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2012 was a great year for music and here are its three best records. Thanks again for reading, and Happy New Year!

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03. Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings // Punk and guitar rock had a pretty awesome 2012. Between Jack White, Ty Segall, and Tame Impala, if you wanted to feel rock power, you had a ton of great outlets. Cloud Nothings sits near the top of that heap with something that the others didn’t have: raw energy.

In a brisk sub-34 minute playtime, the Cleveland punk group erupts, and does exactly as advertised: attacks your memory of other punk rock. Everything here feels angry and focused like the best of the genre. Guitars are forceful and the drums are tight. Even the slow build opener feels economical; listening to the conclusion as Dylan Baldi screams “No future, no past!” is liberating.

But the whole package becomes one of the year’s because the immense energy is harnessed so well. In lesser hands, the sonic exploration of “Wasted Days” would meander and never conclude. Here, it wanders only to find an even more powerful answer. This record is glorious and you’ll want to come back again and again.

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02. Animal Joy by Shearwater // A gorgeous, ambitious, accessible, and thrilling record. Seems like quite a bit to place on an album, right? But it’s all there. Songs rise and flows with the strength of rock and the beauty of arrangement. There are quiet moments of reflection that enrapture and pull you into a trance. Jonathan Meiburg’s voice perfectly articulates the emotion.

But there’s also real muscle in pieces like “Immaculate” where the guitars kick in and the vocals turn aggressive. At times Animal Joy is forceful and fun, at others it is deliberate and restrained. This blend could make Shearwater’s latest release feel disconnected or inconsistent  Instead, the songs flow, the sequencing is strong. The vocals provide an anchor and the production smooths out any remaining differences.

And eventually Animal Joy reaches an immensely satisfying conclusion with the closer “Star of the Age.” It summarizes well and pushes out to the cosmos. And despite how pretentious that may sound, you’ll believe too, if you give the album a spin.

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01. Celebration Rock by Japandroids // It was July 3, 2012 in the midst of one of the hottest summers on record. I had just watched the largest fireworks show of my life and waded through the sea of red, white, and blue humanity to the arena parking garage. There was still another half hour of traffic before we would really move again, so I cranked the AC, put on the iPod and turned the volume loud. The music choice was as obvious then as it is now: Celebration Rock.

For me, 2012 was a mix of really weird emotion. Lab work brought new, exciting things to explore. Cancer in the family made mortality and impermanence constantly cross my mind. Celebration Rock is the record that best comforts and satisfies, both my wandering brain and my musical thirst.

Here, the guitars and compositions shout of joy and youth. Everything acts as anthem, but it’s never cheesy or fake. It’s loud, alive, vital music. When played in the car leaving Red White and Boom, it was the perfect soundtrack to an amazing night with friends. When turned loud while driving home? It was living in the moment, genuinely cherishing life and those I was going to see.

Blazing guitars, amazing individual songs, an overarching flow, vocal delivery, the sound of fireworks to (fittingly) both start and finish the record. Everything about Celebration Rock impresses and, in the end, it wasn’t a difficult choice. This is the best record of 2012 and one that I’ll continue to rely on in the days to come.