Monday, October 1, 2012

Best Of The Year 2012: Third Quarter Update

Welcome to MuzikDizcovery's third edition of quarterly updates in 2012. Every staff member will put out a top five list, allowing them to showcase their absolute favorite records of 2012 to date. Additionally, it will be able to alert you of albums that you may not have heard of otherwise. This list does not only include albums that have been released as of September 30, as any album that we have heard so far this year is free to be included. fun., Take One Car, Athletics, Now, Now, Frank Ocean, Passion Pit, Suis La Lune and First Aid Kit are amongst the names that feature prominently in our lists. If you click on the album name, you will be led to our review for the album (if we have written one). All the lists can be seen below the jump.

Casey Whitman

1. Yellowcard - Southern Air
So, I guess this wasn't a letdown. For the second year in a row, it's looking like Yellowcard will take their spot as my favorite album of the year. Southern Air is Yellowcard at their best; the production is ramped up, the instrumentals are tightened up, and most importantly, lead singer Ryan Key is at his peak both vocally and lyrically. Songs such as "Here I Am Alive" and "Rivertown Blues" are instant classics within Yellowcard's discography, and "Ten" will be the band's classic tearjerker. All in all, this may end up being the band's best effort. However, at the pace in which they have been progressing, I wouldn't be surprised if their improvement continues on.

2. fun. - Some Nights
Some Nights may have finally fallen from #1, but that speaks more to the greatness of Southern Air rather the quality of Some Nights. It amazes me that this album has gone gold, but at the same time, I shouldn't be surprised. It's a spectacular pop album which unlike many pop albums out these days. "Some Nights" is still blowing up the charts, and it's still the best song of the year. Isn't that the way the world is supposed to be, where the best artists are the most popular? It's nice to hear some legitimate pop bands back on the radio, and I can't think of a frontman that deserves this more than Nate Ruess.

3. Now, Now - Threads
Now, Now has always made extremely solid releases, but they cranked it up to the next level on Threads. The tracks are dreamier and electronics are more prominently used, but lead singer Cacie Dalager's voice hits a new level of gorgeousness, sounding almost angelic at times. Now signed to Chris Walla's Trans Records, the band has slowly been gaining popularity, and fans of Walla's Death Cab For Cutie will soon latch onto Now, Now as the next big thing.

4. Jukebox The Ghost - Safe Travels
Jukebox The Ghost is contagiously poppy to an almost insane level, but the songs are so fantastic that it doesn't matter. Vocalist and pianist Ben Thornewill has improved in his lyricism and his voice is far improved from the band's early material, and has separated his songs from other vocalist Tommy Siegel's material. But don't discount Tommy's material, as his songs are the poppier ones and usually have a major hook. But Thornewill's songs are amongst the best written pop tracks of the year, and this rating reflects that.

5. Take One Car - It's Going To Be A Nice Day
For me, Take One Car will always be the best musical discovery from 2012. But personal feelings aside, this album is fantastic. It's the perfect blend of ambient post-rock with alt-rock hooks and moments of intensely brutal riffs, combined with vocals that bring both Aaron Weiss and Jordan Dreyer to shame. It's not an easy listen; the album is over an hour long, but it's an immensely satisfying one, especially knowing that this young band can do even better. But for now, It's Going To Be A Nice Day will be an album that will remain a must-listen for any fans of the genre.

Honorable Mentions: 
Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
Everyone Everywhere - Everyone Everywhere
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory
The Menzingers - On The Impossible Past

Will Robinson

1. The Classic Crime - Phoenix
This album is everything a rock fan could have hoped for in a 2012 release. It’s got all the makings of a classic album - variety, stadium-filling singles (in a good way), a lack of any flagrantly bad songs, and music that at best you can listen to over and over again without getting bored. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, with a surprising emotional impact from especially the first half of the album and incredible lasting value that’s drawn me back for another listen time and time again. It’s also got a barrage of very good singles, with the one-two punch of “Beautiful Darkside” and “Heaven and Hell” being up there with the best songs released all year. So far it’s my easy pick for album of the year and it’s absolutely worth a listen for anyone who has even a passing interest in any kind of rock.

2. Icarus the Owl - Love Always, Leviathan
It’s always nice when a pop-punk fan like me stumbles upon something refreshing in a genre that’s mostly stagnant. Love Always, Leviathan has just enough going for it to separate it from the rest of the pack while still keeping most of the good aspects of pop-punk. The album’s unorthodox time signatures and acrobatic tap-guitar playing show off the instrumental chops of everyone in the band, yet it still manages to be incredibly catchy - listen to “Nuclear Towns” and try to tell me that you weren’t at least tapping your foot along with the music by the end. There’s still a lot of quality music on here, though, and stellar songs like “Tag! No Bases” and “Love Always, Leviathan” plant the album squarely at number 2 on this list.

3. fun. - Some Nights
Some Nights makes the list not just for the fact that it’s a very solid album but also because of the massive impact it’s had on the mainstream pop scene. It’s an incredibly fun album to listen to with its grandiose, over-the-top instrumentation incorporating strands of arena rockers like Queen and its songs that sweep the listener up on a wave of exultation and don’t set them down until the end of the song touches them down gently. What makes it one of the best albums of the year so far, though, is how it’s given countless music fans around the world hope for the Top 40. With “Some Nights,” a fantastically energetic song that’s one of the better singles of the year, hitting the Top 40, a lot of people who previously had no hope for the modern music scene had that hope reinvigorated, and it’s a beautiful thing to see a band breathe new life into pop.

4. KOAN Sound - The Adventures of Mr. Fox
Although I originally gave this EP a B, it’s really grown on me since its release. KOAN Sound have done a truly masterful job of bringing back a bygone era of funkiness on this album, and I find myself coming back over and over again to smile along with sublime chunks of glitch hop like “Eastern Thug” and “Sly Fox.” And upon further thought, it’s really not fair to take credit away from a stellar four songs because of some lackluster remixes. KOAN Sound have really crafted a variety of well-done electronic pieces, from hip-hop infused pieces to a more modern take on glitch hop to some chilled-out dubsteppy music that pays incredible attention to detail. If you’re into electronic music at all then this album is a must-have.

5. Real Friends - Everyone That Dragged You Here
This album is a shot of energy that pop-punk’s been desperately needing for a very long time. It hearkens back to the good ol’ days of when the giants of the genre were still screwing around and not writing angsty songs about growing up, and the way the music hits you like a punch of vigor is worth writing about. Although the entire EP clocks in at only 15 minutes, those 15 minutes are quite possibly my favorite 15 minutes of the year in music (with the possible exceptions being songs 2-6 on Phoenix and the entirety of The Adventures of Mr. Fox), and I can’t help but have fun listening over and over again. Although something feels a little bit incomplete about the short release, I feel obligated to give this one a nod for my top five because I’ve listened to it so many times. It’s one of those albums that I’m going to keep coming back to, even in a couple years. I look forward to what these guys have to bring to the table in the future.

Eli Kleman

1. Mount Eerie - Clear Moon
My top five has been a mess each quarter thus far. Some albums that neared or were at the top have now faded their way out. Do I enjoy these albums any less? In most respects, no—that initial wonder and luster just sort of disappeared. But with Clear Moon, that feeling as only gotten stronger since May. Phil Elverum has created one of his finest pieces, mixing the eerie mystery of Wind’s Poem with a more concise songwriting. It’s something to behold, at times being somewhat reserved, while at other times being very experimental. As is tradition, it always remains firmly rooted to Earth.

2. mewithoutYou - Ten Stories
To see this so far up comes as a bit of a surprise, but as old 2012 favorites find their way into the back of my mind, I find myself continually returning to this. This is exactly the album I wanted mewithoutYou to make. It’s catered perfectly to my tastes in regards to the band. It’s got a dash of quirkiness, found in their last release, with the solid indie/post-hardcore background of Brother, Sister. It’s the band playing up the best of their sound is it’s all the more amazing because of it.

3. Suis La Lune - Riala
The past couple of years have been tough for big name “skramz.” Sure we get Loma and company dropping some stuff, but the glut of solid releases have been in the form of surprises, such as last year’s Hours by Beau Navire. Well Suis La Lune have come to put an end to that. While not the genre’s heaviest hitters, since their Heir EP back in 2008 they’ve been making quite a name for themselves. Thankfully, their long awaited release doesn’t disappoint, as its staying power is something to admire.

4. The Tallest Man on Earth - There’s No Leaving Now
It’s The Tallest Man on Earth. Of course it’s great.

5. Right Away, Great Captain! - The Church of the Good Thief
Now here’s a shocker. The Andy Hull led side project cracks the top ten with some of the sweetest, most tragic music this year. Hull’s high vocals croon lightly the story of a sailor who seeks vengeance, and the emotional fallout afterwards. It’s an excellent story, and one told clearly and succinctly through some impressive lyrical work. This is the third part of the trilogy, and the best by far. Don’t miss out!

Jonny Hunter

The Russian electronic music scene seems to be nothing if not inward facing. As a result, it’s often the case that ambitious sentiments struggle to translate themselves through the music. When it does work, however, they can reach the spiritual kind of complexity and intrigue as seen in Trespassers Guide. It’s an incredibly deep album - if possibly convoluted and a tad pretentious as well - and an absolutely sublime example of drone/experimental mind fuckery.

2. Pepe Deluxe - Queen of the Wave
It still boggles my mind that an album such as Queen of the Wave is even allowed to exist in such a musical world as ours, let alone that it would be met with an impressive amount of acclaim and success. A veritable ‘pop-opera,’ the album attempts to retell the themes of a madman’s tales of atlantis (told in further detail in our review of the album). It’s bizarre, absolutely bonkers and seemingly plucked from the very spirit of excess. Despite this, it’s rarely overwhelming and beyond the initial culture shock lies an incredibly impressive and consistent display of stark-raving-madness.

3. Burial - Kindred
Released right at the beginning of the year, Burial’s Kindred is already starting to be placed in my mind as a set piece of musical history. Burial took the style that he refined in Untrue and the following EPs, then made it darker, sadder and more progressive. Certainly among the best that he’s done, and by all accounts everyone is looking forward to see just where this dubstep-superhero will reach his peak, because it doesn’t seem like he’s got there just yet.

4. Bersarin Quartett - II
This is steadily slipping down these quarterly lists, sadly, as it just doesn’t have the staying power I’d like. This is no doubt due to modern-classical’s now over-milked motifs and themes, but it’s still difficult to ignore the quality of this album. As far as emotionally-indulgent classic goes, this is pretty much as good as it gets - so we’ll try to judge it on its own terms. ‘Jedem Zauber...’ is still flawless, though.
5. David Newlyn - The Misspelled Numbers
An artist’s probably doing pretty well for himself when someone compiling a top five list is more concerned with which album to chose instead of whether they should include the artist. David Newlyn really has evolved into quite the prolific ambient producer, and with two completely different releases in the space of a month - both of which are outstanding - one wonders just what he’ll do next. The Misspelled Numbers is his most unique, therefore it nudges Deterioration off the top spot for the time being.

Blair Chopin

1. fun. - Some Nights
Aim and Ignite was a classic tribute to three of the most popular bands of all time in Queen, the Beach Boys and The Beatles. Just about every song had the energy of a hit Queen song, had the "relatable" lyrics of a hit Beatles song, and had the "fun" and fast paced instrumentation of a hit Beach Boys song. Aim and Ignite was of the utmost quality and essentially had no flaws besides the flaw that it was not "modern" enough for a mainstream and "radio" audience.

Some Nights is an album that takes all of the best qualities of Aim and Ignite and modernizes them. Think of it as the autotuned and arena rock version of The Beatles, the instrumentation of the Beach Boys being produced to perfection, and lyrics that Freddie Mercury would write if he knew the world wasn't so judgmental. The album is the 2012 version of Sgt Pepper's, the 2012 version of Pet Sounds, and a 2012 version of The Night At The Opera. Aim and Ignite was a classic album because it successfully paid tribute to the Beach Boys, Queen, and the Beatles, but Some Nights might end up being a classic album because it was the album where fun. became the 2012 version of the Beach Boys, Queen, and The Beatles.

2. The Antlers - Undersea
It is almost ironic that The Antlers wanted to make a concept album about "undersea suspension." Even though the band did exactly what they wanted to do with this album: they got the listener so tied into the story that they felt like they were suffering underwater, they made in album that flowed together so perfectly that it made the album seem like a 20 minute tidal wave that was washing over you instead of just four separate and simple tracks, and they made an album that easily combined the influences, sounds, and concepts from their two previous near masterpieces. But The Antlers successfully making a "undersea suspension" concept album is ironic because with this album they have officially "suspended" any notion of what can and cannot be done with their music. And that is some "suspension" I would gladly drown in.

3. M. Ward - A Wasteland Companion
M. Ward might not become one of the biggest artists in the world in the months and year following the release of A Wasteland Companion, but it is important to note that he has finally created a record that is vulnerable, free and modern enough to be considered by the mainstream. Instead of being a textbook that forces every facet of the past on you, A Wasteland Companion is a record that let’s you take time with you: it is a 2012 dinner by the lake with Henry David Thoreau, it is a night out on the town with Ernest Hemingway, and it is a record that can take any place you want to you just by listening. M. Ward has finally created a record that was more Midnight In Paris than a 45 minute documentary on the history channel. Because of this he has not only created a brilliant and accessible record, but he has done something much more important: realized his potential. I wish I could say the sky was the limit for M. Ward, but that might not do A Wasteland Companion or his musical future justice. Because M. Ward might just end up making music that can bring the sky down to us.

4. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan 
The most fun record of 2012 so far besides the actual record by the band fun. Every song on Swing Lo Magellan is filled with inhumane amounts of energy, catchiness, beauty, and substance. Even though the album seems like "indie on steroids," it never seems over indulgent or even self indulgent. Swing Lo Magellan is a formulatic displaying of everything that is great about 2012 indie; and it remains accesible.

5. Sun Kil Moon - Among The Leaves
On Among The Leaves, Mark Kozelek not only disproves the theory that an album with "songs that sound the same" cannot be great, but he also proves how good an artist can be when they have perfected an original, breathtaking, and free flowing style. His sound is a seemless combination of just about every major folk musician of the past 40 or so years, yet his sound always sounds completely original and unique. The lyrics on Among The Leaves are sarcastic, witty, and simple, yet they never seem cliche or disingenuous. Every song on Among The Leaves is powerfully consistent, yet never seems complacent in the least bit. Among The Leaves is more than just a 70 minute epic that disproves any theory that an album filled with similar sounding songs cannot be considered a success, it is proof of the power of an artist knowing himself. The truth is that the beauty of Among The Leaves isn't specifically found in any of its tracks or lyrics, but is really found in the simple fact that you end up believing that this is the poetic masterpiece that only Kozelek could make. You always feel like Kozelek was meant to be the only person who could make this album, just like your favorite author is the only person who could write one of your favorite books. Among The Leaves is an artist realizing his strengths, capabilities, perfecting his sound, and making an album that proves "unique repetitive beauty" is always better than pitiful attempts at experimentation.

6. Frightened Rabbit-  State Hospital EP
7. Passion Pit - Gossamer
8. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar
9. Moonface - With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery
10. Oberhofer - Time Capsules II

Ali Welford

1. The Walkmen - Heaven
Usually when we discuss bands operating within their comfort zone we do so whilst implying negative connotations. That, however, is not the case with The Walkmen, who have spent so long becoming cozy in their own skin that they've finally struck gold. Heaven is the masterpiece many of us feared they'd never make; a glorious, triumphant realisation of years of subtle changes and hard graft which should at long last see them recognised among the elite of the indie world. Oozing with confidence, composure and class, it's the type of record only a band of their maturity could make, with each and every song shining on individual merit as well as within the context of the LP. Stunning.

2. Beach House - Bloom
I enjoy this Baltimore duo's previous effort Teen Dream, but by no means hold it as a modern classic like many others seem to. Bloom, however, is a different story altogether, and not only marks an improvement but arguably ranks as the defining dream-pop record of the past decade. Its formula doesn't differ much from that of its predecessor, but the exercise in refinement the pair have undergone is nothing short of masterful, with these ten songs representing a virtual perfection of their craft. Warm, sedative and immaculately produced, it's a blissful and spectacular journey which, while not particularly diverse, is sure to resonate for years to come.

3. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
Every year has a great breakup album, and while it's no For Emma, Forever Ago or Blood On The Tracks Sharon Van Etten's third effort looks like being 2012's installment. Its lyrics mightn't tug many heartstrings on paper, but the 31-year-old New Yorker sings every word with such anguish and sincerity it's impossible not to share in her despair. It does, of course, help to be graced with a bunch of truly breathtaking compositions, with the naked pain of "Give Out," the toxic bite of "Serpents" and the Zach Condon-aided "We Are Fine" proving especially potent. Not the most immediate record perhaps, but once Tramp clicks it's one you'll struggle to detach yourself from.

4. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
2012 has been ram-packed with great new music from new and emerging artists, yet by some freak of nature 63-year-old Bruce Springsteen remains a fixture in my top five. It's amazing really, though one could in fact argue that he too represents a current act given both the excellence and relevance of 17th LP Wrecking Ball. Sure, we all go into Springsteen records with a pretty solid idea of what to expect, but that's done nothing to quell the magnificence of The Boss' formula, which sounds as powerful now as it did in his late '70s early '80s heyday. Indeed the likes of "Easy Money," "Death To My Hometown" and the title track represent some of his finest tunes since that glorious peak, while the record's curveball "Rocky Ground" sees him tackle modern hip-hop with almost shocking ease. The man is quite simply a machine, so this latest triumph perhaps shouldn't have been as much of a surprise as it was.

5. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar
Future Of The Left's The Plot Against Common Sense, John Talabot's Fin, Swans' The Seer and Frank Ocean's Channel Orange could all quite easily occupy this fifth slot, and may well do so by the time end of year lists come around. However, for familiarity as much as anything else I'm going to have to stick with First Aid Kit's enduringly wonderful Lion's Roar, a folk record of the highest order and one which represents an enormous leap forward for sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg. Overflowing with gorgeous harmonies and equally transcendent songwriting, it's already made stars of them back home in Sweden, and by the looks of it the rest of the world is following suite. Rarely have campfire singalongs sounded so lovely.

Matt Murray

1. The Chariot - One Wing
Every album that The Chariot has released in their career has been consistently better than the last. I honestly wasn't sure if they would be able to top their 2010 release, Long Live, but sure enough, One Wing exceeds every expectation I had. The relentless level of intensity from all of their past albums is there, as well as a handful of unexpected curve balls, not the least of which including the mariachi horn interlude and Charley Chaplin speech. They really pushed themselves with this release, and I'm simply in awe of the outcome.

2. Tyler Daniel Bean - Longing.
The first time I heard this record, the impact it had nearly brought me to tears. Tyler Daniel Bean has honed in on everything that is great about both indie rock and Midwest emo, incorporating a certain level of screamo, as well, when the moment calls for it. The dynamics of Longing become more and more emotionally moving as the album progresses, which is primarily a result of their heart-wrenching lyrics. It's as though Pedro the Lion and Tigers Jaw joined forces to write a collaborative album together, so if you're a fan of either of those bands, this is not an album you're going to want to sleep on any longer.

3. Perfect Future - Old Wounds
I doubt many people were as taken aback by this album as I was, but I'm okay with that. I have a great appreciation for bands that set out to write a concept album, and Perfect Future has written one of the best ones I've ever heard. The album is set up as a letter from a WWI soldier, who's writing to the woman whom he's made a widow. Lyrically, Old Wounds is amazingly articulated and heartbreaking, giving you a clear understanding of both the characters as well as the series of events in the story. This, alongside their throwback style of good, '90s emo hardcore, makes for a very unique and inspiring album that I'll never grow tired of listening to.

4. Now, Now, - Threads
I can't express how much I love everything about this band. Between the Neighbors EP and Threads, Now, Now have officially become my favorite female-fronted indie band. Every song they write draws you in, whether it's with acoustic tracks that can best be described as cute, catchy guitar riffs and vocal melodies, or their more hauntingly beautiful song arrangements. I don't know where their style will go in the future, but I already can't wait to find out.

5. Port Manteau - Intersections
True innovation is hard to come by, but Port Manteau has delivered such an album with seeming ease this year. In spite of listening to literally hundreds of bands, there is not a single one that I could compare them with. Every song on this album is different from the other, ranging from somber acoustic tracks, to catchy indie rock anthems, to noise-ridden post hardcore. And even with all of that jumping around, there is still a level of cohesiveness to the album as a whole. How they managed to do so, I'll never figure out. I just know that this is by far the most original album I've come across in years.

Honorable Mentions:
Innards - I've Lost Everything
Dowsing - It's Still Pretty Terrible
Dikembe - Broad Shoulders
Solace - Call & Response
You Blew It! - Grow Up, Dude
Joie De Vivre-We're ll All Better Than This 
Prawn - Ships
Xerxes - Our Home Is A Deathbed
Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson - Small Changes We Hardly Notice

Nathan Flynn

1. fun. - Some Nights
It's hard to deny the power that Nate Ruess' voice has: it compels, it elicits emotion and, perhaps most importantly, it sounds really good. It was this voice that propelled fun. from a decently popular indie-pop band to chart-toppers with their single "We Are Young." It is indicative of the album's quality that "We Are Young" is the worst song to be found on Some Nights. Although Some Nights is far less unique than its predecessor Aim & Ignite, the band progresses in a variety of ways. The incorporation of heavier synthesizers and slightly more guitar is a very welcome addition to the band's sound. However, it's the heavy use of, surprisingly, auto-tune that really sets the album apart. When applied to Ruess' pristine pipes, it becomes an instrument all its own. On closing song "Stars," his warbling would have been trite without the manipulation; with it, the eight-minute track is kept from capsizing. It's the manipulation that also carries the intro to title track "Some Nights," and a gamble that could have sunk the album. Instead, the willingness to take risks is what enabled fun. to write the best and most enjoyable album of the year thus far.

2. Regina Spektor - What We Saw From the Cheap Seats
As an unabashed fan of both piano and female vocals, it's almost unfair for me to be reviewing a Regina Spektor album. Regardless of my predisposition to Spektor-type music, she blows away the competition with this album. Her voice is dynamic as ever and songs like "All the Rowboats" show that she's still willing to push the envelope with full-orchestral compositions and can still scale it back for songs like "Firewood." She really shows how elastic the piano can be in creating different sounding music despite a similar structure to most of her songs. As with Some Nights, it's her voice, with some help from her charisma, that carries the album; it's the contributions from the other elements that elevates What We Saw From the Cheap Seats to this pantheon of albums.

3. Passion Pit - Gossamer
I've already said a lot about this album but you really can't say enough about this one. The production on this album is astoundingly good, one of the best mixed pop albums I've ever heard. The airy synth that dominated Manners has been scaled back in order to make room for more of the band to participate and it adds dynamism to the group's sound. It is also a great comeback record for singer Michael Angelakos, who spent the last three years battling depression, addiction and rehab; with some support from his friends, he was able to write and compose the entire album as if nothing happened. Passion Pit firmly established themselves as artists on the rise with Gossamer.

4. The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
Handwritten may not have been as good as American Slang, in fact, it may have been the worst Gaslight Anthem album thus far, but it was still pretty damn good. The band's music is very charismatic, inviting the listener to hum, sing or dance along to the quick guitar riffs that are complex yet very simple. Opener "45" sets the tone for the album with many "whoa-ohs" from Fallon and a sing-along feel that bounces along. It's a far more accessible and rockier album than their previous ones, meaning that some of the songs blend together, but there's nothing wrong with a run-on of quality songs. There really isn't a standout song like "The '59 Sound" or "The Diamond Street Church Choir" as hard as "45" and "Too Much Blood" try to be, but there are no real pitfalls either; it's just the band doing what it does best: consistently strong, straight-up rock.

5. Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Part One
Yes, this album came out earlier this week, but it already has the looks of the best rap album of the year. After Lasers, I had basically pronounced Food & Liquor era Lupe dead. His sound has branched too far into the mainstream and the guest artists- Skylar Grey, John Legend et al.- showed up just to help with the hooks and mainstream appeal of the album. Food & Liquor 2 is a complete 180 from last year's album: the album is nearly all Lupe, the political punch is back and the beats are powerful again. "ITAL" crosses the boundary into 'banger' territory and "Audobon Ballroom" is a slick song featuring some of Lupe's most clever rhymes. Not all of the songs are great, "Bitch Bad" is pretty lackluster and "Hood Now" drags on for too long, but the previous two Lupe Fiasco efforts were around 1/3 filler. Each song on Food & Liquor 2 at least seems to have a purpose. It's a great return-to-form from a rapper some were ready to pronounce irrelevant.

Mat Fukano

1. Caspian - Waking Season
Caspian released a really fucking fantastic album a couple of weeks ago, and maybe it's a honeymooning phase that lets me fawn over this album without too much consequence otherwise, but the album is essentially perfect. There's nothing wrong with Waking Season, from its glorious start to its depressing, bitter end. The title track promises something completely new and fresh, but "Fire Made Flesh" closes out heavily, creating a period that blows all other forms of punctuation out of the water like aquatic critters in a dynamite fishing spree.

2. Cursive - I Am Gemini
An early release in the year, I Am Gemini is one of Cursive's best albums to date. It's a twisted, wretched story that's stayed on my top 5 list throughout the year, and I think it'll stay there. The album art is beautiful, and the songs are written in stanzas that read much like a Shakespearean play, but when sung, flow flawlessly along in Tim Kasher's perversely twisted voice, laced with strains of insanity and riddled with sin. It's a piece of work to behold, and it draws you in akin to a haunted painting you can't look away from.

3. Take One Car - It's Going To Be A Nice Day
The guys of Take One Car changed my opinion of what post-metal could be. Not only does Tyler Irish stray completely away from the typical metal growl sometimes heard in post-metal music (ahem Russian Circles), but he does so in a brilliant way that flows perfectly with the rest of the gritty distortion that is featured prominently on the album in tracks like "I Know Why You Went Into The Woods" and "In The Company Of Wolves." These tracks hit so hard but have so much thought behind them, it's a mesmerizing listen.

4. Athletics - Who You Are Is Not Enough
If you're looking for emotional music, look no further than the theme-and-variations based release by Athletics. Who You Are Is Not Enough is a somber and melancholy release poured full to the brim of emotion. The five-track release introduces a brilliant theme and plays around with the theme in four mind-blowing alterations that share only key signature - otherwise, they're completely individual tracks. Yet, when listened to all at the same time, they form one five-part song that is a whole listen, with no stops or pitfalls anywhere.

5. The American Dollar - Awake In The City
Even if this album had nothing going for it musically, which I think it definitely does, it still has the really cool idea of mirroring the big city in each and every track. John Emanuele and Richard Cupolo drew New York City as their inspiration to write this album and echo many of its qualities perfectly in a post-rock record. And musically, the album puts out blindingly bright tones and layers, echoic to the last and mixing in a generous usage of guitar, synth, and piano in a musically and thematically creative album.

Jacob Royal

1. Dark Time Sunshine - ANX
"The art of storytelling isn't art at all, it's the captivated moment when you find you have the gall to throw your guts upon the wall, to tell the truth about your fall, and how you plan to travel back to where you came from it all."

ANX defines this summer for me. I listened to this album for at least two months, which is shocking considering I usually get tired of music after two listens. "Prarie Dog Day" is possibly the most unabashedly joyous hip-hop track of the year, "I'll Be Damned" is a more subdued affair that's truly tragic, and "Cultclass" is a potent exercise in the topic of science and faith working under the same flag.  ANX's collaborations are killer - no surprises there - P.O.S. delivering insight per usual on "Overlordian," and Child Actor contributing sweet melodies to "Valiant."

Overall, the album's about anxiety, but nobody would really guess that for most of the album considering it's a testament to positivity in hip-hop. "Can't Wait" is an uplifting start to the album, carefree synths providing the main melody along a more complex background. The album takes a dive into studying anxiety in the last few songs, though; "ANX" is Onry Ozzborn's personal narrative through a panic attack that shaped the inspiration of the album. It's frightening enough, especially because the track's honest enough to convince the listeners that they even slightly understand what he went through. This is why ANX has lasted so long for me, why it's so unforgettable, because it has tracks that initially impress as well as tracks that tell a story that's gut-wrenching. Which is where the previously mentioned wall comes in.

2. Sithu Aye - Isles
There's something undeniably special about an artist able to consistently delight his fans. Sithu Aye hasn't been in the music scene for too long, granted, but the fact that both of his releases thus far have been not only incredibly promising but genuinely exciting makes the guitarist all the more impressive. Isles is a brief exercise in groove, six tracks incorporating funk and jazz elements into an instinctively modern progressive metal context. The great thing about Isles, though, is that it's appealing to anyone. Whether you're a Cloudkicker junkie or an Animal Collective fanboy (as unappealing as that sounds,) you're in for a treat with this short but sweet EP.

3. Passion Pit - Gossamer
Life's shitty a decent amount of the time, but the magic lies within dressing those shitty moments as something better. Sugarcoating - that's what the difficult aspects of life are all about, right? Passion Pit know this phenomenon well, frontman Michael Angelakos wearing the woes of an exhausted musician on his sleeve. Gossamer's all sugar and ecstasy, but this isn't exactly what Angelakos intended; the album came after a mental breakdown or two on his part, and its release serves as a tangible recollection of every stress. One wouldn't think this, though, hearing the sweet hooks infused into every turn of Gossamer. The album's a party, but with further inspection the lyrics display a man in pain, trying to add order to his dysfunctional life. Gossamer's a clear example of that one idea towards happiness, the concept that if you surround yourself with it, even the illusion of happiness, that it'll someday make you truly happy. If this is true, then Gossamer is a beam of light in the otherwise ill-lit musical community. And if it isn't, well, the album is still the soundtrack to a party you haven't had yet, the score to your emotional highs you didn't know existed.

4. Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
There's little about channelORANGE that doesn't work, which is a startling change from the R&B musician's debut Nostalgia, Ultra. Instead of utilizing others' art to define his own, Frank Ocean creates a palette of his own flavors, bolstering his incredible voice alongside crystalline production. channelORANGE is effective, though, because it reveals the man behind the mask, the one that came out via Twitter a few months ago via heartfelt story about his first love. It's clear from this release that Ocean's been waiting for the opportunity to be honest with the world, and this time it isn't accompanied by "Freebird" samples but his respect for the successful R&B of yesterday. Who would've thought a member of Odd Future had this in him?

5. Suis La Lune - Riala
I haven't listened to Riala in months, yet upon completing this list it comes immediately to mind. That's because it isn't necessary to listen to it often; the emotion stays with the listener, as do the incredibly catchy harmonies that work with the pleading vocalist. Suis La Lune have utilized 2012 as a chance to release their most immediately engaging album yet, one that refuses to leave your memory.

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