Ten Notable Albums of 2012
Now that the new year is upon us it is time for reflection as television and podcast personalities turn a critical eye on 2012 and formulate their lists. Not wanting to be left out, here, in alphabetical order, are ten of the most notable albums I’ve heard that were released in 2012.
Bootlegged, Broke and Insolvent Seas is a collection of live tracks recorded during Skinny Puppy’s Eastern European tour. Choice cuts from the Canadian electro-industrial act include such fan favorites as Worlock, Assimilate, and Addiction. This collection also features the single, Hate Kill, and one of their earliest songs, Dead Lines. The live events lend an edge to each song but the quality suffers somewhat, so it is a bit of a trade off between the energy of a live recording and the slick production of a studio album. What shines here is the percussion by cEvin Key who performs industrial beats that could shake your house down.
Denver, Colorado’s leading goth rockers, Beryl Beloved, follow their début EP release with a full length album, Count the Days. Beryl embodies the stark sound of the early days of the Bat Cave and American death rock bands like Christian Death or 45 Grave with songs like Ethyl Carbamate and The Profiteer. Yet for all the edgy guitar riffs and tribal beats at times Beryl has tongue well in cheek as in the song, Maybe (It’s Love That Frightens Me).
School of Seven Bells just sort of manifested out of nowhere. The album, Ghostory, combines traditional shoe-gaze with some more electronic elements for a sound that transcends genres. Sure there are buzzy guitars and plenty of reverb. Yes, the vocals blend into the music well. Yet there are electronic bass rhythms and even some sparse dub step style oscillations particularly in the song, Love Play. A strong recommendation for those seeking music that lifts the soul.
Fans of The Birthday Massacre have criticized Hide and Seek for being overproduced. This is a fallacy as the Canadian darkwave band, having been inspired by 80s new wave, have long had slick production. What the fans hear instead is maturity in the vocals by Chibi and in the musicianship of her bandmates. The fourth album benefits from experience. Meanwhile the band stays true to their leitmotif, the conflict between the innocence of childhood and the darkness within a child’s imagination. Songs like The Long Way Home, Cover My Eyes, and Play With Fire illustrate these themes.
Australian phenomenon, Gotye, created not one but two ear worms with Somebody That I Used to Know and Eyes Wide Open. In Making Mirrors he shows that he is capable of so much more. The album not only benefits from his talented vocals but also a great variety. Smoke and Mirrors embraces the old school rock and roll revival of bands like The Black Keys. Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You has a definite reggae arrangement. Furthermore, I Feel Better harkens back to the days of Motown.
Bill Leeb, formerly William Schroeder of Skinny Puppy fame, left that band some time ago over what he felt was a lack of creative input into the project. Since then he has more than made up for lost time with projects ranging from Front Line Assembly and Noise Unit to Pro>Tech and Intermix with several other besides. His most commercially successful project, though, is the downtempo electronica band, Delerium. Delerium has evolved over time from dark, ambient industrial themes to somewhat of an Enigma clone. While unoriginality has often been the Achilles heel of this project it has to be said that Leeb and company improve upon proven standards. Nuages Du Monde proved a bit of a misstep as guest vocalists weren’t used to the best advantage and the music itself seemed bland and uncreative. Music Box Opera recovers by adopting the current trend of including dubstep while also utilizing the guest vocalists well. Even so, Delerium manages to reclaim some of their former glory with a few familiar musical cues for an album that bridges the past and the present.
Somewhere between the grandeur of Sisters of Mercy and the wild west sensibilities of The Fields of the Nephilim stands Red Sun Revival, yet another band reviving the traditional gothic rock sound. Running from the Dawn embraces the sound of the gothic rock scene at its peak. The sound is so rich in scope as to make one wonder if the album is presented in Vistavision. The lyrics for the most part revolve around religious doubt. Together the music and lyrics combine for a transportive and interesting album.
Ex-March Violets members lift the title of one of their old songs to become Grooving in Green. The goth rockers from Leeds bring the eighties sound to their album, Stranglehold while somehow managing to be contemporary by tackling modern issues. Primarily the album revolves around the financial collapse and the failures of government, Fat Cats being the most obvious example. Even the 24 hour news networks are targeted in More News on Nothing.
Former Christiandustrial Metal frontman, Klayton, generated considerable interest in his later band, Celldweller, mostly from appearances in film trailers an TV commercials but also with remixes of songs by other artists. Wish upon a Blackstar finds Klayton playing around with the contemporary sound of dubstep. The tell tale wubwub dominates most tracks, providing even greater dance friendly bass grooves to an already club friendly artist. Wish upon a Blackstar is a bit of a hodgepodge of musical styles as the vocals steer into screamo, guitar features heavily, and the song structure has a definite industrial rock format. Yet instead of having these elements, including some orchestration as well, play tug of war with the album, each contributes to the whole for a sum greater than the seemingly disparate parts. Klayton takes the best of each. Thematically the album reflects Klayton’s faith, having lyrics such as “I’m sorry, son, you’re reaping what you’ve sown”, “Actions speak louder than words do” or “I’ve got a gift for you / A special place in Hell.”
Women and Satan First by :Wumpscut: finds the Bavarian meister of endzeit electro back in form. While many have imitated the dark electronic soundscapes, few have ever duplicated Rudy Ratzinger’s melodic hooks. Rudy’s latest release continues to improve his reputation after a slew of lackluster albums. Women and Satan First proves he hadn’t forgotten his skills as a club DJ in tracks like Hallelujah and Blutsturtz Baby. There are dark, atmospheric pieces such as Kaufe Deine Seele and L’enfer Noir. At time the music is provocative if not downright controversial with Cunnilingus Creutzfeuer and Kill That Little Fuck. Overall an album with a lot of strong tracks with plenty of variety without sacrificing a unifying style.