Wow. This was painful. I tried to describe as many of these as I could without resorting to copy/paste from record labels, ‘zines or blogs, but eventually we all start to fatigue. Sure, it’d be nice to look all respectable with one-hundred totally unique and informative descriptions of these albums, but I don’t have that kind of time or journalistic ability. Hell, I probably put two or three hours into this and that’s more than I should have. Next year I might just give you a ranked list with some MP3s and no descriptions. That’s what other blogs do. You should consider yourselves lucky that I don’t just slap a Soundcloud player here with a picture of the front cover of each album and make you figure out for yourself what you’re listening to.
Alright kids, look at this as if it’s a naked chick with her legs spread out before you. Everything is yours for the taking. You can seek these records out and buy them, you can download them from iTunes or Amazon, you can do whatever the fuck you do to consume music. Just make sure you respect the artists enough to pay for their work. Hell, I feel weird just posting single MP3s from less than 1/4 of these albums, but if I didn’t do that you’d have no idea how awesome these records are. And they are all awesome.
And don’t even thinking about pointing out any typos. I don’t want to hear it.
The Top 100 Albums Of 2012
100. Nate Hall – A Great River (Neurot) – The voice of U.S. Christmas released his first solo album this year, proving that he’s more than just a guy who wails over damaged, deafening psychedelic swamp blues. His cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Kathleen” is beautiful. [Listen to "Kathleen"]
99. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (Columbia) – How could I not include the newest Cohen offering on this list? He is my hero in every sense of the word. His novels, his poetry, his first six studio albums, he’s the closest thing to a God that I worship. Old Ideas is definitely an improvement over 2004’s Dear Heather, but that’s just my opinion. [Listen to "Anyhow"]
98. Dirty Three – Toward The Low Sun (Drag City) – Hard to believe it’s been 7 years since Cinder, and the trio of Jim White, Warren Ellis and Mick Turner prove here that the last album was a brief misstep on their otherwise flawless 17-year career path. Ugh, that Cat Power cameo. Gross. Although “The Zither Player” was awesome. This is the best album they’ve put out since Whatever You Love, You Are.
97. Turing Machine – What Is The Meaning Of What (Temporary Residence) – It’s been a long time since 2004’s Zwei, and a lot has happened to this band since I discovered that album, but I’m happy to say that this long-awaited followup does not disappoint. From the opener, “Yeah, C’mon!” it’s a different feel than that previous record, but still exciting.
96. Lil B – White Flame (Self-Released) – This is the latest in an ongoing series of mix tapes which never really sound like cohesive records, yet continually show off B’s mastery of his own sub-genre of rap music. I mean, at this point who do you compare him to other than himself? He’s one of the most subversive rappers in modern memory (see: Rain In England) and his other two releases this year (God’s Father and Gold House) are just as good as this. [Listen to "Tiny Pants Bitch"]
95. Calexico – Algiers (Anti-) – No longer on Touch & Go’s roster, Calexico will be a band to whom I always devote listening time. I’ve enjoyed every album of theirs since first I was first turned onto them 10 years ago. And while they might never have soared to heights greater than The Black Light or Feast Of Wire between those records and Algiers, there’s always something to latch onto, something to fall in love with, and something to champion. I’ll see them whenever they come to town, buy whatever they release, and happily and confidently recommend you listen as well.
94. Horseback – Half Blood (Relapse) – Is it post-rock? Is it metal? I don’t know quite what to call it, but I know I like it.
93. Circle – Manner (Hydra Head) – At least in the States, I think this was a “Record Store Day” release. The best part, in my humble opinion, is their cover of Brian Eno’s “Here Come The Warm Jets.” Yeah, it’s Circle doing Eno. It’s awesome.
92. Dan Melchior – The Backward Path (Northern Sky) – This record, the first time I heard it, reminded me of Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring For My Halo (#20 last year). Both caught me off-guard, as I expected not to enjoy them as much as I do. Here’ Melchior sings a dozen or so brooding, dark, melodic songs backed by some great musicians, including C. Spender Yeh (Burning Star Core!). For a series of (for all intents and purposes) pop songs, there’s a ton of psychedelic/abstract experimentalism to be heard. A great, great record.
91. Locrian & Mamiffer – Bless Them That Curse You (Utech) – You don’t often find split releases or collaborations on year-end lists, but Locrian (an Ian recommendation) is so good I needed to find a way to squeeze something of theirs onto this one. The combination of these two bands together works wonders, like The Body & Braveyoung or White Hills & Gnod, all the best parts of Locrian’s blacker-than-black sound are highlighted by Mamiffer’s abstract-electronic tendencies.
90. Chubby Wolf – Seasick (Mystery Sea) – I can’t NOT include anything released by this incredible record label, and the contribution by Chubby Wolf (aka the late Danielle Baquet-Long of Celer) is no exception. It’s described as “Field recordings, morse code, electronics” and features “additional aural debris by Mathieu Ruhlmann (another Mystery Sea alum, his 2004 contribution Broken Vessels is a must-hear). So beautiful, so dark, so perfect.
89. Keith Fullerton Whitman – Generators (Editions Mego) – Two side-long tracks from one of the best experimental electronic composers of the day. The ‘A’-side, “Issue Generator (for Eliane Radigue) was one of the best long form electronic pieces I heard this year.
88. Grumbling Fur – Alice (Latitudes) – A customer turned me onto Grumbling Fur (via CDr of last year’s “Furrier”) and I’ve been happily blogging/talking/promoting ever since. How better to describe this than: featuring members of Circle and Guapo. Seriously, need I say more? At once dark, lush, dreamy, and trippy.
87. A Place To Bury Strangers – Worship (Dead Oceans) – I was playing Onward To The Wall a lot when it came out in February, but come June it was all Worship.
86. Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral (4AD) – The guy can do know wrong, so as long as he keeps recording music there will be a spot waiting for him on each of my year-end lists.
85. Shearwater – Animal Joy (Sub Pop) – This came recommended by a music industry insider, and he called it the best album of the year when it came out back in February. I haven’t listened to any Shearwater since Palo Santo, but I was very happy to hear that Jonathan Meiburg learned how to sing. There are some great, great songs on here. [Listen to "Dread Sovereign"]
84. Alcest – Les Voyages De L’âme (Prophecy Productions) – Shoegaze Black Metal is not a myth. I’ve heard it. Do you like Explosions in the Sky? Godspeed You! Black Emperor? Mogwai? If you haven’t already heard Alcest, you would be wise to pick this one immediately. Your idea of “epic post-rock” will be forever changed.
83. Richard Youngs – Core To The Brave (Root Strata) – Not gonna lie, this one took a little bit of time to grow on me. The heaviness and frantic tempo of some of the industrial/electronic elements rubbed me the wrong way. But the more I listened to it, the more I found myself digging what I was hearing.
82. Sons of Otis – Seismic (Small Stone) – Huge, bombastic stoner rock from Canada. You might remember these guys from my top 100 albums of 2009 list, when their record Exiled came in at number 56. Maybe they’re the North American UFOmammut? [Listen to "Never In My Life"]
81. Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier – An Age Of Wonder (Shelter Press) – A super-limited (400 copies 40 of which came with an original signed painting by Felicia Atkinson) release. Voice, synths, other electronics, all looped and swirling around each other. It doesn’t get much more lo-fi than that, and yet these two long slabs of sprawling and hypnotic drone manage to sound much more full and — dare I say it — hi-fi than you’d think.
80. Steve Moore – Light Echoes (Cuneiform) – One-half of Zombi (the good half!) released a set (six pieces, the longest of which is 28-minutes long) of intimate and spaced-out electronic music that is as great and lush as any modern electronic record in recent memory.
79. Troum – Grote Mandrenke (Beta-lactam Ring) – “An aural hallucination on the events that occurred January 15-17, 1362 at the Friesian North Sea coast.” According to Wikipedia that’s when a storm totally destroyed and submerged the island of Strand. So, a hallucation of what it would feel like to be a drowning landmass committed to tape. If you’re not the least bit intrigued, you’re a lost cause.
78. Comus – Out Of The Coma (Rise Above) – Their first new music in forty years. That could be disconcerting for fans of the band’s landmark acid-folk record First Utterance. Have no fear, this isn’t like they got back together and thought, “Hey let’s write some new music!” This shit was actually written and performed as part of some insanely long piece back in the 70s that was supposed to be a followup to First Utterance, but they never recorded it. This is but a small portion of that original composition, and it’s still more than enough to satisfy fans.
77. Thee Oh Sees – Putrefiers II (In The Red) – It’s called an EP but it’s a two-sided LP with ten tracks. That said, John Dwyer’s Thee Oh Sees is usually a shoe-in to appear on this list every year as long as something new has been released. Some of my favorite modern fuzz/garage.
76. Black To Comm – Earth (De Stijl) – A Singaporean artist creates a video called “Earth” and asks a number of musicians to provide live music for it. Marc Richter (aka Black To Comm) was supposedly sedated and on heavy painkillers when he recorded his soundtrack. If that makes you think, “Oh! That sounds like my kinda album!” then you and I have way more in common than you probably thought. Painkillers and great music go together like…well, no wait. Things that are, like, perfectly-fucking-perfect go together like painkillers and recording music. Yeah, that’s it.
75. Vatican Shadow – Ghosts Of Chechnya (Hospital Productions) – So much throbbing industrial noise-techno, so little time…
74. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber (Fat Possum) – Don’t laugh, but I like this record. Hey MikeM if you’re reading this, you’ll probably want to find this one as quickly as possible. Melody Prochet might be your new Rachel Goswell.
73. King Blood – Vengeance, Man (Ritchie) – Described elsewhere as “one man knuckle dragging minimal psych avant boogie,” and I’m not really sure I could give you a better or more vivid explanation myself.
72. Jandek – Maze Of The Phantom (Corwood Industries) – A double disc of Jandek sounds like a chore, right? Well, for most of you that couldn’t be closer to the truth. Alas, I’ve got a soft spot for the outsider genius, so I like it all.
71. Golden Retriever – Occupied With The Unspoken (Thrill Jockey) – Another re-entry from a duo that made the list in 2010 with their record on Root Strata. This holds the distinction of being one of the four or five “experimental” CDs I played at work this year that received positive reviews from my co-workers. Usually they just tell me that I’m annoying them, or they find a reason to sneak over to the stereo to turn the volume down when I’m not paying attention. If these four cuts were good enough for my idiot peers, you’ll probably appreciate it even more!
70. Blut Aus Nord – 777 Cosmosophy (Debermur Morti) – The climactic movement of the epic 777 three-album two-hour trilogy released throughout the last 18-months. There’s grand, sweeping atmospheric sounds competing with traditional metal, electronic elements and even a bit of radio-frendly arena rock. It’s quite an ambitious effort, and a fitting conclusion to a bold trio of records.
69. Earth – Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II (Southern Lord) – I wasn’t really digging the first side of this record and then I flipped from side ‘A’ to ‘B’ and I was much more impressed. The cello on “A Multiplicity of Doors” is what sold me.
68. Evan Caminiti – Night Dust (Immune) – “With Night Dust…Caminiti shifted the focus away from amplifier worship and the desert themes his work is often associated with to focus on texture, fractured dub techniques, and spacious electric guitar compositions. Recorded entirely to 4 track cassette, Caminiti embraced the limitations of the medium and warped the original sound sources with analog electronics, searching for beauty in the hazy and degraded sounds. Inspiration came from smokey blue hues and washed out lights of some of the 80’s best vampire movies which contributes to the visually evocative narrative flow the album possesses.”
67. Bailter Space – Strobosphere (Fire Records) – Their first album since 1998 for these former Flying Nun recording artists. Listen, I’ve never really been a big Sonic Youth fan, so to me SY is more like the Northern Hemisphere’s Bailter Space than vise versa. Dissonant, thick, at once heavy and dreamy, Strobosphere is the kind of album that would have been as logical a progression in 1998 as it is in 2012. [Listen to "Strobosphere"]
66. Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound – Manzanita (Tee Pee) – I feel like these guys put out a record ever two or three years and it never gets the praise that it should. They haven’t achieved that level of acclaim that a band like White Hills has, but their output — while not as prolific — is right there in terms of top-tier psychedelic space rock.
65. Steve Hauschildt – Sequitur (Kranky) – Otherwise known as one-third of Emeralds, Steve Hauschildt is the guy who’s solo albums I think I like the most. It’s soft, droning kosmiche/electronic music. I might go so far as to call it new age, but there’s a world of difference between this and that stupid new age dance shit that’s become a “scene” now. Think Harald Grosskpf.
64. King Dude – Burning Daylight (Dais) – I can see how this might get pegged as, like, Chris Isaak and Leonard Cohen with lyrics by Nick Cave, but there’s more to it than that. For example, there’s all the weird noise shit going on behind the singer, which lends Burning Daylight an almost Der Blutharsch-ian vibe. It’s sure to be one of the weirdest (and thus best) singer/songwriter efforts you’ll hear in this year or any other.
63. Nadja – Dagdrom (Broken Spine Productions) – Again, not much else I can say about Nadja that hasn’t been said one hundred times before on this blog. A perennial inclusion on these lists of mine.
62. Jesus Is My Son – 1914-1918 (FF HHH) – Beautiful solo electric guitar work from a Belgian ambient/folk musician named Gregory Duby. The 40+ minute work (broken up into 8 tracks) is “based on the first war, the great war. This part of history who killed more then 10 million people. The hell of the trenches, a cold hell like Dante described. Between heroism and despair, from the nightmare of the trenches to all these cities devastated…”
61. Expo 70 – Beguiled Entropy (Blackest Rainbow) – And, duh, Expo 70. Who, by the way, issued 7 different releases this year, which I believe (unfounded!) makes Justin Wright the most-prolific artist included on this year’s list. How do I pick a favorite, you ask? I don’t know, I listen to ‘em all once, and then the one that I listen to again is usually the best.
60. Six Organs Of Admittance – Ascent (Drag City) – This is pretty much a Comets On Fire record, and I’m more than happy to hear it.
59. Starving Weirdos – Land Lines (Amish) – I think these guys have had an entry on every list since I first saw ‘em live in 2007. And for good reason. I’m never quite sure what they’re going for, but that’s a feeling I’ve also gotten from from Sunburned Hand Of The Man, No Neck Blues Band and a bunch of other avant/experimental acts that I consider some of my favorites. Keep it up.
58. Sachiko – Anro (Utech) – “A narrow path of safety extending through the gloom, its edges bleeding into the fearful zones of disorder and formlessness that enclose it. Paths create borders, they limn the known from the unknown, the clean from the unclean, the citizen from the exile, the present from the past. But while paths create boundaries, they themselves are ambivalent, neither here nor there, neither now nor then.” Dig it?
57. Pete Swanson – Pro Style (Type) – It’s hypnotic in a way that’s kind of annoying, if only because I usually hate “beats” but this is more like giving you something to pull together all the disparate pieces that are struggling to maintain some kind of order. I think without the beats, this would just sound like a complete unlistenable mess. Yet somehow, it all works. And I like it. Weird, right?
56. Andrew Chalk – Forty-Nine Views In Rhapsodies’ Wave Serene (Faraway Press) – On the complete opposite end of the spectrum there’s Andrew Chalk and his gorgeous, shimmering, drones. Whereas normally these pieces would go on anywhere from six to twenty minutes each, here there are almost 50 (hence the 49 in the title!) tracks each of which flow in and out of each other perfectly. Long or short Andrew Chalk compositions, either way, I’ll take it.
55. Hexvessel – No Holier Temple (Svart) – An exciting blend of 70s acid-folk with psychedelic, doom-folk with an ecological lyrical bent. This record creates what has been described as, “portals” to “spirit-trafficking menace” with “moments of transcendent beauty” scattered throughout.
54. En – Already Gone (Students Of Decay) – The Absent Coast made my top 100 list two years ago, and this is another gorgeous and textural series of dronescapes. What sets this apart from all the other drone records I loved this year? Well, it has to be the use of the koto (Japanese zither) that gives this album a haunting, classical air that similar ambient records cannot replicate.
53. Felix – Oh Holy Molar (Kranky) – What do you call this, miminalist pop? Chamber pop? The stark compositions are but a skeleton around which singer/songwriter Lucinda Chua provides flesh with her intimate, deeply-personal lyrics. Imagine if Scout Niblett harnessed her energetic and often crude delivery in lieu of something more tempered, methodical, even haunting.
52. Legowelt – The Paranormal Soul (Clone)- From the label’s website: “Insubordinate and averse to anything going on in the EDM world the dutch derelict of techno is back with a luminous new album on Clone records. Steamy and mysterious as ever The Paranormal Soul is advancing the trademark Legowelt sound into new directions. Mangling up the historical foundations of New York, Detroit, Chicago and early U.K Rave, mixing it with seedy witchcraft rituals and deep space psychedelics for a boundless journey into techno mysticism.”
51. Oren Ambarchi – Audience Of One (Touch) – Saggitarian Domain was just as good, but I prefer this one a tiny bit more. Another artist who is all but guaranteed a spot on this list every year.
50. Tim Hecker / Daniel Lopatin – Instrumental Tourist (Software) – I don’t think there would be a doubt in anyone’s mind that a collaboration between two of today’s finest abstranct/drone composers would be anything less than stellar.
49. Aidan Baker – The Spectrum Of Distraction (Robotic Empire) – It was a slow year for Aidan Baker, he only released five albums (three collaborations, an FLAC download, and this), a split with Leah Buckareff, a compilation, 3 releases as Nadja, plus whatever else he was involved with. Yeah…I’m just as disappointed in that lack out new music as you are. That said, he’s more than earned at least one spot on any year-end list of mine, so if you haven’t already, dive into his albums. They’re about as perfect as ambient drone records get.
48. Charlatan – Isolatarium (Type) – Imagine if Pete Swanson collaborated with Emeralds. There’s elements of beautiful synth competing against dark, sinister noise. Charlatan is the alias of Brad Rose (Digitalis Industries) who has recorded a fine body of work as the North Sea.
47. Colour Haze – She Said (Elektrohasch Schallplatten) – It feels like it’s been forever since the last new Colour Haze record, and it has in fact been four years! A double LP of heavy, HEAVY psychedelic rock that will instantly remind you that these guys have to be considered among the top stoner/psych bands of the last ten-plus years.
46. Destroy Judas – Wake (The Crossing) – Oops. This came out in February 2011. Oh well. Pretend something you’re SHOCKED I missed out on is #46 this year. [Listen to "To The Sea"]
45. Ilyas Ahmed – With Endless Fire (Immune) – Again, has it really been three years since his last full-length? “At once urgently compelling and lushly reflective, ‘With Endless Fire’ is yet another towering example of this fella’s rich talents, combining trace elements of blown-out blues with shoegaze and folk to find a prickly, bruised and tender sort of isolated soul which so many others would nearly kill for.” – Boomkat. [Listen to "Sapphire"]
44. Clinic – Free Reign (Domino) – I’m so happy that Clinic put out a good record this year. Internal Wrangler and Walking With Thee were so good, you knew the band had to reach that level again at some point in their career. There’s motorik rhythms, long washes of organ drones, and deliberate tempos. Hell, the opening track “Misty” sounds like early Spiritualized until Ade Blackburn’s familiar drawl enters the mix. Highly recommended.
43. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (Def Jam) – Although I wasn’t quite as blown away by it as seemingly everyone else in the world was (I’d still prefer Nostalgia, Ultra any day of the week) it’s hard to ignore the impressive body of work he has already released in his young career. I’ll stay tuned to see where he goes from here.
42. Mirrorring – Foreign Body (Kranky) – The duo of Liz Harris (Grouper) and Jesy Fortino (Tiny Vipers) combine to create six dark and gauzy tunes that allow each artist to come out of her respective shell. Harris sounds louder and more self-assured, and Fortino gets blissful swaths of ambiance against which she can juxtapose her more traditional folk stylings.
41. Ancestors – In Dreams And Time (Tee Pee) – This was ranked pretty high on my mid-year list, but in the second half of 2012 I really didn’t listen to it as much as when it was first released. This is by far the band’s most unique and accomplished release yet. Neptune With Fire was a blast of stoner/post-rock noise with a few evocative, ethereal passages. Of Sound Mind moved the band a little further on the path to transcendence, and I think In Dreams And Time is the culmination of that journey. [Listen to "The Last Return"]
40. Julia Holter – Ekstasis (Rvng Intl.) – Much like any warm-blooded American male, I have a severe soft spot for any cute girl who makes music. When that same cute girl cites my all-time favorite poet (Frank O’Hara) in one of her songs? Call it true love.
39. Panopticon – Kentucky (Handmade Birds) – In case you didn’t think country/bluegrass and black metal could ever exist in the same space, this record will easily change your mind. “Black Soot and Red Blood” buzzes and curdles for three full minutes before dissipating into a middle section of acoustic guitars and pretty, fingerpicked leads before exploding back into blistering, thunderous noise. So good.
38. Aluk Todolo – Occult Rock (Norma Evangelium Diaboli) – Do you like doom metal? Do you like Krautrock? Do you like space rock? Imagine all of those things mixed together in a blender — no wait, a French press (get it!?) — and you’ve got the new Aluk Todolo record.
37. Eternal Tapestry – A World Out Of Time / Dawn In 2 Dimensions (Thrill Jockey) – Technically two different releases, but I seriously couldn’t choose between the two which was better. A World Out Of Time is old school psych/cosmic freakouts, and Dawn In 2 Dimensions has some killer stoner grooves.
36. Conan – Monnos (Burning World) – A friend asked me the other day if I’d seen the Pitchfork list of the best metal records of this year. I asked if Conan was on the list, and when I was told “No,” I chose to disregard it without so much as a cursory glance.
35. 51717 – 0VUL (Opal Tapes) – I first heard about 51717 via the Aquarius Records mail order list, when their 557 CDr was released in 2006. That weird, self-released disc was all resonant bells and bizarre atmospherics. This one has some seriously amazing drones but there’s also some sludgy, industrial stuff going on as well.
34. Celer – Evaporate And Wonder (Experimedia) – Originally recorded in 2009 before the tragic death of Danielle Baquet-Long (aka Chubby Wolf), this was one of FOURTEEN Celer releases this year. Some were previous recordings made by the husband and wife duo, some are Will Long solo sessions, but those that I’ve heard are consistently enjoyable. Why do I like this one the best? Probably it’s bare-minimum feel. All you will hear is an improvised synthesizer juxtaposed to field recordings. Two flawless swaths of warm glacial ambiance.
33. William Fowler Collins – Tenebroso (Handmade Birds) – I was really embarrassed when I saw William over the summer and he handed me a copy of his new CD. Because I didn’t know he’d recorded a new CD. I remember hopping in my car to go to a party, was it Labor Day or July 4th or something? And listening to this blacker-than-black sonic earthquake that this incredible wizard of soundscapes managed to turn into…a melody? What the fuck!? I was winding up a hill and this murky quaking noise was cranked to blistering volume, and I realized that I kind of didn’t want to go to the party anymore. So I wound my way down the hill and just drove around for an hour or two listening to all the way through twice. Good times.
32. Loscil – Sketches From New Brighton (Kranky) – Spoketh Scott Morgan (aka Loscil): “This album gets its name from an odd little ocean side park that borders industry and the Vancouver port authority and lays claim to being the birthplace of the city. In a way, Sketches from New Brighton is a continuation of a dialogue with my environment that started with First Narrows and continued with the Strathcona Variations. It is not a rigorous “study” per se, but more a series of sketches, loose interpretations of the spaces I inhabit as well as an acknowledgement of their influence on my practice. These are my impressions, a kind of sketch of New Brighton and the surrounding area in an abstract form.”
31. Pinkish Black – S/T (Handmade Birds) – One listen to “Bodies In Tow” when it was posted to YouTube back in April was all I needed to hear to know that this record would be one of the best of the year. Huge drums, distorted bass, synths whirls, and vocals that sound like evil folk chanting. Like Laibach but more psychedelic, maybe? To my complete lack of surprise, the rest of the record turned out to be even better.
30. Mugstar – Axis (Agitated) – The last time Mugstar appeared on one of these lists it was for a split with Oneida. In 2010 they nabbed both the #29 and #13 spots for Lime and Sun Broken respectively. So when I saw that all they had slated for 2012 was a soundtrack, I was bummed out. Then I heard about Axis and…hoo boy. That made my day. Axis isn’t as blown-out and psych/prog as those previous records, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. It actually reminds me of their self-titled record more than anything else they’ve recorded. Which, of course, is a great thing.
29. Scott Walker – Bish Bosch (4AD) – From Tilt to The Drift to Bish Bosch, this is the absolute most logical, perfect followup for Walker. Oh, yeah, and that’s before you start trying to make sense of all the lyrics, like the scatology and the thing about cutting off his balls. Classic Scott Walker, guys. You won’t be disappointed.
28. Windy & Carl – We Will Always Be (Kranky) – In my opinion this is the best Windy & Carl release since Depths. Although if you count Dedications To Flea as a full-length (2 tracks? Almost 40 minutes?) maybe that’d look a lot less impressive. Still, these are some pretty incredible compositions. Especially the album’s second cut, “Remember” and the lengthy closer, the beautifully dappled drone entitled “Fainting In The Presence Of The Lord”. Now is as good a time as any to ask, do any of you have either a copy of The Cat CDr (released in 2002 on time STEREO) you have to send me a copy. I’ve been dying to hear it since it was released and have never found a copy either via blog or eBay. Help a brother out.
27. Motion Sickness Of Time Travel – Motion Sickness Of Time Travel (Spectrum Spools) – Aquiarius Records says, “With her decentering, liminal drift of half-formed / half-dissolved constructions, [Rachel Evans] finds herself peering between the kudzu-encrusted fields of her native Lagrange, Georgia and the imagined soundscapes of a primordial Gondwanaland (time-travel for her seems to go backwards in time, not forwards). After close to a couple dozen releases (mostly in the micro-edition format), she’s either gotten the dosage right on the Dramamine, or she’s acclimated to the queasy side effects of jumping between time and space.”
26. Swans – The Seer (Young God) – It might be 32-minutes long, but I’d like to submit the title-track from this record as Song Of The Year. I don’t even think some of the black metal or heavy rock entries on this list could match the massiveness of that song. Even after all these years, Michael Gira (with Swans version 2.0) still knows how to crush listeners into dust with the strength and scope of his ridiculously brutal compositions. [Listen to "Song For A Warrior"]
25. Jon Porras – Black Mesa (Thrill Jockey) – His partner in crime in Barn Owl, Evan Caminiti, has also released a solid solo effort this year, but Porras’ is pretty stunning. It’s like if Ennio Morricone went really dark — like ambient black-metal dark — and atmospheric. This is the best late-night record of the year, and would be my favorite album of the first half of 2012 if it wasn’t for what’s currently sitting in the top spot on this list. [Listen to "Desert Flight"]
24. Bong – Mana-Yood-Sushai (Ritual Productions) – Why the hell isn’t BONG the most well-known and talked-about doom/dirge/stoner/sludge band on the planet right now? All they’ve done is release a slew of immensely powerful music for the past five years. And I will never forget the little comment Mike left for me when my father was in ICU a few years ago. Shit, not even my ex put forth that kind of effort when he was in the hospital, but Mike passed on get-well wishes from the band and that was super cool. As for Mana… it’s so fucking far out and heavy and sub-sonic. And the Shahi Baaja? One of the best-utilized instruments in any modern band. So impressive.
23. Mono – For My Parents (Temporary Residence) – I’ve heard a lot of people say that this is Mono’s best studio album yet. I don’t know if I will ever regard it as being better than Walking Cloud And Deep Red Sky… but it’s definitely right up there with it. “Nostalgia” is as good as anything these guys (and gal) have ever recorded.
22. Thomas Koner – Novaya Zemlya (Touch) – You guys know I have a thing for field recordings, right? I’ve made my own, I seek out almost every experimental record that utilizes them, and to say I’m fascinated by all the noise we’re capable of capturing in this world is to diminish how captivating I find it. During the Cold War, the USSR used Novaya Zemlya (an archipelago that stretches into the Arctic Ocean) as a nuclear test site. Remember the Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuke ever detonated? That’s where they tested it. The area has been permanently destroyed by all the radioactive material, it is bleak and inhospitable, and it plays the role of muse for the latest Thomas Koner record. Have I piqued your interest yet?
21. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love) – I’m not going to say anything shocking or revelatory about this album that hasn’t already been written elsewhere. From NPR: “The low end still prevails on Stott’s new album, Luxury Problems, but he’s surprised fans by pairing speaker-rattling undulations with the voice of an angel. In one of the cooler storylines in electronic music this year, Stott asked his former piano teacher to record herself singing a cappella and send him the audio files. He then extracted clips with a tailor’s precision and designed his considerably darker productions around her voice.”
20. Egyptology – The Skies (Clapping Music) – Desire Records wrote: “Built one block after another using antediluvian rhythm boxes and synthesizers, from the sub low frequencies deep down in the foundations up to the high frequencies skimming the tails of comets, The Skies could also be the sonic illustration of a science-fiction narrative which took place thousands and thousands years ago…”
19. Inner Tube – Inner Tube (Pacific City Sound Visions) – Take one part Skaters (Spencer Clark) and one part Emeralds (Mark McGuire) and what do you get? Uh-ma-zing. 80s electronic music topped with severe guitar shredding. Like the most fucked up Hawaii Five-O or Miami Vice score you’ve ever heard.
18. James Blackshaw – Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death (Important) – He’s more than just a finger-pickin’ folk guitarist. Unlike the late Jack Rose, or He Who Shall Not Be Named (thanks for the lawsuit threat!) Blackshaw’s albums are insanely lush, and he is often accompanied by organ or vibes, which adds layers of swirling/churning ambiance to the masterful guitar playing. The solo piano piece that culminates this record is one of the best pieces of music Blackshaw has ever composed. [Listen to "Momentary Taste Of Being"]
17. Cut Hands – Black Mamba (Susan Lawly) – If the Susan Lawly imprint looks familiar, that’s because it’s the label responsible for leasing the entire Whitehouse catalog. So what does that have to do with Cut Hands? Well, this is the newest William Bennett project. And it’s incredible. What’s he doing? Well, it’s him using Djembes, Doundouns, Rin, Rin, Manjira and other Afro-acoustic drums along with an array of synthesizers. Imagine a more rhythmic, less harsh Whitehouse without words. Like I said, it’s incredible.
16. Mr. Peter Hayden – Born A Trip (Kauriala Society) – I first heard about this Finnish psych sextet via Julian Cope’s website when he wrote about their album Faster Than Speed. The comps included Tony Conrad, LaMonte Young, Ash Ra Tempel’s self-titled record, and Parson Sound. That’s not even close to describing the mesmerizing 30-minute sonic meditations contained on that record. And Born A Trip is even better.
15. Om – Adviatic Songs (Drag City) – Via Wikipedia: ” “On their fifth studio album, Advaitic Songs, Om reinvent Arabic music as monolithic, drone-heavy rock that perfectly spans the territory between psych-rock, doom metal, and traditional Arabic music…. More than any other album of theirs, Om emulate the sound of Tibetan chants, with deep, droning bass underlying sparse and repetitive melodies that get tossed between both instruments and vocals, making the arrangements simultaneously heavy and dense, yet thin and repetitious; the balance is perfect, and the atmosphere is flawless.”
14. Pharaoh Overlord – Lunar Jetman (Ektro) – What was once a huge psychedelic rock song has been deconstructed and transformed into a minimalist drone. This is the Finnish quartet’s M.O. on their latest record, and it’s easily the best they’ve ever made. If you like your trance-inducing psych repetitive, this is the best that you’ll find in 2012. [Listen to "Rodent"]
13. Ufomammut – Oro Opus Primum (Supernatural Cat) – In their own insane way, Ufomammut are another heavy band that is moving in a more experimental/spacey direction. At least compared to ‘Godlike Snake’ or Lucifer Songs. I mean, there are some synthy moments that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Vangelis record. Instead of the unrelenting forward march towards doom that is your typical Ufomammut album, this one expands upon the ideas that made ‘Eve’ such a great record. There’s weird distorted chants, tons of synth, radio interference and more. It’s a great juxtaposition to the typical Ufomammut sound, which might otherwise be tired after five or six albums of the same thing. Great stuff here. [Listen to "Infearnatural"]
12. Marissa Nadler – The Sister (Box Of Cedar) – One of the loves of my life, this is her second self-released album and holy shit does her voice sound good here. I’ve written in the past about seeing her in New York a few times before I moved to LA, and how she would sound uninspired or…well…not-so-good…but this is the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The music is minimal compared to some of her other records, but her voice shines brighter than it has since Ballads Of The Living And Dying.
11. Laurel Halo – Quarantine (Hyperdub) – Multi-tracked vocals layered atop a swirling chasm of synthesizers and drones and distant drum patterns, all atmospheric and experimental and yet…poppy. Great 4am come-down music.
10. Actress – R.I.P. (Honest Jon’s) – You can’t imagine how bizarre I felt walking into Amoeba’s electronic music section to pick this up, but it’s really that good. Last year and at the start of this year I was digging the Etienne Jaumet Night Music record, and I feel like this Actress record takes that idea even further out into weird fucked-up psychedelic, droney music that you can sometimes dance to. Not that I would ever deign to show anyone in the world my dance moves. God, no. I wouldn’t even survive to tell the tale. I’d die of embarrassment, as would anyone unfortunate enough to be within a hundred yards of me. Aquarius Records basically says this is like the Sunn O))) of electronic music. Which I always thought was Expo 70, but you can’t really dance to that…
09. White Hills – Frying On This Rock (Thrill Jockey) – The self-titled record was pretty good, H-p1 was alright, Live at Roadburn was a bunch of songs I’d heard countless times already, but Frying On This Rock restored my faith in White Hills. “You Dream You See” and “Song Of Everything” are both impressive swaths of psychedelia. Hell, “I Write A Thousand Letters” kinda sounds like Can at some parts. And the aforementioned “Song Of Everything,” with its weird spoken-word breakdown in the middle somewhat mirrors Glitter Glamour Atrocity and its found-sound collages. And the closer they get to recapturing the brilliance of that album, the happier I am as a fan. [Listen to "You Dream You See"]
08. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum) – Much like Songs In A & E this record has grown on me more and more with each subsequent listen. At first I was mildly disappointed. I’d read for months — hell, maybe even a year or two — that Jason Pierce was so inspired by those Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space concerts that he wanted to record something close in sound and spirit to that record. Sweet Heart… is definitely not that. In fact, it might be the most scaled-back incarnation of Spiritualized that has been committed to tape yet. Still, it’s a fantastic record. Remember when I posted that Ron Silliman quote about how Townes Van Zandt’s songs were dominated by one-syllable words? Pierce does the same thing, allowing short words to extend over the music to give them greater impact. “Hey Jane” is brilliant, “Headin’ For The Top Now” and “Mary” are great, and “So Long You Pretty Thing” — if it’s a farewell message from Pierce — is one of the most beautiful he’s composed in the past twenty years. [Listen to "Mary"]
07. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend (Constellation) – It’s been a long time coming. I never thought I’d get to hear new Godspeed material in my life, but the announcement of this LP (technically two side-long tracks) changed that dour outlook of mine. Since seeing them on tour in 2003, I’ve longed for a proper recording of “Albanian” (here retitled as “Mladic”). I can’t even count how many bootlegs from that ’03 tour I listened to searching for the best version. The second side, “We Drift Like Worried Fire” (formerly called “Gamelan”) might be even better. In a shade under 40-minutes, in two songs that have already existed for nearly a decade, Godspeed made one of the ten best albums of the year.
06. Bell Witch – Longing (Profound Lore) – This one took me by complete surprise. Hell, I don’t even remember where I heard about it. It might have been on an AQ list, but it could just as easily have been a doom metal blog that I saw in passing, “That could be a good one,” I thought. That sentiment doesn’t begin to describe the punishing weight of this record. Two guys from Seattle who just fuck shit up in the slowest, heaviest way imaginable. And instead of yelling out-of-tune there’s that demonic raspy voice to freak you out. Slow, low, brutal. Three characteristics of metal I love. [Listen to "Beneath The Mask"]
05. Chelsea Wolfe – Unknown Rooms: A Collection Of Acoustic Songs (Sargent House) – The undisputed “Swan Fungus unattainable crush of 2012,” Chelsea Wolfe, went acoustic and the results blew me away. The first time I heard “Flatlands” — when those strings start up at about the two-minute mark — I nearly wept. In fact, one time I actually DID weep while listening to it, but that was because it was on my marathon “cool down” playlist, and it happened to be the first song I heard after crossing the finish line in Vegas earlier this month. Point being, I was completely taken aback by the beauty of these compositions (oh, the strings! perfect!), the delicateness of her voice, and the power of the lyrics. Marry me, Chelsea? [Listen to "Flatlands"]
04. Emeralds – Just To Feel Anything (Editions Mego) – I had to get some music fans and record collectors Christmas gifts this year, and my default gift was this record. It’s just so good. Ambient Krautrock? Progressive New Age? Giallo Disco? What the hell do you call it? Whatever it is, it’s one of the most blissful releases I heard all year. [Listen to "Through & Through"]
03. Pallbearer – Sorrow And Extinction (Profound Lore) – Ian turned me onto this four-piece Arkansas doom metal group, and my first impression was that I liked their cover of “Gloomy Sunday,” but didn’t feel the need to pay much attention to their full-length. When I finally got around to listening to it, I truly dug what I heard. To my ears it has more in common with HEAVY post-rock than doom metal, but I’m not the guy responsible for issuing genres to different bands (read Pitchfork if you care about that) so far be it from me to make that kind of judgement. The vocals are good, too! [Listen to "Devoid Of Redemption"]
02. Zelienople – The World Is A House On Fire (Type) – I called it on Twitter way back when my copy showed up, this was going to be — hands-down — my choice for album of the year as of mid-June. Everyone just assumes slowcore doesn’t exist as a genre anymore, but Zelienople are keeping it alive in their own fucked-up doom-y Chicagoan way. I like the way their sound as been described as an “old weathered photograph.” It doesn’t tell you anything about the weird almost-pop melodies buried beneath all the haze and gloom, but it sure sounds nice!
01. Goat – World Music (Rocket Recordings) – Yeah, I know there’s some silliness in the schtick about the tiny remote village in Sweden where a band has existed for generations passing down their brand of voodoo worship to new incarnations, but listen to the record and forget all that. Simply put, it’s is one of the best psych records I’ve heard in years. It’s probably the first time since White Hills that a band took my so unbelievably by surprise. It’s like a Subliminal Sounds compilation as interpreted by Hawkwind. I’m afraid to look at my iPod or iTunes accounts to see how many times I listened to this album since its release. My best guess is that I listened to this album at least five times as much as I listened to any other in 2012, which is more than enough to prove its worth as my choice for the best record of the year. [Listen to "Goathead"]