Jan 08, 2013 Best of 2012 Top Ten Albums MERCHANDISE "Children of Desire" LP/CD (Katorga Works/Jagjaguwar) The members of Tampa, FL's Merchandise cut their teeth in a riotous assemblage of hardcore, punk and black metal-influenced outfits over the past number of years, its members releasing records this year alone under the names Neon Blud, Church Whip, Nazi Dust, and Grinning Death's Head, along with a notable solo work by guitarist David Vassalotti (Book of Ghosts, on the Vinyl Rites label). But it's the most recent Merchandise record that I kept returning to more and more as the year moved forward. The group's second full-length Children of Desire is a billowing thing of beauty, a conceptual work about youth, isolation, drugs, and philosophy set to a gauzy, '80s-inflected bed of synths, guitars and drum machines that answers none of the questions it poses, ultimately accepting life's mysteries in a haze of reminiscences and melancholy sentiments. I'm sure there were more technically accomplished records in 2012 by any number of artists, but none had the impact of Children, the sound of three men against the world they know, with a pile of malfunctioning electronics recorded in a storage locker. They've done so much with so little that it's no wonder the world is beating a path to their door. Their next moves may prove some of the more interesting that 2013 will have to offer. MAXINE FUNKE "Felt" LP (Epic Sweep) Austere, sublime, gentle folk/psych from New Zealand's Maxine Funke, former teenage singer of The Snares and an ingÄnue of Alastair Galbraith (who released her debut album Lace as a CD-R a few years ago). Felt proved to be a superior work in every way, Ms. Funke having shed the innocence of that earlier effort with even-handed beauty and confidence in her craft. Time will be the deciding factor in bestowing classic status upon this work, but on Felt she approaches the simple charms of private-press legends like Mark Fry or Tony, Caro & Jean in more ways than one: her label's insistence on only pressing 100 numbered vinyl copies of this work will ensure that no one learning about her now would ever locate a copy below fair market value. Someone needs to reissue her albums as soon as possible, so that these truths can find their way off a Bandcamp page and into the greater consciousness of the modern world. CONSTANT MONGREL "Everything Goes Wrong" LP (80/81 Records/R.I.P. Society) Australian bands have been on the ascent for the last number of years, some (like Eddy Currrent Suppression Ring) finding a level of success that has shocked them into an early retirement. But their countrymates have seized on the moment, producing some of the finest punk/rock/lo-fi gems in the world today, many of which are finding favor on American labels (see Royal Headache with What's Your Rupture, Total Control with Iron Lung, the UV Race with In the Red, Twerps with Underwater Peoples, Blank Realm with Siltbreeze, and so forth). Constant Mongrel is a lesser-known quantity, but their grasp on Swell Maps-style snotpunk bash and withering sentiment have put them at the top of an ever-growing pile of indelible modern punk sentiment. Everything Goes Wrong sounds like it was recorded in as long as it took to write the songs, a bullet with your name on it that cannot miss. SPACIN' "Deep Thuds" LP (Richie) Philadelphia heavy rock/psych outfit Birds of Maya is becoming more notable for the side projects it's spawned (though some will vehemently disagree). 2013 will see the release of the new Purling Hiss record on Drag City, the bandsake of BoM's guitarist Mike Polizze, but 2012 belonged to Spacin', the latest outlet for drummer Jason Killinger. Here he hoists up the guitar and drags us through a collection of FM radio rock blowouts and dense passages of mind-altering chemical fuzz, riffin' for all he's got and coming up with an undeniable winner. You can't mess with Spacin' (though it would seem that the Rolling Stones did, for anyone who's peeped the cover art of this record's first edition). KILLER MIKE "R.A.P. Music" LP/CD (Williams Street) I take my hip-hop in the '80s and '90s style, with very few exceptions. I feel like the last great release of the genre was Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein. It's been a long time since any music of the genre has hit me with the sort of force that record did, and now that it's happened, I can hardly contain myself. Atlanta mainstay Killer Mike teamed up with El-P, and they solve each other's problems of how to bring the sound of the past back to the front without relying too heavily on nostalgia or simpering about the old days; far from it. These artists have revitalized one another, with Mike making the first legit, all-the-way-through awesome rap record in as long as I can recall, and El-P resurrecting his techno-dystopian hand at the consoles for both this release and his own return to form, the brilliant Cancer For Cure. BAILTERSPACE "Strobosphere" LP/CD (Fire) Speaking of comebacks, here's the first Bailterspace record in over 15 years. The New Zealand ex-pat trio is still grinding away in the dark corners of rock music, making architecturally loud, bold statements that hiss with spite and soar to the gray skies. MOUNT CARMEL "Real Women" LP/CD (Siltbreeze) Columbus, Ohio's Mount Carmel remains the finest of the current crop of American rock bands throwing back to the late '60s/early '70s blues-based form. Real Women saw the group expanding their songwriting prowess and improving its power trio interplay beyond their already impressive powers. They are peerless, and this album slays. A.M. "Black Night Burning" LP (Trensmat) Last-minute Top 10 entry here from New Zealand guitarist Antony Milton, whose multitude of projects over the last decade or so have given way to this masterful merging of severe, face-shredding guitar destruction and pulsing electronics. It's the rock analogue to Andy Stott's Passed Me By/We Stay Together, churning an expanse of menacing black cloud into a tornado that rips up most of what stands before it. May you find a copy of your own in the new year. NAOMI PUNK "The Feeling" LP/CD (Couple Skate/Captured Tracks) Olympia, WA has resurfaced in recent years as a hotbed of American punk/rock activity, and in 2012, no band from that scene proved themselves and their town more worthy of the praise they receive than Naomi Punk. They've made a "heavy" record in name only; by removing the distortion and low-end growl most traditionally associated with that sort of music, they've in essence redefined the sound, and what it means to play with in that context. Waves of crushing sonic body blows come raining down with each slow riff, but the group's steadfast refusal to play within the conventions of the genre opens up a new avenue of expression. SLICES "Still Cruising" LP (Iron Lung) Second LP and probably the last in a while from this stalwart Pittsburgh group, which began years ago as a noise duo for brothers Mike and John Kasunic, and over time engaged a drummer and vocalist to become one of the most unique, intense, and altogether strange hardcore bands in a long while. Raging, hilarious, and one-of-a-kind. Notable Runners-Up DAVID NOVICK "s/t" LP (Sun Sneeze) URANIUM ORCHARD "s/t" LP (Cold Vomit) HOLOGRAMS "s/t" LP (Captured Tracks) THE RAVEONETTES "Observator" LP/CD (Vice) DAUGHN GIBSON "All Hell" LP (White Denim) FABULOUS DIAMONDS "Commercial Music" LP/CD (Chapter Music) BLANK REALM "Go Easy" LP/CD (Siltbreeze) ONEIDA "A List of the Burning Mountains" LP/CD (Brah/Jagjaguwar) D. VASSALOTTI "Book of Ghosts" LP (Vinyl Rites) TYVEK "On Triple Beams" LP/CD (In the Red) LINEA ASPERA "s/t" LP (Dark Entries) COLD SHOWERS "Love and Regret" LP (Dais) Top 5 Reissues ASHRAE FAX "Static Crash" LP (Hot Releases) COLOURED BALLS "Ball Power" LP (Sing Sing) THE VELVET UNDERGROUND "The Scepter Studio Sessions" LP (Polydor/UMG) THE VELVET UNDERGROUND "Sweet Sister Ray" 2xLP (bootleg) WHITE COP "s/t" one-sided 12" EP (Leather Bar) Top 10 Singles BAD NEWS "Real Bad News" b/w "More Bad News" 12" (L.I.E.S.) DOUBLE NEGATIVE "Hits" 7" EP (Sorry State) COFFIN PRICKS "Group Home Haircut" 7" EP (Stationary Heart) HOAX "s/t" 7" EP (Youth Attack) HOAX "s/t" 7" EP (Painkiller) REPLICA "Demo" 7" EP flexi (Radical Punks Never Die) KING BLOOD "Vengeance, Man" 12" EP (Richie) VIOLENT CHANGE "Suck On The Gun" 7" EP (Melters) RÇJÇYTTÇJÇT "Rèjèyttèjèt Rèjèyttèè!" 7" EP (Bad Vugum/TNT) TOTAL CONTROL "Scene From a Marriage" b/w "Contract" 7" (Sub Pop) Better Than All of This: The birth of my daughter, P.J.