So yeah, it’s that time again. Generally like to have this done and out of the way sooner, but alas sickness took its toll on me during the month of December…which turned out to be a brutal one. Tons of good music this year, and it was a bit tough to narrow it down to a specific twenty. Thanks to everyone for continuing to stick with the site despite my sudden prolonged absences here and there. So long as I can avoid coming down with some other ailment, I plan on getting things rolling around here again on a regular basis. In the meantime, enjoy the list.
20 – Grass is Green – Ronson (Exploding in Sound) BUY IT!
As it will soon be noticed, Boston has a pretty strong showing on this list. Grass is Green is just one of the many bands from the city that released really good records this year. Ronson is the third album from the group and shows an upward trajectory in their songwriting ability. As I noted in my write up of the album for earlier in the year, they had shown glimpses of brilliance but could never really harness it for the duration of a release, let alone a full-length. Ronson not only signified an improvement, but rather it was an enormous step forward for a band that I had a feeling could put it all together at some point. And that they did, just much sooner than I expected. Fans of indie-rock that merges creative unpredictability with solid hooks should certainly be checking into this one.
Grass is Green - Jesse’s Fashion Show (stream)
19 – Satan’s Satyrs – Wild Beyond Belief (Trash King) BUY IT!
Got a huge kick out of this one just from the cover art. Thankfully it serves as a rather solid indication as to what is found on the actual slab of wax. Sure, there are probably plenty of bands that glamorize the exploitation cinema genre of the 70’s, but Satan’s Satyr’s manage to play it pretty convincingly with Wild Beyond Belief by serving up a sludgy noise laden mess of full frontal rock that isn’t going to win any awards for production value. The muddy roughness of the recording really only adds to the scuzzy image that the band are touching upon. And while the music itself doesn’t necessarily scream of the decade in which it glorifies, I feel confident that it could still successfully soundtrack a damaged print of any cheaply done biker flick from that era.
Satan’s Satyrs - Bellydancer’s Delight (stream)
18 – White Suns – Sinews (Load) BUY IT!
White Suns found themselves on the list last year with their album Waking in the Reservoir fittingly on Weasel Walters label. Much in the same way that album succeeded in displaying a bit of a different vision to the noise-rock genre, Sinews again sets forth with the monotonous scrape of screeching feedback tagged along with a post-apocalyptic decaying industrial backdrop. Their approach likely isn’t best described as simply noise-rock, as it’s something far colder and mechanical than that of the neanderthal like thud of most pig-fuck enthusiasts. In my head I can usually picture bands playing to an audience in some sort of setting. However, with White Suns I honestly always envision them playing to no one…just churning away in some concrete encased bomb shelter with one barely working light bulb. It teeters between flat out noise at times, but is often drawn back in with small injections of masked grooves by way of ample distortion.
White Suns - Footprints Filled (stream)
17 – Pile – Dripping (Exploding in Sound) BUY IT!
Was originally hooked with Pile’s Big Web single from 2011, which left me looking forward to this album greatly. For the most part I’d say it delivered on the promise of solid big hook driven indie-rock that I’d heard previously. The bands unabashed love for 90’s alt/indie-rock might catch them flack in some circles, but when they are able to channel it with this type of authenticity and enthusiasm, it’s rather hard to knock them for doing so. Again, Pile aren’t going to blow the doors off with the type of originality that some may be looking for in their indie-rock, but Dripping is a prime example of a band that knows where it’s coming from and one that easily avoids the pitfalls of being a retread with song craft that has a high repeat listen value to it. Always thought these guys had a bit of Chavez thing going on, but so far I seem to be the only who thinks so. So I dunno…maybe it’s the singer. Anyway, awesome album.
Pile - Prom Song (stream)
16 – Major Stars – Decibels of Gratitude (Important) BUY IT!
This was a late comer that I managed to squeeze in during my awful month of December. It should say how good the album is simply in that it was able to overcome my miserable disposition from being sick and said sickness causing me to fall further behind while at the same time eating up my entire holiday vacation from work. Things never seem as good when you feel like shit. So hey, maybe this album is even better than I’m giving it credit for. Anyway, Major Stars have been a bit of a staple in the Boston music scene for quite some time now and Decibels of Gratitude is just another quality entry into their deep discography. Maybe more straight forward rock than some of their previous albums, but it still features some of the combined psych/avant flourishes that the band has been known to pull out of their sleeve at various times in the past.
Major Stars - Autumn Day (stream)
15 – FNU Ronnies – Saddle Up (Load) BUY IT!
It’s possible that FNU Ronnies have released one of the most interesting punk records of recent memory. I think it’s fair to say that Saddle Up sounds unlike much of what we’ve come to know of the genre. That may come as a good or a bad thing to some. It’s fun to hear varying opinions of the record due to this. The fact that Saddle Up stirs up this sort of discussion is already some type of achievement I imagine. What does it actually sound like? Futuristic punk? I don’t know really, but it definitely has a wild mutated other worldly presence to it in the same way Six Finger Satellite did. The only difference being that FNU Ronnies are rarely as direct and the songs are stacked with nerve testing layers of noise and skronk that create the challenge of distinguishing these sounds from one another. There are songs here though, good ones even. It’s just at first it takes a bit to assess just what the hell is going on.
FNU Ronnies - Ant People (stream)
14 – Rectal Hygienics – Even the Flies Won’t Touch You (Depravity) BUY IT!
These gents get good mileage out of worshiping at the alter of Brainbombs, no doubt about that, right down to the absolute offensive and grotesque subject matter. Seriously, it might serve you well to avoid reading the lyric sheet on this one. Pretty ugly stuff. But it’s hard to ignore the noise pummel at play here, as these guys lay into a bludgeoning display of slow repetitive sludge that will probably raise the eyebrow of those that are always looking to hear more bad attitude noise in the vein of Rusted Shut, Drunkdriver, and so on. It certainly helped fill that never ending void in my life.
Rectal Hygienics - Heroin Whore [MP3]
13 – Psychic Blood – Autumn Curses (Damaged) BUY IT!
After a number of demos Psychic Blood released this fine album on the Damaged Mailorder imprint. Not losing a thing from said demos, Autumn Curses continues right along with the atonal indie-rock guitar stylings of Sonic Youth and a plethora of other NYC arty types of the time. I think I mentioned Dustdevils in my write up, and I think that still holds true to some degree. It certainly rides a line of wall like noise that still manages to shape together hints of melody through it all while providing the type of bleak hollowness that most of these bands played up so highly during their time. It’ll be interesting to hear if Psychic Blood opt to change things up a bit on future releases, however with Autumn Curses they’ve come through with a splendid set of songs that give a distinct nod to a time and place that managed to produce some of my all time favorite albums. Can’t really go wrong with that.
Psychic Blood - Daydream [MP3]
12 – Technicolor Teeth – Teenage Pagans (Let’s Pretend) BUY IT!
Featuring members of Tenement and Harlequin Kid trying their hand at a more shoegaze type inspired sound while still incorporating the pop-punk/grungy aspects of their other projects, Technicolor Teeth is ultimately a winner. I’ll admit that the opening track “Magick Sunlamp” may be one of the strongest (and shoegaze influenced) tracks on Teenage Pagans, but the rest of the album seems to hold up nicely as well…even if it does kind of have its money shot at the beginning. One of the strongest and most redeeming qualities about Teenage Pagans is that it’s a refreshing take on a sound that has been driven into the ground repeatedly. Far far too many bands that aim for the bent and hazy tones of shoegaze simply do nothing with it. It’s almost embarrassing how lazy some bands are. It’s to the point where these days it almost feels like a waste of time even taking a chance on a band that actively promotes themselves as part of the genre. However, with members of Technicolor Teeth having such a solid background in constructing songs that fulfill our desire for amazing hooks/melodies, it’s no wonder that they were able to take the thought to be played out sounds of a tired genre and make into a recipe for success. Trust me when I say Teenage Pagans is well worth your time.
Technicolor Teeth - Is it Warm Enough For You (stream)
11 – Multicult – Spaces Tangled (Sleeping Giant Glossolalia) BUY IT!
Awesome record from this Baltimore band. I believe they have connections to a band I previously liked in Lady Piss. I think I like the name Multicult more, and I’d say I enjoy their music a bit more as well. Nothing against Lady Piss, but Multicult have it. Sort of similar to the rhythmic bounce that the vastly underrated Chicago band Table once perfected in their all too brief existence, Multicult are not too terribly far behind on Spaces Tangled. Channeling much of what was good of the Touch & Go era math-rock scene, this isn’t the type of skilled wankery that is going to leave you bored stiff. While still being very precise and skillfully played (in particular the bass work here), Multicult don’t forget about the whole “rock” aspect and manage to maintain a balance between their musical proficiency and spitting out killer songs.
Multicult - Zero Effort (stream)
10 – Tilts – Tilts (Robotic Empire) BUY IT!
Out of the ashes of a band I held near and dear to my heart, Riddle of Steel, came Tilts. Led by former RoS singer/guitarist Andrew Elstner, Tilts more or less acts as a continuation of the 70’s/80’s arena rock influence that RoS had gradually been heading in anyway. After learning that Elstner had joined up with Torche, I’d feared that Tilts’ existence would be a short lived one, but thankfully that wasn’t the case and the three self-released EP’s of primo rock ‘n roll that the band recorded before that occurred have been properly mastered and included here on this self-titled album through Robotic Empire. And boy do they sound great. Possibly one of the catchiest albums I’ve heard all year, Tilts are clearly having a pretty good time with this. One of the highlights of listening to RoS all those years was Elstners guitar playing, and with Tilts guitar shreddery is even more of a focus than before. And as always, his voice is perfectly suited for the type of rock put on display here. I could go on about how much fun and nostalgia fueled this album is, but in the end it completely deserves to be recognized for how good of an album it is.
Tilts - Contractors to Her Majesty’s Forces (stream)
09 - Café Flesh – Lions Will No Longer be Kings (Head & Smalltones & Furne) BUY IT!
These French fellas have been on an upward trajectory for some time now. Lions Will No Longer be Kings marks the groups third album that finds them honing in their brand of swampy noise-rock. Despite being from France, the band carries a southern type of groove kind of similar to Mule exceptCafé Flesh tend to amp things up a bit and also have the added bonus of the inclusion of a saxophone. The latter has been a part of the bands lineup since their inception I believe and through their progression has seen it seamlessly incorporated into their sound to where on this album it just seems natural. That said, Lions Will No Longer be Kings is where things fully click for the band, laying to tape a wonderful blend where noise-rock meets blues via France.
Café Flesh - The Creak of Your Bones (stream)
08 – Hank Wood and the Hammerheads – Go Home (Toxic State) BUY IT!
Here today, gone tomorrow, and maybe still here a couple days later. To my understanding Hank Wood and the Hammerheads are no more, but not entirely positive on that. I always figured that was in the cards for these guys, as I couldn’t imagine a band as miserable sounding as this to stay together for too long. But at the very least they gave everyone this raw blast of scuzzy garage-punk to remember them by. While still down and dirty, Go Home managed a bit more clarity than their debut single along with the vocals being a tiny bit scaled back from the pure indecipherable bark as before. Surprisingly catchy stuff from these guys, but no less upset about whatever it may be. Pure bad attitude from start to finish, now with more organ!
Hank Wood and the Hammerheads - I Don’t Play Games (stream)
07 – Slices – Still Cruising (Iron Lung) BUY IT!
Still Cruising indeed. After a killer debut LP in which they were simply Cruising, they aptly named their follow up with the confidence that they would match it. In the end, I’d say they exceeded it by edging away some from the ominous noise-rock vibes that were scattered throughout their debut by replacing it with more of a desire to flat out rock. And that they do. But then again, they do throw in curve balls like “Human Resources”, which is a thirty nine second blast of power-violence, before jumping right back into vaguely noisy rock and roll. Same could be said for the segue into “Hurt on the Job”, which sounds like elevator music before unleashing yet another powerful guttural blow of noise. But that is one of the many reasons I enjoy this record and band in general, is the unpredictability that Slices bring to hardcore/punk. I have no clue as to what their next record is going to sound like and that is truly exciting.
Slices - Horse Race (stream)
06 – White Lung – Sorry (Deranged) BUY IT!
One of the most anticipated releases of the year for me after absolutely loving their debut It’s the Evil. There isn’t a terrible amount of difference between the two albums really, but they weren’t a band that needed to do anything differently in the first place. Sorry is the type of loud ringing post-punk that those awaiting the album were looking forward to and probably features some of their best songs to date. I know I can’t listen to “Thick-Lip” enough. The only downside? Well, obviously the length, which clocks in at just under twenty minutes. And really, it seems over quicker than that. But man do they pack a punch with these ten tracks and there isn’t a clunker in the bunch which probably makes this album a touch better than their debut. I’ll happily take either though.
White Lung - Thick-Lip (stream)
05 – Cross – Die Forever (Sophomore Lounge) BUY IT!
Seeing as how Michael A. Turner of Warmer Milks is in this band, I didn’t go into listening to Die Forever with the idea that I would be hearing some fantastically constructed goth inspired post-punk. But nevertheless, that’s what I ended up with and couldn’t have been any more pleasantly surprised by how well done this is. And as I mentioned in its original write-up, the contrast between the music and the constant themes of death create quite an interesting parallel. It’s not the overly depressive take on woe is me goth and gloom that is often tackled with this type of thing. Cross is more about the acceptance of death, or at the very least they have a certain convincing presence about them that makes their religious imagery and obsessive messages of death seem so casual. The music itself is a very precise and calculated backdrop of fuzz and bass that comes off as effortless as R. Clint Colburn’s soothing vocal presence, which is essentially the perfect backdrop. I’ll never really understand the intentions behind Die Forever, but its dynamic is a sneaky and curious one that keeps me coming back.
Cross - Gimme Time (stream)
04 – Arcing – Doubt (Corleone) BUY IT!
Those that remember the math-rock/post-hardcore duo of Tiny Hawks may want to take some interest in Arcing, as the band is the same duo along with a member from Whore Paint to handle bass duties. I honestly had no idea they were working on a project together again until that Whore Paint single showed up in the mail and I somehow connected the dots and ran across them. Just in time to hear their debut album, how nice is that? Considering it’s one of the more inspired math-rock fused post-hardcore albums I’ve heard in a great while, it was very nice. Not too far off from what Art and Gus were doing in Tiny Hawks, except oddly enough now an emphasis has surely been put on the bass now that it’s there. Most of the songs carry a very noticeable heavy low-end, with the guitar ripping across a flurry of notes and riffs that aren’t as pushed to the front as one might expect. It actually kind of gives it a more dated or raw sound that works in its favor. The drumming is something to take note of, as with the guitar, the drums also reel off a barrage of sounds. All in all though, Arcing are somewhat of a scaled back version to the math heavy Tiny Hawks, as the focus here is a more compact song oriented unit that isn’t completely dedicated to ripping off tracks at a mind melting pace. Very much a throwback, but one that does so tastefully and with solid songs to offer.
Arcing - Purple Tanks (stream)
03 – Divorce – Divorce (Night School) BUY IT!
This full-length had been a long time coming for the Glasgow band Divorce. Well worth the wait though as they proved that the ferocity that they showed on their singles leading up to this record were no joke. They lost absolutely nothing with the transition from 7-inch single, where they absolutely dominated, to the LP format. The band made the ballsy choice of opening the record with more or less two tracks of noise freakouts before jumping into the intense and punishingly heavy noise-rock that they’ve become known for. The fact that they could keep such a high amount of energy throughout an entire full-length is already impressive enough, but the songs are all something to behold as well. Provided with plenty of swirling buzzsaw guitars and bass, Jennie Fulk uses the opportunity to completely unleash what is nearly an inhuman screeching and howl to lift these songs from merely disturbing to fully terrifying. A relentless record to say the least.
Divorce - Dreglegs (stream)
02 – Merchandise – Children of Desire (Katorga) BUY IT!
Heard this towards the beginning of 2012 and boy did it ever stick with me. It’s the kind of record that you hear and you immediately know that it’s going to be on your mind at the end of year. There was no doubt in my mind from the moment the opening chords of “Time” kicked in. Previously, my thoughts on Merchandise were one of intrigue and of a band that dabbled in a number of areas including indie-rock, post-punk, shoegaze, and so on…but never once thought that something as harnessed and focused as to what we get the pleasure of hearing on Children of Desire was in the bands future. Everything about the record is done so exceptionally well and fused together in such a logical/obvious way, but yet few bands have put together such a complete set of lush sounding pop songs as this. The song “Become What You Are” is nearly eleven minutes long, but it could go on for twenty for all I care. It’s weird to think that these guys, who have all spent time in numerous punk/hardcore bands, managed to churn out one of the best indie-rock/noise-pop records I’ve heard in quite some time. And where oh where did Carson Cox’s vocals come from? Were they like that on previous records? Did I just completely tune that out or miss it? I guess so, because they are fantastic on Children of Desire and, more so, perfectly suited for what they are shooting for as whole here. Great record.
Merchandise - Become What You Are [MP3]
01 – Lamps – Under the Water Under the Ground (In the Red) BUY IT!
In the end, Lamps win out with a record that positively crushed. A band that was already pretty much killing it from record to record in the first place with noise fueled garage-punk that was generally nothing short of catchy. However on this go around they got some extra oomph from Mr. Chris Woodhouse of Mayyors fame and the results were really more than anyone could have asked for. This record smokes, kills, rocks, whatever a really fucking good record does. If you remember all the crazy guitar squeal, echo, etc. that was all over that Mayyors EP, then imagine that applied to a full-length record from a band that already had their shit together. It’s practically a case of icing on the cake. Lamps know how to effectively mix things up from a pounding lurch like on the track “H.B.D.” to the more uptempo rumble and roll of “Famous Chimps” or “Hawaiian Voters”, but in either case they aren’t messing around here. I couldn’t be happier with this album. It’s set to destroy and it makes good on that, easily.
Lamps - Hawaiian Voters (stream)
Airiel - Kid Games
Roomrunner - Super Vague
Balaclavas - Second Sight
S.M. - Ease of Hatred
Speedy Ortiz - Sports
Potty Mouth - Sun Damage
Kent State - Behind Closed Doors
SINGLES / 7-INCHES:
Shoppers & Panzram - Split 7”
Vacuum - Walking Slow 7”
White Guilt - White Guilt 7”
Shaved Women - Static 7”
Tropical Trash - Fear of Suffering 7”
Lower - Walk on Heads 7”
Drose - A Voice 7”