Best of 2012

#20: Dwight Yoakam - 3 Pears

Dwight's first album of original material in 7 years does not disappoint.  He has always straddled the line between traditional bakersfield country and outright experimentalism and here the line is even more blurred than usual. He makes even the out-there stuff like "Waterfall" and makes it sound totally natural.  Each song sounds fresh, yet lived in.  Aside from George Straight, Dwight Yoakam is probably the most consistent country album artist and this adds to his perfect report card.

#19: Mike Keneally - Wing Beat Fantastic

A totally genius paring of Mike Keneally (who got his first big break in Frank Zappa's '88 band) and Andy Patridge (of XTC fame).  While it is slightly disappointing that Andy doesn't actually appear on the album (he only contributed the songwriting) you can totally tell his hands were all over the composition and arrangement process.

Terrific pop songwriting married with Keneally's perchant for the bizarre make this one a winner to my ears. Easily the pop album of the year for me.

#18: Dysrhythmia - Test Of Submission

Instrumental prog rock overload. While not as crazy as some other albums in this genre from the year (including a couple higher up on my list), this one is still outstanding due to its mix of complexity as well as catchiness. There are great hooks intertwined with the instrumental prowess that has kept me coming back for more regularly. The added bonus is, everytime I give it another listen I discover something new buried in the musical labarynth. Great stuff from a band who keeps getting better and better.

#17: Rush - Clockwork Angels

RUSH IS BACK! A nice concept album with a convoluted storyline harkens back to their 70s ideals, but the music itself is very modern. Everything from straight up rockers, to extended epics and poignant ballads are all on display here. Alex Lifeson finally sounds inspired and not just playing what he thinks people want to hear and Neil Peart's drumming continues to be beyond reproach. Of all the "comeback" albums from classic rockers this year, this one is the best by a mile.

#16: Liberteer - Better to Die on Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees

Everytime I hear someone describe that overhyped Titus Andronicus band, this is what I imagine they sound like...and when I actually hear them I am severely disappointed. This is the real deal. Mixing super heavy crust metal/grind with horns and strings bring the mix of old world and new world I've been craving. Plus they are PISSED OFF about the state of the world and want you to know all about it (Why aren't there more protest albums out there that sound this enraged and full of call-to-action messages?). Each song flows speedily into the next for a symphonic fury unmatched by anything else this year.

#15: Aesop Rock - Skelethon

There was a fair amount of hype over El-P's new album this year, but for my money the Definitive Jux alumni who had the best album this year was definitely Aesop Rock.  He continues to have baffling lyrics overflowing with details that invites a ton of re-listening and examination. Plus he is probably the only rapper who can put you in the shoes of a child who doesn't want to eat his vegetables and make you relate to it without coming off as trite (as he does on "Grace"). Which brings up the other piece of the puzzle others are missing in this genre....the right amount of humor without coming off sounding like a schmuck.

#14: Napalm Death - Utilitarian

KEEP ON TRUCKIN'! Napalm Death refuses to quit and I can't believe it, but it seems like every album they keep raising the intensity level from the last one. Seriously, over 20 years of getting more and more intense. How is this even possible? Sometimes I can't believe my ears as they run circles around all the youngters in the genre and show them how it is done. There truly is wisdom with (r)age.

#13: Aaron Freeman - Marvelous Clouds

When I heard that Ween had broken up and that Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) was on some kind of personal slide I was really saddened. I thought that they were essentially done and I'd have to just live with the old classics. Then I heard that Aaron was coming out with a covers album by a songwriter I never heard of (Rod McKuen) and I was really thinking it was going to suck. Going in with low expectations meant that while I did hear it and was totally blown away by the quality of the overall concept it made it a much much sweeter success story. Along with the Keneally/Partidge album earlier in the list this is a pop masterpiece...mainly because he proves that pop doesn't have to mean synthentic sounding dance music with a whining vocalist. Real instruments, real groove, real feelings, real good.

#12: Death Grips - The Money Store

They hype for Death Grips this year has been with No Love Deep Web and the backstory of how the label wouldn't release it blahblahblah. However, The Money Store is the better album. Sorry. The songs sound more fleshed out and less rushed. The production sounds much better as the drums sound more live and the lyrics sound more original to me. Plus it is crazy catchy even amid all the chaos. Don't believe the No Love Deep Web hype, if you haven't heard Death Grips yet, this is the album to make you a believer.

#11: Pallbearer - Sorrow & Extinction

There were lots of Doom bands with new albums this year and places like Pitchfork and NPR hyped them all like mad. This is the one that stuck with me the most. It has the same feel for me as the first time I heard Sleep's "Jerusalem" when it was new. A totally engaging metal durge that makes you actually enjoy doom & gloom for a while. This is actually some hype I can get behind, which is really saying something for the quality of the material and the band.

#10: Scott Walker - Bish Bosch

Coming in at the tail end of the year (it was finally released in early December) this one has already hooked me. Completely outrageous lyrics, otherworldly production and instruments....the demented mastermind Scott Walker delivers another amazing platter of weirdness. This is one of those albums that you really can't describe to others (especially if they are unfamiliar with latter-era Walker albums). Suffice to say this is not for everybody, but it is definitely for me!

#09: Pig Destroyer - Book Burner

Wow! This album is completely killer! Wanna feel like you're getting bludgened in the face for about a half hour? How about you want to scare the neighbors away? Look no further. The new drummer pummels the drum kit into oblivion and Scott Hull continues to be a heavy metal riff machine. The songs are back to being short-n-sweet as opposed to the almost prog-length (for them) excesses of their previous album. All killer, no filler.

#08: Weasel Walter/Mary Halverson/Peter Evans - Mechanical Malfunction

Traditionally,  this group has been all about free jazz/improv, but here they make things even more interesting by playing mostly composed material.  Sort of like taking Mary Halverson's earlier project "People" to an even wackier extreme.  The songs penned by Weasel Walter remind me of his compositions on the Walter/Barr/Hillmer collaboration or even some of the stuff released on the Large Group Performances album (PS if you haven't heard either of these gems, head to ugExplode.com now and find out what you're missing!). This is probably my favorite jazz-based album of the year as it has the right amount of off-the-chain improv as well as complex written sections....so both fans of complex writing and free improv come up winners with this amazing release. I look forward to what this group will do next as it is consistantly engaging and exciting.

#07: Lovely Little Girls - Cleaning The Filth From a Delicate Frame

Demented circus music, a totally degranged singer yelping out the most disgusting and outrageous lyrics, and super-tight interlocking instrumental parts make this album an astounding addition to the already impeccable Skin Graft roster. This is the sound of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum after taking a bunch of LSD and hanging out in the bad part of town.  Remember when groups like Naked City or Mr. Bungle actually sounded dangerous? Neither do I, after hearing something like this!

#06: Normal Love - Survival Tricks

Woah, Normal Love really exceeded expectations on this one. They acquired a vocalist which is usually a Red Flag for me, but it turns out to work to their advantage here. Super math rock complexity, with crazy lyrics and themes. The songs run the gamut and you never can tell where they are going to go to next (even within the same song). Seriously one of the most amazing "new rock" bands out there who continue to push the genre forward. Do not miss out on these guys!

#05: Swans - The Seer

Swans put out the most epic album of the year (and the most epic album in their catalog). A 2 disc set with songs pushing past 20 minutes regularly, you know this is something that requires intense focus and cannot be background music. That intense focus is rewarded by an album of intensity and beauty alike. If Swans keep putting out material like this, they will be remembered as one of the greatest rock n' roll bands of all time.

#04: Loincloth - Iron Balls of Steel

Best drumming I heard on an album all year! Steve Sheldon (of Confessor "fame") outdoes himself here. Riff after riff after riff is complemented by his mathy/complex drumming in a masterful way. For an instrumental band, this is really catchy and I find myself humming a lot of the songs throughout the day. Also check out Steve's amazing blog at: http://thepoundry.blogspot.com/

#03: Between The Buried & Me - Parallax II - Future Sequence

Ever since Between The Buried and Me put out "Colors" in 2007 they have been releasing albums that have been refining their sound. This refining has culminated in this absolute masterpiece. Astounding musicianship and songwriting that truly is in a class by itself. Other bands try to top them, but generally fall flat on their face (The Faceless' terrible album this year is a fine example).  If you really want to hear how prog metal is done right in 2012, this is the only album you need.

#02: Yowie - Damning With Faint Praise

FINALLY! A new Yowie album! St. Louis' finest band. Two guitars and a drummer that sound like a sped-up Magic Band. Ridiculous musical gymnastics that take several listens just to wrap your brain around, let alone completely understand....but like others in the list it ends up getting under my skin (in a good way) and I find myself humming the myriad of madcap melodies on the songs. They sound like they have really pushed themselves here and that is definitely a good thing. More bands need to push their abilities to the limits like Yowie and move rock into the future. Get on board now before it is too late.

#01: Behold The Arctopus - Horrorscension

WHY DO PEOPLE HATE THIS ALBUM? I've read so many negative reviews of this on the internet and it completely baffles me as to why. This is easily my favorite album of the year. Each song has a unique slant to them. The riffs (and there are probably hundreds of them on this 30 minute album) are all completely awesome. The drumming is insane (thanks to Weasel Walter) and my mind continues to be blown away. I've listened to this album more than any other new release this year and I keep coming back to it for more. TOTALLY AWESOME. TOTALLY KILLER! Why don't more bands sound like this? I heard they have more stuff written that they weren't able to play perfectly when they recorded it, so they have more in the hopper for a future album. I say: BRING IT ON!