Here is what you have all been waiting for. The top 15 albums of 2012. Broken down into 3 parts. (15 thru 11) – (10 thru 6) -(5 to 1)
Part 2 comes on Wednesday and Part 3 on Friday. Today we will start our first batch.. So enjoy numbers 15 through 11..
11. Bob Mould- Silver Age
Bob Mould’s 00s work, albums such as 2002’s Modulate and 2008’s District Line, saw the former Hüsker Dü man mixing up his trademarked loud guitars with electronic textures and Auto-Tuned vocals – a nod, speculated critics, to Mould’s increasing comfort with his status as an out gay man, not to mention his new sideline as a house DJ promoting his own club night, Blowoff.
As is befitting of a rock’n’roll veteran of several decades standing, though, Mould’s career has progressed in cycles. And Silver Age – somewhat unbelievably, his 10th solo album – constitutes a return of sorts: to the bracing and loud guitar anthemicism of late-period Hüsker Dü and, most of all, his short-lived early-90s power trio Sugar.
This is not a complaint. Mould excels at this stuff. The opening Star Machine is a snarling and acerbic rock strut with a quiet-loud dynamic that reminds you just where Nirvana got it from in the first place. The careening Keep Believing is a sleek fusion of gleaming distortion and breezy angst shot full of uplifting vocal harmonies.
Elsewhere, Steam of Hercules, perhaps befitting of a song with a title that sounds like a rather risqué gentleman’s sauna, stretches out luxuriantly. It’s full of warm blasts of guitar, marked by Jason Narducy’s wandering bass notes.
There is an occasional sensation, on numbers like the Copper Blue-ish The Descent, that we are watching a man reinvent a perfectly good wheel. But that does rather beg the question: what do we want from our rock’n’roll elders? Experimentation is one thing, but don’t underrate the pleasures of hearing a man doing what he does best, enjoying his very own silver age.
12. Spiritulized- Sweet Heart Sweet Light
“I am what I am,” Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce declares on his band’s seventh studio album in two decades, more matter of fact than
Pierce has reason to be self-confident. He remains obsessed with certain sounds – the Velvet Underground’s mash-up of noise and melody, German art-rock rhythmic trance, gospel ecstasy, orchestrated soul, free-jazz skronk – and he keeps reconfiguring them for each album. “Sweet Heart Sweet Light” (Fat Possum) is no exception, another variation on those go-to reference points that is by turns grandiose, melodramatic, joyous and doom-ridden. It’s another one of those get-lost-between-the-headphones experiences that Spiritualized have been producing since their 1997 masterpiece, “Ladies and Gentlemen … We are Floating in Space,” and Pierce wouldn’t have it any other way.
The lyrical themes should be familiar: Drugs, death, God, redemption. They’re orchestrated into musical dramas that ebb and flow for six, seven, eight minutes at a time. Pierce is a savvy producer; no matter how dense the arrangements – strings, horns and choirs piled atop guitar, bass, drums and keyboards – he leaves a clear path for the melody. Amid the chaos of strafing guitars and wailing saxophones, he gives us something to hum or sing along — the amiable bounce of “Hey Jane,” the little duet with his 11-year-old daughter that opens “So Long You Pretty Thing,” the nursery rhyme sung by female voices at the close of “Headin’ for the Top Now.”
Pierce collapses despair and ecstasy; he’s the weary, strung-out narrator who sees life only in extremes. He wants to be “saved” but doesn’t see how. Self-pity elbows into the mix; “I won’t get to heaven … I won’t see my mother again,” he laments on “Life is a Problem.” There’s nothing sappy or draggy about the music, though. It can be crushing and corrosive, with just a hint of sweetness and hope. That tension suits Pierce. No wonder he stays so resolutely on the same path.
13. The Walkmen- Heaven
How you feel about listening to the sound of a band “maturing” is inextricably tied up with whether or not you believe that rock’n’roll is at its best when the preserve of the snarling, chaotic and hungry young.
The Walkmen have been around for over a decade now – so youth isn’t quite on their side these days. But so lauded are they that the quintet could release a cloud of smoke and it would receive gushing reviews from a cluster of critics. But the New Yorkers’ seventh studio effort is a glossy record that will speak to more important people than writers with established preconceptions – and it may well speak to them quite profoundly.
There are some wonderful moments for sure: The Love You Love, to pick one immediate highlight, is a doozie. As vocalist Hamilton Leithauser wails, “Baby it’s the love you love – not me,” the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s a thrilling three minutes in the mould of The Walkmen circa 2002, reminding the listener of those dog days when the band, and all the rest of us too, were a lot younger.
That classic Walkmen aesthetic is also tenable on the album’s seductive title track. Here, the production skills of Phil Ek – who helped to make Built to Spill and Modest Mouse into something much greater than the sum of their parts – are evident, as tightly wound guitars blend with a taut, beauteous rhythm section.
However, as The Walkmen’s youthful braggadocio fades, certain pipe-and-slippers moments mar proceedings. The vocals-led stop-start antics of No One Ever Sleeps, Dreamboat and Southern Heart are self-indulgent, dull and messy. All is not lost, though: the compelling 1960s doo-wop jangles of Heartbreaker and the sultry, impassioned plea of Nightingales put things back on the straight and narrow.
There has to come a point in life where writing a film script or a novel begins to better express your feelings about the world than writing a song. But The Walkmen haven’t quite reached that point yet, as Heaven is a record with the power to grab your heart, like an ex-lover you just can’t shake off – no matter how many years you’ve been without them.
14. Cloud Nothings- Attack on Memory
At 20 years old, Cloud Nothings mainman Dylan Baldi is a good example of someone being annoyingly good at an age when most people are really shit. In interviews he admonishes the current trend towards what he calls “hazy, electronic-y nostalgic music that is making up the ‘indie’ scene”.
On record, he steals only from the best, sounding like The Replacements being elegantly savaged by The Jesus Lizard. And while a chorus like ‘Wasted Days’’ (“I thought!/I would!/Be more!/Than this!”) suggests your typical grungeadelic nonsense, all subtlety and optimism disappearing up the bong of boringness, you have to suspect he’s getting at something a little less, well, nothingy.
See, unlike all those hazy, taut-lipped troubadours and day-glo dickheads with a manifesto for the future of mediocrity, Cloud Nothings appear to be worthwhile because they know what’s up with music, and they actually, you know, do something about it. This is borne out by ‘Attack On Memory’, the Cleveland trio’s second LP. Recorded by trash-rock lothario and ‘In Utero’ producer Steve Albini, it exhibits a precise mastery in crafting silkily threaded, post-hardcore rock songs that charm the birds from the trees before tearing the trees from their roots.
Word is, Albini spent most of recording playing Facebook Scrabble, but his influence could hardly be writ larger. Take the chain-gang drudge of ‘No Future/No Past’, Baldi’s jagged groans slicing at a barren melodic carcass, while eviscerated guitars pick and spit on its bones. Gone are the childish larks of their debut – an altogether clumsier business – and, instead, Baldi and co give precedence to a dystopian dread fit for economic blackout: clanking, zippy riffs, barrelling minor-key pianos and drawn-out, churning progressions employed like sturdy joists.
Interspersed with seminal flashes of blissy power-indie – the spiralling ‘Fall In’, the raspy ‘Our Plans’, the hermetic ‘Stay Useless’ – ‘Attack On Memory’ peaks with the nine-minute thunderpop masterpiece ‘Wasted Days’, a song so righteously, unapologetically needy it renders most luminaries of the now-defective ‘emo’ banner a shower of irredeemable ninnies.
There’s a scene at the end of Gus Van Sant’s Last Days where protagonist Blake, a prickly bastard with rubbish hair and a startling likeness to Kurt Cobain, lies lifeless on the greenhouse floor. Through the windowpane, we watch his translucent frame clambering from the naffed-out corpse and departing the physical plane. The movie’s tagline? Rock And Roll Will Never Die. So, basically, you can have your nostalgia pie and eat it. Truth is, for all the reformed cheese doing the rounds, Cloud Nothings are the tastiest treat in town.
15. THEESatisfaction- awE naturalE
Turn off the swag and check your bag. This is the advice that Catherine Harris-White gives at the beginning of “QueenS”, as a sultry, disco-funk melody starts to creep into the arrangement. It is sound advice; one should not come into this album expecting “swag”, in the modern sense of the word. AwE naturalE is pre-swag. It has the kind of energy that people used to call “having soul”. While intending to place themselves within the great canon of afrocentric American music, THEESatisfaction remain fundamentally distinct from the majority of what is placed in that category today. They are more Bobbi Humphrey than Lil B. More Gil Scott-Heron than Tyler, the Creator. Still, this does not necessitate that their music is dated. Quite the opposite, as the duo’s ability to draw on R&B, hip-hop, soul, jazz, disco, and funk while being firmly rooted in their own aesthetic results in a sound that is persistently and effortlessly fresh.
THEESatisfaction (Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons) hails from Seattle and is often described as “that group that works with Shabazz Palaces.” While this is true (the duo made a memorable contribution to “Swerve…” off of Black Up, one of last year’s best albums) it will soon be an unnecessary reference point. It is helpful to begin to digest THEESatisfaction by way of Shabazz Palaces, in that both groups share a musical philosophy that involves equal parts bass, groove, and what Sun Ra called afrofuturism, but it is also a mistake to deny them their fierce individuality. Harris-White and Irons’ approach is unique for a number of reasons: singing and rapping combine harmoniously, as Harris-White’s silky voice is not merely an interlude between verses but a fundamental part of the sound; the ladies compose and produce all of their own music and all of the instrumentation, save for one sample, is live; and, while the disjointed, spoken-word style of rapping is similar to that of Palaceer Lazaro’s, the verses are more emotional, humorous, and human.
The opening track, “awE”, begins and ends in a jolt. It is a brief but potent roadmap for what is to come. Funky synths wind in and out of an off-kilter rhythm; the bass comes in heavy and the drums build into a hip-hop break; voices chanting “yeah” linger in the background. It is an effective prelude but, like a classy amount of cleavage, it only gives you a small inkling of the bounty that’s in store. “Bitch” changes the pace. The stark musical backing, courtesy of Tendai Maraire’s percussion (which also graces Shabazz Palaces) and E. Blood’s bass work, lets the leading ladies establish their unmistakable groove. They proclaim themselves the “bitch[es] on the side” with equal parts irony and pride.
The bouncy “Bitch” leads into “Earthseed”, a brooding, jazzy number that ends with the first bars of the album. After two minutes of Harris-White’s hypnotic crooning, Irons’ lyrics burst onto the track like a gunshot. In this case the lines are as poetic as they are political (“Hitler stashed Obamas wearing army colored sashes/ rainbow flags blowing, burning crosses, sprinkled ashes/ in the oiled waters of the dollars dropped on masses/ THEESatisfaction could give a fuck about a fascist”). There is no more to say after that; the track fades out and most listeners will, if not they have already, realize how great of an album they are in for. In that vein, the next track “QueenS” is a groovy, infectious anthem that revolves around the refrain “whatever you do, don’t funk with my groove”. No one would dare.
Near the end of “QueenS” the duo sings “sweat through your cardigan”. The absurdity of the line and the way it’s delivered made me laugh out loud. This is one of many wonderfully quirky lyrical turns throughout the album. On “Deeper” Irons notes that “the world is flat/ flatter than your ass” and that “if a monster were to attack/ it wouldn’t find me at night/ because I camouflage to black”. Apparently, she watches “Good Times in bad times” and on “Enchantruss” she discusses the racial aspects of her education, recalling the “black jesus” who “of course was white”. Irons’ cadence is built to tuck in these sharp witticisms. It’s a flow that needs to be peeled back layer by layer, revealing new arcane references (see Archie Bunk) every time. It’s easy to draw attention to the humor in their lyrics but the majority of the content is not meant to be laughed at. The duo are continually delving into questions of justice, love, and identity (being gay, black, female hip-hop/R&B artists is hardly a well-traveled path).
THEESatsifaction have seemingly put all of the creative energy that has been swirling in them and between them into awE naturalE. They have a few tapes to their name before this but it is clear that this is meant to be their mission statement. It is a pride-infused, soulful space journey that demands as much hip shaking as it does poetry analysis. On “naturalE”, Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons proclaim themselves the “queens of the stoned age”. Long may they rein.