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Music

The Artists of the Year: 2012 Edition

The 2012 artists of the year range from 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.

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.

 

25

Ty Segall

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

 

24

Chromatics

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

 

23

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

 

22

Pepe Deluxé

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

 

21

Anathema

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






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The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

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There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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