hold Steady. In Pitchfork’s review of Glass Boys, they also describe Fucked up as “a hardcore-derived version of the Hold Steady.”Quit biting my style, Pitchfork!
|Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Singer’s Grave – A Sea of Tongues
We Are Unhappy (33:56-37:49): Will Oldham is another guy who keeps coming out with album after album, year after year. Sometimes they lose my interest, as with recent album Wolfroy Goes To Town. Then he takes those same songs, with a few extras, rerecords them and rereleases them as Singer’s Grave – A Sea Of Tongues, and bam, I’m excited again. These versions are less dirge-like, more energetic and full of sound. We Are Unhappy even has a joyous-sounding gospel choir that belies the quiet despair of the song itself.
|Solstafir – Otta
Otta (37:50-47:14): I understand that black metal is their background but on this album Solstafir mostly plays a sludgy sort of metal that doesn’t sound much like sludge metal at all, sparse instead of crushing, spacious at time, claustrophobic at others, passionate, dramatic even, but chilling, bleak and folk-inflected. Just like black metal I guess, but again, rarely sounding like black metal. Post-metal perhaps, but hard to pigeonhole as just that. Definitely worth a listen, if you haven’t.
|J Mascis – Tied to a Star
Wide Awake (47:15-50:41): J Mascis is, of course, the guitarist from Dinosaur Jr., and I could listen to him bend strings for hours. These songs are not the monstrous feedback-filled aural assaults that typify a Dinosaur Jr album; rather, they’re quite, fingerpicked, acoustic-sounding affairs, with J Mascis’ whispery voice standing out instead of blending in. And while he still manages to break out a solo in nearly every song, the solos are over almost as soon as they begin, making each song a compact, single-worthy affair.
|Swans – Be Kind
Screen Shot (50:41-58:39): Swans’ music is weird. Not weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird, but weird in that it’s not really there for you to enjoy. It’s taking an idea and stripping it down and drilling into and laying it bare, then keeping at it for another 10 minutes per song. It’s uncomfortable and off-balance.
|Shellac – Dude Incredible
The Peoples Microphone (58:39-61:47): Steve Albini, rocking the fuck out, what more do you need to know?
|Electric Wizard – Time to Die
Funeral of Your Mind (61:47-68:54): Electric Wizard’s 2000 album Dopethrone is a monster in the stoner doom metal catalog. The song “Funeralopolis” from that album is, I think, probably the best doom recording of all time. They haven’t done much since then worth paying attention to, though. Time to Die is a definite improvement, and if it doesn’t quite live up to the mastery of Dopethrone, the huge, filthy, crushing tone alone makes it worth a listen.
|Spoon – They Want My Soul
Let Me Be Mine (68:54-72:19): I’ve had multiple people put together Spoon compilations for me over the years, and I’ve always liked what I’ve heard (especially on the rockier songs) without really feeling the need to go out and obsessively explore their back catalog. This record spends plenty of time on poppier end of their sound than what I generally like but it’s well done, mixing in various influences, from moody synthy post-punk and classic rock notes, delving into a little boozy blues, and saving themselves from a shuffling 80s-prime Billy Joel sound by the judicious application of guitars before the triumphant pop of the album closer.
|The Lawrence Arms – Metropole
The YMCA Down the Street From the Clinic (72:19-76:07): What happens when a punk band gets old? Can you still sing snotty songs about flouting authority when you’ve gone a little gray and you get a twinge in your knee every time it rains? Honestly, getting old is the ultimate authority, and it sucks as much as any of them and if admitting that isn’t punk enough for you then FUCK YOU.
|…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – IX
The Lie Without a Liar (76:07-79:30): I’ve always liked Trail of Dead. I liked the ferocity of Source Tags & Codes, but I also liked the bombast of Worlds Apart which, I know, puts me in the minority. Since then, I haven’t always gotten what they’ve been doing but IX is a nice combination of both their prog-like pretensions and their down-and-dirty rock sides.
|Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Late Bloomer (79:30-84:39): Fuck I’m getting tired of writing these descriptions and it’s halfway through February and I’m never gonna get this thing published. I never really listened to Jenny Lewis before and only knew her from this thread on a somewhat defunct forum in which her boobs were discussed with maybe a bit too much interest. Anyway, this is a great album which I think even some of my contemporaries who only listen to 80s radio would enjoy.
|Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin
Hey Mr. Grey (84:40-86:44): It’s Bob Mould! It sounds like Husker Du! Except when it doesn’t. Anyway, it’s really good, listen!
|Motorpsycho – Behind the Sun
Cloudwalker (86:44-92:42): Motorpsycho plays some pretty far out prog psych shit that’s groovy as hell.
|Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
Foundations (92:43-101:24): My pal Noel turned me on to these guys and I was immediately taken by the way they are able to bring pop hookiness to some seriously oppressive doom metal.
|Ty Segall – Manipulator
It’s Over (101:24-104:23): The second album on my list Ty Segall was involved with–he also produced the White Fences album. This is fuzzed-out but poppy 70s-style psych/glam rock that’s just plain fun.
|Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Ben’s My Friend (104:24-109:41): subtitled “Everybody Mark Kozelek Knows Dies.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration–or not, everybody’s going to die, of course–but there’s a lot of talk about death on the album. Serial killers, school shootings, the mortality of one’s family, one’s parents, one’s youth. It’s all quiet, fingerpicked stuff, and not as heavy as it sounds–it’s often funny, in fact. But there’s a lot there and even after many listens, I’m still not sure I’ve taken it all in.