When rock veers hard to the hostile and visceral side, it often finds a wealth of sonic variety and eccentric musicianship, almost in spite of itself. That cycle has been playing out the last few years on labels like In the Red, Goner, HoZac and Douchemaster Records, whose releases often revel in some combination of garage, punk or power-pop revivalism, frequently harsh-edged but with a cheerful instinct for hooks. When I hear music that puts its attitudinal swagger and raggedy beat up front, I always want to hold it at arm's length for a good long while to see if it wins me over. It turned out 2012 was a good year for that to happen.
For me, the big cave-in came with Ty Segall Band's new Slaughterhouse. Even after seeing the San Francisco songwriter this May in a band that had a lot more muscle than solo releases like 2010's Melted and 2011's Goodbye Bread, I was struck with how claustrophobically noisy this record is. And not just in the form of the 10-minute self-explanatory instrumental "Fuzz War" or the band disemboweling the Bo Diddley song "Diddy Wah Diddy." The abrasion here also works with Segall's already well-proven melody writing and giddy-tight rhythms, especially when Segall and Charles Moothart's guitars pair up in precisely itchy figures and slippery bends on "I Bought My Eyes."
Segall will return to the High Noon Saloon Sept. 29 with co-headliners Thee Oh Sees. Like Segall, they're perfectly capable of kicking out more than one record a year and smearing playfulness into their insistent rhythms. The recent Putrifiers II slows things down pretty often, most strikingly with the droning strings of "So Nice." It's a cool surprise but it's no "Lady Godiva's Operation" - it leaves off feeling like there's a lot more exploring to be done. I still prefer 2009's Help and 2008's The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In, whose reverb-ricochet aggression may at first come off as slapdash, and really is anything but.
There's a cheerier point of entry to all this in King Tuff's latest album, a self-titled effort for Sub Pop. Kyle Thomas' semi-solo project feels open to both more easygoing indie-rock listeners and those of us who really like hearing echoes of T. Rex and Mott the Hoople. It's got its pitfalls - Thomas' vocals on "Alone and Stoned" couldn't be more squeakily irksome if he put a binder clip on his nose - but skip around and you'll be rewarded with the swaggering heft and leftover Stones riffs of "Loser's Wall" and the bouncy, smart-assed smiles of "Keep on Movin'."
Another sometimes-loner, Nobunny, boasts a demented-looking rabbit mask and plays with a frantic edge that should make the freakery of songs like "Never Been Kissed," from his album First Blood, more endearing. He's slated to play a Sept. 12 set at the Frequency and release a new record on Goner sometime this fall.
If you fancy yourself more of a retiring nerd, there are a few ways to trick yourself into liking this stuff. Chicago band Disappears is almost wrong to include here, as the records it puts out on experimental label Kranky tend to build on lengthy, repetitive figures and coat their petulant cool in copious reverb and delay. But 2011's Guider balances that with an almost savage beat, and this year's Pre-Language continues on that path with help from a new drummer, Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley.
Atlanta songwriter Gentleman Jesse shares in garage-punk's appeal even though he's really on the less-badass end of the spectrum. On his latest album, Leaving Atlanta, he processes the deaths of several friends and a violent mugging. The resulting tinge of desperation makes his clean and sharp guitar pop all the sweeter and more soul-leaning, especially on album opener "Eat Me Alive" and closer "We Got to Get Out of Here." On a previous album cover, Jesse mugged with a camera in imitation of Elvis Costello's This Year's Model. This could be Jesse's Get Happy!!, only it's got an Armed Forces' worth of emotional damage.