Unfortunately, 2012 was the year of post-coital depression. 2011 saw a flood of incredible releases, some inkling of professional hope from the auteure of this lexiconal shit strewn around the nursery walls before you, and we had the end of the world still to look forward to! We still had twelve months to finish all our important work, tell our loved ones that they really never did mean anything to us in the first place, and try desperately to convince our significant other's that this would be our last chance to try anal.
The world didn't end, sadly, and there wasn't a great degree of astounding, apocalyptic work put out to boot. There were a few points of light, however, that glittered through this dark year and made it somewhat endurable.
SWANS : THE SEER
If any album deserved the title of 'epic', it's this one. Far too often, this word is bandied about to imply significant length (Tool) or bombastry (Dragon Force). The Seer is an epic in its storytelling (inadvertent or not, Mr. Gira...), it's scope of sound, its utilization of timbre, its length, for sure, and also the mere fact that it is both a culmination of everything Swans have ever been since 1982 while also being a major leap forward for the group. In a year where we had to endure the obscene necrophilia that was Soundgarden's reunion record, it's nothing short of astounding to see that Swans continue to show us what's possible with sound art.
There is simply no other record like The Seer. It's visceral, urgent, sweeping in grandeur, distant, personal, intimate, violent, bitter, majestic, soul-devouring. Not since discovering The Fragile back in 2002 in the racks of Sam Goody have i ever encountered a record that drew me so completely into its own space, into its own world. The Seer is the soundtrack for a monumental theater production penned by Jorge Luis Borges, Albert Camus, Henry Rollins and George MacDonald, which only incidentally doesn't exist. This is the best music of the year. Period.
ISIS : TEMPORAL
While not a cohesive whole, the moments captured on the record are not only pleasing and insightful for the listener but also essential in concluding our understanding of the band. In particular, the primitive Oceanic demos recorded live in the bands rehearsal space capture the band before they broke, a bunch of ambitious artists pouring their blood out into concrete walls.
The record also acts as a supplement to the collection of the completist. We're treated to tracks from Isis' treacherous-to-acquire Sawblade EP and remixes that only appeared on the singles from the In The Absence of Truth era. The true highlight of the set are the two tracks that didn't make the cut for Isis' last record, Wavering Radiant: 'Pliable Foe' and 'Way Through Woven Branches', which had only seen the light of a day on a limited vinyl split with The Melvins a couple of years ago. While i can understand their absence from the album, they stand up among the best work Isis has ever made.
Temporal won't make sense to newcomers of the band and it's clear that it's mainly targeted to fans as a thank you and graceful bow from the world. But i couldn't imagine a more eloquent bow than this.
SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS : GHOSTORY
Supposedly, there's a rather unoriginal and anemic storyline behind the album that's best left forgotten to just be absorbed the gossamer atmosphere and wash of Ghostory. If they pushed The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The Neverending Story together into one sparkling heap of childhood imagination and nostalgia, Ghostory would need to be the soundtrack. This was the most enjoyable record for me this year.
Ghostory is tight, well-written, and to-the-point, which is really essential when you're mixing electronic fluffery with Cocteau Twins inspired sonic depth and reverb washes. From front to back, it's a solid and sweet album without giving you a stomach ache two months later. Enjoy liberally.
MELVINS : THE BULLS AND THE BEES EP
And so, as one of the most influential bands on the planet moves into the new digital world order, they move away from CD's and into the world of special packaging, heavy touring, and generally remaining relevant while their progeny are all still bitching about Napster (still?!?) and iPhones at shows. With that, they hop onto an ugly speeding Scion and give us what really amounts to an incredibly accurate summation of what the Melvins are in a short, sweet, and free EP courtesy of a car company.
This EP has both the rock and the weird in equal temperament and if i had to direct a new listener to this band, this would probably be my first suggestion (unless they were a total twat, in which case i would direct them to Stag or possibly The Colossus of Destiny). As a side note, 'We Are Doomed' is possibly the most beautiful and heart-wrenching thing the Melvins have ever done.
JULIEN : SEATTLE CALLING
Their latest offering, Seattle Calling, is a culmination of their own influences as well as the two disparate camps that oppose each other in the Emerald City: the 60's tube-amp destroying, Fender Tele wielding rock centurions and the laptop punching, dubstep obsessed electronic mob. There couldn't have been a better title to this observant record.
Seattle Calling is offered as a free download on Julien's site so you owe it to yourself to pick it up and start dancing and bouncing around the walls until your neighbors call the cops. PLAY IT LOUD.
CONGENITAL DEATH : FROM MY HANDS
It's fast, vicious, and a woman screaming at me buried underneath slurs of breaking guitars and blastbeats is too much to pass up. What makes Congenital Death stand out from a lot of bands doing this same thing is how tight they are, and their slips into aggressive, even catchy, punk here and there, which just keeps things moving and breathing, alive, instead of being submerged into the initially gratifying but inevitably depressing sludge that hardcore bands produce themselves in.
And guess what? It's free. Go listen to it.
And on that unhappy note of ending on an even number, i'm off to welcome the new year with a bottle of wine, a few dozen cigarettes, and listening to all these great albums all over again. Good luck, everyone else.
- lien martin, December 31st, 2012