Whether we’re sitting down with a good book, flipping through our latest stack of comics, spraining our thumbs during all-night video game sessions, or doodling in a sketchbook, The Pure Mood loves to have a record spinning in the background of our lives. Here’s our picks for the best releases of 2012! We apologize in advance for the inclusion of multiple Canadians.
1. TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH – THE MOUNTAIN GOATS
The Mountain Goats 14th album (if you’re not counting the cassette’s, EP’s and…a whole lot of other stuff in the infamously prolific group’s catalogue) is a beautiful examination of lost souls desperately trying to make in a complex world. Darnielle barks out pathetic yet hopeful messages from strangers and despots across the globe, with weary lines like “I am just a broken machine / and I do things that I don’t really mean” sung to occasionally surprisingly upbeat melodies. Even if many fans clamour for the lo-fi, boombox days, TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH sees an added horn section complement the reluctantly optimistic lyrics fantastically, proving that it’s capable to create raw, emotional albums in a studio. “Every dream’s a good dream, even awful dreams are good dreams” we are reassured, in this passionately moral record that forces us to look at our values and actions and ask, how do they correlate, and what does that say about ourselves?
2. OLD IDEAS – LEONARD COHEN
“That lazy bastard, livin’ in a suit” returns after a years long exile with one of the greatest albums he’s ever recorded. His voice just as touching and honest as ever, his lyrics even more longing and pleading, Cohen’s music never fails to remind us of the strength that lies within complete desperation. “Had to go crazy to love you, had to let everything fall, had to be people I hated, had to be no one at all” is one of the many lines in songs exploring the frustrations of commitment, and the deep rewards in not succumbing to weaknesses and temptation. As wonderful and touching as every title on this album are, Anyhow’s “I dreamed about you, baby/ You were wearin’ half your dress/ I know you have to hate me/ But could you hate me less?” achieves instant immortality.
3. BAD AS ME – TOM WAITS
The dirtiest, filthiest, bluesiest Tom Waits record of all time…and hell, that’s sayin’ something. Only Waits could sell a line like “You’re the fly in my beer”, with his vocal cords dripping with scotch and cigar smoke, this is the music of the derelicts and the wasted. Waits manages to sing about similar characters as the ones we saw in TRANSCENDETAL YOUTH, minus the romanticism and hopefulness. BAD AS ME deconstructs the mythology of scum as legend, in true blues songs that revel in the dark, swampy side of humanity. Other highlights include socially conscious “Talkin’ at the Same Time”, with the line “Everybody knows umbrellas will cost more in the rain / all the news is bad, is there any other kind? /and everybody’s talking at the same time / Well it’s hard times for some, for others it’s sweet / someone always makes money when there’s blood in the street.” A revelatory, imaginative, unique album that only Waits could deliver.
4. R.A.P. MUSIC – KILLER MIKE
The most intelligent, thought-provoking album of 2012, R.A.P. MUSIC explores various social and political hypocrisies’, and the strength of art in a challenging world. The highlight of the record is the single ‘Reagan’, doubling as an exploration into the effect that the romantic portrayal of the ‘thug’ lifestyle has on youth (and by extension, any idealized version of the ‘bad-ass’ character), mirrored with the presidency of ex-B-movie star, American president Ronald Reagan. “Might make the youth go pick up an AK” Killer Mike sings in ‘Don’t Die’, a song about racial profiling and the insane pressure and heat put on various segments of pop culture after horrific, violent tragedies are carried out by young people, “Tell the government, ‘Fuck you, no way.'” R.A.P. MUSIC will keep you up with it’s constant, haunting reminders that we live in the most complicated and unjust of worlds.
5. TRAMP – SHARON VAN ETTEN
BECAUSE I WAS IN LOVE seemed to carve itself as the ultimate break-up album, but Van Etten continues to bring her heart-renching, bleak poetry to new heights. Nothing in her newest record carries a note of hope, but we’re reminded that love gives us plenty of reasons to come crawling back. “Well, well, hell, I am bad/ at loving” is whispered in her strong yet broken vocal delivery, in a supination of Van Etten’s brief lyrical snippets that carry more weight than most manage with twice the words. A bleak and melancholic examination of modern relationships.
6. ATTACK ON MEMORY – CLOUD NOTHINGS
Perhaps the album on the list that did the best at saying something about the uniqueness of living in the year 2012, ATTACK ON MEMORY is the lament of a generation disappointed in itself. ‘Wasted Days’ stands out as the track of us aimless twentysomethings, with vocalist Dylan Baldi screaming ‘I THOUGHT I WOULD BE MORE THAN THIS!’ repeatedly over depressing, dark-psychedelic guitars and drums. A cultural critique that can be increasingly hard to listen to for a young man who spends more time blogging than making any kind of difference in the world, ATTACK ON MEMORY is after nostalgia, false-idealism, and just out-and-out laziness and lack of creativity. It’s a record that changes lives.
7. NOCTILUCA – DUNES
Noctiluca is one of my favourite debuts of the year. A hodgepodge of artists from various post-punk bands team-up to record an album in their living room…and create something that completely withers away any expectations I had. A vast and unique record, lyrics spill out in fragments, like dialogue in a Grant Morrison comic; “Softly gliding barefoot/ Follow my friends from the past and present” we hear in ‘Vertical Walk’, in a casual singing voice that seems almost-inappropriate for the material. But it works…dear God, it works! This is an album that takes chances and surprises and completely won me over.
8. MELANCHOLY AND THE INFINITE SADNESS – SHAD
Shad’s newest mixtape is a sincere and achingly real examination of nostalgia and bitterness. And this one’s free, so you’ve got no reason not to check it out! (Of course a donation is always encouraged) An almost uncomfortable admittance to a longing for the days of FRIENDS and Lenny Kravitz is displayed throughout the lyrics and the samples chosen, all mirrored by a frustration of a continually burdening family life grinding against the pressures of an artistic career. Shad explores why we continually turn to art and pop culture in moments of melancholy and pain, with lines about the Simpsons and Burger King amid gems like “How to make a rich man buy? Make him feel poor / How to make a stickman cry? Make him real.” Six wonderful tracks that flame my desire for a full length record that much more.
9. UNKNOWN ROOMS – CHELSEA WOLFE
A very vulnerable, honest album about the various frustrations of the human condition. Songs about longing only after someone’s left, about creating masks for yourself to survive in the outside world, about finding strength in sadness. As Wolfe herself said, “I am interested in revealing the beauty in the darkness of things.” And this album does just that. It’s Wolfe’s best yet, even if with it’s sparse brevity, because it constantly challenges our immature desire to return to the days of being coddled and protected in childhood. “I want flatlands/ I want simplicity/ I want flatlands/ Will you go there with me?” she sings in her unmatchable voice. The album really does achieve Wolfe’s goal; we’re left feeling stronger for our failures and our weaknesses, with a hope that pain makes life worth living.
10. CHECKERED PAST – THE HARPOONIST & THE AXE MURDERER
If you went through a box of Kleenex spinning our last choice, here’s something a lot more fun, which is appropriate for a band that formed after recording a jingle for a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint. A two-piece blues band, HAM put out another fantastic collection of loud, pop-garage-blues this year. Pure, raw, bar-soaked Canadian blues with killer hooks and music videos featuring boxers in giant bear costumes. The thirteen songs on this record go from sexy and seductive, to silly and light hearted, to the pure existentialism of the blues. HAM prove themselves to be varied, fun-loving, and, perhaps despite all intentions, the real deal.
Well, those were my favourites! What were some of yours? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail us at thepuremood [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks for reading!