In lieu of rank and file list that relies on tallying votes and crunching numbers, we thought DOA’s readers might simply be interested in a smaller selection of our truly favorite albums of 2012. Here is a selection of the best of 2012, according to our writers:
Adrian P.’s Top Three of 2012
Land Observations – Roman Roads IV – XI (Mute)
After a few years in the music industry wilderness, erstwhile Appliance man James Brooks belatedly returned under his new solo Land Observations alias to deliver one of 2012’s totally unexpected treasures. Conceptually inspired by the geographical histories and mysteries of Roman highways, this incredibly infectious and inventive collection of solo electric guitar instrumentals seamlessly stitched together the diverse threads of Spacemen 3, Young Marble Giants, The Durutti Column, Fripp & Eno, Brokeback, Yo La Tengo and Tom Verlaine into a sumptuous wordless sonic quilt that warmed and infused the ears charmingly.
Snow Palms – Intervals (Village Green)
This divine debut from the newly-formed Snow Palms – a synergetic partnership between ambidextrous multi-instrumentalist David Sheppard and producer/arranger Chris Leary – masterfully drew its magic from a rich well of polyrhythmic imagination, filmic soundscaping and non-rock spaciousness. Skilfully and subtly cross-referencing timeless percussive touchstones such as Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians, Tortoise’s TNT, Yann Tiersen’s Amélie and Good Bye Lenin! scores, as well as Sheppard’s own wares as part of State River Widening and Phelan Sheppard, Intervals delivered a captivating minimalistic yet layered vision that owed as much to mature scholarly restraint as it did to wide-eyed innocent exploration.
Guided By Voices – Let’s Go Eat The Factory / Class Clown Spots A UFO / The Bears For Lunch (Fire Records)
Okay, so this is cheating. Although none of the three reunion records from the ‘classic-era’ Guided By Voices ultimately deserves a high-ranking place of its own in end of year polls, if all the true nuggets of the trilogy (together with B-side gems scattered across no less than nine tie-in 7” singles) had been crushed together into one edited yet still sprawling collection then arguably the combined result would have been a bona fide extension to the group’s peerless Bee Thousand-Aliens Lanes-Under The Bushes Under The Stars triumvirate and the best all round GBV album since Universal Truths And Cycles. The most notable successes across these three raggedly yet resourcefully recorded long-players came from no longer fading captain Robert Pollard rediscovering his melodic mojo and power-sharing his creative load with the rest of the band. Crucially, this allowed re-recruited co-pilot Tobin Sprout to flourish again with his own deliciously dreamy lead vocal and song scribing spots. Whilst the Robert Pollard empire may have become somewhat tarnished and disjointed in recent years by baffling solo and side-projects, rampant over-prolificacy and promiscuous label-hopping, these three enjoyably eclectic LPs at least put the house of GBV back into fine working order.
Bryan Sanchez’s Top Ten of 2012
Animal Collective – Centipede Hz (Domino)
Driving new focuses and new applications of sound collage, Centipede Hz never loses any steam throughout its eleven powerfully exceptional songs. Leaving no prisoner behind, they waste little time in introducing their erstwhile, now reunited, quartet with a certain kind of fanfare on “Moonjock” and its bombastically flourishing runner. Far removed from the much more critically-adored Merriweather Post Pavilion, this new attention to songcraft and spacious production that relies more on blend and fusion, there is very little denying the sheer amount of diversity on display. These are still the same sounds behind other genius songs (anything off Feels) and rather than making a dynamic statement, Animal Collective have delivered a simple change of pace in the linear path of their discography. Fortunately for us, even the most simplest of ideas (the looping, thumping drums on the second verse of “Today’s Supernatural,” or maybe the rousing coda on “Amanita”) for such advanced musical minds end up being a clear work of art in delivery.
2. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes (Warp)
The warping, tapered feel of the keyboard and beats on “All the Secrets” is just a tiny detail: two minutes acting as a calming interlude that is entirely engrossing, and it leads into the booming bass and crackle of “Sultan’s Request” like a flowing stream of consciousness. The truly magical aspect of Until the Quiet Comes is the way Flying Lotus manipulates his amazing sounds so that everything always drifts in and out of focus, but never loses any personality. Whereas Cosmogramma tackled loss and healing through a magnetically-charged notion, Until the Quiet Comes is an ambitious voyage that allows the listener to develop an even deeper bond to the music. Following music theory closer and enduring to sharpen his skills as a musician, the superb music that FlyLo continues to create is a rewarding listen every single time – with his latest success the quieter the brain and mind is, the easier it will be for the tremendous stream of consciousness to take over.
3. Hot Chip – In Our Heads (Domino)
For starters, there was no better album opener than the exuberant and relentless “Motion Sickness.” Singing about the lost times that continue to pass through the circle we call life, Hot Chip showcased a strong influence to the 80s pop groove and found a way to make it all sound danceable and affectionately addicting. Hearing Alexis Taylor ask if we remember when people thought the world was round, it’s stunningly glorious when the music answers with spectacular refrain. Driving, gripping, delicate, it set the pace for In Our Heads and its ten other songs – through it we stopped at church, partied hard and fell in love, reflected on it all and commiserated in our deepest secrets – of masterful beauty. The kind of music you never quite want to end, and like the tearing away of the aforementioned opener, you wish it really could live in your head forever.
4. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
5. Liars – WIXIW
6. Burial – Kindred EP
7. Grizzly Bear – Shields
8. The Shins – Port of Morrow
9. El-P – Cancer for Cure
10. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
Jen S.’s Top Three of 2012
TKTTSM – TKTTSM
The self-titled debut from duo Johanna Stahley and Owen O’Mahony is a wildly romping, highly melodic, psych-rock/candy-pop thrill ride. Joanna and Owen inhabit an imaginative land of fantastical soundscapes that are energetically driven by Owen’s crisp, pop-glazed guitar ‘n’ drum rock, Johanna’s gleefully peppy to sweetly wistful to defiantly spiked vocals, and vivid lyrics that champion freedom and individuality (Or is that anarchy and chaos?). The mainly playful nature of Johanna’s vocals and Owen’s instrumental derring-do belie the seriousness of some songs that confront authority figures, corruption, modern culture, and death head-on.
Teen Daze – All Of Us, Together (Lefse)
It’s taken a Canadian from the cold climes of Vancouver to capture the essence of a California surfer’s euphoric summer, and what a joyous sonic high it is. The musician and producer only known as Jamison released All Of Us, Together in June on Lefse after a prolific run of singles and EPs. Often described as chill-out music, this mainly instrumental album is more like an immersive “bliss-out” dream with pixilated, softly pulsing washes of sustained and cycling sounds. Light tone, murmured female vocals also float through the expansive atmosphere on occasion. The album radiates an uplifting and revivifying glow that’s reflected in the vivid, saturated colors of the cover art and harmoniously mellow album title.
UNISON – UNISON (Lentonia)
Bewitching French duo Melanie Moran and Julien Camarena released their self-titled debut in the U.S. this past April on boutique label Lentonia. Melanie and Julien craft breathtaking, intensely mesmerizing soundscapes, where tumultuous sonic dystopias exist beside dreamy, floating utopias. Songs balance ‘just so’ on a sharp divide that juxtaposes maelstroms of aggressive electronics, propulsive beats, and industrial noise with Melanie’s softly placid, aerial vocals and Julien’s enthrallingly miasmic synths.
Jon G.’s Top Three of 2012
2012 turned into a very interesting year for music particularly in its second half, where I felt almost inundated with innovative and inspired new music from such as Spectre Folk, Markus Mehr and Wave Sleep Wave and putting together this end of year summation has taken slightly more thought than in some previous years. In 2012 I found I had more in the way of electronica and Experimental music to listen to than previously, and this selection reflects that.
Gilded – Terrane (Hidden Shoal)
Firstly, Gilded’s Terrane album is one of those releases that defy my attempts to categorize them in genre descriptions such as Ambient and Post Rock. The Australian duo delve deeply into a vast array of influences and combined with their skilled musicianship and some deftly handled production, theirs is one very noteworthy debut and one of the best albums I’ve heard from the always eclectic Hidden Shoal label.
Port Erin - Wheel Inside a Wheel
I haven’t reviewed it here fully but SW England based trio Port Erin’s second album is something of a minor masterpiece of Alt Folk that combines finely turned guitars alternating between accomplished songwriting and laid back summery grooves, an album that’s justly gaining a lot of attention since its release in November.
Woodpecker Wooliams – Bird School of Being Human (Robot Elephant Records)
If I need to make an album of the year choice then that has, for several reasons, to go to Woodpecker Wooliams spectacularly eccentric and brilliantly realised Bird School Of Being Human, an avian electronic folk concept album that sounded like nothing I’ve heard since I began writing for DOA in 2008. A true original and supported by some very talented backing musicians, the mixture of electronics, harp playing and Wooliams keening vocal got some very big plaudits from me earlier in the year and probably also from you, should you hear it.