For the rest of the year, we’ll be spotlighting our KEXP DJs Top Albums of 2012, leading up to our 2012 Top Album Countdown, as voted on by our listeners! Voting ends on Friday, December 21st, so let us know your favorites now, and tune in on Friday, December 28th to hear if your picks made the list!
Nate’s 2012 Top Ten Albums
1. I Love You, It’s Cool by Bear In Heaven (Hometapes/Dead Oceans)
This psych-tinted synthpop rock album is the one I played the most this year, including at work, at home, and in the car…great driving music, especially during high-speed window-down conditions. Super-catchy while also being deceptively rhythmically tricky at times.
Highlights: “Cool Light”, “Sinful Nature”, “Idle Heart”
2. Para Vida by Lozen (Silent Queef Records)
Often with these top 10 lists the most difficult decision is the difference between numbers 10 and 11. Not so in 2012 – the race for #1 and #2 was so tight, the tie-breaker had to simply be the album I actually listened to more. (Note: While I love categorizing and rating stuff generally, ranking artistic endeavors is mostly unfortunate.) But, hot damn, this EP is so full of raw energy and riffage it’s easy to overlook the fact this Tacoma outfit is a mere duo: Hozoji Matheson-Margullis plays guitars here (and drums for local best-band-right-now Helms Alee; see FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEO OF 2012, below), and Justine Maria Valdez pounds the drums with abandon, especially during the sprawling tribal “Dig Deep”. It’s not all loud rock all the time, though – various dynamics are used effectively, most notably during the Spanish guitar-drenched “ballad” “Menos Mal”. Both Matheson-Margullis and Valdez sing, trading verses and choruses almost as one voice, or as their entire Facebook biography indicates: “siamese twins split at birth”.
Highlights: “WAQ”, “Le Dragon”, “Clay Cliffs”
3. De Vermis Mysteriis by High On Fire (E1 Music)
For Matt Pike and company’s latest, I’ll start at the beginning – the drummer in me says “This is the best beginning to an album ever.” And actually, the rest of the album also has epic-display-of-stamina pummeling action from the rhythm section, and the obligatory almost-flying-off-the-rails guitar solos. One rank higher in 2012 than HOF placed in 2010. Also, turns out it’s kind of a concept album (I’m a sucker for concept albums; see #4, #5, #8, etc.) about Jesus Christ’s dead time-traveling twin baby brother → stoner metal achieved!
Highlights: “Madness Of An Architect”, “Bloody Knuckles”, “Romulus And Remus”, “Serums Of Liao”
4. Dusty Rainbow From The Dark by Wax Tailor (Le Plan)
As mentioned above, I tend to dig concept albums. Not all concept albums, but the fact an album has a unifying theme tends to coax points from me rather than demerits. Dusty Rainbow From The Dark is the most explicit concept album listed here – between songs, a voiceover narrates a multifaceted story of imagination, creativity, and vinyl. While that lack of subtlety might ruin projects from lesser creators, here it’s required, as French producer Jean-Christophe Le Saoût seamlessly scores the melancholic story like a mini-radio drama of olden days. “Heart Stop”, featuring Jennifer Charles (of Elysian Fields and Lovage) is my favorite song of 2012, a year bulging with great tunes.
Highlights: “Heart Stop”, “No”, “Only Once”, “Time To Go” (featuring Aloe Blacc)
5. Clockwork Angels by Rush (Roadrunner Records)
The Canadian power trio’s 19th studio album is their best music in 16, or maybe even 30, years. While the sonic palette is basically the same as their last two albums, these songs are simply much better. “The Garden” boasts my favorite Alex Lifeson guitar solo I can think of – it’s not a technical or speedy shred-fest, it’s simply a bunch of well-placed notes that serve the song perfectly.
Highlights: “Clockwork Angels”, “Wish Them Well”, “Seven Cities Of Gold”
6. Cobra Juicy by Black Moth Super Rainbow (Rad Cult)
Kickstarter helped Pittsburgh’s finest psychedelic dream pop band fund their latest album of vaguely-menacing vocoder sounds and catchy tunes for $125,000+, almost triple what they asked to make it happen. Based on 2009’s Eating Us, which includes a couple of my favorite songs over the last several years, I chipped in $50, which might top my Best Value of 2012 list, if that was a thing.
Highlights: “Windshield Smasher”, “Dreamsicle Bomb”, “Spraypaint”
7. Zammuto by Zammuto (Temporary Residence)
This first solo album from Nick Zammuto, formerly of The Books, shines a light on the main mind behind his old band’s sound: at times, Zammuto sounds just like a new The Books album, complete with processed vocals and chopped-up cassette samples. The main difference? This rocks harder and has more soul, as the group is expanded and fleshed out with a more traditional rock band instrumentation, including silly-good drummer Sean Dixon.
Highlights: “The Shape of Things to Come”, “F U C-3PO”, “Zebra Butt”
8. Touch Screens by Erik Blood (self-released)
2012 was a busy year for Seattle’s Blood – he worked on recordings from The Soft Hills, Crypts, Stephanie, Champagne Champagne, and #9 below – but he saved the best for himself. This concept album happens to be about pornography, and it spawned two of my favorite songs of the year.
Highlights: “Amputee”, “Today’s Lover”
9. awE naturalE by THEESatisfaction (Sub Pop)
(I don’t want to be that guy, but) I’ve been wondering “Why isn’t THEESatisfaction on a record label yet??” since June 5, 2010. One of Seattle’s best labels finally pulled the trigger on one of Seattle’s best groups. They make excellent soul-fi space-hop.
Highlights: “QueenS”, “Needs”, “Sweat”
10. The Seer by Swans (Young God)
The definition of “art” I gravitate toward involves reactions, making the audience feel something. With The Seer, New York City’s Swans created a sprawling double-disc of progressive music as art, spanning myriad genres and styles, some more accessible than the rest. And based on a very small sample size, it has been the most polarizing record I’ve experienced in quite a long time; to wit, a few weeks ago I played the title track, a 32:16 (yes, 32 minutes 16 seconds) magnum opus in its own right. One of the two emails I received regarding this song came about 20 minutes in, and the subject was basically “TURN THIS SONG OFF RIGHT NOW”. I’m not sure if the other emailer was ‘for’ or ‘against’ the song, but at about 28 minutes in she simply asked something like “How much more of this is there??” which doesn’t sound particularly positive, but she also didn’t change the station, and she clearly felt something…those might even be frightened question marks. So one person hated it, one might have been scared of it, and I love it, and am also kind of scared of it; the album cover sets the tone for question marks and fear. “Tour de force” and “masterpiece” are clichés always, but not exaggerations here.
Highlights: “Avatar”, “The Seer Returns”, “Mother Of The World”, “The Seer”
I’ve always been an ALBUMs kinda guy, but over the last couple/few years I’ve been succumbing to the pop-cultural reality that SONGs rule the musical landscape these days. It proved too difficult to winnow down my favorite songs of the year, so I went local…and even then it was tough to get to 10, so here are my 15 Favorite Local Songs of 2012 (no more than one song per artist, otherwise Erik Blood and Don’t Talk To The Cops! each might have had more than one song on the list):
1. “WAQ” by Lozen from Para Vida (see 10 FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2012, above)
2. “The Entertainer” by The Intelligence from Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me
3. “Amputee” by Erik Blood from Touch Screens (see 10 FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2012, above)
4. “Thinking Thieves” by Absolute Monarchs from 1
5. “Get With It” by SPURM from SPURM 
6. “QueenS” by THEESatisfaction from awE naturalE (see 10 FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2012, above)
7. “The Comet Stapled Sip” by Sip’s Odyssey from 1 Outta 6 Ain’t Bad (When I Still Loved You)
8. “Rumpshaker” by Sera Cahoone from Deer Creek Canyon
9. “You’re Right” by Unnatural Helpers from Land Grab
10. “Tattoo My Name” by Don’t Talk to the Cops! from Let’s Quit
11. “Repeat” by wimps from demo
12. “With Age Wisdom” by Levi Fuller from Ball Of Wax Volume 27
13. “A Summer At Sea” by Oh Osiris from Homegrown
14. “Continuous Thunder” by Japandroids from Celebration Rock
15. “Moon6” by Fungal Abyss from Ball Of Wax Volume 27
Favorite Music Video of 2012
So it was the year of Hozoji Matheson-Margullis: Favorite Local Song, Favorite Music Video, Second-Favorite Album. Part of the reason I love her music and bands so much is because they put on excellent, energy-filled shows — live music that lets you know you’re still alive. (My signature Cap’n’s hat, on the other end, died at this year’s Helms Alee show at Capitol Hill Block Party…or it was hatnapped. Worth it, either way.) Go see them — and the rest of the recording artists on these lists — whenever possible, maybe I’ll see you there…
Nate is on the air Sunday mornings from 2AM-6AM.