The 2012 artists of the year span urgent political punk and hip-hop challenging the establishment whether political or economic to the rise of a new generation of pop divas and forward-looking indie and R&B.
There were only two artists that managed to crank out three worthy LP’s in the span of 2012. One was the newly-reformed “classic lineup” of Guided By Voices, the other was garage/punk upstart Ty Segall who’s been not-so-quietly toiling away at his craft for years and managed to explode this year. In that fist-fight it doesn’t matter what way you spin it, Ty Segall comes out on top. Ty Segall and White Fence’s collaborative LP Hair, the Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse, and Ty Segall’s own Twins all rank among 2012’s finest releases with Segall at the center kicking up a frenzied storm of dust. It didn’t matter whether he was entertaining his psychedelic impulses, giving in to Black Sabbath worship, touring relentlessly, or just exorcising his frustrated demons, he was a joy to listen to and a wonder to behold this year. All of his work seemed to culminate in a performance on Letterman the night before the election where he and his band savaged their way through “You’re the Doctor” off of his most recent release this year, Hair. In that moment, everything seemed to come together and he had no problem announcing himself as someone to be feared, respected, and admired. One thing’s for sure, if he keeps this pace and you get in his way, you’re going to get destroyed. I’m not even sure the sky’s an appropriate measure of limit for Segall right now, his future’s been blown wide open by an unbelievable year. Here’s to hoping he can duplicated in the years to come. Steven Spoerl
Johnny Jewel is rapidly becoming some sort of dark disco, dandified Pied Piper leading his ever growing army of sharp lookin’ waif ‘n’ stray disciples off into the electric night. In 2012 the cult of Double J probably picked up a boat load of new recruits. Following on from his lauded contributions to 2011’s Drive soundtrack came his own sparse ‘n’ spectral ‘On the lam in glam’ cinematic project, Symmetry. Just two months later Jewel dusted off his Chromatics’ cap and finally released the five-years-in-the-making electro-noir colossus Kill for Love. A 17-track midnight run perfect for a moonlit flit in your favourite satin scorpion jacket. With the forthcoming After Dark II compilation ready to soundtrack the Mayan apocalypse and Glass Candy’s eternally awaited Body Work waiting to kick your zombie ass in early 2013 two things are for sure, one Jewel’s gonna need a sit down and a power nap and two, he’s gonna need a bigger boat. Matt James
Wadada Leo Smith
To the shortlist of socially aware artworks that’ll outlive us all—Picasso’s Guernica, Roth’s American Pastoral, Kushner’s Angels in America—add Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers, a four-disc jazz/classical Civil Rights tribute that Smith composed over the last 30 years, but only recently finished and recorded for Cuneiform Records. (This year he also released Ancestors, a duet album with percussionist Louis Moholo-Moholo, on TUM.) For the past 40-plus years, Smith has trumpeted and led ensembles with a prolific host of jazz notables, but Freedom has brought him new prominence and acclaim. Rightly so. Energetically played, perfectly recorded, abstract yet accessible, and provocatively titled (“Buzzsaw: The Myth of a Free Press” riffs on a journalism exposé), Freedom takes in all of America, suggesting how the key figures and ideas of the Movement still speak our national story. Josh Langhoff
Theirs is an unlikely success story, but despite releasing an album every four years or so since the late ‘90s, Pepe Deluxé finally hit its stride in 2012. Queen of the Wave proved to be a spiritual successor to Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk, between its absurd videos, the disparate remixes on its three singles, and the 64-page full-color hard cover book that accompanies the Deluxé edition (complete with a bonus disk of original material that doubles its length as well as Top Trumps cards and coffee coasters). To audiophiles with a sense of whimsy, Queen of the Wave is the ultimate package. But then, after putting six years of effort into this album, the band turned around and gave all the profits to a charity effort to clean the polluted Baltic Sea. Where to go next? Cue the reluctant porn star hero Ron Jeremy, who promised to bankroll their next album in exchange for an original EP, assured of its prospective quality by what he learned of the band in 2012. What he saw was the world Pepe Deluxé‘s music creates. Unlike so many flash-in-the-pan, fad genre meme-sicians who depend on shrouding themselves in mystery to make up for a lack of vision and content, Pepe creates a world in rich detail, tapping into not only the sound but the spirit of progress and experimentation that made psychedelic rock such a generation-defining movement, but go so far as to leave listeners a map to navigate their journey into the thoughtfully arranged unknown. In their world, humans realize their potential, their desire to fly, to astral project, to overcome evil, to love against odds, to be excellent to each another, and to care about tomorrow. Alan Ranta
For me, Anathema’s Weather Systems is a spiritual experience; nowhere else have I heard such a powerful, beautiful, and utterly emotional blend of vocals, lyrics, melodies, and instrumentation; each element speaks volumes about love, loss, and life, and even after dozens of listens, it’s still absolutely astounding. I’m not ashamed to admit that Weather Systems is the only album that’s ever brought me to tears. Every second of Weather Systems is damn near perfect. From the fiercely arpeggiated “Untouchable Part 1” to the heavenly intricacy of “The Gathering of the Clouds”, from the serene optimism of “Lightning Song” to the dynamic duality of “The Storm Before the Calm”, and from the lusciously orchestrated “The Lost Child” to the devastating finality of “Internal Landscapes”, Weather Systems expresses our most fragile, personal fears and feelings expertly. Not only is it Anathema’s best work, but in its own unique way, it’s the greatest album I’ve ever heard.
To put it simply, “The Gathering of the Clouds” (from Anathema’s latest masterpiece, Weather Systems) is a work of genius. The piece begins with thunder and rapidly played guitar arpeggios, which connect the song to both the album’s title and the previous two tracks. From there, vocalists Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas belt out different melodies that combine in an extremely complex and magnificent way. As the song progresses, the increasing orchestral intensity adds even more emotion and weight to the experience. The lyrical connection to the group’s previous LP is also pretty brilliant. All in all, it’s an affective, gripping, beautiful, and uplifting gem. Jordan Blum