Year in Review
There’s never been a better time to be a serious fan of music, or a tougher time to be a year-end music listmaker. With almost every album imaginable mere mouse clicks away, time—not money or access—was the only thing stopping me from hearing everything released in 2012. I certainly tried, absorbing around 200 full-lengths, along with bits and pieces of others, EPs, reissues and other miscellania. And still, there’s at least as much out there that I’d hoped to get to and couldn’t. So think of this not as an ending point but a snapshot— of my 10 favorite 2012 records right now. Maybe I’ll update it again next year, if 2013’s release tide allows me to come up for air.
1. Liars, WIXIW The arty adventurers’ sixth album finds them experimenting with electronics, with predictably masterful results. From the icy bounce of “No. 1 Against the Rush” to the full-on frenzy of “Brats,” WIXIW delivers something different with every track.
2. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange Believe the hype. If you like music even a little bit and somehow haven’t heard this modern R&B classic, finish reading these lists, then go hit up Spotify, YouTube, that person sitting next to you …
3. Cold Pumas, Persistent Malaise A bunch of my favorite things—Krautrock, Joy Division, Sonic Youth—blended up into something familiar yet fresh.
4. Actress, R.I.P. Years from now, I’ll probably remember 2012 most for its great electronic textures (see also: Andy Stott’s Luxury Problems, The Caretaker’s Patience (After Sebald), Demdike Stare’s Elemental and Bee Mask’s When We Were Eating Unripe Pears, among others). If you like early Aphex Twin, this one’s for you.
5. Guided By Voices, The Bears for Lunch A righteous rock record in its own right, this entry also represents a massive 12 months for GBV leader Robert Pollard, who unleashed five separate albums—any of which could make a convincing top 10 argument.
6. Richard Skelton, Verse of Birds When I need to clear my mind completely I head here, to droning violins and guitars that say everything and nothing at all.
7. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream If not for Ocean, this man might have been 2012’s big story. Together, they made R&B funky and fun for me again.
8. Gunn-Truscinski Duo, Ocean Parkway Steve Gunn might be my favorite guitarist going, and drummer John Truscinski provides a natural pulse beneath Gunn’s folky/Eastern/improvised leads.
9. Unsane, Wreck My heavy-music pick of the year. Good for bludgeoning the brain.
10. Japandroids, Celebration Rock Subtlety, thy name is not Japandroids. Pump that fist and sing along. Loudly.
In 2012, I feel like I missed more albums than I heard. This wasn’t for lack of interest or trying; to the contrary, there were so many new albums released (and so many quality albums released) that it was hard to keep up. The sheer volume of music means that it’s easier than ever to become lost in a niche—or be completely ignorant of one—which made cobbling together a comprehensive list somewhat difficult. Still, for me, the following 10 albums withstood buzz and hype and resonated long after initial listens faded.
1. John K. Samson, Provincial The Weakerthans’ frontman collates wry observations and tiny heartbreaks using meticulous folk signifiers, late-’90s indie wobble and the occasional stroke of a cello.
2. Shearwater, Animal Joy Jonathan Meiburg’s latest work with Shearwater exists in a whimsical, self-contained world. The effervescent Animal Joy touches on—but isn’t defined by—feathery folk, twisted prog, fierce jangle rock and Talk Talk-y brainiac pop.
3. Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy The New York power trio—augmented on this album by former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard—sounds energized and focused as it churns out neurotic jangle-pop fraught with equal doses anxiety and optimism.
4. Rush, Clockwork Angels The prog totems preceded their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with a vibrant, guitar-heavy album that sounds wholly 21st century.
5. Mark Lanegan Band, Blues Funeral Nobody does abject despair better than Lanegan—and this time around, the goth-folk bard adds haunted electronic spurts to his churning, grayscale dirges.
6. Ben Folds Five, The Sound of the Life of the Mind For fans of the piano power trio, this reunion album has it all—classical-meets-jazz poignancy; lyrics full of nostalgia, regret and clever jabs; and, of course, Folds’ smart-aleck vocal attitude.
7. Frankie Rose, Interstellar The former Vivian Girls/Dum Dum Girls member unspools Interstellar from a faraway dimension dominated by primitive electro-pop with retro-’80s charm.
8. Gary Clark Jr., Blak and Blu The Austin guitar prodigy proves himself an adept vocalist and performer as he tackles blues, soul, rock ’n’ roll and R&B.
9. Corin Tucker Band, Kill My Blues The former Sleater-Kinney member re-embraces guitars on her second record with her current band. The result is kicky pogo-punk and shrieking rock ’n’ roll with inspiring urgency.
10. Alberta Cross, Songs of Patience Thanks to strong songwriting, this New York duo’s big-sky guitar-pop, woozy psychedelic rock and fondness for ’90s Brit-pop never sounds derivative. One of the most overlooked records of 2012.