Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorites From The End of The World (Which Didn't Happen...)

As the hours dwindle between one year and the next, i realize that i have very little time left to do what comes most naturally to me, and that's attack everyone i know with my opinions. Today, it will be about my personal highlights in 2012 from the world of music.

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.


Certainly at the top of the heap was The Seer by the recently re-assembled, seminal musical heap that was, is, and forever shall be, Swans.

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.


i would be unable to complete a 2012 list without mentioning the epilogue of one of the most profound bands to ever emerge from the Earth, Isis and their posthumous release, Temporal. This two-disc, one DVD collections acts almost like the Tolkien appendices for the bands career, without the dredge of being used to pad out a Hollywood blockbuster.

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.


Anyone who knows me will look at this entry with a "...what?". Anyone who knows me well will know i'm a glutton for well-orchestrated, lush pop, and School of Seven Bells have delivered on that front this year.

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.


Another oddity, and quite possibly one of the best things these bullheaded veterans of rock have ever put out since crawling out of Montesano in the 80's. The problem with the Melvins has always been, when asked where to begin, the question back " you want their weird stuff, or their rock stuff?". Navigating the Melvins world is a bit like sifting through Frank Zappa's discography with no clear idea of what makes one release different than the next. Some people like them rock, some people like them weird. i like them weird, but few bands can claim to do rock better or smarter than the Melvins.

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.


This is a little unethical because i just love these guys so much it's painful. Julien are two wonderful gentlemen from Rome, Italy who specialize in fusing together electronic dance music and straight-up rock into a whole new evolutionary step in music...think New Order with the sludgy riffing of Queens of The Stone Age. There simply aren't a lot of acts out there like them.

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.


A little bit of a latecomer to my attention, Congenital Death are a sludgy, breakneck hardcore band from my favorite mythical city, Philadelphia, and specialize in one of the tastiest, bloody-grin inducing sounds i've heard all year. Their almost too short to stand EP, From My Hands, is the cream of the crop of my recent obsession with indie hardcore.

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

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