Top 40 Albums of 2012 (20-1)

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A few days ago I posted the first 20 in my Top 40 Albums of 2012 (check it out here).  The first half of the list is always easier to compile than the final 20.  With this, the top half of the list, I find myself swapping albums from one spot to the next, trying to refine my list to the perfect order. Of course, this “perfect order” is never truly found. On one day I’d much rather listen to my number 17 than my number 5 and vice versa. I can promise you, all of these albums are fantastic.  In order to come up with a definitive order, I took into account the overall significance of an album, not just which has the best collection of songs, but which is the perfect album – the themes, the order of the songs, the cultural significance. Within those parameters, I had no doubt what would be the number one album of 2012. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

20. Six Organs of Admittance

Ascent

[Drag City; 2012]

Much in the same way reading The Hobbit will make you wish you lived in Middle Earth or watching Avatar makes you yearn to visit Pandora, Six Organs of Admittance latest album Ascent will have you dreaming of the interstellar atmosphere where these songs reside.  The cover to Ascent says it all: a skeleton astronaut can be seen wandering across an uninhabited landscape as the moon, stars, and a beautiful marbleized planet look on from a wall of darkness. The album features that same feeling – it can make you feel as empty and insignificant as a skeleton, yet it is a glorious sadness with the majestic, mind-expanding music hypnotizing the listener into an enervated tranquility.

Ascent is also a change for Ben Chasney and company who are usually more likely to remain grounded in the folkish solar system of John Fahey.  With Ascent, Chasney makes his guitar work more prominent, the skyward, dissonant guitar solos bringing back ghosts of Comets On Fire, melding his two major projects into one striking discovery. You can easily get lost in the hazy darkness of guitar swirls and rumbling bass, and if you listen close enough, you might just discover an uncharted part of your own mind – the final frontier.

“Visions (From IO)”:

19. Ty Segall Band

Slaughterhouse

[In the Red; 2012]

For Slaughterhouse Ty Segall took on the new name The Ty Segall Band, and it’s more than just a name change – it’s a change to his approach. Much in the same way Neil Young’s sound changed with Crazy Horse and Bob Dylan developed alongside The Band, Ty Segall’s addition of a full-fledged band has helped bring back the boisterous, garage bedlam of his early work (specifically, his self-titled debut). On that album, Segall played all the instruments, recreating the street set-up that helped get him his start with only a bass drum, a tambourine, and a reverb soaked guitar. In a strange way, the full-blown band attack has helped lead Segall back to the distorted magnificence of his past that was somehow lost along the way.

As imposing as the Ty Segall Band may be on Slaughterhouse, he still relies heavily on his bread and butter – contagious melodies (Goodbye bread? I think not).  Even when he screams until his voice cracks, he is still able to inject the mess of distortion with his reliable, old-fashioned, vaccine of catchy choruses. He’s found a way to intertwine the disorder of the Stooges with the instant memorability of the early Beatles (“I Want To Hold Your Dog”?).

“Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart”: 

18. Action Bronson

Blue Chips

[Fool’s Gold/Reebok Classics; 2012]

George Constanza once vented that he, “flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami.” This was in response to how his idea to combine sex and eating didn’t pan out.  I’d like to believe that if George Constanza ever did get released from that jail in Latham, Massachusetts, he’d be a fan of  fellow New Yorker Action Bronson and his lyrical blend of vulgarity and delicacy.  On Blue Chips Bronson can take a song about prostitution and somehow mix in a reference to a French dough known as “Pâte à Choux.” But don’t for one second think that Bronson’s constant references to food are a gimmick in the way the Fat Boys once rhymed about an all you can eat buffet.  In the same way 50 Cent relies on his experiences on the streets of New York, Bronson often turns to the knowledge he gained from his years as a gourmet chef.

As funny as I find his ability to blend in lines about brisket and salami, his rhymes aren’t simply reading off a menu. Comparisons to Ghostface Killah are unavoidable with Bronson’s similar vocal styling and his focus on Ghostface’s favorite ingredients – hookers and drugs. Musically, producer Party Favors brings in the same flavor to be found on a Ghostface album, the sample heavy mix of 70s and 80s soul, funk, and classic rock.  But Action Bronson is far from a cheap knock-off; he’s the Popeye’s chicken to Ghostface’s KFC – same crispy crunch, but with a little different spice.

“Ron Simmons”:

17. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Mature Themes

[4AD; 2012]

During the holiday break I was making a sandwich in my parents’ kitchen, mumbling “Who sunk my battleship? I sank my battleship! Who sunk my battleship? I sunk my battleship!” When my mom overheard me she asked, “What’s that?” When I informed her it was from Ariel Pink’s song “Kinski Assassin,” she dismissed me saying, “You like weird music.”

While I would argue that not all the music I listen to is weird, I can strongly agree that Mature Themes is the strangest album on this list. In 2010 Ariel Pink made a mark in indie music with his infectious 70s-pop song “Round and Round,” and it seemed like with the album Before Today he’d made a mature step toward the mainstream.  Ironically, 2012′s Mature Themes is reassurance that Ariel Pink has no interest in growing up.  The songs on the album all come from the same strange brew, a mixture of forgotten synths of the 80s and lyrics that are a mad-lib madness, whether it be discussing a “the bad breath of a cross-eyed goat,” “polymonogamasturbators,” or repeating over and over and over “I’m eating schnitzel!”   Despite all this silliness and quotability, Ariel’s music remains instantly memorable, both melodically and lyrically. How memorable are the songs on Mature Themes? Later that day I heard my mom singing to herself, “Who sunk my battleship? I sank my battleship!”

“Kinski Assassin”:

16. Islands

A Sleep & A Forgetting

[Anti; 2012]

Nick “Diamonds” Thorburn is one busy man. Over the past five years he has released three Island’s albums, a solo album, an album with Honus Honus of Man Man under the moniker Mister Heavenly, and an album with Jim Guthrie as Human Highway.  Each foray presents a different side of Thorburn – the derisive, the detached, and the damaged. Yet, within each, you never feel like you are really getting to know the real Thorburn nor do you get a sense of a musical genre that he truly feels comfortable within.  Mister Heavenly is Captain Beefheart fun and Human Highway is a folky excursion, but they both come off as about as sincere as a Michael Bay movie. The same can be said for his past Islands albums, all taking on differing styles (tropical, prog-rock, and electronic) yet never really having a soul.

With A Sleep & Forgetting Thorburn has not only found the perfect palette for his songwriting in the classic 50s and 60s garage pop rock style, he’s also found his own voice as a songwriter. Instead of putting up a wall of guitar hooks to hide behind, he steps out into the light to present the most personal and heartbreaking album he’s ever been involved with.  The songs are no longer an exercise in genre-bending, rather they are straight-forward and honest without an ounce of sardonic pretense.  The result is a confessional album of heartbreak and loss.  The album was written in response to a recent break-up, resulting in Thorburn locking himself up for weeks with a piano, writing his best album to date all the while. Through difficult times, he has found the heart of his music and left his bells and whistles to gather dust. As a result, Thorburn’s emotional loss is our musical gain.

“In A Dream (It Seemed Real)”: 

15. Fiona Apple

The Idler Wheel

[Epic; 2012]

In the past Fiona Apple has worked with big name producers and the result were albums that sounded pristine, but with The Idler Wheel she has released one of the most sincere, rawest albums of 2012.  It often sounds as if Fiona and her small jazzy band are in the room with you, the echos and creaks of the equipment just as exposed as Fiona’s own heart. Fiona has always been able to exude her frustration and passion, but the sparse production makes her frankness more candid than ever.

The Idler Wheel is an album of fragility. The frailty of Fiona’s voice is often exposed as she cracks and growls out her lyrics, revealing her inner struggles as she moves forth through adulthood. Even the songs’ structures seem liable to break at any moment, often seeming like they are being improvised on the spot. But don’t be fooled; the songs on The Idler Wheel are intricately constructed, melding jazz  influences with Fiona’s pop sensibilities.

“Every Single Night”: 

14. Torche

Harmonicraft

[Volcom; 2012]

At first glance, the cover to Torche’s latest release Harmonicraft may come off as a joke. For a band that has been labeled over the years as any combination of the words stoner-sludge-doom-metal, the first image that comes to mind for a cover probably wouldn’t be friendly horned creatures frolicking in clouds (that rain candy) under pink skies while shooting rainbows out of their mouths at purple dragons.  It may be the silliest cover in 2012 thus far, but it  also may be the most fitting.

The music on Harmonicraft is still the finely crafted metal synonymous with Torche, even with the departure of guitarist Juan Montoya, but I doubt you’d expect the positive energy found within each ferocious guitar riff. On each adrenaline fueled track harmonious melodies shoot out from amidst the unruly guitars, adding a colorful atmosphere to the dark world of metal.  Rick Smith’s drums pound away, an upbeat force that could move pink mountains.  Torche refuses to dwell on one killer riff for too long. Many of the tracks on the 38-minute album end under the two-minute mark, little morsels of sweetness raining down upon the listener in a torrential downpour.  And despite all the strange twists and turns that the music may take, the band has arranged them in a way that feels like one, succinct, epic journey through the heavens on the good ship Harmonicraft.

“Kicking”:

13. Woods

Bend Beyond

[Woodsist; 2012]

Bend Beyond is easily the most polished and focused Woods album to date.  The tracks are all tightly knit two-to-four minute folk pop songs that are built around a solid backbone of melody. You may find an errant guitar solo here or a momentary harmonica freak-out, but all-in-all, the band has abandoned their stoner free-for-all in favor of what gained them popularity in the first place – their songs.

For traditionalists who may cry foul in the face of the band’s complete abandonment of their one-time lo-fi approach, never fear. Yes, the songs are built on solid ground and are constructed of mass-produced bricks rather than all natural sticks gathered from the woods, but there is still that familiar subtlety in these songs found within Jeremy Earl’s falsetto. His voice has always resembled a 12-year-old trying to imitate Neil Young, and on Bend Beyond they didn’t abandon the vocal innocence that defines their sound. While Earl’s vocals are still sweet and naive, Bend Beyond is a mature step for the band, providing songs that are finely crafted and recorded with meticulous precision.  While it may not be the disheveled mess of fun that originally gained the band notoriety, it represents an important moment in the band’s evolution. They are no longer defined by a genre, rather, they have defined themselves.

“Is It Honest”:

12. Zammuto

S/T

[Temporary Residence; 2012]

After contemplating a retirement from music after the break up of The Books, Nick Zammuto decided to give it one more go around with a solo album of sorts, one last chance to see if there was any undiscovered galaxies still out there to be traversed.  While the album is still grounded in synths and thumping beats that made up The Book’s sound, the reliance on the fragility of live instruments is clear from the get go.  The result is an album of electronic prog rock – a series of songs that are melodic by nature yet marinated in a savory mix of bleeps and modernized synth swoops.

In an interview, Zammuto hinted that the album is set up to follow the stages of grief, and if this is the case, album opener “Yay” is surely a song of shock and denial. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything quite like it (and it might just shock you).  Although an album that takes you through the grieving process sounds extremely depressing (think Eels Electro-Shock Blues), Zammuto is an album with a message of moving on, best seen on album closer “Full Fading.”  The synths are gone, the booming beats resting, the robot turned off. It’s just Zammato and a choir of guitars.  The small electronic twitches are only glimpses of his past, and for the first time, Zammuto resembles Radiohead more than The Chemical Brothers. It is a song of acceptance, a final goodbye to the The Book’s library of samples, and one final guiding light of hope for the future of his new musical journey.

“Yay”: 

11. Black Breath

Sentenced to Life

[Southern Lord; 2012]

Earlier this year Corrosion of Conformity released their self-titled album, the first time since 1985 that the original members were back together, returning to their roots of punk-metal anthems.  I enjoyed this album and was surprised by how much spunk the dudes still had.  Then I heard Black Breath’s Sentenced to Life, and in an instant COC’s once violent return quickly turned charming.

On Sentenced to Life, Black Breath have constructed a sadistic assault that barrels forth without stopping for 30 straight frenzied minutes.  It is a hardcore-thrash-punk-metal-hybrid machine aimed at destruction.  It is a runaway train bent on raising a little hell along the way. Hardcore has never sounded so sinister, so indomitable, so brooding.  While many modern metal bands have aimed their sites on recapturing the past, Black Breath have opened a new door.  Sure, there are the bloody paw prints from beasts like Slayer and Motorhead all over Sentenced to Life, but Black Breath are in no mood to reminisce.

“Endless Corpse”: 

10. The Walkmen

Heaven

[Fat Possum / Bella Union; 2012]

Ten years ago The Walkmen first broke onto the scene, a struggling band of New Yorkers clawing their way into the world of music, singing of heartbreak and loneliness in a way that instantly connected with listeners. Over those ten years the band continued that narrative through a series of albums that each took one step closer down the road to maturity. Heaven is the culmination of that journey, the band reaching the stage where they are more concerned with watching their kids play than having to deal with the trials and tribulations of dating. Often when bands get older they try recreating the passion and fire of their earlier work, almost always unsuccessfully. On Heaven The Walkmen have ignored the urge to recreate their youthful spirit, instead writing music about growing old, slowing down, and taking time to enjoy it.

The album’s relaxed approach isn’t a sign of laziness; it’s a sign of contentment.  Instead of tearing at your heartstrings, it warms your heart with songs that are more about taking joy in the little things than focusing on failures.  The Walkmen have proven once again that perfection is possible if you just stay honest with yourself and be passionate about even the most mundane of day-to-day experiences (even changing diapers).

“Heaven”: 

9. Killer Mike

R.A.P. Music

[Williams Street; 2012]

Don’t be fooled by the critics; R.A.P. Music is hands down the best hip-hop album to come out in 2012.  A big reason for this is Killer Mike’s collaboration with producer El-P.  The duo combine their talents to create an album that is packed with emotional hills and valleys that will take you through the landscape of rap music over the past three decades, ranging from 80s street rap on “JoJo’s Chillin,” gangsta rap on “Anywhere But Here,” and the intimidating persona of NWA/Public Enemy, cop sirens and all.

R.A.P. Music has an underline theme throughout of education being the true savior for those struggling to make it day-to-day. On the heart crushing “Willie Burke Sherwood” Mike makes this point blatantly clear as he recounts his childhood: “I convinced myself it was better for me / To be Jack in ‘The Lord of the Flies’/ So book got read, books I read / Cause I’m addicted to literature.”  Glimpses of this literary influence are seen throughout. On “Big Beast” he shouts, “We the readers of the books and the leaders of the crooks” and on “Anywhere But Here” he gives a shout out to, of all people, poet Langston Hughes and his poem “Dream Deferred” when he says, “So you ask what happens to a dream deferred, Langston / Well it kill its self.”

It may not be hip to rap about dead poets and allegorical pieces of literature, but herein lies the core of what Killer Mike means when he speaks of how he can change a life with his rhymes – he sees how edification affected his life and is now trying to pass that awareness along to his listeners. Mike has been in the rap game for a while, and instead of simply using R.A.P. Music as another chance to cash in, he values the opportunity to pour his wisdom into his listeners’ ears. A dream deferred may kill its self, but R.A.P. Music is evidence of what happens when a dream is fully realized.

“Reagan”:

8. Tame Impala

Lonerism

[Modular; 2012]

Lonerism is undoubtedly an album of the 21st century with its innovative use of effects and digital machination, but the melodies, guitars, pianos, and basslines are all lifted directly from a pot-smoke filled room of the 60s. Kevin Parker’s voice often beckons the ghost of John Lennon, yet the connection to Mr. Walrus goes beyond a good impression. Parker, much like Lennon, is a puppet master in the studio, manipulating sounds sonically and creating layer upon layer of swirling tracks that all somehow mesh as one powerful wave of music.

As memorable and catchy as many of the songs are on Lonerism, you will have a hard time trying to pinpoint an actual chorus, let alone pre-chorus, on the album. The songs don’t follow any prescribed formula, instead allowing the tracks to swirl and evolve in whatever direction suits their whimsy.   This is an album that was recorded as a means of discovery. It isn’t encumbered by studio execs or the dream of making it on the radio waves. It isn’t attempting to follow the norms. It’s an album recorded in a bedroom far, far away in Australia, and it’s as adventurous and uninhibited as you’d imagine.

“Apocalypse Dreams”:

7. Lotus Plaza

Spooky Action at a Distance

[Kranky; 2012]

If 2011’s documentary “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” taught us anything, it was the breakthrough that George was the soul of The Beatles. He may not have gotten the hype or attention over the years, but he was a solid base, a lightening rod, inspiring the others to approach their songwriting and lives with conviction and spirit. Despite his importance, he often got forgotten in the bedlam of Beatlemania.  The same can be said for Lockett Pundt and his role in the band Deerhunter. While Bradford Cox is the unpredictable, gawky front man who always has something to say, Pundt remains a mystery, a virtual unknown, standing in the shadow of his amps, plucking away at his guitar robotically.

Pundt’s second solo album as Lotus Plaza is proof that Pundt is more than just part of a backing band. In his album Spooky Action at a Distance he proves in his dreamy collection of songs that he is, in fact, the essence of Deerhunter. Other than the rambunctious “White Galactic One,” the majority of the album remains planted in a shoegazey daze of loops and twinkling guitars.  Pundt creates wide open spaces that echo and stretch out, reaching far distances long after he’s plucked them out of his guitar.  This spaced out feel does not hinder the album whatsoever; Spooky Action at a Distance is the musical equivalent of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Starry Night.”  While Cox has always pushed the envelope like Andy Warhol, Pundt let’s his guitar do his talking, each strum of the guitar another glorious brush stroke, layer after layer of complexity reverberated into the darkness.  All of the songs, the sounds, and lyrics, much like the stars in the famous painting, blend together in one giant mystical swirl of magnificence that will leave you mesmerized in euphoric awe.

“White Galactic One”: 

6. Beach House

Bloom

[Sub Pop/Bella Union; 2012]

This past summer Beach House were in the news with the controversy surrounding Volkswagon’s use of a song in a commercial that is a cheap knock-off of Beach House’s “Take Care.”  VW denied any intentional copying and said in a statement, “ Most important to us was to find a track which [tells] the story of the daughter’s … evolving relationship with her father, and we believe we have achieved this…” Even in their lies, VW has gotten in wrong.

Beach House is not the backdrop for the story of a father and daughter; their music is purely a maternal experience, especially on their latest release Bloom. Victoria Legrand’s motherly voice remains the serene, calming alto that will lull you to sleep and wrap you in a blanket of reverb.  Alex Scally’s finger-picking only furthers the dream time lullaby.  Do not expect anything new with Bloom; instead they’ve remained the reliable loving force that have been there for us throughout the past decade.  While the songs can be blissful in spirit, they can also make you nostalgic and mournful for the days of yore.  Like the fog of memory that it conjures up, Bloom is an album of smoky splendor.  Instead of trying to go a new direction on their new album, Beach House have chosen to hone their home cooked craft, mastering a recipe that never disappoints: sweet melodies, creamy synths, and warm atmospheres. It’s the type of album that will leave you saying, “There’s no place like Bloom.”

“Lazuli”:

5. Pallbearer

Sorrow and Extinction

[Southern Lord; 2012]

The Mayans may have been wrong on their end of world predictions, but could it possibly be that they predicted the rise of the musical movement “doom metal”?  For whatever reason, throughout 2012 I found myself entrenched in music deemed as doom, whether it be doom-metal, doom-folk, or doom-rap. While other doom metal outfits like Bison B.C., Conan, and Pilgrim released seminal doom albums in 2012, Pallbearer reigns supreme with their cataclyEpic release Sorrow and Extinction.  This collection of five songs goes beyond just merely being an incredible doom metal album; it bridges the gap between all sub-genres, resulting in an album that is as much metal as it is prog, classic rock, and psychedelia.

For being an album of plodding songs (as is the norm in the doom genre) you never quite feel the same sense of impending doom as you may with a Candlemass or a Saint Vitus.    These songs, as dark and gloomy as they may appear, veil a sense of determination and resilience. Yes, there are dark clouds on the horizon, but instead of wallowing in fear, Pallbearer spit into the wind in an act of defiance with riffs that, while weighed down by the heavy rain, burst out the speakers like an audio-blender mix of piss and vinegar. Brett Campbell’s vocals ring out like a reincarnated Ozzy with the spirit of the almighty Thor injecting his soul with enough fortification to withstand the impending lightning. I never feared the end of the world because Pallbearer’s Sorrow and Extinction was a year-long reminder that we wouldn’t go down without a fight.

“Devoid of Redemption”: 

4. Spiritualized

Sweet Heart Sweet Light

[Fat Possum; 2012]

Facing death can sure change a person. Take Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce who spent the better part of last year battling a degenerative liver disease, undergoing experimental chemotherapy treatments over a stretch of eight months.  While masked in a drug-addled haze from treatments, Pierce wrote the songs that make up Sweet Heart Sweet Light, an album that deals with themes of pain, regret, and most prominently, death.  The past few albums by Spiritualized have meandered between psychedelic and garage rock. At their core, they were fun, rock albums, even when they dabbled into addiction.  Sweet Heart Sweet Light is not fun, and it certainly isn’t simple. There’s no meandering here; the album remains grounded on the solid boulder of anthemic, ornately orchestrated gospel music (although Pierce’s “gospel” is not nearly as uplifting as Joel Olsteen).  Instead, Pierce is candid, realistic, and often tragically morose.

Musically, the album’s mood is overall celebratory, bounding pianos throughout, strings pouring out from each nook and cranny, and heavenly choirs singing praises.  Amidst this glorious parade of cheer sits Pierce’s voice – a sleepy, aching baritone, mumbling out lyrics that contradict the merriment in the foreground.  The dichotomy of these two elements, paired with Pierce’s lyrics of desperation, results in an album that can create a multitude of emotions and reactions.  Like those radiation treatments, Sweet Heart Sweet Light will shock your system, and I believe it’s Pierce’s hope, that in his pain, the listener can find a new beginning.

 ”Too Late”:

3. Frank Ocean

Channel Orange

[Def Jam; 2012]

When I listen to Channel Orange, I inevitably think of Stevie Wonder.  Ocean’s smooth voice, souring falsetto, and the songs’ backbone of bouncy organ riffs all add up to this generation’s version of Mr. Wonder.  Even the golden melodies that Ocean unearthed for Channel Orange are reminiscent of Songs in the Key of Life era Stevie.

The biggest difference between these two artists lies within the lyrics. Wonder was a big picture type of songwriter, singing of oppression and hope for a better future for the world.  Ocean on the other hand represents today’s generation where via the internet we’ve all become our own celebrity. Whether it be uploading a video of your cat to YouTube, posting mundane day-to-day updates on Facebook, or loading pictures of your lunch onto Instagram (or blogging your top 40 albums as if your opinion matters) this is the age of self promotion.  Ocean captures this mindset with songs of self glorification and self pity, where the only thing in the world that matters is you.  It would be easy to label Ocean as self-absorbed based off his lyrics, but Channel Orange is sprinkled with enough moments of sarcasm and wry wit that it becomes clear that Ocean is mocking the modern mindset. As far as I’m concerned, the album should be called Songs in the Key of Me.

“Bad Religion”: 

2. Japandroids

Celebration Rock

[Polyvinyl; 2012]

What the Japandroid’s do seems pretty basic. Every song is an upbeat love letter to the glories of youth. Sonically the guitars always are buzzed out through the exact same effects pedal. The drums are a constant, unrelenting frenzy, and every song features some type of anthemic “Oh yeah!” or “Oh! Oh! Oh!” Heck, even their album covers remain basically the same. Yet, somehow, by staying grounded in what they do well, the Japandroids returned in 2012 with another irresistible eight tracks that are so enjoyable that you’ll miss the album the second the final chord to “Continuous Thunder” is played.  The day I purchased Celebration Rock I listened to it five times in a row before I realized I was at risk of over-playing it within the first three hours of owning it.

An album of eight songs may seem like a borderline EP, but there’s no filler here, each track jumping off from where the last left off, a continuous stream of passionate lyrics that can’t help but bring a smile to your face.  For a year filled with doom and gloom, Celebration Rock provided the listener with a chance to get a way from constant stream of depressing news for 35-minutes of straight-up bliss. Celebration Rock is just that – an album celebrating life, friends, sex, and most importantly, rock n’ roll.

“The House That Heaven Built”:

1. Swans

The Seer

[Young God; 2012]

I recently finished reading Catch a Wave: the Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and one of the most disheartening parts of the biography was not Wilson’s drug addiction or his mental illness, but the fact that his 1966 musical opus Smile didn’t see the light of day until 2004.  If released when it was originally conceived, it would have made Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band seem quaint.  When I listen to Swan’s The Seer I see a lot of similarities between their cumulative masterpiece and Smile. The differences in mood are obvious, Wilson always upbeat and Swans pessimists to the end. What I find so common between these two projects is how unhindered and authentic they are, neither following the norms of songwriting, allowing their muse to take the lead like a wild mustang.

Fortunately for us, The Seer didn’t get stashed away for 40 years. It is an album of big noise, colossal environments, and heavy themes. It is violent while still being delicate. It is demoralizing while still being uplifting. It is unforgiving while still being compassionate. It is barbaric while constantly evolving. It is John Lennon’s scream therapy spread out over two straight hours of complete and utter euphoric confusion. It will make your head and heart tremble with sensory overload just as much as the wall of sound will make your window panes commence to vibrating uncontrollably. It is an auditory Smaug, filled with mirth, greed, and a vengeful spirit. It is a BEAST.

The album also has its softer moments, and this dichotomy is the key to what the album is all about – the dark and the light, the yin and the yang, the good, the bad, and the most often, ugly – the duality of man on full display. It is the conflict that arises when inner conflict and external conflict face off and by the end of the final 23-minute track “The Apostate,” the winner is clearly you, the listener.

“Lunacy”: 

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54 Comments

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54 responses to “Top 40 Albums of 2012 (20-1)

  1. Brent Jones.

    I’m okay with the list now that I’ve seen your #1. Swans have been one of my favorite bands since I moved to Brooklyn in the late 80s. I’m glad to have them back, but for me they never left.

  2. Really interesting selection and I admire the detail you’ve put into this top 40.

  3. I’m glad that Frank Ocean is on the list. Have you heard of Lost? Great song…

    Great post! :)

  4. You know you are a great writer when you get freshly pressed twice. Nice work, and excellent site.

  5. samssocial

    Great choices. Frank Ocean is an excellent album, but just missed the top ten list I published last week. Never heard of your number one. Will deff check it out.

  6. TAE

    Wow, this is a great resource!
    Thank you.

  7. Awesome post!
    I’m going to go through the list and make sure to listen to every album.

  8. Great list, really. Great artists to explore and rediscover esp. the favorite ones from last decade including the ones from your 40-21 like Animal Collective, Andrew Bird and Cat Stevens. One album I, myself, “personal” choice, is Jack White very diversed, music genre feast of an album, Blunderbuss. I consider Fiona Apple’s “Every Single Night” music video the best this year.

  9. Some nice choices here! There are a bunch I’ve never even heard of, so I’m going to start listening now. Thanks for a great list!

  10. congratulations for being FPressed

  11. What about grizzly bear and gravenhurst? But besides that- i agree:-)

    • I’ve never quite gotten into Grizzly Bear. I have the new album but it just doesn’t do anything for me. I will definitely check out Gravenhurst.

      • You should, the new gravenhurst is very quiet, but beautiful

        . I did not like the last grizzly bear “veckatimest”- it’s too pop-melody driven.., but i liked “shields” a lot.. If you get a chance, liste to “whats wrong” from the new album shields.. It’s one of my favourite tracks of the album (most easy to access from shields ist probably “yet again”)

  12. Cool site check out mine joshsphotoshot.wordpress.com

  13. Very good Post :( thank:(

  14. Reblogged this on Owenpastrana's Blog and commented:
    Lets check this out and enjoy the good life!

  15. Great list! Now to tune in to those awesome picks.

  16. I will run through this collection. Thank you for sharing.

  17. Delighted to find such a huge choice of new music to check out. Spiritualized always get a big Yes from me. Richard Hawley makes it onto my list, and Django Django is also excellent.

  18. interesting list.. thanks. swans are unstoppable arent they?
    Like the minutemen reference too.
    good to see there are people out there into decent music!

  19. I have not heard of most of these artists but I am very keen to check some of the whole albums out myself now! Thank you for introducing some (what I already know I will find) awesome artists!

  20. oh and i’d recommend a london band called One Unique Signal too. They take a few listens but are a mighty band. Lots of guitars and lots of repetition.
    thanks.

  21. Man, this list makes us feel so unhip and so un-with-it. We’ve gotta get at least some of these…Japandroids has been on our download list for a longtime, it’s about time we take the plunge. :)

  22. Great list! I love Fiona Apple and Beach House and I can’t wait to discover some of these other gems.

  23. They almost all sound like boring sonic youth run off’s. Sorry, I tried. I played every one of them. It’s just boring. The writing is good though. The music just sucks these days I guess. I’m always looking for something worth a download. Yikes! Lunacy is driving me bananas even as I’m typing this. Really guys??? Wow.

    • Sonic Youth had a rap album? A metal album? A folk album? An electronic album? An RandB album? A pop album? …you’ve never Sonic Youth have you?

      • I guess to say half of this list sounds that way is more of a fair statement.
        Not to start a bickering war here, it’s just my opinion.

      • It’s not bickering, it’s pointing out how off you are on your assessment. There are only three albums in the top 20 that sound remotely like Sonic Youth (Six Organs, Swans, Lotus Plaza), and those are a stretch. I’m a huge Sonic Youth fan so it is disconcerting to see you referencing them when you obviously lack a basic understanding of their minimalist guitar experimentation.

  24. leonethelion

    Fantastic selection however could use some indie Canadian content. Sorry! I’m from north of the 49th so a little biased.

  25. Reblogged this on candicegarrett007 and commented:
    Oh hell yes.

  26. Frank Ocean and Fiona Apple…couldn’t agree more!

  27. ProxStepz

    Reblogged this on Prox and Stepz.

  28. Barbie

    Like the listing, however I prefer Frank Ocean out of them all!

  29. I love these lists because a) I don’t really have the time to come up with them myself (I wish I did), and b) It helps me realize just how much music I have missed in the last 12 months.

    Thank you!!!

  30. Reblogged this on living the american dream in europe and commented:
    I’m sharing this post because music is as good as sex, sometimes better. You need it like you need food and water and as I get older I increasingly miss out on the plethora of good shit out there. I just can’t keep up like I used to, although I wish I could.

    Have fun exploring the music, I am…

  31. I like this blog. It’s really cool.

  32. Fantastic list. Love Tame Impala and Japandroids. Just getting into Frank Ocean as well. Thank you for introducing me to more music I have to buy cause there is a lot on this list I’m not familiar with! :)
    Ps. #8 is spelt wrong – Tame Impala

    Congrats on being FP!

  33. Great piece and terrific writing. I would have made Frank Ocean #1, but that’s just me. Oh, and where was my double CD The Lost Albums? Ah – it was only released in the UK.

  34. Brilliant! I’m being highly biased here seeing my own favourite at no. 1. But I’ve really enjoyed your top 40 list

  35. mochafrappe

    Reblogged this on 0ReBlog0.

  36. No Chromatics in the top 20? Shame on you :)

    Loved Japandroids, there like college rock but for 20 something’s, or at lest I keep telling myself

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