Music sucks, except if I happen to like it. Because of this irrefutable fact, I’ve decided to enlighten you unshaven, Pantera-loving ogres with music that is actually listenable, enjoyable and requires an IQ above 100. Here are my favorite albums of 2012. There was a lot of good shit that came out this year and a lot of bad shit, so let me wade through the sewer of indie rock and pick the gems out for you.
10. Sees the Light — La Sera
La Sera is the side project of Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman, best known for singing songs about being a boy-crazy teenager even though she’s legally old enough to run for Congress. Sees the Light is a languid break-up album in which she takes her aesthetic into the world of adulthood; the Vivian Girls’ surf-style shredding is replaced with laid-back guitar and bass work, while Goodman’s voice lingers sadly in the background. Sees the Light is the perfect antidote for anyone sick of the “Lovesick Teen Girl” genre of indie rock.
9. Shields — Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear is the faggiest band that ever fagged it up, and I’m not saying that because their frontman is a homosexual, or because he named the group after one of his old boyfriends. I’m saying it because their music exemplifies the most obnoxious traits of indie rock: overly elaborate arrangements, dissonant song structures, meaningless aesthetics. In spite of all that, they’ve turned out some decent albums, and Shields is by far their best, as it dumps much of the aforementioned baggage in favor of recognizable lyrics and catchy melodies.
8. Lonerism — Tame Impala
For whatever reason, Australians suck at making good music. I wracked my brain for good Aussie rockers and could only come up with Nick Cave and Gotye. That’s pretty sad. Fortunately, we can add Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker to that list: their sophomore album Lonerism is a spacey journey through floaty guitars and overpowered synths. Best enjoyed on psychedelic drugs.
7. Mature Themes — Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Ariel Pink is the king of indie weirdos. For the better part of a decade, he recorded strange lo-fi pop records in his bedroom, then spent his tours getting booed off stage for not being able to play keyboards and bass simultaneously. Somewhere along the line, he got enough scratch together to form a backing band and released the superlative Before Today, which brought his bizarre chord progressions and goofy lyrics to the world of legitimate indie rock. Mature Themes is, strangely enough, something of a throwback record, in which Ariel rants about “shemales hopped up on meth” and his love of Wienerschnitzel hot dogs. While lacking any kick-in-the-ass tracks like “Round and Round,” Mature Themes is a catchy and endearing follow-up.
6. Zeros — The Soft Moon
The Soft Moon are kickass live or in the studio, and their sophomore release is a blitzkrieg of sonic punk energy. Screaming synths, merciless drums, and incomprehensible vocals make for a testosterone-pumping record.
5. Interstellar — Frankie Rose
Frankie Rose is another Vivian Girls cast-off who works better on her own. Her second solo record, Interstellar ditches the raw surf pop sound in favor of a floaty New Wave-style, complete with equally floaty vocals.
4. Metz — Metz
Another punk rock assault on your eardrums, this time courtesy of a trio of Torontonians. Angry, reverb-laden vocals, just straight guitar shredding and earthshattering drums; I think I’m in love.
3. Swing Lo Magellan — Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors, like Grizzly Bear, falls under the “hate to love” genre of indie music. Their lyrics lack bite; their arrangements are overblown to the point of absurdity; their frontman is in dire need of testosterone replacement therapy. Nonetheless, having seen them perform live, I can’t deny that these guys are damn good musicians and capable of some moving moments, and Swing Lo Magellan is nothing if not a moving record.
2. Love This Giant — David Byrne & St. Vincent
Wow, a collaborative album between two dissimilar musicians that’s actually worth listening to! And here I didn’t think it was possible (cough cough Loutallica cough cough). Love This Giant seems pretty strange on paper with its brass arrangements, but it gels far better than you think, with St. Vincent and Byrne providing alternating whimsical and aristocratic vocals over a cacophony of booming sax and trombone lines. The album takes a ding for a marked absence of guitars and the blatantly artificial drum programming, but Love This Giant is otherwise far better than an album like it deserves to be.
1. Celebration Rock — Japandroids
There’s nothing quite like simplicity. Fuck your ukuleles, fuck your French horns, fuck your multi-voice vocal interplay and especially fuck your degree in Philosophy. If you can’t write a good song with just vocals, guitar and drums, you can’t write good songs period. Japandroids is a back-to-basics rock band; guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse sing songs about partying, drinking, and making the world your bitch. Their second album, Celebration Rock is the sonic equivalent of pure heroin in the main vein: fucking loud guitar riffs, fucking power drum fills, and fucking good times. Japandroids is one of the few indie rock bands that actually “rocks.”
Between the Times and the Tides — Lee Ranaldo
This alt-rock record from Sonic Youth second banana Lee Ranaldo is a lot better than you’d expect given his atrocious solo release record to date. It’s far better than any of the solo releases from Sonic Youth’s other members, anyway.
Milo Goes to Compton — Colleen Green
Green’s debut record is oddly adorable in its derivativeness, from the title (a riff off of Milo Goes to College) to the fuzzed-out guitars and drum programming to the boy-crazy, weed-centric lyrics. Worth a listen.
Sun — Cat Power
Cat Power spent the past few years and blew her remaining savings to record this album, a collection of sadder-than-sadcore rock tracks. Was it worth it? Mostly; it’s not as touching as her earlier work, but it’s still pretty nice.
Synthetica — Metric
The World’s Most Insincere Activist Band returns to their roots as the indie U2 with this cynical but still fun electro-rock album. Fuckin’ Canucks.
Voyeur — Saint Motel
One of my favorite up-and-coming bands after seeing them perform live in Madison, Saint Motel’s sound is a catchy blend of rock and pop.
Centipede Hz — Animal Collective
Animal Collective’s entire discography is hilarious in that it basically shows the process its members went through in learning how to make listenable music. Their debut folk album was so horrible it caused dogs to run whimpering out of the room; their 2009 magnum opus Merriweather Post Pavilion was a trippy psychedelic electro record. They decided to follow up with this thing, a massively overloaded rock record that feels like the audio equivalent of eating a pizza that’s been drowned in hot sauce and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Only the first track is relatively tolerable.
Most Annoying Record
The Only Place — Best Coast
I know I said I liked seeing Best Coast live, but that doesn’t make their new album any better when you pop the CD in. Every single song uses the exact same rhyme scheme, and the first three songs even have near-identical chord progressions. The individual songs aren’t so bad, but listening to the entirety of The Only Place in one go is like getting a Novocaine-free root canal while in the throes of a heroin crash.
Most Mediocre Record
Born to Die — Lana Del Rey
In order to qualify as a true hipster, you have to have an opinion on these two bits of music gossip:
- You must have cried (or come close to it) when Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon announced they were divorcing.
- You must hate Lana Del Rey with every fiber of your being, for an extremely stupid reason.
The agita about poor Lana qualifies as some of the dumbest I’ve ever seen. She’s “inauthentic?” This is coming from sheltered suburbanites who wear plaid lumberjack shirts and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon because it’s “ironic,” and they’re bitching about this chick getting collagen injections and singing songs about men? Of course, the people who praise Lana Del Rey are equally deluded, going by the quality of Born to Die: it’s a confused mishmash of acid jazz and film soundtracks, lacking personality and identity. It’s not terrible, but it’s not that good either. Lana’s got a great set of pipes and she’s a good lyricist, but the soi-disant “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” needs work. Badly.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends — The Flaming Lips
Earth to Wayne Coyne: your collaborations suck. Stop doing them. Stop recording tracks with the likes of Ke$ha, Erykah Badu and Yoko Ono just because you can. You have nothing in common with most of these musicians and it shows in this scattershot, unlistenable, stab-your-eardrums-with-an-ice-pick-it’s-so-bad compilation. The only thing that saved this turd from being the Lulu of 2012 is the fact that you were smart enough not to herald it as the second coming of Jesus. Stick to mind-fucking us at concerts; that’s what you’re good at.