mIn hindsight, it kind of makes sense the world is going to end this year.
Look at what the music world hath wrought upon us this year. Carly Rae Jepsen. The return of Ke$ha (this time with more Iggy Pop!). Rihanna came crawling back to her abuser. Taylor Swift and I are never (ever ever) getting back together. Action Bronson is peeing on homeless people. Mumford & Sons still exist. There are three enormous singing competitions (The Voice, The X-Factor and American Idol), none of which have been able to produce a decent star since… ever? That alone is a meteor big enough to wipe out at least North America.
Oh wait, lest we forget: 2012 gave us fucking Kitty Pryde. Done deal, we’re screwed.
So now that we’ve successfully hunkered you down in your bunker, with your vinyl player by your side and albums of yore to comfort you as Riff Raff hairsprays the countryside to death, let’s try to look at some of the positives. R&B is officially back after a long hiatus following D’Angelo’s disappearance. How to Dress Well, Jessie Ware, Miguel and Frank Ocean, the latter of which has (rightly) ascended to the level of superstardom. Punk and hardcore cemented themselves with special records from Converge, High on Fire, Titus Andronicus, Joyce Manor and Metz. Bob Mould (BOB MOULD!) released a pop-rock record and, unsurprisingly, it ruled. Chillwave matured (DIIV), witch house took over as the dominant buzzy genre (thanks to Grimes and Purity Ring) and Ty Segall flatout forgot to be not prolific.
And we don’t want to get too spoilery here, but a certain mysterious manic pixie dream woman released her best record, one that we very much enjoy.
Pepper in the usual smattering of non-sensically weird off-album fare (anybody remember Holo-Pac), and maybe this year wasn’t too bad after all. So while you tune your Mayan calendars, chug down that last gulp of Macallan 12 (what, just me?) and call your friends and loved ones to let them know you actually kind of like “Give Me Scabies,” think about us, the tireless music junkies who’ve listened to it all, most of it twice. Happy Second Birthday to the ‘Stache!
Here’s to the end of the world!
50. Bob Mould – Silver Age
Mould rediscovered the ferocity of his original band, Hüsker Dü, and its predecessor, Sugar on this new record. He had flirted with the sonic machinations and anger of his original post-punk trio on his second solo record, Black Sheets of Rain, but it wasn’t until he formed Sugar that he properly channel his blazing lead guitar work back into a rock trio. It may not be a coincidence that he released Silver Age in the same year he’s been performing Sugar’s Copper Blue album on tour, for there’s a reminiscent passion and sound. Given that Mould had been toying with electronic or acoustic sounds off and on for the past few years, it’s a welcome return to sonic form to hear his guitar and razor-sharp tenor cut through the chaos he elicits here. Having said that, Silver Age has the songs and melodies to back up the sound. -Craig Bechtel
49. ScHoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions:
Full disclosure: Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” is my favorite song of the past 5 years, possibly more. So, you can see why I’d be a little hesitant to listen to a dude who had the audacity not only to use a sample of the song, but COVER the song I hold so dear to my heart. Fuller disclosure: “Hands on the Wheel” is my favorite song of the past year. (Writer’s note: I definitely do not support driving while intoxicate, just to be clear.) Habits was the first album I reviewed this year and it kicked the year off right. It set the bar for hip-hop in 2012 and became the predecessor for the Black Hippy’s world domination that would later be fully taken control of when Kendrick would drop his collection of perfection. The football star turned drug-dealer turned prophet did right by us all. -Matt Wink
48. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
Early this year, Neil Young fans were ecstatic to find out that the Godfather would be releasing Americana, his first new album with jam vehicle Crazy Horse in nine years. After Americana, an album made up of revamped takes on traditional American folk songs was met with middling reviews, Young shocked his fans by releasing his second album with Crazy Horse this year, Psychedelic Pill, just five months later. Pill represents Neil & the Horse at some of its Craziest: the nine-track album is nearly 90 minutes long, and is filled with the hurricane of distortion and feedback fans have become accustomed to. The best songs on the record are the opening track “Driftin Back,” a sprawling 27-minute masterpiece of guitar exploration interspersed with Young’s wrenched vocals and “Twisted Road,” a nostalgic trip back the Golden Era (complete with name drops of Dylan and the Dead.) -Alex Fiore
47. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
I’m a sucker when it comes to artists referring specific points of reference in my life. It kind of makes me feel like we live the same life. We don’t, but, when Wesley Schultz uttered the phrase, “I don’t think you’re right for him, look at what might have been if you’d took a bus to Chinatown. I’d be standing on Canal and Bowery, she’d be standing next to me,” it brought me back to those treacherous 18-hour Chinatown bus rides that swept me away from my former love, NYC. While “Ho Hey” got me hooked, I spent many a night this summer and fall staring at the stars in my driveway with a smoke and the album playing in its entirety as my only friend. Making the complex simple is the sign of a true art, and The Lumineers made many a complicated night simple and beautiful. -Matt Wink
46. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
Ty Segall is one of the most prolific artists of his generation. At only 26, the San Francisco garage rocker has released five albums as a solo artist and over a dozen more with bands such as Party Fowl, The Traditional Fools, and Epsilons. This year, he formed the Ty Segall Band with a core group of his longtime collaborators and released their debut album Slaughterhouse: a noisy freak-out of experimental “space rock” that tells the story of an ordinary man turned serial killer. Segall relishes his lead vocals and guitar—taking a match to lo-fi grunge and setting it on fire with his demonic thrashing and psychotic screams—but he also gives his band mates a
chance to shine. Frequent musical partner Mikal Cronin provides a thunderous bass, while drummer Emily Rose Epstein and guitarist Charlie Moothart keep the rhythms slick and the meltdowns dizzyingly chaotic. -Leah Pickett
45. Lambchop – Mr. M
“Like the sock puppet?” your friends will quip, as if that joke’s not old enough to be on 16 & Pregnant. The umpteenth album from Kurt Wagner and Co. is a soundtrack to sepia-toned home movies from the ’60s where men wear ties to a barbecue and you can almost count the shutter speed. Songs like “2B2” specialize in the kind of cosmic C&W Glen Campbell used to soundtrack your parents’ earliest memories. Dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt, Mr. M portrays characters that struggle just as he did, offering no moral judgment and no easy answers. Wagner sings like a doctor diagnoses, over-enunciating in barely above a whisper. He stops short of writing a prescription: You can choose the medicine for yourself. -Alex Bahler
44. How to Dress Well – Total Loss
Quality ethereal pop doesn’t bring us to the edge of the world simply with pretty voices and atmospheric recordings. It’s the extra elements: Hidden influences, passionate lyrics and history stitched throughout that allow transcendental experiences with the music of dreams. How to Dress Well’s Total Loss is a little bit of alternative R&B (listen: “Running Back”) and a lot of spiritually heavy (listen: “Set it Right”). “Cold Nites” feels dark but also angelic, a harmony shared with experiencing a new form of beauty for the very first time. Man behind the music Tom Krell has nicely assembled his wide musical style in this release. Listen alongside these wandering tones next time you take a day for personal exploration. -Adrienne Thomas
43. Glacial – On Jones Beach
The fact that this album contains a 48-minute track, it’s instrumental and bagpipes are involved might immediately sound like a kitschy experiment. But rest assured, On Jones Beach transcends the realm of mere novelty. The sound for On Jones Beach builds upon itself. This sonic construction allows the album to transition swimmingly through a number of different vibes from droning, minimalist whale song to cacophonous free jazz; from a wind chime in a windstorm to a plodding, Gaelic death march. What’s most miraculous is how complimentary the instruments are to one another. David Watson’s pipes and Lee Ranaldo’s guitar become homogenized, and Tony Buck anchors the sometimes wayward feedback and squelching pipes with catchy shuffles, jazzy cymbal work and tumbling drum rolls. This album, though a bit of a commitment at first, is one of the more impressive instrumentals in recent memory. – Evan Brown
42. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
Whether it’s the aural twilight of “End of the Line” or the jockish aggression of “True Shred Guitar,” Sleigh Bells has adopted an air of defiant confidence with their sophomore release, Reign of Terror. The album marks Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller’s first collaboratively symmetrical effort—Miller fused his volume-cranked rock lean to Krauss’ talent for pop songwriting. This synthesis resulted in an album crammed with hypnotic pop hooks and molar-cracking grit. Reign of Terror showcases the Brooklyn duo’s ironclad tunes thanks to Krauss’s riot grrrl nymphet vocals and Miller’s airless strums, while throwing a cathartic kick, exploring themes like death and loss. The album’s eleven tracks of tongue-in-cheek theatrics deliberately pace from primeval gloss to punkish freeform. Shedding their prim pop overcoat in favor of studded noise rock, Reign of Terror assures us that Sleigh Bells won’t be leaving us quietly—if at all. -Shannon Shreibek
41. Passion Pit – Gossamer
My first listen of Gossamer was just as fun as as anything else I’d heard from the bad, a fun mid-summer delight that featured the colorfully ambient Passion Pit in a mature-sounding environment. But after learning about singer Michael Angelakos’s testifying trials of attempted suicide, alcoholism and the governing Bipolar Disorder that served as Gossamer’s headline, the album became transcendently extraordinary. I hadn’t even noticed the haunting narrative so expertly expressed by the band, one that stared straight into the soul and bled out the most harrowing of emotions. That notion alone showed the beauty in Passion Pit’s production once again: The sweet candy electropop that distracts so slyly that we have to listen closely to hear the magnitude of a character’s trial and tribulation. -Jason Radford