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AOTY 2012

December 21st, 2012, 1:20 pm

Without further ado, my unjustified and completely arbitrary list of the best Albums of the Year for 2012:

5. Laurel Halo - Quarantine

I want to hate this album. Quarantine is filled to the brim with atonal vocal melodies, grating synths, and the overwhelming notion that noise and inaccessabiltity somehow equates to "art". Yet, at the same time, I can't deny that there really is a true sense of artistry here - the juxtaposition between the pain and pathetic grasping to a relationship well past its prime with catchy synth-pop flares. "JUST WANNA BE WITH YOU!" a virtual Britney Spears-like voice belts out in "Holoday", seemingly unware of the plodding, moaning, swirling pads Halo has placed just inches beneath the candy-coated optomism. The album's cover is no better at hiding this dichotomy, presenting colorful rainbows and neon-bright images of Japanese schoolchildren killing themselves brutally, blood and entrails spilling with a smile. Everything's fine here, Halo seems to say. Move along.

4. Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves

Yes, I'll admit, I've always been a huge fan of Mark Kozelek's various musical incarnations. 2003's Ghosts of the Great Highway remains one of the quintessential albums of my collection. But where Ghosts calls upon beautiful poetic metaphor and drenches its tracks in imagery and nostalgia, Among the Leaves takes an stark, often-dry autobiographical approach. Initially, this may come off as lazy; Kozelek chooses to evaluate seemingly banal topics like the-guy-who-fixes-his-guitar and the-obsessive-fan-who-was-a-bit-shy-after-a-show. In reality, though, the album microscopically evaluates what life on the road is like for him, making for an absolutely intimate and personal album that, while devoid of flowery metaphor, paints a detailed portrait of the touring musician.

3. Lambchop - Mr. M

Lambchop is a hard band to categorize. On the surface, the Tennessee natives seem like a relic of the old alt-country scene, sticking to folksy, twangy, almost cheesy songs of relationships and regret. Dive beneath the surface, however, and you have a band who really doesn't stick to any convention - in fact, they seem to revel in the misunderstanding. "Don't know what the fuck they talk about," the irreplaceable Kurt Wagner laments in the very first line of the album, his smokey voice pushing aside the refined string section playing behind him. He's right, I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about either, especially when it comes to Wagner's lyrical schizophrenia. But the very fact that a band as comfortable in its skin as Lambchop still makes me work for that understanding is enough for me.

2. Wild Nothing - Nocturne

Dream pop has made an indelable mark in the indie scene as of late. But where bands like The xx and Beach House lean more to the "dream" side of the equation, Nocturne strongly recalls The Cure - strong, catchy songs, drenched in reverb and strong lead guitar lines. I'll admit, there may be some deep hidden meaning behind the shiny veneer of 80's New Wave, but what I hear is simple love songs, describing the pangs of regret, the moments of enfatuation, the excitement of the chase. Sure, it's not covering any new ground, but to have a band like Wild Nothing take a genre that seems intentionally opaque at times and release as catchy and straightforward and album as this seems downright revolutionary.

1. Shigeto - Lineage

Much has been said about Zach Saginawa's inspiration behind Lineage. Being of Japanese descent, he set out to capture the history that surrounds his own ancestory (his grandfather was apparently internned during World War II). And yes, the album's combination of bellsy electric pianos and reverberated xylophones serves to evoke that sense of history and nostalgia very well. But the album never feels overly sentimental, or downtrodden, or heady for that matter - Saginaw walks the fine line between obtuse electronic pretension and directionless ambience rather masterfully. Compared to the raw technicality and dizzying variablity of 2012's other electronic tour-de-force "Until the Quiet Comes" by Flying Lotus, Lineage feels downright comfortable, simplistic, and personal, and it really allows the album to stand for what it is - a collection of cool-as-hell songs that provide a lingering image of home in the back of your mind.

December 22nd, 2012, 4:26 pm

oaf7724 (Guest)

Nice picks, this is really well done, and you've showed me some cool stuff this year with Shigeto and Wild Nothing

But where is Gossamer!?

December 31st, 2012, 6:44 pm

matt (Guest)

I love that 2012 went by and we both discovered very different strands of music. I've listened to just two of these consistently, and purchased only one.

I loved listening to Shigeto's album when you told me I would. I only listened the one time, too bogged down to remember that stopping to listen is often more important than rushing forward to hear.

Also, Justin, I personally didn't dig Gossamer at all. Preferences, right?

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