Roundup: Album of the Year 2012

With four full-lengths, a stack of EPs, several splits, a compilation and a bunch of globe-trotting tours under their belts, few would argue against Blacklisted’s reputation as one of hardcore’s hardest working and most prolific bands. It may be a little surprising, then, to learn that When People Grow, People Go is their first long-player in over half a decade; a relative eon when you consider the Philadelphia natives released their first three LPs in a four-year span. But, as is often the case, Blacklisted have returned — alongside trusted producer Will Yip — with their most varied and industrious release since 2009’s semi-classic Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God.

25. Beach House – Bloom

With their fourth album, Beach House have retained the sound that has brought them so many admirers, which is refreshing to see while so many other bands either drastically alter their sound or do nothing to advance it. The textures are all-encompassing, and Legrand’s sultry voice beckons you in to swim around in them. Bloom is a beautifully crafted, commanding and aptly-titled album that adds a sharp kick to the intimacy of the previous three records, whilst still maintaining that sweet, honeyed sound.

Label: Sub Pop


24. Every Time I Die – Ex Lives

The biggest compliment I can give to Every Time I Die is that I can’t think of a single band of their ilk that is similar. Whilst they obviously share some of the same characteristics as other Metalcore bands (massive riffs, pounding drums and bass-heavy production), their use of progressive elements and vocal range is wholly unique. Ex Lives is an exceptionally strong follow up to 2009’s New Junk Aesthetic, confirming ETID as one of the most consistently surprising groups around. Hell of a live act, too.

Label: Epitaph


23. Dark Time Sunshine – ANX

The first of this years Hip-Hop giants. ANX is the follow up the duo’s fantastic debut, Vessel, and improves upon their unique sound to create a more well-rounded release. Musically, It is a difficult album to pigeon hole, with producer Zavala serving up a wide range of fascinating instrumentation ranging from psychedelic synth hooks to hypnotic drum loops, whilst Onry Ozzborn stamps his typically insightful, thought-provoking brand of rap on top. It’s a wonderful combination, resulting in a release that firmly places Dark Time Sunshine amongst the elite of modern Hip-Hop.

Label: Fake Four Inc


22. The Maccabees – Given to the Wild

It’s great when a band can evolve whilst retaining their identity, and that’s exactly what The Maccabees have managed here. The traditional roots of the band still form the core of the release, but these foundations are now supported with a more refined, mature approach to songwriting. There’s increased experimentation within the tracks, and an obvious willingness to explore ideas further than their previous work. With a hardened influence from post-rock adding an extra sonic dimension, Given to the Wild could well turn out to be a watershed release for the quartet.

Label: Fiction


21. Clubroot – III – MMXII

Shaped by his surroundings, St. Albans native Dan Richmond has painted an uneasy, visceral portrait of life and the elements that build it. An eerie atmosphere envelops the clockwork hi hat loops, melancholy bass lines and muted sweeps, with sparse vocal samples combining to make III MMXII a thoroughly involving listen. Much like Swarms’ Old Raves End, it’s an electronic release with a soul, offering something new with each listen.

Label: Lo Dubs Records


20. Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster – Exegesis

When you listen to Exegesis, there will be moments where you can almost hear the hat of influence being doffed. A Tool-esque riff here, an Oceansize-esque key change there, a Pelican-esque drum loop yonder, but it doesn’t matter. TNBD are their own band, with their own sound, and that’s that. Perhaps the most remarkable fact about this album is that it was self-funded and self-produced, which is an incredibly impressive feat given the quality of the mixing. The drums are tight, the guitars rumble along with precise energy and honest vocals soar and crash alongside atmospheric soundscapes. A top release.

Label: Self Released


19. Birds in Row – You, Me & The Violence

One of the most unique hardcore releases of the year now, as french band Birds in Row deliver a debut that carries significant emotional weight and a fusion of abrasive instrumentation and heartfelt vocals. There’s a lot of experimentation going on here, with tracks ranging from minute-long traditional hardcore brutality to twelve-minute voyages that verge into emo and post-metal territory. However, the diversity doesn’t create a lack of focus, with You, Me and the Violence remaining a captivating listen throughout. The future is bright.

Label: Deathwish


18. Hammock – Departure Songs

Post-Rock is a funny genre. Whilst it has the undeniable potential to stir emotion (like any other music, really), it seems to attract a large number of masqueraders. Vapid rise/fall instrumentation that follows the same formula under the guise of thoughtful honesty. Pretty on the surface, but rotten underneath. Enter Hammock, a post-rock duo that, with Departure Songs, have almost single-handedly restored my faith in a genre that often lacks the beauty that it tries so hard to create. A lengthy but wholly worthwhile release with some of the years best ambiance.

Label: Hammock Music


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

The quiet release of Allelujah! conjured up the sort of mysticism that goes hand-in-hand with Godspeed’s music. At the same time as other post-rock paragons Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky are putting out bitesize post-rock, Godspeed are turning heads. The kicker, though, is that shed the record of that mysticism and it’s still a thoroughly engaging, pleasantly nauseating experience. It boasts a frantic dynamism that can only affirm that Godspeed are the unequivocal kings of the genre, a fact made even more surprising considering this is the band’s first release in ten years.

Label: Constellation


16. The Walkmen – Heaven

Heaven is The Walkmen all grown up. It’s always a treat to be able to watch bands change and develop their sound, whether drastically or gradually. This, their seventh album, is a far cry from their most revered effort; Bows + Arrows, an album that brilliantly harmonised young, spirited angst and old-fashioned aesthetic. Heaven, then, acts as a fond reflection of the band’s achievements, a celebration of not going the traditional rock-n-roll route of implosion and infamy. It’s plain to see that The Walkmen are at peace with their career trajectory, and though Heaven isn’t as brash and abrasive as older records, they’ve still been able to retain their quality without dilution.

Label: Jacknife | Released: May | Listen to a track


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

15. State Faults – Desolate Peaks

Hailing from Santa Rosa, California, State Faults have begun to carve a name out for themselves in a somewhat crowded scene with the release of Desolate Peaks. Whilst the high-pitched screams will no doubt polarise some, the pulsating drums and shimmering guitar patterns work together to create a majestic blend of traditional screamo and post-rock. The West Coast Renaissance continues, and it’ll be interesting to see the direction they take from here.

Label: Tiny Engines


14. Grizzly Bear – Shields

Grizzly Bear are heralded for their charming sound, crafting many songs that blur the line between old and new. Veckatimest was a triumph, and it felt like the four-piece had achieved the sound that they wanted to achieve. But Shields came along, and it meshed straight away. The songs progress from the sound of Veckatimest and prove that they can be noisy and abrasive if they so choose. Opener ‘Sleeping Ute’ is a shocking diversion from their previous sound, and the rest of Shields follows suit majestically, acting like a grand but dirty showroom of the band’s greatest attributes.

Label: Warp


13. Gaza – No Absolutes in Human Suffering

This is a fascinating yet wholly unforgiving album; a cocktail of grind, sludge, hardcore and metal elements mixed together in a glass made of anger and cynicism. Lyrical themes ranging from Atheism to Politics, all of which are delivered with earnest conviction, roar over the pulsating percussion and rampant riffs. It’s difficult not to be engrossed by the initial frantic pace that Gaza set, and it never lets up. The finest record of their career.

Label: Black Market Activists


12. Swans – The Seer

I’ve heard it said quite a few times that Swans are a difficult band to get into. Maybe that’s the case, but once the gates of fear are breached and you delve into one of their albums (spanning 30 years), one of the most interesting and dynamic bands around will grab you in and slap you senseless. The Seer continues in the vein, offering up a plethora of musical experiences from industrial drone to weary folk. Make no mistake, this is by no means an ‘easy listen’, but it is an incredibly rewarding release that deserves the time it commands.

Label: Young God


11. Loma Prieta – IV

The is the album Loma Prieta have had in them for years, finally combining all the elements that they displayed on previous releases into one focused and substantial whole. It’ll come as no surprise that I.V was written during an ‘intense and emotional’ period; there is an extra layer of sincerity in the delivery that was previously lacking, manifested in the abrasive instrumentation and pained screams, which in turn make I.V one of the finest emo releases in recent memory.

Label: Deathwish


10. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

I had the great pleasure of being able to see Kristian Matsson in London last year, and despite making us wait for a good half an hour after the support act, he proceeded to put in one of the best live performances I’ve ever witnessed. The man seems incapable of penning a bad song, flawlessly weaving together the weathered tones of his guitar picking and the Dylan-esque sincerity of his vocals. There’s No Leaving Now very much picks up where The Wild Hunt left off, resulting in another fine addition to his increasingly impressive discography.

Label: Dead Oceans


9. Lone Wolf – The Lovers

This album almost didn’t see the light of day. Paul Marshall had to ask his generous fans to pledge towards the album’s release in return for prizes such as private living room gigs. It certainly paid off, and it’s a great job that it did. The Lovers is a much different album to Marshall’s last effort, The Devil and I. Whilst they were unified by the sense of dark, velvet charades, the two are markedly dissimilar. The Devil and I spins tales and webs of fire and murder, but The Lovers is a personal insight into Marshall’s life. It is beautiful, spacious, and at times shiver-inducing.

Label: It Never Rains


8. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

It’s hard to believe that Converge have been around for nearly a quarter of a century, yet still have the passion and talent to remain at the forefront of Metalcore. The constant ability to shape and refine their sound with each new release is admirable, and All We Love We Leave Behind is no exception, seamlessly slotting in as another distinguished entry into their already formidable catalog. All the classic familiarities which made them a staple of the genre, with enough new ideas to keep them fresh and exciting.

Label: Epitaph


7. El-P – Cancer 4 Cure

The years’ best Hip-Hop, and El-P’s best since I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. Intelligent lyrics, excellent beats and predictably awesome production values make Cancer 4 Cure an essential acquisition I actually found 2011 to be somewhat lackluster for the genre, so it’s great to see such a slew of fantastic releases that are actually saying something worthwhile. Also, be on the lookout for the fantastic guest spots from Danny Brown and Killer Mike.

Label: Fat Possum


6. Basement – Colourmeinkindness

A bittersweet entry, as whilst Colourmeinkindness is a fantastic follow up to Basement’s debut, I Wish I Could Stay Here, it is sadly their last. The announcement that they are to disband after the release of this album caused me substantial distress, but such is life. Musically, it’s a noticeably grungier concoction than its predecessor, but that engaging balance between pop-punk and emo remains. A fitting swan song to one of UK’s best bands, but it came far too early. We’ll light a candle in your memory, Basement.

Label: Run For Cover


wlts-quiet5. We Lost The Sea – The Quietest Place on Earth

I remember receiving a bandcamp link for this some time ago, and being told how I couldn’t let the year expire without giving it a listen or two. For some reason, it it kept being pushed aside in favour of newer, shinier albums. Well, that was an error, as The Quietest Place on Earth turned out to be a giant of a release, encapsulating the best elements of post-rock, post-metal and grunge. Near perfect production really elevates the moody atmosphere without impacting the weight of delivery. A fantastic surprise at the end of the year.

Label: Self Released


4. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa

Despite a career spanning eighteen years and eleven albums, Damien Jurado is a name that is relatively unfamiliar to most. And that’s a tremendous shame – Maraqopa, his most recent effort, is most touching and poignant. That this is Jurado’s eleventh effort is a testament to how much he loves what he does. Maraqopa sounds like a collection of songs made by a man who has nothing else other than the music he makes, and although the songs are quite varied stylistically, they are still cohesive with the gentle dilapidation of Jurado’s being.

Label: Secretly Canadian


3. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

Dizzying, barbed and hair-raising, it’s easy to see that Cloud Nothings literally put blood, sweat and tears into Attack on Memory. It has been criticized for being too obvious and transparent a shift in style since expanding from Dylan Baldi’s solo project, which seems an unfair reproach when taking into account just how good ‘No Future/No Past’ is. It’s a disconcerting opener that doesn’t allow you space to breathe, and while it’s different to everything else on the album, it’s one of the most memorable songs of the year, especially when juxtaposed against the pop-punk of ‘Fall In’ and ‘Stay Useless’.

Label: Carpark Records / Wichita Recordings


2. Amenra – Mass IV

Mass V is a truly magnificent creation. It is dark, bleak and crushing, yet beautifully encapsulating and utterly unforgettable. Belgium’s Amenra have pieced together a standout release in an often stagnant genre, and whilst you can hear the distant echoes of Neurosis in their sound, they offer something powerfully unique. Mass V is also a true testament to the power of the ‘album’; the ability to weave a story from track to track without losing its narrative. It’s an exhausting and demanding ride, but one you’ll instantly remember and want to go on again and again.

Label: Neurot


1. Evening Hymns – Spectral Dusk

Much like the exasperated parents who’ve been reduced to anthropomorphising broccoli in a vain attempt to get their sprog to eat it, maths teachers have spent weeks-worth of evenings trying to formulate ways to make their subject cool and adolescent-approved. I imagine that the first person 2 realise that certain numbers could be substituted 4 words thought they might have 1 the battle, but it’s math-rock that has most successfully slung protractors and L-squares in favour of aviators and leather pants. It sauntered into the classroom and bashed two chalkboard erasers together in 5½/4 time, and now Iran Iran have emerged from the resultant cloud of chalk, with wide grins hidden underneath warped rubber masks of their favourite fifth-tier pop icons.

Label: Out of this Spark


Isaac Powell
Follow Isaac

Isaac Powell

Isaac is Editor-in-Chief of Noted, and prefers his music loud and steaks rare. Lives and writes in Nottingham, England.
Isaac Powell
Follow Isaac

Latest posts by Isaac Powell (see all)