Life Melters 2012

Words: Kevin Stebner

Yeah, I’m late this year. But let’s be honest, all these year-end lists get churned out so fast, leaving no time for perspective, they basically miss all of December in their compiling. I needed the time to let it stew. Normally, these features have the same boring 40 records that are on every other list, leading one to believe that only 50 albums got made last year or the impression that the underground has ceased to exist. So, let’s be clear, top lists are boring — they rehash the same records, never ever focus on individual songs, and COMPLETELY ignores singles. I want to avoid that and illuminate some things you may have missed. I can’t say too many “albums” per se really struck me, but there were a ton of individual songs that wrecked me.

So, here are the 12 best songs I heard in 2012; 6 hardcore, 6 otherwise, that made my life melt and really rewarded all the time I spent digging and listening. Enjoy!

Jason Molina – “No Hand Was at the Wheel”
From: Autumn Bird Songs (Graveface)

How was this recording not big news? Three years since the last Magnolia Electric Co. recordings, on hiatus for a number of reasons. Many of the new songs come off as no more than demos, but Molina has always shone in that form. Just put his voice up front and it’s already perfect. Molina is the master of being sad-sack, yet never melodramatic, and “No Hand” is just that: almost genre-free in his sombre and naked songs.

Gold – “Losing Your Hair”
From: Losing Your Hair EP (self-released)

Gold

I just know that when Gold gets spoken about it’s going to be for the Women connection or to focus on the front-women’s looks, but put that away, because it’s the music that makes them worth your time and love. I’m rarely a fan of dreamy pop music, but Gold bore to the kernel of strong writing, luminescent grooves, and slight vocals. “Lose Your Hair” has such a wonderful interweave with the ladies’ voices and guitars.

Cousins – “Thunder”
From: The Palm at the End of the Mind (Saved By Vinyl)

Cousins

Easily the jam of the summer. Just slow, plodding and beautiful. The most simple of riffs, repetitive love song sentiments — the soundtrack to backyard fires or driving into sunsets in slow motion. Three-chord perfection.

Mac DeMarco – “Ode to Viceroy”
From: 2 (Captured Tracks)

Mac is too fun. How is it possible that this hokey and jokey lounge music is so enjoyable? I just can’t deny it; Mac makes me feel like I’m in on it. The sweet groove and tape warble of “Viceroy” is the crown jewel of 2, hilarious yet soothing. A love song to cigarettes? Sure, why not, Mac – you can sell it to me.

Eamon McGrath – “Great Lakes”
From: Young Canadians (White Whale)

Eamon McGrath

Canadiana at its finest. In an age where people would rather sing about dancing or shoes than their world around them, Eamon may well be the torch-bearer for Rock’n Roll in this country. “Great Lakes” begins as a quiet acoustic song and crescendos with a pulsing stomp and noisy guitars into gruff sublimity. I’d submit this track as the new national anthem.

Fiver – “Calm & Collected”
From: Two Songs 7″ (Indoor Shoes)

Fiver

Simone Schmidt’s voice, once again, conquers. Ever-powerful in storyteller mode, “Calm & Collected” weaves yet another sombre tale of quiet fear. Put away all your hang-ups you may have regarding country, because this track carries more emotional weight in a single song than all of 2012 pop music combined. The pulsing wash of the trem, the haunting voices, the whole MOOD is just miles above any “alt-country” act in the world.

Catlin Elm – “Make This Your Life”
From: Catlin Elm/Coma Regalia split 7″ (Middle Man)

Catlin Elm

Without a doubt, THE emo jam of the year. I suggest bands listen to what Catlin Elm are doing here. See, it’s not technicality or heaviness that a good hardcore band makes, but the TENSION they’re able to weave. Catlin Elm do this so deftly, it’s truly a marvel to have been captured on wax. The hand claps harken back to Hawkes, and that vocal is still as perfectly haggard as ever. Moving.

Fell to Low – “Sartoris”
From: Sensible Sounds of Men 7″ (React)

Fell to Low

Wow. Fell to Low could be the best new hardcore band in the states right now. Really sharp guitars, hard rhythms. Somewhere in between Chicago noise-rock and Damages, with enough D.C. to keep it smart. “Sartoris” arcs like a movement, starts with a math-heavy riff, marching steadily to its hard-hitting conclusion. I wish this were the direction hardcore was heading, but I’m glad at least glad Fell to Low are able to least hammer it out for us.

Ten Thousand Leagues – “Guillotine Pipe”
From: 2012 demo (self released)

Ten Thousand Leagues

No one does chaos anymore, or when they do, it’s calculated to the point where chaos is merely a pretense. “Guillotine Pipe” is an utter mess, the guitars are completely out of tune, and 10K Leagues actually sound scary and dangerous. In this world of Touche’s, it’s a blessing to be hit with this cacophony.

Facel Vega – “Gertrude”
From: The Body (Art for Blind)

Facel Vega

I’ve championed this record before, and were I to pick a favourite album of the year (even though it’s technically a 2011 release, but no matter), The Body might be it. “Gertrude” is probably my jam on this record. Rollicking and almost off the rails. Not to beat the Rites of Spring comparison into the ground, but Facel Vega take that revolution summer thing and crash it to the ground.

Baader Brains – “New Era Hope Colony”
From: New Era Hope Colony (Clean Plate)

New Era Hope Colony is a searing bread basket of assortments; it’s got that revolutionary Nation of Ulysses-like swagger, it’s political, and perhaps polemical, but undeniably blazing and fun. Incredible use of jazz, soul and political speech samples, absolutely tearing riffs. Sarah/Mike Kirsch has been mining this style of post-hardcore for decades, and it’s as good as it’s ever been. RIP Sarah Kirsch!

Veneers – “Gold Nails”
From: Similar Stories (Anteduvia)

Veneers

Easily one of the most unique and interesting post-hardcore statements made in this country this year. “Gold Nails” is packed full: guitar tones I’ve never heard, phone-recorded vocals, curious drum patterns. It’s not easy listening, in a genre that’s already not easy listening… thankfully so.

Good things 2012

Words: Jeremy Curry

Since I usually regret something on my “Best Of” list, I would rather just mention that these were some good things I enjoyed at the time. I am sure they aren’t the best, as I know I will find something better that was released this year, many years down the road.

Jim O’Rourke, Oren Ambarchi and Keiji Haino – Live at SuperDeluxe Tokyo

These guys are regulars on my lists, only because I consider them masters of their craft. I usually end up enjoying everything they churn out. Seeing them live was not only a highlight of my year, but of my life. It was very loud, intense, and a quite a surreal experience. Being able to see three of my favourite musicians playing together on a single stage was pretty amazing. It was also my last day in Tokyo, which made for a great goodbye party for myself. They were loud, abrasive, screeching, wailing, flailing and squonking to my heart’s delight. I don’t know if I will ever see a show quite like that again.

Blur – 21 Box Set

Blur - 21 Box Set

Blur have been one of my favourite bands since I was in junior high. These guys were always pushing the envelope of what they could make, and would scrap everything they became famous for to start fresh. I liked that. “Song 2” was popular everywhere when it was released, and became a beer ad / jock anthem. After that, they released the album 13, which was mostly sad ballads. They have never stuck to one sound, and always strayed from getting pigeonholed into one specific genre. This box set is a really great hunk of every full-length release they have ever put out, as well as b-sides, rarities and live tracks. It’s a nice trip down memory lane, and the chance to listen to all of these unreleased tracks was a nice addition.

Patrice and Friends

A couple of his albums were released last year, but in 2012, Patrice and Friends (a.k.a. Grime producer Slackk) dropped another banger into my lap called Cherry Sorbet. It’s a nice mix of footwork, boogie, soul, R&B and funk jams moving at such a fast pace that you’re sure to be tuckered out on the dancefloor pretty quick. All of his albums are a lot of fun, but I would suggest starting with Cashmere Sheets. So many great beats pumping at you on that one.

Lone – Galaxy Garden

This might be my favorite electronic album of the year. It starts off with some wild jungle jams and keeps flowing from there. It’s a very playful but busy and intelligent album, which also contains some of my favorite tracks to bust out at the club, such as “Spirals” which samples Anneka’s vocals into what sounds like a classic Orbital track. I haven’t heard another release like it this year, and that is refreshing.

R. Stevie Moore

R. Stevie Moore

I found out about this man through The Wire and discovered his exhaustingly massive output of releases. I’ve heard a bunch of them, but haven’t even scratched the surface. His album with Ariel Pink is completely bonkers, but is also a match made in space. Those guys were meant to record together. There is a documentary about R. Stevie Moore on YouTube, and although it’s kind of boring, watching his recording process is fascinating and would also drive me completely insane. He is a master of pop music, and producing massive quantities of it.

Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth

I found out about Ryan Hemsworth through FACT Magazine, where he contributed one of the year’s best mixes. Playfully mixing up rap artists like Danny Brown with the Donkey Kong and Chrono Trigger soundtracks is a genius move. The beats get pretty hazy, but the drum samples push forward and keep you moving. I have a bunch of his mixes on heavy rotation at my house, as he compiled them online and gave them all away for free. I think he would be a great guy to see live, if you want to get some exercise by dancing your heart out.

Other notable albums of 2012:

O’Rourke / Ambarchi /Haino – Imikuzushi
Sir Richard Bishop – Intermezzo
Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
Mark Fell – Sentielle Objectif Actualite
Anenon – Inner Hue
BEAK> – BEAK>>
Jason Lescalleet – Songs About Nothing
Josephine Foster – Blood Rushing
Raglani – Real Colors of the Physical World
KTL – V
Stephen O’Malley & Steve Noble – St. Francis Duo
Chris Reimer – The Chad Tape
Fenn O’Berg – In Hell
Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
Rangda – Formerly Extinct

Pure Pleasure :: Six releases, old and new, that punched my ticket this year

Words: Christopher Laramee

White Hills – The new lords of space rock

Carlton Melton
Photos of Photos
Agitated Records
2012

This San Franciscan three piece came out of nowhere (for me) and blew my head clean off. Spaced synthscapes and burnt riffs for days, these guys up the ante and stand out in a BIG way in a scene crowded with delay-soaked longhairs. Check out their back catalogue for more sublime raunch. John McBain (Monster Magnet) plays, and also mixed and mastered the thing. DO NOT IGNORE THIS ONE!

Pharoah Sanders
Karma
Impulse
1969

This one’s been in my racks for a couple of years and I never gave it a proper listen. My mistake. The true post-Coltrane godhead of reed-destroying madness, Karma surprises with some quiet, interstellar passages, and Leon Thomas’ scat/spoken narrative guiding you through the storm of rattled percussion and hot tongues. Pure pleasure, from start to finish.

The Chinese Restaurants
River of Shit 7″
S.S. Records
2010

Wow. That was my first response. Props to my man Ben for the tip on this one (and Carlton Melton). Along with the Soggy 2LP reissue, this is one of the best PURE rock releases in quite some time. Lo-fi? Yup. Noisy as all fuck? Sorted. Obama samples? Check. Now, do we got a song which is a straight version of THEM’s “Gloria” with new lyrics called “Queen of the Skanks”? Absolutely, my friend! What are you still doing reading this?

Curtis Mayfield
There’s No Place Like America Today
Curtom Records
1975

Can’t quit this one. An under-appreciated classic if there ever was one. A reflection of mid ’70s urban decay and collapse that only lets in some light occasionally, this album should be as revered as Marv’s What’s Going On. Stark as daylight drums rise from the floorboards and try to pull you down with them. Down where, you ask? Down to hell, bro. And guess what? It’s just a few blocks down the road. As topical today as it was then.

The Men
Immaculada
Self-Released
2010

Just got this one a few weeks ago. I sure dig the two records that came after, but this one pulls my goalie in a real wicked way. Hmmm, let’s see what comes to mind. Black Flag circa My War, uh, Boston’s lost heroes The Swirlies, some KARP, and uh, well let’s just say there’s a bit of amplifier abuse happening here. The second song “Problems/Burning Up” kills the lights and goes for the lapels with a LOT of subway swagger. Worth checking for that one alone.

White Hills
Frying on this Rock
Thrill Jockey
2012

The new lords of space rock come correct yet again. I find it disgustingly strange that this band has yet to break the whole fuckin’ scene wide open and be hailed as the King and Queen they rightly should be. I guess being one of the top live acts in the world and putting out ROCK MASTERWORKS with alarming regularity doesn’t count for shit these days. Mark my words, when that douchebag from KINGS OF LEON (I dunno, you pick which one…) is drooling in his own barf behind a Denny’s dumpster a few years from now, these fine folks will be in their crystal palace recording concept albums about Rasputin rising from the dead or something like that. That’s the world I want to live in.