Best of 2012 - Brian Shultz's picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2012

Brian Shultz's picks (2012)

staff picks

[Brian Shultz is a former Reviews Editor. He totally found a way to bring up Crime in Stereo below!]

Here Is an Introductory Paragraph Where I Talk About Myself and Hopefully Avoid Coming Off as a Self-Obsessed Asshole

Hey. I'm Brian. Long-time readers may recognize me as the former reviews editor here at the 'Org. I also try to help my successor, Joe, out by contributing a review here and there. That has generally been the extent of my involvement at Punknews in 2012, but Joe was generous enough to invite me over for everyone's favorite annual nerding session (You might also see my reviews and features in Alternative Press every now and then, which has been my trusty, paid side gig for nearly eight years now).

Personally, it's been a wild 2012. There's been curious ups and even stranger downs. It was my first full year on my own as an independent adult (and thus my first full year at B9 HQ), and I'm still alive, so that's pretty cool. I visited California for the first time (however brief and limited a weekend it was, but got to experience the lauded California burrito finally). I had a blast in Montreal on one spontaneous weekend. I went vegan, which has been an interesting, challenging transition, but also feels great. Looking forward, I found new living quarters for next year, which will put some money back into my pocket and hopefully allow me to live an easier life (namely, trading in my dilapidated 1993 Chevrolet Cavalier for something from this century). We're also looking at a pretty exciting 2013 at B9, so keep an eye out. Promising times ahead.

I listened to an absurd amount of new music this year, even for myself, really. So this is really the cream of my personal crop. (If you're incredibly bored and looking for new music recommendations, check out my top 100+ here [and top ~100 EPs/singles here].) Hopefully you discover something you like. These are the records that brought me the most enjoyment in 2012.

Honorable Mentions

Heathers: Kingdom (Aunthill); The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten (Mercury); The Twilight Sad: No One Can Ever Know (Fat Cat); The Menzingers: On the Impossible Past (Epitaph); Converge: All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph); From Indian Lakes: Able Bodies (self-released); Every Time I Die: Ex Lives (Epitaph); Basement: Colourmeinkindness (Run for Cover); The Helio Sequence: Negotiations (Sub Pop); Circle Takes the Square: Decompositions Volume One (self-released)

Top 19 Albums [see: Conflicts of Interest]


Murder by Death: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon

September 25 on Bloodshot Records

Murder by Death's best record in six years. Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is practically a creative career revival. Not only do they get far more vibey than usual (the haunting "My Hill" and "Go to the Light," the ornate yet up-tempo "The Curse of Elkhart") but the songs are here too. "Lost River", "I Came Around" and "Hard World" are among the band's best anthems, with plenty of tasty alt-country and western-tinged cuts elsewhere spanning many a genre and mood.


Hot Water Music: Exister

May 15 on Rise Records

One of the stronger reunion albums of the year, it shouldn't have been at all surprising that Hot Water Music would turn up the "rock" on this, given their more straightforwardly stylistic stint on Epitaph. While Exister finds them a little cleaner and stripped down, it also boasts a boatload of trusty, throat-shredding hooks.


Now, Now: Threads

March 6 on Trans Records / Atlantic Records

Now, Now have made subtle steps forward since their Eisley-loving releases of yore, so it's hardly shocking that Threads stands as their defining statement thus far. The young trio crafted an absolute heartbreaker of an indie pop record, with subtle hints that they'll expand beyond their mopey template into something even more textured and enriching than their already lovely smeary, emotionally crushing compositions.


The American Scene: Safe for Now

August 7 on Pure Noise Records

This record taught me an important lesson: Never judge a band by its scene (in this case being homogenized pop-punk, given a few of the American Scene's labelmates and the vast majority of their touring associates). Granted, the California act's earlier output was far more bland and often criticized for being too similar to a very modern, vaguely emo-influenced pop-rock band I never cared much for in the first place, but Safe for Now shows tAS to be so much more than that. It's an engaging, addictive, emotionally varied record with influences seemingly spanning from early 2000s emo (the Jealous Sound, Hot Rod Circuit, Brand New) to the best of the present day.


Beach House: Bloom

May 15 on Sub Pop Records

Sure, this might just be the extra lap Beach House is taking after hitting their stride on 2010's enchanting Teen Dream, but every step here carries incredible elegance. Bloom essentially cements Beach House as the quintessential dream pop band of the modern era (depending on how you feel about Blonde Redhead's last album), as they craft one gripping, anxious anthem after another with atmosphere you want to sink into and never leave.


Rise and Fall: Faith

March 20 on Deathwish Inc.

The absolute worst time for Rise and Fall to dial down their activity as a band is now, because Faith is far and away the best recorded collection of songs they've blessed the hardcore scene with to date. Faith retains the band's fervent crust and D-beat overtones while stretching to include everything from Snapcase-esque, squealing guitars ("A Hammer and Nails") to restrained, howling epics ("Things Are Different Now"), and keeping it smolderingly heavy throughout. Let's just hope us fans Stateside get even one chance to see them play these songs live.


Ceremony: Zoo

March 6 on Matador Records

Ceremony's most complete and engaging album since their aptly titled, polar-opposite-of-this-kind-of-punk debut, Violence Violence, Zoo is a surfy post-punk record in the most literal and figurative senses, finding the band sneering and slurring their way through cuts that unexpectedly crib notes from acts like Dead Kennedys and Gang of Four.


Whirr: Pipe Dreams

March 13 on Tee Pee Records

The debut long-player from this Bay Area shoegaze/noise pop outfit delivers as promised: immersive, dissonant melodies and driving, swirling guitars all over the place, with emotional range–the playful "Junebouvier" and "Bogus" to weary standout "Home Is Where My Head Is"–to boot.


forgetters: forgetters

November 13th on Too Small to Fail Records

Sure, there are hints of forgetters' past here. It's hard to escape the connecting thread of frontman Blake Schwarzenbach's patient wordsmithery, while one can even feel the swaggering shuffle of early Against Me! (a duo drummer Kevin Mahon once made up half of) on "Turn Away." But on their hotly anticipated full-length debut, forgetters are (hopefully) forging a future. My favorite long-player from a Schwarzenbach project since Orange Rhyming Dictionary, forgetters is deliberate, coy and yet subtlely immersive, with the sort of understated, post-punk-influenced hooks you'd get on a mid-era record from the National.


Joyce Manor: Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired

April 17 on Asian Man Records

A far more diverse and interesting collection of songs than their already heralded self-titled 2011 LP, Joyce Manor provide the ultimate citation to the "quality over quantity" debate with nine great tracks in 13 minutes. Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired reminds me of what might have happened if Guided by Voices decided to write and record a "punk" EP in the mid-'90s: lo-fi bashing-away with heartbroken yearning, acoustic sidetracks and a random, perfectly executed cover of an '80s one-hit-wonder smack in the middle of the whole damn thing.


mewithoutYou: Ten Stories

May 15 on Pine Street Records.

mewithoutYou took a decidedly folky foray with 2009's it's all crazy! it's all false! it's all a dream! it's alright, and while the effort was hardly horrible, it didn't quite capture the tension and angularity of their past brilliance. Ten Stories splits the difference, retaining the band's newly conceptual, narrative approach while plugging in the guitars and romping through compellingly complex, storytelling orchestrations that wouldn't be out of place on the more recent albums by Fugazi or the Decemberists.


Baroness: Yellow & Green

July 17 on Relapse Records

Is it too insulting to list the multitude of ways that Yellow & Green is Baroness' "Black Album?" Because there's a ton. Sometimes I just like it the most when everyone else thinks a band is selling out. Green is the effortless wind-down (the playful "Board Up the House;" the jaunty "The Line Between"), but Yellow is hit after rock-solid hit, from would-be Top 40 contenders ("Take My Bones Away." "March to the Sea") to bone-rattling displays of anguish ("Sea Lungs," "Eula").


Japandroids: Celebration Rock

June 5 on Polyvinyl Record Co.

The phrase "life-affirming" has been freely tossed around regarding this Vancouver duo's second official studio collection of anthems. Well, it's hard to argue: Celebration Rock delivers as advertised, with fuzz-coated rock that accelerates the Replacements' and Springsteen's stomping, arena-sized hooks into up-tempo, punk rock barn-burners. When that first verse kicks in on "The House That Heaven Built?" Fuck, man.


Such Gold: Misadventures

August 14 on Razor & Tie

Such Gold could have played it safe and pandered to their core fanbase with a dozen tracks of meager, catchy pop-punk. Instead, they went out and wrote the leanest, hardest and most riffy stuff of their budding career. Misadventures mixes A Wilhelm Scream's rugged, technical speed with Comeback Kid's shouted angst via total, invigorating aplomb, resulting in the best melodic hardcore record in some time.


Circa Survive: Violent Waves

self-released August 28

Circa Survive pushed their spacey, progressive alt-rock and post-hardcore meshing to new heights on the self-financed, self-released Violent Waves without losing any of the intricate atmospheres and ethereal, enchanting melodies they've made their name on to this point. Plus, this record proved that as long as you continued to write killer songs, you could make a towering production of an album with smaller (but no less talented) names to make the songs sound killer, too.


Make Do and Mend: Everything You Ever Loved

June 19 on Rise Records

Make Do and Mend's sophomore LP hardly changed the band's sound–it just made it way, way better. Sure, there's some serious radio polish, with results ranging from gorgeous ballad "St. Anne" to nearly-a-recent-Rise Against-single "Lucky." But for the most part, Everything You Ever Loved is everything I may have ever loved about Hot Water Music and Jimmy Eat World in one fantastic album, with flashes of unique brilliance and chilling moments of harrowing anguish along the way.


The Casket Lottery: Real Fear

November 6 on No Sleep Records

This year alone there've been quite a few reunion records emerging from the "scene" I've followed most closely for the last decade or so. While a few are conspicuously missing from this wrap-up, none have been particularly bad; however, the Casket Lottery are the only band that somehow woke from their slumber musically and lyrically peaking. Real Fear is the best thing this Kansas City, Mo. trio (now a quintet) have conceived. Far more expansive and more haunting than the already emotionally damaged content of their last opus (2002's aptly titled Survival Is for Cowards), Real Fear took a risk by adding keyboards to the mix, but it merely enriches and illuminates the atmosphere, while the band stylistically touch upon a wider timeline of styles, from grunge to early new wave and '90s emo/alternative, operated at a punk-minded tilt and perfectly complemented by pedals and disconsolate uncertainty. It's aggressive, dynamic, ambitious and rewrites the odds for what a group of musicians can accomplish after considerable time away from each other.


Daytrader: Twelve Years

May 8 on Rise Records

Better to burn out than to fade away, huh? Daytrader drew lines in their already compact fanbase with what became the only full-length offering to their name. Some fans wanted the scrappy energy of the demo; others yearned for the dynamic, sharpened melodic punk of the EP; still more somehow questioned the brilliant, finely tuned pop and rock hooks laid to tape on Twelve Years, influenced by the best east coast "emo" songwriters of the last decade and change and filtered through an obscure smog of haunting guitars and literature-inspired personal prose. Hell of a swan song, but so it goes.


Title Fight: Floral Green

September 18 on SideOneDummy Records

Title Fight have inhabited a number of punk-indebted styles throughout their decade-long tenure as a band: speedy, amateur-hour middle-school punk; poppy, post-Can't Slow Down melodic hardcore; gruff, '90s emo-laced angst. While it took eight years for the band to formulate their first proper full-length and only 16 months for the followup, it's not entirely surprising that the space they reside in now is their best yet. It doesn't hurt that Floral Green effortlessly combines both my life-long and more recent genre loves. They've become the perfect example of growing with their fans and continuing to simply play what they're into, and the result is a wonderful confluence of shoegaze's sweet and sour, Jawbreaker's ache and indie rock's pop ambition during the '90s, with earnest, honest lyrics about self-doubt and insecurities ruggedly spit forth by four deceptively simple suburban hardcore kids. Shed your skin indeed.

Top 9 EPs/Singles [see: Conflicts of Interest]


ANNE: Power Exchange

June 1 on Run for Cover Records

A new single from this Portland, Ore. act finds them transforming from barely-categorizable shoegaze legends-in-waiting to an equally splendid darkwave act who would have been a hit on MTV in the early '80s. GIVE US A FULL-LENGTH OF THIS SHIT ALREADY.


Person L / Weatherbox: Split

February 7 on Youth Conspiracy Records

These songs took a while to come out, but they were worth the wait. Person L track their best anthem to date with "OK," and Weatherbox spin away their ragged, coarse blend of angular guitars and nasal melodies on the other side like it's old hat. Probably because it is for them, though.


Souvenirs: Tired of Defending You

June 5 on 6131 Records

Souvenirs deliver a second banger of an EP, continuing to inject their sappy emo with tastes of Red House Painters' solemn march and Knapsack's scrappy temper (with a strangely similar vocal similarity to Smoke or Fire frontman Joe McMahon's earlier, earnest bark). They're one of those bands that make depression feel impossibly good.


The Gaslight Anthem: Hold You Up

November 23 (Record Store Day) on Mercury Records

The Gaslight Anthem don't tack on some throwaway B-sides here. No sir. A yelping, bluesy cover of Bon Iver's modern classic "Skinny Love" plus the hushed chamber pieces "Misery" and "Hold You Up" make for wonderfully meditative partners on this Record Store Day 10".


Coasta: Coasta

May 11 on Run for Cover Records

Coasta vocalist/guitarist Jamey Lacey might have a semi-famous brother, but any sibling influence is kept to a dull roar on his own band's bang-up debut EP. Nimble and melodic, textured alternative/indie rock with the occasional, carefully dark shade, their label put it best when name-checking Nada Surf, Wilco and The Bends-era Radiohead as subtle touchstones coming together for something impressive and unique.


Sleepwalkers: The Wolf & The Moon

self-released September 18

Take all the best weird parts of the last four Converge albums and put them on one sick, immensely enjoyable EP. That's Sleepwalkers' The Wolf & The Moon in a nutshell. A local Massachusetts act who's seemingly just hitting their stride as they're slowing down as a band, their prior stuff was a modern hardcore footnote at best. Moon is not only a gigantic leap forward in style, execution and texture, but a complete reinvention for them as well. Great stuff.


Desaparecidos: MariKKKopa b/w Backsell

self-released August 2

While there's something a little disconcerting about a band with an anti-capitalist past charging $5 for only two MP3s, it's also hard to deny how much bang they're really giving you for your buck. With one incredibly strong album to their name, Desaparecidos risked mucking up their legacy by recording any new material at all (let alone their first in a decade), but this single delivers. The band keep it current with "MariKKKopa," lashing out at a racist Arizona sheriff through the ground-stomping power-pop they first perfected 10 years ago, while the thumping, radio industry hater "Backsell" oscillates between sardonic twinkles and straight bashing away.


Indian School: The Cruelest Kind

originally released March 5 on Walnut Tree Records / reissued September 25 on Animal Style Records

It wasn't entirely surprising that the majority of Audio Karate would go on to record one of the better releases of its kind, no matter how long they waited to follow up 2004's Lady Melody with some proper rock. The Cruelest Kind is an inviting melding of melodic indie rock, alt-country and the most coy hint of punk sneering for that little extra something.


Touché Amoré / The Casket Lottery: Split

October 2 on No Sleep Records

To be perfectly honest, all this split had to do was deliver as promised and it had the #1 spot here. When the track listing was announced, it was like the perfect spectrum of punk/indie-derived styles I've been into for close to half my life. My favorite current hardcore band (Touché Amoré) offering up a searing new song and an aggressively jangly cover of one of my favorites acts of the '80s (the Replacements)? Beloved emo veterans showing off one of their first new songs–an unexpected foray into grunge and Cure-ish post-punk, bridging the gap to the followup LP–in eight years (the Casket Lottery) and covering a track from another of my most-loved albums released this year (see Top Albums #16)? Shit, man. No Sleep basically released this just for me.

EP Honorable Mentions

Self Defense Family: Self Immolation Family b/w World Virgins (Deathwish); The Tidal Sleep: Four Song EP (This Charming Man); HalfNoise: HalfNoise (self-released); Animal Collective: Honeycomb b/w Gotham (Domino); Restorations: A/B (Tiny Engines)

Conflict of Interest Picks

Verse: Bitter Clarity, Uncommon Grace

July 17 on Bridge Nine Records

If I didn't work full-time for the label involved in putting this record out, trust me, it would still be included in this feature. Verse is arguably one of the first hardcore bands I got into, some time in the fall of 2003: a then-okay-ish youth crew revival act that assisted greatly in sparking my interest in hard, simple, aggressive music while I attended a college located directly within their home base. Nearly a decade later, they've emerged from a brief hiatus as one of the best and most impossibly complex bands playing that kind of music. Their possible watershed moment (and career high), Bitter Clarity, Uncommon Grace takes all sorts of chances (guitar solos, interludes, organs, a nearly constant unraveling of narrated, spoken-word frustration) and succeeds at every turn.

Raindance: New Blood

originally self-released May 18 / reissued October 30 on Animal Style Records

Early 2000s metalcore receives a healthy jolt of more Victory-era, '90s metallic hardcore on this juggernaut of an EP by New Bedford, Mass.'s Raindance. Shortly before its free digital release (later picked up by Animal Style for a vinyl pressing), the band had asked me to be their manager, and I flatteringly obliged. So while you might be skeptical of my impartiality, I can promise you that the band takes the best of early Every Time I Die, 108, old Poison the Well and Unbroken and combines those bands' experimentally fierce styles into one focused, weird and weirdly awesome spate of bitter, heavy hardcore.

Top 3 Demos


springtime [review]

self-released March 7

This is some pretty great mid-tempo emo in the late Revolution Summer spirit (think earlier End of a Year, when they were a little more Swiz-y), with nearly unique, exasperated, almost grunt-shouted vocals.


Sweet Jesus

January on Super Sonic Sounds

The man of a million hardcore projects at the moment, ex-Have Heart frontman Pat Flynn gets together with dudes from Verse, Dropdead and Soul Control for some sweet, sweet Swiz worship (hell, they even cover them here). Sensing a bit of a theme in this demo list? Rock 'n' roll.



self-released July 13

Okay, that's enough Swiz talk. Somos recorded the best (and easily best-sounding, courtesy of Panda Studios) demo I've heard this year, with immensely catchy, pretty dynamic and anthemic, melodic sorta punk that takes the best of Polar Bear Club's more recent, radio-friendly material and adds just the slightest touch of Piebald's quirk. Hell of a start.

Best Compilation

Dreamscape: La-Di-Da Recordings

August 20 on Kranky

I'm not even sure this is a complete discography, but that's okay, because the nine tracks that are here from various EPs and singles released by this early '90s dream pop outfit (an apparent side project to Secret Shine, who had neither reached my ignorant consciousness) are excellent. Fuzzy atmospheres that sound lost, dissonant, nauseous, unsure and depressed–what more could you ask for?


Disc 1: A Little Heavier
  1. Broadway Calls - Open Letter
  2. The Early November - Frayed in Doubt
    One of the cooler, jauntier cuts from this reunion record.
  3. Further Seems Forever - Engines
    One of the more tender, yearning cuts from this reunion record.
  4. Circa Survive - The Lottery
    Breathy choruses get me every time. No less when they're sung by Geoff Rickly.
  5. Torche - Kicking
    File under: Rock
  6. Rockets on Wire - Rose
    Dynamite chorus. A strained anthem for the self-defeatists off a promising debut LP.
  7. Gifts from Enola - The Benefits of Failure
    I feel like I should be kayaking in violent rivers or something when I hear this.
  8. Expire - Abyss
    I must have heard this song 100 times and I'm still not sick of it. Just perfect, angrily spit hardcore.
  9. Japandroids - The House That Heaven Built
  10. Indian School - Rob Your House
  11. Soul Control - Anxious
  12. Incendiary - Rome Is Burning
    Few current hardcore bands actually incite positive rage in me. This is one of them.
  13. Lower - Someone's Got It in for Me
  14. Nightmares for a Week - Mr. Grimm
  15. The Tidal Sleep - Tiburon
Disc 2: A Little Lighter (But Not Emotionally)
  1. Restorations - A
  2. Merchandise - Time
    Kind of an overrated record, but damn, this track's painful bliss.
  3. The Menzingers - Gates
    Just as I get old enough to know that happiness is just a moment.
  4. The Sidekicks - 1940's Fighter Jet
    The heartache in this song is frightening.
  5. Minus the Bear - Diamond Lightning
    Dudes can still write a pretty-ass song. It's almost "Pachuca Sunrise 2". Almost.
  6. Tall Ships - Gallop
    The awesomely Morrissey-esque, sonic force standout of an otherwise merely pretty good record.
  7. Marriages - Ten Tiny Fingers
    The fantastically haunting centerpiece of a propitious debut EP.
  8. You Blew It! - The Fifties
    My favorite track on this scrappy, sing-along emo record.
  9. Hostage Calm - Patriot
  10. Now, Now - Wolf
    Kills me.
  11. SHARKS - Luck
  12. Geoff Rickly - Going to Hell
    I actually think this bridge is a little cheesy, but the chorus is beautifully aching.
  13. Color Film - Bad Saint
  14. Captives - Grace
    As great a Brand New tribute as you're bound to hear this year.

Most Anticipated for 2013

There's roughly a million records I'm looking forward to, but here's the top 30 so I don't bore you too much (check out the new Comadre record in the meantime, it's pretty bangin'):
  1. Brand New (tough call if this will actually surface, though)
  2. Crime in Stereo
  3. The National (they were in the studio recently, so something must be coming up)
  4. My Bloody Valentine (sounds like this could actually, finally be the year)
  5. Sigur Rós (already promising a drastically different album from [the admittedly pretty good] Valtari next year, and the new song is amazing)
  6. Balance and Composure (plus their split with Braid)
  7. Touché Amoré
  8. Warpaint (perhaps)
  9. Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob (Warner Bros./Vapor; Jan. 29)
  10. Moving Mountains
  11. Indian School (perhaps)
  12. Coasta
  13. Foals: Holy Fire (Warner Bros.; Feb. 11)
  14. ANNE (hopefully)
  15. This Town Needs Guns: (Sargent House; Jan. 22)
  16. Former Thieves
  17. A Wilhelm Scream
  18. Manchester Orchestra
  19. Deafheaven: Sunbather
  20. No Age
  21. The Dillinger Escape Plan
  22. Braid (& the split)
  23. City and Colour
  24. Paramore: Paramore (Fueled by Ramen; Apr. 9)
  25. Mansions
  26. Color Film: Living Arrangements
  27. Weatherbox
  28. Restorations
  29. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die: Whenever, If Ever
  30. Reverse the Curse: Existent (Paper + Plastick; spring)

Thanks for reading, yo.