“You mean you actually liked that album?”
“This list sucks!”
“What sort of top ten doesn’t include album X by artist Y?”
Those are the kinds of gormless responses you’ll often find posted under lists of the year’s best albums on music websites. No wonder Pitchfork doesn’t bother with a comments section…
At the risk of being pelted with virtual tomatoes, then, here’s my personal top ten for the year (in random order). These are, plainly and simply, the new releases I played more than any others. (Click on each cover for a YouTube taster.)
Earth set the benchmark for eviscerating doom metal with the 1993 album Earth 2, but the stuff they do these days is entirely different: slow, moody guitar music backed by solemn cello and shuffling drums. Okay, so they do it on every album (and this one really isn’t much different from Angels of Darkness I), but it makes for awesome listening. Nice artwork, as usual.
Alt-J, An Awesome Wave
Debut album by a bunch of Brits whom I know absolutely nothing about (I didn’t even know that when you press Alt-J on a Mac it makes a little picture of a triangle – check it: ∆), save for the fact that they won this year’s Mercury Prize. Not sure what to call this – it’s kind of angular, arty indie-folk-pop. Bordering on wanky, then, but a damn good listen nonetheless.
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
This album is topping lots of end-of-year lists. It’s not usually my kind of thing, contemporary R&B, and I don’t love every track here (e.g., “Sierra Leone”), but on the whole, it’s a very tasty slab of music.
Blut Aus Nord: Cosmosophy
This is the third album in the remarkable 777 trilogy and, while it falls fairly short of perfect, I played it ad nauseum this year. Still do, in fact. It’s also about as accessible as French experimental industrial black metal gets. (More accessible than this, for instance.)
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Big Moon Ritual
Didn’t think this one would grab me. I’ve never been a slavish Black Crowes fan, first of all, and the reviews of Big Moon Ritual were mostly lukewarm. But I ended up finding something completely addictive about these noodling countrified guitar grooves.
Not actually an album, but a series of gloriously mellow audio files (some as long as an hour and a half) posted on Brian William Green’s website and YouTube page. Brian is an artist/photographer/muso whose output is prodigious and always interesting. (More info about singing bowls here.)
I missed the whole xx buzz first time around, for whatever reason. But earlier this year I saw a stray Facebook status update from a friend with a pretty decent taste in music praising Coexist to the hills. Gave it a crack, loved the stripped back, minimalist feel to it, and now here it is on my end-of-year list.
Ty Segall, Twins
Ty Segall does psychedelic garage-punk (with a few Beatlesy twists) and he does a lot of it – an album every couple of months, it seems. My favourite of his 2012 stash of recordings is the most recent release, Twins, including one of my picks for song of the year, “The Hill”.
The Evens, The Odds
I’m a longtime Minor Threat and Fugazi fan who admittedly hasn’t checked out what Ian MacKaye has been up to since the release of Fugazi’s stonking final album, The Argument, in 2001. I think I came upon The Evens while sampling the (mostly disappointing) new Bad Brains record. MacKaye plays baritone guitar and partner Amy Farina drums (that’s their son on the cover); the result is spiky minimalist punk songs that work superbly.
If you’re a Foo Fighters fan who leans toward their harder tracks like “Monkey Wrench”, “All My Life” and “The Pretender”, I reckon you’re a good bet to love the power-pop/metal of Miami band Torche. (Miami, Florida, not Miami, Queensland.) Harmonicraft does have a few weak spots, but tracks like “Kicking” and “Reverse Inverted” win the day.
10 other albums I dug:
Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction
Grizzly Bear, Shields
Heroin in Tahiti, Death Surf
Swans, The Seer
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Clams Casino, Instrumentals 2
Pond, Beard, Wives, Denim
Dirty Three, Toward the Low Sun
10 killer tracks from albums I don’t own or didn’t listen to much
“Falling Out Of Your Head” (Nadja, Dagdrøm)
“Get Got” (Death Grips, The Money Store)
“Elephant” (Tame Impala, Lonerism)
“Dark Steering” (Squarepusher, Ufabulum)
“Dirty Money” (Antibalas, Antibalas)
“Country Life” (JEFF The Brotherhood, Hypnotic Nights)
“212” (Azealia Banks, 1991 EP)
“The Nights of Wine and Roses” (Japandroids, Celebration Rock)
“Ill Manors” (Plan B, Ill Manors)
“Hey Jane” (Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light)