Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Best of 2012: Open season

Top 10 albums of 2012 (all genres in play):
Time Out New York (annotated, with Spotify playlist)
Pitchfork (unannotated, with top 10 singles list)

Top 10 jazz albums of 2012 (with many honorable mentions):
Jazz Journalists Association, plus annotated breakdown, part I (plus intro), II and III


I participated in a few different year-end polls this season, each with its own parameters. I tried to keep my picks consistent across the various platforms, but inevitably, a bit of imprecision crept in. Below you'll find a list of my top 50 records of the year, as submitted to the Pitchfork contributors' poll. (My final list may have differed very slightly in terms of order, but I'm 99 percent sure that these 50 records are the ones I ended up voting for; it's hard to say because I entered my picks via an online voting portal that's since disappeared.) The first 10 constitute the same top 10 I submitted to Time Out New York and the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop poll, and the 15 jazz records found here constitute the top 15 jazz records I listed over at the JJA site, with the top 10 of those making up my Jazz Critics Poll ballot.

Below, I link to my prior coverage where applicable, discuss any strays and provide listening samples for albums 20–50 (via a playlist apiece for each grouping of 10, including a track from every selection that's available on Spotify). Hat-tip to Seth Colter-Walls—who's got a great all-genres list over at the Awl—for the formatting suggestion.

Thanks for reading. As always, comments/feedback welcome, especially re: records I might have missed! 


1. Christian Mistress Possession 
2. Japandroids Celebration Rock
3. Converge All We Love We Leave Behind
4. Pallbearer Sorrow and Extinction 
5. Propagandhi Failed States
6. fun. Some Nights
7. Loincloth Iron Balls of Steel 
8. Frank Ocean Channel Orange
9. Billy Hart All Our Reasons
10. Corin Tucker Band Kill My Blues

A rock- and male-heavy top 10, yes. I've been a little bothered by that in recent days, thinking I should've mixed it up a bit more, but (A) I sort of believe that top 10 lists make themselves, i.e., these are the albums that chose me over the past year, not the other way around (to put it another way, these are records I played and played and played, in both professional and personal contexts), (B) this list is much less monochrome than it looks on the surface and (C) I've done my best to shout-out at least a sampling of all the other great albums I heard in 2012 below and via the jazz-only list linked above. The narrowing part was tough; there are albums in the 30s and 40s below that were in serious contention for the top 10.

To comment a briefly on the unlinked above:

Possession is a magical album. As I suggested in my TONY list, this record both epitomizes and transcends the recent retro-metal trend. Yes, its basic palette is an old one, but its emotional content is so not mere pastiche; in the mold of the best of Dio-fronted Sabbath (Mob Rules, The Devil You Know), it's at once tough and badass, and also crushingly sad, qualities embodied in Christine Davis's scratchy-throated vocal turn—somehow both majestic and humble. And the riffs and structures go way beyond post-Sabbath-ism—so effortlessly, stylishly progressive, full of twists and sudden set changes. Spend time with this album, enough time to listen past its surface retro-ness and on to its timeless rewards. Metal is not something donned, assumed for Christian Mistress; this is real communion with the past—the ’70s and ’80s, yes, but also more ancient eras. Possession is so damn earthy it almost feels pagan. A big salute to this one.

Damn, is fun. ever fun. Some Nights speaks to the part of me that loves the pomp of Elton and Queen, but as with Christian Mistress, this isn't mere retro. This band's gift is updating that sound with a very modern kind of wryness—it seems almost too perfect that one of the dudes in the band is dating Lena Dunham. This is the kind of record that takes a subculture (the modern NYC hipster) and makes it into a kind of super-stylized Broadway-style tragicomedy. It's over-the-top and self-deprecating but it's also deeply touching. And the songwriting and arrangements are just stellar. I love this kind of pop, the kind that respects old-school craft but finds a way to say something contemporary.


11. Nude Beach II 
12. The Smashing Pumpkins Oceania 
13. Asphyx Deathhammer
14. Rush Clockwork Angels 
15. Prong Carved Into Stone 
16. Steve Lehman Trio Dialect Fluorescent
17. R. Kelly Write Me Back 
18. Darius Jones Quartet Book of Mæ'bul (Another Kind of Sunrise)
19. Dysrhythmia Test of Submission 
20. How to Dress Well Total Loss


Re: Nude Beach, again with the retro. The entire album is not quite this good—if it was, it might've been my album of the year—but, dear God, "Radio" and a few more…

The Rush album is solid, solid, solid. Snakes and Arrows was a decent record, but they are back in the driver's seat with this one. The real story here isn't the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees' (ahem) return to concept-album-dom; it's that that they've written probably their strongest set of songs since 1993's Counterparts.

R. Kelly is still on his own backward-looking tip, and he seems to be having a hell of a time. There's plenty of cheese on this record, but also pure, post–Barry White gold, e.g., "Lady Sunday."

The Dysrhythmia record is crammed with their own brand of "hits." As I've written before, these are Dysrhythmia's catchiest songs to date. Went through a period of could-not-stop-listening-to-this re: Test of Submission a month or so back, due largely to "In Secrecy" and three or four others.


21. Serpentine Path Serpentine Path 
22. Van Halen A Different Kind of Truth 
23. Jim Black Trio Somatic 
24. Cannibal Corpse Torture 
25. Federico Ughi Songs for Four Cities 
26. Henry Threadgill Zooid Tomorrow Sunny / The Revelry, Spp 
27. The Men Open Your Heart
28. Say Anything Anarchy, My Dear 
29. Neurosis Honor Found in Decay 
30. Dr. John Locked Down


What a puzzle Open Your Heart is. This album blindsides you in at least four different ways. Individual tracks make perfect sense, but as a whole, it's inscrutable in a way I very much enjoy. "Rock" sticks, but any subgenre tag you might try to pin on it slides right off.

I think Anarchy, My Dear is the best Say Anything album since the frankly untouchable …Is a Real Boy. Max Bemis is one of our great songwriter/bandleaders.
Locked Down is essentially a perfect example of the "re-branding" album, i.e., one of these increasingly common efforts where an older artist whose career has slowed or perhaps even stalled teams up with a sharp, savvy producer who can reconnect him or her with the kids/critics. Sometimes these efforts can smack of crass strategizing, but this one is simply a great Dr. John album that happens to have been abetted by a famous young musician (Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys). This material sounded every bit as good live, when I heard it at BAM earlier this year.


31. Joel Harrison / Lorenzo Feliciati Holy Abyss
32. Behold… the Arctopus Horrorscension 
33. David Virelles Continuum 
34. Tim Berne Snakeoil 
35. Incantation Vanquish in Vengeance 
36. The Cookers Believe 
37. The Howling Wind Of Babalon 
38. Matt Wilson's Arts and Crafts An Attitude for Gratitude 
39. George Schuller's Circle Wide Listen Both Ways 
40. Aaron Freeman Marvelous Clouds


A glorious return for Behold, which marks the BtA debut of Weasel Walter on drums. It's only fitting that this project should rev up again just as the Flying Luttenbachers endeavor was concluding. Extraordinary, inspiring extended composition first; great metal second.

Doug Moore's Invisible Oranges write-up of Vanquish in Vengeance was spot-on. This record (A) sounds very little like the murk-fi masterpieces (Onward to Golgotha, Mortal Throne of Nazarene) that established Incantation's sterling reputation, and (B) really isn't surprising in the least. It's simply an excellent genre-obedient effort by a band that helped define the genre—in other words, the death-metal analog to the Cookers' Believe.

Man, is Of Babalon ever heavy. An excellent companion to Serpentine Path, another 2012 effort featuring former Unearthly Trance member Ryan Lipynsky. This one is both more diverse stylewise and more vicious in its mood. Lipynsky isn't a revolutionary, but the degree to which he really and truly means it when he makes metal makes him a standout figure in the underground.


41. Cattle Decapitation Monolith of Inhumanity 
42. Dr. Lonnie Smith The Healer
43. Napalm Death Utilitarian
44. Sam Rivers / Dave Holland / Barry Altschul Reunion: Live in New York
45. Jozef Van Wissem / Jim Jarmusch Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity
46. Death Grips No Love Deep Web
47. Leonard Cohen Old Ideas
48. Bob Mould Silver Age
49. Unsane Wreck
50. Eri Yamamoto The Next Page


Monolith and Utilitarian are blistering new albums by long-running bands I've never truly loved in the past; these efforts woke me up. (In Napalm Death's case, an incredible Maryland Deathfest set helped too.) Both records impressed me with how catchy and diverse they were—dig those theatrical chorus hooks on Monolith, esp.—demonstrating that grindcore has come a long way from its super-primitive roots.

The hype surrounding Death Grips (Epic, not Epic—yadda, yadda) was a little wearisome, but I still found No Love Deep Web to be worthy of its title. It's a chaotic yet focused negative-vibe spew that's hard to tear yourself away from.

I'm a big Leonard fan in general, but the past couple LPs haven't grabbed me. This one seems stronger, aiming for the midpoint between solemn and wry. Like his current live show (I caught him at the Beacon a few years back), Old Ideas feels warm and connected but not hokey. In contrast, I don't know Mould's post–Hüsker Dü work well, but Silver Age grabbed me immediately, as I expect it would anyone who enjoys aggressive, tightly composed melodic rock. "Descent" is an incredible song. Speaking of, I meant to include that in my top 10 singles list…



As indicated at the top of my 2012 jazz round-up, Ravi Coltrane's Spirit Fiction was an album I enjoyed greatly throughout the year and unintentionally overlooked when it came time for year-end voting. I'm bummed about that; if I had my Jazz Journalists Association / Jazz Critics Poll top 10 and Pitchfork all-genre top 50 to do over, I'd include it in both. In any case, one happy side effect of the omission is that I became re-enthralled by Spirit Fiction over the past couple weeks. It really is outstanding, start to finish.

Another two I woke up to too late to consider them for these polls:

Bill McHenry La Peur du Vide

I loved the quartet on this record—with Orrin Evans, Eric Revis and Andrew Cyrille—when I heard them at the Vanguard last November. But I didn't warm up to La Peur (recorded at the same venue this past March) on a first listen. Something about it sounded straighter, less mysterious than what I'd remembered. Turns out I just didn't sit with the record long enough. The first track, "Siglo XX," is indeed pretty conventional post-Coltrane sax-quartet jazz, but things get so deep/surprising as the album continues. Such an absolute pleasure to hear Andrew Cyrille featured so prominently and in such unpredictable ways, and Evans and Revis are in bruising form here as well. This record is a subtle killer, every bit as essential as McHenry's earlier collaborations with Paul Motian.

The Bad Plus Made Possible

Another strong Bad Plus record. For me, this one doesn't quite reach the level of the sublime Never Stop, but there's some extraordinary stuff on here, particularly Reid Anderson's two latest triumphs: the hushed-then-ecstatic epic "In Stitches" and the plainspoken, melancholy-pop-ish "Pound for Pound." (File the latter of these alongside the Eri Yamamoto and Federico Ughi records discussed here.)

Also, Xaddax and Feast of the Epiphany made great records this year—in Feast's case, several great records; I especially endorse Solitude—which were out-of-bounds for me pollwise due to friendships with the parties responsible. Visit Xaddax here and Feast here.



Time Out New York's full year-end Music package—including a list of top concerts, with a few of my entries—as well as top 10 lists by my colleagues Steve Smith and Sophie Harris.

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