1. Swans, The Seer (Young God)
Swans have always been really difficult to categorize, but in 2012, they did something I don’t think I’ve ever seen done before: after a brief hiatus, several good Angels of Light albums, a whole slew of artists putting out albums on Michael Gira’s Young God label, and then 2010’s wonderful “comeback” album (My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope in the Sky), Swans put out one of the most epic albums I’ve ever heard.
2. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)
It’s almost unfair to even put this on here. I wouldn’t have absolutely fawned over it and listened to it over and over even if it wasn’t near perfect.
3. Wymond Miles, Under the Pale Moon (Sacred Bones)
Possibly the new album I listened to the most in 2012, the Fresh & Onlys dude gave us a solo outing that was somewhere between Scott Walker and Echo & the Bunnymen. A stunning record from beginning to end.
4. Mt. Eerie, Ocean Roar and Clear Moon (P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.)
I’d like to think that after putting out two amazing albums in 2012, Phil Elverum will finally get his due as one of the great geniuses of our time. Listen to both albums back to back, try and see how and why they fit.
5. Cult of Youth, Love Will Prevail (Sacred Bones)
The subtitle of this album could have been “Or when our young neo folk hero builds his own studio and fully realizes his vision.”
6. The Evens, The Odds (Dischord)
Once you get past the fact that Ian MacKaye is incapable of actually putting out a bad album, you realize that The Odds might rank towards the top of the list of the things he’s done. That becomes more impressive when you think what albums have been included on that list…
7. Dustin Wong, Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads (Thrill Jockey)
In which dude who used to be in Ponytail starts his ascension towards Terry Riley/Steve Reich minimalist greatness.
8. Estrogen Highs, Irrelevant Future (Trouble in Mind)
Think about how this sounds: Estrogen Highs sound like the Wipers if they were from New Zealand in the late 1970s. How amazing does that sound?
9. King Dude, Burning Daylight (Dais)
Absolutely haunting and beautiful. Almost like Current 93 on a serious Johnny Cash kick. King Dude can only really get better from here.
10. Ceremony, Safranin Sounds (Matador)
I sorta recall this period in the late 1990s-early aughts when some hardcore bands foolishly thought they could combine hardcore and shoegaze. In 2012, Ceremony proved you could actually do that. And now we’re all better people…
11. Grimes, Visions (Arbutus/4AD)
Here’s the thing about Grimes: I’m not totally 100% sure how history will treat her sound. There’s something weird about 1980s pop radio mixing with 2012 indie, but it worked nonetheless. How will the album sound in five or ten years? No clue.
12. Death Grips, The Money Store (Epic)
Young skater kids with horrible attitudes and people who remember how great the Judgment Night soundtrack was, and people who like “loud” and “challenging” music–that’s who understands the beauty of this record.
13. Jon DeRosa, A Wolf in Preacher's Clothes
A guy who may or may not be the New Jersey-born son of Scott Walker records a handful of songs that sounds like the guy who may or may not be his dad, Afghan Whigs, Love, and Danzig's “Blood and Tears.”
14. Turing Machine, What is the Meaning of What (Temporary Residence)
In some ways a tribute to late drummer Jerry Fuchs, in others, just a continuation of what Turing Machine has been doing since the start of the new millennium. Going from post-rock/Kraut to more dance-oriented makes one think a little of Trans Am in a very great way.
15. Matthew Dear, Beams (Ghostly)
I told a friend that if I danced, I’d want to dance to this. Like late 1970s Bowie and Arthur Russell getting into a time machine to check out Madchester circa 1989.