By: Will Guerin
Before we jump into the list, let’s get the rules straight. Local means anything, at least mostly, created within the bounds of Georgia. We deem “Albums” as full-length releases and a separate list will surface over the coming days featuring the best EP’s and albums we just couldn’t deem as an LP.
The list and write-ups were compiled by me, the local music director at WUOG, pulling from the large array of local music sent into WUOG, as well as anything else I could get my hands on and with consideration to the opinions of the rest of the local music staff. Objectivity was a goal, but subjectivity obviously played its part.
The order of the list is quite mutable, it’s gone over millions of different iterations, but while the order isn’t necessarily important, I believe this list does its best to represent the twenty best albums of 2012. Finally, we have a “sounds like” feature that functions as a too long, didn’t read reader’s digest to enlighten those not familiar with some of the bands. No more babbling, here is the list.
20. Whistling While The End Is Near - The Viking Progress
Sounds Like- indie-folk with pop tendencies and varied instrumentation
Patrick Morales does his best Bon Iver impersonation on Whistling While The End Is Near. Instead of the wintery cabin of Justin Vernon, it’s the open sea that Morales used to shape his music, that irresistible story you are obliged to mention when discussing The Viking Progress.
After the cheery opener “The Couple,” its easy to imagine that haggard old man looking over the bow at a gloomy horizon and all those clichés of the lonely life at sea. There is no cheery yellow poncho of Gorton’s Fisherman. It makes sense a life at sea would afford the time Morales needed to carefully tinker and pen out his cerebral, verbose lyrics and construct the framework and movements in his indie-folk melodies.
19. Sleepwalking - The Casket Girls
Sounds Like- spooky, psychedelic, indie-pop; Black Moth Super Rainbow meets School of Seven Bells
So you and your sister have probably jammed on the streets of Savannah, GA before and been approached by that bum Ryan Graveface of Black Moth Super Rainbow fame. And you’ve seen him walking up, and tried to look away, but you already know what’s coming next, his tired sales pitch that is pretty embarrassing at this point. “Hey your music is super rainbow cool, you wanna start a band or something? Sort of make it like the Shangri-Las?” And you can’t just cross the street to avoid the panhandlers like you do in Little Five Points, he is just standing there staring at you.
With enough awkward pressuring, Elsa and Paheda Greene actually took up Mr. Blackface Graveface’s offer (I made the Graveface/Blackface mistake on-air before). To call Casket Girls a band would be a bit of a stretch, as the vocals provided by the sisters and the song writing of Graveface developed independently of each other and were traded back and forth till they finalized the album with percussive contributions from TW Walsh. The result is a mix of black mothy psychedelic instrumentals and the pop-angelic harmonizations of the sisters. And while the project is a promising debut, the failure of the album to match the quality found on its single “Sleepwalking” reminds you of the untapped potential the project still holds.
18. Lift Your Eyes to the Hills – Thayer Sarrano
Sounds Like- shoegaze meets female singer-songwriter; Mazzy Star
It’s feels overly pretentious to link a particular color to an album and assume the persona of that cheesy high school literature teacher in saying “blue defines this work of art.” But even as the shroud of Eiffel 65′s “I’m Blue” warns me away from musical comparisons using blue (that song is really a gem though) its hard to shake the feeling. “Lift Your Eyes to Hills” is less of an album name and more of a stage direction to the audience, as Sarrano cloaks her melancholic singer songwriter stories (ala Sharon Van Etten) in a misty reverb that occupies the horizon of each song, creating a specter-like barrier around each song.
And this shoegaze ambience, courtesy of her all-star backing band featuring members of The Modern Skirts, of Montreal and Dead Confederate, keeps the audience at a distance, forcing them to push their noses up to the glass and peer in on the southern twang, almost gravely vocals and honest message that Thayer Sarrano portrays. And before we get carried away in anymore clumsy psychoanalysis….
17. Big Cats Can Swim – Eureka California
Sounds Like- Lo-fi garage indie-pop-rock; Black Lips
Making anything that stands out in the world of “catchy garage rock” as Eureka California labels themselves is almost as difficult as finding Eureka, California on a map (HEY OH!). Big Cats Can Swim is nothing new, but just as you find comfort in habits, it keeps you coming back. The angst and energy is there and they work very nicely in their simplistic pop-rock world to make their melodies memorable enough to not all bleed together.
Personality plays a big part, a personality that combos their record and beer koozies merch together and a personality that had them continually announcing themselves as different bands on the Happy Happy Birthday To Me roster during their Live in the Lobby session (just about everyone made an appearance).
16. The Urge – Negative Nancy
Sounds Like- scuzzed out, angry lo-fi rock, with a surf rock vibe; Wavves
Negative Nancy’s The Urge is trying to push your Toyota Corolla over 100 mph on a dare from your bro, drunkenly accepted in a haze of brash youth. And the consequent drive down that dark highway, as your car violently rattles in protest, threatening to unravel as you violate its limits. Each song on The Urge is overwhelmed in that same distortion of abusive lo-fi rock and volume, shredded in a blender till all you see is blood and guts.
And beneath the hyper-masculine, go have sex with your girlfriend, CAPS lock angst (the entirety of the album’s track listing is capitalized) is a surprisingly, smart and catchy collection of 60′s pop songs that display a certain mature depth that the production lacks (or an album cover with a man’s arm boldly going up-skirt on his kissing counterpart).
15. If You Look For It, It’s There - Nomen Novum
Sounds Likes- catchy, layered and looping indie pop; Postal Service meets Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
When he is not delivering tongue and cheek wordplay (Still blown away that “Anita, Korea” is so easily transformed to “I need a career”) David Norberry is the one man band responsible for the top-40, Ben Gibbard-esque vocals and looping swarms of glowing, shimmering guitars and synths; a monster of indie pop equal parts electronic and rock.
And he leverages this lone wolf creative process to layer his songs up to the brink of clutter, as each song is molded to a firmly grasped, singular vision. What emerges is a brick-layered approach, allowing his guests to “lay down beside [him]” on Tempur-Pedic mattresses of synth before he ornately decorates the room with short, circular, swarming guitar riffs that jump-rope with one another. Swirling and dancing like leaves in the wind, everything comes together in an indistinct feeling of warmth and pleasure.
14. Life Inside The Body - Hope For Agoldensummer
Sounds Like- soulful, roots-y, harmonized Americana-folk; Gillian Welch
Nine years and four albums into their career, the Campbell sisters are still making the same, uncompromising folky-americana minimalism and still getting pissed off whenever someone asks “So why are there no spaces between Agoldensummer?” They still can sound like an antique field recording plucked right from the porch of a house you passed as you walked down an impossibly desolate country road in South Georgia. Sisterhood and all of its corny connotations still reins strong on their albums, their ghostly harmonies sirens leading you to a life on the farm.
And just as in the past, the sisters continue to farm talent from the ever-changing Athens music scene, this time in a more serious relationship with Suny Lyons who emerged as a permanent band member and sound engineer on “Life Inside the Body.” It is a bit more polished this go round, but the twang and honesty that makes the sisters so special is still there, a patient portrait of the south.
13. Body Faucet - Reptar
Sounds Like- Reptar
Do you remember where you were when you found out Pitchfork gave Body Faucet a 3.0? Or the ensuing firestorm that made pariah Ian Cohen a household name at WUOG and reignited Stomp and Stammer’s constant whining about the “bottom-level dung” Reptar produces (that’s a real quote folks). It’s unclear whether Reptar can hear them above the sold-out shows at the Georgia Theatre as they surf on-top of mattresses and orchestrate 1,000 people large sing-alongs to “Stuck In My Id.”
Not to say Body Faucet, or as it was almost named ‘Moo Cho Cho,’ is perfect. It’s far from it. Each song feels over-saturated with production, Ulciny’s vocals sugar-coated far past what the recipe called for. On its second iteration, “Houseboat Babies” pales in comparison to the single version, over-worked with an extra minute of run time to boot (also why the skinny/holey jeans replacement in “there’s a hole, hole in your skinny/holey jeans). But despite all its flaws, Body Faucet is still a solid compilation of the Jamaican baby vocals that are Graham Ulciny and the afro-beat influences that make Reptar’s straightforward pop songs so memorable with a few surprises along the way, like the reserved, piano-driven closer, “Water Runs.”
12. Georgia - Werwolves
Sound Like- punk-folk with Elephant 6 and pop tendencies; Nana Grizol
When Werewolves isn’t busy being the Wyatt Strothers-led Werewolves, almost the entire band (save a few members) changes clothes and falls under the direction of Dena Zilber and her project el hollín. But when it’s time for Werewolves, the out-spoken Wyatt Strothers assumes the pulpit and uses his Nana Grizol inspired folk punk as a sounding board for his political ideology, Elton John (The County Line) and the soci-economic divide in America (The White Privilege).
And the message comes across so naturally, not accompanied by some sappy, overdone acoustic guitar bit but instead through a series of jaunty pop-songs that bounce along like some eutopic car trip family-sing-along, bordering on Irish folk songs at times. Georgia brings it all together, stringing together short, sometimes spoken-word, interludes with the melodic meat of the story. Strothers teeters on a cliff of overbearing preaching at times but pulls himself back with some of the more lighthearted moments on the album (Organic Organ).
11. Cool Galaxy - Faun and a Pan Flute
Sounds Like- challenging, psychedelic, math-rock with pop tendencies
Cool Galaxy plays out like restraining a schizophrenic patient with a straitjacket and successfully having him dictate his biography; a throbbing mess of aimless wandering prone to noisy outbursts and non-sequiturs yet somehow all coming together in the end as a meaningful story. Or maybe multiple personality disorder would be a better diagnosis, as the nine-person cast (compromised of nearly every hip musician in Atlanta) responsible for Cool Galaxyfights it out for their place on the record.
The band is known for it’s great song titles like the Mario Kart inspired “God Beat Satan On Rainbow Road By Two Seconds Thanks To His Banana.” And “Untechnical Pop Song,” the album’s opener sort of hints at the band’s roots in experimental, math rock dabblings. While they take full advantage of wistfully exploring each work with their technical instrumentation, their machinery is held together quite well by the lush vocals of Suzanne Baker as she flits around the album like a fairy, periodically stopping by to re-convene with the action.
10. Frightened - Easter Island
Sounds Like- dramatic, shoegaze-y, indie-pop; Wild Nothing
Do you think the Polynesian island, Easter Island, gets any of the profits for the Polynesian sauce at Chick-Fil-A? A quick search of the Easter Island Wikipedia page yielded no answers, but did reveal a lot of those weird tiki looking statues and it’s status as one of the “loneliest” islands in the world. Did someone say lonely? Oh, like the lonely, spartan album cover of Frightened, what a convenient segue.
Frightened is the isolated silence of wintery swirls: looking up at the stars on a cool, December night or walking alone in your neighborhood, as snow lightly blankets the streets and you catch the fleeting glimpses of your misty breath in the air. And while brothers Ethan and Asher Payne get on either side of you and whisper harmonized, sweet nothings into both of your ears, the band is just as quick to build off their lush synths and gossamer, atmospheric guitar lines into post-rock storms ala contemporaries Explosions In the Sky. Floods of emotion made so satisfying by veteran Patrick Ferguson (of Five-Eight fame), who patiently guides from the back and carefully picks when to tear apart the euphony, allowing the appropriate ebbs and flows that make the “Ginger”-”You Don’t Have A Choice”-”Independence” suite work so well.
9. Paralytic Stalks - of Montreal
Sounds Like- Kevin Barnes leaning more towards the experimental
While Paralytic Stalks was largely ignored and what most would consider a step-back for Kevin Barnes, the album marks yet another movement in the of Montreal discography. When Kishi Bashi talked with us at WUOG, he mentioned how Barnes was constantly pushing him and his violin past his comfort zone and Barnes seems to be looking for the same thing in the band’s eleventh-full studio album.
Whether he is painfully bottoming out his vocals in “Spiteful Intervention,” delivering the head-banging rancor of “Ye, Renew The Planitiff” or tangentially exploring the harsh noise rock of “Exorcismic Breeding Knife,” its clear the funky-pop of False Priest was shelved away (at least temporarily). But even with all the dust from construction, the essentials still remain: over-dubbed vocals, the drug-addled pop of Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and garrulous vocabulary of human dictionary Kevin “Webster” Barnes.
8. Murk Daddy Flex- First/Second Compilation
Sounds Like- laid-back, old school hip-hop beat instrumentals
I was there when Terence Chiyezhan (he tells me his last name is pronounced ‘chair-in’, I still think he is messing with me) hastily threw together the collage that served as the unofficial album cover for his first official WUOG submission (I still think we are the only owners of any physical releases). And everyday I pray that he becomes the a world-wide success so I can tell my kids “I was there.” Full disclosure, Terence hails from the WUOG family. But before the rumors overwhelm the city of a corrupt college radio station, give his Bandcamp a few minutes of your time (and note that his two albums came out in two consecutive months)
His music is like a series of nostalgic VHS tapes as they passively and calmly breathe swathes of pastel colors unto a gray canvas, with a somewhat more intensified and experimental sound seen on the Second Compilation. As if Murk Daddy Flex didn’t have enough of an underdog feel going for him, nearly all the tracks were composed in Audacity, fitting beats with obscure samples that range from local bands Dylar’s “Geometridae” on “Mantra” to Music Tapes’ “The Dark Is Singing Songs” on “Sleepy.” Good luck to any rapper trying to match the artistic integrity and poetry of his beats.
7. Void Vanishing - Qurious
Sounds Like- celestial, ambient indie-pop with strong beat emhpasis; Somewhere between Phantogram, Purity Ring and The xx
Void Vanishing is like the submarine level in Star Fox 64, a reference hopefully appropriate for a band that samples Navi’s “Listen!” from Legend Of Zelda. It’s a dark, eerie ambience that can dissolve briefly into bright neons, blinding whites and feels like Christmas lights being dipped down into a murky fog. It’s mysterious and patient, never failing to be an organic synesthesia of a deep sea dive into pools of unexplored blackness.
Everything is in slow motion, elaborating the viscous gauzy world of going limp underwater. The album climbs on like some endless ladder of synth and drum machines, strung along by Catherine Quesenberry, her vocals a translucent light somewhere off in the distance you never quite reach. Planet Plant, the duo’s debut album, looks so far away in comparison.
6. pleasure-puncher - el hollín
Sounds Like- Elephant 6 influenced, child-like, melancholic, lo-fi indie folk-pop
pleasure-puncher is like a beautiful score to a movie we’ve never seen, briefly lifting the curtains for glimpses at a life we’ll never know. It’s like a random collection of pages torn from a diary, contextually blank and intensely personal stories that should be as meaningless and confusing as jumping in half-way through a book. But these precious snippets, the carefully chosen lyrical expressions of Dena Zilber, can connect so universally as we fill in the blanks and lay it like a transparent sheet over the template of our lives.
Each lyric is sung as vulnerably raw confession (I want to directly quote entire portions of “Dream Song”), a post-heartbreak kind of depression and resignation that is exposed amongst a sparse, bare-bones instrumentation. And even as a massive, twenty-five song album, the insistence to listen remains as the album treads seamlessly on, shifting tempos and moods but remaining as a singular, lo-fi orchestrated composition that should be swallowed whole.
5. Wowser Bowser – Wowser Bowser
Sounds Like- jubilant, indie-dance-pop
With all the excitement of running down the stairs Christmas morning, Wowser Bowser prances around like a fluffy Pomeranian. Seven concerts in, it’s hard to disconnect the group from their live shows: the excess of balloons dancing around, crowd sing-alongs and the obligatory jumping up and down. The concerts feel like a giant bubble machine, spewing out a flood of rainbow spheres playfully swept around by gentle, sugary breeze of George Pettis’ vocals; fit for a day in a giant ball pit.
It’s a logical transition from album to performance when the source material is comprised of glowing, colorful synths, child-like lyrics seen in “Water Story,” the staccato drum machines that dot the album and the saccharine shining chimes and marimbas. And yet, despite it’s twee leanings, it can still deliver a product that is at times nostalgic and reserved (“Winter Child”), carrying just enough emotion and discord to give you something to hold onto as you dance around. Simply put, the album feels like a greatest hits of the most danceable and catchy tracks of 2012.
4. Mary’s Voice - The Music Tapes
Sounds Like- mournful, dissonant horns of Elephant 6 past
A soundtrack to a funeral march, dirges of wailing horns and the whining vocals of Elephant 6 legend Julian Koster. Lo-fi productions of warbly singing-saws, accordions and 60′s pop fit for the tinny reproduction of cassette tapes (or maybe MUSIC TAPES! HEY OH!). Instead of respecting the technical confines of the record, Kostner’s blarred vocals and crunchy drums are blasted from megaphones and contrasted with the quieter, sleepy moments of Mary’s Voice.
The beauty of Kostner’s creation is the world he creates for Mary’s Voice, stringing together bits of Musique concrète to lull you away from hearing it as individual tracks, but as different aspects of the same, frayed, yellowed picture of the French Quarter in the 1920′s. It doesn’t worry about maintaining its presence in the foreground, and easily drifts backwards out of focus before surging forward again. It’s his brand of folk tradition, fit to be performed under the mystical ceiling of a Kickstarter-funded circus tent that will soon be making its way across the country with the band.
3. Hello Ocho – Hello Ocho
Sounds Like- energetic, percussion-driven, indie rock that hints at math-rock
For some reason, I always picture Ryan Gosling belting out the lyrics for Hello Ocho. He doesn’t but if Gosling did head up a local band, I bet he’d pick Hello Ocho. There is just too much to love about Hello Ocho. Each song seems to be the product of thousands of prototypes, meticulously blue-printed and scrapped in trials of perfectionism, as they form an intimate connection with each note. Yet the songs still swing wildly with the youth of an inexperienced boxer, unabashedly tumbling with the arrhythmic heartbeat of the percussion-driven tracks instead of suffering a boring death at the hands of overwrought manufacturing. It still feels like an art of immediacy, not a plastic cerebral square.
“Stickin’ To The Sheets” (song of the year regardless of locality) still feels like a badger straining to claw through metal when it hits the bridge and the blaring synth and pulsing drums of “Fandancy” are pulled from some kind of beastial ritual that makes the blood drain from your face. Hello Ocho is at it’s best when it can combine pained screams and manic, floor and tom drum rhythms with the psychedelic humming seen on tracks like “Mooah” or “Party On A Raincloud” (the music video for the later depicting a cave full of naked men and women). And all of this from a band who hasn’t even officially released their album electronically (that lovely image above isn’t even their official album cover), with just 500 CD’s floating around to mark their inspiring, diversified debut.
2. Yardboat – New Madrid
Sounds Like- cosmic americana, twangy-reverb, modern-Southern Rock
Can you believe New Madrid started out just as a promotional after-thought to help sell the boat (pictured above) of soon to be lead-singer Phil Mcgill? Well neither could we and after some investigation we were disappointed to learn that ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ had failed us once again. I imagine the project got started after some moonshine-fueled collision that resulted in a “Hey you got southern rock in my shoegaze!” and the questions that followed of “Now what?”
Is creativity the development of original ideas or just collages of ideas thrown together from experience and repackaged with your own personality? The cosmic americana branding of New Madrid suggests the later, as the band combines tired ideas into a refreshing brew. And they move around in their aura of twang and reverb so effectively, exploring and tilting the scale back and forth between their dichotomy.
They provide this buffet of entertainment without just ladling out mediocre versions of their varying ideals. Instead perfecting such a diversity, dialing elements down but never turning them off, making it natural when they step back into the spotlight. Flagpole describes it as a “beautiful inconsistency,” with a somewhat negative connotation but I embrace it, believing the bridges exist for the ten minute ambience of “Pond” to stride along into the country plucking of “Country Moon, Pt. 2.”
It’s limiting something special, something that feels like watching dying furies as they escape upwards from a campfire, into a ceiling of pine trees and stars. A ‘this or that’ mentality prevents that creativity responsible for the “rolling river” that leads up to the pounding, psychedlic waterfall crescendo of “Houseboat,” a product of a unrestricted experimentation from a band running in every direction.
1. Spooky Action at a Distance – Lotus Plaza
Sounds Like- atmospheric, indie-rock, dream-gaze; Deerhunter
I really didn’t want to see Spooky Action At A Distance top the list. I rooted for underdogs New Madrid and Hello Ocho right until the end, hoping to be that cool contrarian, but there is no denying the juggernaut that is Lockett Pundt and his awesome name. I imagine he sat down to write the album and said “Lockett and load! Let’s Pundt the competition right out the window! Bradford Cox be damned!”
Spooky Action At A Distance (a title so evocative a review is almost redundant) sees Lockett Pundt swallowing a multi-colored sun and spitting out a blanket of stars onto a yellowed, sepia canvas. Everything is held at a distance, breaking down the intense pleasure and relaxation of his multi-layered melodies into a nostalgic memory you had of going to Six Flags as a kid. It’s a slowly disintegrating memory, fuzzy on the edges yet so vividly colorful and detailed under the deterioration.
Each composition is so layered and technical, building off the mechanical pulse of the drums and melting the individual, trebly melodies of each guitar into a delicious frosting on top. All while sacrificing none of the pop accessibility or lulling, inert relaxation. A chill that lulls you back to bed, under the warmth of covers and lightly lays you into a meditative state of psychedelic imagination, awake and dreaming.