my year end list (2012)
Sometimes it seems culture is so rapidly consuming of itself that we’re headed in to some sort of artistic quantum singularity, an ouroboros-like feedback loop that will invariably consume itself and nothing will be left but a few broken 7″s and a headache. Or maybe I’m just getting nostalgic in my own age, which prompts me to write a sentence like that. Ouch.
2012 was the year my nineteen-year-old self snuck up behind my twenty-eight-year-old self and gave him a high-five. Not only have I been drawn into recalling those precocious years of my youth, but several old ghosts from that time period reared their heads and put out new music this year. So I’ve decided to order my year-end list on that scale. Here goes:
TOP RELEASES THAT MADE ME MISS COLLEGE:
1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor- “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!”
I was kicking myself for not being the first one to hear about this record. I know, a silly thing to get possessive over, but GY!BE have probably been the most important band to me over the past ten years, if not my favorite. Few have done more to shape my aesthetics and my politics as this ensemble. A mere two weeks before its release, the band announced the first new recorded music since 2003. Suitably, I made the decision to rectify the mistake of last year and go see them live. The album and the show were both exactly what you’d expect from Godspeed; familiar but never quite comfortable. At first, the drone pieces seem a little too long, and the full tracks verge on relying to heavily on the formula of the past. But what I hear below those initial impressions is a band completely independent of its own expectations, seeking authenticity in a culture that tries to simultaneously lionize and violently deconstruct its heroes. This is irony-free music in an age that has no bearing to what it means to be genuine anymore. As some other review brilliantly observed, GY!BE are more about the emotional window through which we peer at the world than the subject matter itself. Allelujah! is, for me, a welcome reminder of those initial raw feelings I first got holding the artwork from their masterpiece Lift yr. Skinny Fists in my hands a decade prior.
2. Sigur Ros- Valtari
Honestly, Sigur Ros’ last album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust was a bit of disappointment to me. Mostly I think it is because I expect too much of the guys. When it comes to innovative bands with staying power, we simultaneously demand evolution, yet throw tantrums when it’s not “like the old stuff”. Sigur Ros is that band band for me; Radiohead less so. Valtari, however, was the album I’ve been waiting for these gentlemen to release for nigh on eight years. Since 2002’s ( ) I’ve found their EP work to be the place where Sigur Ros were freed up to experiment and take their time constructing slow-burn ambiance that has few peers in terms of a well-worn tapestry of sound. This year’s release seems to be a mature band not fighting what it is they do best. It took several listens to even distinguish between tracks, which is no band thing for a band that has always been in tune to providing an in-depth listening experience over mere entertainment. There are rumours of a new album very soon that is to be a dramatic change even from what they have woven together here, and I look forward to seeing what they are capable of as they enter the upper eschalons of post-rock as elder statesmen of the beautiful drone.
3. The Locust- Molecular Genetics from the Gold Standard Labs
Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat, as it’s not new music per say, but a collection of all the Locust’s early work before their Anti- debut Plague Soundscapes. It also rounds out nicely three releases from my favorite three bands of the past decade. What I love about this compilation is that it tracks the Locust’s evolution from a scraggly hardcore band in 1995 to the progenators of noise-weirdness that put them in such company with such luminaries as Lightning Bolt, Black Dice, and Pink and Brown. Plus, at forty-four tracks, you feel like your get your money’s worth. Highlights for me are the deep deep cuts “Flash’s Theme” and “the Perils of Believing in Round Squares v2”.
4. Brian Eno- Lux
Thus far, I’ve only been able to stream this album through various host sites for a day or two, but hey, it’s Brian Eno. His past couple release through Warp have been interesting (A Small Craft on the Milk Sea and Drums Between the Bells, both collaborative records), but I feel this is Eno is his natural state. His attentiveness to the details, the smallness of sounds has always attracted me to the more ambient works of his solo career, and Lux finds it’s place in that oeuvre quite comfortably. I read an article recently about how the relational lobe in our brain shuts down when we feel threatened, forcing us to abandon human decency for animal reactions to fight. Eno’s work at it’s most profound level has sought to overcome these chemical functions and bring us to a place of serenity that surpasses our original programming. As with many of Eno’s releases, you feel as though there is more to the album than just the music, even if that’s all you have to go by. This will be my writing music for 2013.
5. Aesop Rock- Skelethon
I don’t exactly remember which hip-hop album was the first to really grasp me and burrow itself into my noggin, but I can tell you that Aesop Rock’s opus None Shall Pass was the one that stuck with me the most. Perhaps all the experimental, indie-whatever rap that I had listened to prior was to prepare me for this man’s singular genius. Needless to say, Aesop’s contribution to this year’s musical parade serves as a bookend to the past release as a brutally honest autobiography. Divorce, record label collapse, and mental breakdowns all contribute to an album rife with deep, deep introspection. Indeed, save a couple sung verses from Kimya Dawson, this album is solely Aesop, a rarity amongst rap albums. He puts you in his head, leaving you to decipher the countless twists and turns of imagery and word by yr lonesome. This is a thick musical journey.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES:
The Mountain Goats- Transcendental Youth
I can’t imagine another musician who has been so consistent in his output over the past ten years as John Darnielle. Yet another fantastic album full of fleshed-out characters and beautiful turns-of-phrase, all conveyed in Darnielle’s signature nasal bleat.
Deerhoof- Breakup Song
Deerhoof are the perennial soundtrack to Hanna-Barbera cartoons and sunny days for me. There is not one aspect of this band that I don’t like. Monolithic rhythm section. Perfectly tuned dual guitars. Tiny little japanese girl vocalist. Just the right amount of noisiness and pop. Highly recommended.
The Sea and Cake- Runner
1997’s The Fawn has consistently been one of my favorites records since I discovered it in the used section of our store in St. Augustine. For some reason I never kept up with their output since then until recently, and I can still say that the Sea and Cake are still one of Chicago’s best bands of the past decade.
Mount Eerie- Clear Moon + Ocean Roar
To be honest, I haven’t fully absorbed these two releases from Phil Elverum’s Mount Eerie just yet, but what I have heard is pretty grand. Another stupendously consistent songwriter and musician.
Nick Zammuto’s solo record didn’t make much sense to me at first. I loved the now-defunct Books, and expected something in the same vein as their musique concrete vs. freak-folk cacophony; there is an element of his previous work here, but Zammuto is far more a rock-oriented affair. Not to say its conventional by any means. He still retains the nostalgic sampling of his previous band’s output, but his guitar takes a front-and-center position here. After several listens and watchign them open for Explosions in the Sky, it all made more sense.
Oneohtrix Point Never+Tim Hecker- Instrumental Tourist
Oren Ambarchi: Audience of One, Raga Ooty, Sagitarrian Domain, Connected
Om- Advaitic Songs
Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II
Converge: What We Love We Leave Behind
Matthew Dear: Beams, Headcage EP
Jack White: Blunderbuss
Max Richter: Reworking of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2012
Baroness- Yellow and Green
BEST RECORD FROM 2011 THAT I DIDN’T HEAR UNTIL THIS YEAR:
Apparat- The Devil’s Walk
RECORD FROM 2012 THAT I STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH:
Death Grips- The Money Store