The Best 65 albums of 2012

Oh, dear, this one will hurt…

2012 was a weird year. Short story made long then made short again (via RARzilla), the website was abandoned for a PhD that’s geared into its final year. Having written 300 reviews last year (give or take a few), it was hard to narrow it down to less than a 100, so here are the best 65 albums I heard last year.

Criteria:

1) The album must have been heard at least 5 times.

2) A review is a plus, but sometimes time was not available.

3) Overhyped albums are a no.

There will be a list of Best EPs tomorrow. And now, in the tradition of odd choices of background colours for Excel worksheets, here’s my list, in true Excel format. I’d like to apologise in advance to your retinas.

 

 

 

Rank Artist Album In a nutshell…
1 Sun Kil Moon Among the leaves For years, I’ve ranted and rambled to people to listen more to Mark Kozelek’s work. I’m really happy to see he is getting his dues. It doesn’t hurt that the album is such a perfect, introspective gem.
2 The Life & Times No one loves you like I do The masters come back and show the lil’ upstarts how it is done. A monster with 3 heads.
3 The Eastern Sea Plague A million people should know “The Match” is an instant gem. Hopefully, they will listen to the rest of this magnificent album.
4 Smashing Pumpkins Oceania The ones that left came back. The converted raised their arms and sang along. Powerful, trippy and dark in some parts (‘Violet Rays’, ‘Oceania’.) Perfect.
5 I Like Trains The Shallows Once again, this band delivers a dark, psychotic and depressing mix of 80s synth and gloomy rock. Of course I had to love this album. Their most cohesive to date, with atmospheres that reminisce of an old incense-filled church nave.
6 Counting Crows Underwater Sunshine I love this band. I enjoy cover versions. I’m a sucker for this sort of stuff and let’s face it: when you cover lesser known bands, you both give your appreciation of said bands while paying it forward. The Big Star and Fairport Convetion covers are pure magic.
7 New Beard New Beard City Want chamber pop? You got it. Want proper rock? Yes, also in spades. Do you want tuba? Why, it rocks too!
8 Conveyor Conveyor There’s always hype about “bands from New York City.” Albums like this prove that hype can be matched by reality quite well.
9 Hey Sholay ((o)) The best release of this year by London’s Fierce Panda belongs entirely to this sweet, dream pop album. Never mind the more accesible moments (‘Dreamboat’, ‘Wishbone’), you want to get your hands on the more psychedelic moments of this (‘The bears, the birds, the bees’, ‘Golden is the colour of the sun’.)
10 Murder By Death Bitter drink, bitter moon I couldn’t say honestly that they’ve veered away from who they are, but there’s something in this album that makes Murder By Death extremely user friendly, but at the same time, keeping that rough, eerie Americana sound they play so well.
11 Bat for lashes The haunted man Easily one of the best artist of our times. Songs from the heart, wrapped in the enigmatic aura of Ms. Khan.
12 Syd Arthur On and on There’s quite a few bands playing folk, but none like Syd Arthur’s delicious rock folk.
13 Joe Volume Lonely sea, lonesome water Recorded in a blitzkrieg manner, this is one of Volume’s finest moment. Country, Rock and Roll and tinges of soul mix together.
14 The Twilight Sad No one can ever know A band that demolishes you by their lyrics and heavy sounds can trascend the imaginary wall between rock and electronica. They did it not once but twice, with a sumptuous collection of remixes released later in the year. Underrated as fuck, powerful as The Truth that this band proclaims as a gospel.
15 Birthmark Antibodies The Kinsella family always makes very enjoyable albums and the sounds in Birthmark’s Antibodies are so fresh and infectious you’ll listen to it again and again. No fault on this one.
16 Deerhoof Break up song They’ve been around since forever and still never get their dues, although all the cool kids namedrop them in their “best of” lists. I am not cool, but I dig ’em.
17 Correatown Pleiades You want dream pop? This is one of the prime albums you’ll need to understand the genre. Affectionate, warm and full of electronic tidbits to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling of a 3 minute hug.
18 Castrovalva You’re not in hell, you’re in purgatory my friend You really need to ask why this is here? It’s loud, it’s schizophrenic and it’s dumb. Except, not that last one. Castrovalva’s second album is a clever argument surrounded by a sound that becomes less dumb and more affirming. This trio wins.
19 Nube Fenix Nimbus It will never go gold. Heck, it won’t even go aluminium, but this sure is an enjoyable album, with it’s lo fi approach and heavy magic realism prose that borders on stream-of-consciousness. A one man army for the psychedelic enthusiasts.
20 Mudcats Blues Trio The Tesla Recordings They play Chicago Blues. They drink copious amounts of Whisky. The guitar player probably went to that Crossroads. They will roar and swagger and when it’s all done and dusted, you’ll become a fan.
21 Ummagma Antigravity Remember lying in the grass and watching the clouds take shapes and otherworldly forms? Ummagma do and sing about it.
22 InFictions Maps of Revenge & Forgiveness A veritable surprise from the quiet hamlet that is Sheffield, it meshes prog, folk and post rock in a strong-as-adamantium twine.
23 Daniel Pearson Mercury State If I said this is stark, it would mean there’s a glint of happiness somewhere. There isn’t. It’s a dark album. Don’t pay attention to the sometimes happy beat, this is Americana rock with a super sized serving of depression. Catchy and fulfilling.
24 Dating myself Fine, there Somewhere, your albums by Helium, Pet and Tripping Daisy are coming back to life, like the Black Lanterns from Blackest Night. Let this band take you back to the 90s, flannel-clad into some chunky riff energy and proper grunge squeals.
25 Tenacious D Rize of the Fenix I don’t get the hate for Pick of Destiny, I honestly believe it was a fun movie and a great album. Still, the band realises the reception was less than warm and take it gracefully. The fact that this is accompanied by a heavy dose of rock with lots of humour (the skits are hilarious) makes it a prime choice.
26 Invaders Dig a hole Psychedelic rock hailing from Louisville. Chock full of distorted riffs and ghostly voices, the lack of colour in the cover art clashes with the bright images this music paints in your mind.
27 Windy & Carl We will always be They say that one day we will be able to record our dreams. In the meantime, I guess they sound like this.
28 The Midnight Ghost Train Buffalo Rock died a long time ago (I blame Simon Cowell). The Midnight Ghost Train has a Post Doc on Necromancy and now Rock has risen, with a vengeance and out for our blood. Let us all die under their heavily distorted riffs and gravelly voices, it’s a classy way to go.
29 Model Village A solution to everyone A sort of “best of” by the lovely Model Village (part time Playmobil enthusiasts), this collects their recordings in a neat package. It sports a rock gem hidden in the collection of sweetness, akin to that wolf at the end of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Just as magical.
30 Various Tribute to Repo Man Take one of the holiest soundtracks in history and give it to a rag tag group of bands to cover. It’s a tense situation and we enjoy getting into tense situations.
31 Letting up despite great faults Untogether Another genre that dominated (again, at least for me) during 2012 was shoegaze. This band crafted a wonderful collection of dreamy songs, adding an electronica-friendly atmosphere to this gorgeous genre
32 Eli Mardock Everything Happens for the first time Baroque and full of swank with a hint of sadness. This is the cocktail lounge world of Eli Mardock and we all are invited.
33 Elika Always the light Was 2012 the year that electronic and dream pop finally got the spotlight? I sure hope so, as the experienced Elika hit it out of the park with this loveable, warm album.
34 Golden Fable Star Map Folk and electronic aren’t chalk and cheese. They are the reagents this band uses to alchemy their way through the air, with an ethereal voice pointing towards the eastern star.
35 Gallops Yours sincerely, Dr. Hardcore Besides having the best album title of the year, Gallops prove that their 5 track EP wasn’t a serendipitious fluke, but a tantalising appetizer before a rather well-prepared banquet (with celery, natch). No manatee on sight, sadly, but still a proper punch.
36 True Bypass Toby The wonderful voice of Chantal Acda narrates us the story weaved by Toby Litt, with music by Craig Ward. It’s the power of three, creating a magic tale that is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
37 Dan Sartain Too tough to live An album that lasts less than 20 minutes, but uses them quite effectively. A tribute to old school punk and rock and roll, it delivers. Even at its worst, it’s better than us.
38 The Narrows Eve of the invasion The Cold War never ended and The Narrows are the Greek Chorus we refuse to listen. Performance art, Space Invaders and big ass eyes. They’ve done it all, while perfectly describing paranoia in music form.
39 The Smösh The Smösh Straight out of Tampico (a huevo!), a granite-solid album that veers between rock and pop, between Spanish and English, between hope and decay. Grandiose.
40 Silversun Pickups Neck of the woods Album number 3 and once again, the band has transformed. Yes, the essence of the band is still there, but this is not comparable to either Carnavas or Swoon, this is a whole different beast. Forget the comparisons to “that other band”, they have always had their own identity and this is their birth certificate.
41 Mender Fractional This is what happens when the drummer of a rather swell band is left alone. If Alright the Captain are X-Men, Mender is Wolvie in full Berzerker rage.
42 Kellar Smokescreen Ever seen an old family film and thought “something’s wrong here?” Those eerie thoughts fuel the music of Kellar. Abstract and loud.
43 Dead Sea Apes Astral House They’ve departed Earth so many years ago and now transmit live from Jupiter, swirling in that red storm. Proper spacey and trippy.
44 Pinback Information retrieved 5 years. A whole lustre. Back with a vengeance and completely worth it.
45 Blacklisters Blcklstrs A hammer to the head is more subtle, but, hey, you need it to snap out of a bad rut. Heavy but melodic and quite pleasing.
46 Lost trail A Stained August For The Jetcrash In the words of my friend (and role model), Keith How: “fearless”. An otherworldly album.
47 One mile an hour One mile an hour Completely out of leftfield, this was a pleasant surprise for a lover of Sadcore. The sounds of this solid debut are Americana Gothic and Folk infused. Give it a shot, it’s worth your time.
48 …And you will know us by the trail of dead lost songs Fuckin’ hell, just when you think they are going to slow down they crank it up. You don’t think so? Listen to ‘Opera Obscura’ and if that doesn’t click with you, then you need to check your pulse.
49 Dissolved The Amber Surrealizations Esoteric and ambient, chilling and confusing. Mesmerising to say the least.
50 Master and the Mule The view from nowhere Excessive and apocalyptic, it came out of nowhere but stayed on heavy rotation at the Sloucher HQ. It’s expansive and slightly progressive, with the speed of space debris burning on re-entry.
51 Stanley Animals with amazing disguises I can think of too many adjectives I could throw at this band (all of them complimentary). The one I’ll use in this short space is: Fun. This band are fun, but not “funny pratfall!” fun, more like “complex joke with satisfying punchline” fun.
52 Maps & Atlases Beware & Be Grateful I liked Perch Patchwork but this is miles better. Truly confused by anyone who genuinely dislikes this honest and fun album.
53 Craig Finn Clear heart, full eyes The acerbic with of Mr. Finn is as sharp and flavoursome as the beer he crafted this year. This album strips down the sound a bit, but his voice is as loud as ever.
54 Rumour Cubes The Narrow State I always had this theory that post rock is related to classical music the same way birds are related to dinosaurs. The Narrow State is my “exhibit A” for this crack pot theory.
55 Listening Mirror Resting in Aspic Remember the first time you grabbed a Jules Verne book and realised that many of the “fantasy” contraptions he wrote about eventually became a reality? Well, Listening Mirror is the steampunk-ish sounds Robur had in his Infernal Machine.
56 The Letter Unknown Failures A debut and swansong, neatly packed in one single album. At times demoralising (‘Champagne’), at times epic (‘Typewriter’). It might be a little infuriating that this is their only release, but it’s a rather cracking one.
57 Last Harbour Your Heart, it carries the sound Gloom and doom might make a heart beat slowly, but when it’s a celebration of sadness instead of a lamentation, you can’t help but smile. Gallows’ humour? Maybe, but if so, it matters not. American Gothic with Eccles cakes.
58 Birdeatsbaby Feast of Hammers You know that bit in the V for Vendetta graphic novel where V is playing a song called ‘This vicious cabaret’. This is an approximate of how it sounds in my head. Gothic and with some sordid humour.
59 Seluah Red Parole Gritty, dirty and grimy, the rock that Seluah creates feeds the dreams of a noir film you have in your head. Someday, it could happen. In the meantime, the soundtrack has been sorted.
60 Silicon Ballet Utopia The genre of 2012 (at least for me) was Chamber Pop. None a better player of this as Silicon Ballet and their baroque music.
61 Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster Exegesis Someone compared them to Tool. This is a lie, as they don’t take 6 years to record an album. What they do is an expansive tapestry of sounds, both proggy and spacey. A real gem that might look taxing, but is way rewarding.
62 The Active Set 11 Yes, this was released in 2011, but fuck it, it’s a great album. Start with ‘Sea legs’ and work your way around, because it’s a great little gem.
63 Tall Ships Everything touching Excelling both as a cracking live band and offering one of the most solid debut albums I’ve heard in my life, Tall Ships are now soaring towards that rarefied atmosphere where we hope they’ll keep doing barrel rolls.
64 Te Therefore, the illusion of density breach, the tottering world “forget” tomorrow This album makes as much sense as The End of Evangelion. Thankfully, it’s miles much more satisfying and you can repeat it infinitely without losing your mind (although all rock will feel tame after this).
65 Public Enemy The evil empire of everything People make fun of Flav, but he still is an integral part of this Force of Nature. Another blessing from the church of True Rap, including cameos from Tom Morello and Henry Rollins.
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