This year the solid music entries came fast and furious. For every album that either disappointed or nauseated, there were at least two that raised the bar even higher. The sheer volume of what we’ve heard this year prevented me from including all of them in my 30 Best Albums Of 2012 - or even Johnny's Best Albums list, but I don’t want these great slices of music to go unnoticed. At first I thought these albums would make it to other best of lists but the more I read, the more it seemed that the media had either look passed certain albums or not thought to include them in their year end round ups. I couldn’t let that stand!
How best to solve this dilemma? Well, by a list of course! Inspired to continue my growing love of the sequential numbering system, I concocted 15 Albums Worth A Second Look. Now before you get all enraged, the numbering system is not an order of how good or bad said album is. This is just the order of how I listened to them.
First Aid Kit: The Lion’s Roar
Label: Wichita Records
Composed of Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg, First Aid Kit is a folk drenched acoustic project that is both uplifting and heartbreaking. The Lion’s Roar, is a more mature offering then their 2009 debut The Big Black & Blue. The Soderberg’s have found a better connection to their own voice with The Lion’s Roar and the comfortable confidence they’ve gained is apparent in the music.
Label: Dark Descent Records
Outside of being a great record, Netherwards has a lot in common with the city it was recorded in. Seattle, a city of gloomy rain, musky pine scents and an overall monotone color scheme promoting a feeling of isolation and loneliness. Doom quartet Anhedonist drink in all the flavors of their hometown and pour them into Netherwards. Traditional doom sounds expand into epic songs about the fail and fall of humanity. These songs are complex, layered and crushed together beneath a harsh fog of distortion. Doom metal is rarely transcendent, but Anhedonist have achieved it across the board.
Label: Alternative Tentacles
Unsane, one of the dirtiest, meanest, thickest and most powerful bands ever to crawl out of the festering sewers of downtown Manhattan unleashed audio terror in 2012 with Wreck. This is an album that just beats the shit out of you from start to finish. Unsane has long been expert at taking that soul sucking bitterness we all tend to feel in our darkest moments and translating it to music. Wreck accomplishes that but incorporates some new musical directions for the band. If you think your jams are heavy, I suggest you run your shit up the Unsane tree and see how good it really is.
Black Breath: Sentenced To Life
Label: Southern Lord
Black Breath’s newest studio album Sentenced To Life is a behemoth. Imagine if the members of Black Flag grew up listening to Slayer and Immortal. Black Breath resign themselves to a constant attack. There is nothing in the way of breaks or relief from what the rapid-fire speed of each song. Sentenced To Life is a relentless album. It never stops coming at you, it never lets up and it never gives you a second to breathe. You don’t so much enjoy a Black Breath album as you do survive it.
Coheed & Cambria: The Aftermath
Label: Hundred Handed/ Everything Evil Records
The Afterman: Ascensionis a great record, it could be the band’s best record to date. Coheed have stepped up their songwriting, loosened their death grip on overbearing prog-rock and even entered into the world of ballads. This album is groovy, haunting, beautiful, and complicated. The triumphant ideals of man’s spirituality are fused with the softness of love and soul searching. The Afterman: Ascension needs to be heard as one piece of music. There are killer songs happening on this album, but to get the full effect the listener must invest in the entirety of the album.
Dinosaur Jr: I Bet On Sky
I Bet On Skyplays an interesting game of balancing the old with the new for Dinosaur JR. Alive and well is the band’s penchant for saturated guitars, feedback and melodic vocals. What’s different with I Bet On Sky is how light it is, how capricious the songs and the orchestrations are compared to other Dinosaur JR albums. Mascis keeps his outsider narrative vocal style, which has always intrigued me. Few singers outside of Neil Young or Morrissey, at least in pop music, are able to make their words personal but remain eerily detached in their delivery. Musically though, this is a brighter record than I’d have ever expected from Dinosaur JR.
Eagle Twin: The Feather Tipped The Serpent’s Scale
Label: Southern Lord Records
This was a tough album for me because it literally was my 21st best metal record of 2012. It also got slightly edged out in my best of the year list. The Feather Tipped The Serpent’s Scale is one of the most interesting and sonically damaging albums of the year. Eagle Twin flow with riffages, they bow to the alter of pounding drums and heavy ass guitar lines. What makes their music stand out against the doom posse is the fascinating interplay they weave between mountain crushing doom stomps. There is a lot more going on with The Feather Tipped The Serpent’s Scale than you’ll catch on the first listen so give it a few spins before trying to define it.
Diagonal: The Second Mechanism
Label: Metal Blade Records
Nobody has heard of this band or this album, at least in the greater sense of the term “heard of”. Too bad, because Diagonal released a prog-rock space-rock epic-rock holy-fucking-shit-what-did-they-just-do-rock masterpiece. Imagine kids who grew up on Rush, Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra deciding they wanted to combine all those elements with the band Rainbow. This is math rock to the extreme, keyboards and seventies funk riffs pepper all the arithmetic, which keeps The Second Mechanism sounding human enough to not slip into robot rock. My next move is to see these guys pull this off live.
Enabler: All Hail The Void
Label: Southern Lord Records
Here’s another album that I struggled over for hours as one of the best metal records of the year. All Hail The Void takes musical cues from Entombed, Slayer and old hardcore by way of current noise punk. All Hail The Void never becomes a rip-off nor does it fail to entertain. For instance, the main riff of the song “Speechless” is easily one of the best riffs in metal this year. Enabler really know how to craft songs and use dynamics but their production tends to hide that behind drums that are impossibly loud. I’m hoping as Enabler push forward they manage to capture their incredible live sound on record.
The Guns: The Guns
Label: Smog Veil Records
The Guns are a mostly forgotten punk/hardcore band from Cleveland Ohio. Busting out in the early eighties, The Guns played the kind of fast and engaging hardcore that launched the early movement. The Guns belong up there with peers like Minor Threat, Heart attack, Verbal Assault and JFA. Sadly they broke up before anything really happened for them and their music vanished for nearly three decades before this release. If you love old school hardcore then The Guns is for you.
Scott Kelly And The Road Home: The Forgiven Ghost In Me
Label: Neurot Recordings
When not laying down the sonic fire that is Neurosis, Scott Kelly takes a step back and allows a more reserved artist emerge. The Forgiven Ghost In Me isn’t Kelly’s first solo record, but like everything he does, it stands apart from his previous releases. The work here is stark, a simple guitar line strummed as Kelly’s rasp gurgles out songs of death, redemption and the constant entropy of life. This is bare bones honest music in the style of Phil Ochs or Woody Guthrie but touched with the introspective darkness that permeates so much of what Scott Kelly does. A wonderful and compelling album.
Horseback: Half Blood
Label: Relapse Records
The third in the hat trick of extreme music albums that I fought over, Half Blood is more an experimental album with elements of doom than a straight shot through any one genre. At times stunning in its dark beauty and at others stark and haunting within the elements of drone and noise Horseback offer up. Half Blood is a complicated and impressive record, one that swears no allegiance to any one realm of the extreme music world. Some will find it pretentious, some straight out boring, but those who dig deeper will find some really magical things happening within Half Blood.
If These Trees Could Talk: Red Forest
Label: Sound Of Science
Everything on Red Forest is heart; it’s all honesty within the moment. I could mention the heartache of “The First Fire”, or how the guitars rise to a grand fever on “Barren Lands Of The Modern Dinosaur.” The dark future played out in “They Speak With Knives” is particularly wonderful, as is the weeping sadness of the title track. None of those descriptions will help you to understand what ITTCT can do with their music because they are my own. You have to immerse yourself in Red Forest and take from it what touches you. That’s what makes the music so good. How personal it all is.
Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till, Wino: Songs Of Townes Van Zandt
Label: Neurot Recordings
It takes a lot of sack to cover the genius of Townes Van Zandt. With that sack fully bulged, Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till (Neurosis) and Wino (The Obsessed) tackle and execute one of the best tribute albums in recent years. What makes Songs Of Townes Van Zandt work is that each artist does their own version of the tune. At times darker then the original, at times more laid back and barren, everyone here perfects their own personal statement within the tune but never loses the spirit of the original. If you aren’t sure of Townes Van Zandt or you love him as I do, this tribute record is a must for your record collection.
JK Flesh: Posthuman
Justin K. Broadrick is a fascinating guy. First he slammed the metal world into submission with his stint in Napalm Death and the genius of Godflesh. Then, right as he was poised to be the dominate force in extreme music, he shocked the world with his dreamy jaunts in Jesu, a project that became his focus for the next few years. Under the moniker JK Flesh, Broadrick has released Posthuman, an album that calls as much from bands like Salem or Skrillex as it does from Godflesh (hint the “Flesh” part of the name). At times nearly funky, then ominous and harsh, Posthuman is an exercise in everything Broadrick can do being filtered through his unabashed love of fucking with people. Posthuman is uneven to be sure but that’s because it’s the kind of artistic statement that constantly takes chances.
So there you go. If you haven’t heard of these albums I suggest you check them out.