The Carolinas’ Top 25 Albums of 2012


Photo by Flickr user FourthFloor

Our annual critics’ poll is part rhetorical exercise, part barstool argument and part buyer’s guide — mostly the latter, we hope, because 2012 was another amazing year for regional releases. Our panel of 12 critics submitted more than 100 records for consideration, but in the end only 25 survived the final cut. So numbers were crunched, fists and feathers flew, and a consensus was drafted from the ashes. Worthy albums were left out, but such is the nature of list-making. Still, the 25 records represent what our critics deemed the best and brightest of this year.

Contributors: Jordan Lawrence, John Schacht, Bryan Reed, Patrick Wall, Ryan Snyder, Corbie Hill, Eric Tullis, Kyle Petersen, Fred Mills, Jeff Hahne, David Stringer, Courtney Devores

stripmines crimes of dispassion

25. Stripmines — Crimes of Dispassion (Sorry State)

It’s disappointing that Stripmines’ first full-length might also be their last. But given its potency, it’s harder to imagine how they’d follow this hardcore classic. —BR

pussy wizard fuck jams vol 1

24. Pussy Wizard — Fuck Jams, Vol. 1 (self-released)

This all-too-brief collection from Toro Y Moi guitarist Jordan Blackmon packs effortless hooks dug deeper by shaggy Sebadoh-isms. —BR

midtown dickens home

23. Midtown Dickens — Home (Trekky)

Home is a giant leap for Midtown Dickens, examining literal and abstract ideas of home and family through stunning folk meditations. — PW

sunshonestill thewaytheworlddies

22. Sunshone Still — ThewaytheworldDies (Potato Eater)

The death-by-suicide of songwriter Chris Smith’s brother resulted in the memorials here, many of them flecked with Smith’s Western-flavored, big sky twang. —JS


21. Corrosion of Conformity — Corrosion of Conformity (Candlelight)

COC snatches the best bits of their disparate catalog to finally unite their rabid early-era punk with their later-day lumbering riff-metal. —BR

xiu xiu always

20. Xiu Xiu — Always (Polyvinyl)

Backed by an explosive arsenal of dance rock and experimental scuzz, Always is a scathing exploration of opposing lifestyles and orientations — a fitting match for North Carolina’s 2012. —JL

Can't Kids - Brushes Touches Tongues

19. Can’t Kids — Brushes Touches Tongues (Fork & Spoon)

Columbia’s Can’t Kids tap into jittery tempos, brash guitars and tricky wordplay They’re also a lot of fun, buoyed by guy-girl harmonies and gorgeous cello lines. —PW

those lavender whales tomahawk of praise

18. Those Lavender Whales — Tomahawk of Praise (Fork & Spoon)

Banjo, mando, glock and accordion acousti-folk buttressed by the occasional roiling electric crescendo spark this Palmetto band’s sunny and quirky pop melodies. —JS

hiss golden messenger lord i love the rain

17. Hiss Golden Messenger — Lord I Love The Rain (Jellyfant)

Lord I Love The Rain expands a digital- bonus EP, but plays instead like a fully realized entry in Hiss Golden Messenger’s sterling catalog. —BR

horseback half blood

16. Horseback — Half Blood (Relapse)

Jenks Miller’s Horseback finds unexpected kinship in rustic roots music and frostbitten black metal. Half Blood is his most stunningly realized synthesis to date. —PW

elim bolt nude south

15. Elim Bolt — Nude South (Hearts & Plugs)

This self-assured debut taps into the classic Southern sound of Roy Orbison and roughs it up with fuzzy guitars and garage hooks, but never loses sight of melodic songcraft. —JS

whatever brains whatever brains

14. Whatever Brains — Whatever Brains (Sorry State)

After last year’s freewheeling debut, the Raleigh post-punks sharpened their focus on long-player No. 2, winding riffs into tighter tangles and stretching dynamic breadth. —BR

american aquarium burn flicker die

13. American Aquarium — Burn. Flicker. Die. (Last Chance)

Targeting the band’s road-warrior life, this autopsy of broken dreams makes the struggle relatable, resulting in the band’s most powerful work yet. —JL

dan melchior the backward path

12. Dan Melchior — The Backward Path (Northern Spy)

Balancing wry, perceptive songwriting and thoughtfully composed abstract instrumental interludes, The Backward Path spins personal hardship into arresting, relatable art-pop. —BR

jkutchma pastoral

11. JKutchma & The Five Fifths — Pastoral (Last Chance)

Red Collar’s front man delivers his Nebraska, nine tracks of cathartic country rock about the power of music to change, if not the world, at least ourselves. —JS

red collar welcome home

10. Red Collar — Welcome Home (Tiny Engines)

Welcome Home fits perfectly with today’s tumultuous political and economic climate. The Durham outfit’s second LP surges forward with searing punk crescendos and an arena-worthy dose of classic rock earnestness, a suitably explosive backdrop for characters who, despite being destitute and near defeat, fight on with unyielding righteousness. —JL

some army ep

9. Some Army — EP (self-released)

Led by the Honored Guests’ Russell Baggett, this Triangle act’s seven-song debut leverages late-night melodies, tempos whose urgency seems cumulative, and subtly intricate textures that warm and haunt in equal measure. “Nothing good happens at 4 in the morning,” Baggett sings, offering what could serve as this promising record’s thesis statement. —JS

company DearAmerica

8. Company — Dear America (Exit Stencil)

If Dear America is only a resurrection of old-school indie rock and power pop styles, it’s a convincing one. Acoustic guitars jangle, electric riffs surge forward and catchy vocal melodies resonate with cathartic pop abandon. The constructs are familiar, but this Charleston outfit displays a timeless craftsmanship that simply can’t be ignored. —JL


7. The Mountain Goats — Transcendental Youth (Merge)

Mountain Goats leader John Darnielle has filled many albums with many compelling characters and many lines that beg for a fevered audience to shout them back. But Transcendental Youth succeeds via Darnielle’s strongest vocal performances and sharpest arrangements, and the glowing horn charts contributed by rising auteur Matthew E. White. —BR

ahleuchatistas heads full of poison

6. Ahleuchatistas — Heads Full of Poison (Cuneiform/Harvest)

A couple years ago, Asheville avant-rock purveyors Ahleuchatistas downsized from a trio to a duo. The band’s second offering since the transition shows this to be a positive change. Daring guitar work bridges genres from jazz to metal to noise as restless rhythms communicate alarming urgency. Experimental music is rarely so ruthless or engaging. —JL

shovels and rope o be joyful

5. Shovels & Rope — O’ Be Joyful (Dualtone)

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent were always individually powerful songwriting voices — hers a possessed country wail, his a vintage rock croon — raging like mighty, but parallel, rivers. On O’ Be Joyful, their voices finally come together, and the result is an appealing and exciting take on classic country-folk. —PW

lost in the trees a church that fits our needs

4. Lost In The Trees — A Church That Fits Our Needs (Anti-)

The solace of art can illuminate the darkest places. You hear that in every note and rest of Ari Picker’s beautifully orchestrated paean to his mother, whose difficult life ended in suicide. These songs — built on strings, lilting melodies, intricate beats and Picker’s airy vocals — may capture what fragility sounds like, but you won’t hear a stronger LP. —JS

Bo White Same Deal New patrones

3. Bo White — Same Deal/New Patrones (Kinikinnik)

Charlotte’s Bo White spent a year cobbling together this tribute to narcocorridos true-crime folk and Mexican banda singer Sergio Vega, imbuing Same Deal with startling nuance and awesome, if at times grisly, imagery. With expansive indie rock tempered by Afrobeat and David Byrne weirdo-pop, new treasures are revealed with every listen. — PW


2. Spider Bags — Shake My Head (Odessa)

All of Spider Bags’ moves feel accidental. It gives their music the illusion of recklessness, as if their songs were stumbled upon; as if Dan McGee’s wry, rambling lead was an unsure navigator. In truth, their songs are carefully crafted from bits of garage-rock snarl and psychedelic sprawl, R&B stagger and country-rock twang. But we’re willing to suspend disbelief. —BR

Floating Action Fake Blood

1. Floating Action — Fake Blood (Removador/Harvest)

It’s entirely possible that the full breadth of Fake Blood’s excellence has yet to sink in for the panel that voted it the Carolinas’ top 2012 offering. Such is the nature of Seth Kauffman’s richly accessible third LP under his self-recording pseudonym. A work of meticulous lo-fi subtlety, it refines his comfortably shambled mix of soul, funk and rock & roll into a singularly intoxicating sound.

Where Floating Action’s 2010 debut pushed forward with insistent, roughshod bass lines and last year’s Desert Etiquette wowed with a barrage of psychedelic embellishments — both an extension of Kauffman’s earlier self-titled output — Fake Blood is more confident and laid-back. It spreads these strengths across luxurious tunes with immersive textures. Paired with Kauffman’s most convincing songwriting to date, it becomes an overwhelming testament to his unique musical gifts. A digital deal with Removador Recordings & Solutions, the imprint of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, ensures that the collection will reach a wider audience than any other Floating Action effort.

New sonic twists await with every spin, deepening the album’s already irresistible intrigue. If the ability to enthrall listeners for years to come is the mark of a classic, then Fake Blood is certain to become one. —JL

See also: Guest lists from Greenhorn Studios director Molly BrownComa Cinema’s Mat CothranKarmessiah, Floating Action’s Seth Kauffman, Sorry State Records head Daniel Lupton, and Estrangers frontman Phillip Pledger.

4 Responses to The Carolinas’ Top 25 Albums of 2012

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  4. “All of Spider Bags’ moves feel accidental. It gives their music the illusion of recklessness, as if their songs were stumbled upon;”

    I definitely agree. This artist is one of my favorite and I would prefer it to be the number one on the list. I have never thought from the start that it’s well crafted.

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