Deciding which albums belonged in my top 50, let alone where to place them was a difficult task. To better do this, I judged the albums by a few factors: their concept, innovation, technicality, and my overall enjoyment. I did not focus too much on replayability, as I often find some of the best albums are those which can be rarely stomached due to their power (Ben Frost has always been this way for me).
50) King Tears Bat Trip- s/t
King Tears Bat Trip (KTBT) are not very technical in their playing abilities. The band has four drummers doing the work that two could easily do, a guitarist which seems almost never present, and a saxophonist whose tonality seems not fully crafted. On the surface, most would say this is a recipe for disaster, yet somehow this album is captivating, warming, and plays out in a way which keeps the listener interested from start to finish.
Over the course of two 18 minute tracks, KTBT play out one longer piece, a piece which occasionally takes moments from earlier in the album and throws them back at the listener, as if almost citing them like symbolism in a book. One saxophone verse in particular is recurring throughout, and by the end leaves quite an impression.
Overall, this album is one which deserves to be on this list more than Tame Impala (which I originally had at #50 and wrote a review for before deciding to bump off) because this album is more enjoyable. It is more uniform throughout; it is not merely ‘trippy’ because of an overuse of reverb or a reliance on gimmicky 60’s recreated sounds. KTBT play in a way which flows from catchy to spaced out free jazz, and just before it seems like it is too much, they make sure to bring their sound back around, resulting in a wonderful, strange listening experience.
Mixing harsher noise rock with moments of midwestern emo, Sacremento’s So Stressed released this great, unnoticed album this year. While I usually am a huge fan of noise rock, I feel this band’s strong point is its more angsty, hard pop sound. The first two tracks, Adults and A Fisherman’s Feast, do not do it for me. Adults seems a filler opener, while Fisherman’s Feast seems like too much of an attempt to start off with a hard rock sound. After these tracks, though, the album gets great.
Songs like Little TV just feel great, perfectly capturing a sound that so many more mainstream pop punk bands attempt unsuccessfully to capture for years. It is in songs like Little TV, where the band captures a great Stephan Pederson/ White Octave sound.
By the time Animals Seeking Political Asylum comes in, the band seems much more open to playing with their sound (and at times sound like Pederson’s other band, Criteria). Once this song ends, Hairstyles comes in like a swift kick in the ass, reminding the listener that this band is still noise rock. And, once again, the track feels out of place. While the track itself isn’t bad, sounding somewhere between Lightning Bolt and Hella, it doesn’t feel like it fits. But, this is the style of the rest of the record, and while slightly out of place at first, it is still good.
While I would have reordered the tracklist myself, the only real problem the album suffers with is a mild case of schizophrenia. The album cannot decide how it wants to sound and ends up sounding like two different records jammed together. Still, this is a promising debut for a band, and shows that So Stressed may be making a killer record in the future.
48) Trampled by Turtles- Stars and Satellites
No great bluegrass came out this year (if some did, let me know). Being a fan of music where the picking is fast and the drinking is plenty, I have been waiting for another release as solid as The .357 String Band’s Fire and Hail. Sadly, releases like that do not come too often.
Stars and Satellites is good, but has a slower sound than I was expecting. Up until Stars and Satellites, I had only heard Trampled by Turtles live a few times. Live they strum fast throughout, with very few slow songs. This album seems almost the opposite. The opening song, Midninght on the Interstate, sets up the album perfectly for what it is: an album of melodic bluegrass/ alternative country.
While the album does not have the energy I had hoped for, it does, instead, focus heavily on emotion, capturing the sounds of desperation and nostalgia and longing. With songs titled Walt Whitman and The Calm and Crying Wind one should presume the album will have a more contemplative/darker sound.
The main drawback to this album is the band’s sound when they play too slow. Songs like High Water tend to drag on, slow paced and depressively toned, overall breaking the continuity of the record. This album does not feel complete and feels much more like a collection of songs.
In the end, this album is one which has its shares of ups and downs. Still, it has great moments and it is definitely worth a listen.
Starfucker’s Reptilians was a great album of 2011, acting as the synthpop album MGMT wished they would have debuted with. Astro’s self-titled album attempts to recreate such synth medley’s, and in many ways succeeds. Just look at songs like Panda and Manglares and Astro’s strengths shine through. Still, Astro’s album seems slower paced. Also Druida de las Nubes seems unnecessarily thrown in, really breaking up the sound part way through the album.
As far as innovation, there is not too much here. Mixing softer guitars with warm synths and arpeggiations is by no means new. Even the outfits on the cover appear as a South American version of the ones worn on Oracular Spectacular. The album even has one song mainly acoustic just like Oracular. While this is the first Chilean Synthpop band I have heard, that is about where the innovation ends.
Still, the synths are crafted nicely, and the album feels relatively uniform throughout. Finally, and most importantly with synthpop, this album is fun. While this album brings little new to the table, it does refine the sound of synthpop and is a lot of fun.
46) Parov Stelar- The Princess
I hate approaching a double LP. Every time I do, I always end up saying that the album could have been cut in half because of all of the filler. This album is no exception. And it is understandable; if an album 114 minutes long didn’t have any ‘filler’ I would be more than surprised.
While I would overall classify The Princess as electro-swing, it regularly jumps between genres often touching house and other sample-based electronica.
The title track, The Princess, is one of the worse tracks to the album, trading in much of Parov’s style for a more piano driven style reminiscent of Creedence’s I put a spell on you. Parov’s sound is best when taking on a more traditional electro-swing. Songs such as Jimmy’s Gang, Silent Shuffle, and All Night should be more pervasive on the album.
Given the sheer length of this album, there is constantly new moments in the music that were missed with previous listens. While this is another album which tends to be more for the song based listener than the album based one, its amount of standout tracks make it a definite for a list of albums of 2012. If Caravan Palace was one of your favorite albums this year, do yourself a favor and pick this up.
45) Oh No- Ohnomite
Madlib’s little brother has constantly been trying to keep up with his older brother. After all, his older brother is one of the more proficient artists out there right now, and Oh No shows with this album that he, like his brother, can do more than make instrumental albums.
Ohnomite is great. The production is fantastic, the features are out of control (Evidence, Alchemist, Guilty Simpson, Roc C, MF Doom, MED, and another 15 or so lesser known rappers), the concept of the beats is unique, and the rhymes are hard hitting. Any album where I say MF Doom’s feature is one of the worst parts of an album is going to be pretty solid.
Oh No samples Dolemite throughout the album, making Ohnomite a pseudo-concept album. But even without this knowledge, the album still just sounds good. Ohnomite may not have deep lyricism, but rapping about guns and drugs and money has never been so fun sounding. Every rapper sounds natural on these topics, capturing a life where these just happen to be present and not the focal point.
44) Flying Lotus- Until the Quite Comes
You know an artist is amazing when you find their album to be one of the bigger disappointments of the year, yet it still makes the best of on your year-end list. I felt that Until the Quite Comes (UtQC) traded in much of what made Cosmogramma so unique, and instead left the listener with a wonky album that was less wonky.
To me, UtQC seems Flying Lotus’s response for no Grammy for Cosmogramma. UtQC seems almost dummed down; the focus of the album seems to be to refine FlyLo’s sound into something more stomachable to the masses.
I personally am not one to care if someone sells out. I am all for people getting rich. Getting rich sounds awesome and I hope it happens to myself, everyone I know, and everyone I meet. Whether FlyLo sold out with this new sound is irrelevant (though he really didn’t). Overall, this album is just much, much tamer. While this tame sound does not appeal as much to myself, many will find it a much more approachable album. The album still is a great listen, and one which has been carefully crafted with a great attention to detail. If you haven’t heard Flying Lotus, UtQC is a great starting point and overall, a pretty great album.
43) Metz- S/T
Metz definitely understand the sound they are going for and do it perfectly. Immediately when hearing this album that shows. This is a band that knows exactly how they want to sound on their debut, and whoever recorded the album did a great job capturing that sound.
Unfortunately I am not as impressed with their actual sound as I am with their effort in creating it. Metz sound is one of high energy, yet it doesn’t get me excited. Instead, I find it one of the weaker noise rock albums of the year and, ironically enough, it seems to be one of the ones getting the most praise. While the album seems overhyped in my opinion, it still is a good listen.
The song Rats is where this album best captures its sound. Heavy riffs, screaming vocals, synchronized feedback. This is the sound that is prevalent throughout the album, yet here it is best displayed. If this music was the theme song to anything, it would be throwing beer bottles at walls and punching through drywall. While I do not always find myself in a mood for this style music, the few times I have wanted that young, immortal feeling, this music was great.
42) Normal Love- Survival Tricks
Finding themselves dancing the fringes of noise rock and avant-garde, Normal Love’s album Survival Tricks is one which I believe will garner more and more critical acclaim over the next few years. Just read the reviews the band had various strangers do. One psychic tells them their music has evil qualities and is ‘drug music’. A Prostitute says the music reminds her of New York, Cirque du Soleil, modern dance music, and Lady Gaga. While I would not agree with either of these ‘reviewers’, I will say that this is an unclassifiable album which constantly rewrites the band’s sound.
As far as innovation goes, this album absolutely blows my mind. As far as enjoyment, that is another matter. I cannot listen to this album often, and even have a hard time doing a full sitting. It is enjoyable, to the extent you listen alone with headphones, but if I were to show anyone this in person they may have me committed.
Overall, if you want an album which will take you on a unique auditory adventure through evil ‘drug music’, this is one of the best 2012 albums for you.
41) Lone- Galaxy Garden
Here is another album which did not meet my expectations this year. After hearing Lone’s Echolocations and Emerald Fantasy Tracks, I had amazingly high expectations for this album. Though it did not meet those expectations, this album is still great. If I happened to own a human-sized monkey ball, this would be my album of the year hands down.
Galaxy Garden is a fitting name for this album. Where much of the electronic music out there tries to create a natural sound, often sampling real instruments, Galaxy Garden goes the opposite direction. The sounds are extremely artificial, the drums do not feel done by a real drummer, and clap samples can be heard in the background. But this album uses these to its advantage, creating a sound some place between playing gamecube and attending a rave.
Overall, this was a great album which does not have one bad track on it.