Zak’s 2012 Best-of List

December 26th, 2012 · 16 Comments · By

I feel a bit silly posting this list for reasons twofold. First, I’ve done one show write-up so far so I haven’t really been a part of your fiscal year, though maybe this is a good way for us to get to know each other for the future. Secondly, I know I’m going to hate this list in three months or so. I’ll wake up in a cold sweat wondering how “____________” wasn’t at the top, hence the healthy dose of honorable mentions below. Anyways, I hope there’s a strong mix of choices that prompt both “who?” and “right on!” reactions, along with some shows that stood out. Overly passionate dissenting opinions go at the bottom.

10) The Men – Open Your Heart

A lot of people told me they found Celebration Rock to be the fist pumping party-rock album of the year. Maybe I’d agree if The Men hadn’t gotten to me first. “Turn It Around” into “Animal” was by far the best opening to any album this year. They kicked things off with a runaway train masquerading as a song then exploded into the most depraved vocal performance of the year. “DIG YOUR NAILS IN MY BACK… PUT YOUR HANDS AROUND MY THROAT.” Kinky. Putting that opening on the same album as the slow-burning jam “Oscilation” shows their remarkable range. Sometimes cohesion isn’t that important if the individual parts are good enough, and Open Your Heart jumps around quite a bit. I’ll allow it.


9) Vatican Shadow – Ghosts of Chechnya

The side project of noise producer Prurient, Vatican Shadow’s music takes your mind to a dark place. House music might seem like a strange way to do it, but the moniker tries to remind Americans of the shadowy military foreign policy their country is guilty of each day. Every song has an overwrought hyper-political title (“The Hamburg Cell was Born in Chechnya or “Chechnya’s Ghosts Loom Large in Death of Former Spy”) and the music is saturated in dread. Fidelity takes a backseat to ambience since most of the arrangements are created by mixing cassettes together. There are no vocals decrying anything, just the suggestive packaging the music is delivered in. Feel free to imagine all the waterboarding and drone-strikes on your own. Just wait until the songs are done playing before you push it out of your mind.

8) Beak> – > >

Beak> is what happens when you coax darkly opaque krautrock out of Geoff Barrow and company. Everything and everyone sounds tired on this record, struggling to keep up with the steady mötorik beats and shuffled grooves. “> >” makes me uneasy when I listen to it since they always sound like they’re one overly-long drum fill away from everything falling apart. It’s Neu! for mopes or maybe Can for the disheartened.

7) Dwight Howard Johnson – Their Entire Bandcamp Page

I’m pretty sure I made Drew Carroll uncomfortable one night after gushing about how much I liked his guitar riff on “Expected Results” so I’ll keep it short. Their songs are immensely fun to sing along to (in my car, alone, so you can’t hear) and have some of the best pop-punk melodies I’ve heard this year. Posting that much material so quickly never resulted in their songs sound unfinished, which is amazing to me. Can’t wait for the full length gentlemen.

Over it

6) Pallbearer – Sorrow and Extinction

A tsunami of molten lead. The kraken tearing an old warship from asunder. Heretics lined up for execution by battleaxe. A dragon inside another dragon. Unending earthquakes. Hungry wolves stranded at the bottom of a well, feasting on each other’s flesh.  Locusts in a rusted-out razor factory. Weeping children being whipped as they assemble Stonehenge. You will imagine all these things and more if you take deep rips from a gravity bong listening to this fantastic stoner album in your parent’s basement.

5) Eternal Summers – Correct Behavior

This album will always be a part of me, or I should say, it will always be a part of my car. It was played so much in my car that the CD player broke and there it remains for all eternity. It’s okay though, guys, I have it on vinyl, mp3 (legally), and cassette. Four formats for one album because Eternal Summers are totally worth it. In the music biz we call that “hitting for the cycle.”

4) Metz – Metz

Have you heard “Rats”? The first ten seconds of that song? I don’t know how you get that sound out of a guitar. I don’t know another punk song where I’ve wanted to yell “LET THE BEAT DROP” before they smash open the chorus. Everything they do well on their self-titled album is summed up in that song. They swing their meters in interesting ways and oscillate back and forth between all-or-nothing volumes. It’s like taking the sound palate of industrial music and using it to play jazz. Hey man, it’s not the ear-bleeding notes you play, it’s the gut-wrenching feedback you don’t play (snaps fingers ten times). Maybe it’s just a formula they work by, but I haven’t heard it before.


3) Mount Eerie – Ocean Roar

It’s shameful how long it took for Mount Eerie to pop up on my radar. Thank god it finally happened. They’ve taken the dreaminess of shoegaze and the weight of black metal and forged a sound I cannot get enough of. Unlike other black metal, though, you never feel as though the barrage of noise is punishing. Instead you’re getting a peek into the turbulent emotional undulations of every teenager in the world all at once. When they want to be, Mount Eerie is downright Wagnerian. On the other end of the spectrum? Cool, cold, serene arrangements that function as the proverbial eye of the storm. Glad I’m finally on board.

2) Mac Demarco – 2

Mac Demarco’s music will hold a special place in the hearts of those who grew up causing mischief in an otherwise sterile suburban neighborhood. The standout track, “Freaking Out The Neighborhood” suggests as much. The songs are guilty of falling in line with the recent rash of “young summer love” sounding albums. “2,” though, has a slightly sleazier approach. The production isn’t very slick and the guitar solos are charmingly sloppy. I also count three different dads in the songs preventing Demarco from getting with three different girls, so you wouldn’t necessarily say this is the deepest album of the year. He’s feigning the simple mind of a teenager, writing songs way above his slacker persona’s pay grade.

1) Ty Segall – Slaughterhouse / Hair / Twins

Man of the year, album(s) of the year, and shaggy haircut of the year all go to Ty Segall, you just need to ask yourself what flavor works best for you. Do you go with the fuzzed-out ballads on Twins? The psych-heavy collaboration with White Fence on Hair? Or do you pick my favorite, the “it’s-as-heavy-as-the-title-suggests” Slaughterhouse drenched in cavernous reverb. Segall’s 60’s-esque songs filtered through his big muff and punk sensibilities make you want to smash every laptop that finds its way to a stage and replace it with a Fender Jaguar. Listen to the heavy riffing in “The Hill,” the yowls at the end of every verse in “Wave Goodbye,” and the dueling guitars throughout “What’s Inside Your Heart” No one made more cathartic albums all year long. Luddites rejoice.

Honorable Mentions:

Lower Dens – Nootropics

Chromatics – Kill For Love

John Maus – A Collection of Rarities

Swans – The Seer

Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II

Godspeed You Black Emperor – Allalujah, Don’t Bend Ascend

Ariel Pink – Mature Themes


Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

Invisible Hand – Aja EP

Dan Deacon – America

Grimes – Visions

Carter Tutti Void – Transverse

Dope Body – Natural History

Best Shows in the Greater Virginia Area aka “It was weird not seeing The Flaming Lips this year” :

(2/10) Squeezeus becomes a thing @ Random Row – It was cool for cats.

(4/28) Shadrock gets rained on @ Brown’s Isle – I saw The Invisible Hand, Kepone, Shabazz Palaces, Yo La Tengo, and De La Soul for $35. That’s $7 per incredible band. You think a little rain is gonna keep me away from that?

(8/12) DBB Plays Cups says farewell @ The Garage – The most meandering man in show business said farewell on a clear August afternoon, “Who Broke into the Wine Cellar” was endearingly long, and Andy Aylward’s Gold Spur anointed themselves as the new kings of swing.

(9/08) Dan Deacon’s Ensemble @ The Jefferson – Equal parts hilarity, audience participation, disorienting visuals, and punishing volume, Dan Deacon is an artist I will see perform anywhere at anytime. I led a dance gang and got fifty people to flip the bird to fifty other people. That’s a special moment.

(9/21) Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees @ Strange Matter – Perpetual stage diving, sweaty shirtless dudes moshing, and mind-numbing volume all add up to one of the best shows, and worst first dates, that I’ve ever gone to.

(10/12) Swans @ The Black Cat – I honestly think seeing them live knocked The Seer out of the top 10 for me (even though I love that record). You can’t un-hear “The Apostate” live, and a recorded substitute just can’t match. You also can’t hear anything for hours afterwards either. Swans live is a full mind and body release, ecstasy through total sonic obliteration. It’s not just how loud of a show it is, but the anticipation beforehand and the weight in your chest when that first wave finally hits you. Add on top of that Michael Gira’s primal and terrifying stage presence and you have the best show I’ve seen since the last time I saw Swans. (By the way, it took them two and a half hours to play seven songs)

(12/19) Diarrhea Planet @ Tea Bazaar – I’ll let James take this one. “sometimes the highest praise for a loud band = I totally stopped thinking about anything at all, for the duration that they were performing.” Ditto.

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16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Volition // Dec 26, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Maybe you wouldn’t hate yr own list in 3 months if FIFTY PERCENT of your list wasn’t Pitchfork Best New Music (the mac demarco, ty segall, the men, METZ, and pallbearer).

    THINK FOR YOURSELF next time ; )

  • 2 James // Dec 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    hey, Pitchfork have a few smart writers… it’s getting harder and harder for them to get *everything* wrong.

  • 3 Amanda // Dec 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Wow Volition, if you hate Zak’s list for being too Pitchfork, you’re REALLY gonna hate mine.

  • 4 Fart Garfunkel // Dec 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Aw man.

  • 5 Zak // Dec 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I’m not going to not include something because Pitchfork also had it on their list. The “hate my own list” though just refers to the fact that you’re always going to miss something you later find and love. If there’s one thing on that list (or in the honorable mentions) that you didn’t know about and you dig it then I’d say this was a rousing success.

    Also maybe you should check out the list The Quietus did… Super weird/great selections.

  • 6 Zak // Dec 26, 2012 at 6:41 pm


  • 7 James // Dec 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    deciding to not like something because other people like it is childish (though of course, there are plenty of bands that have gotten terrible and popular simultaneously…)

    basically the function of these lists (as I see it) is as a springboard for recommendation, debate, and discussion — rather than a yardstick for measuring coolness. using your musical taste to define yourself as an insider / outsider is an increasing mark of insecurity the further one gets from high school. there’s a lot of music out there in the world. let’s listen to it (and argue about it!)

  • 8 James // Dec 26, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    it took me weeks to realize that Vatican Shadow was Dominic from Prurient. I miss the Hospital Records store; always made sure to pick up plenty of stuff there each time I visited NYC.

  • 9 smelly socks // Dec 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    How could you write about music and not mention “Justin’s beaver”?

  • 10 coogan // Dec 27, 2012 at 10:34 am

    diarrhea planet was by far the greatest unexpected musical delight this year. before the show, all i could do was squirm about the name; during the show thought i heard van halen’s “eruption” in four part harmony; then after the show marveling how matt n. running that soundboard was a goddamn miracle.

    speaking of pitchfork, did anyone see purity ring at the southern?

    and there’s got to be some kind of epic accolade for invisible hand. something like “Thanks For Making Sure There’s Always A Baseline Of Fucking Amazing Rock In Charlottesville” Quarter-Lifetime-Achievement Award. their most recent show at pigeon hole was great. fuck, practically all their shows are great.

    i also really dug GEMS at randomrow in…september? PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE MORE SHOWS AT RANDOMROW

  • 11 Jon bray // Dec 27, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    On behalf of the hand, I thank all of you. We accept money. And bang bang shrimp.

  • 12 Matt n. // Dec 27, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Using nailgun as a platform to get a pitchfork internship huh? Have you no shame?

  • 13 Carolyn // Dec 28, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Great list, Zakroni. That DBB show was a highlight for me, too.
    Coogan – I thought RR was shut down for shows?

  • 14 Vijith Assar // Dec 29, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Nicely done, Zak! This is all really well written.

  • 15 Vijith Assar // Dec 29, 2012 at 6:24 am

    Although I really don’t understand the fuss over Channel Orange

  • 16 Zak // Jan 2, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Every post from me now on will be titled “I LIKE WHAT I LIKE JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!” Get off my back “Matt N.” You can be my new no. 1