The Best Music of 2012 [#20-#11]

20-11

This next set of great musical performances really runs the gamut from fun and upbeat party music to pretty scary punk-rap. All part of the majesty we call The Best Music of 2012!

Our Spotify jam session has once again been updated to add these 10 magnificent artists.

20. DIIV, Oshin

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Zachary Cole Smith leads this Brooklyn crew of indie rockers, cementing their place in the scene with the release of this debut-full length. Oshin rewards with each listen, with its layers of vocals embedded in walls of reverb and glimmering guitar lines. The album truly gathers steam midway through, keyed by the terrific “How Long Have You Known,” and building to a climax that includes album highlight “Doused.” The latter track manages to build intense engagement with/despite a nearly incomprehensible vocal. For those who enjoy losing themselves in an indie rock haze, Oshin is a crucial listen.

19. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory

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Cloud Nothings prove their punk-as-fuck credentials by, if nothing else, refusing to move out of Cleveland. Dylan Baldi’s troupe of angry young men rampage on this album, but always with an underpinning of melody — a dynamic perhaps best encapsulated on “Fall In,” which pairs a tasty hook harmony with a full-ahead attack. This tight, explosive record earns every ounce of its acclaim, and the band that started out as a one-man show in 2009 displays impressive cohesion on tracks like the rumbling instrumental “Separation.” The album peaks with “Stay Useless,” one of the best rock songs released in 2012.

18. Lower Dens, Nootropics

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This Baltimore band set everyone back on their heels with their  sophomore release. Give the track “Brains” a listen, it’s all there — Jana Hunter’s eerie vocals, some creepy chanting, driving rhythms, and bold synth-raging. “Lamb” is another mother of a track, laying down dense tones that transmogrify into soaring melodies, laying the groundwork for the incredible moments that begin at the 2-minute mark. Like some other indie rock albums on our countdown, Nootropics seems monotonous on first listen, but rewards with repeated plays. Make the investment.

17. Solange, True

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Capacity to surprise is a key driver in making ROTI’s best music countdown, but this is a record that absolutely shocked me. Solange has been almost a punchline, the forgotten little sister who dlisted’s Michael K calls “Basement Baby” for her persistent sidelining by dadager Mathew Knowles in Beyonce’s favor. And now, with B mostly on hiatus, Solange delivers a 7-song EP that is one of the tightest and most thrilling R&B records in years. Highly-regarded British-American hitmaker Dev Hynes (aka Lightspeed Champion) is an extremely able sidekick on this set, and the songs hit you instantly. “Lovers in the Parking Lot” is a tale of infidelity and lust over a MIGHTY groove that has you trying to figure out if there’s any way to turn your headphones any louder than max volume. “Bad Girls (Verdine Version)” is the powerful album closer that rolls along on a filthy bassline, with Solange’s lovely voice soaring over top. This little record is a soulful masterpiece.

16. Mean Jeans, On Mars

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Billy Jeans, Jeans Wilder and Jr. Jeans aren’t changing the course of music history with this record. They’re just delivering one three-minute gem after another, chugging along in their Ramones/Clash-inspired style and chugging beers aplenty along the way. These Portland punks aren’t sorry for party rocking and their album is a sheer delight.  With tracks like “Life on Mars,” “Nite of the Creeps,” and my personal favorite “Hangin’ Tuff,” Mean Jeans slam away on their axes and drums and unleash supremely catchy hooks. Crack a brew, lighters up and enjoy this record.

15. Django Django, Django Django

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Tons of amazing bands have come together at art school, and Django Django (out of the Edinburgh College of Art) is no exception. On this Mercury Prize-nominated disc, this combo delivers. The Beta Band comparisons arise naturally since Django Django’s drummer is the younger brother of BB’s DJ/keyboardist — but they seem most apt when you hear this outstanding self-titled album. “Default” is a hungry earworm that mixes weird vocal effects with crunchy harmonies and throbbing rhythms.  “Waveforms” lays tasty Britpop vocals above an electronic groove, with a chorus that evokes the Beatles tradition, then descends into a psychedelic chant. Django Django are at least as strong in their debut as great British bands like Blur and Metronomy were on theirs. Baby Jesus willing, they’ll follow a similar path of growth on future releases.

14. Swans, The Seer

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Let me preface this by saying this ranking will seem wrong for just about anyone. If you are a current or future fan of Swans’ sounds, this is easily one of the best records of the year; and if this isn’t for you, it’s way too high at #14. Splitting the diff, I’ll place it here. With a sonic palette that ranges from dense symphonies of thunder (the epic “The Seer,” which serves as the album’s centerpiece) to lovely balladry (as on “Song For a Warrior”), this resurrected team of 90s NYC lo-fi all-stars sound more vital than ever before. Not to mention that The Seer probably has the best album cover of the year. This is a headphone listen and really should be swallowed in one long dose and then repeated nightly until acceptance sets in. Much respect for bandleader Michael Gira for getting the band back together and unleashing a magnum opus.

13. Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan

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Some wags say this falls short of the Brooklyn mainstays’ apex; some say it’s their best yet. I’m in the latter category. Experimental, unique, at times profoundly weird, at other times straightforwardly enjoyable, Swing Lo Magellan mixes and matches vocal riffs, harmonies, hand claps, lovely guitar and piano lines. It’s all laid down in a delightfully casual manner, with throat-clearings, laughter and side conversations left in — making you feel like you’re sitting in on a freewheeling jam session among absurdly talented friends. If you can bend your mind around the odd musical twists and turns, you’ll find a delight around every corner.

12. Sharon Van Etten, Tramp

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Folk-rocker Sharon Van Etten has assembled a wrecking crew of collaborators on her third album: Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, Zach Condon (aka Beirut), and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak — all of whom have been celebrated in this Best Of series in years past. Most of ‘em are on the bold and bellowing “Serpents,” one of the mightier tracks you’ll hear in 2012. But Van Etten is just as affecting with less firepower, as on the gripping of “Leonard” and the astonishing “Give Out.” Her ear for chord progression and her mournful voice combine to make her music some of the most compelling of 2012, and certainly one of the best records of its kind to come along in many moons.

11. Death Grips, The Money Store / NO LOVE DEEP WEB

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Punk-rap that’s intense, in your face and at times a little scary. Dial up “I’ve Seen Footage” and it’s all there — fierce, pounding beats and aggressive flow. Now recognize that this is their most accessible song. MC Ride rages on every track, backed by the assaultive drum attack of Zach Hill, with Andy “Flatlander” Morin adding additional electronic weirdness. The Money Store unleashes its fury on tracks like “Hacker,” from the POV of an ATM phreaker shouting at the listener that “I’m in your area…when you come out, your shit is gone.” Death Grips followed up the explosive Money Store with NO LOVE DEEP WEB, an album self-released over the vehement objections of their record label, and with a cover featuring Hill’s erect peen with the title written on it in Sharpie. As you might expect, this album is even darker and more pissed-off, with cuts like “The Fever (Aye Aye)” rampaging through your speakers with no hint of mercy. Death Grips merge the full-throttle percussive attack of Battles with two movements that essentially define popular music in 2012 — hip-hop and EDM. They do it with an uncompromising frenzy that keeps the listener off balance and they don’t slacken the intensity until each album spins to a stop. Death Grips aren’t an easy listen, but they are working on the edge and producing material that is undoubtedly compelling and well worth checking out.

NEXT, and FINALLY: 10-1 on our countdown.

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

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