Here are the 10th through 4th best records of 2012. Thanks for reading, and stop by tomorrow for the top 3!
10. Reign of Terror by Sleigh Bells // Sleigh Bells strikes a fantastic balance between punk, noise, and pop. The last of those elements is the most important: the infectious tunes dig in and never let go. It’s impossible to ignore the best track (“Comeback Kid”) but the rest of them have that same kind of luster. Some gloriously crunchy guitars and appealing vocals later and you’ve got a real winner.
09. Cancer 4 Cure by El-P // El-P has an edge, an angry cadence that drives his flowing, morphing rap through dark, luscious tracks. It sounds excessive but it’s dead-on. The music bends, wanders around fantastic beats and creates exceptional atmosphere for the rhymes and phrases that land above them. And the final tracks of the album go in a whirlwind, leaving you to gasp for more. Just relentless.
08. Slaughterhouse by Ty Segall Band // “All these kids who are growing up on Skrillex and all this digital music – what are they gonna think when they hear rock’n’roll?” Segall’s comment on Pitchfork’s year-end coverage is an apt way to think about the musician’s unbelievable output over the last 48 months. Pure rock, straight ahead, full of glorious guitars. And Slaughterhouse is the best of the bunch. Eleven straight songs of unyielding action and it never feels exhausting, never seems forced. Get on board while you can.
07. Tramp by Sharon Van Etten // In her previous album, Van Etten was hushed and fairly acoustic. But it was a style that fit her deeply personal lyrics and astounding voice. It was with trepidation that I entered Tramp‘s world: the first sounds were distorted guitars, after all. Yet even here Van Etten’s voice was able to fit the space and work its haunting magic. Perhaps this speaks to the production and mixing, or maybe the growth of the artist’s songwriting skills. Either way, Tramp is mesmerizing and well worth your time.
06. Sun by Cat Power // Allow me to introduce you to this year’s late riser, a record that wasn’t even on this list a few weeks ago. Also grant me this chance to (hopefully) stop you from making a similar mistake: don’t ignore Sun, don’t put off listening to it. Unlike anything else from Cat Power, it finds the songwriter working outside her normal style, pushing almost to dance-rock (to devastating effect on tracks like “Nothin But Time”). Yes, it’s different, but it’s exceptionally rewarding.
05. Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors // The first thing people will tell you is that Magellan is a more accessible Dirty Projectors record. This is a perfectly valid assessment. It’s also the reward here. The core of this, the best Dirty Projectors album, is the humanity, the emotion. Yes, surely this is a David Longstreth work. Idiosyncratic vocals, quasi-Afro rhythms and guitars, warping songs, they’re all here. But they’re built from heart.
“Dance for You” and “Impregnable Question” are two of the most genuine, touching pieces of popular music I’ve heard in years. They form a basis and the rest of the record follows suit. There’s depth in the sound and love in the soul of this album.
04. Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor // The dark instrumental rock of GYBE was an astounding force… and then it was gone. Not entirely gone (we had the recordings, after all), but it was a hole left unfilled for far too long. This year, their muscular, textured, potent blend of sound returned, and fit perfectly in the modern musical landscape.
GYBE is gorgeously orchestrated. They can sound carefully crafted with exquisite layers of guitar and strings. Yet there is a real darkness, a claustrophobia that inhabits their pieces and gives a sense of impending doom. And it is that balance of beauty and fear that makes Allelujah so vital, so essential, and so wonderfully at home in any music collection. GYBE is not a band to be taken lightly, their newest record not one to put on at just any time. But it is required listening, a phenomenal effort, and absolutely astounding.