Shawn’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

This is never easy. Despite what naysayers might have you believe about the quality of music and its supposed decline over the past twenty years I maintain (as I always have) that there is so much good, new music out there I could very easily go bankrupt buying it.

The emphasis there is on buying it in a post-pirate world.

Soooooo how hard is it for me to narrow my yearly musical endeavors down to a handful of records? Pretty f”ing hard. Nonetheless, I do it every year and this year is no different. What follows are my ten favorite albums from 2012.

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10) Horseback: Half Blood – this is a very last minute addition to the list. My good friend Tori – a genius at finding great left-of-center metal – just turned me on to Horseback a couple of nights ago. I was immediately taken by their sound and began to research them as I consumed Half Blood multiple times. To read about the band online is to see phrases such as “Americana crossbred with doom”. I see the doom, and I see the aesthetic that Americana points to, however I’d go a different route with my description. It’s not so much “Americana” as Western, ie the old west. Imagine if you will the stark, no man’s land vibe of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ scores for the films The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - both strange westerns whose above-mentioned scores radically help put the viewer in a frightening environment of wind-blown grit, harsh climate and stark landscape. Now add to that the ominous drones and crushing tempos so favored by many of those working within the “doom” genre and you will start to approximate the unique sound Horseback has created. Bleak but rich and rewarding with creativity.


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9) Death Grips: The Money Store – I’ve had a lot of disconnect with anything rap for sometime, and definitely anything that classifies itself as “hip hop”. To me this is because at some point hip hop came to denote more of the fashion associated with ‘rap’ than the music or vocal skill itself. Gone are the days of the spotlight centering on Guru, KRS, Ice-T, etc (a still relatively small spotlight, but a spotlight nonetheless). Now the true lyrical and sonic/rhythmic geniuses who want to push the art form forward are all but sequestered underground for the industry’s fear of anything upsetting the posh little symbiotic relationship of stagnation that has become such a mega-dollar market place. But underground… underground there is hope with artists like Serengeti, El-P and the blow-it-all-to-hell, out of the box attack of Death Grips. Two men, Zach Hill and Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett, deconstruct rap music, mix it with industrial and the DIY aesthetic of punk rock and spit beautifully sharp venom all over the sonic landscape they craft via Hill’s drums (electronic and acoutstic), Ride’s confident and confrontational lyrics (NOT limited to rhymes) and a mess of sequences, samples, bloops and blarches.


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8) Liars: WIXIW – you can read what I wrote in anticipation of this one here, suffice it to say that WIXIW is not only yet another fascinating entry into the Liars’  strange evolution, but also one of the most creative uses of sound and tone I heard all year. Cobbled together from all manner of strange location and sound recordings to augment their largely electronic cache of instrumentation, WIXIW is a great example of how strange and challenging can also be catchy as all hell.




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7) Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory – produced by Steve Albini this is a killer sonic affair filled with equal parts hooks and sweet, glorious noise. Not noise rock (or whatever you wanna call it) but NOISE man. Sonics, tone, et al. The Cloud Nothings’ third  record takes me back to the days when the term indie rock lent itself to the kind of breaths of fresh air I associate with the early-to-mid ninties. Attack on Memory is loud, wirey, jagged and often bouncey and mean. It would be right at home at the Fireside Bowl or Lounge Ax circa 1995 where a bunch of sweaty, happy fans  bounce around  while Tar, The Blue MeaniesBusker Soundcheck  or Assembly Line People Program bang out their similarly fun and sometimes challenging music. The good old days are back again.


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6) Blut Aus Nord: 777: Cosmosophy – you can read what I wrote about this one and its sister albums here but all you really need to know is Blut Aus Nord is doing more to move the genres of metal/blackmetal/doom metal/whatever metal forward than anyone else ANYWHERE. If you say that isn’t so taht’s fine – please, prove me wrong! I would absolutely LOVE it if you send me a link to something else that is this good and different. Really, I want to be proven wrong here because it would mean that along with Nord, we are winning the fight against stagnation that still clings to metal as a genre.




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5) Polica: Give You the Ghost - I feel confident in saying if you like the dark, moody and masterfully crafted sounds of Massive Attack you’ll dig this record. Not necessarilly the fruition of a trip-hop mindset, not really electropop either, but something inbetween. And if there is one thing I’ve learned about the inbetween, it is most definitely where the strangest things live, outside the lines of our consensual reality. And that’s Polica to a “T”. Give You the Ghost presents us with dark, beautiful and sometimes frightening music that is as strong with rhythm (Violent Games) and indelible melody (Dark Star) as something like Mezzanine. Channy Leaneagh’s unique approach to vocals is both sexy and troubling and the music wrapped around them fits that mold as well, pulling the shadows of the inbetween out and wrapping them around us, blocking for a moment perhaps the safe and consensual world we cling so eagerly to.



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4) Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! If you look at that album cover you’ll get a feel for the music within. Dark. Opaque. Dream-like and isolated, this is GY!BE as though they had collectively spent their ten year absence staring at a wall seeking Samadhi. And that’s perfect really because isolated and abandoned places have always skirted my mind when listening to GY!BE’s music. Allelujah is no different. As I mentioned, this is the group’s first album in approximately ten years and I must say, it was a surprise to me when it was released. Granted, I had just traveled to San Francisco to see them in April (read about it here) so maybe I should have been expecting it, but you just never know with such an enigmatic and DIY band. Allelujah!’s paranoid contemplations and triumphant flourishes seem perfectly representative of this ever-darkening channel we navigate through history, but what would you expect from this band? The way they continue to dance a magnificent line between noise/drone and symphonic textures their music continues to feel like the perfect soundtrack to our little ongoing apocalypse – all of our daily lives as we move from catastrophe to catastrophe, from societal disappointment to the downright fear that if the world doesn’t end this year as all the new age publications suggest then we may actually have to go on living in this non-stop emotional battery and the only way to do that is to exoricse our demons. And yeah, once again Godspeed You! Black Emperor is back to help us with that. Thank God(speed).

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3) Death Grips: No Love Deep Web: Further down the Death Grips spiral, Hill and Ride apparently canceled a tour to record this second album for label Epic Records (which put out The Money Store and had a contract with them for at least one more I believe). They then took their advance, moved into Hollywood’s legendary Chateau Marmont in an effort to infilitrate the mindset framing the world of music execs they suddenly found themselves in, and from there received the idea to release it for free via the web before their label could profit from it. Needless to say those execs were NOT happy about it. Death Grips (in an excellent interview with Pitchfork here) speak about believing in things you can’t see and interpreting the world around you and no where do we hear that manifested more than on No Love Deep Web. And yeah, maybe I should have put up the edited version of teh album cover but you know, the logic behind it is just so wonderfully poignant that I couldn’t take away from it. Really, where violence is so acceptable for our viewing pleasure why then is the human body so disturbing to us? The image above is actually very subtle in it’s ‘hit you over the head’ execution. Why should you feel weird or ashamed or dirty staring at that cock trying to read the hastily-scrawled album title on it? Answer: You shouldn’t. And if you happen to read this at work, well, I guess I hope your boss feels the same way (incidentally – I’m preparing this at work, so I’m not asking you to do anything that I’m not doing).


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2) Chairlift: Something - Hot damn do I love this album!!! Chairlift‘s Something is a slick, melodic collection of electropop that enchants and seduces with its charms, of which there are many. There is a long tradition of female-fronted groups in a similar vein: Cocteau Twins, D’nell, the aforementioned Massive Attack – the list goes on. Chairlift is a great addition to this tradition. I didn’t know anything about the group until I heard ‘Sidewalk Safari’ and its almost Claudio Simonetti-meets-Portishead instrumentation grabbed me right away. Then I got the album and it was one of those where one after the other, every song took its turn being my favorite, until the whole record worked itself onto the same grand plateau, making listening to it an interesting exercise in compressing time as each revolution of the full long player went by like one listen to a favorite track, the beginnings and endings of each song losing their meanings as stops or starts and becoming transitions of joy as you move from one room of Chairlift’s wonderful sonic mansion to another.


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1) Deftones: Koi No Yokan – Everything I have to say about this beautiful, beautiful record is located right here.



Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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