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Metz - "The Mule"
Savages - "Husbands"
While chillaxed lo-fi has yet to be abolished, 2012 seemed refreshingly full of ass-kicking hard rock. The two reigning champions of this past year's CMJ Festival just flat ruined rooms all over town with it. Toronto's Metz overtook audiences with their ungodly, bomb-drop feedback squeal. Their self-tilted record revealed pop blueprints beneath the roar, though the roaring still good and fearsome on tracks like "The Mule". London's Savages aren't quite as loud, but maybe even more intense? "Husbands" leans overtly on a jagged post-punk guitar sound and primal Patti Smith barks, but made their familiar elements seem alive in the minute, ready to fucking brawl.
St. Vincent - "Krokodil"
Annie Clark, who spent her 2012 recording and touring an ultimately unsatisfying record with her dream-date idol David Byrne, also finally made a move toward the completely unhinged rock album everyone has been dying for her to make, ever since she famously did that set of Big Black covers a couple years back. This Record Store Day exclusive recreated the highlight of her crowd-surfing summer festival sets, let her scream her face off about wanting dangerous Russian drugs, continued to blow her genteel, porcelain-doll image to tiny shards.
Sleigh Bells - "You Lost Me"
Screaming Females - "Doom 84"
Two strains of head-bang emphasis, by two bands at opposite ends of some perceived integrity scale. Sleigh Bells' second record was shrugged off pretty quickly, owing more to a career supernova that blew up too soon than a lack of determined improvement. The songs on Reign of Terror went further than the ones that made them famous(-ish). "You Lost Me" is especially good, sounding like a Satanic prom anthem that makes unlikely friends of shoegazers and cock rockers. It's not subtle, but it vibrates on a unique frequency.
Sainted workhorses Screaming Females got some studio time with Steve Albini for their toil, and turned in their best ever record, which featured Marissa Paternoster's best-ever riff on "Doom 84". It reaches further back in time for a Sabbath-grade corker that never quits, and even when you're sure it's at least taken a personal day or something, returns suddenly to not quit some more.