Sunday, January 13, 2013

Top 10 albums of 2012

Well, I've run out of excuses for the absence of my "best albums of 2012" list. It's been 2013 for damn-near two weeks now, so I can't exactly say that I'm waiting for a last-second release to blow my mind. In truth, I've just been lazy in 2012: lazy about writing and lazy about seeking out new music. That's what happens when you're your own editor and you don't give yourself any deadlines or pay yourself jack shit. Suddenly, there are a lot of things more appealing than cranking out another blog post that might get read by 100 people (10 who came here willingly and 90 more who inadvertently stumbled their way here Googling cover art for metal bands).

So yeah, I admit it. I've been a lazy journalist this year, to the point that when I got an email from the Village Voice asking for my annual contribution to their Pazz & Jop poll, I worried that I'd even be able to come up with 10 albums worth ranking. Thanks to some 11th-hour cramming on iTunes and Spotify, that turned out not to be the case. After all was said and done, I still had to make some tough choices. Quality albums by the likes of Meshuggah, Brother Ali, The Sword, Fen, Testament, Goatwhore and Japandroids all narrowly missed the cut.

My list is pretty heavy on the heavy again this year. What can I say? I'm a metalhead, damnit. If you were expecting a paean to the brilliant artistry of Frank Ocean, you've stumbled onto the wrong blog. So for better or worse, here are my 10 favorite albums of 2012. If you love my picks or hate them, please leave a comment below. We journalists (professional or otherwise) thrive on internet comments, even those of the "ur writing is teh suck, plz die soon" variety.

10. Municipal Waste - The Fatal Feast

This album broke no new ground whatsoever, which is what makes it so goddamn great. Municipal Waste play vintage crossover thrash circa 1986, and seem to have a helluva lot of fun doing so. In addition to being a perfect homage to/continuation of the genre pioneered by D.R.I., Nuclear Assault, et al., The Fatal Feast also spawned the year's best video with the animated mayhem of "You're Cut Off."

9. Between the Buried and Me - The Parallax II: Future Sequence

On the opposite end of the metal spectrum from Municipal Waste reside Raleigh, North Carolina's Between the Buried and Me. On the full-length sequel to last year's excellent EP, The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, BTBAM take their prog rock/death metal hybrid to new heights. The band refuses to be confined by neat categorization. Comparisons can be drawn as easily to Pink Floyd as to Dillinger Escape Plan, often within the confines of one epic song. The Parallax II is a lot to digest, but that's what makes it so rewarding.

8. Pig Destroyer - Book Burner

Book Burner has been hailed as somewhat of a triumphant return to form for Richmond, Virginia's Pig Destroyer. That's not to imply that 2007's Phantom Limb was the band's "Black Album" by any stretch, but for a lot of grindcore purists, any song that crosses the two-minute threshold is an exercise in pure wankery, and Phantom Limb had quite a few of those. Book Burner recaptures the raw ferocity of PxDx's early releases while still managing to advance the band's caustic vision of modern grindcore.

7. Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction

Pallbearer's Sorrow and Extinction is arguably the trendiest pick for metal album of the year. It topped a lot of metal critics' lists and was the only metal album to crack Pitchfork's hallowed Top 50 Albums of 2012 list. The Little Rock, Arkansas foursome are certainly worthy of the praise they've received. Pallbearer play old-school doom metal with mournful, melodic vocals, and their hipster crossover appeal is undeniable. Still, it's hard to forget that 40 Watt Sun mined a similar vein last year with The Inside Room and produced a record that felt much more personal and sincere. This is a promising debut, but I'll wait to see what Pallbearer comes up with for their next trick before I put them at the top of my list.

6. Graveyard - Lights Out

5. Witchcraft - Legend

Coming in 6th and 5th, respectively, are Sweden's Graveyard and Witchcraft. If these two bands are any indication, there's a legitimate classic metal revival going on in the land of Ikea, Absolut vodka and tall, hot blondes. While the two bands share the same homeland and obvious affinity for early '70s proto-metal, they're hardly interchangeable doppelgängers. On Lights Out, Graveyard offers up a sleazy, rough-and-tumble interpretation of vintage fuzz rock. Witchcraft takes a more layered, nuanced approach on Legend. Both albums are worthy additions to your record collection, but I prefer Legend by a slim margin.

4. Band of Horses - Mirage Rock

Many Band of Horses fans considered Mirage Rock a letdown from the band's prior output. I can't really argue that this album never quite reaches the heights of their earlier work, but c'mon. Cease to Begin is probably among the 10 best albums released this century. It's not really fair to expect BoH to release a bona fide masterpiece every time out. If anything, it speaks to their greatness as a band that they can release a subpar album (by BoH standards, at least) and it's still better than 99.9 percent of the other music released last year. And Mirage Rock is hardly a throwaway. There's some genuinely good stuff here, from the yacht rock-tinged folk of "Slow Cruel Hands of Time" to the peppy, poppy "A Little Biblical." Hell, I'll even go so far as to say that "Dumpster World," in all its schizophrenic, CSNY-meets-Coheed glory, is one of the best songs Ben Bridwell & Co. have ever recorded. The album lags a little bit during the second half, but the boys right the ship again with the lazy country shuffle of "Long Vows." In short, Pitchfork can eat a dick. BoH have earned a pass at this point. Even if there was a little more filler than we've come to expect, it still gave them an excuse to go out on tour again. For that alone, Mirage Rock deserves high praise.

3. Random - Mega Ran in Language Arts Vols. 1-3

If you'd told me at this time last year that I'd have a sprawling, three-part, two-hour concept album at number three on my list, I wouldn't have been terribly surprised. I probably would've just asked which European prog metal band had the audacity to release a three-part, two-hour concept album. As it turns out, Random (aka Mega Ran) isn't European, nor does he play prog metal, but the Phoenix schoolteacher-turned-rapper's vision is no less epic in scope. Random's ambitious multimedia Language Arts project also includes a video game and a graphic novel, but it's the series of three EPs that carries the most weight. The three volumes of Language Arts comprise a semi-autobiographical superhero fantasy that also serves as the pinnacle of Random's absurdly productive career thus far. Whether he's dropping old-school conscious rhymes, geeking it up with nerdcore cronies MC Frontalot, mc chris and MC Lars or taking on the persona of a video game superhero, Random bring equal passion and skill to the microphone. In fact, it's the melding of those three main facets of his career that makes Language Arts so remarkable. Previous releases have been mostly either/or propositions, whereas Language Arts combines all of Random's diverse interests into a compelling whole that -- like the old saying goes -- is much greater than the sum of its parts.

2. Torche - Harmonicraft

Clearly, Steve Brooks has a sense of humor about being a gay dude fronting a (sort of) metal band. How else to explain the rainbow-spewing cartoon monsters adorning the cover of Harmonicraft or a song title like "Kiss Me Dudely"? He also has an uncanny knack for writing hook-laden heavy music, and Harmonicraft is yet another glittery example of his pop metal genius. From his influential work with Floor to his current output with Torche, Brooks is proving to be a worthy successor to Corgan, Cuomo, Grohl, et al. Also, did I mention that Pitchfork can eat a dick?

1. Baroness - Yellow & Green

As I mentioned back in the intro, I was a bit of a slacker in 2012 (at least in terms of music blogging), but I did find the time to write a proper review for one album. That album was Yellow & Green by Baroness, and I was already pretty convinced back in July that this was the album of the year. I wasn't wrong. After a horrific August bus accident left multiple band members with serious injuries, there was speculation that this might be Baroness's unwitting swan song. From the sound of it, the rumors of Baroness's demise have been greatly exaggerated, but we might have to wait a while before we see any new music or live performances from the band. Fortunately, they couldn't have left us with a better album to tide us over. Get well soon, guys. Music needs you.

No comments:

Post a Comment