By Nathan G. O'Brien exclusively for HotDogDayz
After giving a considerable amount of space to the best hip-hop records and mixtapes of 2012 (in conjunction with Scene Point Blank), I figured a good way to wrapup our Year-End Best-Of coverage would be to talk about some of the great records from the past year that aren't rap. Being a rabid consumer of music makes narrowing down a list quite a difficult task. To make it easier on myself I excluded anything that wasn't a full-length release. Unfortunately this takes a bunch of punk and hardcore 7"s out of contention, as well as some EPs. (If some time frees up, I may attack that, but don't hold your breath.) So, after meticulously combing through the releases that soundtracked the last year of my life, I have narrowed it down to twenty six of the best. (I didn't want to do thirty, but I had one more than twenty five.) Like with the previous lists, were going alphabetical, and when applicable, click on any highlighted title to read a full-length review. With that, here are The 26 Best Records of 2012...That Aren't Rap...
Bad Brains - Into the Future
While Bad Brains hardcore punk-to-metal-and-back-again approach to fast music has been a bit frustrating at times, it's their reggae where they hsa really improved. This album is missing the detailed touches of the late Adam Yauch (who produced '07's Build a Nation) but the entire things is dedicated to him, and ends with a riddim called "MCA Dub." Into the Future is undeniably Bad Brains, and that alone, makes it one of the year's best.
Cannibal Corpse - Torture
Torture is the latest tech-y death metal outing from the masters of tech-y death metal, Cannibal Corpse. Chalk another one up in their abhorrent tributary of blood, guts, and grossness. Get killed by it, bro.
Crocodiles - Endless Flowers
Although the San Diego, CA duo Crocodiles has softened things up a bit this time around, there is still enough of the lo-fi, druggy, indie-pop goodness of their previous material intact that it shouldn't scare anyone off that was hoping for another Summer of Hate or Sleep Forever. Endless Flowers may take a few spins to get into but eventually it will warm your skin like a sunny day at the beach. Except without all the wet dogs, screaming children and broken glass.
Crystal Castles - III
Aptly-titled, III is the third album by Ethan Kath and Alice Glass, the Canadian experimental electro-noise duo collectively known as Crystal Castles. They are everything you wish you could be: shadowy, ingenious, skinny, and punk as motherfucking fuck. I’ve never done heroin, but I’m guessing this is what the first taste is like. III is mood-altering, strangely danceable, and most of all, frightening yet beautiful vandalism.
Cutty Ranks - Full Blast
A veteran rude boy--having got his start in Jamaican music at the tender age of 11, and as a participant in one of the biggest sound clashes in the country's history--Cutty Ranks broke a seven year hiatus with a fiery new album that had him not only returning to form but showcasing his growth as artist, employing a variety of reggae in his methodology. From traditional to lover's rock to dub and of course, dancehall, it's all on here. Cutty called upon some Jamaica's best riddim players for Full Blast, and the end result is a wholly enjoyable reggae record from needle drop to completion.
Darling Farah - Body
Detroit-born, United Arab Emirates-raised, London-dwelling 20 year-old (You get all that?) Darling Farah's debut album is as varied as his background. Body leads the listener on a head-nodding peregrination through sub-low, minimalism, house, techno, and early UK dubstep. One of those rare electronic records that transcends beyond the genre.
Fastkill - Bestial Thrashing Bulldozer
Band name and album title says it all. And look at that artwork. It's a skeleton riding a tank while drinking beer! Also, they're Japanese. That should do it.
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Japandroids create incredibly awesome poppy, punky, indie-rock-y, sing-a-long summer jams, and I unabashedly love every single one of them. Listening to this record is like riding your bike to work on a cool, sunny Friday morning and deciding that today is the day you’re going to stop being such a wimp about consequences and go ahead and finally have sex with your crush from the office. Probably not in the office…that could result in you getting fired…but like, later, after a night of drinking and possibly cocaine. But what do I know; I don’t even own a bike.
Kylesa - From the Vaults, Vol. 1
Just as its name implies, From the Vaults, Vol. 1 is an assortment of tracks culled from the band’s back catalogue of psychedelic-hardcore-crust-punk-sludge-metal. It’s not a massive, quickly thrown-together, best-of set though; but rather a twelve-song collection of unreleased, new and alternate versions, that took twelve plus months to amass. The band poured over old songs, covers, and rare tracks. They gathered the ones they felt would fit together well before re-recording, or remixing, or adding whatever finishing touches it is that people with a such meticulous attention to detail do. The end result is a great representation of Kylesa’s different styles from early on to present day. This should appease not only avowed collectors but newcomers seeking a perfect example of what these genre-hopping heavyweights are all about.
Martyrdod - Paranoia
For over a decade now, Swedish purveyors of stench, Martyrdod have been unleashing their trademarked style of blackened everything to the crust-consuming masses. Despite the richer sounding production value on Paranoia, there is still the full-on power and blunt straightforwardness indicative of D-beat. It’s just been polished up enough that you can clearly distinguish the multitude of layers created by the skilled axemen—incorporating, among other things, aspects of punk, hardcore and classic Swedish death metal. In that same regard, the partition of instrumentation allows the the listener to hear the rhythm section’s impact on the overall sound, as they plod and pound their way through a thunderous Dis-laden low end. While the guitar work hints at it, it’s really the hateful, tortured vitriol of the vocals that adds a heavy dose of black metal to the mix—a distinction longtime fans will recognize and appreciate.
Mean Jeans - On Mars
On Mars is punk rock for skater kids, alternateens, and hopeless romantics raised on frozen pizza and gas station nachos, just as much as it for those fending off adulthood; still lurking around the dim corners of fringe society in worn out Chucks and pinned-up hoodies; swilling tall boys of whatever the cheap beer of the moment is; and hipping “the kids” to the days when Danny Panic, B-Face and Danny Vapid were in The Queers instead of, well, whoever is now.
Nu Sensae - Sundowning
Hailing from Vancouver, BC this trio pins the snotty punch of classic L7 and Babes in Toyland alongside the auditory ambush of Dinosaur Jr. and the Melvins, while peppering it with Sonic Youth-y and Pixies-ish flirtations. Yes, it’s nearly impossible for anyone who lived through it the first time around to describe the band’s muddy, grunge-nodding brand of punk without playing the “sounds like” game. And that’s in no way a bad thing. Nü Sensae effectively retools the weightiest incisions from that exciting and hopeful era when “college rock” was becoming “alternative” and applies a punky methodology.
OFF! - Self-Titled
While firing shots at Gregg Ginn and mocking Black Flag three decades after the fact may be oddly entertaining, we’d be better off to forget the entire hubbub of old punkers jogging out ancient rivalries. The bottom line is this is just good hardcore punk rock. Period. Keith Morris, much like on 2010’s First Four EPs, sounds as youthful a singer as he ever has—this is what he loves to do and he does it really well. And the band exercises flawlessly loud-ass Black Flag/Circle Jerks worship for which Morris can blow his vocal chords over. Much like with the production on the previous record, the same can be said of this one—it has a demo-like quality that is quite favorable to the overall sound.
Oiltanker - Shadow of Greed / Crusades
Shadow of Greed / Crusades is a combo package put together by Southern Lord, bringing two previously vinyl-only releases--an LP and a 7" respectfully--into the CD/digital world. Hartford, CT--one of the oldest and wealthiest cities in the United States--on the surface doesn’t exactly scream crust punk, but Oiltanker’s existence there is further affirmation of one of the most appealing aspects of crust: it subsists virtually everywhere; bubbling under the surface; angst-ridden, socio-politically conscious, and in stark opposition to the surrounding affluence and excess.
Female-fronted fast hardcore from Olympia, WA. Like the kind where the band sets up on floor in front of the stage and all the kids go bananas. Rad shit, man.
Phobia - Remnants of Filth
Punky grind veterans Phobia dropped a new album that's a little less crusty and a little more metal-y. Pretty slick production, but still very anachro, scream-filled and jam-packed with crushing blast beats.
Public Image Ltd. - This is PiL
Roughly two years after reforming his influential post-Sex Pistols band, Public Image Ltd. for a world tour, John Lydon decided it was time to write some songs and record a new record. This is PiL is as simple a title as it is accurate. Although there are some adventurous moments, the album largely follows the typical PiL formula. That is, luscious, danceable, dub-tinged post-punk grooves accompanied by Lydon's omnipresent vocal chords, which walk the fence between complimentary and contrasting. Listening to PiL is rarely an easy task--it takes work--in fact it's downright agitating at times--but ultimately it's a rewarding experience.
Sick Fix - Vexed
Hardcore. Members of Coke Bust. Super fast and pummeling at the same time. Like straight-edge kids doing crust punk...or something. Get into it.
Soundgarden - King Animal
Hey, did you know that Soundgarden reformed and put out a new record? Well they did, and it's pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be. More on the Superunknown / Down on the Upside end of the spectrum than the Loud Love / Badmotorfinger end, which is only a little disappointing because, like, it's fucking Soundgarden.
Testament - Dark Roots of Earth
Much like fellow thrash titans Anthrax did in 2011 with Worship Music, Testament returned from a lengthy hiatus with Dark Roots of Earth, a rousing reclamation of the throne. Chuck Billy, all goofiness aside (Playing air-guitar on a fabricated half mic stand that lights up, actually owning a fabricated half mic stand the lights up, being named Chuck Billy, etc.) is undoubtedly a masterful vocalist. His intense growls become enthusiastic howls, as rolls in sync with a concoction of thrash perfection, led by original guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick and bassist Greg Christian, the nucleus behind most of the band's best work; including '08's The Formation of Damnation. The lineup is rounded out by Gene Hoglan, who has done time in Dark Angel, Death and Opeth, returning to the band for the first time since 1997.
The Men - Open Your Heart
I'm not going to tow the line with the whole "saviors of rock 'n' roll" thing the lazy journalists are saying about The Men. (I mean, let's be real, rock 'n' roll isn't dead, and isn't in need of any "saviors." The only thing more tired and played out than rock 'n' roll [which it's not,] is saying that rock 'n' roll is tired and played out.) However, I have to admit that Open Your Heart is a goddamn fine-ass rock 'n' roll record. It reminds me of SST-era Screaming Trees and Husker Du as much as it does recent-ish bands like No Age or Cloak/Dagger.
Tragedy - Darker Days Ahead
With their latest record Tragedy departed a bit from the D-beat swiftness, epic crust, and pure rage of their previous albums. Darker Days Ahead finds them experimenting more with their sound—integrating drone vibrations, doom metal and even some demonic snarls. But despite the slow builds, chuga-chuga and other metal facets, it is still very much punk rock, thanks in part to the archetypal lyricism centering around bleak societal outlooks and anarcho-politics. It has been six years since these DIY-renowned Portland crust punk luminaries last released an LP, and what a slab of earth-crushing wax it is.
Vybz Kartel - Kingston Story: Deluxe Edition
Vybz Kartel, who got his start in Jamaican music by penning tunes for Bounty Killer, is the reigning king of dancehall reggae. His debut album, Kingston Story was originally released in 2011 as a digital-only release. Since then the vultures of hip culture, Vice Records reached into their ever-expanding wallets and pulled out a double-gate fold vinyl version that includes two extra songs. Aside from Vybz' patios, Kingston Story sounds very Americanized, thanks in large part to the hip-hop-informed beats made by Brooklyn producer Dre Skull. Lyrically, Vybz pulls no punches, as he espouses ghettoized tales and misogyny-laced toasters without apology.
WAR//PLAGUE - A Darker Dawn
With A Darker Dawn, Twin Cities scene vets, WAR//PLAGUE veered in a slightly different direction while still snarled up in their crust punk roots. The conglomeration of styles and genres is varied enough though that it makes it difficult to put a solid label on them. Sure, in simplest of terms they are crust, but they are also quite a bit more than that too.
White Lung - Sorry
Vancouver, BC's White Lung exist within' the loosening parameters of melodic punk and hardcore but incorporate some of the more favorable aspects of Pacific Northwest indie rock. The most notable comparison would be the jangly guitar work and vocal styling of the late Pretty Girls Make Graves. Sorry is grabbing, frenzied and over in under twenty minutes; which is kind of too short, but also pretty much perfect.
Wolfbrigade - Damned
Swedish crust punk veterans Wolfbrigade returned with their signature brand of metal-tinged D-beat. On Damned there is a noticeable attention to detail as it relates to the quality of production. It has cleaner and more user-friendly mix than past outings—likely a result of Southern Lord’s deeper pockets. Although the wall of sheer sound has been partitioned, allowing a few delicate gradations to flourish at unexpected times, they have kept intact all the anarcho-rage and Motorhead leanings they have perfected over that last seventeen years.