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Pop ‘stache’s Favorite Albums of 2012

written by: on December 20, 2012

20. James Blackshaw – Love Is the Plan, The Plan Is Death

It’s hard to stack plaintive, non-dramatic, mostly instrumental music up against traditional verse-chorus fare in end of the year list. Yet it’s a testament to how affecting Love Is the Plan, The Plan Is Death can be at times that James Blackshaw leaps nearly the entire Grand Canyon of critical bias toward “narrative” music. Pitch perfect at beginning and end, the record’s only blemish is that it capitulates to allowing melodic vocals in it’s third song, “And I Have Come Upon This Place By Lost Ways.” Luckily each of the songs play just as well individually as they do part of the whole, and any denying the title track is flat out gorgeous will not be tolerated. Delicately intricate, emotionally available and technically proficient, James Blackshaw’s instrumental compositions defy any bias one could have toward non-vocal music. -Tyler Remmert


19. P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here

The first half of We Don’t Even Live Here is quintessential P.O.S. Visceral, immediate yet thoughtful, Stefon Alexander goes about his excellent paradigm, blending percussive cannon blasts of beats with his alternating enraged and contemplative verse, never letting a beat get too far ahead of him. Then, just when Live Here seems like a quality update on 2010’s brilliant Never Better, “Get Down” hits, and there’s no looking back. Something about the destructively funky Lazerbeak beat (or maybe it’s Mike Mictlan grimey, murderous guest verse) wakes up Stef, and We Don’t Even Live Here becomes something entirely different from any other P.O.S. album. Alive, inclusive and (dare we say) joyous, the record’s perfect second half becomes the most definitive mission statement for the Doomtree crew’s leader. Party rap for the militant. Time to get down, indeed. -Tyler Remmert


18. Poliça – Give You the Ghost

Poliça’s eccentric indie charm earned merit as one of the best albums the year with ease, proving solid debut album status with Give You the Ghost. The band doesn’t smile much but their incredible synth and mystical, mythical challenges prove to be more dynamic than whimsy love songs. Singer Channy Leaneagh plays her vocals atop themselves in a chorus of words on solitaire, backed by gorgeous synth and a duo of percussionists that add decadence to a chilling atmosphere. The threatening “Lay Your Cards Out” with help from both “Dark Star” and glittery “Wandering Star” helped project the album to all-star triumph. -Jason Radford


17. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

Bubbling beneath the merciless rock underground, Converge has steadfastly clung onto their authentic metalcore sound and shunning all signs of corporate stronghold—any doubts were tersely laid to rest with the release of All We Love We Leave Behind. Forgoing their usual team of collaborators and post-production slick, the quartet leaned toward a grittier sound, one that transformed a stalwart four-man lineup into a ravaging pack of guitar-slinging wolves. Every one of the album’s fourteen tracks bounces listeners between dense walls of breakneck drum fills, rip chord vocals, and knuckle-dragging riffs. The record is tightly wound, never forfeiting a moment of recollection—it’s true brain slushing, throat ripping hardcore. Combining the complexity of mathcore with the artistic flair of post-punk, Converge has produced the most rightfully hailed hardcore records of the year. -Shannon Shreibek


16. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp seduces listeners with tales of romantic disbelief and then reins them with her crackling vocals. Van Etten is a master of suspense, fostering listeners’ curiosity with the prospect of unraveling beneath the tension of her many romantic catastrophes. Van Etten flaunts newfound strength with the biting verses of “Serpents” while still exposing a hemorrhage of raw nerves in “In Line.“ Unafraid of revealing her emotional wounds, Van Etten chisels through masks of stoicism with her knack for storytelling. Wriggling through dense layers of defense mechanisms and self-imposed barriers, Van Etten manages to strum on the raw nerves of every listener. What is so appealing about Tramp is the fact that it’s so proudly fragmented, so unapologetically human. There’s something delightfully therapeutic—perhaps masochistic—about Tramp, because even though we know the album will end with tears and unwelcome memories, we press play yet again. -Shannon Shreibek


15. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

Capturing the anger of the times is a plinth usually reserved for folk singers, hip hop artists and punk rockers—not the weird post-rock noise of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! really distills and broils the chaos of drone warfare, the wild silence of politicians and the ignorance of a populace behind horrific acts. Meaning “Praise Jah (God in Hebrew bible), you people” allelujah is one of the oldest words in recorded language, boasting pitch-perfect consonance. Everything about the album from its video static cover, to its title, to its miraculous appearance after a decade-long “hiatus” smacks of an epic storyline. While other blogs have tried to play down the political factor of GY!BE it’s almost inseparable from their art and they go about the preachy with a secular, absorbent and all-immersive eye. In an interview on children’s dance show Chic-A-Go-Go, Guitarist Efrim Menuck aptly described the sound as “a pizza with too many toppings.”  From the overdriven freakout in “Mladic” (itself named for a Yugoslavian general and war criminal) to the sweet, static tension of “Printemps Erable” the mixture of gravity and histrionic levity in a violin, guitar and tapes on this album is absolutely stunning. -Taylor Cowan


14. The Men – Open Your Heart

Calling it now: 2012 was the Return of Power-Pop. The genre’s rock-and-roll-as-heaven mantra was all over the year’s best new records and reissues alike. Exhibit A: The Men’s third effort, which blew open the band’s crusty garage-core, letting in revved-up Americana that sounds like Tom Petty cracking open a cold one with the Replacements. All of power-pop’s trademarks are here: extended drum fills, kegger-crushing hooks, and yearning that makes getting laid sound like a life or death matter. Don’t be fooled by the band name; this is more than just a guys’ night out. Some very Nancy Sinatra reverb shows up on “Country Song,” and as long as rock bands still write songs titled “Animal,” they might as well temper them with sweetened female vocals. Don’t forget “Candy,” a warm-hearted strummer that sees the band’s lyrics matching its melodic growth. And you thought Brooklyn was dead. -Alex Bahler


13. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

Unfortunately, Alt-J is one of those bands that everyone loves to compare to other bands. They kind of sound similar to Radiohead and to Coldplay, Wild Beasts, Hot Chip, Explosions in the Sky, Fleet Foxes, and so on and so forth. But perhaps what’s so likeable about Alt-J  (whose name translates into the delta symbol—“∆”—when the shortcut “alt” plus “j” are used on a Mac) is the fact that they capture folk, a smidge of dubstep, textural layering, experimental rock and some fat beats all on their debut album, An Awesome Wave. As the album progresses, the songs introduce different facets, harmonies and often new instruments. Alt-J radiates with potential and give listeners reason to look forward to a follow-up album. -Alex Peak


12. The Sidekicks – Awkward Breeds

While many have posited that punk was never meant to grow old, that denigrates what the genre is capable of achieving. Awkward Breeds, the third record from Cleveland’s The Sidekicks sees the band build upon its pop-punk angst and turn it into something resembling the very best of classic punk and new wave. At times it recalls Elvis Costello’s finest work, all the while making it one of the most refreshing works this year. There’s no posturing, there’s no forced emotion, and above all else, there’s not a bad song on the record. Hell, “1940’s Fighter Jet” may be one of the most inspired and invigorating ballads so far this decade. At it’s core Awkward Breeds is a simple record. It’s built on hooks, passion, and quality songwriting. When you have that, what more do you need? -David Anthony


11. Grimes – Visions

A friend recommended that I give Visions a listen in April of last year, saying “she’s breathy but she’s so great.” Grimes is so breathy indeed, but not as a setback to her craft. The singer’s music is sung delicately and laden with an array of effects that produce a dream-like sound. With an Asian-inspired sound and style in addition to a psychedelic choice of wording and producing, the album was the first of its kind. Visions created haze out of dust and culture out of chaos, but lives to compile the most you’ll never be able to describe. -Jason Radford