As the so-called "death" of guitar music continues to be slammed into your ear year after year by aging baby boomers convincing themselves Bob Dylan, Neil Young, & Bruce Springsteen put out the best albums of the year (REAL MUSIC!!!1!!111!1), a slew of psychedelic gatekeepers led by Tame Impala continue to defy just how good guitar rock can be in its sixth decade. With a heavier emphasis on whirling, wings-to-the-sky synthesizers ("Apocalypse Dreams") and organic color wheeled experimentation ("Sun's Coming Up"), Lonerism proves rock 'n roll is indeed not dead, and never will be.
49. Max Richter - Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi - The Four Seasons (Grammophon)
How suiting in this age of micro-evolution, melting-pot genres, unclassifiability that Max Richter would take the nucleus of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and reconstruct the molecules to create his own intriguing, absolutely gorgeous mutation of some of the most universally recognizable classical music ever recorded. Screwed 'n chopped for ominous, golden-trimmed cathedrals and the rolling English prairie sides, blanketed in sea of flowers.
48. MJ Linckoln - Linckoln Premiere (Sunup Recordings)
Linckoln Premiere serves as a reminder of why the ultra-sheek neon wave-party that was the 80s continues to be a vital injection into the blood of hip hop. Rooted in hot-pink Vice City electro-funk with sluggish and druggy tempo, the party over at MJ Linckoln's is a groove best experienced after a couple of glasses of syrup on the rocks, and the obligatory hit of crank in the bathroom stall.
47. Actress - R.I.P. (Honest Jon's)
Taking simple, repetitive melodies and washing them out in a fuzz of white graffiti, hypnotic tape hiss, and melancholic daydreams, R.I.P. further aligns my position of Actress as a melodic, club-hopping Autechre under the same pill as Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland. It's his strongest record yet, fleshing out a highly original sound documenting the frightening aftermath of the club-ridden vapors that float skywards after they've been pounded into the machine.
46. Burial - Kindred (Hyperdub)
Recently, the enigmatic Burial has embraced the idea of electronic music not being so strictly limited to the LP format, but rather, long EPs with a couple lengthy tracks covering a rich amount of sonic ground. While still sticking to the basis of his poignant 2-step and sleep-deprived atmospheres, the three tracks here each make a different statement. "Kindred" a static-drenched guttural dreamscape warped in chopped lyrics of lost love, "Loner" the frightening memory of a haunted, strobe-immersed club, and "Ashtray Wasp" the siren of an unforgiving night below the slums of perpetually rained-on population; all a testament from one of electronic music's most vital voices.
45. Datavis - Ethics (Self-Released)
While Will Burnett was out turning heads with the sluggish FM-funk of Datavision Ltd., and constructing the sound of a rising internet culture on INTERNET CLUB, Burnett was quietly constructing his best music unnoticed as Datavis. While I certainly enjoyed his other two aliases, Datavis' meandering crystalline smudge is what really stuck with me this year. Ethics brings to turntablist extraordinaire Philip Jeck and his cathartic take on ambient music, as its wrapped in mystery, spooky nostalgia, and all kinds of little sonic intricacies that suggests the possibility of this whole EP being created in the moment, improvising from the eye of a foggy 6AM sunrise and meditational insomnia.
44. Claro Intelecto - Reform Club (Delsin)
Reform Club is 4/4 for clear-headed junkies. Life post-drugs may lack any sharp highs and be a bit repetitive, but it's a beautiful thing once you’re past the horror and realize how fragile everything is around you. The lows will always be apart of you, there's no stopping that, but now there's nothing stopping you from becoming the person you could never become. Use this club to fight whatever burden wants to control you.
43. Jessie Ware - Devotion (Island)
It seems everytime R&B takes an interesting new direction, pop music levels up. Jessie Ware isn't writing a new chapter as much as she's taking two elements (traditional, soulful R&B & UK Garage) and seamlessly fusing them into soulful future-R&B that works as well on the radio as it does on an esoteric blog (what's sup). She's gets just about everything right on this brilliant debut; the voice, the hooks, and quirky instrumentals that never distract too far from her soulful gospel.
42. Malibu Locals Only - We Rusticated Earth (Self-released)
Down in grandma's basement, there's an old piano that sits there in the darkness. It's been slowly crumbling away for decades, as dust and the muggy light from the window atop of it decay the rusted strings inside out of tune. But every time I’m sitting there playing it, with the sound of a cousin furiously blowing air into an NES cartridge to get the damn thing to play on the black and white television, the sound floats out like a midnight ghoul with a grin on its face; it's so excruciatingly urgent, far more so than any other piano I've heard. It's almost like every time someone presses down on the floppy keys, you’re taking in a dialogue of "Here's me, no bullshit. Like it or not this who I am, this is what I really sound like." Then the NES finally flashes on with a little buzzed distortion in the corner, and out comes a melancholic parody of the Mario Bros. theme from the effort of the exhausted cabinet speakers. Everything in the room on the point of a beautiful decline, like a swan song of pure unbridled honesty.
41. Rivet - Amid the Roar (Kontra-Musik)
Looking back on the year, there were stronger EPs than there were LPs in the world of electronic music, and Rivet's Amid the Roar stands out as one of the finest. With three endlessly enjoyable earworms of deep tech-house to pump up any proper party, one could only imagine what kind of material this is leading up to an LP.
40. DIIV - Oshin (Captured Tracks)
I remember this summer I planned a fishing trip with my brother for the wee hours of the morning to yonder out to a big pond by a Citibank, where you can literally throw a reel into the water and get a bite everytime. Of course, the little shits you catch are about as big as a Pepsi can, but still it was a good ol' American time. Little to my loosening attention span, I "accidently" stayed up all night the night of and somehow managed to drive me and my brother to the pond, and have a damn good time in the process. Looking back, Oshin made that trip. Driving past the over saturated grass and the ultra-bright sunrise reflecting off business parks, blinding my field of view, become an extremely atmospheric thing listening to the loose jangle jams of DIIV. Their washed out haze suited the sparkling pond and Pepsi-can fish oh so well. Sometimes getting off this laptop has benefits.
39. Allah-Las - Allah-Las (Innovative Leisure)
Allah-Las take in the best elements for their dreamy garage rock; scratchy, classic sounding vocals, surf splashed guitar jangles, and a wee hint of psychedelia in for good measure. The sound results in one of the most enjoyable rock albums of the year, to-the-point simplicity from a faraway land from one of the finest new bands of the year.
38. Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse (In The Red)
When he's not making an ass of himself dismissing all that isn't rock, Ty Segall is a pretty cool fuckin' dude. None of his (many) records this year represent that better than Slaughterhouse; the loudest, rawest, most in-your-face garage rock record of the year. Sounding like he got amped up on some proper drugs and told his band to play something TRUE, he turns on the tape and has at it. Question is, how'd they manage to pull off all those catchy hooks?
37. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Visiting This World (Devotion)
It's kind of odd how seamlessly beautiful sounds can fit with harsh sounds. Few prove that point better than Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, who continues to mix achingly gorgeous drones with chaotic swirls of static and noise, that spiral up this ladder to heaven like a spooky siren leading you to a great peace. Or maybe, judging from the cover art, it's the other way around; beauty has its limit, all good things come to an end. All a flower is doing is slowly dying.
36. James Ferraro - Sushi (Hippos In Tanks)
On Sushi, Ferraro takes the quirky internet gospel he created on last year's Far Side Virtual and downloads two new music apps; Hip Hop and Techno. These apps suit him well, giving him a chance to expand his new crystalline desktop background with all kinds of fun programs that's sure to keep the kids up late with sags under their little eyes. In the future, the drug lords of east & west Baltimore will communicate through iPads; when they're 20 years irrelevant. Fuck the police.
35. Ulrich Schnauss & ASC - 77 (Auxiliary)
I'm probably in a small minority here, but I've always preferred video game soundtracks to film scores. I suppose nostalgia has a lot to do with it, but there's something attractive about music composed specifically for imaginative worlds, dimensions, and universes. You could argue the job of a film score is similar (depending on the film), but in a video game (or at least, the best ones) your allowed to experience these realms at your own will; exploring the land, taking in "culture", feeling a sense of risk and urgency through its obstacles, and undergoing these things down to their very mechanics (weather, climate, gravity). The reason I bring this up is that I can't help but compare this EP to the early Spyro soundtracks for Playstation. The game's crystalline soundscapes with a kind of moody, electronic folk element can be heard here to great effect. Though on 77 that sound takes a modern-twist, featuring sets of muted drum 'n bass and electro-rhythms that would carry the series over brilliantly to the next-gen. The Spyro sound is in no doubt thanks to Schnauss' signature, lofty color wheeled palette; painting the game's dreamy, highly saturated levels to a glossy finish. This kind of relationship is similar to how the keyboard lines on Bon Iver's "Beth/Rest", Nas' "Bye Baby", and Lil Ugly Mane's "Breezem Out" all sound like (to my ear) the water theme from Super Mario 64, and when you can find an association in modern music that links you back to wonderful memories of your childhood, it's a beautiful thing.
34. Roomful of Teeth - Roomful of Teeth (New Amsterdam)
So after some hesitation, you decide walk into the weird looking barbershop. The door makes a little ring when you grasp your sweaty palm on the door and open it, to be greeted by a series of awkward smiling barbers dressed in tribal looking outfits. You’re immediately sat down in one of the wooden seats that looks more like a throne, and some kind of native cloth is thrown around you to catch the hair. Maybe it was the mood, or maybe it was the fact that you watched the Lion King three times in a row the night before, but over the speakers it sounds like they were playing a warped Take 6 record; pure vocal harmony but spiritual, tribal, jagged, twisted, uncomfortable. The barber starts to chop your hair away in all kinds of angles; front, back, sideways, upside down. It's weird to watch, but he's so gracefully and elegant doing it, such confidence in his face. Finally he spins you around and you glance in the mirror; it looks exactly like you wanted it to. Once you walk out you notice people starting to stare, some laughing. You look down into a puddle, your hair still looking every bit like you wanted it to. They still laugh.
33. Malibu Locals Only - Matterhorn Pt. 2 (Sunup Recordings)
There's a moment on "City Lights; Night Flash" after you've been soaking in rain with a cozy piano melody and dreamy electronic keys, 2:59 to be exact (when the rain's drizzled down to just single drops), when a rapturous piano line fills the track with such a complete sense of innocence that I can't help but melt into this crippled state of awe. It's probably my favorite minute or so of music this year. The rest is wonderful too, with all kinds of field and nature recordings underneath gorgeous piano and keyboard lines, but that moment had me floored.
32. Lone - Garden Galaxy (R&S Records)
The dreamier, technicolor side of Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, GameCube soundtracks, ideal for interstellar clubbing. Also: see cover art.
31. I:Cube - "M" Megamix (Versatile)
I:Cube's idea of short 1-2-minute bursts of sparkling French house is nothing short of brilliant, maximizing a prolific amount of cosmic grooves while seamlessly flowing it all into one hour long infinity party. More dance music should be structured like this.
30. The Caretaker - Patience (After Sebald) (History Always Favours The Winners)
One of Leyland Kirby’s strongest assets as a musician is his ability to contrast moods, themes, and concepts, and on Patience he manages to find an intriguing balance between beauty and hostility. Though it is technically a soundtrack to Grant Gee's documentary of the same name, Patience doesn’t have to rely on the accompaniment of a visual aid to be effective. Though it’s bleaker and less immediate than its predecessor, it expands his sound beyond the ballroom while retaining the wide-eyed beauty and ghastly haunt that’s made him such distinct personality in the world of ambient music.
29. Pig Destroyer - Book Burner (Relapse)
This one goes out to all the dads that still use the belt.
28. Hildur Guðnadóttir - Leyfðu ljósinu (Touch)
Apparently recorded with just three microphones, no post-studio tampering, one woman and a cello, Hildur Guðnadóttir manages to channel a lot of emotions with such minimal set up. Beginning with a sterile cello melody, plucking along until being vaporized by a ghastly sweep of musty orchestration, carrying the cellist up and up the sky until the track reaches a heavenly climax surpassed by few this year; Leyfðu ljósinu remains one of the lovely albums of the year.
27. Scott Walker - Bish Bosch (4AD)
Brawlers, Bawlers, & Bastards. Walker warns anybody who seeks to ride this haunted train of rust that there's no seats, no railing, no support. Just you in a flimsy box hoping you don't wake the demons outside. Though I'll tell you, there's a nice ol' cabaret on the sixth trolley that's got a swingin' big band and some ice cold spirits to offer. That is, if you can hop across the fiery blaze that blocks it.
26. Purl & Deflektion - Growing (Dewtone)
Electronic label Dewtone has been putting out some of the most gorgeous atmospheric electronic music this year, and Purl & Deflektion's Growing is their swan song. Wrapped in layer after layer of dreamy crystallized drone and deep, pumping bass lines, Growing is like the sped-up micro-growth of a plant. Photosynthetic material slowly pumping energy through the stem, while carbon dioxide matter is exhausted from the leafs. It's polished to an absolute gem, but organic like the life that feeds it.
25. Mister Lies - Hidden Neighbors (Self-released)
In some ways Mister Lies is the polar opposite of Burial. They share similar rhythmic qualities, but where Burial is concerned with darkness and obscurity, Mister Lies is concerned with euphoria and tranquility. Alot of the songs here are kind of meditative in their deep and relaxing nature ("False Astronomy", "Cleam") and others grand and highly orchestral ("Hidden Neighbors (For Beverly)"). All in all in makes for one the finest EPs in 2012.
24. Drape - An Idea and Its Map (Infraction)
I'd like to thank the sound the Seyda Neen Silt Strider makes the minute you get off the boat. This howling means I'm playing the best game ever made.
23. d’Eon - LP (Hippos In Tanks)
After releasing a split with Grimes last year, it's weird to look back on how it all turned out. Grimes blew up, and well, d'Eon didn't. While I do like Grimes, it's sad because d'Eon is a much more interesting
character. He managed to put out some of the most interesting and prolific music this year, with the nostalgia-overloaded, ambient-crushing Music For Keyboards series and (most importantly) on LP, where d'Eon manages to take the 80s pop of Peter Gabriel/Phil Collins with elements of contemporary R&B, dream pop, new age, and electronic fuckery and create the most unique pop record of the year. It's a massive album with a massive sound, and remains one of the most overlooked of 2012.
22. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music (Williams Street)
One of the reasons OutKast managed to become a vital voice in hip hop was their emphasis of the groove, the funk, & the soul. Killer Mike's claim to fame could be found guest-spotting for the Kast, until R.A.P. Music came around and changed all of that. With its thick, curvy grooves, brooding lyrical juke, and wonky electro production (thanks El-P) Killer Mike has finally arrived, representing the best of the old and the new. The old school grooves of the furious "Don't Die", the BBQ PARTAAY "Southern Fried", and the spiritual catharsis "R.A.P. Music"; Killer Mike defined what rap should be in 2012.
21. Vikki Jackman, Andrew Chalk & Jean-Nöel Rebilly - A Paper Doll's Whisper of Spring (N/A)
Vikki Jackman and Andrew Chalk have quietly been some of the great minds in ambient music over the years. Jackman specializes in subtle, childlike rhythmic patterns under lucid drones, and Chalk in droning orchestral slumber, resonating in all kinds of emotional thickness. Jackman and Chalk combine these two ideas with Jean-Nöel Rebilly on A Paper Doll's Whisper of Spring, like a rainy day music box gradually taps out foggy notes, as the ominous clouds above carry the notes higher and higher on elevated drones. Easily one of the most intimate records of the year.
20. Taylor Deupree - Faint (12k)
Faint is like a deconstruction of sound to its smallest form. Gentle waves of static are decomposed and strung out, relieving their core. Distant drones curve a faint skeleton behind it, guiding silvery glitches, errors, and malfunctions along the memory of a signature as they play out a cold and distant melody. It's the ambience of natural phenomena, zoomed in and focused so sharply it feels like lens will shatter at any moment. But it never does. It simply continues to resonate a pretty song, unnoticed.
19. Reso - Tangram (Civil Music)
Since last year's Valken / War Machine EP, Reso has managed to transform the obnoxious Americanized recall of dubstep into an intricately wielded cannon of colossal beats, complex drum 'n bass patterns, lucid tech drones, and a flood of computer error to give the songs a sense of head warping disarray. Reso's archetype Tangram is no different, taking that sound and expanding it in every direction. Whether it's bold technical onslaught ("Exoframe", "Ishimura"), aggressive drum 'n bass invasions ("Axion", "Check 1,2"), or gorgeous downtempo ambience ("Virtua Rhythm", "Nempo"), Tangram offers dubstep an invigorating vision of the future.
18. Emeralds - Just to Feel Anything (Editions Mego)
Virtually panned by every publication out there, Just to Feel Anything remains one of the most misunderstood records of the year. Eyebrows raised as drum machines, a more traditional (Berlin-school) structure of progressive electronic, and Mark McGuire's firebird guitar solos were introduced, following the dreamy, hypnotic passages of their 2010 breakthrough Does It Look Like I'm Here. Hinted at in the twinkling audio synthesis of Steve Hauschildt's Tragedy & Geometry and Mark McGuire's Nightshade, here Emeralds find themselves ascending away from the sunken obscurity of Does It Look Like I'm Here and floating towards a mourning of 80s FM gloom, led by McGuire's gorgeous moonlit condominium guitar lines and Hauschildt's escalating synthesizer rhythms that sound like an 2am NES stuck on a boss battle. It's the sound of an ominous silhouette of Miami Vice detectives as the credits roll, or Tommy Vercetti walking out from the docks and into a neon drenched night club to pop quarters into an arcade game.
17. She - Electric Girl (Shemusic)
Taking the spunk and charm of a J-pop record with the groove and technicality of a French House record, Electric Girl is the party album of the year. It's like if Capsule produced a Justice record; full of delightful robo-girl glitch with Ed Banger-style distorted groove and bass. Running through neo-Toyko with your virtual Tamagotchi in your backpack, ready for an intense DDR tournament below the city in an sunken internet cafe with sweat and urgency on the face of every kid who watches your long awaited, much deserved victory.
16. King Tears Bat Trip - King Tears Bat Trip (Table & Chairs)
A hellishly distorted tenor sax, brutal noise guitar, powerful afro-beat buildups, and endlessly catchy fuck-all grooves hypnotize in an absolutely unrelentingly insane album from start to finish over the course of two mind-numbing "songs". King Tears Bat Trip's debut is one of the most thrilling and engaging jazz albums I've heard in a long, long time.
15. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph)
I'm not one to pretend I know what I'm talking about when it comes to metalcore, or that I listen to it much, but there's something about Converge that's always managed to hold my interest. With a genre so built around speed, intensity, and brutality, it's easy for it to fall apart when any one part isn't working; be it vocals, guitars, drums, etc. Here Converge get it all right: fierce vocals, chaotic and snarling guitars, and pummeling drums with enough rhythm sense to avoid sounding grating and indecisive. Though it's also a matter of how they handle their brutality, and All We Love We Leave Behind sees the band balancing their signature relentlessness, with slower, equally engaging sludge jams to create the most complete metal experience of the year.
14. Livetune - Tell Your World (Toy's Factory)
Let's get one thing straight, Hatsune Miku is not a real person. In fact, she's a singing synthesizer application with a female persona, and is portrayed to be a 16-year-old girl with long blue pigtails and has her own anime. Yes, the Japanese are fucked. The program is known as a "Vocalic", and features other characters with distinctive vocal characteristics that's become something of a subgenre to J-pop in recent years. Just think Japanese Roger Troutman. Though Livetune is indeed human, being the alias of KHz, a Japanese producer who produces pop songs using this vocaloid. Shamelessly synthetic and endlessly catchy, Tell Your World is the finest J-pop record I've heard in a long time, and represents the genre better than anything else out there right now. Open your mind and get lost in the ever-flowing technicolor dream world that is Tell Your World.
13. Mediafired - The Pathway Through Whatever (Beer On The Rug)
As "Vaporwave" turned more into an essay on internet culture rather than a legitimate genre, surely dooming other sleep deprived bedroom pirates with a hard on for kitsch commercialism that they inadvertently acquired nostalgia for (fucking me) who want to have a go at this sound in the future into laughed at parodies of an already dead sound. Though it's all bullshit really, at least in Mediafired's case, because the only thing these songs have in common with the aimless and meandering flamboyant vapordrag of INTERNET CLUB, Macintosh Plus, and WHATTHEFUCKDOESTHISMEANvirtual is that the songs sound like they could be made by any old functioning sociopath slacker with audacity and offliberty (trial version of Ableton if you really want to get fancy). That being said, I do respect the artistic integrity of Mediafired. Sure I could take the YouTube video of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" and copy the URL on offliberty, get the mp3, slap it on audacity, cut it off to around the 0:53 to 0:56 part, and seal it into a 2 minute and 26 second seamless loop and call it "Pixies", but I didn't. He did, and it sounds fucking lush. I could take the mp3 to Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" and essentially make a screwed 'n chopped remix that sounds nothing like the original and call it "Spring Is Here", but I didn't. He did, and it's one of my favorite songs of the year. I could take a collection of little samples I've taken in through FM radio from childhood to now, and warp them into something new, adventurous, and unfamiliar and call the whole thing The Pathway Through Whatever, but I didn't. He did, and it's one of the best albums of 2012.
12. Lil B - God's Father (Self-Released)
From a man who puts out a new mixtape every couple of weeks, usually over an hour long each, it's a wonder how the hell he managed pull off this 34-track, 2-hour opus. No, he's not the greatest rapper alive (he's not even a great rapper), but lyrically he's one of the most interesting in the game. Whenever I turn on the local classic R&B station, there's about a 25% chance I'll hear a sample from God's Father. "Hey, that's Lil B!" ...Is it though? Funny the backwards ideology that comes with hearing a sample before the original. While he certainly steps up his flow here ("Gods Father" is probably the best he's ever sounded) God's Father is all about these god damn instrumentals, featuring some of the top beats of the year ("I Own Swag", "Fuck Ya Money", "Tropics", "Fonk Aint Dead", "Remy", "I Aint Neva Won", "Deep Ass Thoughts", "Glourious BasedGod", "Secrete Obsession", "Turned Me Cold", "Wake Up Mr Flowers 3mix"). It seems like Lil B is always operating from the fourth wall as he's out shouting "SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS" or "Sometimes I think I can talk to the bugs, but that's another chapter" under absolutely gold beats that make for a surreal mental hijack. The fact alone that a 2-hour mixtape works at all is a huge accomplishment, but that the fact this is the strongest hip hop album of 2012 is something to go fucking ape shit never-ending-rave about.
11. Seafoam - Seafoam (Self-Released)
Oh surfy dream pop, how I fancy you. Cascades of lulling daydream tranquility pour from coral reefs, a streaming set of jangly seagull-strung chords gently ripple against misty vocals. Slow motion waves glide across a watery horizon, splashes of vocal ambience greet a thick rising sun beyond it. Early morning dew and chlorine dreams ascend from coastal grooves, gorgeous guitar line's bathe the sea in the whisper of cyan surf. No EP was better this year, lacking a single weak track. Brilliant.
10. Merchandise - Children of Desire (Katorga Works)
Merchandise take a couple of familiar influences from The Smiths and post-punk as a whole and smear it into something unfamiliar; ominous cathedral heavy production drenched in gigantic floods of synth, organ, and noise. The result is gorgeous pop music tangled in thick weaves of experimentation, heard best on the massive "Roser Park"; as Carson Cox's Morrissey / Layne Stanley hybrid vocals sway over aerial pop songs on love and loss that are catchy, harsh, emotional, & experimental, all at once.
9. Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at a Distance (Kranky)
Have to wonder how long Lockett Pundt's had been sitting up there at Deerhunter shows with these absolutely gorgeous jangly daydreams o'plenty. As well as they'd work as Deerhunter songs, Lotus Plaza manage to give these songs a unique spin of their own by creating a set of dreamy, suburban-tuned nostalgia for late night drives after an hour of reminiscing through elementary school playgrounds.
8. bvdub - Don't Say You Know (Darla)
I'm surprised it took this long to create the kind of epic, monolithic sized ambient drum 'n bass tracks of Don't Say You Know, but thankfully it happened at all. bvdub has managed to stay prolific over the past couple of years with an array of techno and ambient albums, but Don't Say You Know feels important. Every track basks in gorgeous puddles of ethereal drones, slowly building and building, until being taken over by a charging drum 'n bass pattern lifting the mix to a skyward climax high above the clouds. It's deeply affecting music, with the same emotional tug as the grandest, prettiest post-rock, but also has the spirit and mystical qualities of ambient and new age.
7. Animal Collective - Centipede Hz (Domino)
Centipede Hz was a tough sell. Attempting to follow up the breakthrough album of one of the most beloved indie bands in the world was bound to spark criticism, no matter what direction they decided to head in. Ditching any indication of laid-back or ambience Merriweather hinted at, Centipede is packed to the brim with whirling synthesizers, aquatic vocal freaky, surging electronics, twisting rhythmic patterns, and radio screwed fuckery. The FM-sonic transitions holding Centipede together remind me of Joseph Hammer's I Love You, Please Love Me Too, where he took small random samples of seemingly unconnected songs and laid them out into two long strings of seamless, hypnotic "songs". Centipede sort of works on that same level, taking all their native rhythmic qualities and signature psychedelic harmonies and taking every instrument they can find and wrapping them in a helix of spiraling distortion, caution tape surrounding the edges. The result is nothing short of amazing.
6. Mac DeMarco - 2 (Captured Tracks)
Mac DeMarco is like the ideal friend who's funny, crazy, delightful, and always nice at the same time, down for anything but understands when enough is enough. I'm not sure how I came to such a conclusion, but the careless utopian backyard daydream that is 2 is enough to feel like I've got a good understanding of the man. Jangly, innocent, and off-color like a fuzzy mid 90s children's show (Pete & Pete I'm looking at you), stripped of any gimmicks and blissfully ignorant to an increasingly pessimistic world. 2 is a lot like a modern day version of R.E.M.'s Murmur in that the songs are incredibly simple and familiar, yet hold a sophisticated charm that nobody is tapping into at this level. It's subtle and irresistibly honest, a quiet force.
5. Eli Keszler - Catching Net (Pan)
Eli Keszler is a deconstructionist. On Catching Net, the drum isn't simply something to bang on with a stick; it's something to resonate off of, something to saw at with a hammer, something to throw around a room, something to rip apart entirely. Combined with a set of crotales, micro-controller metal plates, piano wires, pin blocks, tuning pins, various bass drums, a snare drum, a noise guitar, a clarinet, installed motors, and installation piece in the Boston Center for the Arts consisting of large metallic wires being strung on via mechanical set up on a wall, which also happens to serve as a gallery piece, Eli Keszler creates a sound like no other. Absolutely lost in a chaotic mirage of gnarled and twisted percussion of every volume, timbre, and tempo coming at every angle, guitar feedback drones and frenzied string plucking, the loud trembling of a rusty motor making hazard on the floor, sharp sine waves cutting sanity, and an ominous clarinet buzzing in the distance; it's total fucking chaos, but absolutely thrilling in a way no other album was this year.
4. Ultraísta - Ultraísta (Temporary Residence)
After almost two decades of guiding Radiohead into martyrdom, it was only right for Nigel Godrich to get out and start making some proper tunes of his own. Ultraísta is the perfect way to make it happen. Guided by the sultry hypnosis of vocalist Laura Bettinson, these 10 seductive color-wheeled vignettes flirt with synth pop, new wave, and trip hop, blinded by a flashing floodlight revealing the spectrum of their colored silhouette, resulting in the best pop record of the year. How appropriate David Lynch would remix "Strange Formula"; sophisticated pop music for neon lounges draped in blood red curtains, zigzag patterns highlight the floor, and a small stage for Ultraísta to play phantoms on. Are we really here, or is it all just a dream?
3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)
I've always put it upon myself whenever I listen to a Godspeed record to make sure it's away from what I'm normally doing. In most cases it's taking my dog on a walk; a really long walk that ends up lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour. Not that Godspeed's music can't be enjoyed in other ways, I just think it would be difficult to get the same experience out of taking in a slowly scaling, 20+-minute epic passively, sitting down staring into a computer screen, vs. being out in the open, walking to the sound of the stirring, inevitable climax with every sense of your being in full attention of the song. Not everybody's opinion can hold equal, and not everybody's going to listen to this music and hear what I hear. But, I do believe the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor commands a thrust for adventure, an open-ended journey through music's many horizons that no two people will experience the same. It's music for the big picture; songs that challenge predictable notions and in the process stimulate the mind, delving through the recesses of grave memories, deep ideas, sentimental reflections, and moving recollections until a breathtaking emotional catharsis leaves a grand impression on what the future can be to those who wish to escape the predictability, lies, and corruption of the world we live in for their own ultimatum.
2. Gimu - A Silent Stroll on Sombre St. (Constellation Tatsu)
Shrouded in mystery and passionate like few other albums were this year, A Silent Stroll on Sombre St. is the drone perfected. Similar to William Basinski's gradually disappearing disintegration loops, as each song is relatively simple, usually opening from a cloud of hostility, as an impending siren slowly rises from the ashes, swaying up and down through the rusty tunnel surrounding it before the matter is exhausted out a pipe and into a twisted gaseous state to float onwards in the skies. With his magnum opus, Gimu creates short heartaches wrapped in veils of emotional wear and tear; static, noise, and buzz light a spark trailing down a dreary wick, slowly leading to a series of roaring explosions, expanding the sky in a immensity of light, color, and smoke.
1. Swans - The Seer (Young God)
First and for most when I think about great albums of all-time, their power rests in the idea of escapism. When I sit down and start to dissect the year's best music, the single solitary piece that defined it all will always be the one that took me the furthest away from reality; into a state of solace curated by the album's presence. Strip away the nonsense of the band's legacy and the 30 years it took to create, and you have the most brooding, massive, and intense album of the year. The fiery filth of ablazed occult life on Disc 1. Introduced by the processed mind-altering, cult-cleansing "Lunacy", the numbing fury of the mad king "Mother of the World", the haunting fireside prelude "The Wolf", the monumental epitaph at the center of a fallen civilization "The Seer", the rolling pummeled chant in the distance "The Seer Returns", the nightmare of hellish infinity "93 Ave. Blues", and the dreary work-chant gospel of "The Daughter Brings the Water". Further one you're greeted by the enchanted spiritual ecstasy of Disc 2. Opening with the lovely horizon-eyed ballad "Song for a Warrior", the towering colossus in the sky with the heart of a thousand souls "Avatar", the fire exposed folk lament billowing majesty back to the ground "A Piece of the Sky", and the watershed eye of the beast at the end of all things "Apostate". Exhilarating, enchanting, exhausting and empowering-- no album this year was better.