I saw the first Best of 2012 Music list a few days before Thanksgiving . It seemed premature and incomplete as there were 6 weeks left to go and I still had plenty of listening to do before I could even get my head around a year’s worth of music. Typically, I hit publish between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Not this year, not even close. Before 2012 is forgotten forever let’s get this one out the door so I can focus on the music of 2013.
Every year I hope to offer up the music that mattered to me as opposed to a balanced, definitive list of what we’re supposed to like. Plenty of other folks can do that. LargeHeartedBoy.com compiled over 1000 Best Of lists if you really want to dig deep into any genre and discover the music that defined 2012. I just want to share some great music and hear about what you liked. Oddly enough a record from 2011 informed and shaped the listening path I took last year. The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World set the tone with its quiet, otherworldly beauty and texture. Much of what I sought out in 2012 featured longer songs, older music, drones, repetition and less emphasis on guitars and individual songs.
Godspeed You Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
It’s been 10 years since Yanqui U.X.O. and I had almost forgotten about the sprawling majesty of this band and their epic sonic assaults. I have most of their catalogue and it amounts to a mere 19 tracks, yet each record requires repeated, attentive listening. Allelujah! is an immersive journey best played loud. Two cascading guitar driven cathartic sound collages and two layered, scouring drones This is beautiful noise.
Swans – The Seer
Another epic from a band that could be hitting their peak (or maybe that was Children of God) after 30 years. Swans split in 1997 and leader Michael Gira focused on solo work, Angels of Light and running Young God Records. In 2010 Swans reconvened with the solid My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky. The Seer combines the best of the band’s pummeling, punishing earlier sound and adds light and space to an uncompromising, incredible two hours of music.
John Talabot – fIN
Combining deep house, retro techno, found sounds and samples, plus a strong pop undercurrent, Spanish DJ John Talabot has created a record that bubbles and percolates across 11 gorgeous tracks. He’s been around in various incarnations for over a decade but fIN is his proper debut.
Moon Duo – Circles
Fantastic drugged-out psychedelia with a propulsive Krautrock undertow, Moon Duo’s music is driven intoxicating guitar noise barely masking groovy pop sensibilities. Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson is three albums deep into what seemed to start as a side project, but is now definitely much more.
DIIV – Oshin
With a sound reminiscent of early Echo and the Bunnymen or pre-Starfish Church, DIIV do dream-pop with sweet jangling guitars and vocals that ebb and flow across the songs. A few individual tracks stand out, but this all works together better as a blissful whole.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
Stott’s two 2011 records were my introduction to his bass-heavy, pulsating production. Both were stellar releases that revealed more and more with each successive listen. Luxury Problems slows down the tempo and adds layers of gorgeous vocals and textures to create something new and incredible beyond its dub, techno, house foundations.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
Mr. Pink can be a bit polarizing. His lo-fi subversive twist on 60s and 70s pop isn’t for everyone. There’s a little Zappa darkness lurking under the bright, sunny tunes. His vocals take a bit getting used to and you always feel like he is playing an elaborate prank on his fans. However, it is difficult to deny the songs. If you hated it the first time, give it a second listen.
The Chromatics – Kill For Love
The Chromatics defy easy description. As soon as you think you’ve pinned them down, they head off in a different direction. Combining synth-pop with disco, post-punk, indie rock and moments of icy minimalism, this album kicks off with a thrilling deconstruction of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) and just gets better from there. It had been five years since their last album, but it was worth the wait.
Field Music – Plumb
On their fourth album the Brewis brothers draw on both lush melodic pop and prog-rock, but strip the sound down to its essence. The clever songwriting, sharp musicianship and tight harmonies make this my favorite batch of songs since their debut.
Darcys – Aja
The Darcys take one of the most highly-polished, perfectly produced pop albums of all time and deconstruct it as a post-rock homage to Steely Dan’s masterpiece. Their tense, sparse take on the original material helps it transcend the novelty and stand on its own.
Advance Base – A Shut-In’s Prayer Sadness and cynicism from Owen Ashworth who did the same as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone.
Pinback – Information Retrieved Better living through precision. They do what they do and they do it well.
Scott Walker – Bish Bosch Difficult listening at its finest. Rumbling, clattering, caterwauling majesty.
Yeasayer – Fragrant World The difficult third album from a band that nobody can agree on.
Shackleton – Music for the Quiet Hour Dub and darkness on an epic sonic journey to the center of your mind.
Grizzly Bear – Shields It’s all about the details. Listen, listen and listen again.
Demdike Stare – Elemental Parts 1 & 2 Sloooowww, dark and droning. The low end will rattle your brain.
Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance Deerhunter guitar player, Lockett Pundt, creates an elegantly restrained album of gauzy, dreamy, indie pop.
Dan Deacon – America He shoots for the title of “serious composer” and scores.
Scuba – Personality Techno as an escape hatch from the world of dubstep
What were your favorites? I am interested in what YOU liked.
Coming soon – Best 2012 reissues and compilations, maybe just in time for summer.