2012 started out slow for me. We saw many reunions, some better than others, and heard some impressive up and coming bands from around the globe. Considering The Mayan calendar predicted the end of civilization, one would expect the greatest year of music ever. I wouldn’t call 2012 the best year, but what I liked, I got obsessed with and listened to on repeat. Notable new releases that aren’t on this list, I’d recommend A Fucking Elephant’s new 7”, Hopewell’s Another Music EP, Telestrion- Molecule, Valis- Minds Through Space and Time, and the most compelling new group- Source of Yellow. I suggest seeing them live and buying up whatever they release.
Here’s my top ten of 2012:
Swans - The Seer
This was the most shocking, eye opening, ear-splitting, unexpected artistically heightened record of the year. The album covers a lot of genres, but most importantly does not fit into one for more than a song. Michael Gira is a musical anomaly. The use of a Mantra in a song, is very difficult to work in, but when done right, intensely more energetic than anything. In my opinion, THIS is the heaviest album of the year.
Wo Fat - The Black Code
I feel they got the spirit of Jimi Hendrix and the heart of John Bonham on this. I don’t know if anyone’s landed that mix as perfectly as this album. The guitars are thick as hell. The Black Code rocked the most of any record this year.
Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction
I’m sure this will make most people’s top ten lists. Pallbearer added a new flavor to doom metal. They have their own sense of melody, where things resolve, and that goes for the rhythm section too. As slow and dramatic as they are at times, the riffs keep fresh and unpredictable. If I were to imagine the perfect doom metal band assembled from my own influences, it would sound like Pallbearer. And that’s what I thought the first time I heard this. It instantly grabbed me. Most of all, ROCKED.
Graveyard - Lights Out
I think they are the best of all the Swedish metal bands. They have the best songs, a highly impressive lead singer with a voice like Jack Bruce meets Chris Cornell, great vintage sounding production, and the record is short and sweet. It flies by quick. Some say the best records feel like that. This is one of them.
Soundgarden - King Animal
Lotta hype behind this one to fail. But an avante-garde metal band wouldn’t produce something boring. You may not like it, you may have been disappointed on its release, but it can’t be considered a generic hard rock album. There’s nothing generic about it. You throw a group of musicians of this caliber in a studio, they’re going to create something interesting. I praise them for making a less commercial album than someone like Pearl Jam, and for not going backwards trying to sound like a previous Soundgarden record. They went to the future, trying out ideas the band had never before. I admire that.
NAAM - The Ballad of the Starchild (Movements I-V)
To me, this EP was the 'reminder' of the year, to go back to the classics, be it Pink Floyd or Black Sabbath. I found the imagery of this vague character in the lyrics to be similar to the motifs of classic rock conceptual albums. NAAM is dark psychedelia at its best.
Mark Lanegan - Blues Funeral
Blues Funeral is a post-apocalyptic blues album soaked in whiskey induced word-play and demented electronica. The mighty Jack Irons fills in the organic side of this record on drums, but even his beats are warped and exotic. This is a must-have for any Lanegan fan, and a step in a forward direction, or rather a departure from his previous dark bluesy soul records.
The Flaming Lips - The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
First, the coolest vinyl packaging in history. Like a work of fine art, each individual record is significantly different. And it’s the most psychedelic thing I’ve ever heard. What should have been a collaborative novelty, accidentally became one of their best records. Nothing’s more alien, more tripped out than this. Embryonic was already re-defining them, but this is far left of that. It’s totally self-indulgent, and that being the primary reason why it’s so good.
Lee Ranaldo - Between the Times and the Tides
His first real rock and roll solo album, and he hits it out of the park. Start to finish, it’s better than the last Sonic Youth record (The Eternal). Steve Shelley is still on drums, the feel is still there, but odd to hear Lee’s voice on lead every song. The acoustic songs particularly are of the nature of a Nick Drake record. More than just a ballad, but sincere songwriting like where Neil Young was at during the mid-70’s.
Greenleaf - Nest of Vipers
Like many first-rate albums, it’s a grower. It took a few listens before it rocked my head off. A good jolt in the morning and a great driving companion when you’re off to work. High energy the whole way through. I love the ‘Small Stone’ sound/production, and it’s the meaning of Stoner Rock.
Stand-out tracks: Swans "The Apostate", Wo Fat "Hurt at Gone", Pallbearer "The Legend", Graveyard "An Industry of Murder", Soundgarden "A 1000 Days Before", NAAM "The Starchild", Mark Lanegan "The Gravedigger's Song", Flaming Lips "Ashes in the Air", Lee Ranaldo "Hammer Blows", Greenleaf "Jack Staff"