My Top 13 Albums of 2012

In honor of 2013, here are my top 13 albums of 2012.

I Pre-Ordered, Mediafired, Kickstartered, Hulkshared, Soundclouded, Merch Tabled, Burnt, Mixtaped, Youtubed, and Pandora-d my way through the 2012 music universe.

I was a thief and a glutton. However, I also bought more CDs and Vinyl this year then I have in a long time. It was another really great year for music. So I did whatever I had to do to devour it all.

I drove 45 minutes to and from work. I’m sure when I’m deaf in a year or twenty that I’ll be able to retrace my hearing loss to the year 2012 and how unashamed I was to play this music as loud as possible in my car.

Here is a list of my favorite albums from 2012. My top 13 leading up to 2013.

In descending order:

13. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

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The way this record opens up with the pulse of a dark bass line against the minimal drums immediately tells you how this band is going to treat you for the next 34 minutes. The opening riff builds into the climax of No Future/No Past and sets the tone. This is a dark and abrasive album. They honed in on their relentless yet minimal sound quite well on Attackand showed a big improvement since their last effort, their 2nd studio album which was self-titled. I dig this record a lot because it basically took up my entire commute to work if I were lucky enough to miss all traffic and just cruise. This is a loud and fast and something sludgy record. It sounds like this band loves playing their music. It bleeds through the record. They captured the energy of their live performance well.

Stand out tracks: No Future/No PastStay Useless, and Separation.

12. Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man

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After 2011 gave me new music from Lykke Li and Annie Clark I felt like I needed another new woman to fall for through her music. And it wasn’t going to be Lana Del Ray. Thankfully, Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes released her single,Laura in July. She writes beautiful lyrics to songs filled with perfectly timed space and landscape. She can reach into melancholy through her melodies and lyrics that, for me, was perfect for driving just before the sun came up or just after it appears to have gone down. On Haunted Man, Khan can easily play with tragedy and happiness from word to word in a single song. For example, “drape your arms around me and softly say, ‘can we dance upon the tables again?’” Or, “you’re the train that crashed my heart, you’re the glitter in the dark, oh, Laura, you’re more than a superstar.” She sings this so wonderfully that I knew once I heard that single I couldn’t wait to hear the rest of the record. And it is a fluid, cohesive piece. Once you’re halfway through the record, on Winter Fields, it’s apparent that this will be a classic. The Haunted Man sounds just as good on a July night as it does in a freezing 5am car.

She also put out a great short film about making The Haunted Man called Letting Go of Ghosts.

Stand out tracks: LilliesLauraWinter Fields.

11. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

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It’s good to see the dude who rapped on one of my favorite Outkast songs get some spotlight. This was this year’s Sir Lucious Left Foot. It came out and shocked everyone who heard it. It’s pretty flawless. No extra fat on this one.  This record was one of the best rap albums of 2012. Killer Mike came out swinging with this. It’s fun, has great features, and El-P produced the damned thing. It’s a perfect example of why hip hop that comes out of the South can be so influential. Even though some would say Waka Flocka is influential (thank to him, we have Chief Keefs now) R.A.P. Music is without a doubt, pure RAP. It’s fresh and sounds like nothing else. This record fits perfectly with all the other projects that have come out of The Dungeon Family. It’s another trophy to put on the Dungeon Family shelf alongside works by Big Boi, Andre 3000 and (Pre-The Voice) Cee Lo.

Stand Out Tracks: Untitled, JoJo’s ChillinDon’t Die (The video for Untitled is awesome. Oh, and so is the video for Big Beast.)

10.  Crystal Castles – III

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I’ve come to just expect that when I need to feel like a ghostscare away ghostsattract ghosts, and or drive through fog to work, that Crystal Castles will always be there. There first two albums, I and II, hold some of my favorite songs. Alice Glass is a beautiful demon child. She’s a strange, bug eyed runaway who can sing as gentle and fairy tale-esque as her name leads one to believe, or, she can scream blood curdle violent into her microphone over some of the loudest most disparaging dance  charged synth riffs you’ve ever heard. Glass and her hooded band partner, Ethan Kath, know how to be both haunting and dance hall approved all at once. III is another perfect example of what they do best. Throbbing, rib cage cracking drums, trembling fairy tale sing/screams, strobe light oscillating synths, and something incredibly punk rock for an experimental electronic band. And even though Alice Glass might look like a heroin chic high fashion model with midnight dark hair, tea cup sized eyes, and the body of a skeleton, but she also says shit like this that makes you love her more,  ”I think a lot of kids are more sexualized now than they were years ago and I’m not sure it’s a coincidence. Like fucking Katy Perry spraying people with her fucking dick, her fucking cum gun coming on fucking children. And little girls, like six-year-old girls wearing a shirt with ‘I wanna see your [pea] cock’ on it. Don’t prey on vulnerable people like that. Don’t encourage little girls to get dressed up, to have cupcakes on their tits to get people to lick them off ‘cos that’s what you’re insinuating.” Brilliant.

Stand out tracks: KeroseneWrath of GodPale Flesh.

9. Action Bronson – Rare Chandeliers

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It is impossible for Action Bronson to not make this list. I’d make him all 13 spots if he put out 13 records this year. I’d also say his mixtapes Blue Chips should be on here because it also came out in 2012. I’ll go with Rare Chandaliers though because it’s his latest effort of the year and I loved how when Rare Chandaliers was trending on Twitter upon its release people were really really confused. Action Bronson is a fucking genius. I’m tired of people comparing him to Ghostface. Get over it. No one writes raps like this guy does. And I’m one of Ghost’s biggest fans. I have a big orange furry hat with RUN embroidered on the side. But seriously, who else will bring a fan up on stage who is in a wheelchair, let the kid to rap with him, smoke weed with him, and then carry the kid around on his back across the stage while they rap together?! NO ONE. It’s hard to believe that it’s real. Watch it for yourself HERE. Action Bronson might very well be president in 2016. You heard it here first. He has yet to put out a song that I don’t love. His features are always great. His freestyles are impeccable. He is funny. Dude can cook. He can hang with Snoop. He puts out the best videos. He is going to put out a weed cook book. Just Youtube him. Whatever you decide to watch will be fine.Enjoy.

Stand out tracks: The SymbolRare ChandaliersBitch I Deserve You.

P.S. “It’s not everyday you see a piece of shit take a shit.”

8.  Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes

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First off, Steven Ellison AKA Flying Lotus gave one of the best most humble Nardwuar interviews I’ve ever seen.  He passed the Nardwuar test which is an important test. Sometimes an artist you love will not understand Nardwuar or respond adversely and it could ruin your vision of them forever afterwards.  Until The Quiet Comes is the fourth studio album by Flying Lotus and probably my favorite so far. I had the opportunity of getting into his work when I was interning atXLR8R Magazine. Ellison makes mellowed space jazz music. His music hovers somewhere between Radiohead and J Dilla. The album is mostly instrumental, hip hop – jazz, for blue collar, Earth tethered astronauts. Also, He is the great-nephew of John Coltrane. This is all in his blood. Until The Quiet Comes is a fascinating listen. It is a well thought out story of beats and sounds. I bet this album would work for any occasion. Background music at a party. Ghost riding the whip. Scoring a skate video. Jumping on the moon. Exploring DMT. Meditating. Writing. Moving your hands to the music like a conductor over your dogs so they think you’re a wizard of sound.

Oh, and he’s Captain Murphy.

Stand out tracks: Sultan’s RequestTiny Tortures (the video for this is killer and featured Elijah Wood), The Nightcaller.

7. Grimes –  Visions

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Canada is weird. It is putting out some interesting electronic music from strange people. If Alice Glass wasn’t skeleton and detached enough, then there is Claire Boucher AKA Grimes. She is a tiny Canadian creature who sings in an enchanting falsetto over hypnotizing beats and synthesizers. She films videos atmotocross races and uses skulls for her album cover art and makes “pussy rings,” and builds Tom Sawyer rafts, and puts on a great live performance. At first I could’t get into her voice. But her songs kept getting stuck in my head. And then there was a time when I could only find sleep through Visions. It’s a tripped out record. I enjoy that she uses a lot of odd, haunting vocal samples on her records and can also pull them off well live. And she sings stuff like, “see you on a dark night,” like it’s a threat. I dig it. I might also like her a lot because this album resembles a lot of what I loved about the Drive soundtrack. It’s catchy, detached electronic music that also makes you want to fight an entire city.

Stand out tracks: OblivionGenesisSkin.

6. Big Boi – Vicious lies and Dangerous Rumors

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I would have called this one this year’s Sir Lucious Left Foot but I think it surpassed even his last album. Daddy Fat Sax has embraced two worlds, and done so effortlessly. We were lucky enough to see him experiment with music and styles with Outkast for years. Then with Sir Lucious we really got to hear hip hop from a new angle. It showed us that Big Boi is not only comfortable as a solo artist, but he can bend genre so damned smooth. Funk, indie, electronic, hip hop, rap – his albums have become a nexus for all these genres to marry. And marry naturally. I think Vicious Lies takes it a step further. When I heard Big Boi enlisted people like Little Dragon and Phantogram to produce his album I got excited. That proved that he was diving deeper into getting weirder with his music. This album has some outstanding moments that are impossible not to explode your speakers with. There are songs on this album that can’t help but make you feel okay on a day when you’re stuck in traffic, late to work, coffee-less, down to dimes and nickels for the bridge toll, and just downright tired. Oh, and the buttered bagel you bought at the gas station is six days stale. Oh, and you got gas on your hand when you pumped it at 4.29 a gallon. That’s like a $1 of gas on your hand. There’s at least 4 songs on Vicious Lies that do that for me. That make all of that bad sound good. Also, there are some straight up good old fashioned American hip hop tracks on this. The track, In The A, is tremendous. Horns for miles. T.I. and Big Boi pick this song apart. Ludacris sounds lazy after those two destroy this song but it’s still a solid track.  I also love how producers, Showdown, C-Bone, and DJ Aries sampled Big Boi’s line from Shutterbug, “I keep it player while some choose to play it safe. Boy, check the resume, it’s risky business in the A,” slowed it down, and built a whole new beat around it. This album is so good it made me forget that Big Boi AKA Daddy Fat Sax AKA Hot Tub Tony got caught on a cruise this year with Ecstacy and Viagra. This album kind of sounds like how those mixed must feel. I think that’s a good thing.

Stand out tracks: Apple Of My EyeLinesCPU.

5. Kendrick Lamar –  Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

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This album shocked the Hell out of me. I liked his Section 8.0 record but to be honest I thought it was a throwaway. I thought his influences really shone through on that record. He was as much young Dr. Dre as he was Kanye. Which is fine, I just would rather listen to them more than him imitating them. However, in February Lamar released the song Cartoon & Cereal. There was a day when I kept this song on repeat all the way to work. It is a wholly focused, original, and destructive song. And it features my favorite MMG signee, Gunplay. Which also shocked me because Gunplay, although he writes some smart, introspective lyrics at times, seems to exist in a very different world from Lamar. Lamar so far had a reputation of being a story teller, introspective, kind of a good kid, who was more of a witness to the violence in Compton rather than an accessory to it. Whereas Gunplay is a number one instigator as you can hear him making gun sounds over the entire Cartoon & Cereal track. Well, Gunplay and Lamar put out this song and it changed my whole view.  I started to respect Lamar as an artist. It displayed his ability to play with song structure, to word play, to show he all of a sudden felt even more comfortable using different voices. He had a confident flow. And it played well against Gunplay’s harsh bark and ad libs. Although Cartoon & Cereal never made it on to Good Kid it set up a whole new myth in my mind at least, that Kendrick was a new force to be reckoned with. His Black Hippy crew was making their print in hip hop. Ab Soul, Jay Rock, and Schoolboy Q were all putting out solid singles and tapes.  Kendrick then put out his first “official” single, the Dr. Dre produced, The Recipe. Not long after his track, Swimming Pools leaked. I was sold. They seemed to come from a whole new matured artist. His story telling was brought to another level. His flow seemed endless. He rapped verses off cliffs. His music was huge. He sounded extremely realized and confident over songs produced by Dr. Dre, Hit Boy, and Pharell. Good Kid is a coherent story. A very ambitious and hungry effort from someone who could do a lot of good for hip hop. He is a true poet. And this record is perfect all the way to the end.

 Stand out tracks: M.A.A.D CityBackseat FreestyleSwimming Pools.

4. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

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I pre-ordered this the moment it could be pre-ordered.  Converge has been the single most important band to me since I was 15. Twelve years later and I still consider Converge my favorite band. Hands down. It’s rare to have constants in life. I’ve been fortunate, in my opinion, to love a band that has remained consistent since they formed in 1990.  Ten years into their career I begin to catch up with them by becoming addicted to their 1996 album Petitioning The Empty Sky. There was something cathartic about their ability to capture a punk-rock-doom that a 15 year old me became an instant loyal fan of. Soon after, 2001 finally happened and their album Jane Doe came out. It’s safe to say that could be my favorite album of all time. I have been lucky enough to feel the need to compare every album after Jane Doe to Jane Doe. Jane Doe is a time capsule of a collection of songs that couldn’t have happened at any other time than 2001, in GodCity Studio, in small overly populated venues across the country and abroad. So, you follow Converge, you buy a hoodie, go to a show, lose some teeth, break a nose, get a sore neck from almost losing your head banging it into the air at their giant sound, and begin to realize early on that if Converge is going to put out a new record it will be in the Fall. It’s hard for me now to not think of and smell the beginning of Fall without having an urge to hear Converge. Such was the case when All We Love We Leave Behind was released this year. I waited for a long time to hear the record.  As fate would have it, the album leaked online and a friend shared with me his copy. I did feel guilty. But, like I said, I’m a music glutton. I waited a long time for these new songs, and needed it desperately to drive to work to. It was getting colder out quicker and I need some new ugly sounding music. I got my leaked copy at 2am and sat in my room and listened. It was a wave of loud. Meticulously plotted riffs. An elaborate architecture of drums.  Wailing sounds I’ve never heard come from one guitar. And singing that evoked real passion. As always. Plus, guitar feedback is used like a possessed instrument. It’s everything I wanted from a Converge album and more. They continue to keep me interested. What I like about this album more than their last two albums is that they really kept it minimal. It’s just the four of them without any guest musicians. No extra singers. If it’s on tape, it’s one of the four guys in the band making it. All We Love sounds like them live too. Ferocious. Like a band that breaks mic stands like hurdlers knock down hurdles.

Stand out tracks: Glacial PaceNo Light EscapesOn My Shield.

3. Murder By Death – Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon

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I hate Kickstarter. Something really bothers me when I see people asking me for my money so I can help them make more money when I hardly have any money at all to begin with. I really hate Kickstarter. And then Murder By Death decides to start a Kickstarter and ask for my money. I was pissed. One of my favorite bands turned me into an instant hypocrite. An insta-crite. Then I signed up for a credit card, my first credit card, just so I could give this band my money. And I’ve given them my money a bunch of times before at their shows. Murder By Death, from Indiana, needed help printing their vinyls and art to go along with their new effot,Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. Now, Murder By Death is one of the few bands that I can go see live and sing along with every damn word. Seeing them live sounds like a bunch of pirates singing along in the side of a canon damaged ship, adrift in a whiskey sea. These guys put on such a great show. They also have put out nothing but good albums. So the thought of them needing help to put out another album immediately had me reconsider my staunch position against Kickstarter. I signed up and pre-ordered the thing, and bought a chinese lantern they made, and got a digital download of an older album I already had. I don’t even care. I don’t care because Bitter Drink is another solid effort from these guys. They just get better. And it’s an album that anyone can like. My Dad, who likes George Strait and Johnny Cash can get into them. My youngest sister who likes Kesha and fun considers their song, Spring Break 1899 one of her favorites. This is a band that should be the biggest band in the world. I believe one day they could be. Bitter Drink is whiskey soaked and cello laced greatness from another consistent band.

Stand out tracks: Straight At The SunNo Oath No SpellLost River.

2. Frank Ocean – channel Orange

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This was a refreshing album. 2012 was like a revival for R&B. A lot of great, new, and exciting R&B came out this year. And we still haven’t even got to hear any new D’Angelo yet! Just wait. We had The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Solange, and Usher. They all put out some great tracks and or albums this year. Frank Ocean had been putting out nothing but killer stuff though. Not only was he the elder Odd Future crew member, but he was getting featured on Watch the Throne’s, No Church in the Wild. But before all that he put out the mixtape Nostalgia, Ulta. For a lack of a better word, it just sounded cool. It was a smooth, chilled out collection. Swim Good and Novacane obviously ended up being big hits off that tape. Rightfully so. Ocean began to carve out his niche. His forlorn melodies connected with me. So when he released channel Orange a week early, I was ultra thankful. He took what he did best on Nostalgia and created a class all his own. I mean, Ocean was able to drag Andre 3000 out of a Gillette commercial to record a guest verse! And a classic 3 Stacks guest verse at that. Fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt comes in for a feature on Super Rich Kids. The features are perfect but sparse. This is strictly Ocean’s show. Unlike a lot of other R&B records these days, where the guest features seem to outweigh the singer her/himself, this album is all Ocean’s. No one else’s.  It’s a good blend of fantasy and culture and romance and commentary. Classic. This is a number-one go-to-record when I’m behind the wheel.

  Stand out tracks: Super Rich KidsPyramidsPink Matter

1. Beach House – Bloom

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iTunes says I listened to this record more than any other record on my iTunes. As much as I hate to agree with math, math is right this time. I can’t stop listening to this album. Every song is a perfect little crystal of dreamscape. It’s catchy. It’s night music. Day music. Rain music. Snow music. Happy music. Stuck in traffic music. Falling in love music. Going to sleep music. You name it. This album can be applied to any situation. I don’t quite understand how, but it does. They used windmills as stage props on one of their last tours supporting the album. Slow turning windmills are definitely a perfect image for this record and their sound overall. For me at least, windmills evoke many things. Lazy beaches. Crawling high fog. Waiting for a ship. The Sea. Don Quixote. Mystery. This album picks up right where there last album, Teen Dream left off. Just better. Victoria Legrand’s voice blankets the dreaminess of their music. Once I hear one song from the album I can’t help but listen to the entire thing. I feel like I’m betraying one song by not listening to all the others along with it. I haven’t felt that way since Smile by Brian Wilson, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West, and Jane Doe by Converge. This album just rolls on, streamlined, each song intertwined in an engrossing way. What I love most about Beach House is their ability to take a simple riff in the middle of a song and let it explode. For instance in one of my favorite songs on the album, Wishes. At 2:20 when the riff kicks in and makes your heart beat fast with it, it’s moments like that that make me proud of music and glad 2012 was a solid year for music.

Stand out tracks: WishesOther PeopleThe HoursMyth

Artists I’m looking forward to hearing new work from in 2013:

The Dillinger Escape Plan

A$AP Rocky

Earl Sweatshirt

Pusha T

Whatever Arcade Fire has done with James Murphy

Nine Inch Nails
My Song of the Year:

Mercy

I don’t care if it’s been on the radio every other five minutes. In the clubs every night. Infinite in the bar jukebox. In your Mom’s iPad. I don’t care. I listened to this song more than any other song this year. Kanye was kind enough to release it on my birthday. It also has one of Pusha T’s best verses. I hate Big Sean but Kanye pulled a Murder By Death/Kickstarter on me and I can even tolerate Big Sean on the track it’s so good. And the video rules.

“Well, it is a weeping, and a moaning, and a gnashing of teeth.”

Thanks for reading.

– Shane

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