Trying to whittle down everything I’ve heard over 2012 into some kind of comprehensive list is always tough. At one point I’m completely sure of my list, then the nail biting anxiety creeps in and I go back to the drawing board and reconstruct my list for the umpteenth time. Thankfully this year has been a little easier, things have fallen into place with less stress. So, without further ado, here is my list of the 30 Best Albums Of 2012.
Sun Kil Moon: Among The Leaves
Label: Caldo Verde
Sometimes, amidst all the noise of the modern rock scene, a quiet moment will creep up and make the biggest mark. Among The Leaves is a gorgeous slice of acoustic magic from a band that never disappoints. Each song on Among The Leaves is a flawless gem and when you hear these tunes together they create one of the few perfect records of 2012. Mark Kozelek, the mastermind behind Sun Kil Moon, has a voice that is so compelling you’re drawn into his stories no matter how minor the subject matter. Kozelek’s ability with words and harmonies allows him to make the most mundane moments into beautiful songs. Though other records may have been more complex, none effected me more on a personal level than this one.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Label: Constellation Records
Yeah, okay, maybe having two number one albums is a copout but I just couldn’t put one over the other. Allujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! Is a staggeringly good album, a record of such layered perfection and sonic diversity that nothing this year has even come close to it. Executing a combination of extreme music, audio blips and chirps, samples, and varied musical influences on not just a cerebral but also an emotional level is no small feat and GY!BE! achieve it with grace and style.
Converge: All We Love We Leave Behind
There are few things you can bet on with extreme music but one of them is Converge releasing a record that will blow a hole through your chest. Brutal but interesting, harsh and unforgiving but never boring, Converge doesn’t just rest on the power of their bottomless riff-well. Instead, the band focuses on layered interplay between the guitar work of Kurt Ballou and the bass movements of Nate Newton. Drummer Ben Koller keeps the interplay moving and drenching the entire works are the desolate, screeching vocals of Jacob Bannon. All We Love We Leave is a quantum step forward for Converge and reminds all of us why they are the best at what they do.
Advance Base:A Shut In’s Prayer
Label: Caldo Verde
I have no idea why more people weren’t aware of this record. Former Casiotone architect Owen Ashworth puts together a stunning new project with Advance Base. Using simple beats, keys and the occasional electronic horn section Ashworth has compiled a collection of personal stories deeply set into melancholy and isolation. Ashworth’s voice is the driving force behind A Shut In’s Prayer as it rarely changes pitch or tone but always seems to fit the story he’s telling. If albums can be rated in seasons, this is an album like winter. At times dreary, cold and isolated but at others tranquil, peaceful and charming.
Neurosis: Honor Found In Decay
Label: Neurot Records
Honor Found In Decayis another redefining moment from a band that never ceases to do push the envelope. While most bands remain in a formula that works for them, Neurosis is constantly looking to expand what they do. This time around the driving force behind Neurosis, Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till, have mixed in their solo acoustic efforts to make Honor Found In Decay a quieter and more introspective record. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t raise to huge peaks of loud sludge and searing noise, but the band is more focused on the tribal and personal aspects of their musical journey. Once again the most versatile band in extreme music outdoes themselves.
Evening Dust Choir: Slow Machete
Evening Dust Choir is something so special that I am unable to contain my excitement over it. This is ethnomusicology at its very finest because it celebrates a culture, not the Western soapbox idea of a culture. For lack of a better term, this album is right, right in ideology, right in execution and right in how fucking amazing it is to hear. If Evening Dust Choir does not move you then your soul has been surgically detached from your body, or you’re a Republican.
Bob Mould: Silver Age
Label: Merge Records
Over three decades into his career and veteran rock icon Bob Mould still kicks huge amounts of ass. While Mould’s rage is always a factor, his songwriting skills get better and better with each album. Silver Age is a full on, high rocktane pop album with gorgeous guitars, catchy choruses and those acerbic and biting Bob Mould vocals. This is pop music with balls, something sorely lacking in the modern indie genre. Mould understands that making pop music doesn’t exclude big guitars and crashing drums. Silver Age doesn’t show an aging rocker in the twilight of his career, on no. It shows an icon schooling the shoe gazing children on how it’s done.
For some reason critics love to box Torche into the metal genre, which is too easy a definition for the band. Sure they’re heavy but they also have a love for pop guitar lines and vocals so catchy you can’t help but sing along. The combination is in line with iconic bands like Sugar or modern bands like Foo Fighters, though Torche have more sack in their songs than the latter. Harmonicraft is a screaming beast of an album, one that constantly switches up the dance between prog-rock, hardcore and pop. Imagine if Rush had been made up of kids who loved Slayer and The Smiths and you’ll start to understand the genius of Torche.
Beastmilk:Use Your Deluge EP
Label: Svart Records
I love when one of the best records of the year flies under the radar to the point it almost vanishes from the screen. Helsinki based Beastmilk are one of the greatest bands you’ve never heard of and Use Your Deluge is an album that is so close to perfect it’s scary. Using elements of Joy Division, an angry Echo & The Bunnymen, a medicated Killing Joke and then a thin layer of Peter Murphy by way of Danzig, Beastmilk write goth hardcore songs that simmer in pop juices of the darkest variety. Catchy as all hell and still ominous and compelling, Use Your Deluge is a monster of an album and we can only hope they release a full length in 2013.
High On Fire: De Vermis Mysteriis
Label: Entertainment One
While High On Fire have become an iconic band in their own right, De Vermis Mysteriis is a game changer. The addition of Kurt Ballou on production lifted the mud curtain that tended to plague High On Fire and the new clarity allowed the power of De Vermis Mysteriis to unload full blast. Gigantic, mountain sized riffs played over bellowing drums and soul crushing bass. Ballou, the Dr. Dre of extreme music, takes all of those elements and allows them to clearly shine without sacrificing heaviness. It’s not all on Ballou, De Vermis Mysteriis is High On Fire firing on all pistons when it comes to songwriting. A juggernaut of sound that doesn’t leave out the nuances. It’s like being beaten to death by a beautifully decorated cast iron spike.
Chelsea Wolfe: Unknown Rooms: A Collection Of Acoustic Songs
Labels: Sargent House
If 2009’s Apokalypsis was Chelsea Wolfe’s primal scream of lightless despondency, then Unknown Rooms is her dark reconnection to folk. Inspired by artists like Hank Williams SR and Townes Van Zandt, Wolfe creates sparse songs that are rarely more than two chords strummed together peppered by the occasional extra instrument. The main focus of the album is Wolfe’s stunning voice and her ability to create meaningful moments with very little to back her up. I dare anyone not to fall instantly in love with Wolfe’s voice and presence, which bleeds through every pour of Unknown Rooms.
The End Of The Ocean: In Excelsis
Album: Future Recordings
If you can truly capture the complexity of inner emotions through music, then Columbus Ohio’s The End Of The Ocean are close to mastering it. In Excelsis is a five song EP of such beautiful power it’s hard to believe the band is so young. Instrumental bands often have a hard time making up for the lack of vocals. They either overcompensate or become repetitive. End Of The Ocean strike a perfect balance of complexity and simplicity by allowing everything they do to grow organically. End Of The Ocean force nothing, which gives their music an elegant and magical feeling so many other post-rock bands lack. In Excelsis never leaves the mathematics of post-rock behind, it just blends it with the raw emotion we all expect from the music that moves us.
Royal Headache: Royal Headache
Label: RIP Society/XVIII Records
This is another album, and band, that I can’t believe more people don’t have on their best of lists. Royal Headache is twelve songs of gorgeous pop that rages in short bursts of two-minutes. You like guitars? Let’s talk guitars, let’s talk super catchy hooks that come in the form of a jangly garage sound that would make the Count Five spin around and fly in the air. With all the jangly pop hooks, there’s not a dishonest note played on this album. Nothing here is pretense, it’s all being in the moment, it’s all emotion and feel. Royal Headache have stayed under the radar with their self-titled release but if the musical gods are kind, they’ll be back and in everybody’s faces in 2013.
Burning Love: Rotten Thing To Say
Label: Southern Lord
Chris Colohan, the former mastermind of Cursed, returned in glorious form with his new band Burning Love and 2010’s Songs For Burning Lovers. In the year of our lord 2012 Burning Love returned with Rotten Thing To Say and topped their impressive debut. Fast and brutal is only part of the Burning Love formula, they also excel at musicianship and interesting song structures. Few bands can cram so many riffs and such interesting structures into short bursts of raw power but Burning Love master it. For those who thought hardcore died with the basketball jersey thuggery crap, find great joy in Burning Love and Rotten Thing To Say.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Riffs, riffs and more riffs. British rock giants Witchcraft return with their best record yet, Legend. Interestingly this record was written by an entirely new band, only vocalist Magnus Pelander survived the cut to rock another day. Armed with a new band and focusing more on singing than guitar, Pelander and crew unleash the bastard son of Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Pentagram and even a it of Led Zeppelin. Don’t get me wrong, Witchcraft aren’t a rip-off, they just carry the torch of their rock forefathers to great effect. Legend is packed with head bobbers, head bangers and lots of Pelander’s angelic vocals.
Bat For Lashes: The Haunted Man
Bat For Lashes mastermind Natasha Khan has been away for a bit. After 2009’s Two Suns, the melancholy, and gorgeous, singer/songwriter decided to take her time writing Bat For Lashes’ latest work, The Haunted Man. While Khan has included a bit of the open and languid orchestrations from her previous work, The Haunted Man is a fully scrubbed, detailed and polished album. This isn’t the work of the younger Natasha Khan who belted “What’s A Girl To Do”, this is the poised work of an artist coming into her own.
17. Killing Joke: MMXII
18. Death Grips: No Love Deep Web
19. Menace Ruine:Alight In Ashes
20. Swans: Seer
21. Die Antwoord: Tension
22. Beth Orton: Sugaring Season
23. Pallbearer: Sorrow And Extinction
24. Nate Hall: A Great River
25. White Lung: Sorry
26. Grizzly Bear: Shields
27. Earth: Angels Of Darkness Demons Of Light II
28. The Raveonettes: The Observator
29. Isis: Temporal
30. Eyehategod: New Orleans Is The New Vietnam