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Critics' picks: music 

Our picks for the best tunes of 2012 show off a lot of local love, a healthy serving of big names and way too many hours spent alone with earbuds.

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Adria Young
Coast writer since 2012
Adria Young, unofficial president of the imaginary Shotgun Jimmie Fan Club, is counting the days until Jimmie's next album and *Come Cry with Me* by Daniel Romano.

Sloan, Twice Removed Deluxe Edition (sloanmusic.com)
By the second album of its career, Sloan achieved indie-rock pop perfection. A reissued vinyl box set with tons of inserts and freebies, Twice Removed is still as naive and as beautiful as it was in 1994, but now maybe more so ---we can only recognize in retrospect how influential it's been.

Outtacontroller, Don't Play Dumb (P. Trash) LOCAL
A road trip full of sex, sweat and skid-marks from Moncton to Halifax. These 16 power-pop/pop-punk tracks rip through you like a wedgie that actually feels good. Influenced by the usual suspects, high-gear songs like "Pointed at You" and "Put it on High" are silly and serious. A whammy bar never hurt anyone.

Freak Heat Waves, Freak Heat Waves (Independent)
The ghost of Ian Curtis haunts this droning expression of minimalist post-punk from Victoria, BC. Hitting its stride with "Nausea" and the pulsation of "Defunct Operator," Freak Heat Waves uses negative spaces and ominous bass lines to depict shadowy portents of possible optimism.

Old and Weird, Life's Tough Not Really (Independent) LOCAL
Songs about moms and secrets (and, like, whatever) shrug from a fine-knit American Apparel polo in pretty much the coolest colour ever, keeping you warm in the pop-garage where this tape hangs out. Lo-fi jangles and super-sweet hooks glue together a scrapbook of true feelings and real things.

Monomyth, Monomyth (Independent) LOCAL
Scratch Joseph Campbell's heroism---this is Brian Wilson's heroin. Monomyth's debut tape is a melodic ocean of reverb. Moods crash over sonic contours, and Josh Salter's vocals are a whirly-go down the rabbit hole. It's anxious yet steadfast and way cooler than me.

Cousins, The Palm At the End of the Mind (Saved By Vinyl) LOCAL
Jennah Barry, Young Men (Independent) LOCAL
Apollo Ghosts, Landmark (You've Changed)
B.A. Johnston, Hi Dudes! (Mammoth Cave)
Jon McKiel, Tropical Depression EP (Saved By Vinyl) LOCAL
Cold Warps, Don't Haunt Me, OK? EP (Noyes) LOCAL
Cold Warps, Slimer EP (Fundog) LOCAL


Dave Hayden
Coast writer since 1994
Dave Hayden is a self-professed arts and music addict. Also dabbles in a bit of surgery on the side.

Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic)
A brazen and unforgiving return to form (after a seven-year hiatus). Not only did she refuse to compose anything remotely radio-friendly but Fiona Apple also delivered the most daring vocal performance of the year ("Regret") on which she goes deeper and darker than anyone else would dare go.

Damien Jurado, Maraqopa (Secretly Canadian)
Portraying the decayed and downtrodden is Jurado's raison d'être, giving a voice to stories that are at times too difficult to contemplate. But with Maraqopa, instead of his usual stark folk, Jurado wraps these songs in a 60s-folk pastiche adding a nostalgic warmth to his tales of the forlorn.

Jenn Grant, The Beautiful Wild (Six Shooter) LOCAL
Jenn Grant's voice is an undeniable instrument in itself. And for perhaps the first time in her career she demanded (and received) more from her songs, her band and the arrangements to match. This is Polaris Prize material, folks. But it is also just a hint of what her talent will ultimately achieve.

Amelia Curran, Spectators (Six Shooter)
A more relaxed (yet paradoxically adventurous) Amelia Curran revealed herself this year on Spectators. And the result is an immensely satisfying release that is in a league of its own, perhaps only on par with Joni, Leonard and Ondaatje in its scope and ambition.

Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur (Zoe/Rounder)
Ryan Adams, Live After Deaf (Pax Am)
Swans, The Seer (Young God)
Willis Earl Beal, Acousmatic Sorcery (XL)
Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas (Sony)
Father John Misty, Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
Liars, WIXIW (Mute)
Jack White, Blunderbuss (Sony/Third Man)


Trevor Savory
Coast writer since 2000
The first album Trevor Savory bought was Eddy Grant's *Killer on the Rampage* and his first concert was Richard Marx with Wilson Phillips.

Matt Mays, Coyote (Sonic) LOCAL
Mays' return from exile is a welcome one. Coyote is a 14-track odyssey of gritty, sun-drenched rock 'n' roll that takes the listener through dusty and desolate back roads. Matt Mays has put together an album that fuses modern rock with classic rock sensibilities.

Jack White, Blunderbuss (Sony/Third Man)
Jack White is one of the last rock purists who has seemingly been everywhere since the dissolution of The White Stripes (see The Raconteurs, Dead Weather). In 2012 Blunderbuss was unleashed on the masses, and while not unlike The White Stripes, this is the evolution of Jack White.

Father John Misty, Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
Fear Fun, with its neo-retro folky alt-country sound, is something you'd hear in the background of a Tarantino flick. This album is one that would have been missed by many had it not been recommended, and while off of the beaten path, once you've found it, you're happy you did.

Skrillex, Bangarang (Warner)
The relentless barrage that Skrillex's Bangarang lays on your speakers is almost unconscionable. While only a scant eight tracks, this disc contains a rollercoaster of electronic hooks and monstrous bone-rattling bass drops that will leave you wanting more. Bangarang serves as aural caffeine to amp you up.

Quake Matthews, Book of Matthew (Robin Steele) LOCAL
Fairview's own Quake Matthews threw open his sophomore release The Book of Matthew early this year, and from the moment you hit play, it's clear that Quake is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. This album is easily one of the best rap albums of 2012, not just the 902.

Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten (Universal)
The Lumineers, The Lumineers (Universal)
John Mayer, Born and Raised (Sony)
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball (Sony)
Joel Plaskett Emergency, Scrappy Happiness (New Scotland/Maple Music) LOCAL
Big Wreck, Albatross (Anthem/Warner)
Mumford & Sons, Babel (Universal)

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Ryan McNutt
Coast writer since 2010
Ryan McNutt is a writer, editor and musicology student in Halifax. If the world does end next week, he'll be really bummed about never getting to hear the new Phoenix record.

Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas (Sony)
Leonard Cohen is 78 YEARS OLD. How many artists can claim to have made an album this great at that age? Old Ideas is an elemental, haunting record, building beautifully on the accomplished sound of Cohen's 2008-09 comeback tour. What Cohen's voice lacks in range, it makes up for in remarkable presence.

The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten (Universal)
In the liner notes to Handwritten, Nick Hornby nails something essential about The Gaslight Anthem: that its music presumes you've heard it all before. Brian Fallon's raspy romanticism, backed by foot-stomping power chords, isn't trying to innovate---it's his heartfelt love letter to rock and roll's history.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)
The post-rock legends return and pick up where they left off---quite literally, since the core tracks on the collective's first album in almost a decade were written before a lengthy hiatus. The two core pieces halves the band's sonic personality, with the heavy, forceful "Mladic" resonating strongest (and loudest).

Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
Rock and roll can kick at our base instincts. Sometimes, it manages to flirt with higher truths. And on the rarest of occasions, like on the soul-stirring Celebration Rock, it splits the difference and connects the two in a mess of distortion, drums and shout-out-your-lungs glory.

Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic)
Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man (EMI)
Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (FAB)
Shearwater, Animal Joy (Sub Pop)
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball (Sony)
Swans, The Seer (Young God)
Taylor Swift, Red (Universal)
The Walkmen, Heaven (Fat Possum)


Doug Taylor
Coast writer since 1999
Doug Taylor (aka Nick Barrington, host of Elegant Voltage Tuesday mornings on CKDU) has painted portraits of musicians like Max Roach, Betty Carter, P.J. Harvey and Steve Earle without them even asking him.

Gary Clark Jr., Blak and Blu (Warner)
It took a nudge from the starmaker machinery to get this guitar-slinging Texan some notice. Blak and Blu has taken it from there. Much like Hendrix (saluted here) and Buddy Guy, he can make you stop what you are doing and listen. Clark's multi-faceted singing could stand on its own.

Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos (Reprise)
The voice of Steely Dan, on his fourth solo album in 30 years, employs skilled musicians superbly in this time of robotics and juvenilia. Fagen lets a playful side edge out his inner control freak, shouting out to Al Gore and bowling, and improbably becoming the white Isaac Hayes on "Out of the Ghetto."

Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL)
A former protege of Sam Cooke and early hitmaker for the Stones, Womack's main presence in the recent soul resurgence had been cameos in Gorillaz with Damon Albarn. Womack's guitar is dominated here by Albarn's spiffy beats, but his voice and wisdom haven't been this ably combined since 1982's The Poet.

Erin Costelo,We Can Get Over (independent) LOCAL
It's one thing to show appreciation for music from before you were born. The bonus is if you can sidestep the kitsch and stir the cream. Costelo's a heart-lifting singer, versatile pianist and now a time-travelling composer. The one cover, "Too Young to be Fooled," is a 1967 obscurity done up eerily like The Shangri-Las.

Whitehorse, The Fate of the World Depends on this Kiss (Six Shooter)
How delightful that Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland make beautiful music together not just in life but in, you know, music! She's gone from sweetener of the White Falcon to essential singer and co-writer in Whitehorse. Doucet brings the rock, as on "Mismatched Eyes," kicking it from tuneful to transcendent.

Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball (Sony)
Tedeschi-Trucks Band, Everybody's Talkin' (Sony Masterworks)
Patti Smith, Banga (Sony)
Petunia and the Vipers, Petunia and the Vipers (Independent)
Corb Lund, Cabin Fever (Universal)
Frank Turner, Last Minutes and Lost Evenings (Epitaph)
Paul Thorn, What the Hell is Going On? (Perpetual Obscurity)

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Tara Thorne
Coast writer since 1999
Tara Thorne once chased Ben Gibbard through a Boston parking lot and if he'd let her into the show maybe his record would be on this list.

Sharon Van Etten, Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
The most-quoted line of Van Etten's saddo triumph of a third record is "You're the reason why I'll move to the city/or why I'll need to leave" but her thesis statement lies in the very last song: "Call it a joke or a lie/put your coat on and believe me, I tried."

Jennah Barry, Young Men (independent) LOCAL
Barry's sharply observed songs, beautiful voice and smartly arranged LP seemingly walked out of the ocean fully formed, making her the first real breakout of the nascent south shore scene. A handful of high-profile slots and wildfire word-of-mouth made for the year's most exciting success story and best debut since Jenn Grant's.

Cousins, the Palm at the End of the Mind (Saved By Vinyl) LOCAL
Pure pop perfection stomped under layers of fuzz and reverb, Palm finds Aaron Mangle and Leigh Dotey nearing the height of their powers together, alternately ferocious and gentle, each listen more revealing than the last. Half a year on the road has turned Mangle's voice into a brand-new force and made Cousins an unkillable live machine.

Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (Carpark)
Dylan Baldi packs pop inside a grunge shell for his third album, just eight songs long. In the nearly nine-minute second track "Wasted Days," Baldi repeats the line of the year---"I thought I would be more than this"---until he's screaming it, the sound of a generation giving up.

Cold Specks, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion (EMI)
Though she lives across the pond now, Al Spx made this doom-folk beauty of a haunter in Toronto and you can feel that city in its bones. Easily a top candidate for show of the year at St. Matt's during HPX, and scads more exciting than the Feist record that beat her to the Polaris.

The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten (Universal) 
Wintersleep, Hello Hum (EMI)
Metric, Synthetica (Universal)
Amelia Curran, Spectators (Six Shooter)
Dusted, Total Dust (Polyvinyl)
David Byrne & St. Vincent, Love This Giant (4AD)


Stephanie Johns
Coast writer since 2005
Stephanie Johns has definitely made her cat dance to Trinidad James a lot recently and is only now feeling a bit guilty. Thanks a lot Ikea Monkey.

Thee Oh Sees, Putrifiers II (In The Red)
Nineteen-sixties-influenced folk and krautrock make a happy home here. More weird vocal effects and drum-inspiration drift Putrifiers II along fast and furiously. Thee Oh Sees makes plenty of time to stop to smell the best of the nostalgic genres here.

Ty Segall, Twins (Drag City)
This year, Ty Segall found time to make more music than a human being safely should. It's pretty inspiring stuff, real fuel for the New Year's resolution fire. If Ty can squeak out a fuzzy gem like this after Slaughterhouse and Hair, then certainly you can find time to go to the gym sometimes.

2 Chainz, Based on A T.R.U. Story (Def Jam)
As a particularly trying year draws to a close, I remain supremely grateful for this album. Based on A T.R.U. Story oozes bravado and party hits, bursting at the seams with big name guests and healing power. 2 Chainz stocks his Instagram exclusively with pictures of healthy food and packed venues so I think self-improvement and self-love is kind of his thing.

Hunx, Hairdresser Blues (Hardly Art)
A more melancholy Hunx comes through on Hairdresser Blues, dipping a toe into the vast waters of tear-jerkers and emotional openness, Seth "Hunx" Bogart takes a slight departure from the party-all-the-time path of Hunx and his Punx. Still, "Private Room" pulls in a bit of sorely needed sexual energy.

Cousins, The Palm At The End of the Mind (Saved By Vinyl)
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city (Interscope)
The Just Barelys, Mad Bits (Dead Bum)
Grimes, Visions (4AD)
Jay Mayne, Chop Trees Over Everything (Independent)
Ketamines, Spaced Out (Mammoth Cave)
Mike O'Neill, Wild Lines (Independent)
Outtacontroller, Don't Play Dumb (P-Trash)


Matthew Ritchie
Coast writer since 2010
Matthew Ritchie would like to take this opportunity to personally ask My Bloody Valentine and Deltron to get their shit together, stop pulling a *Chinese Democracy*, and release the follow ups to *Loveless* and *Deltron 3030* already.

Baroness, Yellow & Green (Relapse)
Even a bus crash of Cliff Burton-esque proportions can't stop these southern-rockers from spreading their metal gospel. Yellow & Green has Baroness expanding its monochromatic soundscapes, delivering a sludge induced double disc that perfectly captures the essence of Led Zeppelin's spectrum-shifting blues-rock.

Great Bloomers, Distant Fires (Universal)
Lowell Sostomi and co. deliver straight-ahead rock that's equal parts Smog and Wilco. Gordon Lightfoot has openly praised their songwriting, so my advice pales in comparison. It's kind of like Blue Rodeo, if Blue Rodeo was awesome.

Kontravoid, Kontravoid (Pretty Pretty)
Heavier than heavy synthesizer layering that cripples you into sonic submission thanks to barren drum machines and the haunting vocals of a thousand serial killers. This album could have been made in Poland during the Cold War and you would be none the wiser.

Tame Impala, Lonerism (Universal)
As the title suggests, Kevin Parker's dynamic sophomore is a far more introspective effort than the fuzzed out plumage of 2010's Innerspeaker. But for an album recorded in hotel rooms across the globe and Parisian bachelor pads, boy, does it sound grandiose.

Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
Crystal Castles, III (Fiction/Polydor)
Grimes, Visions (4AD)
Ty Segall Band, Slaughterhouse (In The Red)
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (Def Jam)
Animal Collective, Centipede Hz (Domino)
Yukon Blonde, Tiger Talk (Universal)
The Wooden Sky, Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun (Loose)

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