Lovers Made Men’s 70 Favorite Albums of 2012

meme-breaks-fullIn no particular order, these were our favorite albums of 2012.

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Lower Dens – Nootropics 

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Nootropics is a subtly expansive album. Some will find it to be a more restrained, perhaps less exciting, version of Lower Dens’ excellent debut, Twin Hands Movement. Yet I find it to be a bolder album is almost every respect. The arrangements are sonically cavernous, as the listener can put any one of the tracks on repeat and find wholly new areas of sound to explore. The song-centric approach of their debut is eschewed in favor of an album structure that stresses fluidity and disassociation. Jana Hunter has always had a penchant for the mystical and with Nootropics she has crafted an album that seamlessly blends her other-worldly mindset with the gripping songwriting that makes her so beloved. The album is a meditative experience interjected with edgy pop gems (“Brains,” “Lamb,” “Candy”). It may not be as rousing as its predecessor but it is not meant to be. For me, Nootropics was the the best album this year at achieving exactly what it set out to do.

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Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city 

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Perhaps more than any other genre, rap music is about personal narratives. MCs turn to their own biography for the majority of their source material.  This is characteristic of every lyrical genre; however, rappers do it more explicitly and with less subtlety than most lyricists. This means that a rapper’s relationship with his or her past is often the crux of their message, and a deciding factor in whether the music will be compelling or not. Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city is the most gripping autobiography of the year. It tells a slight story about a teenager getting beat up, retaliating, and losing a friend in a gunfight. Yet this story touches on everything that Kendrick associates with his formative years: sexual frustration, misplaced pride, redemption, loss, and smoking blunts in Toyotas. It’s his story, and he tells it with a potent combination of lyrical virtuosity and a massive heart.   

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The Walkmen – Heaven

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The Walkmen have aged well. Their releases may be becoming more restrained but they are increasingly steeped in warmth and wisdom. With Heaven, Hamilton Leithauser is largely singing about things to be thankful for. That may be a rarity for jangly rock musicians, but there is a certain joy in listening to a wonderful band translate their blessings into the kind of beer-soaked jams that they have been making for over a decade. Heaven is great but, to be honest, The Walkmen could probably make a spoken word album and it would still be on this list.

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Dirty Three – Toward the Low Sun 

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Toward the Low Sun was my first exposure to Dirty Three and, in retrospect, a perfect entry point for the rest of their catalogue. It combines their riotous, fascinating free jazz with the more structured songwriting found on their later releases. It’s an album of tension and release that leaves the listener in a blissful state of confusion, excitement, and solemn appreciation.  

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Action Bronson – Blue Chips 

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Blue Chips was my favorite rap mixtape of the year. Bronson’s lyricism is as impressive and hilarious as ever and Party Supplies’ production style lends the perfect mixture of energy and apathy. The tracks touch on hookers, toasted rosemary bread, Yugoslavia, vaginas, bucatini razor clams, Robbin Moses State Park, the NHL, Patrick Swayze, and basically every other topic anyone has ever talked about while high. Suffice it to say, lines like the following are common: “Yo my mind is locked up, my conscious rocked up/ In an alley with a fiend getting his cocked sucked/ And she wearing a wedding dress a special day/ She said she finally met a man to take her breath away/ Well naturally I’m jealous, because I’m lonely/ At times my only friends in life are drugs and the cannoli.”  

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Dan Deacon – America 

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When I found out that Dan Deacon’s new album would be called America I was concerned. Deacon has been outspoken about his distaste for many things “American,” and so I assumed that after the more insular Bromst Dan’s newest release would be an even less joyful affair. I was wrong. America is not the manic explosion that was Spiderman of the Rings but neither it is a brooding rumination on the ills of capitalism. Instead, it is Deacon’s trademark distorted, synth-pop alongside USA, a soaring four-part celebration of America’s natural beauty. The first part of the album has its highlights (“True Thrush,” “Lots”) but it is really the latter half’s composition that defines America. Deacon is able to deftly combine his heavily modulated synth work with full orchestral arrangements. It’s a dangerous effort in theory, but in practice it results in some of the most emotionally epic moments of Deacon’s oeuvre. America is odd, ambitious, and wonderfully affecting. 

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! 

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Fans of groups that make difficult music will often say that the music is ultimately rewarding. That may be the case, but few bands make the shift from inaccessible to innately enjoyable as seamlessly as GY!BE. Their sprawling compositions on ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! are terrifying and deeply moving. “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” in particular, makes use of its 20 minute to expand the notion of what a rock song entails.  

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Andrew Bird – Break it Yourself 

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Bird, now on his seventh solo studio album, is an elder statesman of the indie music scene. His releases are always discussed but how good they are doesn’t necessarily make headlines because, well, what else would you expect? “Andrew Bird Makes Another Good Album”. Yea, no shit. And so it is with his newest release, Break It Yourself. Bird has once again sequestered himself in his barn in western Illinois and come out with a collection of beautifully crafted, thought provoking tunes.

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THEESatisfaction – Awe Naturale 

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While intending to place themselves within the great canon of afrocentric American music, THEESatisfaction remain fundamentally distinct from the majority of what is placed in that category today. They are more Bobbi Humphrey than Lil B. More Gil Scott-Heron than Tyler, the Creator. Still, this does not necessitate that their music is dated. Quite the opposite, as the duo’s ability to draw on R&B, hip-hop, soul, jazz, disco, and funk while being firmly rooted in their own aesthetic results in a sound that is persistently and effortlessly fresh.

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White Fence – Family Perfume Vol. 1 

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In 2012 Tim Presley continued to be one of the most interesting purveyors of revivalist rock music. His take is even more shrouded in fuzz than most; however he doesn’t take that as an opportunity to avoid writing a good song. These tunes are catchy, psychedelic little gems that go great with sunny days and hallucinogens. 

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Ab Soul – Control System 

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Ab Soul’s music is arguably the most ambitious of any of the TDE members. Control System is a twisted and captivating space exploration. There is an unmistakable Compton flavor but its masked by hazy paranoia, angelic background voices, and cracked-out delivery.   

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Masta Ace and DOOM – MA_DOOM: Son of Yvonne 

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As is the case with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, combining two things that are great in their own right can often work out for the best. It would be difficult to find any serious detractors from Masta Ace and MF Doom, the two are essentially underground rap royalty at this point. The cred Doom gets as a rapper often leads to people neglecting his production abilities, which I would argue are subtly some of the best stuff in the game. Doom takes a backseat here, letting Ace unravel a künstlerroman over jazz-indebted beats taken mainly from the Special Herbs series. (Fans of Brazilian jazz artist Arthur Verocai better get excited!) Obviously some added mic presence from Doom would have been great, just for the virtue of seeing two titans spit back-to-back, but when Doom’s sole verse contains advice on showing your mother more affection, it’s tough to complain.

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Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes 

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The bastard child of grimy rap production and abstract jazz is back with another masterpiece. Until the Quiet Comes is a swooning, gentle journey through a dreamlike cosmos that never forgets to keep your head and feet moving. 

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Father John Misty – Fear Fun 

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Fear Fun embraced something that was often absent in this year’s bluesy rock music: humor. It was one of the few (non rap) albums that made me laugh out loud. On “I’m Writing A Novel,” Tillman used the guise of a traditional storytelling blues track to sing about tripping on drugs copped from a Canadian shaman and taking advice from a dog-monkey. Beyond that, the album was a raucous, arena-ready version of the kind of folk-rock that Tillman has been churning out for over a decade. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Songs” is a boozy anthem that should ensure FJM gets the following it deserves. And the video has Aubrey Plaza. Who is pretty.  

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The Fresh & Onlys – Long Slow Dance 

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The Fresh and Onlys let loose a slice of melancholic San Francisco garage rock. The melodies are always upbeat, although lead singer Tim Cohen can’t quite do the same. The Fresh and Onlys have put out four albums in just as many years, and Long Slow Dance is their most accomplished work to date.

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Ital – Dream On 

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Daniel Martin-McCormick ranks among Daniel Lopatin and Tim Hecker as one of the best modern manipulators of electronic sounds. On Dream On he takes on the traditional sounds of techno and house and grinds them through a jagged wheel of abstraction, coming out with something familiar but also entirely alien. It’s the kind of dance music you’d expect to be played during the zombie apocalypse. An event that’s probably imminent, so hold on to a copy of this one.   

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Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music 

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“The one MC-one producer hip-hop album has a storied tradition. In some cases, the chemistry is off and the project is doomed from the beginning. But when the right balance is struck (Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Madvillain, RZA and Wu-Tang members) the artists can seamlessly complement one another and a fully realized album can be born as a result. Somewhat unpredictably, Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music falls into the latter category. El-P was able to morph his snarling, expansive underground hip-hop productions into something more fitting for Mike’s Atlanta drawl. The ferocity is still there, but the tracks have far more southern bounce than one would find on an El-P solo album. Over these pitch-perfect arrangements, Killer Mike is able to unleash his considerable lyrical talent without being dragged down by a mediocre beat. And when Mike gets going his lyrics are like a freight train. He backs up his bravado with deft (and hilarious) metaphors (“this is John Gotti paintin pictures like Dali/ this is Basquiat with a passion like Pac/ in a body like Biggie tellin stories like Ricky) and his wordplay is often excellent (see “Southern Fried”). Most importantly, his passion and charisma come through with every line and tracks like “Willie Burke Sherwood” are as honest as they are head-snapping. R.A.P. Music is an explosive album. Further, it is a reminder of how gripping hip-hop can be when made by people who have a sincere love of their craft.

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Breakbot – By Your Side 

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French Jesus isn’t exactly trying to break the mold with By Your Side, but Michael Jackson isn’t (and for years didn’t) going to put out a good album anytime soon, and Breakbot is a fantastic substitute for anyone wanting to shake their hips to some old-school R&B. 

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Oddisee – People Hear What They See 

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Known mostly for his lush and emotive hip-hop productions, Oddisee tackles more of the lyrics on People Hear What They See. He is not always the most technically gifted rapper but he has a knack for telling heartfelt stories that don’t feel like complete bullshit (all too rare). And, of course, the beats and sample selection are of the highest caliber. “Way in Way Out” sports a majestic horn line, “Set You Free” has the right blend of jazz and sub bass, and “The Need Superficial” is about as soulful as hip-hop gets. Oddisee isn’t flashy; he’s making music he loves and doing it well.  

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Damien Jurado – Maraqopa 

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Damien Jurado has been releasing a steady stream of thoughtful folk-rock for over fifteen years. That he is still finding fresh sounds and new directions to take his songwriting is exceedingly impressive. Maraqopa’s first half has a more psychedelic edge than most of his work, but the last six songs are the kind of gorgeous folk gems that he consistently delivers.  

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Grizzly Bear – Shields 

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For a band that has such an unmistakable sound it is no small feat to keep making music that is unpredictable. Shields restlessly shifts from driving guitars (“Sleeping Ute) to lush pop gems (“Yet Again,” “A Simple Answer”); followed by a jump from atmospheric and lovely harmonies (“The Hunt,” “Gun Shy”) to explosive, psychedelic epics (“Sun in Your Eyes”). It’s a testament to Grizzly Bear’s sense of tone and unique ear for harmony that this disparate swath of songs ends up feeling legitimately cohesive. It’s their strangest and most erratic release to date but in most ways it is similar to its predecessors. There are moments that drag but the majority is a stunning combination of intricate rock melodies and soaring vocal harmonies. That’s Grizzly Bear’s wheelhouse and I see no reason for them to ever leave it.

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Joey Bada$$ – 1999 

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Much like the heralded New York basketball player, the New York rapper has been an ever-present concept that became difficult to find in actuality as of late. Joey Bada$$ evokes the golden era of New York rap, with a laconic, dense flow over hard-bop type production from J Dilla, Doom, Statik Selektah, and in-house affiliate Chuck Strangers (who is essentially the producer version of Joey Bada$$: young, skilled, and well aware of tradition). Oh, and let’s not forget Joey can’t legally buy a drink in the city he is putting back on the map. 1999 is a bold leap onto the rap scene from a rapper wise beyond his years. Joey Bada$$ may have a slightly gimmicky name, but with flows like “Killuminati” and “Summer Knights,” it’s evident that he is no joke. 

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Woods – Bend Beyond 

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Woods have polished up their sound without any damage to the beautiful, secluded harmonies that are the band’s staple. The jams are still free-flowing, the falsetto vocals still precious, and the desire to transplant back to the 60s is still pervasive. I always loved Woods for their devil-may-care lo-fi production, but unlike a trip to military school, a bit of discipline is actually beneficial in the case of Bend Beyond. “It Ain’t Easy” just might be the acoustic song of the year.

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Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory 

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Dylan Baldi and co. bare their fangs, with astounding results. Cloud Nothings’s previous efforts were friendly lo-fi garage excursions rife with pop sensibility. That sensibility remains, but is now buried and enhanced beneath layers of Steve Albini-recorded distortion. Baldi’s sneer combines youthful anger with a growing sense of reminiscence and thus is the embodiment of an Attack on Memory. The album is a lean, mean Wipers-indebted machine, with standout tracks including “Fall In,” “Cut You,” and “Wasted Days.” If Baldi means this album when he sings, “I thought I would be more than this,” there’s nothing wrong with settling.

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Dent May – Do Things 

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Let’s assume Brian Wilson actually died at some point and was replaced by a robot, because that would explain the possibility of his reincarnation in Oxford, Mississippi native Dent May. Do Things is the exact opposite of the ambiance around the works of Oxford’s most famous son, William Faulkner, and this album is perfect for embracing youth and summer days, or wistfully remembering both during the winter.”  

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Actress – R.I.P 

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R.I.P dispels the notion that repetition stems from a lack of creativity. Darren J. Cunningham seems to be challenging himself by stripping away the already sparse layers of Splaszh and composing beats dedicated to the surprising power of simplicity. Each track revolves around a specific set of sounds, resulting in miniature worlds that hover gracefully amongst one another. It at times feels more like a thesis in music technology than an album, but that makes it all the more satisfying for those that have an interest in the subject matter.

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DIIV – Oshin 

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Beach Fossils guitarist Zachary Cole Smith’s solo(ish) project takes krautrock, surf rock, and world influences and then blasts them all into space. Oshin is overflowing with wonderful guitar-work and Smith’s songwriting abilities might mean that Beach Fossils is now a supergroup (as far as Brooklyn indie bands can be considered supergroups).

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The Men – Open Your Heart 

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The Men from New York wear their influences openly on their sleeves. But the amalgamation of Sonic Youth, the classic SST catalog, and more sensitive fare like the Replacements is anything but pastiche, it is wholly original. Open Your Heart is a front-to-end rocker that gleefully oozes with sleaze, just like rock’n’roll should.

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Tame Impala – Lonerism 

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The barrage of revivalist sound continued this year, as young twenty-somethings flocked toward musical equipment that is fifty-years old. This trend has its pros and cons. It often makes for a warm, fuzzy sound that turns an otherwise boring song into something more palatable. However, this can lead to groups that are so intent on being “classic” that they lose any sense of individuality. Kevin Parker’s music is steeped in analog production and 60’s psychedelia, yet it has an immediacy to it that cuts through the languid guitar melodies. This sense of modernity springs from Parker’s songwriting. For a hazy, psychedelic record the arrangements are noticeably taut. Bouncy central melodies – ranging from the expansive “Apocalypse Dreams” to the incredibly infectious “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” – anchor tunes that would otherwise drift off into the abyss. Lonerism is rooted in the past but it is persistently fresh, making it one of the best revivalist efforts in recent memory.

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John Talabot – Fin 

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Spanish producer John Talabot’s Fin is a masterpiece of mysterious, sunny house music. The rhythms are complex, yet danceable. The vocals (mainly from Pional) are sludgy and buried, but always catchy. As far as the genre goes, Talabot may be operating on the same range of bpm’s, but he’s doing so from another universe. 

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Sharon Van Etten – Tramp 

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This album is one gorgeously written song after another. It begs to be replayed, as Van Etten’s emotionally-charged stories offer few answers the first time around. Initially, I couldn’t help but want to understand what she was trying to say. It felt important – something it’d be unwise to ignore. But ultimately these personal stories are meant to emote rather than inform. They are all energy and feeling and to over think them would be to miss out on the gut reactions that they inspire.  

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Mac DeMarco – 2 

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Mac Demarco never quite sounds like he’s trying very hard, but his playful laziness is precisely what makes 2 such a phenomenal work. It’s relatable and grooving, and it’s impossible to not be impressed with how effortlessly Mac throws down shimmering lo-fi masterpieces like “Dreamin’.” Whereas most artists would reserve a pristine melody like “Ode to Viceroy” for a person, Mac is just as comfortable dedicating it to one of Canada’s cheapest cigarette brands. 

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Andy Stott – Luxury Problems 

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Luxury Problems began when Andy Stott got his old piano teacher to send him vocal recordings. A charming origin story, but not exactly indicative of the environment within which the sounds would ultimately be placed. Stott chopped the recordings into unintelligible loops and paired them with churning, primal rhythms that feel like diving into the ocean at night and being dragged under a wave. It makes for a stunning juxtaposition and it takes Stott’s arrangements into aural territory that he otherwise never would have reached. One of the most haunting albums of the year.  

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Poolside – Pacific Standard Time 

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If disco is dead, then Poolside must be what heaven sounds like. The Los Angeles duo’s debut full-length is soft and shimmer, and perhaps the musical equivalent of a David Hockney painting.

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The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth 

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I don’t think John Darnielle will ever have that “I’m finally in a good place” album. Other bands marry and have kids and start writing music that feels more at peace. Thankfully, Darnielle is still very much conflicted and he still writes charming folk-rock as a vehicle for his searing lyrical poetry. On “Lakeside View Apartments Suite” he evokes the pathetic theme of his story with one line: “just before I leave I throw up in the sink/ one whole life recorded in disappearing ink.” He continues his incisive exploration of troubled youth on “In Memory of Satan” when he sings “make some scratches on my floor/ crawl down on my hands and knees/ in old movies people scream/ choking on their fists when they see shadows like these/ but no one screams, cause it’s just me.” In classic Darnielle fashion he sings this with a bouncy melody, adeptly continuing the profound, and multi-layered institution that is The Mountain Goats.  

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Joe Pug – The Great Despiser 

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Joe Pug would be an easy guy to leave off this list because, as some might argue, The Great Despiser is hardly reinventing the wheel. But a gorgeous and inherently pleasurable take on country twinged folk-rock is not necessarily an affair where you want guys thinking outside the box. Original songwriting is welcome, and Joe Pug never fails to deliver that, but it’s also a pleasure to be able to slip comfortably into Pug’s sound like the pair of jeans I haven’t washed for the last year. Listen to “Hymn #76” and then come tell me Pug needs to do something different.  

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El-P – Cancer 4 Cure 

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El-P raps like he is in a Cormac McCarthy novel. His impossibly dense verses are steeped in paranoia and menace, conjuring up a post-apocalyptic world where no one is to be trusted. On paper, it is unclear why such an agreeable man chooses to make music behind a uniquely fierce artistic guise. However, when listening to “$4 Vic/FTL” – or any of the the tracks on his exceptional Cancer 4 Cure – those questions become irrelevant. It is an El-P track and it is exactly what he wants it to be.

$4 Vic/FTL” is the most ambitious track on the album and the most complete picture of Jaime Meline’s craft. Like much of El-P’s production, the track takes on a number of different shapes throughout. The opening segment builds a heavy cloud of tension. Synths sputter and snarl alongside a driving bassline and, before the drums drop, El-P’s lyrics set the stage: “there are ghosts here/ there’s a presence there’s a power/ for the tightrope over tank with the piranhas/ for the frazzled it’s a moment it’s a promise/ to be broke down to be lowdown to be honest/ another showdown with the woozy and the conscious.”

The main body of the track comes two minutes in and it showcases El-Producto’s ability to effectively blend elements of rock and hip-hop. The melodies soar and the verse, which almost reads like a suicide note, is made all the more epic. After this climax, however, the strangely touching outro starts to unfold. El-P, ostensibly speaking to the person that the song is dedicated to, says that “they can torture and interrogate/ and shackle to my boot/ I will gnaw off my own leg/ and the hop the fuck right back to you.” “$4 Vic/FTL” is an El-P love song, meaning that it is as terrifying as it is breathtaking.

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Ty Segall & White Fence – Hair 

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It’s safe to say that Ty Segall and White Fence have no idea that the 60s have come and gone, but that’s okay. Hair is a stoned collection of fuzz-rock that aims to be as classic as the rock which inspires it throughout. 

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Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold 

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Count-off song intros, followed by running basslines that are ultimately supplanted by jagged guitars and half-sung vocals…am I listening to a college rock station in 1985? Parquet Courts bring classic indie rock back in a way that makes me wonder why it ever left at all. The lyrics are sharp, witty, insightful, and playful, and the music is always on point. Tracks like “Disney P.T.” and “Borrowed Time” are great examples of just how smart punk-indebted music can be, without any sacrifice of the ever important “fuck all” rock’n’roll attitude.

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Chromatics – Kill For Love 

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Kill for Love is a tome of an album. Like a sweeping russian novel, it seems to exhaust every possible idea before it feels that it has had its say. It’s an inadvisable album format for most musicians but Johnny Jewel seems to revel in a lack of brevity. His more recent, post-grimey punk era productions are at their best when they sprawl out and let their dreamy, swirling aesthetic envelop the listener completely and for extended periods of time. Kill for Love does just that, as the bands first album in five years delivers an hour and a half of gorgeous synth-pop soundscapes. After Night Drive and Jewel’s work with Nicolas Winding Refn (whose film Drive is basically a visual Chromatics album) this is the kind of epic-in-scope album that Chromatics fans hoped the band would make. Dreamy synth washes ebb and flow, intermittently giving way to standout gems like the title track and “Lady.” It’s an album that goes to great lengths to establish its mood and sense of place. If one is willing to take the time, listening to Kill For Love is one of the most engrossing musical experiences of the year.

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JJ DOOM – Key to the Kuffs 

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What Doom lacks in vocal presence on his Masta Ace collaboration is more than made up for on this work with producer/rapper Jneiro Jarel. When the first real verse on the album starts with “Catch a throatful / From the fire vocaled / Ash and molten glass like / Eyjafjallajökull,” Doom heads know exactly what they’re in for. Jarel’s production is arguably the weirdest Doom has worked with in his career, and he rides the beats with workmanlike precision. As always, Doom is not one to dilly-dally in standard rap tropes, and here he presents an oddly-sensitive love song in “Melanin” and the bacterial implications of the club (over the clubbiest of beats) in “Wash Your Hands.” On Keys to the Kuff, Doom is as multi-layered and allusive/elusive as ever. 

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Phony Ppl – Phonyland 

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Tweaked and stylized versions of R&B/hip-hop were the more recognized albums this year, which makes Phony Ppl’s focus on the roots of the genre all the more refreshing. It also helps that the collective is composed of excellent musicians that seem dedicated to their craft as well as the enjoyment of one another’s company. Phonyland has hints of the looseness of early Fugees or Digable Planets but with a heavy influence from jazz and soulful R&B. It eschews the kind of fussy bedroom r&b that so many have taken to, and it is all the better for it.  

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Titus Andronicus – Local Business 

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Hyperliterate Jersey punks Titus Andronicus have always clearly embraced bar-rock, even throughout the sprawling, experimental pieces of The Airing of Grievances and The Monitor. On Local Business they settle down (only a bit) to produce an assortment of songs that invite chanted choruses and pint slamming. However drunken and bar-room appropriate the melodies might be, Patrick Stickles begins the album by noting “Okay, I think by now we’ve established, / everything is inherently worthless. / And there’s nothing in the Universe / with any kind of objective purpose,” and the band’s blend of emotional and intellectual lyricism remains firmly intact.

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Ta-Ku – Retwerk 

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Australian producer Ta-ku is a man of versatility. He had already shown off his pure rap production chops with the phenomenal 50 Days for Dilla collection and his late-night grooves with LATENYC. Now Ta-ku shows off that he belongs in the clubs just as much as his other works do before and after. No other producer has shown the range Ta-ku has this year, and his disregard for boundaries is refreshing (and hopefully epochal). 

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TNGHT – TNGHT EP 

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With TNGHT, the duo of Lunice and Hudson Mohawke produced arguably the most powerful (emphasis on POWER) 16 minutes of music this year. TNGHT presents a sophisticated take on the menacing rolls of trap music. These are hip-hop beats on steroids and TNGHT seamlessly replace hackneyed trap sampling tropes while retaining the overall form of the genre. Instead of the cheesy MIDI synths that have pervaded production as of late, Lunice and HudMo throw in babies crying, bouncing bells, and intentionally overblown bass. The end result is equally subtle and in-your-face. If I had to run through a brick wall (you never know), I have a feeling “Goooo” would be one of the top tracks on my warm-up soundtrack. Or for a more realistic proposition, no matter how tired you are at night, TNGHT will put you in the mood to rage which is precisely what head-banging music like this should be all about.

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Jam City – Classical Curves 

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Jam City takes a step away from his (admittedly phenomenal) bassline work in favor of elegant, mysterious soundscapes. Classical Curves is not going to produce a wide-array of club hits, even in the UK, but as dance music for the brain, that’s not quite the intent. 

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Japandroids – Celebration Rock 

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Smoking! Drinking! Getting laid! Japandroids continue their onslaught of indie-rock party anthems with the appropriately titled Celebration Rock

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The Sea and Cake – Runner 

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We were talking about bands that make albums that your just always going to enjoy. They might not inspire the kind of excitement that can come from a wholly new sound, but they seem to effortlessly produce music that is impossible to dislike. The Sea and Cake was one of the first names to come up. Now on their tenth album, the group have had their hand in any number of indie rock projects and they have influenced far more. Runner revisits the bands less electronic tendencies but continues their tradition of creating lush, cinematic gems that are still distinct after all these years.  

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Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits 

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Some people wrote up this album with things like “an unexpected success” and “wouldn’t have though this would be so good.” Why the fuck not? Brit Daniel, Dan Boeckner, Sam Brown, and Alex Fischel are all in the band. Most call it a supergroup, but that seems too pompous for this gathering of friends that happen to have similar taste in music. Boeckner and Daniel are well versed in how to front raucous indie outfits, and that they are doing it next to one another only makes it more enjoyable. It’s maybe not the classic that it could have been (although it may be in time) but it is still an excellent collection of songs.  

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Ricardo Villalobos – Dependent and Happy

52-RicardoAs is the modus operandi of anything deemed “microhouse,” Ricardo Villalobos slowly and surely crafts songs that outweigh, perhaps even crush, the constituent parts. Dependent and Happy is a sprawling assemblage of some sounds standard to house and others only possible in the mad genius brain of the Chilean-German producer (Pet Sounds meets dance music). Regardless of how much Villalobos strips away in his compositions, the hypnotic slinky rhythm that incites dancing to any kind of music is always at the forefront, though you might not even realize that you’ve started dancing. 

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METZ – METZ 

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Toronto-based METZ’s self-titled debut is a ripping piece of post-punk that can be slotted amongst the likes of Drive Like Jehu and Nation of Ulysses. The trio’s blistering tone sounds like strings coated in rust being played through crystalline amplification, and METZ will make you sweat just by virtue of listening.

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Liars – WIXIW 

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While most artists lend lip-service to the notion of reinvention, Liars have made it one of the foundational elements of their career. Angus Andrew (vocals, guitar), Aaron Hemphill (percussion, guitar, synth), and Julian Gross (percussion) have spent the last decade challenging their listeners as well as their own musical tendencies. In a recent interview discussing their newest album, WIXIW, Andrew noted that “[they] dropped everything [they] had learned on the last couple albums and tried to really see what it’s like starting from the other end.” This is an admirable yet precarious approach. It’s akin to Steinbeck burning the entire first draft of The Grapes of Wrath. I am sure that at the time friends and family said “John, what the hell are you doing?” And then they read the final version and thought “ah, of course.” In a similar way, WIXIW will silence the non-believers. 

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Lee Fields – Faithful Man 

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As we wrote before: “There’s something particularly heart-wrenching about the dilemma Lee Fields finds himself in on the eponymous opening track of Faithful Man, a title that given the album’s general tone towards relationships can easily be read as either hopeful or extremely ironic. Now when I say heart-wrenching, I by no means want to imply that Fields (or, just for academic clarity, his narrator) is sympathetic, rather it is the general scope of things that tauts the heart strings. When Fields tells his nameless paramour, “I’ve always been a faithful man, ’til you came along,” it’s already too late, we’re way past the event horizon of infidelity. But as the story unfolds, how faithful could Fields have ever really been? The repetition of that initial claim of innocence renders it impossible to discern whether Fields is really languishing in a first-time transgression or just trying to repeat a lie for so long that it becomes the truth. And while he admits that he’s never felt so guilty, the following assertion of having “never feet so good” doesn’t bode well for the future of our lascivious married man.”

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Holograms – Holograms 

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Not unlike the Merchandise album on our list, Holograms has hints of ’80s English new wave (even though they’re Swedish) combined with strong post-punk currents. In general their tracks just rock super hard and give me the urge to be a drunken teenager wreaking havoc on an industrial European city, a la Trainspotting. That drum breakdown on “Chasing My Mind”; the layering of sharp synths over a punk intro on “ABC City”; the intricate instrumental chaos on “A Tower.” It all works and it results in an invigorating forty minutes of music.  

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The Soft Moon – Zeros 

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There’s nothing soft about the Moon hanging above Zero. Luis Vasquez and company drop a heavy slice of synthpunk that is just as appropriate for the post-industrial factory as it is for CBGB’s.  

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Antibalas – Antibalas 

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2012 did not see as many exciting Afrobeat compilations and reissues as the last few years but Antibalas dropped a set of original tracks that aimed to fill that void. Modeled after Fela Kuti’s collectives, Antibalas makes a pared down version of what African funk and jazz groups have been doing for decades. They even instill it with a heavy dose of socio-political critique. But the real focus, as it should be, is on the music, which is tightly constructed, perpetually groovy, and a general joy to listen to.

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Baroness – Yellow and Green 

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On Yellow and Green Baroness clean up the sludge of their previous works, but only slightly. The sprawling double-album allows main songwriter John Baizley to apply the epic Baroness aesthetic to his wide array of influences. On Yellow and Green Baroness hit Southern rock, prog-rock, psychedelia, and even the appropriate formlessness of post-rock instrumentation. What’s most impressive on this album is the thorough catchiness of the hooks, which skillfully toe the line between pop sensibility and the bellicosity of metal, as evident in tracks like “March to the Sea” and “Take My Bones Away.”

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The Soft Pack – Strapped 

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Being natives of sunny San Diego the members of The Soft Pack were born with the potential to create beachy pop gems (incidentally, all San Diegans possess this, we just have to know how to set it free). Strapped, however, takes them in a slightly different direction than their earlier work, as their songs’s inherent catchiness is coupled with shades of dreariness and a grizzly attitude. Matt Lamkin’s voice sounds downright troubled and the songs have a complexity to them that was non-existent back when they were called The Muslims. These are all good things and this is as great an album as I could have expected.  

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Merchandise – Children of Desire 

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Natives of the Tampa punk scene as well as massive fans of Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, and industrial techno, Merchandise is the exact kind of band you would expect to make music with a unique perspective. Children of Desire takes that to another level and unleashes a barrage of noise-pop indebted as much to Factory Records as it is to shoegaze and the fundamentals of punk music. However, to pin down their sound is clearly not the point. They are making whatever sounds they enjoy at any given time and no one should bother them lest they disturb the remarkable process.  

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Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t 

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Jens said that when he was writing this album he “wanted the songs to take off almost unnoticeably, where the chorus is separated from the verse only through a small detail like a tambourine or a harmony. Like when you’re in an airplane taking off and you look out the window and realize you’re already in the air.” He was able to achieve that and much more.  

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Dr. Dog – Be the Void 

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Dr. Dog are great. This is album is better than some of their other albums. Listen. Enjoy.

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Four Tet – Pink 

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A collection of tracks released over the course of the year more so than an album, Pink still works in that it highlights Kieran Hebden’s recent affection for the dance floor and steady 4/4 backbone. His meandering and stunning electronic soundscapes are here propped up into more sturdy reflections of house and techno arrangements. “Jupiters” feels, appropriately enough, otherworldly, even as it works in some of the same territory as a traditional garage or 2-step number. “Pyramid” stretches out over 8-minutes and melds together an uber funky bassline, atmospheric background sound, lush melodies, and a house by way of footwork vocal loop. It may sound busy on paper but Four Tet turns it into a gorgeous and surprisingly tender track.   

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Lambchop – Mr. M 

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Lambchop remain Americana’s lost treasure with another under-appreciated and self-deprecating masterpiece from the mind of Kurt Wagner.

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Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan 

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Probably the most accesible Dirty Projectors record yet, Swing Lo Magellan blends the multi-faceted arrangements that the band is known for with more traditional rock melodies.  It’s still an entirely unique sound but it may draw in some more potential Dirty Projectors fans that haven’t heard of Dirty Projectors.  Even though those people don’t exist.

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Peaking Lights – Lucifer 

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Many streams of dub music focus lyrically on the big issues: social injustice, peace, getting baked. Peaking Lights opt to look inward. Their delicate, hypnotic tunes mix the soul of dub with personal stories and a focus on emotion. For Lucifer the band dove even deeper into the process of engineering a bright yet rounded sound. Their efforts yielded some of the best sound engineering of the year and a worthy follow up to 936.  

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Bowerbirds – The Clearing 

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Bowerbirds are like an old man that makes an extremely intricate and sturdy birdhouse every spring. Many ask why the hell he does it, seeing as he knows he’ll have to make a new one just as beautiful when the winter consumes the last one. But Bowerbirds, like the old man, seem to revel in creating things that are delicate yet meaningful, even if something new will eventually have to be made. The Clearing may be the band’s most consistent album since Hymns for the Dark Horse

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Burial – Kindred EP 

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Burial’s music is somehow just as confounding now as it was when his debut was released.  Some of the elements have stayed relatively constant: the haunting background vocals, the varied, swelling arrangements, the sense that the drums are being recorded through a manhole as they’re blasted from an underground sewer.  Yet the works on Kindred sprawl out in a way different from anything else he has done before.  “Ashtray Wasp,” in particular, is a jigsaw puzzle of a song that stops and starts like a camera going in and out of focus.  It is one of the brightest melodies he has produced but there is nonetheless a pervasive sense of unease.  Kindred packs more emotional breadth into its three tracks than a lot of artists fit into their careers.

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Cold Pumas – Persistent Malaise 

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A release on the excellent Faux Discx labelPersistent Malaise is a barrage of wonderfully repetitive rock music.  It picks up on the cyclical, spiraling melodies of krautrock and adds its own melodic flourishes.  The recordings are vicious and crunchy, and with each listen the waves of repetition reveal new pockets of head-banging rock.

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Some of the writing for this post was culled from Drew’s reviews at PMA.

Thanks for reading!

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