Top 50 Albums of 2012

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Treble's Top 50 Albums of 2012

20. Twin ShadowConfess (4AD)

Looking at George Lewis’ face on that sophomore-year-in-high-school yearbook photo of a Twin Shadow album cover, one can’t help but want to find where he lives and just punch him right in his face. Seriously. And, like, take a sledgehammer — which I carry in my Passat for … reasons — to his sweet motorcycle or Trans Am or whatever he actually drives. I don’t care if I don’t have a girlfriend for him to steal; I’m doing this for The People, namely the people who can’t get through life with a face that exudes the smugness of Luther Vandross by way of Bugs Bunny. I think this meets the criteria for Just War so long as I don’t touch his guitar, his leather jacket or his sick denim vest, in that order. He’s going to need those. – Chris Morgan

Video: Twin Shadow – “Five Seconds”

19. Andy StottLuxury Problems (Modern Love)

In the past few years, Andy Stott’s sound has ground itself down into a murky series of sludgy transports, into a so-called knackered house tottering atop low BPMs, suffused with the heavy grain of compression and micro-movements that reach from malice toward a sort of meditative and mechanical euphoria. Some tracks on Luxury Problems stay within those parameters, “Sleepless” and “Expecting” most of all, but with the addition of Alison Skidmore’s vocals, more overt signs of humanity echo across the record. “Hatch the Plan,” after opening with a metallically droning invocation, becomes a sublime piece of pop that merges Skidmore’s weightless vocal phrases with a grinding low-end; “Luxury Problems,” on the other hand, integrates her voice into an archetypal Stott space of manic dance catatonia. – Tyler Parks

Stream: Andy Stott – “Numb”

18. Death GripsThe Money Store (Epic)

It’s not often that a great album is behind its time; at least not in the way The Money Store is behind its time. My gut feeling — not technically the same thing as critical acumen, I admit — tells me that Death Grips’s brutal, noise-as-beats brand of “industrial hip-hop” could have arisen from the halcyon days of Lollapalooza when Ice Cube and Ministry shared a stage. Maybe it did, and it was the one thing in the alt-rock era no one cared about. Or maybe it was being kept secret somewhere in the ether until culture became so deprived of decency and heart as to make it the standard rather than the alternative. Are we in those times? The fact that I don’t care might confirm it. Evil isn’t so bad, I guess. It has some sick grooves. – Chris Morgan

Video: Death Grips – “I’ve Seen Footage”

17. The xxCoexist (Young Turks-XL)

This album isn’t for everybody. As much as that is a banal platitude, broadly speaking, it’s particularly true here. For how ethereal and hauntingly close you most likely grew to the xx’s debut, instead of scaling back and relying more on their pop instincts for its follow-up, they did the opposite.

Songwriting by subtraction, let’s call it. A collection of sparse songs that — though they are carried by brilliant minimalist house production — may not be classifiable as fun, welcoming or inviting. But if you can bear the whispered words though gritted teeth and a couple minutes of build-up for a sick drop of the beat, this record will reward you with an ocean of catharsis. You’ll slide comfortably into the intimacy after a couple listens and not want to return to a world full of these emotions that suddenly doesn’t satisfy in comparison to this record. – Justin Stephani

Stream: The xx – “Chained”

16. BaronessYellow and Green (Relapse)

Baroness explained, in pretty simple terms, why nobody should blow a gasket over the decision to scream less and find the opposite extreme on the volume knob on Yellow and Green: “Baroness has never been a straight-up metal band.” In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. Red Album was post-rock played really fucking loud. Blue Record was psychedelic rock played really fucking loud. And Yellow and Green? Well, it’s a lot more complicated than that. The double album spans 18 tracks and nearly as many different sounds over the course of its 80-minute span, and the majority of them are pretty explicitly not metal, though that’s only a problem if you’re under the impression a band shouldn’t be given agency to seek new horizons (which is a pretty easy way to get boring really quickly). So, no, Baroness have not recreated the thunderous roar of their previous two albums, but rather constructed a new epic journey in which vocal harmonies, sludge riffs, finger-picked guitars, alt-rock hooks and post-hardcore choruses can coexist and complement one another. That Baroness attempt so many different things and somehow manage for them all to succeed wildly only speaks to the level of cohesion and detail that ties it all together, from the unmistakably intricate guitar work to the frequent references to the sea, blood, bones and drowning that amount to the Moby Dick of bruise cruises. And it certainly doesn’t hurt having jaw-droppers like “Eula,” “Cocainium” and “March to the Sea” strategically placed at its emotional peaks. So forlorn metalheads, be not so glum; you haven’t lost a metal band, you’ve just gained an even more versatile rock band. – Jeff Terich

Stream: Baroness – “Take My Bones Away”

15. JapandroidsCelebration Rock (Polyvinyl)

Japandroids’ Post-Nothing (# 14 on our 2009 list) introduced the world to the Vancouver duo’s winning combination of shoegaze aesthetics and angular, rock ‘n’ roll songwriting, which made quite a splash in the indie-rock realm. So, needless to say, this was one highly anticipated sophomore effort. Would Japandroids maintain their noisy, yet pop-heavy standards? Would Celebration Rock be as innovative as its predecessor, or simply more of the same? As it turns out, the two records hold many similarities (lo-fi production, layers of guitar, hammering drums, 30-minute running time, short-and-sincere lyricism, and cute, black and white photography). Yet, while the songs on Celebration Rock recall many of Japandroids’ past successes, they’ve also been dipped in a slightly grittier and more expansive aesthetic, recalling the populist rock of Bruce Springsteen without losing the shoegazer edge. On top of all that, the boys in Japandroids have stepped up their lyrical prowess, displaying everything from passionate resistance to the process of aging (“Fire’s Highway,” “Younger Us”), to painstaking independence and maturity (“The House That Heaven Built”), to a hopeful longing for love (“Continuous Thunder”). This album rocks hard, sounds beautiful and is definitely worth celebrating. – A.T. Bossenger

Stream: Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”

14. Frankie RoseInterstellar (Slumberland)

Combining her indie-rock pedigree (Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls) with soft-focus production from Fischerspooner associate Le Chev, Frankie Rose’s first truly solo album shares a lot of common sonic ground with The Raveonettes. In spite of that easy first blush, nothing on Interstellar is what it seems, or what you think it should be. In particular, there’s a bunch of songs in the center of the album purposefully missing something: on “Pair of Wings” it’s the beats, on “Had We Had It” it’s formal verses and choruses, on “Apples for the Sun” it’s everything except piano. Rose delivers them, and the rest of the album, with quiet confidence. The girl-group tropes she used to apply have been modified and elevated to dark plateaus of post-punk, goth, and rockabilly. In this year’s universe of cooing and aloof tenors — both male and female — Frankie Rose positioned herself as the shy nice girl, regardless of the black she might wear on the outside. – Adam Blyweiss

Video: Frankie Rose – “Night Swim”

13. Cloud NothingsAttack On Memory (Carpark)

Rankings be damned, Attack on Memory is essentially neck-and-neck with Celebration Rock and Local Business for the best back-to-basics album, so pure in its lack of refinement that innovation and ambition seem almost irrelevant Cloud Nothings are not scared to be at least a little bit stupid, a little bit clumsy or, in their own words, a little bit “worthless.” Sure, tracks like “Wasted Days” are epic, winding roads of songs, but their more or less stages of the same dark, irrational tantrum. It’s better to be sad-stupid than stupid-stupid, like Animal Collective. –Chris Morgan

Video: Cloud Nothings – “No Future/No Past”

12. SwansThe Seer (Young God)

“To me it’s the complete synthesis of everything I’ve done and Swans has done.” Swans Mastermind Michael Gira warned us. Fans also previewed the emotional rollercoaster on the Swans’ 2011 tour, but nothing prepared us for the twisted, startling journey of The Seer. Gira was right: it’s both a Swans’ “Best Of” album (with all new material) but also the most anguishing vacation you took all year. Upon first listen, after you’ve scheduled two hours out of your day, lit the dramatic single candle in your room, pressed `play,’ and conquered the opening guitar jangle/rising primal rhythm of “Lunacy,” your mind starts to wander. You wonder (and fear) what lurks around the corner of Gira’s mind. You wonder how much blood and sweat a crippled Gira lost in the studio for weeks — months — almost a year creating this opus. And you wonder how (and if) Swans could ever top something as brilliant as this. – Rick Moslen

Stream: Swans – “The Apostate”

11. Flying LotusUntil the Quiet Comes (Warp)

There’s a famous statistical theorem, and variations on it, suggesting a monkey hitting a keyboard at random for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type the complete works of William Shakespeare. Until the Quiet Comes posits that Flying Lotus sat such a monkey down somewhere in the wilds of Los Angeles among a few keyboards and Ableton Live, and ended up getting something like Thelonious Monk’s Straight, No Chaser — a result far more compact but no less amazing. It’s the easiest way to describe this album, FlyLo’s digital construction and reconstitution used to make an improbable yet sterling foray into jazz. Sure, there are still hints of his bleeding-edge bass music in tracks like “Putty Boy Strut” and “Sultan’s Request.” The majority of this album, however, is bebop revivalism (“Only if You Wanna”) and stoner experimentalism (“Phantasm”) that does his Coltrane bloodline proud. – Adam Blyweiss

Stream: Flying Lotus – “See Thru to U” (feat. Erykah Badu)

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