People have been saying rock 'n' roll is dead for years when it's actually been diversifying and evolving into countless sub-genres: garage rock, indie rock, alt rock, folk rock, psych rock, post-punk rock... the list goes on and on. But one thing is certain, it's all rock. Here are our 10 favorite rock albums from 2012.
10. Tame Impala -- Lonerism (Modular)
This album demands to be experienced through headphones so you can disappear completely into the swirling psych-rock saga envisioned by Kevin Parker, the Australian band's chief songwriter.
Though Parker turned away from the world and plunged headlong into his own alienation, 'Lonerism' was remarkably warm, inviting and communal. When I interviewed Parker last month, he talked about his early relationship with music. “It was more like music gave meaning to the world,” he said. “It was that one thing that seemed to make everything else make sense. I did spend a lot of time alone as a kid, and music was my company. It made me feel like I didn't need to be around other people.”
With 'Lonerism,' Parker sublimated these feelings of banishment-from-the-world by creating a new one where anyone can belong, and where electric guitars reign supreme.
9. Japandroids -- 'Celebration Rock' (Polyvinyl)
While Cloud Nothings's 'Attack on Memory' (see below) wallowed in immobility and haunted memories, the Vancouver duo Japandroids celebrated all the good times and kicks they'd had.
This was bromance rock ― the rock equivalent of a Judd Apatow film where, at the end of each song, the bros hugged and screamed into each other's ears. “Can't believe we made it outta there alive, dude! Love you so much, bro!”
The same joyous sound of detonating fireworks that kicked-off album-opener “The Nights of Wine and Roses” returned on album-closer “Continuous Thunder”; the songs in between exploded with rambunctious recollections of wasted nights filled with high-fives and orgies involving whoever happened to be in arm's reach. “Livin' the dream, bro!”
8. Title Fight -- Floral Green (SideOneDummy)
Title Fight did melodic post-hardcore better than anyone else this year on 'Floral Green,' the Pennsylvania band's second full-length album.
While the first single, “Head In The Ceiling Fan,” took a surprising turn toward the brooding shoegaze bliss of Hum, on the rest of 'Floral Green' the band expanded on its post-hardcore roots.
“We want everything to be a progression,” Russin told me last month. “Everything still sounds like Title Fight, but the songs don't sound like songs we've written in the past. They are still fast, aggressive and emotional, but we arrive at those results by trying different paths.”
The songs are definitely fast, aggressive and emotional, but the noisy interludes, sludgy breakdowns and sticky melodies showed Title Fight pushing, with great success, in a new direction.
7. Sic Alps -- Sic Alps (Drag City)
Sic Alps clean up well on this album, but the San Francisco band still makes rock music that's dirty-as-hell and uncompromising.
After years of recording at home on a 4-track, Sic Alps boss Mike Donovan decided to make this one at Bauer Mansion (a small studio in San Fran where Thee Oh Sees, Heavy Cream and Ty Segall have worked).
Instead of Sic Alps's usual blasts of disruptive noise, the band gave us a string section on 'Glyphs,' and an epically melancholic piano tune “See You On The Slopes” that will leave longtime fans happily scratching their heads. There's much less shrieking and venom, but Sic Alps continue to deliver cool-strutting, no-frills rock tunes that'll make you wanna quit your job, steal a car and drive it in the mud.
6. Heavy Cream -- Super Treatment (Infinity Cat)
This Nashville band's second album is brutal, vengeful and short. When I interviewed Heavy Cream drummer Tiffany Minton earlier this year, I wrote, “The 11 new songs are overblown, blistering and thrashing, and Heavy Cream sounds like a band that wakes up each morning covered in bloody scars and gnarly scabs.
Lead singer Jessica McFarland growls like Joan Jett during her Runaways years, and Mimi Galbierz's fuzzed-out guitar buzzes and grinds like a million chainsaws running amok.” On second thought, make that two million chainsaws running amok, and throw in at least one million flamethrowers setting the Music City ablaze.
5. Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II EP (In The Red)
This San Francisco band has several albums under its belt, but this EP was its most diverse offering yet. 'Wax Face' and 'Lupine Dominus' were classic fist-to-throat punk songs. 'Hang a Picture' and 'Flood's New Light' were 1970s psych-pop romps. 'So Nice' was a junk-sick, Velvet Underground-esque dirge with dense, droning, clawing strings.
The title-track was all sludge and noise. And you know it was a special occasion when hostile frontman John Dwyer broke out his flute, as he did on the space-brain waltz “Will We Be Scared?” Most bands start to suck after a few years, but Thee Oh Sees keep getting better.
4. Metz -- 'Metz' (Sub Pop)
This self-titled debut album by the Toronto post-hardcore trio was a breathless 30-minute-long rampage that picked up where the mighty Drive Like Jehu left off.
Beneath the razor guitars, thunder beats and sharp transitions, stabbing noise lingered on “Sad Pricks,” where Alex Edkins howled about being a sad prick. “Don't wanna watch the television, or pick up the phone,” he caustically confessed.
Showing no interest in achieving the impossible, there was never an attempt to pave a pathway to happiness: “Knife” detailed the agony of perpetually falling, “Nausea” drowned in post-industrial trash just long enough to soak up all the sick vibes, and “Wet Blanket” turned the whiskey-spins into sport. Corrosive, and destructive, and wonderful.
3. Cloud Nothings -- 'Attack on Memory' (Carpark)
Dylan Baldi, the singer and guitarist of Cloud Nothings, channeled Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and the Replacements' Paul Westerberg on the Cleveland band's Steve Albini-engineered sophomore album, 'Attack on Memory.'
With his apathetic screeches and aggravated screams, slacker-rock excellence was achieved on 'Stay Useless,' a cranky celebration of doing absolutely less-than-nothing.
Though ennui and nostalgia motivated 'Attack on Memory,' the solution was thrashing everything inside the locked room with knives in both hands instead of sobbing into a pillow and accepting that there was nowhere to go, and nothing to do. It was a simple, timeless recipe: throw a tantrum, thrash everything, and a new door shall be revealed.
2. Torche – 'Harmonicraft' (Volcom)
On its third full-length (mixed by Converge's Kurt Ballou), Miami's Torche bravely completed the previously unmapped voyage from sludge-metal to sludge-pop, a voyage the band has been on since 2008's 'Meanderthal.'
With leviathan riffs, anthemic power-hooks and spirited breakdowns, these tightly constructed tunes aspired to stadium glory with the vigor of an undefeated, battle-born gladiator. From heroic, head-bashing peaks (“Walk It Off”) to the darkest depths of gloom and doom (“Solitary Traveler”), 'Harmonicraft' was the Miami band's best and heaviest (and happiest) album so far.
1. Ty Segall -- Twins (Drag City)
Ty Segall wins at rock music this year. The San Franciscan released three excellent albums in 2012, each one showing a unique side of his songwriting. 'Hair,' his collaborative album with White Fence, was an ode to early Kinks and Pretty Things where he indulged in his psych-folk/rock roots.
'Slaughterhouse,' released by the Ty Segall Band, was a grimy, head-bashing punk album. And both of these tendencies collided on 'Twins,' as Segall created the perfect marriage between intricate psychedelia and remorseless rock'n'roll.
One album standout 'The Hill,' Segall blew new life into the San Francisco hippie-cult imaginary, but this time with filthy buzzsaw guitars and an even more romantic devotedness to the apocalypse. All three of Segall's 2012 albums were essential, but 'Twins' was his best.
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