Tug Baker’s Top Albums of 2012

I don’t think Tug Baker has an enemy in this world. I can’t say the same about many people I know. In addition to his Top 15 albums listed here, Tug has compiled his 100 favorite tracks of 2012, which you can find over at his music blog, About Today, which you should check out anyway, as it’s a veritable horn ‘o plenty of streaming new jams.

15. DiivOshin (Captured Tracks)
I love you, shoegaze. Forever.

14. Bat For Lashes, The Haunted Man (Capitol)
A less ambitious record than her previous two outings but still achingly beautiful.

13. JapandroidsCelebration Rock (Polyvinyl Records)
I did not care for the first few Japandroids albums, but this one is pure driving with the windows down singing at the top of your lungs goodness.

12. Laurel HaloQuarantine (Hyperdub)
In a year full of great indie pop records, this one is probably the most challenging with its minor keys and atonal nature and sci-fi bent, but damn if it isn’t interesting as all get out. And definitely the best album cover of the year.

11. Frank Oceanchannel ORANGE (Def Jam Records)
Odd Future-graduate gone Grammy-nominated. Forget the hype around his sexuality or whatever, this is still a pretty terrific album.

10. Cloud NothingsAttack On Memory (Carpark Records)
Say what you will about Steve Albini’s production values, but it’s safe to say that he served this stripped-down indie-pop band well when they wanted to infuse some loud, angsty noise on this new record.

9. GrimesVisions (4AD)
I may or may not have danced around my house alone with this album on. I won’t tell.

8. Killer MikeR.A.P. Music (Williams Street Records)
Killer Mike once again proves that he’s the realest rapper alive. Politics and proverbs come together to make this both a historically-inspired yet forward-looking hip-hop record.

7. ChromaticsKill For Love (Italians Do It Better)
Did you flip out over the Drive soundtrack? Well, this is the sound that inspired it. If you’re looking for atmospheric pop vocals over some chilled out beats and driving guitar plucks and reverb out the wazoo, this is your jam.

6. Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan (Domino Recording Co.)
While desperately missing the vocal stylings of Angel Deradoorian, this more David Longstreth-led follow-up to the critically acclaimed Bitta Orca is a contemplative work bursting with ideas and sublime melodies.

5. METZMetz (Sub Pop Records)
In a world awash with indie rock, every year I look for the best record that is loud, fast, and hard as a rock, and this year, METZ debuted with some post-punk and hardcore goodness that is all those things.

4. Death GripsThe Money Store (Epic)/No Love Deep Web (self-released)
The noise-rock drums and jazz-esque arrangements of Hella’s Zach Hill and Andy Morin meet the mad (in terms of both temperament and sanity) hip-hop yawps of Stefan Burnett (aka MC Ride) in difficult but fascinating ways. Forget what Refused said, this is the shape of punk to come.

3. Frankie RoseInterstellar (Slumberland Records)
After spending time in three great indie rock groups (Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Chrystal Stilts), Frankie Rose and the Outs did a little noise pop record that was pretty good. But kicking out The Outs and going full new-wave indie pop with Interstellar was the best decision she could make. There are so many great earworms here that never once feel like they achieved such catchiness with cheap tricks.

2. Tame ImpalaLonerism (Modular Fontana)
I’ve loved this Australian psych-rock three-piece since their 2010 debut Innerspeaker, but it’s a testament to how well-crafted this sophomore release is that I’ve had several friends who poo-pooed Innerspeaker who have been converted byLonerism’s overblown sonic grooves.

1. Sharon Van EttenTramp (Jagjaguwar)
Sometimes albums by a young singer-songwriter can be equally fascinating and cringe-worthy. After all, these are people trying to figure out relationships, who they really are, and life in general. They can be vulnerable, messy things. But Van Etten’s inner turmoils are focused through some terrific production by The National’s Aaron Dessner (with some haunting background vocals by Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner), keeping that raw intimacy while never once having anything to embarrassed about.

Patrick Wall’s Top Albums of 2012

Patrick Wall’s skills are as varied as they are impractical.

KNEE MEETS JERK: In Which a Beleaguered Music Journalist Attempts — and Fails — to Identify Ten Records Released Between December 2011 and December 2012. That Were Better Than All Other Releases in the Same Time Period. Listed in alphabetical order. Results subject to change.

Daniel Bachman, Seven Pines (Tompkins Square)
It’s easy to get lost in Daniel Bachman’s engrossing instrumental compositions, sounds piling upon each other in deliberate phases and creating a strangely meditative tension. Rooted in the American Primitive style of acoustic guitar — comparisons to Jack Rose, another American Primitive stylist who, like Bachman, split time between Virginia and Philadelphia, are both easy and earned — Bachman is one of the young virtuosos furthering and redefining the school, his long-form works ghostly and pastoral, familiar and known but buzzing with fresh experience.

Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph)
Converge, some twenty-two years into its career, is the Webster’s definition of American hardcore, delivering cyclonic, mosh pit-chaotic punk and blistering, unrelenting thrash in brutal, bloody two-minute bursts. But All We Love’s lengthier cuts — the surprisingly melodic “Coral Blue,” the doom-metal-imbued “Glacial Pace,” the meticulously architected “Sadness Comes Home” — display a remarkable complexity, setting the band apart from its innumerable imitators and supposed peers.

EL-P, Cancer 4 Cure (Fat Possum)
I was halfway through a street fight metaphor of my own — about how if Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music was the knockout punch, El-P’s Cancer for the Cure was the crushing, gut-loosening, guard-dropping body blow that made the haymaker hit that much harder — when I saw that Pitchfork’s Jayson Greene made the same connection. Damn it.

Brian Eno, Lux (Warp)
Here’s the thing about Brian Eno’s Music for Airports: It doesn’t really fit Eno’s definition of ambient music, laid out in the album’s liner notes. (“Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular,” Eno wrote in 1978. “It must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”) Simply, Music for Airports is too interesting, its elemental drift too fascinating to be ignored. In the same way, Lux betrays Eno’s definition: Each of its four just-under-twenty-minute sections fades and disappears as the next emerges, quietly and unobtrusively, tonally and texturally different and containing only the faintest hints of what transpired previously. There’s too great a reward in Lux‘s lush, absorbing ambiance, too vast a musical adventure lurking just underneath its restrained, dulcet palette.

Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes (Warp)
Steven Ellison could have gone bigger, could have pushed his firmly calm but furiously knotted and infinitely complex beatworlds toward total atomization. But compared to his body of work — most especially the brilliantly byzantine CosmogrammaUntil the Quiet Comes tightens the reins, peeling away layers from his maximalist instrumental hip-hop and organizing its tracks into a gracefully flowing sequence. Ellison’s hallmarks — a fractal, spidering cascade of starry, phantasmal melodies and prickly, feverish rhythms no human hands could play over a hip-hop’s bedrock knock-and-thump — still factor heavily into the equation, but Ellison’s restraint is key in the Quiet’s maniacal balance of elegance and turbulence. Though the laptop and sampler are his instruments of choice, Quiet still possesses improvisatory, loose feel of jazz, a connection to his august lineage. Like his great-uncle John Coltrane, Ellison is moving his medium into new places by detaching it from traditional mores and splintering it into new forms — and creating a sound and genre entirely unto himself.

Ab-Soul, Control System (Top Dawg)
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Aftermath)
Schoolboy Q, Habits & Contradictions (Topdawg)
“Y’all actin’ like that TDE don’t run L.A.,” Q boasts on “There He Go.” Surprisingly, that was an undersell. In a year where rap’s established superstars stumbled— Rick Ross’ God Forgives, I Don’t was wildly uneven; Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music was just plain B.A.D.; Big Boi’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours was an absolute mess; Nas’ Life Is Good was an out-of-character, puff-chested bitch session — under its own music-for-the-one-percent duress, the leaders of the new school rose to the top. But the Southern California Top Dawg Entertainment-endorsed Black Hippy clique shone the brightest, three of its crew members — Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar — releasing three of hip-hop’s top four records of the year. (Only Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city bests Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music.) Ab-Soul’s Control System is the headiest and most sonically expansive of the bunch, the anything-goes Soul both the most mystical and most grounded emcee of the crew, doling out brawny beatdowns and belly laughs in equal measure. The exciting, risk-taking Q’s Habits & Contradictions is the most fun of the bunch, mixing bud smoker’s party anthems (“There He Go,” the A$AP Rocky-starring “Hands on the Wheel”), spirited trunk rattlers (“2 Raw”) and socially conscious gangbangers (“Raymond 1969”), steeped in hardcore and wholly lacking in irony.

But then there’s Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. City, the most important major-label rap album in a decade, an art-rap opus on par with rap’s all-time great debut records: Illmatic; Ready to Die; Doggystyle. (Last year’s Section.80 was more a mixtape manifesto — albeit an incredible one — than a proper album, in hip-hop parlance.) “Highly anticipated,” in fact, doesn’t begin to cut it; the last of the Black Hippy crew to release purist-appeasing solo discs (Jay Rock released his last year), and a Pitchfork- and XXL-driven media push accelerated the hype machine to Large Hadron Collider levels. But even stripped of its luxurious guest spots (Drake, Dr. Dre) and production credits (Just Blaze, E-40, Pharrell), good kid, m.A.A.d city succeeds, mostly on Lamar’s lyrical strength alone. Though largely gone is Section.80’s prevalence of Lamar’s polysyllabic machine-gun rat-a-tat vocal juggle, it’s replaced with an impeccable eye for storytelling and detail, navigating the still-mean streets of his native Compton with a fly-on-the-wall, documentary style. The singles — the woozy “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and the radiant “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” — are worth the price of admission, but the real artistic richness is in m.A.A.d city’s suites: the steeped-in-soul “The Art of Peer Pressure”; the closing one-two gut punch of the sprawling “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” and “Real.” Lamar’s elevated, educated gangsta rap is as pimp-connectable as the most vicious N.W.A. tracks, yet potent poignant enough, filled with enough rich detail to blow the dust off any cracked soul — speaking both picturesquely and honestly of Lamar’s darkly storied hometown and genre. It’s not entirely without fault — closing track-cum-coronation “Compton” feels tacked on; the SoundCloud masses too often murder the “Backseat Freestyle” beat; Drake is still, well, Drake — but even without the hype, this one is still potent and smart enough to rise to the top of the pile.

So it turns out Q wasn’t exactly right. TDE doesn’t just run L.A. TDE’s running the whole game. Everyone else is just playing catch-up.

Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music (Williams Street)
Much hay has been made about the political — or apolitical, depending on how you choose to look at it — side of Killer Mike’s agit-rap. But to focus solely on R.A.P. Music’s political affectations — Reagan, the War on Drugs, Obama, prison privatization — is to do it a disservice. While Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city is greyscale and dour, R.A.P. Music is freewheeling, fly and fun, a perfect balance of playful, powerful and persuasive. At heart, it’s a love letter to not just hip-hop, but all black music as religious experience, a concept-less concept record stretching from slave calls to Ellington to Nas. A vital piece of work, R.A.P. Music captures fully the richness of all black musics. (Or, as Mike says, “every music that’s been born on this continent from a group of people that were brought here in chains.”) It is, as the man says on the stellar title track, jazz, funk, soul, gospel. It’s sanctified sex. It’s player Pentecostal. It’s what his people need — the opposite of bullshit. This is church — his church. Front pew. Amen.

Kowloon Walled City, Container Ships (Brutal Panda)

There’s no easy way to say this. You’re going to have a rough year, dude. At the end of it, you’ll be 30 and still poor, your career still stalled, your psychic wounds of the previous twelve months not yet healed. Worse, you won’t really be sure if you learned anything, if you really grew up at all.

If your rubric for your favorite record is that it’s the one you really connect with, for whatever reason — and it is — then this Kowloon Walled City — named for the relatively lawless and dismantled Hong Kong burg that consisted of massive, interlocking buildings blanketing several acres — record, a sprawling mass of impossibly heavy bummer jams, will be it.
“Bad days come again after all,” you’ll hear Scott Evans howl over the din — an impossible amalgamation of Helmet and Low — of “’50s Dad.” God, you’ll think, ain’t that the truth.

Loincloth, Iron Balls of Steel (Southern Lord) (Jan. 17)
Loincloth’s Iron Balls of Steel shouldn’t be as good as it is. The combination of band name and album title evoke a sub-Metalocalypse yukfest. Further, Iron Balls of Steel — and I still cringe at that name — comes nine years after the band’s only other studio fruit, a two-track seven-inch. Further still, the pedigreed band — it features members of cult-favorite heavies Confessor and Breadwinner — in the meantime lost founding guitarist Pen Rollings, considered the most critical to the band’s crushing, technical metal. But Iron Balls of Steel proves it possible for metal’s essential caveman-ness to coexist with its brainier impulses, mocking both metal’s humorless façade — hence the shlocky titles — and math-metal’s numbing maximalism. But it’s no joke record, pairing brutal brain-scramblers that exhaust themselves in little over a minute with uncharacteristically patient longer works that strive for a narrative, even emotional, arcs, captivating motifs and glimmering textures. Dizzyingly nimble, Loincloth still cops power-of-the-riff underground tropes that limit it to a niche appeal. But for those tuned to that niche, Iron Balls of Steel is essential.

The Men, Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones)
Compared with the virulent, pulverizing Leave Home, Open Your Heart is relatively accessible, a muscular and dynamic cycle through barnstorming classic hardcore and indie rock (“Turn It Around”; “Please Don’t Go Away”), searing punk (“Cube”), beer-chugging country (“Country Song”) and muscular krautrock (“Oscillation”). (Though it lacks what might be the best and most accessible Men song, “Kyle Keays,” which appeared on a KEXP-filmed live set.) Open Your Heart imbues Leave Home’s raw power with more melody and structure, beefing up its rhythm section to really let the band’s twin-guitar attack rip. It’s not hard to imagine Open Your Heart sitting alongside the most essential of the SST, Touch and Go and Homestead catalogs, but The Men avoid stale classicism by weaving together their disparate influences with a nuanced touch.

Karriem Riggins, Alone Together (Stones Throw) (Oct. 23)
The final track on Alone Together is called “J Dilla the Greatest.” Pair that with Riggins’ Detroit background, the thirty-four-deep track list and that Stones Throw logo on the top left-hand corner, and, yeah, Alone Together bears more than a passing similarity to Dilla’s landmark Donuts. Like Donuts, Riggins’ Alone Together is an ostensibly happenstance sequence of alien, brain-wracking beat puzzles. But where Donuts carried an emotional weight, Alone Together is sprightly and playful, crisscrossing hip-hop and jazz (Riggins is an acclaimed jazz drummer), yes, but knuckle-dragging bicycle rock, flashy blaxploitation funk, prissy instrumental pop and experimental Detroit techno. Like Donuts, the funky and freewheeling Alone Together’s high points (the heavenly “OOOOOOOOOAAAAAAA,” the slick and funky “Because”) are affecting but brief, and its whole is absolute front-to-back joy.

Swans, The Seer (Young God)
Michael Gira has said that The Seer took 30 years to make. In a way, that’s true: The Seer encompasses all the places Swans have ever been, journeying through post-rock, electronic soundscapes, haunting acoustic beauty, punishing noise, and a Panzer tank division’s worth of percussion. At more than two hours long, it’s an endurance test that doesn’t feel like one. The Seer is Swans’ ecstatic, darkly beautiful magnum opus.

Bo White, Same Deal/New Patrones (Kinnikinnik)
Charlotte’s Bo White spent a year cobbling together this tribute to narcocorridos true-crime folk and Mexican banda singer Sergio Vega, imbuing Same Deal with startling nuance and awesome, if at times grisly, imagery. With expansive indie rock tempered by Afrobeat and David Byrne weirdo-pop, new treasures are revealed with every listen.

BONUS ROUND: Twenty-Four Great Songs From Albums Not on the Above List
A$AP Rocky, “Goldie”
Alpoko Don, “Get My Paypa Dog”
Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife”
Big K.R.I.T., “Boobie Miles”
Burial, “Kindred”
Clams Casino, “Swervin’”
Dirty Projectors, “Gun Has No Trigger”
Four Tet, “Pyramid”
fun., “We Are Young”
Hammer No More the Fingers, “Lil’ Tifton”
Menahan Street Band, “Lights Out”
The Men, “Kyle Keays”
Miguel, “Adorn”
Pelican, “Lathe Biosas”
People Person, “Astoria”
Pussy Wizard, “Fazzze It Out”
Ramphastos, “Warsaw”
Savages, “Husbands”
Schooner, “Locked In”
Dylan Sneed, “Beautiful Noise”
Andy Stott, “Numb”
Sun Kil Moon, “Lonely Mountain”
Sharon Van Etten, “Joke or a Lie”
Y.N. Rich Kids, “Hot Cheetos & Takis”

HONORABLE MENTION/APOLOGIES TO: Action Bronson, Rare Chandeliers (Vice); Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls (ATO); Oren Ambarchi, Sagittarian Domain (Editions Mego); Antibalas, Antibalas (Daptone); The Bad Plus, Made Possible (Eone); Baroness, Yellow & Green (Relapse); Big K.R.I.T., Live from the Underground (Def Jam); Blut Aus Nord, 777: Cosmosophy (Debemur Morti); Ravi Coltrane, Spirit Fiction (Blue Note); Deftones, Koi No Yokan (Reprise); Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan (Domino); Justin Townes Earle, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (Bloodshot); Earth, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II (Southern Lord); El Ten Eleven, Transitions (Fake Record Label); Floating Action, Fake Blood; Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Constellation); Heems, Nehru Jackets (Greedhead); Horseback, Half Blood (Relapse); Jealousy Mountain Duo, The Home of Easy Credit (Blunoise); Damien Jurado, Mariqopa (Secretly Canadian); Kaki King, Glow (Velour Recordings); Lambchop, Mr. M (Merge); Lost In the Trees, A Church That Fits Our Needs (Anti-); Maserati, Maserati VII (Temporary Residence); The Menahan Street Band, The Crossing (Daptone); Mono, For My Parents (Temporary Residence Ltd.); Bob Mould, The Descent (Merge); Narrows, Painted (Deathwish Inc.); Organos, Concha (Minus Sound Research); Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction (Profound Lore); Jeff Parker Trio, Bright Light in Winter (Delmark); Pinback, Information Received (Temporary Residence Ltd.); Pop. 1280, The Horror (Sacred Bones); Pussy Wizard, Fuck Jams Vol. 1 (Fork & Spoon); Ramphastos, Southern Gothic (Post-Echo); Roc Marciano, Reloaded (Decon); Savages, I Am Here (Pop Noire); Christian Scott, Christian aTunde Adjuah (Concord Jazz); Ty Seagall Band, Slaughterhouse (In the Red); Shearwater, Animal Joy (Sub Pop); Shovels and Rope, O Be Joyful (Dualtone); Solange, True (Terrible); Spaceghostpurrp, The Chronicles of Spaceghostpurrp (4AD); Sun Kil Moon, Among the Leaves (Caldo Verde); Sunshone Still, ThewaytheworldDies (Potato Eater); Those Lavender Whales, Tomahawk of Praise (Fork & Spoon); Titus Andronicus, Local Business (XL); Torche, Harmonicraft (Volcom/The Orchard); The Twilight Sad, No One Can Ever Know (Fat Cat); Sharon Van Etten, Tramp (Jagjaguwar); Zebras, Zebras (Secret Records)

CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED RECORDS I DID NOT CARE FOR: Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man (Parlophone); Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (Carpark);  Death Grips, The Money Store (Epic);  Grimes, Visions (4AD); Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (Def Jam); Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl); Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe (Atlantic)

Drew Harkins’ Top Albums of 2012

Drew Harkins is currently following some sort of bizarro, modernized version of Don Draper’s esteemed trajectory, replete with passels of women, ankle-bearing suits, and ad campaigns … without all that inconvenient identity theft nonsense.

1. Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
They aren’t long; all the weeping and the laughter. Hold damn tight onto those days, because one morning in your late 20’s you’ll wake up and realize that your hair is already half-grey, the career you dreamed of is stalled in second gear, you’re not paying off your debts, you fail to keep a steady girlfriend, and over the past decade you’ve become increasingly more enamored with partying than your own potential. Ennui’s a bitch, bro.

2. Beach House, Bloom (Sub Pop)
I still don’t get the trajectory of this band. Trust me; I saw them in 2008 and I thought they sucked. But seriously? With every album, Beach House manages to do the same infuriatingly ineffable and inexplicably good thing with basically the same exact effect every single time, but even better each go ’round. I’m too lazy to put a finger on what they do, so I’ll just call it “wet dream Muzak” and go eat some Jolly Rancher™ hard candies while feeling smug.

3. Best Coast, The Only Place (Mexican Summer)
I still don’t want to sleep with Bethany Cosentino. I just want to go over to her house and be all like, “Yo Beth-dog! Quit being a bummer! Let’s go to the beach and eat popsicles and listen to Hüsker Dü and heckle dudes in cargo shorts YOU KNOW IT WILL BE FUN.”

4. Guns N’ Roses, Use Your Illusion 3 (Circumvent)
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5. Tennis, Young & Old (Fat Possum)
The Black Keys are now in the business of giving swagger lessons. Witness Keys drummer Patrick Carney’s production of this album. Singlehandedly, he took Alaina Moore’s coquettish twee and turned it into a diva-worthy croon. Intricate melodies, expanded horns, minor shifts and sly backing vocals take the husband-wife duo of Tennis from white girl garage doo-wop to true blue-eyed beach soul. There’s also something particularly dense in play this time; increasingly more melancholy than blissful and wistful. The honeymoon may be over, but they’re still holding on.

6. The Men, Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones)
Mission of Burma made another great album. Todd Rundgren produced it and the guys from Thin Lizzy showed up in the studio.

7. Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror (Mom + Pop)
If Treats was like the start of a good relationship, all fireworks and sex and whiskey, then Reign of Terror is more like the end of a good relationship, when your life is a walking Steve Earle song and you’re both sniping at each other via text message and thinking, “How the fuck can you be sleeping with that person?”

Anyway, Alexis Krauss is super hot. I mean, what the shit? One minute she’s all edgy co-ed-cum-Mousketeer, the next thing you know, she’s on some next-level indie Cindy Crawford-slash-Elvira vampiress tip. She even makes breast implants look sexy, and insert boner pun here and we’re done.

8. Dwight Yoakam, 3 Pears (Warner Bros.)
I was at Goodwill the other month, doing some thrifting because I’m a total hipster and I happened across a pair of vintage Wrangler premium patch jeans. These things were TOTALLY fucking boss – straight-up butt cut, stretchy cotton/denim blend, and basically like the pair my bull-riding friend Kenneth wore when he called our math teacher “honey” in college.

So there I am in a thrift store off White Horse Road in Greenville, stomping around in some bunk-ass L.L. Bean southwestern-style winter jacket, prancing to and fro all willy-nilly like a fruitcake and swiveling on my heels in front of a mirror with a full mammaltoe going on, singing “Little Sister” and pretending I’m Dwight Yoakam. Then this old black woman saunters behind me and gives me that total “SMH @witepeople” thing that old black women are awesome at doing. I’d never felt so white in my life.

**Bonus Life Tip**: Never ask a girl to go “thrifting” with you on your iPhone, because it auto-corrects to “thrusting.” On second thought, always do that.

9. Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)
I don’t really know what to say here. Dave Longstreth is IKEA monkey.

10. Justin Townes Earle, Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now (Bloodshot)
“I know a lot about girls, particularly wild women. I know a lot about dope. I know a lot about guns. And actually, I know a lot about clothes. I just try to take those things and mix them in.” – Justin Townes Earle

11. Jack White, Blunderbuss (Third Man)
Jack White could shit on a microphone and it would probably still be worth a couple listens.

k’s Top Albums of 2012 (@kerryrm)

Wild Nothing – Nocturne
Like M83’s Saturdays = Youth, Wild Nothing’s Nocturne tugs at the heartstrings of my ’80s childhood and my ’90s twee indie pop infatuation.

Tennis – Young & Old
This album makes me want to lay in the grass on a sunny Summer day with nothing to do.

Marina & The Diamonds – Electra Heart
I am a sucker for a British chanteuse with a broken heart and a dark, wry wit backed by over-produced club-ready beats.

DIIV – Oshin
I hear elements of Ride, The Cure, and a slew of other “dream pop” bands I’ve loved for years.

Chromatics – Kill For Love
It is dark, seductive and preys on all my weaknesses like the perfect temptress.

Kaki King – Glow
Gorgeous guitar instrumentals that will break your heart over and over.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Raucous, unapologetic straight forward guitar-based indie rock with heart and soul.

Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
Catchy power-pop with nods to early Emo as well as Jawbreaker, et al.

Lana Del Rey – Born to Die
Over-produced, over-hyped vapid and trite pop exactly how it should be done.

Saint Etienne – Words and Music
A synth laden dance-floor album about being in love with music.

Top Singles*
Breaking the YearlingsShearwater
Lost in My BedroomSky Ferreira
Feels Like We Only Go BackwardsTame Impala
EmmylouFirst Aid Kit
Losing YouSolange
ThreadsNow Now
Silver SpringLykke Li
Atomic AgeParlour Tricks
I Wanna Go OutTeen Mom
OKAY CupidKitty Pryde
DreamersSavoir Adore
Disparate YouthSantigold
HeartbreakerThe Walkmen
212Azealia Banks

(*My personal rule is that my top singles can’t be on any of the albums in my top album list.)

Kerry’s previous lists: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008

Kevin Foster Langston’s Top Albums of 2012

Kevin Foster Langston is a recovering music critic who likes what he likes because he likes it, and anyone who has a problem with that can bugger off.

1. Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
2. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (ADA/Carpark Records)
3. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (Def Jam)
4. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Clean Slate/Epic)
5. Diiv, Oshin (Captured Tracks)
6. The Men, Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones)
7. Metz, Metz (Sub Pop)
8. Titus Andronicus, Local Business (XL)
9. Jack White, Blunderbuss (Columbia /Third Man Records)
10. Fun., Some Nights (Fueled by Ramen Records)

+ Honorable Mention: Ty Segall released three fantastic records this year (e.g. Hair, Twins and Slaughterhouse), but they sort of cancelled one another out.

Eric Greenwood’s Top Albums of 2012

I’ve written for Drawer B for 14 years, and so it stands to reason that this is my 14th year-end list of albums (unless I slacked off one or two times). You’ll undoubtedly disagree with several of my choices, as these are not necessarily the “best” records of the year- just the ones I preferred to listen to the most, which is how I always approach these pompous lists. I only commented on the Top 10, but the embedded player has my Top 23 (two of my favorites were not available for streaming, including Chromatics’ Kill for Love and The Men’s Open Your Heart, which ended up being #17, rounding out a more logical Top 25).

1. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic)
Fiona Apple is no run of the mill singer/songwriter. No Lilith Fair leftover. She never fit in with that tribe, anyway. The awkwardness and anti-social tendencies of her public persona translate brilliantly into idiosyncratic vignettes of scorn, longing, rage, desperation, and regret, typifying the myth that you probably don’t ever want to meet your idols. And her experimentation with dissonance against a backdrop of beautifully crafted ballads and eccentric pop makes her album even more fearless in the face of constant major label pressure for “hits.” Despite the angst on the surface, Apple sounds resigned to her fate as the one left behind, and it’s as heartbreaking to listen to as it is utterly addictive. She’s never sounded more in control of knowing she’s not in control at all. This is her masterpiece.

2. Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
There was no finer album in 2012 to turn up as loud as possible with the windows rolled down that brilliantly captured that feeling of being angry, confused, and 22. Speed up some of Tom Petty’s best rockers, angst up the vocals, and play with wild and reckless abandon and you can almost catch a glimpse of the magnetism that makes Celebration Rock so appealing. This album is a non-stop onslaught of anthemic hooks that rock with so much gusto it actually lives up to its name.

3. Chromatics, Kill for Love (Italians Do It Better)
I love everything about this band. The cover art. The font choice. The icy, retro synth production. The coolly detached vocals. The sparse arrangements. The futuristic ennui. Everything. Chromatics don’t reinvent the wheel here, but their brand of vintage analog new wave is a paean to the underbelly of 1980’s cosmopolitan decay. The sleekly perfected aesthetic aside, Chromatics also know how to compose pop songs, despite burying them underneath layers of reverb and fractured guitar lines. The meticulousness sounds labored and calculated, but I find myself helplessly drawn to its claustrophobic aura again and again.

4. Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE (Def Jam)
I love this album as much for the production as I do the songs. The samples, the asides, the little flourishes all add up to create an aurally challenging piece of art. Ocean’s got a choice weapon with that falsetto, which places him in a very exclusive club – up there with Thom Yorke and D’Angelo. But channel ORANGE is to be revered not only because of its grand statement of intent and successful execution but also because Ocean’s vision is uniquely his own. His acutely aware cultural references, his hyper-sensitive point of view, and his understanding of the world as he sees it all reveal glimpses of a young genius ahead of his time, who can flat-out sing.

5. Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe (Atlantic)
Certainly, this album is not as instantly memorable as her debut, but upon further listening, it reveals Santigold might be in it for the long haul. The instant pop gems that flowed out of her debut just made things seem like her career might die from flash-in-the-pan syndrome. Master of My Make-Believe calls bullshit on that noise, proving that Santigold isn’t just the face/voice for a group of producers. “Disparate Youth” alone is easily one of the best-crafted pop songs of the year, cleverly mixing dub, reggae, and atmospheric pop. She’s filled with bravado, but there’s substance to back it all up. Every single song on this album is catchy, even if it’s not overtly so. She’s a chameleon musically, but the ease with which she genre-hops sounds effortless. She’s inverted the idea of what being a pop star means by focusing on the details instead of casting as wide a net as possible.

6. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (Car Park)
Notorious now for its recording as much as its content (due to Steve Albini’s bored detachment at Electrical Audio), Cloud Nothings turned the jangly, introverted scuzzpop of its debut into a thinking man’s version of emo with a healthy dose of Slint and Nirvana. The rawness of the vocals, specifically the imperfections, take some of these songs to levels you just can’t fake. And Albini’s signature bass heavy production augments Cloud Nothings’ angrier, fiercer attack. The eight-minute epic “Wasted Days” perfectly exemplifies this album’s tension, rage, and dynamic interplay.

7. Crystal Castles, III (Casablanca)
Crystal Castles’ III is the soundtrack for your dystopian nightmare. Describing the duo’s strain of electro as “dark” seems misleadingly understated. It’s a danceable horror show. Alice Glass’ (best rock star name in the business) manic vocals both subvert and penetrate the pulsing wall of beats and icicle synths. This band revels in the ugliness of sound, but the overall effect is less shrill than on the previous two albums. It would be hard work listening to this band were it not for the immediacy of its throbbing undercurrent. On the surface the sputtering, disjointed effects seem soulless, but take away the deliberate sonic red herrings and Crystal Castles is simply a pop band writing beautiful pop songs.

8. Friends, Manifest! (Fat Possum)
Friends come off like NYC hipsters (a terrible word, but what else is there?) accidentally hitting the “record” button on a bunch of basement party jams until you realize – after having played the album five times in a row – that, perhaps, this was all created with a bit more thought. The blasé disco funk is infectious. “I’m His Girl” is a Top 40 hit in some alternate (getting it right) universe. The music can feel clique-ish, standoff-ish; you can just sense that you aren’t cool enough to get the inside references. But the hooks are a bit more entreating, and there are hooks aplenty. If this band doesn’t implode from the weight of too many neon half-shirts and an overabundance of ironic mustaches, it may just make a great record some day.

9. Holograms, Holograms (Captured Tracks)
Stockholm’s Holograms confronts the nihilism of punk with an excess of reverb and vocal histrionics. Where this band might seem like just another descendent of Joy Division’s wiry dirge-obsessed clan of disciples (à la Iceage), there’s more going on than a perfunctory listen might reveal. Yes, the music is a mishmash of PIL-style post-punk, new wave and early Cure, but there’s real emotion and raw energy beneath the cold, dead-heart cityscape image.

10. Lana Del Rey, Born to Die (Interscope)
Live by the blog, die by the blog. Lana Del Rey had a quantifiably shitty year by image standards. After reaching ridiculous levels of hype with a handful of mysterious and sexually charged singles in 2011, Lana Del Rey finally unveiled her debut album last January to a collective overcorrection of mehs. Reviews were all over the place, but any press is good press, except when you tank on SNL. I think she was overly criticized for not living up to impossible expectations. Born to Die is filled with lustful, woeful ballads that may be panderingly peppered with cliched hip-hopisms, trendy electronic glosses, and carefully calculated beats, but that doesn’t make the songs any less good. I like the sultry tone of her voice. And her lips. Fuck the press. This is a good album. And extra points for being crazy enough to maybe be dating Axl Rose.

Logan K. Young’s Top Albums of 2012

Logan K. Young is a former contributor to Drawer B, who managed to stir up his fair amount of shit while in residence. He’s now moved on to bigger and better things, including being a fellow for 11th annual USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program. Unsurprisingly, a few of his best album choices are a tad too obscure for the streaming services, so you’ll have to do your own homework to track down some of these releases. We’re streaming what we could find on Rdio below.

Top 10 Records:
1. Scott Walker, Bish Bosch (4AD)
2. Jason Lescalleet, Songs About Nothing (Erstwhile)
3. Holly Herndon, Movement (RVNG Intl.)
4. X-TG, Desertshore/The Final Report (Industrial)
5. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill (Warner Bros.)
6. Wadada Leo Smith, Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform)
7. Florian Hecker, Chimerization (Farsi Language Version) (Editions Mego)
8. Fushitsusha, Hikari To Nazukeyo (Heartfast)
9. Matmos, The Ganzfield EP (Thrill Jockey)
10. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Mature Themes (4AD)

Top 10 Tunes:
1. Matthew Bourne, “Infinitude”
2. Spiritualized, “Hey Jane”
3. Dan Deacon, “Call Me Maybe Acapella 147 Times Exponentially Layered”
4. Chelsea Light Moving, “Frank O’ Hara Hit”
5. Swans, “The Seer”
6. Bob Dylan, “The Tempest”
7. Neneh Cherry & The Thing, “Dirt”
8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps”
9. Leslie Keffer, “Finally, Caves! (Joy Dance)”
10. Sirvana, “Cut Me Some Slack”

Top 10 Reissues:
1. Sonic Youth, Smart Bar – Chicago (Goofin’)
2. Pauline Oliveros, Reverberations: Tape & Electronic Music, 1961-70 (Important)
3. Can, The Lost Tapes (Mute)
4. G. I. Gurdjieff, Improvisations (Mississippi)
5. Various Artists, Pictures of Sound: One Thousand Years of Educed Audio, 980-1980 (Dust-to-Digital)
6. Royal Trux, Accelerator (Drag City)
7. Laurie Spiegel, The Expanding Universe (Unseen Worlds)
8. Various Artists, Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City, 1976-96 (Soul Jazz)
9. Woody Guthrie, Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection (Smithsonian Folkways)
10. Sleep, Dopesmoker (Southern Lord)

Top 10 Shows:
1. Jandek @ Garfield Artworks. Pittsburgh, Pa. – Jan. 13
2. Glenn Branca Ensemble @ Lang Theater, Atlas Performing Arts Center, Sonic Circuits Festival. Washington, D.C. – Sept. 30
3. Mx Justin Vivian Bond @ Joe’s Pub. New York, N.Y. – March 25
4. Thurston Moore @ Performing Arts Center, Naropa University. Boulder, Colo. – July 5
5. Morton Subotnick @ Dekelboum Concert Hall, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland. College Park, Md. – April 18
6. Pulp @ Radio City Music Hall. New York, N.Y. – April 11
7. Bill Orcutt & Chris Corsano @ The Windup Space, Creative Differences. Baltimore, Md. – Sept. 5
8. Lydia Lunch with Retrovirus @ FIDM Grand Hope Park. Los Angeles, Calif. – Nov. 8
9. Sunn O))) @ Main Stage, Black Cat. Washington, D.C. – Sept. 6
10. Julia Holter @ Johnny Brenda’s. Philadelphia, Pa. – Sept. 1