Category Archives: BEST OF 2012

Best Of 2012: Movies

Argo

The alarm clock of MAGNET’s veteran movie scribe Jud Cost started ringing just in time to roust him out of the sack to scribble some notes about what he thinks were the seven best movies of 2012. Since he changed his mind about the batting order every time he eyeballed the list, he decided to leave it in alphabetical order, but he insists he’d be perfectly happy if any one of these won a Best Picture Oscar.

Argo
It’s 1980, the last year of the Jimmy Carter administration, and Iran is angrily demanding their deposed leader, the Shah, be returned from asylum in the U.S. A preposterous, on-location science-fiction movie project called Argo, dreamt-up by CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), could be the only way to smuggle six Americans, posing as Canadians, out of Iran before they can be publicly executed. The fake movie (subtitled “Argo fuck yourself,” by faux-producer Alan Arkin) has been labeled “the best bad idea we have” by one of the intelligence agency’s big wheels. Argo, the real movie here, derives much of its power from the nicely understated acting job by Affleck, who also directs. His desperate plan gets Mendez, a specialist in delicate extractions, into Iran after a mob has overrun the American Embassy. Its staff has shredded most of the sensitive material, but the Iranian regime is using children to re-assemble paper strips of photos of the embassy’s occupants, including the six temporarily housed in the Canadian ambassador’s residence. The harrowing trip of Mendez and his terrified charges traveling in a van, dead-slow through the streets of Tehran, surrounded by a bloodthirsty horde looking for Americans, is enough to push you from the edge of your seat onto the floor. One thing to bear in mind if you’re ever posing as a Canadian to escape execution, don’t forget Mendez’s warning: “Natives don’t pronounce the second ‘t’ in Toronto.”

Django Unchained
At last, here’s the other side of the coin for another one of the major combatants in World War II. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds deliciously re-imagined the deadly fate of Adolf Hitler’s master race of the Third Reich. And now it’s America’s turn to take it on the chin, come-uppance for adapting so readily to turning thousands of captive Africans into plantation slaves. This is Tarantino driving a buckboard full of dynamite up the magnolia-lined driveway of Scarlett O’Hara’s beloved home of Tara and reducing the place and all its romantic “fiddle-de-de” to match-sticks. When Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz in a glorious beard) comes upon a party of chained slaves in the wilderness, his purpose is two-fold. One of these unfortunates named Django (Jamie Foxx), he’s heard, can identify two people Schultz is looking for, the Brittle brothers. Django resignedly raises his chained hand. Yes, he knows the Brittles. Whereupon Schultz dispatches the two slave-driving Speck brothers to their heavenly maker for trafficking in human misery. Despite the large molar hanging from his coach, Schultz can make lots more money as a bounty hunter than he can as an itinerant dentist. He takes Django with him, unchained, and when the former slave offers to shoot the Brittle brothers, Schultz makes him a full partner. Next on their itinerary is a new suit of clothes for Django and a visit to a notorious plantation called Candieland to see if they can free Django’s wife.

Jeff Who Lives At Home
The Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay, are closing in on territory previously inhabited by the Coen brothers. Jeff Who Lives At Home does wonders with everyday elements. Jeff (Jason Segel) is living in his mom’s basement in Baton Rouge, La. He gets up with nothing much to do but smoke pot and contemplate signs he’s been receiving lately. Then he sees the note from his mom. She wants him to take the bus to a Home Depot and buy a new louver for the kitchen door. He should be able to handle this OK. He’s 30 years old. The phone rings, and it’s someone asking for Kevin. Jeff gets on the bus and sees a black kid wearing a basketball shirt with “Kevin” on the back. Later, he bumps into his older brother, Pat, still wearing the red vest from his job at a paint store. They don’t get along. Pat (Ed Helms) thinks Jeff is a lazy stoner. Then they see Pat’s wife Linda with some other guy, going into a restaurant. Pat freaks out. He and Linda haven’t been getting along. He forces Jeff to go into the diner, get the seat next to them, listen to their conversation, and then report back to him. Linda and the guy drive to an apartment, presumably his. The brothers discuss every possible strategy before finally deciding to storm the place like the SWAT team. It’s the first thing they’ve done together in years.

Lincoln
Everything they’ve written about Daniel Day-Lewis’ breathtaking portrayal of Abraham Lincoln is true. It’s like watching a $5 bill come to life. The surprising twist here is Lewis’ well-researched use of a high-pitched Midwestern squawk as the speaking voice of our 16th president, the man employing every political trick in the book here to get Congress to pass the 13th amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery. It’s a far cry from DDL’s frosted blond coif and Doc Martens as Johnny, an ex-punk, helping to turn a dilapidated London laundromat into a work of art with the help of his Pakistani boyfriend in 1985′s My Beautiful Laundrette. But, even then, you could see Lewis’ angular facial bone structure crying out one day for a scruffy beard, a black frock coat and a stovepipe hat. Lincoln opens with someone speaking with two black Union soldiers after a particularly bloody Civil War battle. Each of the infantrymen quotes large sections from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, verbatim. The camera pulls back just enough to reveal it’s Lincoln, himself, speaking to his troops, something he did frequently. Director Steven Spielberg keeps the story focused on the last few months of Lincoln’s life, as the bloodiest American war yet is grinding on toward Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, is remarkable as the person who helped turn a gawky, unknown lawyer from Illinois into one of America’s most beloved political figures.

Safety Not Guaranteed
When nobody at the morning roundtable can come up with any story ideas for a hip Seattle magazine, a jaded veteran named Jeff suggests following-up a tantalizing local personal ad he’s recently come across: “WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” He chooses two interns, Darius (the wonderfully deadpan Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), to accompany him to the Washington countryside (and do most of the legwork). When Jeff’s confrontation with Kenneth spooks the would-be time-traveler into running away, Darius tries the more subtle approach. Once Kenneth (Mark Duplass of the Duplass brothers directorial team) is convinced of her sincerity, he decides she is the lucky one to accompany him to who knows where. It turns out that Jeff’s real reason for traveling to the outback was to look up an old girlfriend to see if he can reignite that certain spark. At first skeptical, Darius has increasingly become convinced that Kenneth might really have something here. He’s broken into plenty of scientific labs to steal high-tech hardware. Maybe he might have the know-how to build a time machine. When she comes across a pair of government operatives tailing Kenneth, she is convinced: She might be taking a more exciting summer vacation than she ever imagined.

Silver Linings Playbook
Back in the day when they called the illness “manic-depressive disease” instead of “bipolar disorder,” you knew exactly what you were getting: a little crazy behavior followed by a bummer. Just about everybody in the cast of Silver Linings Playbook is touched with bipolar disorder, although only Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) are diagnosed with it. As seen here, however, the emphasis seems to be on the manic side—a roomful of people all watching a Philadelphia Eagles game on TV and talking at once. Pat has just been rescued from a mental hospital by his mom, and he’s hoping to get back together with his wife, Nikki, who has a restraining order posted against him. His Dad (Robert DeNiro), has just lost his job and is running a one-man betting shop in hopes of opening a small restaurant with his winnings. And then, Tiffany comes into Pat’s life, a recent widow who has compensated for her bereavement by sleeping with no fewer than 11 people in her office, two of them women. A diehard Eagles fan, dad has lost his shirt on the Giants game but plans to recoup by betting twice as much on the upcoming Cowboys tilt. What could possibly go wrong? Pat’s therapist, Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), could probably explain it, but he’s just been assaulted by racist Eagles fans outside the Dallas game—with Pat coming to his rescue, thus violating the terms of his release from the hospital.

Zero Dark Thirty
According to director Kathryn Bigelow, her movie’s confusing title is a military handle meaning “the darkest part of the night.” And her hypnotically fascinating account of the 10 years it took to track down and kill Osama Bin Laden unfolds at such a dizzying pace it may throw you to the ground with the spitfire force of a wild bronco in a rodeo. Like Maya (Jessica Chastain), the woman responsible for finding the man behind the 911 attack on New York, you’ll just have to dust yourself off and stay with it. You will be rewarded by a picture even more addictively brilliant than her Oscar-winning 2010 movie The Hurt Locker. Allowing for the occasional compression of time and characters necessary here, Bigelow insists her film is historically accurate. And the whiney politicians who believe the “waterboarding” torture scenes by U.S. agents are “historically inaccurate” should continue their search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Bigelow pulls out all the stops once the Navy Seal team, decked out in spooky night-vision apparatus, boards the two helicopters to complete the termination of “UBL” at his home in Pakistan. Mission accomplished, the Secretary of Defense thanks all concerned, including “the girl” who did the legwork. Maya pipes up from the back of the room: “Yes sir, I’m the motherfucker who found him!” No cigar-chomping jarhead ducking flak in a jungle foxhole could have put it any better.

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What Is The Most Overrated Album Of 2012?

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Best Of 2012: Q&A With The Walkmen

When they’re not touring, the Walkmen are scattered, with two guys in Brooklyn, two in Philly and one in New Orleans. MAGNET’s Steve Klinge spoke with singer Hamilton Leithauser (from the band’s Brooklyn studio) and bassist Peter Bauer (from his home in Philly) about the making of Heaven, the Walkmen’s so-called “mature” album.

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MAGNET’s Top 25 Albums Of 2012

25. John K. Samson | Provincial (Anti-)
The subjects on the debut solo album by the frontman for Winnipeg’s the Weakerthans could double as source material for a compendium of hackneyed “You might be a Canadian if … ” jokes. John K. Samson writes about hockey, Icelandic sagas, the history of tuberculosis in Manitoba and the yawning stretches of tundra that revel in their obscure latitudes and geographical isolation. It takes a thousand tiny pickaxes to break through the emotional permafrost up there, and Samson arrives fully prepared for the task. With his laid-back lilt of a voice and the lessons learned from more than a decade spent in the parallel trenches of punk and folk rock, Samson aims squarely at his target audience of loners and library-science majors. He comes across as well-read, but not bookish; sentimental, but not overly precious. There’s actual thrills in Grand Theft Auto-playing grad-student anthem “When I Write My Master’s Thesis,” real pathos for the computer programmer in “Stop Error” and more than a little suspicion that “The Last And” is about star-crossed Simpsons characters Principal Skinner and Ms. Krabappel. Few songwriters have ever painted Samson’s corner of the world so smartly. —Matthew Fritch

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24. Nada Surf | The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy (Barsuk)
Arriving in January like an eyebrow-searing whoosh from a power-pop blast furnace, Nada Surf’s sixth album of originals is its most single-minded and succinct yet. Where 2008’s more experimental—and temperamental—Lucky got lost in its own head, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy is an extrovert’s exercise in efficiency executed by a group (bolstered by former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard) that couldn’t be more locked in. Listen closely, and it would appear that bandleader Matthew Caws is pretty miffed about our sputtering planet and its inhabitants’ various environmental excesses. But even a scathing line like, “We signed up for extinction anyway, threw out our thinking caps and gave our minds away,” can’t kill the buzz at this pep rally. Rarely has an album with such a heavy conscience sounded so utterly weightless. When Caws sings, “I cannot believe the future’s happening to me,” on Stars’ breathless final track, he sounds more relieved than terrified. If the world’s gonna burn anyhow, we might as well dance on its ashes—and Nada Surf can be the house band. —Hobart Rowland

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23. Torche | Harmonicraft (Volcom)
Man, who doesn’t love going to the beach? The sun, sand, surf, overprocessed fattening food, glistening bodies, shark attacks, irresponsible behavior that usually involves picking your stumbling drunk buddy off some crying kid’s sand castle. It’s always a shit-ton of fun! The only thing that blows about the beach is the traditional musical selections of its denizens. If it’s not a Jeep Explorer-driving wingnut blasting the latest dance-floor crud straight outta the Czech Republic, it’s someone cranking a playlist seemingly comprised solely of David Lee Roth’s “Just A Gigolo” and Nickelback’s “Something In Your Mouth,” or the homeless dude on the boardwalk playing Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille” on a two-string banjo. What the beaches of the world need is something sunshine-y, yet possessing some amount of iron-clad testicular fortitude. Something that screams good times and partying, but also can get people raging and headbanging. Something with some fucking oomph! Torche is no stranger to writing songs with the chameleon-like ability to be showcased in basements, arenas and everything in between (especially where beer is being mainlined and a combo of Foo Fighters videos and Luis Buñuel films flicker in the background), and it just so happens that Harmonicraft highlights like “Letting Go,” “Kicking” and “Kiss Me Dudely” are the soundtrack to the most aggressive volleyball tournament this side of Bondi Beach. Pack up the cooler, gang! —Kevin Stewart-Panko

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22. Bruce Springsteen | Wrecking Ball (Columbia)
Call it a creative inevitability. But longtime social commentator Bruce Springsteen deftly follows his thematic sets damning the dark Bush years (Magic) and championing the ensuing Obama-campaign optimism (Working On A Dream) with this, a record firmly planted in the Occupy Wall Street here and now, where—as he snarls on faux-spiritual “Shackled And Drawn”—”Up on Bankers Hill the party’s goin’ strong/But down here below we’re shackled and drawn.” Indeed. But this time he taps into the zeitgeist via a righteously retro path—by boomeranging back to the classic protest songs he covered on his recent Pete Seeger tribute, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Which has always been the man’s greatest strength: assimilating classic genres, riffs, hooks and motifs, then spinning them into something completely new. Plus, he’s quite angry, which gives added oomph to flag-wavers and fist-shakers like war-veteran ode “We Take Care Of Our Own,” an every-man-for-himself “Easy Money,” gospel/hip-hop prayer “Rocky Ground,” somber unemployment dirge “Jack Of All Trades” and another traditional-sounding Irish jig, “Death To My Hometown.” Its plea for fat-cat justice—“Send the robber barons straight to hell … whose crimes have gone unpunished now, who walk the streets as free men now”—is followed by a boo-yah shotgun blast. Nothing in 2012 felt more timely or invigorating. —Tom Lanham

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21. Alabama Shakes | Boys & Girls (ATO)
Boys & Girls, the rather splendid debut by the hugely hyped Alabama Shakes, is the sound of a full-blown love affair with deep-fried Southern rock ‘n’ soul. It’s the sweat-drenched grooves of vintage Muscle Shoals. And Stax. And Hi Records. It’s Otis and Al Green and Willie Mitchell. It’s a record where the specters of Janis Joplin, “Proud Mary”-era Tina Turner and the brassy, ballsy Aretha of “Respect” loom especially large. It’s an album where the last four decades cease to exist, a self-contained world where tube amps crackle and hum, fingers slide audibly down Fender frets and snare drums crack just so. In short, it’s a record that treads that perilously fine line between pointless retro-revivalism, blatant pastiche and a genuine heartfelt love for a specific sound and era. But it’s one that the band pulls off with considerable aplomb, thanks to the obvious, unadulterated joy, enthusiasm and passion contained within. It’s a simple, uncomplicated pleasure (with a seismic, earth-shaking vocal performance by Brittany Howard) that should be enjoyed wholly within its own terms, an album that does exactly what it says on the tin. And sometimes, really, that’s all you need. Plus, with kudos from the likes of Booker T. Jones and Jack White, who knows where they’ll go next? —Neil Ferguson

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20. Redd Kross | Researching The Blues (Merge)
You were born in an age of mockery, which would be followed by a decade of irony. You were 11 years old when you played your first gig, opening for Black Flag. Your bass was bigger than you. You named your band after the crucifix masturbation scene in The Exorcist. Early on, you were fascinated by pop culture gone horribly wrong, and you wrote punky odes to Linda Blair, Mackenzie Phillips and Frosted Flakes. You covered Charlie Manson. “No metal sluts or punk-rock ruts” was your motto. You recorded six albums before calling it quits in 1997. A bunch of stuff happened, not the least of which was you adding bass to every song on the White Stripes’ Red Blood Cells. Fast forward to 2012: You release a new album. It’s not just one of the best albums of the year—it’s the best album of your career. The title track is Nuggets-worthy ’60s garage punk. “Uglier” has the greatest KISS chorus never made. “Dracula’s Daughter” is, without irony, one of the prettiest songs ever made. “Stay Away From Downtown” is the greatest power-pop song since Cheap met Trick. Your name is Steve McDonald, your band is called Redd Kross, and the album is Researching The Blues. —Jonathan Valania

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19. Grizzly Bear | Shields (Warp)
The dominant narrative in the flurry of press surrounding Shields is that it was far from an easy album to make. Grizzly Bear, one of the most compelling bands to emerge in the last decade, sloughed through its creation despite having every reason to labor confidently. The record’s immediate predecessors, Yellow House and Veckatimest, made fans of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Jay-Z, respectively, and nearly everyone, from the most stringent critics to late-night TV hosts, fawned unselfconsciously. But doubt and frustration colored early attempts at writing new music anyway. A once intimate connection was now not so giving, the time spent apart after touring on Veckatimest threatening to obfuscate inspiration rather than reveal it. Then, after a mostly failed attempt to begin again in Marfa, Texas, the four-piece returned to Cape Cod, Mass., where the band’s signature aesthetic—sullen yet rhythmic, awash in folk, rock, pop and jazz—had been best nurtured for years. And things started clicking. New methods of collaboration were explored. Confidence re-emerged, and with it a new batch of songs that collected all the best things about Grizzly Bear’s earlier work and enhanced them considerably. Woven into the songs’ fabric is the struggle of their creation: Like the humans that wrought them, they are beautiful, triumphant messes. And that struggle, necessary and important, is what sets Shields apart from most of what we heard this year. —Ryan Burleson

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18. Spiritualized | Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)
It’s no surprise that Sweet Heart Sweet Light is pure rock classicism. Ever since Spiritualized brilliantly reinvented everything from Pet Sounds to Pachelbel on 1997’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, spiritual center Jason Pierce has put his album budgets toward carbon-casting the rock classics of old. 2001’s Let It Come Down was a 115-session musician tribute to Phil Spector’s “wall of sound,” 2008’s Songs In A&E a series of Van Zandt pastorals dotted by the rare garage-rock nugget, and 2003’s Amazing Grace in-between a down and dirty breccia of the Stooges and its titular gospel hymns. So no, it’s not particularly surprising that Sweet Heart features a song called “Hey Jane,” and that it even sounds like a Lou Reed epic. Or that Pierce was bold enough, on “Mary,” to cop snatches of lyric, melody and name from an early Can cornerstone. It doesn’t surprise that much of the rest sounds somewhere between Bowie and the Beatles. And, coming from Pierce, it certainly doesn’t surprise just how many times Jesus, the radio and rock ‘n’ roll bear reverent mention. What does surprise—coming from Pierce, even—is just how well it all works. Better than it has in 15 years. Sweet Heart may be everything we expect from Spiritualized and a little bit more, but it’s one of the year’s biggest shocks by simple virtue of reaching for the classics on its own terms, and making it. In the age of the backward glance, Pierce proves it’s possible not just to reference, but to revive. —Jakob Dorof

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17. Jack White | Blunderbuss (Third Man/Columbia)
Strap on your bullshit detector, sift through the miasma of mythology surrounding Jack White, sit down with Blunderbuss, and you still won’t know the man any better. The facts are these: This is White’s first record as a solo artist, outside of the White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather clans, and it’s his first since his divorce from folk thrush Karen Elson. The monochromatic album art suits White’s electric blues and his black-and-blue lyrics, but for all the sonic bombast of “Sixteen Saltines” or “Weep Themselves To Sleep,” and bitter pronouncements on songs like “Hypocritical Kiss,” it feels more like an exercise in pain and paranoia than an exorcism. That’s no knock on White; he and his studio hands construct such a reasonable facsimile of emotion that all you can do is admire the craftsmanship until you no longer care to speculate about how it might differ from whatever genuine emotions are hidden beneath the surface. “I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me,” White sings with Ruby Amanfu on “Love Interruption,” which savors the destructive qualities of transformation while barely putting up a fight. You don’t have to take his word for it: Blunderbuss, as a whole, is all the proof he needs. —M.J. Fine

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16. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti | Mature Themes (4AD)
To be sure, from a technical point of view, the differences between Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti 1.0 and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti 2.0 are night and day: the former all drugs, tape crackle, slathered greasepaint and mouth drums birthed in solo bedroom sessions; the latter ubiquitous half-cocked interview spew, studio budgets, semi-name producers and breathless fanboy anticipation. But look at what hasn’t changed. Is Ariel Rosenberg still receiving strong signals from the platonic, bizarre/Southland Tales-esque ideal of an ’80s AM-radio dynamo? He totally is. Does his songwriting remain capable of surprisingly tender nuances? It does. Is the guy still kookier than a cuckoo clock and twice as misanthropic? Hells yes. After 2010’s Before Today, Mature Themes is APHG 2.0’s second salvo, and it’s no less alien(ated)—or essential—than anything preceding it. Gross-outs explode into outsider anthems—I’m thinking particularly of “Symphony Of The Nymph,” which seems like it could be about a minor Thomas Pynchon character. Schnitzels get big-upped; moldy turntable prog is spun into insidious underdog gold again and again; everyone joins hands and wanders off into the drone wilderness. That slightness that seems to afflict Themes early on wanes, in a big way, after you’ve lived with it for a while, even if to admire Rosenberg isn’t necessarily to trust him. In this context, “I’m not real, and I won’t call you” stands out as a warning and a promise. —Raymond Cummings

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15. Sharon Van Etten | Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
Sharon Van Etten’s face fills the cover of Tramp border-to-border. And that makes perfect sense, because Van Etten’s third LP is packed to the gunwales not only with her formidable songwriting talent, but unfailingly confident performances. There’s nary a misstep on Tramp, which sounds like the album Van Etten’s been leading up to for a few years now: muscular, focused and commanding. The record has a fuller production sound than 2009’s Because I Was In Love or 2010’s Epic, but it’s one that never overwhelms her fine-sandpaper voice. And as usual, it’s that voice, the earned sound of its delivery, that sells these 12 songs about … about? … well, turns out that’s part of the wonder of the record. Van Etten’s lyrical style tends to the fragmentary, and some lines present only a well-chosen word, a phrase, a partial sentence. Too much of this sort of approach would have made Tramp sound tiresomely obscurantist, but the best songs, like “Give Out” and “Kevin’s,” sound more like a fragmentary private record of loss and discovery, pages from a torn but well-written journal you find in some unexpected space where they’d slipped years ago. And Van Etten is a smart enough writer to know that the right fragmentary details can sometimes lead listeners to keener, more personal reactions. On Tramp, the glass is half-full, but what a concentrated draught that glass provides. —Eric Waggoner

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14. OFF! | OFF! (Vice)
“Feelings are meant to be hurt!” There’s a reason this band’s name is scrawled in all caps followed by an exclamation point—and should be preceded by either “PISSED,” a certain four-letter bomb or both. Led by 57-year-old ex-Black Flag/Circle Jerks frontmaniac Keith Morris, OFF! is the hardcore elder statesmen you invite over to your house, assuming that age and maturity have chilled them the fuck out, only to find they’ve brought their amps, broken your furniture and puked on your rug. No time for polite introductions here, as most tracks clock in at less than 60 seconds of spit and snarl. These aren’t songs—they’re sermons, preaching on matters both grand (manipulation of the U.S. Constitution, warmongering, the end of civilization) and intimate (drugs, assholes). Not a single false note is struck, as Morris’ exhortations rise up from someplace deep, furious and urgent. “You pushed me in a corner/What did you expect?” he barks, while Dimitri Coats uncorks one relentless riff after the next. Loud. Fast. Rude. Think punk is dead? OFF!’s got news for you. —Richard Rys

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13. Justin Townes Earle | Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now (Bloodshot)
2012 was a fine year for brass sections, which helped bolster excellent new albums by the Mountain Goats and David Byrne & St. Vincent, among others, but some of the loveliest, most understated rock ‘n’ roll horn-playing came on this quiet gem, Justin Townes Earle’s fifth record in six years and his finest yet. The album’s mouthful of a title can’t quite decide whether it wants to be cocky or resigned and fatalistic, but these songs definitely tend toward the latter. Indeed, he could’ve just stuck with the title’s first three words, which become something of an implicit mantra—it’s in the rueful refrain of “Won’t Be The Last Time”; it’s the counsel he gives to a hard-up friend, vainly hoping for her life to improve, on “Unfortunately, Anna”; it’s the subtext to Earle’s repeatedly declared intentions to be “a better man.” Nothing’s gonna change—except love, of course, which can and probably will go sour. The horns, however, help keep things from getting all too forlorn—softening the hard edges of his broken-hearted blues, cushioning the blows and lending a warmth and looseness to the occasional up-tempo diversions: reckless rave-up “Baby’s Got A Bad Idea” and the sprightly, soul-soaked “Memphis In The Rain”—as much as the bleary-eyed ballads that make up the bulk of the album. —K. Ross Hoffman

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12. Baroness | Yellow & Green (Relapse)
Let’s pretend for a moment that 2012 was just another year in Baroness’ career, marked by superlative double release Yellow & Green—albums that made butt-hurt metal kids whine about how supposedly un-brutal the slower, softer moments were. Their skepticism spurred me to lift a cheek and blow a hot one in their direction. Yellow & Green packed some of the most magnificent, stirring music of the year. Songs were born somewhere between the Elysian Fields and dark, crumbling catacombs. “Take My Bones Away,” “March To The Sea,” “Board Up The House” and “The Line Between” provided the mighty, rousing howl of John Baizley and the galloping rhythms that put Baroness on the map. But the energy was different. There was a glow, an underlying solemnity and oracular feel to the music and lyrics. As it turned out, 2012 wasn’t just any old year for the quartet. The band almost died in a terrifying tour-bus accident, marking what could have been the end of Baroness’s ride on the color wheel. Unsurprisingly, Yellow & Green became that much more coveted among fans. It’s difficult to play “Back Where I Belong” and “Psalms Alive” without imagining the Grim Reaper singing along. Luckily, that bastard came up short, while fans’ fulfillment grew exponentially. —Jeanne Fury

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11. Bob Dylan | Tempest (Columbia)
The day we stop scratching our heads about the new Bob Dylan album is the day the terrorists win. Mercifully, this one’s no exception, and the questions abound: What does a “Duquesne Whistle” sound like? Why a song about John Lennon, and why now? Why does Leonardo DiCaprio appear in a 14-minute song about the sinking of the Titanic? How many razor blades must one man gargle before you call him a man who sings like this? How can anyone’s 36th album possibly be good, let alone great? The answers to your questions in the order they appear are as follows: It sounds like Charlie Sexton’s magic harp of guitar, Tempest’s secret weapon. There is no wrong time to write a song about John Lennon. Because he’s not singing about the Titanic; he’s singing about America. Eight. Because Bob Dylan is different than you and me. He’s stumbled on the side of 12 misty mountains. He’s walked down six crooked highways. He’s stepped in the middle of seven sad forests. He’s heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley. He’s heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter. And he vowed then and there, with God as his witness, that the same thing would never happen to him. —Jonathan Valania

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10. Sleigh Bells | Reign Of Terror (Mom + Pop)
Like getting smacked in the temple with a sneaker full of rock salt and thumbtacks. That’s how Sleigh Bells’ Reign Of Terror sounds on opening listen, all treble-register bleed and insistent high-end distorted guitar riffs. Then you listen again, and once more, and the subtler details emerge: Alexis Krauss’ feathery vocals, occasionally so light and airy they shouldn’t carry above the music, yet somehow do; the group handclaps of “Crush,” which might or might not be a dig at overblown stadium rock, and somehow come off funny and effective whichever the case might be; and the earnest heart that pervades the whole album, as on the cheekily titled “Leader Of The Pack” or the wistful “You Lost Me.” Reign Of Terror is a much less chaotic album than it appears, on first listen. You get the sense that Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller wanted the whole thing to feel a little unhinged, but Miller’s earnest production hand ties the record together in a way that’s not only effective but admirable, given that the LP sounds like genuinely pop-friendly experimental skronk. That’s a tough balance to achieve, and usually the attempt ends up sounding schizophrenic. Sleigh Bells pulled it off, though, and the result is one of the most interesting margin-walking albums of the year. —Eric Waggoner

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9. The db’s | Falling Off The Sky (Bar/None)
For those who championed the dB’s in the early 1980s, it may be tempting to play a game of what-if. What if the band had found a comfortable niche on an indie label with decent distribution? What if the classic lineup—nimble singer/songwriters Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, plus the locked-in rhythm section of Gene Holder and Will Rigby—had managed to stick together instead of splintering into solo projects? We’ll never know, because Falling Off The Sky, their first release in 30 years, doesn’t pick up where they left off. Holsapple sums it up on “That Time Is Gone,” the garage-y opening track. Instead, the dB’s pull off something more difficult and rewarding by building on their decades-long relationships in a way that’s ultimately fresher and deeper than merely trying to recreate their former formula. The passing of time is both text and subtext on Stamey’s stately “Far Away And Long Ago” and “Before We Were Born,” and Holsapple addresses old rifts on the poppy “World To Cry” and the gently regretful “I Didn’t Mean To Say That.” Whether Falling Off The Sky turns out to be the band’s epilogue or the first chapter of a long-delayed sequel, it’s a privilege to hear it here and now. —M.J. Fine

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8. Flying Lotus | Until The Quiet Comes (Warp)
After releasing three albums to increasing acclaim, each a further refinement on a central motif of bustling-hive electronica full of hyperactive shifts and tunnel-maze twists, it was fair to wonder what Flying Lotus might do next. How to follow up dizzyingly complex, intricate and immersive 2010 album Cosmogramma, which can be viewed as something of a breakout for L.A. resident Steven Ellison? What more could he possibly add to the maximalist opus? The answer, it seems, is nothing; subtraction is the method of choice for Ellison’s Cosmogramma follow-up, the appropriately titled Until The Quiet Comes. The more relaxed pacing on Quiet lets FlyLo traipse through moody, murky, Burial-esque dubstep, spacious proto-fusion and ambient psych/lounge with ease. His vocal collaborators—Thom Yorke, Erykah Badu, Niki Randa—appear as specters, never lingering too long over Ellison’s instrumental architecture. This time around, Ellison seems no less focused on the details or the energy of his compositions. There’s still plenty going on between the stacked layers of percussion and melodic snippets, and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner carves plenty of active bass lines through the more open arrangements. But in this newfound restraint, FlyLo proves the minimalist maxim; in this case, less is so much more. —Bryan C. Reed

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7. Swans | The Seer (Young God)
While promoting triumphant 2010 return effort My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, Swans founder/frontman Michael Gira repeatedly expressed regret at his decision to trim the drone-laden introduction to the album’s mammoth-sized opening track, “No Words/No Thoughts,” down to four minutes, citing “contemptible cowardice” on his own part. Well, no one calls Michael Gira a coward twice, as it turns out—not even himself, as said cowardice was nowhere to be found on the band’s ensuing reunion tour (which saw Gira and Co. routinely open their shows with an extended 30-minute take on “No Words/No Thoughts”), nor was there any trace of it on that album’s follow-up, 2012’s two-hour, three-LP odyssey. From the striking ambience of “A Piece Of The Sky” to “Song For A Warrior” (a surprisingly apropos acoustic duet with Karen O), The Seer is rife with proof that the band is still very capable of pushing its sound into uncharted territory even some three decades into its career; though “Avatar” (blistering, guitars-to-high-heaven coda and all), along with the record’s half-hour molten monolith of a title track, do well to erase any and all doubt that this is the very same Swans as ever. —Möhammad Choudhery

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6. Japandroids | Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
Earlier in 2012, a MAGNET review of Celebration Rock decried its unrelenting assault on tender ears, proclaiming that “Japandroids party too hard.” As if this were a bad thing. My advice? Ignore the tut-tutting wet blankets in the corner, arms crossed. If the bartender signals last call, take it as a challenge. Hit the accelerator. Surrender to your raging id. Hoist your beer and “yell like hell to the heavens.” For those of us on the other side of 40, dive-bar-drinking days largely behind us, Celebration Rock is both a call to arms and a reminder of the good old days (“Remember that night you were already in bed, said, ‘Fuck it,’ got up to drink with me instead?”). For a boozy younger generation, well, they finally get their own version of the Replacements. This is pure, unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll, with the guitars loud, drums crashing, choruses anthemic and more shouted “whoa-oh”s than a punk-rock music festival. So, don’t overthink it, OK? Let yourself get caught up in the revelry. And to borrow a line from “The House That Heaven Built,” “If they try to slow you down, tell ’em all to go to hell.” —Matt Ryan

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5. Cat Power | Sun (Matador)
Used to be that Cat Power was music for the melancholy. Not a source of cheer or even necessarily solace, but a more of a reflection. Albums like 1998’s Moon Pix and 2003’s You Are Free had stunning arrangements and haunting performances, but were stewed in sadness and deep, introverted depression. Beautiful stuff, unquestionably, but sometimes you had to work up the motivation to listen. No so with Sun. There’s a briskness to it, a life-affirming vigor: swift tempos, sharp playing, a bold use of Auto-Tune and samples (occasionally corny ones—see the stock-audio eagle screech on “Cherokee”). Nevertheless, these pop devices still serve the core concerns of singer/songwriter Chan Marshall. There is much pain in this album—hell, on the opening lyric, “Never knew pain like this/Everyone dies”—but here the motivation is not to dwell, but to overcome. There’s worldly reality check “Ruin,” a lively taxonomy of cities and countries to put into perspective the distinctly American “bitchin’, complainin’” of its refrain. There’s “Silent Machine,” a gnarly rocker about confronting Catholic guilt. And in case you missed the point, soaring 10-minute set piece “Nothin’ But Time” brings it home in a brilliant catharsis: “You wanna live, you wanna live.” On Sun, Cat Power has created a beacon of hope that everyone, downtrodden or not, can look to. —John Vettese

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4. Guided By Voices | Let’s Go Eat The Factory / Class Clown Spots A UFO / The Bears For Lunch (GBV Inc)
If Bob Pollard were an MLB pitcher (he did hurl a no-hitter in college), he’d be a Nolan Ryan-type anomaly—an aging, old-school fireballer still bringing the heat—rather than a Jamie Moyer-esque relic sneaking by on guile. Shaky analogy aside, how does one explain GBV striking out the side in 2012 with Let’s Go Eat The Factory, Class Clown Spots A UFO and The Bears For Lunch? Usually when groups reunite, they’ll maybe tack on a couple of rote new songs onto a collection of “greatest hits,” or create some lame LP that makes you wonder why they bothered. But Pollard and the classic/current lineup (bassist Greg Demos, drummer Kevin Fennell, guitarist Mitch Mitchell and guitarist/second songwriter Tobin Sprout) have surprisingly—or not, to those familiar with Pollard’s ever-present brilliance—spun a 2010-’11 feel-good tour into a fantastic second spurt of growth, with 61 tunes that rival (and occasionally surpass) the best stuff from their legendary earlier incarnation. With at least one record in the can for next year—April’s English Little League (look, it’s baseball again)—and likely more to follow, Pollard’s once again icing down his golden arm, ready to take the hill. Bet on more gems for the highlight reel. —Matt Hickey

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3. Beach House | Bloom (Sub Pop)
Beach houses aren’t thought of as paragons of timeliness. Timelessness, sure. Like an alarm set in reverse, every other year we are readily drugged by Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally into another counterclockwise reverie. Teen Dream captured MAGNET’s top honor in 2010, the duo’s third LP growing more lucid as it goes further under, its hazy, dazing visions the next morning looking as clear as day. And, oh, is it ever happening again: Transylvanian organs, chiffon yawns that transfer something far deeper than sleep, guitar arpeggios cutting swaths like harbor beacons through the nautical-by-nature fog. It’s telling that the most apt criticisms of Beach House—the endless drones, the undying, single-minded devotion to saturating a single shade of gray—are the very aspects its fans admire the most. But those critics also miss the more important details: how the minute changes in the band from album to album evoke the cumulative aging effects of the years broken down into hourglass minutes; how Legrand’s teengirl fantasies unfurled into womanly fears; how, without adding much of anything, Scally’s oscillating tones became shaken snow globes. More of the same, they say. We say: More of the same. —Noah Bonaparte Pais

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2. Ty Segall | Twins (Drag City) / Ty Segall Band | Slaughterhouse (In The Red) / Ty Segall & White Fence | Hair (Drag City)
Segallmania didn’t exactly captivate popular culture with a renewed fervor for garage rock (didn’t that already happen a decade ago with the White Stripes, Hives, et al?), but it wasn’t due to lack of effort. Ty Segall issued three albums in 2012: psychedelic freakout Hair, Stooges fuzz bomb Slaughterhouse and concise capstone Twins, which splits the stylistic difference between the first two. There are common threads throughout: a gift for textured guitar distortion, an infuriatingly adolescent obsession with horror-movie imagery and dopey acid-trip tropes, and—this is decidedly unsexy, but not to be discounted—king-size reverb from the drum kit. The most fascinating thing about the 26-year-old Segall, however, is to imagine what he’ll become: a durable firebrand in the vein of Jon Spencer, a spazzy punk like Jay Reatard, the Kurt Cobain of the San Francisco garage-rock scene. (NB: That the latter two musicians are deceased is not to suggest Segall’s life is in danger.) Forgive the fantasy-league predictions and pundit-speak, but when Segall puts it all together into a focused, well-edited package, we could be witness to a rare but long-awaited seismic shift in rock ‘n’ roll. —Matthew Fritch

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1. The Walkmen | Heaven (Fat Possum)
A decade ago, when the Walkmen released debut full-length Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, their peers were fellow New York City cooler-than-thou rockers like the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol. While the Walkmen’s star might not have ascended as quickly as those bands’, they have managed to outlast them in long-term relevance, and in a career that—in 2012—ascended to Heaven. The Walkmen sound is still distinct, a combination of Hamilton Leithauser’s passionate crooning and Paul Maroon’s trebly guitar lines, buoyed by Walter Martin’s swirling organ and the expert rhythm section of bassist Pete Bauer and drummer Matt Barrick. But Heaven is remarkable for its uniform brilliance. It contains its share of immediate, visceral and loud tracks, such as the chugging “Heartbreaker,” the unhinged “The Love You Love” and the trembling “Nightingales,” but it finds its heart in the ballads, from the lovely harmonies of “We Can’t Be Beat” to the ominous, insistent “Line By Line” to the rolling, swaying “Song For Leigh.” Back in 2002, the Walkmen proclaimed “We’ve Been Had.” Now, they’re singing “We Can’t Be Beat,” and this year, they’re right. —Steve Klinge

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Best Of 2012: Reissues

MAGNET’s A.D. Amorosi picks the best reissues of the year.

1 Johnny Cash The Complete Albums Collection (Columbia/Legacy)
2 Lee Hazlewood The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides (1968-1971) (Light In The Attic)
3 The Kinks At The BBC (Sanctuary)
4 The Velvet Underground & Nico The Velvet Underground & Nico (45th Anniversary) (UME)
5 Captain Beefheart Bat Chain Puller (Zappa Family Trust)
6 Various Artists Glam Rock Anthology (Music Brokers)
7 Ray Stinnett A Fire Somewhere (Light In The Attic)
8 The Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (35th Anniversary) (Universal)
9 Davy Jones The Bell Recordings (1971-1972) (Friday Music)
10 Moe Tucker I Feel So Far Away: Anthology 1974-1998 (Sundazed)

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Best Of 2012: Hard Rock

MAGNET’s Matt Ryan picks the best hard-rock releases of the year.

1 Black Breath Sentenced To Life (Southern Lord)
2 Deftones Koi No Yokan (Reprise)
3 The Sword Apocryphon (Razor & Tie)
4 Orange Goblin A Eulogy For The Damned (Candlelight)
5 High On Fire De Vermis Mysteriis (E1)
6 The Cult Choice Of Weapon (Cooking Vinyl)
7 Down Down IV Part I (Roadrunner)
8 Toadies Play.Rock.Music (Kirtland)
9 METZ METZ (Sub Pop)
10 Old Man Gloom NO (Hydra Head)

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Best Of 2012: Singer/Songwriter

MAGNET’s Hobart Rowland picks the best singer/songwriter releases of the year.

1 Beth Orton Sugaring Season (Anti-)
2 Alejandro Escovedo Big Station (Fantasy)
3 Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel (Epic)
4 Leonard Cohen Old Ideas (Columbia)
5 Loudon Wainwright III Older Than My Old Man Now (2nd Story Sound)
6 Rhett Miller The Dreamer (Maximum Sunshine)
7 Kathleen Edwards Voyageur (Maple Music/Zoe)
8 Brendan Benson What Kind Of World (Readymade)
9 Chuck Prophet Temple Beautiful (Yep Roc)
10 Glen Hansard Rhythm And Repose (Anti-)

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Best Of 2012: Electronic

MAGNET’s Justin Hampton picks the best electronic releases of the year.

1 Death Grips The Money Store (Epic)
2 Hundred Waters Hundred Waters (Owsla)
3 deadmau5 <album title goes here> (Ultra Music)
4 Rusko Songs (Mad Decent)
5 The Gaslamp Killer Breakthrough (Brainfeeder)
6 Calvin Harris 18 Months (Columbia/Roc Nation/Ultra Music)
7 NOISIA Split The Atom (mau5trap)
8 Die Antwoord Ten$ion (Zef)
9 Mala Mala In Cuba (Brownswood)
10 Death Grips No Love Deep Web (self-released)

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Best Of 2012: Metal

MAGNET’s Andrew Earles picks the best metal releases of the year.

1 Christian Mistress Possessed (Relapse)
2 Pallbearer Sorrow And Extinction (20 Buck Spin)
3 Kim Phuc Copsucker (Iron Lung)
4 Converge All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph)
5 Wild Hunt Before The Plane Of Angles (Kemado)
6 Pig Destroyer Book Burner (Relapse)
7 Unsane Wreck (Alternative Tentacles)
8 Kreator Phantom Antichrist (Nuclear Blast)
9 UFOMAMMUT Oro: Opus Primum (Neurot)
10 Ides Of Gemini Constantinople (Neurot)

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