In the annual tradition of most music review websites and blogs this list showcases my favorite releases of the year. To give you a little bit of perspective into my thoughts on 2012, other than a select few solid releases I was beginning to feel underwhelmed with what the year had to offer. For me, it seemed there was either an insufficient output of what I found to be preferred listening material or I just wasn’t impressed with releases I had been anticipating (Sigur Ros’ ‘Valtari’). Although, disappointed with that lack of music I deemed enjoyable during the first half of the year, the second half proved to be a surprising and welcome change of pace, not only because of the many long anticipated albums seeing a release but also because of my personal discovery of a number of unexpected new acts that resonated with me.
Regardless of how the year began for me it did end with a promising collection of albums, quite a few of which I wouldn’t have discovered without the convenience of other blogs and websites that, like inb4track, cater to the lesser known musical projects on the internet which I believe proves the importance of lists such as these – as a source for curious or adventurous listeners to get the chance to hear the best of what the previous year had to offer. Living in these times, with access to technology at almost any point during our lives I find that we are very fortunate in that nearly any piece of music you could want is available to be heard or downloaded for free. Thanks to the internet we have more options than ever in finding new music and inb4track has provided a way for me to do that and I hope it has provided you, the reader with the same opportunity, to discover new music in this massive ever growing database we call the internet. Although we at inb4track strive to expose listeners to new and often unheard of artists as well as promote these aforementioned unnoticed acts this list is an exception as it does feature a mix of some larger projects along with those hidden gems. With that said, these are my top 15 favorite albums of 2012… cheers!
15) Pigeon Breeders – Luminous Debris
Its the beginning of the list and things are already getting weird. Toward the beginning of the year Pigeon Breeders captured my attention when they released their debut album ‘Nocturnal Reveries’ which featured an impressive series of improvised drone sessions. Where ‘Nocturnal Reveries’ was good in what it was it still came off like a series of jams rather than a proper full length recording which is where ‘Luminous Debris’ comes in. On the band’s second full length release the trio builds from where they left off with their debut and creates an aura of encapsulating psychedelia, juxtaposing noise and drone for something that favors a meditative sort of psychedelic music rather than what the term would initially entail musically.
14) Divorce – Self Titled
With classics such as ‘Cunts In A Circle’ as the opening track its hard to deny this a spot on my list other than the fact that Divorce comes off sounding like a really pissed off version of Aids Wolf. The vocals are just nasty as hell making the vocalist from Bosse-De-Nage sound like he’s singing R&B songs. A sonic representation of discourse, bringing new meaning to the word the band mixes noise and punk into a potent mixture that is neither at a single point in time the former nor the latter. With aggression in full force this band debuts their first full length with 9 tracks of face peeling nightmarish noise brutality.
13) Dean Blunt – The Narcissist II
As with every year we seem to be bombarded with a large output of pop music. Whether we choose to accept or reject this influx of repetitive radio friendly listening there is always someone whose constantly bitching about how everything on the radio sucks (boo hoo). While it is hard to disagree 2012 was not only a great year for alternative listening with a nice selection of experimental music being offered but also a year in which we heard an interesting new breed of pop music, one that challenged the conventional standards of the often complained about pop music. While the beginning of the year offered the heavily anticipated and well-received release of Grimes ‘Visions’, an album that challenged the established standards of contemporary music, a welcomed refreshing approach to pop the second half of the year gave us Dean Blunt who takes the number 13 spot with an erie collection of gloomy “crackle and hiss” pop tunes, a Blair Witch project of mix tapes. On ‘The Narcissist II’ we are introduced to a mix of hazy lo-fi take on pop / R&B interjected with interludes that tell a story of a man’s quickly decaying relationship.
12) Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin – Instrumental Tourist
Tim Hecker, the man behind the solo ambient / drone / noise project of the same name teams up with Daniel Lopatin, the mind responsible for the retro-ambient / electronic stylings known as Oneothrix Point Never. This is pretty much a wet dream collaboration for anyone into either of these producers work or explorers of experimental music in general. While I was a bit on the fence with this release at first I did find myself enjoying it and understanding the intentions behind this project more and more with each listen. While it is obvious that this wasn’t exactly the most realized effort from either artist and while a few of these tracks sound like filler the result of what they did, Hecker and Lopatin’s reinterpretation of traditional instruments as digitalized samples, a concept that was explored on both artists previous releases, Hecker’s use of the tradtional organ and piano on ‘Ravedeath, 1972’ and more relevantly speaking Lopatin’s exclusive use of sampling from a bank of television advertisements on ‘Replica’ comes full circle with their shared interest in using their instruments in an abstract manner. Sonically the album pleases the ears with layers of textures from rumbling low end sub bass, rippling speaker tearing distortion, apocalyptic junk synth, and a slew of instrumental samples from around the world (hence, “Instrumental Tourist”) that make for a goose bump inducing exhibition in what a collaboration should be and what two brilliant minds can create together with their personal take on what they do. This probably isn’t the best starting point if you’re new to either of Hecker or Lopatin’s work but for fans or those who are at least familiar either ‘Instrumental Tourist’ is an interesting listen at the least.
11) BNNT- _ _
There are a lot of weird albums, particularly noise rock / punk releases that made it onto this list but none of them are quite as weird or intriguing as the unpronounceable debut album from BNNT. One part noise duo, one part sound terrorists, this act takes everything you thought rock music was and strips it down to a few dissonant distortion driven chords, obscure film samples, and unnerving spoken word passages. Sounds strange? The band also tours around in a truck with power generators and play short impromptu noise performances with a home made guitar that looks like a missile… *awkward coughing*. For many this will hardly count as music, at least in the traditional sense, in fact, categorizing this release as music would seem wrong because its so much more than just music. Whether you enjoy it or not this is a record that calls for repeated listens just to hear every burst of overdriven speaker ripping guitar chord and quirky obscure movie sample found within this tribute to controlled madness. Its dark, its weird, and sometimes even a bit humorous and it might not be music to you but most importantly it is something unlike anything I’ve heard this year and it is highly recommended.
10) So Stressed – Attracted To Open Mouths
“Soured feelings spilling forth from Sacramento. A punch-drunk tone poem to Oral Fixation. Saddle Creek through a scuzz-filmed lens? The Next Big Loose Tooth”.
Music Ruins Lives couldn’t have said it better. A relatively unnoticed gem from early this year, criminally so, ‘Attracted To Open Mouths’, is a noisy take on punk rock at time with hints of midwestern emo sprinkled throughout schizophrenic fuzz-drenched instrumentation, and shouted semi-poetic abstract lyrics, all tied together with the groups strong ear for a a sound that is both challenging but catchy all at once which is the strongest point of this release; that being the band’s way of juxtaposing abrasion with a pop sensibility making for a well rounded record. Although not entirely as gripping or innovative as some of the other noise releases that made it onto this list, ‘Attracted To Open Mouths’ wins points for its variation, spontaneity, and for simply being a fun set of songs.
9) Bosse-De-Nage – III
With Bosse-De-Nage’s third release the band greatly expands on the intense black metal sound that they began to work with on their second album by drawing heavily from outside elements, specifically hardcore punk to create a record that still feels true to its black metal roots while sounding refreshingly new. What makes Bosse-De-Nage standout from other black metal acts is the energy this band brings, which is impressive, specifically that of the maddening caveman-esque vocals that are howled at throat bleeding volumes. The albums peaks with the track ‘The God Ennui’, a building epic of a track that alone secured this album firmly within the top ten proving the band’s ability to write something as equally beautiful as it is grim. Being a long time fan of more extreme incarnations of metal, especially black metal, I do find that the genre has grown tiresome in the traditional sense. Thankfully many newer bands experimenting with new ideas and influences from distant genres have found their way into the scene and Bosse-De-Nage shows that with their third and best installment yet in a series of records they are one of the best at what they do.
8) YYU – TIMETIMETIME&TIME
With the birth of vaporwave, a new genre in late 2011 / early 2012, a developing sound whose artists relied almost wholly on compositions created entirely out of the technique of plunderphonics, sampling, chopping, looping, stretching, and distorting late 80’s pop samples to nearly unrecognizable extremes, also came the Beer on the Rug label which catered almost exclusively to this new genre while also featuring other artists that had this specific nostalgic presence and attention to the abstract employment of structure, similar to vaporwave in their music. One artist more than any other within the label’s extensive roster stood out and that artist is YYU. Abstract is one word to describe ‘TIMETIMETIME&TIME’ but not even a dictionary of descriptors alone could account for what YYU does on his full length Beer on the Rug debut, an album packed with glitchy bite sized compositions, chopped up plunderphonics, and vocal and acoustic guitar loops. YYU also plays around a good bit with atmosphere, creating this hazy nostalgic ambience that surrounds each song on the album. TIMETIMETIME&TIME is one of those unexpected albums that doesn’t come around often meaning this definitely isn’t a release you should sleep on, although, I’d imagine this would be very pleasant to fall asleep to anyway.
7) Heccra – White Eagle
Like I mentioned before I began this list, at first I wasn’t really impressed with what 2012 had to offer musically but as it turned out the year was full of surprises and ‘White Eagle’, the debut album from the self-produced one man post-hardcore project, Heccra, was one of the biggest surprises of the year, especially when the project came seemingly out of nowhere stemming from an anonymous post on /mu/ where it gained a consistently growing fan base. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a band put something out in this style and been so blown away by it yet Heccra does what so many bands were not able to do with post-hardcore music as one person alone. ‘White Eagle’ is a unique mixture of post-hardcore and glitched out electronics. With triggered drums ablaze and scooped distortion, ‘White Eagle’, in so many words sounds like the worst possible idea but in audible form sounds fantastic and shows to be surprisingly worthwhile, refreshing, and not to mention an addicting listen.
6) Kevin Drumm – Relief
( No Link )
So the apocalypse didn’t happen, at least not in the form of some world-wide reset event. No, instead the apocalypse has taken its form as the latest Kevin Drumm record, an album that I think is best described as the sound of the cosmos retracting into the void that is itself (whatever that means). Kevin Drumm’s latest record in his prolific and ever expanding discography is yet another noisy affair, one that differs from the “noise” he is typically known for. Comprised entirely of a single body of long-form noise lasting 36 minutes ‘Relief’ proves itself as a standout addition to his massive discography amongst the roar of notable releases, proving itself to be arresting and claustrophobic while at the same time making for a sublimely calm listening experience that rivals, in a more subtle aspect the oscillating guitar driven intensity and contrast heard on ‘Impish Tyrant’ and even manages to challenge the sole importance of his most celebrated effort, ‘Sheer Hellish Miasma’. Much like the album cover, the record has it’s teeth and it does show them, sometimes violently so, sometimes obscured, sandwiched, contained between the boarders of its own frame; controlled, yet chaotic. Truly a release unlike anything I’ve heard this year and one of the best noise albums I’ve heard in some time.
5) Death Grips – NO LOVE DEEP WEB
When Death Grips released their mixtape, ‘Exmilitary’ in 2011 it quickly spread throughout the internet becoming an instant favorite and ending up on many year end lists for their aggressive in your face style of hip-hop drawing comparisons to outside genres, both aesthetically and audibly. After the success of their first release the band announced their plans to release two new albums for 2012, one earlier in the year and another slated for a fall quarter release. Death Grips secures their spot at number five with their second (sorta) major label record that proves to be even more abrasive and nearly as catchy as their early 2012 full length, ‘The Money Store’. Listeners are confronted by over-driven speaker destroying bass and throat bleeding howled raps from the beginning on the opening track ‘Come Up And Get Me’ making it undeniable that everything that was aggressive about their previous material is amplified to a new extreme. The album also features some live drumming from Zach Hill adding a new level of insanity to the music. Whether you got caught up in all of the controversy or don’t believe the questionable so called rebellious self-“leak” of the album either way, its apparent that on ‘NO LOVE DEEP WEB’ Death Grips pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in every aspect of their music, from the sound to their image, continuing to tear apart the framework of modern hip-hop and popular contemporary music; a statement that rejects outside influence, favoring the practice of self-exposed claustrophobia leaving only the bare skeleton of what once was.
4) White Suns – Sinews
With acts such as Kevin Drumm, Bosse-De-Nage, Divorce, and BNNT showing up earlier on my list it shows how noisy of a year 2012 was and should be no surprise that ‘Sinews’, the pummling half poetic half insane offering from White Suns makes it high on my list. On the band’s last release, ‘Waking in the Reservoir’ they showcased their affinity for extremely noisy punk songs. While often categorized as “noise rock”, on their latest album the band shows that while they are a bit of rock and a lot of noise they do differ quite a bit in the stylistic sense from the more refined version of the genre that has become synonymous with bands such as Hella, Lightning Bolt, and Health. Although, the punk-esque leanings of their previous record do make appearances throughout ‘Sinews’ the band ditches the more straightforward approach toward a more sonically disturbed route, favoring a more artful sound. The band embraces experimentation with bombastic bursts of schizophrenic energy and obtusely structured songs but don’t be fooled, if you’re thinking this is just another noise release derived of any technical musicianship you couldn’t be more wrong. With a drummer that rivals the spastic style of Brian Chippendale (of noise-rock legends, Lightning Bolt) and recalls the brutal tribal nature of Aaron Hibbs (of Sword Heaven) this band is able to balance the non-musical elements of noise with a technical prowess and reserve that any musician could respect while teetering on the edge of insanity. Thunderous drum roles, filthy oscillating feedback driven guitar noise, and snarky vocals all fight for whose loudest making for a set of sounds that could peel paint from your walls… or simply knock the wall down entirely.
3) Holy Other – Held
Within the past few years we have begun seeing electronic musicians focus more on the emotive nature of electronic music. Projects like How To Dress Well, Balam Acab, and Burial along with many of the acts releasing music through Triangle Records have all partaken in this shift and with the release of ‘Held’, Holy Other creates one of the most notable examples of what a modern love album should sound like. On Holy Other’s debut full length the one man electronic project known for creating a seductive atmosphere, shrouded in mystery, every bit as personal as it is elusive, a sound that made ‘With U’ one of last year’s best EPs comes together in the project’s full length Triangle Records release, a set of tracks that are danceable yet enveloped in a certain intimacy. Distorted male and female vocals call out, sometimes echoing one another among the goose bump inducing minimalist compositions and sleek production the that make up for most of the content heard on ‘Held’. While the greatest attribute of Holy Other’s music was somewhat obscured on the enigmatic producer’s ‘With U’ EP it is made more clear that it is his ability to create a mood that says a lot while saying as little as possible musically.
2.) Death Grips – The Money Store
I think it is hard to sum up how important this record is, not only in comparison to music in 2012 but to hip-hop music throughout it’s existence. Not many things made sense in terms of what was known about the project at the time but one thing was made clear; with ‘The Money Store’, Death Grips gave unfamiliar or weary listeners a reason to believe the hype and secured the groups spot as an act to be taken seriously rather than another mystery product of the internet during a time where every electronic musician was attempting to adopt this facade. When I heard the groups first mixtape, ‘Exmilitary’ I didn’t think the project could get any more noisy or weird, in fact, I didn’t really enjoy it all that much. However, I did keep an eye out for the group and surely enough, with the addition of ‘The Money Store’ I was a fan and it soon became obvious, not just to me but to everyone that Death Grips isn’t going to stop until they’ve perfected the unique style of concentrated chaos that the group has been working hard at crafting and they may never be satisfied in this pursuit, which for us listeners is a good thing. The contrast on this record is truly something else. Instrumentally, tracks like ‘Get Got, ‘The Fever’, and ‘Hacker’ provide the listener with some of the most memorable and catchy hooks on the album while front man Stefen Burnett (MC Ride) maintains an intimidating presence painting a picture of a grim character fueled by paranoia. ‘The Money Store’ is a modern hip-hop masterpiece with the in-your-face aggression of a hardcore punk record.
1.) Wreck And Reference – No Youth
Their were a lot of firsts in 2012, a lot of solid musical projects releasing their debut albums but none of them could compare to ‘No Youth’. ‘No Youth’, a simple two word phrase, one that couldn’t sum up the sound heard on the record any more perfectly than it does. The phrase speaks more than it initially alludes to, that being a sense of misery and unease, an exercise in self-loathing, a loss of youth, and the embrace of negativity. Simply put, transcendence through transgression.
Taking the number one spot as my album of the year is the doom / noise duo, Wreck and Reference with their crushing full length, ‘No Youth’. On their Flesner debut the act creates a very unorthodox style of doom metal, pushing the boundaries, both audibly and aesthetically, of the genre into unexplored territory with lurching textural walls of harsh noise and all of the raw energy and blistering throat straining vocals you’d expect from more traditional black metal acts that result in a surprisingly listenable combination. Although a heavy release, you won’t find any riffs or guitar chords here, in fact you won’t find the use of any guitars at all. Instead, the band substitutes the use of guitars for an MPC sample pad loaded with an arsenal of carefully crafted samples. From the beginning of the album the band showcases a sense of atmosphere and musicianship that couldn’t be found anywhere else, challenging the listener with slabs of sonic mayhem and dissonant spoken word passages while also rewarding listeners with some of the albums moments of underlying beauty. ‘No Youth’ is the brilliant marriage between the comfortability of music and the engaging contest of will that is noise, a partnership that is rarely explored but in the case of this masterpiece applauded.
Check out my review here.
Honorable mentions: Juche – Self Titled, mhva – scend, Basic House – I’m Not A Heaven Man, Andy Stott – Luxury Problems, Studying – Sophomoronic, Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind, Solomon Solomon – ‘Lent, or, ink on’
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Thanks for reading,