artwork by McHank (McHank.com)
Top 25 Albums of 2012
The best part about compiling these end of year lists for me is the reflective and pensive moments that it brings. It’s a privilege none of us take for granted that we got to participate is so many amazing events this year. 100,000 people Festivals, 15 person shows where teens are literally hanging from the rafters, bands making their debut and others calling it a day; 2012 was a memorable year for us.
2012 was also an unbelievable year for album releases, made even more interesting by the absence of a juggernaut type of release from one of the household named bands. There was one moment that stood out to me this year as something we may all look back on as a cultural watershed and that is the release of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. Before this release Ocean was best known for his work and appearances with one of the more crass and misogynistic acts out there today in OFWGKTA (Odd Future). With Channel Orange the lush and vivid storytelling stands high enough to garner plenty of notoriety on it’s own, but the fact that the album exhibits such musical prowess while shattering through the homophobic barriers both in the hip-hop and American pop-culture scene makes this a special release for reasons far bigger than the music contained. Even though Frank didn’t get our nod for album of the year I suspect that 5 and 10 years down the line it’s going to be the one we all still talk about as a seminal piece.
So as we wind down and prepare for the New Year, I’ll remember 2012 as a year marked by change and I’ll move into 2013 filled with hope. Hope for the world, for music, and for a return to civility. From everyone here at Pinpoint have a fantastic holiday and a brilliant New Year.
It’s hard to categorize Pennsylvania singer/songwriter Daughn Gibson’s (Josh Martin) 2012 debut, All Hell, into any singular musical genre. There’s an authoritative blending of atmospheric trip-hop and AM Radio country-twang; all derivative from some previous generation. The themes of the aptly titled All Hell are clear: ambiguous family issues and dynamics, alcohol, pain, loss, regret, and the physical nature of the countryside all seen through a rainy windshield. Gibson’s baritone voice croons about real specific shit – like a girl seeing her dad on ‘COPS’ more than once. It’s all very interesting and dark and sometimes disturbing. And it’s all very progressive, sonically. We look forward to future output from Daughn Gibson.
Kill For Love
It’s clear from the very beginning of Chromatic’s fourth album that Kill For Love is an ambitious record – You don’t begin a 77 minute double album with a cover of one of Neil Young’s most acclaimed songs (‘Hey Hey, My My’) and proceed to follow it up with disposable pop music. Instead, Kill For Love‘s show-stopping opener set the scene for what was to follow: synth-pop set to a cinematic background and implied storylines, and an album with “…more to the picture, than meets the eye.” The instant hooks are aplenty, sure. Just listen to the M83-inspired title track or the vocoder-laden ‘These Streets Will Never Look The Same’ with its ‘Edge of Seventeen’ borrowing guitar riff. But it’s sparser moments such as the piano driven ‘The River’ and the ambient ‘The Eleventh Hour’ that make Kill For Love an album, and one that has to be listened to start to finish.
Arriving attached to a “post-internet” genre-tag and looking very much like a hipster with a daft haircut, Claire Boucher’s third full-length outing as Grimes had no right to capture our imaginations quite like it did. Here was an artist who, by her own admission, was “really impressionable” and with “no sense of consistency in anything I do” – yet Visions was remarkably consistent for an album recorded in a bedroom whilst fasting, on drugs, with no outside contact. It really is packed with hook-laden pop songs, from the stuttering fever of ‘Circumnambient’ to the already classic sounding ‘Oblivion’ (“I need someone now to look into my eyes and tell me ‘Girl, you know you gotta watch your health.'”). There’s also the Lykke Li meets Aphex Twin jam of ‘Genesis,’ all spooky electropop warbles and crunching beats. Here’s hoping Boucher can handle expectation – there’ll certainly be enough of it surrounding whatever she does next.
Dan Deacon continues his evolution from Balto-electro-DIY-hedge-wizardry to something a little bit more mature which still suspiciously involves a lot of Balto-electro-DIY-hedge-wizardry. With age, Deacon embraces a focused attitude which is then channeled through a filter of cultural despair and wonder…yes all of that with blips and beeps.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat
I knew few things about this band before having it assigned to me at the end of the year. After hearing their record, I am not even complaining. What is this? Rock and roll taught with tension? Carry on fellas. Carry on.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat
B L A C K I E
Charles was excited as hell for this record. He made all of us listen to it every Monday since its release during our weekly meetings while he wrote manifestos on progress on little post it notes and left them on the table. Ed. Note: Before Charles started his descent into toothless, pill-popping reclusiveness he submitted six increasingly hyperbolic and wholly unprintable “reviews” of Gen (all of which have been destroyed at his family’s urging) that alternately referred to the album as “the most honest and painfully human record of the last ten years” and “a goddamn sonic revolution the likes of which we haven’t heard since Locust Abortion Technician, Angel Dust or Yank Crime and – sadly – aren’t likely to hear again.” There was also much talk of pyramids and the total destruction thereof. Gen doesn’t appear to exist on Soundcloud but can be heard (and purchased) in its entirety via the artist’s bandcamp page.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend!
This surprise release by noble post rock laureates Godspeed sent everyone into gasping hyperventilation. Godspeed’s ten year absence has resulted in more droning aspects to their already droning sound as well as the unaffected ability to bring a listener to their knees in heartbreaking agony.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Animator is an album with its heels firmly rooted in dream pop while some whizz-banging black star-spangled nightmare draws closer just beyond the horizon. Conceptually influenced by tragedy and death, what makes Animator so captivating is how much texture lead singer Jesse Stein creates while detached and drifting around an atmosphere of beautifully orchestrated music. Animator is further evidence that The Luyas are the delicately handed innovators many have suspected them of being for years.
You Ain’t Alone
I’ll admit, it’s a poor choice of words, but I didn’t give this album a fair shake. After all of the hype and buzz after the EP, CMJ, the New York Times, NPR, etc. there was just too much Alabama Shakes floating through the ether. I was Shaked out. That was a mistake. It’s a really good album, maybe a little hit and miss, and more than a little pastiche, but the high points are worth it. That bass line on “Hold On.” The emotional build up in “I Found You.” That perfectly subtle organ part in “I Ain’t the Same.” And of course the soul ballad “You Ain’t Alone.” The comparisons to Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding are hyperbolic, but Brittany Howard can fucking sing. That voice alone is worth the year end list.
Ariel Pink Haunted Graffiti
I feel I have always liked Ariel Pink yet it has just taken me the right type of album to show everyone else. Mature Themes is the follow up to the critically acclaimed Before Today which was merely due recognition for nearly a decade making tapes in the underground. Whereas Before Today was sharp and clear headed, Mature Themes backslides into hazy abandon with surprising results. The resulting oddities and surreal humor compliments the quasi lo-fi atmosphere leading to one of the most endearing releases from the artist.
Ariel Pink Haunted Graffiti
The Soft Pack
Strapped is the Soft Pack’s veteran album. Everything from the deliberately understated album roll out, through the confident and confrontational lyrics of Matt Lamkin scream, “we’ve done this before and we get it”. It’s also in sharp contrast to the 10 shows in 1 day blitz they did for their self-titled debut in 2010. That should come as no surprise to anyone following these guys. Their first iteration as The Muslims was raw, poppy, choppy, and simple. Their debut as Soft Pack was more polished and an adventure into post-punk, surf-rock, and anthems. Strapped is capably put together and multifaceted in ways that honestly fans of the previous works probably didn’t see coming. Heavily incorporating synth and saxophone into this album is a big departure for the band, and when combined with some of the best production on any album released in 2012, the dividends are a brilliant rock album that is sophisticated, direct and accessible.
The Soft Pack
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple’s fourth album doesn’t disappoint. And it very well could have – or at least not lived up to the hype. After all, it’s only the singer/songwriter’s 4th LP in 16 years, her first since 2005’s Extraordinary Machine, and she’s reportedly been working on it since 2008. The Idler Wheel finds Fiona producing for the first time, and instead of collaborating with her long-time production partner Jon Brion, she teams up with her touring drummer Charley Drayton. Along with writing and composing all ten tracks for The Idler Wheel, Fiona’s additional credits include vocals, album artwork, celesta, field recording, keyboard bass, loops, percussion, piano, thighs, truck stomper, timpani, and voice strings. We’re not certain what some of those are, but taken literally, that’s pretty cool. This dynamic, pulsating collection might be not only Fiona Apple’s most experimental and hands-on piece of work, it might also be her best.
King Tuff’s self-titled release sounds like you’re listening to the entire history of guitar rock on one album. Don’t get me wrong, King Tuff is fresh and contemporary, and Kyle Thomas (King Tuff, himself) definitely has his own sound, but this album is a progression from, and hat tip to, everything that came before it. The album opens with the aptly-titled “Anthem,” with its stomp-and-clap percussion behind 70’s guitar god solos. As an aside, as long as we’re talking about the 70’s, King Tuff’s live band is straight out of Dazed and Confused, particularly bass player Magic Jake, who looks like he might like high school girls because even though he gets older, they stay the same age. Regardless, top to bottom, King Tuff is a surprisingly poppy garage rock effort that is just plain good. “Bad Thing” stands out from the pack with its sing along chorus and explosions of sonic energy, as does the familiar, shredding, guitar riff and rockabilly feel of “Stranger.” Put this one in heavy rotation.
Open Your Heart
There were so many great releases from Sacred Bones this year it was hard picking one. Pop. 1280, Wymond Miles, Psychic Ills, The Human Eye have all come into our living rooms and scared the shit out of the neighbors. I like to think garage is having a great year not because it is a part of any throwback but rather that bands are finding raw energy and even rawer sound a perfect place to develop a near perfect album. Open Your Heart does that by taking great liberties with structure and fastening knives on the end of their guitars.
Attack On Memory
Given the widespread critical acclaim that surrounded Cloud Nothing’s second album, Attack On Memory, it was no surprise that many people who listened to the album were unaware of Dylan Baldi and co.’s previous efforts as Cloud Nothings. Whilst this may sound like the beginning of a “Their earlier stuff was BETTER!!” rant, it’s simply interesting to note just how far Baldi and his band came in the space of a year, thanks to a settled line-up and the introduction of legendary producer Steve Albini. Throwaway pop-punk songs with apathetic emo vocals were overhauled completely; replaced with a collection of snarling punk-rock numbers with stadium-sized ambitions. The epic ‘Wasted Days’ rumbles with genuine menace, hurtling towards its grand finale of Baldi yelling, “I thought! I would! Be More! Than this!”, whilst the post-grunge of ‘No Sentiment’ highlights Attack On Memory‘s loose concept , (a general disdain for 80’s inspired synth and dreampop music) “No nostalgia, no sentiment / We’re over it now, we were over it then”. But no moment on Attack On Memory showcases Baldi’s ear for a good hook better than the anthemic ‘Stay Useless’. Playing out like a grown-up Blink 182 track, Baldi’s storytelling reads like a drunken rant, “Can I see what’s going wrong with me, I used to have it all now I’m alone/I’d never say i’m better off this way, I need something to do, somewhere to go”. Looking back on Attack On Memory and the songwriting within, it’s both wonderful and slightly disturbing to remember that Dylan Baldi is still only 20 years old: “I need time to stop moving, I need time to stay useless” he sings. Dylan, take all the time you need.
Allah-Las were a stacked deck headed in. Most of them had met while working at the world famous Amoeba Music on Sunset; they had gotten Nick Waterhouse to produce their album for them; and they already had an immeasurable amount of street-cred here in LA…well, they outshined even the loftiest of expectations.
It’s a clever little trick to pull off when you can make a deliberate, carefully crafted, and meticulously arranged album sound effortless. It’s music we don’t have to work too hard to digest, and it leaves the distinct impression on us listeners that Allah-Las have done all the thinking for us.
Menomena’s Moms is totally an album that I should have written a review of, but you know, I am just too good of friends with the band, and the thing is, that means that my review of it as stellar and essential isn’t something you’re likely to take seriously, but seriously, it’s seriously astonishing. It didn’t take me long to be blown away by it. In fact, I think about nineteen claps into the first song, “Plumage,” I was sold.
Danny Seim is one of the most creative musicians making music in our time, and he is matched well by Justin Harris, who plays so many instruments, so well, at one time, he could be an incredible one-man band. But make no mistake, they are a powerful machine when assembled.
If you’ve never gotten into Menomena, I really think you ought to give them a try. If you’d like a weirder TV on the Radio or a more normal Flaming Lips, it’s time to shell out a few bucks and grab their records.
We were all surprised this record. Charles twisted his ankle upon hearing it. I got a small concussion that isn’t as serious as it once seemed. Without the comfortable labels of metal, hardcore, or fracture rock, Metz manages a damn fine album which gets a few good shots to the ribs. Poor Ben. We should really visit him in the hospital.
Kindred + Truant / Rough Sleeper
There is a reason why 2 of Burial’s releases have been dovetailed into one. By now, the two EPs released by this London based dubstep producer have totaled nearly an hour at just 5 tracks. It is also apart of Burial’s return after four years of silence following two critically acclaimed records. If last year’s collaborations with Massive Attack, Four Tet, and Thom York were any indication of progression, this years harvest of releases shows the producer moving in wild and exciting directions.
With each release, Burial pushes his track lengths into the double digests resulting in dislocated landscapes which pit wet concrete against overcast skies. The 2012 bunch goes above and beyond anything the producer has done and gives fans shivers of excitement for a full length if it ever comes. There is so much to say about these two releases but I wouldn’t have the time. By the looks of everyone else I am not the only one who is speechless.
There is really no one like Swans in terms of sound and presence. This project begins at post punk and no wave and continues on a merry ride of tension and nihilism. The fact that the band is making records in the third decade of their existence which eclipses other younger contemporaries in terms of scope and execution is stunning. The Seer is an artwork which has been years in the making and according to its creator Michael Gira still incomplete. Lord have mercy on all of us when it is completed. Two hours in length and completely demanding of attention, The Seer moves past an album that is entertaining to be an album that is important for the contemporary times. Important in the fact that we need albums like this still being made. It is like a punch to the leg to keep us awake on a long drive.
Yes I know Post-Nothing was Pinpoint’s 2009 album of the year but I don’t know what happened…I let Japandroids first record slip on by me when it was released. Do not ask me what happened with this one. Perhaps it was just there for me to provide that extra push to get over the hill because when it comes down to it that is what Celebration Rock really is; the feeling of pushing through hitting the crest of the hill, the momentum of going downhill. I cannot complain and in fact this record provides me with the perfect drinking music for a group of me and my closest comrades while we punch death and adversity in the goddamn face.
Hair / Slaughterhouse / Twins
The fact that all three of Ty Segall’s records are being grouped in together is important. It is not that it took the combined strength of three releases to reach the top ten rather Twins, Hair, and Slaughterhouse represent three unique aspects of this garage Goliath. Whether or not it is psych pop with collaborators White Fence or noisy hard rock with the Ty Segall Band or even the frenetic yet varied solo work as Ty Segall…all three albums are integral to understanding the breadth of this Californian native. Just one of these records is enough to end up in the top spot and picking one of out of the three is near impossible. Don’t break the set.
Thee Oh Sees
Putrifiers II opens with a lonely sitar-ish guitar line, finishes with droning strings, and cuts a wide, all over the place, swath of psychedelic garage rock in the 40 or so minutes in between. John Dwyer and company have a prolific history of smart, challenging yet still fun and raucous recordings, and Putrifiers II is no exception. The opening track, “Wax Face” is full of the fuzzy, propulsive, driving, guitar and falsetto vocal harmonies that are some of the hallmarks of Thee Oh Sees’s sound. Dwyer isn’t afraid to take his foot off the gas, though, for some spacier, psych explorations mid-album, which are interrupted by the sunshiney pop of “Flood’s New Light” with its 60’s inspired ba-ba-ba-ba chorus. Other stand-out tracks include “Goodbye Baby” where Dwyer trades the falsetto for baritone, over a beautiful viola accompaniment, and the sprawling, groovy, distorted “Lupine Dominus.” This album gets better with each listen: it’s eminently enjoyable from the first spin, but it’s got enough nuance to keep you coming back. Along with recent output of fellow San Franciscan Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees’s Putrifiers II stands out from the pack of the garage renaissance.
Thee Ohh Sees
Channel Orange is an album of intricate storytelling made to look easy. Ocean has, with this body of work, proven himself to be within touching distance of the greats. From the slow-build opener and knockout falsetto of ‘Thinkin Bout You’ to the church organs and lo-fi soul of ‘Forrest Gump’ and ‘End,’ Channel Orange is a lush and vivid exercise in storytelling; one where Cleopatra is depicted as a worldly-wise lady of the night and ancient Egypt is reborn in a modern strip club on the sprawling ‘Pyramids,’ and where the crack addict’s family on ‘Crack Rock’ “stopped inviting you to things” and “won’t let you hold their infant.” As well as colourful characters and nuanced takes on well worn tales though, Channel Orange allows Ocean to bear a little of his own soul on the string heavy ballad ‘Bad Religion,’ where he is reduced to confiding in a taxi driver on matters of unrequited love (“Just outrun the demons, could you?”).
But the most rewarding aspect of Channel Orange reveals itself after repeated listens. The different subtexts and scenarios throughout combined with several interludes reinforce the notion that Channel Orange is meant to be listened to as a complete album, but it’s the extent to which Ocean’s songwriting has the capacity to sink into your consciousness that is telling. Just wait until you find yourself half rapping “TOO MANY BOTTLES OF THIS WINE WE CAN’T PRONOUNCE” to yourself on the bus, or attempting to recall word for word Ocean’s friend’s Mom declaring how it’s ‘Not just money.’ It’s an album which takes catchy to a completely different level- and that’s without mentioning ‘crackrockcrackrock’. Most importantly of all though, Channel Orangeis a tour de force of songwriting, and quite simply a masterpiece.
There is a reason. There is always a reason. Lonerism did many things this year. Not only did it propel Tame Impala past anything anyone thought capable but it also proposed a record which was vast and complex as well as being incredibly accessible. Garage and psych had a banner year which was a continuation of great strides from the past 5 years but Tame Impala managed to circumvent their throwback sound in making an album which is both reverent to their psych rock forefathers while being completely rooted in 2012.
Even without playing this record at an obsessive level, each song on Lonerism is unique in its character and presentation. These are the qualities which turn a normal release into a memorable album. Whether or not it is the enveloping “Be Above It,” the acid wave crest of “Endors Toi” or even the stoner rock swagger of “Elephant,” Tame Impala astounds and awes with an album for the years to come which came to us unassuming and completely by surprise. See. I made it through an entire review without mentioning the Beatles.
I love this record and I am not even worried that it seems to be sweeping most end of the year lists. Doesn’t matter. I am so far away right now it is not even funny.