2012 was something of a strange year for music. Entire “music” scenes popped up online, inspired by dolphins and Nintendo 64 graphics. Nirvana reunited with Paul McCartney on lead vocals, pleading to “cut him some slack.” Tupac Shakur rose from the dead to perform at Coachella. The hip-hop and R&B communities diversified. Punk rock came back, and electro took over. The domestication of dogs continued, unabated.
Turn on the Bright Lights celebrated its tenth birthday; a reminder of how far we’ve come here in the blog-o-sphere; that record being one of the first great releases from a New York City indie band in this “new-wave” of blog indie. The internet has re-written the rules, and the music industry seems to have finally caught up. Bands we fell in love with in our formative years released their second, third and fourth LPs, and new artists arrived, fully-formed, almost pre-packaged for online consumption.
Oh, and a whole bunch of great records came out too. Below you’ll find each of our blogger’s ten best; diverse lists that illustrate how encompassing the term “indie” has become in 2012.
10) DIIV – Oshin
This album basically WAS Brooklyn in 2012; its story an archetype for aughts-era success in the “other” borough, almost bordering on formulaic. In January, the band was nothing more than the bedroom project of Zachary Cole Smith. It was called Dive, and it slowly started to play shows around town. First in basements and lofts as the band became fully fleshed out, then in progressively larger venues under a slightly-altered moniker. A best-new music tag and some high profile slots later and DIIV was suddenly the biggest band in Brooklyn. DIIV accomplished this by embracing an increasingly chic early 90s aesthetic; though the grunge look and vibe is lost on most of the album (save for late album highlight Doused) and instead is replaced with sunny layered pop guitar riffs not too far removed from Smith’s other band, Beach Fossils, but more fully-realized, more atmospheric and at times almost even anthemic. It’s a simple record on its surface, but a swirl of contradiction under closer examination. Kind of like Brooklyn from afar.
9) Laurel Halo – Quarantine
Long one of my favorite electronic musicians, Halo released her best record this year; largely because she recognized that her voice functions well as the lead on a track as opposed to merely being intermingled with complex pitch-shifting, almost alien electro-grooves. This is best realized on my favorite track, Mk Ultra which is akin to an out-of-body hallucinogenic experience. The beat is the closed-eyed part, a transformative out-of-body high, beautiful in ways the conscious mind simply cannot computer. But Halo’s voice is there at the forefront, ready to pull you out of the abyss if you let it, if you just open your eyes.
8) Action Bronson and Party Supplies – Blue Chips
This one admittedly took a little while to grow on me, though I’m sure you know that those sorts of albums can be the most rewarding. Blue Chips was no different. I was immediately drawn in by Bronson’s Ghostface Killah-esque delivery, and while this clearly was no Supreme Clientele, it seemed a worthy addition to the now burgeoning New York hip-hop underground. This album is best appreciated if you have some knowledge of sports and late 80s and early 90s WWF as it’s dominated by professional wrestling references; so much so that it can become a bit contrived at first, though as time has gone on I find myself returning to it again and again to marvel at Bronson’s absurdly clever wordplay and Party Supplies innovative lo-tech production that consists of lifting beats and samples solely from YouTube. Truly a rap album of the times.
7) Kendrick Lamar – good kid m.A.A.d City
What can I possibly say about this album that hasn’t been said already? It’s an instant classic; perhaps the first of its kind since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and to those in the know, perhaps the first of its kind since Nas’ Illmatic. Deeply confessional, soul-baring and socially aware, Lamar’s album exists as the apex of what hip-hop can be here in 2012. And while much of the album, at least thematically, can be something of a downer, it’s got made for radio hits like Bitch Dan’t Kill My Vibe and Swimming Pools (Drank) that are hooky enough to go top-40.
6) Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
Far less chaotic than its predecessor, Cosmogramma, but nearly its equal in terms of overall quality, Until The Quiet Comes seems to find FlyLo at a fork in the road. One leg remains firmly planted in the intergalactic left field, while another is stretching outward for a more straight-forward, and dare I say mainstream sound? FlyLo has never been shy about his desire to make beats for top-40 rap royalty (Still shocked Drake hasn’t hit him back), and his desire to be “one of the guys” came out with his own rap mix-tape a couple months ago, Duality, released under the Captain Murphy moniker. Fortunately, FlyLo remains a perfectionist, and his absurd attention to detail has lead to a distinct hybrid production style, part space-rock, part electro, part crate-digger and part free-jazz, which has ensured that his albums remain his own, no matter what his motives may be.
5) Grimes – Visions
I feel like every blogger in the universe has to include this one on their list, but no record captured the “post-internet” era quite like this one did. This one is music from the internet, by the internet and for the internet. It’s a record of Aphex Twin-inspired beats and scathingly high-pitched, unintelligible vocals from a former crust punk who once tried to navigate the length of the Mississippi River on a rag-tag house boat with a bunch of chickens. Somehow, Clare Boucher took that ugly description and crafted one of the catchiest and most revered pop records of the year. If you don’t believe me, try listening to Genesis or Oblivion or Nightmusic without getting your goddamn groove on. Boucher deserves to be commended for making her brand of absurdity work so well.
4) The Men – Open Your Heart
While this one pales in comparison to 2011′s far more aggressive Leave Home, The Men’s 2012 offering Open Your Heart packs quite a punch from the opening western twang of Turn It Around all the way to the pounding drumbeat that concludes the record on Ex-Dreams. It was the first great punk record released this year, and found the four-piece expanding its previously more metal leaning palate to include elements of country, surf rock and bar band music. It opened the flood gates for one of the best years punk has seen in some time. With good reason. It’s a pure record; punk to the core. DIY-minded, loud, self-recorded and absolutely devoid of bullshit. The kind of record I’ve loved for years.
3) Black Marble – A Different Arrangement
Post-punk never really dies, which is quite the feat for a genre that seems inherently teenage. “Coldwave” may more accurately describe the sound that this Brooklyn duo emit from their synth, bass and microphone, but this is a record whose roots are firmly in Closer’s camp. Tracks like Cruel Summer and Pretender feel like a slow dance with Ian Curtis at the gates of hell. This may not sound very inviting, but this record is strangely addicting. The lyrics are largely obscured, but the lo-fi ultravox synth and steady baselines create a darkly gorgeous atmosphere that’s difficult to leave behind when the tape ends.
2) Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
Well, I sure as hell wasn’t expecting Attack on Memory to sound like this, though perhaps I should have with Steve Albini at its helm. Attack on Memory certainly lived up to its name; as few records have so perfectly recaptured the feel of a record I would have enjoyed in my youth while simultaneously shattering the fuck out of aforementioned records by outperforming all of them in every way imaginable. No Future/No Past may be my favorite track of 2012, and the pace it sets; a slow and uneasy build to intense cathartic release holds for the remainder of the record; a trick we all remember but somehow still seems so poignant when so well-executed.
1) METZ – METZ
No album this year grabbed me and beat the living hell out of me quite like this one. In fact, I’m struggling to think of the last album that sonically assaulted me in such a way. This album is all about power. It’s unrelenting, uncompromising and absolutely brutal. It evokes images of violence, inspires feelings of dread and shocks the fuck out of your system in three minute or less bursts of death-sludge. The entire album is shorter than an episode of Family Matters, but Sad Pricks is no Carl Winslow. Headache is no Steve Urkel. Hell, it’s not even Stephan Urquelle. There’s nothing wholesome here and that’s what makes this album so goddamn perfect. It’s raw emotion with no filter, it’s uneasy tension released in violent fury, it’s the release you’re looking for while you’re slaving away in a cubicle. This record is great in the same way that the old hardcore records were; it’s an escape. It’s my favorite record of the year.
NOT LISTED, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: TEEN – In Limbo, Death Grips – The Money Store, Tame Impala – Lonerism, The Babies – Our House on The Hill, Guardian Alien – See the World Given to a One Love Entity, Wild Nothing – Nocturne, Willis Earl Beal – Acousmatic Sourcery, Captain Murphy – Duality, Cities Aviv – Black Pleasure, Mac Demarco – Rock N Roll Night Club, Naomi Punk – The Feeling, Merchandise – Children of Desire, Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II, Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
10. The Weeknd – Trilogy
Though this one has a few strikes going against it, namely Drake and the fact it’s culled largely from earlier mixtapes and thus not all officially 2012 material, Abel Tesfaye makes up for it with fully-realized pop songcraft and a voice that could get an angel hot under the collar. Plus lets be honest, Canada is the new Hansel, so hot right now.
9. Torche – Harmonicraft
In a metal universe dominated by straight-faced corpse paint, hetero gimp get-ups and lyrical themes residing somewhere between a coffin and the first layer of freshly lain sod, Torche’s brand of bubblegum shred is a much needed break in the clouds. An encapsulation of everything that lights Torche’s, well, torch (half-time headbangs, thrashy power chords, cotton candy choruses), no album was more fun than Harmonicraft in 2012.
8. Royal Headache – Royal Headache
Being the only garage rock album of the year that actually sounds like it could have been recorded between a leaf blower and the toolbox where your Dad hides keeps his backup Jim Beam, Royal Headache’s self-titled debut was a welcome reminder that lo-fi doesn’t have to be an academic theory. And if that fact doesn’t send you running for your Spotify, then frontman Shogun’s singular, transcendent gravel-yelp—messily and beautifully evident on resplendent punk anthems like “Girls” and “Honey Joy”—just might.
7. High on Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis
Between Billy Joe’s Dr. Drew-sponsored meltdown and Baroness’s harrowing brush with exactly what took metal great Cliff Burton’s life (a tour bus, of all rock n’ roll hazards), the redemptive story of High on Fire frontman Matt Pike’s summer stint in rehab, on the heels of a truly knock-you-on-your Oakland thrash haymaker, went ultimately under-recognized. For full appreciation of Pike’s raw ability (and nerve endings, for that matter) give De Vermis Mysteriis a front-to-back spin and then imagine writing and recording the manic guitar riffs and blitzkrieg vocals contained within while slipping to the psycho and physiological brink of some chemically-constructed bottom. Needless to say, this album is a truly tortured, and accomplished, piece of heavy.
6. The Men – Open Your Heart
When Nick Chiericozzi sings “I picked up what I could/and laughed off all the rest” a little over halfway through the Brooklyn quartet’s audible self-realization Open Your Heart, he is simultaneously summing up the album’s philosophy and the band’s approach. A Pollack of antique influences—from the Replacements to the Stones—collides with post-hardcore leanings, lending the album’s ten tracks a coming-of-age urgency that is painfully absent in the work of many bands half their age. It is in the patient moments; in the slow-burn of “Country Song” and the propulsive take off of “Oscillating”; however, that Open Your Heart rolls away its touchstones to create a truly singular piece of rock n’ roll.
5. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d City
If I were to judge albums based simply on their ambition—by their intent to illustrate and address an entire culture and the problems it knowingly accepts and willfully ignores—then Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d City would dangle its Nike Dunks from atop this list without a single competitor within sight of its soles. As it stands, though, this much-lauded and so-called redemption of hip hop, while undeniably the most important album of the year (and “Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst” its most moving song), is also purposefully and consistently challenging. Nothing good comes easy and thus there’s no telling how hard we will have to work to understand something as great as good kid, m.A.A.d city, but man, Kendrick, let us see you laugh or something.
4. METZ – METZ
Oh Canada, oh Canada, we owe you something, anything (how about the Phoenix Coyotes?) for your newest noise punk export, METZ, who have not so quietly obliterated New York City venues in a Godzilla-esque streak of sets since October. What pushes METZ’s full-length debut into my top five, however, is not their SWAT-raid sets but the fact that those sets were somehow translated to vinyl, disc, and compressed digital file without losing any of their immediacy or brutality. And that is aboot the best compliment you can give a punk band, eh?
3. Titus Andronicus – Local Business
I would once like to write about Local Business without mentioning the totally inescapable, unequivocally challenging, and damn near perfect musical measuring stick that is The Monitor. In order to make you aware of my selfless attempts to sidestep cliché and cast off convenience, however, I am forced to mention Titus Andronicus’s Ameri-punk tome of neo-national anthems, thus engaging the very double bind that Local Business spends much of its 50 minutes addressing. Then again, I could say fuck it, these theoretical constructs and, for that matter, everything else, as Patrick Stickles wagers from the album’s opening scene onward, are “inherently worthless”…except, of course, for Local Business which proves to be much more than just a competent follow-up…oh God, here we go again.
2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Some albums punch you in the throat upon the first listen. They step back, haul off, turn around, and run. Not Celebration Rock. Instead the Vancouver duo’s sophomore salvo chooses to swing again, and again, and again—each listen, every song—until suddenly your left sucking firework smoke into your lungs as the Bic-flicking “Continuous Thunder” fades off to some grayscale hibernation. Abuse aside, no album in 2012 made me want to love more and drink harder, complain less and stay up later, which means that Celebration Rock wasn’t just a great album, it was a pretty good therapist too.
1. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
Looking back, to whatever slate-gray, sleet-pissing, February day the opening chimes of “No Future/No Past” first bloomed out of my headphones and into my skull—seeping into my sinus cavities, wedging in my less stiff joints—I can now say this result was a foregone conclusion. Hindsight is 20/20, sure, whatever, but the anger and intense uncertainty coursing throughout the Dylan Baldi bare-all that is Attack on Memory also happens to run through me, into the light switch, down my apartment’s copper-plated electrical wiring, and out into the rest of America’s currently (as both Baldi and the Mayans believe) futureless 20-something never-been has-beens. In the end, it is a simultaneously claustrophobic and agoraphobic work of punk art that adheres more to a human condition than a musical genre and thus—as well as for a litany of other reasons, notably including Steve Albini’s Tatare raw production approach—is my album of the year.
10. Correct Behavior – Eternal Summers
Because it could’ve soundtracked my 90’s as much as it did my 2012. Post-punk pop jams.
Standout Tracks: “You Kill,” “Good As You”
9. Shields – Grizzly Bear
Because it’s a gorgeous, swirling album, with lyrics that resonate with melancholic truth.
Standout Tracks: “Gun Shy” straight into “Half Gate,” “Sleeping Ute”
8. Lucifer – Peaking Lights
Because it’s a denser companion to last year’s sunny 936, but I was still more than happy to listen to it all summer.
Standout Tracks: “Lo Hi,” “Dream Beat”
7. Until the Quiet Comes – Flying Lotus
Because no electronic solo artist has taken me off guard with 2 albums back to back like he has (see Cosmogramma). Oh and that goofy-grinned introverted personality of his.
Standout Tracks: “All In” straight into “Getting There,” “See Thru to U”
6. Swing Lo Magellan – Dirty Projectors
Because despite my undying love for their sonic quirkiness, I still loved the levity & straightforwardness of this album. They consistently impress me.
Standout Tracks: “Dance for You,” “Unto Caesar”
5. Nocturne – Wild Nothing
Because it’s a lovely, production-enhanced follow up to Gemini, which I still don’t really think can be topped. This album soundtracks dreams.
Standout Tracks: “Only Heather,” “Nocturne”
4. Mature Themes – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Because no album was as simultaneously hilarious and sweetly poppy, or could have been.
Standout Tracks: “Baby,” “Symphony of the Nymph”
3. Channel Orange – Frank Ocean
Because of that voice and vulnerability … and that 10-minute epic … and that face.
Standout Tracks: “Pyramids,” “Pilot Jones”
2. Visions – Grimes
Because as much as I initially resisted the aesthetic and the hype, I still managed to fall for it pretty damn hard.
Standout Tracks: “Symphonia XIX (my wait is u),” “Oblivion”
1. The Idler Wheel… – Fiona Apple
Because there’s no album I listened to more times or with more emotional connection. And that’s the true true. I can’t say I enjoyed waiting 6 years for this but it sure was worth it.
Standout Tracks: “Anything We Want,” “Left Alone”
Honorable Mentions and their Standouts:
good kid, mAAd city – Kendrick Lamar (Money Trees)
R.I.P. – Actress (the whole thing as 1 track, front to back)
Nootropics – Lower Dens (Brains into Stem)
Pink – Four Tet (Lion)
Children of Desire – Merchandise (Time into Become What You Are)
Ekstasis – Julia Holter (Four Gardens)
Kindred – Burial (the whole EP as 1 track, front to back)
10) Django Django – Django Django
Refreshingly minimalistic, this group epitomizes the revival of the pre-psychadelic era of music. It’s melodious and vibrant, with songwriting that is spot on.
9) Milo Greene – Milo Greene
The group’s debut album builds up intricate harmonies and layers of catchy choruses into a complex, well executed album. Standout tracks include “1957”, “Don’t You Give Up On Me”, and “What’s The Matter”.
8) Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
Probably one of the more underrated albums of the year, I think Sleigh Bells deserve some props. The duo hits is hard with this album, incorporating even more metal inspired rock throughout luscious techno beat backdrops seamlessly. It hard-hitting, brash and vulgar and I love them the more for it.
7) Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
This album is much more approachable than their previous releases, which is saying a lot for a group that’s been going at it for over a decade. Swing Lo Magellan, relies heavily on hand claps in place of percussion and combines heartfelt songwriting with beat-driven rock which makes for a wonderfully cohesive and earnest album.
6) Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal
Folky, infectious, and irrefutably fun the debut LP from Iceland’s Of Monsters And Men is one of my personal favorites. The songs are simple and memorable with rousing chants and upbeat tempos. It’s definitely my go-to album when I’m feeling down.
5) Policia - Give You The Ghost
Great debut album from this mix and match of artists from Bon Iver, Gayngs and Roma Di Luna. It’s a marriage of intoxicating electronica, R&B inspired beats and seductive vocals. “Amongster”, “Lay Your Cards Out” and “I See My Mother” are some standouts from an overall well put together album.
4) Crystal Castles – III
The third LP from Crystal Castles provides a much darker perspective than their previous two releases. It’s muddled, scratchy, beat driven and overall mesmerizing. “Affection”, “Plague”, “Kerosene” are all fantastic tracks but there’s really no shortage of great music here.
3) The xx – Coexist
Coexist is a beautiful follow up to the trio’s debut album, which is not an easy feat. The tracks on Coexist are a bit more refined, stripped even. Single-note guitar strings mingle subtly with deep bass melodies and low synth rhythms and beats. It’s a raw album and an elegant reintroduction to the group after a three year long hiatus.
2) Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
I mean, I had to right? It would almost be a sin if Frank Ocean wasn’t included on my list. Although I won’t give him the number 1 spot because I think a few of the tracks on a his album aren’t as interesting (“Sierra Leone”) as some of the others (“Lost” = boner). He still kills his debut album and I’m really excited to see what he’s got up his sleeve for next year.
1) Purity Ring – Shrines
Hello amazing debut of the year. This album is electrifying. Every track has something new and original to say for itself, yet each one ties in perfectly with the overall flow of the album. Full bodied and lyrically intricate, this LP quickly became a personal favorite. I hope they’re able to continue to pursue their unique point of view in the upcoming year.
10) I can’t decide which album should be number ten so below are all the albums I considered:
Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now; The Walkmen – Heaven; DIIV – Oshin; Frank Ocean – Channel Orange; Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
9) Swans – The Seer: Just an epic rock album.
8) The Men – Open Your Heart: Gritty post punk with aggressive vocals and guitar driven tracks.
7) Japandroids – Celebration Rock: I really think it is impossible to not like this album; in fact, I would prefer not to be associated with anyone that does not like this album.
6) Beach House – Bloom: Beach House continues to develop and have yet to disappoint me.
5) Lower Dens – Nootropics: Was really surprised this album didn’t get more hype.
4) Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel: Was skeptical before giving this album a shot but was not disappointed. An album filled with clever lyrics and bold, sometimes jazzy music.
3) Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory: ‘Wasted Days’ is easily song of the year. A really energetic, catchy punk rock album, look forward to seeing how the band continues to grow in the future.
2) Grizzly Bear – Shields: The first album that I have really loved from Grizzly Bear. The album is filled with a very eclectic mix of songs with my favorite album ending track of 2012.
1) Tame Impala – Lonerism: Stoner psychedelic at its best, had this on repeat for days when first released.