It happened with no prior notice that it was going to happen.
It was February and it was a Saturday and I had just finished watching “30 Century Man,” which is a documentary about Scott Walker. I mean Scott Walker the musician, of course. Not Scott Walker the Wisconsin governor.
I remember I finished watching “30 Century Man,” and then I sat there, thinking, “I should really go and buy a CD by this Scott Walker guy!” I could not fathom how I had missed him all of these years. The thing is, when I got into my van to go to Cactus Records and/or Sound Exchange and/or Sound Waves and/or Vinal Edge, I could not bring myself to turn the key. Cactus Records was not going to have a Scott Walker album, or at least not a Scott Walker album I wanted. Neither was Sound Exchange. The thing is, I knew I was about to spend the better part of my day driving around Houston for an album I would end up ordering off of Amazon.
I wanted the album now. Well, not now now. I mean right there and then now, when this happened, which was one Saturday back in February.
In the end, I wound up downloading Scott Walker's The Drift off of iTunes, which is the whole reason I am telling you this story. I promised myself this was a one-time thing. I promised myself I would not make a habit of it. I promised I would not tell anyone what I had done. I was too good for mp3 music downloads. But for just this one time, I would make an exception.
Of course, that’s not what ended up happening. At all. Of my Top Ten favorite albums of 2012, I only possess three on CD. Three of them were never even released in CD format! (For those of you living in the twenty-first century, “CD” stands for “compact disc,” which was a sort of optical disk that your grandparents used to store digital data like music.)
So here they are. The bestest CDs, LPs, and digital downloads I got in 2012.
10. Swans – The Seer
The Seer is a rock album that can bend sound into impossible shapes while hovering in midair. The Seer is a rock album that can freeze time. And of course, with three songs that crash on beyond the 20-minute mark, The Seer had sure better be able to freeze time.
9. Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass
Standing in line to get into the Aesop Rock concert this past summer, I got a little nervous at the number of white suburban kids in Wu Tang shirts I was seeing around me. Uh oh! Not to worry, though: Aesop is a hell of an entertainer. The guy transcends genre, and he sure deserves a wider audience.
8. Scott Walker – Scott 3
This one is from 1968, and Scott’s playing the part of a spaced-out crooner. There are a couple psychedelic ambient tracks, a couple Jacques Brel covers, and even a patriotic ditty (complete with fireworks!). I don’t know exactly what this is, and that’s okay, too. I listen to a lot of damn music, so if it should so happen that I am unable to categorize an album, it’s gotta be a strange beast indeed.
7. Joseph Arthur – Redemption City
Finally, a decade and a half into his recording career, Joseph Arthur tries his hand at some loftier themes. Somehow, it works. Twenty-four tracks of this guy rapping about drugs and Christianity and Wassily Kadinsky, and it works! “Touched” might just be the best thing he has ever done.
6. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon
“If I look / Or if I don’t look / Clouds are always / Passing over.” I want to live inside of a Mount Eerie album. I think this one would be as good a home as any for me. It’s a moody mental trip from the city to the sea, and the analog synths even add a little light to the landscape.
5. Robin Williamson – Skirting the River Road
With Skirting the River Road, Robin Williamson - formerly of the Incredible String Band - enters a VERY exclusive club indeed. He is one of only six artists to have gotten TEN separate albums into my Top Ten of the Year list over the years. I even made him an award in commemoration of this, but he has yet to come pick it up. Dirty hippie bastard...
4. Mount Eerie – Ocean Roar
For quite a while now, Mount Eerie’s music has mostly sounded like a little boy humming quietly to himself as a thunderstorm overhead threatens to crush him like a bug. But Mount Eerie mastermind Phil Elverum has really perfected that sound this time out. I just can’t be objective when it comes to Phil Elverum. The guy can do no wrong in my book.
3. Xasthur – Subliminal Genocide
This is one spooky black metal album. It sounds like the sound of some ghosts left out in the rain overnight who have woken up crying about it, just over the edge of the horizon. Yeah... Yes, that is precisely what this album sounds like.
2. Scott Walker – The Drift
In any other year, this one would have ended up at number one. It’s smart, it’s challenging, and it does not really sound like anything else you have ever heard. The thing is, it is also a miserable listening experience: sort of the sonic equivalent of having all your skin chewed off slowly. Which – don’t get me wrong! – is a remarkable accomplishment for an artist. I mean, you try doing that. But in the year 2012, I did not need this much help at feeling bad.
1. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
This is a hip hop album about cats, death, and eating your vegetables. It’s dark: Kimya Dawson does a nursery rhyme calling her dead best friend “meat inside a box” (“Crows 1”) and Aesop Rock raps about mummifying a pet cat (“How to Make a Homemade Mummy”). It’s goofy: “Racing Stripes” and “Grace” would be embarrassing if they were not surrounded by such brilliance. Aesop Rock raps about “autophagy,” about “a misanthrope vying for affection,” and about “bootlegs of Hawkwind.” I’d call it a masterpiece, but that would probably scare you away.
Now it is your turn. Tell me: What did you put in your ears this year?