Dan Shea plays in the NEEDY VISIONS, organizes shows as B.O.W. Shows & Boston Hassle Shows, and writes for and helps run the Boston Hassle site and Boston Compass newspaper. He also co-runs the fiscally sponsored Boston Hassle organization which has the initial goal of opening up a sustainable legal all ages show space in the Boston area.
A great year for music, 2012. I opened my ears to more electronic music than ever before this year. It begs the questions, “Did the music come closer to me?” “Or did I come closer to the music?” Of course it’s a mix of the two, but either way it happened. Rock lived, the weirding of rap continued and music in Boston and on the East Coast generally kept getting better. And my annual consumption of cassettes continued its exponential climb. This list represents my musical loves pretty well I think. I am an unabashed fan of pop music AND rule breaking, mind altering quests of sound, and everything in between. I went way overboard making a list of my top 75 albums of the year, but that’s just how it panned out. The first ten records here are my favorite ten records of the year (in no particular order). Following that are the rest of my top 75 records of the year split into two categories based on how I perceive the music: TOWARD THE LIGHT being quieter or gentler, poppier, or joyful, or more contemplative music, TOWARD THE DARK being louder, or noisier, harsher or more negative music. In total for 2012 I was closer to the Light, and I am thankful for that. Excessive, yes, but I hope you find some records you like in here.
Mac Demarco – Rock And Roll Night Club (Captured Tracks)
Canada’s fey rock n roll super hero. With this record Demarco absolutely nails a weird pop vibe that is mysterious and alluring continuing what he started in Makeout Videotape. The album is full of jangly, chorus drenched pop rock treasures about Michael Jackson, ladies wearing denim, and the titular Night Club. The songs are infectious, Mac’s croon endearing, and all of it comes together to create a glammy little pop underworld that I wouldn’t necessarily want to live in, but where I’d probably hang out on the weekends.
Aaron Dilloway – Modern Jester (Hanson)
A cruise ship, nay, oil tanker full of weird sounds, and experimental brain prodding from he formerly of Wolf Eyes. I am always interested in what Aaron Dilloway does, and I go along for the ride when he presents a new adventure. Modern Jester is several adventures rolled into one massive double LP. Clattering heaps of noise swirl around one another pulling and pulling and pulling until I personally just had to let go and enter the flow. There is harshness to be found throughout these tracks but also forbidden alien dance musics. At times I felt like I was hurtling through some kind of wormhole in time and Modern Jester was my soundtrack; lapsing into calls of wild animals which would then mutate and distort, all amidst bouts of machine throb and grooving electronic disaster. This record pushed my limits as a listener, melding noise and electronic experiments, grafting them at times to beats that made it all go down a little more easily. Insanity on record.
Death Grips – Money Store (Epic)
Following up last years amazing ExMilitary would be a task that many would not envy, but then Death Grips let loose with Money Store and eyes widened and ears exploded. Some of the most in your face music one could possibly imagine and another love letter to those of us that know that rap music can maintain its beat oriented spirit of dance/party music AND broaden its production and flow approaches. The way that this music is informed by so many different electronic music approaches is part of what makes it so exciting. So many different sounds being pushed through their filter, so rapidly, that fusion takes place. My favorite rap album of the year hands down, not that I listen to that much rap music, which is probably part of why this is my favorite rap album. I love some rap music, but I LOVE this rap music. What’s rap music?
Guerilla Toss – Jeffrey Johnson (Feeding Tube)
An inspiration to all of us involved in the underground music community here in Boston. Guerilla Toss is a never stopping reminder that you can make music that is forward thinking, and experimental and still make people go crazy for it without every compromising your vision. And right here with this beautiful platter, named after Philadelphia based satellite Bostonian-4-Life Jeff Johnson, these 5 music school renegades have stated to the world that they are a force to be reckoned with. There is a fairly short list of artists throughout the ages that have made music as groove laden AND as icky as this record can be, and while I’m not going to go into them you will know who they are if you listen. 5 people who know what they are doing, and what they are doing is making a queasy racket that you can do your own dance to if noise rock and post-punk is your thing.
Jahiliyya Fields – Unicursal Hexagram (Long Island Electrical Systems)
My favorite record of the year that could be described at its simplest as “electronic.” Universal Hexagram is an experimental record foremost, and one using different electronic music approaches to explore with. New age sounds collide with mutant techno beats, and the bubbling synths of krautrock with industrial rhythms. For me it is a freeing approach to the making of electronic music that allows more and more people into the party, including folks like myself that may not have always been able to find a foothold in electronic music for themselves. Some of the tunes on this record, especially for me “Water Breaker” are completely transportive. I put on a pair of headphones and close my eyes and I am able to go elsewhere for a little while. Powerful stuff, which pairs perfectly with the mysterious occult aesthetic being projected here.
Julia Holter – Ekstasis (RVNG Intl.)
The pretty record that I most got into this year. Drifting electronic lullabyes, engaging me and drawing me into them. Mysterious layered experimental pop music, never sacrificing its beauty for its artistic pretensions. Ekstasis has an electronic underbelly, and plays around with a lot of pop ideas (though fractured they may be) so I guess that makes it an experimental electronic pop record. And it is that at times, but at others it feels more like an ambient landscape, the vocals melting and melding into its glistening surroundings. Equally exciting and enchanting when the beats come alive, as when they fade into the distance. I love records that are actually portals into wonderful new worlds to explore. This is very much one of those records. And it has hooks. Go figure.
Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke & Oren Ambarchi – Imkuzushi (Black Truffle, Medama Records)
Other worldly, lurching awesomeness brought forth by three skilled and well known improvisers and lead by guitar demon Haino. You’ll find here 4 extended jams that do everything but go quietly into the night, often ripping and blazing through an unknowable noise, noise rock and psychedelic nighttime. This has many of the earmarks of the work of a well oiled rock band exploding uncontrollably at the seams. Not unlike Haino’s amazing Fushitsusha. Haino’s playing here is out of control, all over the place, and beautifully weird, noisy, and wonderful. There was not another release in 2012 that made me want to lose my mind so very much. And while my mind is still intact (I think), it is, I can say, somewhat altered after bearing the onslaught of this magnificent out rock record over and over.
Lamps – Under The Water Under The Ground (In The Red)
Kind of the maximum other side of the noise rock coin for me from the Haino/O’Rourke/Ambarchi record. This Lamps record is a pummeling brutish thing song 1 through song 11. Many elements of garage-punk exist in their music but this thing is so loud and so forceful and so to the point that I think I have to lean over well into the noise rock zone to properly direct you to their sound dear reader. There are more pop moments strewn throughout this onslaught of affected guitar wreckage and bulldozer-like rhythm section, but it doesn’t effect the proceedings negatively in any way. This is the “dudes playing loud ass rock music” record of the year as far as I’m concerned.
Spacin’ – Deep Thuds (Richie)
Ultra catchy VU rockin’ jamz playing it way cool beneath small mountains of fuckin’ fuzz. If that was all that was present here, done as well and as memorably as it is done here, then that might be enough for this to be one of my favorite records of the year. But that’s not all this record’s got. Besides the great tunes there are also the droning, psychedelic (though not typically so) groove passages that even incorporate electronic element into their rhythmic stew at times. 1970 in 2012, but no throw back here. “Empty Mind”, at 6+ minutes of “So simple. I could do that. Yet, I didn’t,” is my rock song of the year, no doubt.
Uranium Orchard – Pseudocide (Cold Vomit)
A very strange record from fellows who previously brought us the band Dry-Rot. This music is informed, especially in the guitar sound and some of the playing, by some of the better 90s indie rock moves, but that’s just one facet of what’s going on here. The songs are moody, and sometimes come off as sketches (the songs vacillate between recording qualities), but rather than take away from the proceedings this adds to the whole overall spacious feel of the record for me. The riffs are heavy and mean, the vocals are mostly delivered in a dreamy croon, and the guitars are often very pretty, and this sometimes all within one song. This record is a lower fidelity visit with a band full of lovers of underground music who take a lot of chances with their usage of feedback, song structure, and synthesizers and who almost always come out on top. Maybe an inverted psych-punk record? Whatever it is it’s a very adventurous take on underground rock music.
TOWARD THE LIGHT:
Ahnnu – Pro Habitat (WTR CLR)
Angel Olsen – Half Way Home (Bathetic)
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes (4AD)
Balaclavas – Second Sight (Dull Knife)
Bare Wires – Idle Dreams (Southpaw)
Blank Realm – Go Easy (Bedroom Suck)
Caretaker – “Patience (After Sebald)” (History Always Favours The Winners)
Dan Melchior – The Backward Path (Northern Spy)
Danny Brown – XXX (Fool’s Gold)
Daphni – Jialong (Merge)
Dolphins Into The Future – Canto Arquipélago (Underwater Peoples)
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – Jazz Mind (Load Records)
Eric Copeland – Limbo (Underwater Peoples)
Evening Meetings – s/t (Sweet Rot) *released late 11′
Expwy – EP (self released)
Gary War – Jared’s Lot (Spectrum Spools)
Grass Widow – Internal Logic (HLR)
Grimes – Visions (4AD)
Holly Herndon – Movement (RVNG Intl.)
Holograms – s/t (Captured Tracks)
Horselords – Mixtape Vol. 1 (self released)
Imbogodom – And They Turned Not When They Went (Thrill Jockey)
Jaill – Traps (Sub Pop)
Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band – Perlas (Fire)
La Sera – Sees The Light (Hardly Art)
Lindstrom – Six Cups Of Rebel (Smalltown Super Sound)
The Mallard – Yes On Blood (Castle Face)
Moon Pool and Dead Band – Human Fly (Not Not Fun)
Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers IIX (In The Red)
Traxman – Da Mind Of Traxman (Planet Mu)
Ty Segall – Twins (Drag City)
Mt Eerie – Ocean Roar (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
Rangda – Formerly Extinct (Drag City)
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (Dull Tools)
Psychic Feline – White Walls 7″ (Waterwing)
Pujol – United States Of Being (Saddle Creek)
Shit & Shine – Le Grand Larance Prix (Rock Is Hell) *released late 11′
Terrence Dixon – From The Far Future Part 2 (Tresor)
UV Race – Racism (In The Red)
White Fence – Family Perfume Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 (Woodsist)
White Fence and Ty Segall – Hair (Drag City)
Witch Gardens – R.I.P. 7” (Waterwing)
Wounded Lion – IVXLCDM (In The Red) *released late 11′
TOWARD THE DARK:
Aufgehoben – Fragments Of The Marble Plan (Holy Mountain)
Bugs and Rats – Get That Fucking Light Out Of My Face (self released)
Bushman’s Revenge – A Little Bit Of Big Bonanza (Rune Grammofon)
Crazy Spirit – Crazy Spirit (Toxic State)
Cryptic Cross – s/t (Psychic Arts)
Death Grips – No Love Deep Web (Third Worlds)
Divorce – Divorce (Night School)
Dope Body – Natural History (Drag City)
The Dreebs – Bait An Orchard (Rotted Tooth)
Exusamwa – Excuse Moi! (100% Breakfast)
Father Murphy – Anyway, Your Children Will Deny It (Aagoo)
FNU Ronnies – Saddle Up (Load Records)
GR – A Reverse Age (Mexican Summer)
Jooklo Duo & Bill Nace – Scratch (Holidays)
The Melvins Lite – Freak Puke (Ipecac Recordings)
Microwaves – Psionic Impedance (ugEXPLODE)
NASA Space Universe – NSU (self released)
Rubble – Farewell Drugs (Latino Bugger Veil) *released late 11′
Saturnalia Temple – Aion Of Drakon (Nuclear Winter) *released late 11′
Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent (Drag City)
Useless Children – Post Ending // Pre Completion (Iron Lung)
White Suns – Sinews (Load Records)
CLICK HERE TO READ DAN’S TOP 12 LOCAL RECORDS OF 2012