2012 was an odd year for me. The music I liked in 2012 wasn’t necessarily music that was released in 2012. This past year, I dug back into a few artist’s back catalogues and discovered albums that I had missed. So I’m going to divide this entry into two sections: albums from previous years and albums from 2012.
ALBUMS FROM PREVIOUS YEARS
Midtown – Forget What You Know (2004)
Every time I listen to this album, I feel a little twinge of sadness knowing what kind of dreck Gabe Saporta went on to record with his next band, Cobra Starship. Forget What You Know is full of angry, riff-tastic punk, from the propulsive “Give it Up” to the album-ending “So Long as We Keep Our Bodies Numb, We’re Safe.” Few other albums pack this much raw energy.
Armor for Sleep – What to Do When You Are Dead (2005)
Concept albums can be tricky to nail. Hewing too close to a single concept can neuter creativity, but an album that strays too far from its central concept might as well jettison it entirely. Armor for Sleep struck a nice balance on their 2005 album, What to Do When You Are Dead, a darker record than the debut album that preceded it. All of the tracks hint at the album’s themes of death and regret, but never feel bound by them. Most of them straddle the line between pop-punk and post-hardcore, like the furious “Stay on the Ground.” But others, like “Basement Ghost Singing,” dip their toes into dream pop.
Thursday – No Devolución (2011)
In 2012, I listened to each of Thursday’s full-lengths, one by one. Each of them has its merits, but their final album, No Devolución is by far their best. Instead of recording a series of similar-sounding post-hardcore tunes with excessive screaming, Geoff Rickly and co. finally justified the presence of a keyboard player in their band and went for gauzy post-rock. But that doesn’t mean that their songs became any less catchy. If anything, the songs on No Devolución are more liable to get stuck in your head than anything in the band’s previous output. “Magnets Caught in a Metal Heart” and “Turnpike Divides” feature killer hooks, and “A Gun in the First Act” has a memorable motif traded between a synthesizer and a flugelhorn.
Moving Mountains – Waves (2011)
2012 was also the year that I discovered Moving Mountains, another group that dabbles in post-rock. Their 2011 release, Waves, saw the band streamlining the sound that they introduced on their debut album, Pneuma. The songs on Waves are less meandering and more to-the-point. “Alleviate” packs a punch in its brief, sub-3-minute running time, while “The Cascade” showcases the band’s ability to create simple, soaring beauty.
ALBUMS FROM 2012
2012 wasn’t exactly a great year for music for me. I didn’t listen to many new albums, instead choosing to delve into older material, as I explained above. Of the 2012 albums I listened to, only a couple disappointed me. Yellowcard’s Southern Air didn’t do much to distinguish itself from previous Yellowcard efforts and failed to impress me. No Doubt’s Push and Shove was even more disappointing: what should have been a triumphant return after an 11-year gap from their previous album, came out sounding a bit like a wet fart. A wet fart with reverb and auto-tune, backed by seventeen layers of unnecessary synths.
But there were some good records too (though not as many as I would have liked). I quite enjoyed Our Lady Peace’s Curve, their first album worth listening to since 2000’s Spiritual Machines. Plus, Metric’s Synthetica, Band of Horses’ Mirage Rock and Bloc Party’s Four were solid, if unremarkable, albums. I also enjoyed the following albums, which I’m calling my top 5 of 2012.
5. Circa Survive – Violent Waves
Freed from the shackles of a major label, Violent Waves gave Circa Survive the opportunity to stretch their songwriting muscles. They expanded the ethereal sound of their debut into seven-minute epics while using some of the tools of songcraft honed on their previous two albums to create something both harsh and beautiful, encompassing both the hard-hitting fury of songs like “Sharp Practice” and the gentle melancholy of songs like “Suitcase.” Count on Circa Survive to get even weirder and more experimental on their next release.
4. Santigold – Master of My Make-Believe
On the other end of the spectrum, Santigold was one of the most talked-about artists of 2012, at least in music circles. Not everybody was in love with her sophomore effort, but for my money, it was one of the most interesting releases of the year. Wantonly mixing genres like Nelly Furtado in her heyday, Master of My Make-Believe covers everything from hip-hop to new wave, with many of the tracks exhibiting a reggae or dub influence. If anything, it sounds like an album No Doubt could have released as a follow-up to Rock Steady had they not chosen to go retro for Push and Shove. Whatever Make-Believe is, each of its tracks (save the embarrassing “Look at These Hoes”) is an aural gem, revealing unexpected sonic flourishes. “This Isn’t Our Parade” features a loud percussive stomp, while “Disparate Youth” juxtaposes a sharp electric guitar riff over a sunny background. Tracks like “The Riot’s Gone” and “The Keepers” are more straight-ahead, but no less appealing. If only all pop artists could be this adventurous.
3. Miike Snow – Happy to You
Miike Snow’s sophomore effort, Happy to You doesn’t have anything as immediately arresting as “Song For No One” or “Silvia,” but it’s probably a more consistent album on the whole. Though the group’s special brand of synthpop with a slight rock edge is still intact, the trio is less concerned with being catchy this time around. “The Devil’s Work” and “Bavarian #1 (Say You Will)” will still inspire you to sing along, but the fragile, textured “Black Tin Box” and “God Help This Divorce” are content to slow things down and showcase Bloodshy & Avant’s gift for production. All in all, a nice evolution for the band, and a good indication that they may have even more tricks up their sleeve.
2. Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Ascension
After the relatively disappointing Year of the Black Rainbow, Coheed and Cambria fans feared that the band had lost their touch. It was easy to blame an overzealous, misguided production job from the gloom-obsessed Joe Barresi and Atticus Ross, but there was always the possibility that the band just didn’t know how to write good songs anymore. The Afterman: Ascension put that fear to rest, giving fans the unique mixture of pop-punk and prog-metal for which Coheed is renowned. No overly noodly guitar solos. No stupid pew pew sound effects. No instances of the word “Hail!” being yelled 57 times. Just pure awesomeness. (“Mothers of Men” is now my go-to rock-out song whenever I feel like blasting loud music and playing a little air guitar.)
1. The Prize Fighter Inferno – Half Measures
Okay, I admit that this choice is kind of like cheating. For one, it’s an EP, not a full-length. Moreover, it has the same lead singer as the previous entry on the list. Well, in my defense, how is it my fault that Claudio Sanchez was particularly prolific this year? Half Measures is here mainly on the strength of the insanely catchy “Elm Street Loverboy,” one of the best tracks Sanchez has ever recorded. But the rest of the EP is fantastic too, from the solemn acoustic title track to the sunny indie pop of “Erizo Schultz.” If you haven’t already, download it off iTunes. It’s just six tracks, but taken together, they were better than any other release of 2012.
That was 2012 in music for me. Mainly rockin’, but a fair bit of pop in there too, particularly in my top 5. With upcoming releases from Jimmy Eat World, Coheed and Cambria, Paramore, Local Natives, Frightened Rabbit, *fingers crossed* Deltron 3030, and many more, 2013 is shaping up to be even better. I’ll continue to dig into older music too, and hopefully I’ll find even more gems.