Some of the best music 2012 sounded a lot like the 1970s, replete with analog synths, occult pretensions, powery pop, ambient landscapes, and heavy guitars. 2012 felt like a dark time, and some of the music here reflects that. Yet in all my favorites of the year there is spring of hope, an urging towards creative extremes that insist no matter the shadows, the human capacity for making glorious noise will prevail.
10. Fresh and Onlys: Long Slow Dance
Like a forgotten nugget from 1979, this pop gem with slight garage and psychedelic undertones offers heartbreak you can dance to. Lush, memorable songs are tightened with smart lyrics. Jangly and whimsical in all the right places, it’s music for people who miss the time when pop on the radio actually rocked.
9. Wymond Miles: Earth Has Doors
The guitarist from Fresh and Onlys also released a full length this year -- Under the Pale Moon -- a fine achievement, but this four song EP is like a hermetic secret finally revealed, a beautifully crafted pop ritual. Miles has tapped into the occult consciousness that has grabbed hold of lot of recent underground and experimental rock, but there is something personal here, something that only Miles knows, but that he willing to open the door just a crack. It’s pretty great stuff.
8. Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin: Instrumental Tourist
Tim Hecker’s 2011 Ravedeath, 1972 was a revelation, the next major step in ambient music. This collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin is a meeting of the electronic gods, a fusion of two minds across a knob encrusted landscape. There are many micro-moments here, but the whole is a great experimental, yet fully realized, co-authored book of sound collage.
7. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan
2012 was a year of great expectations for the slew of indie bands who had found mainstream success and released new albums -- Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes -- all of whom I loved their earlier outings but found their 2012 releases... well, boring. Dirty Projectors, a band that deserves the same recognition as any of them, is the sleeper success, a perfect fusion of avant garde and pop. David Longstreth delivers uncanny vocal range buffered by the harmonies of his co-singers. Always pulling apart at the seems, the music and the lyrics are codes to be cracked even as you resign and give into their inscrutable emotional embrace.
6. Sic Alps: Sic Alps
Oh boy, these guys. If you have never heard Sic Alps, this is a great place to start, but be forewarned you will become obsessed with hearing everything from their back catalogue, a seemingly infinite string of albums and EP’s of garage noise goodness. They use rhythm to uncover new noise, and noise to unearth surprising rhythms. They undermine pop just as they make it sound like the newest thing in the world. Their influences are numerous, but you forget all the references once you start to swim in this amazing stone soup of infectious madness.
5. Alexander Tucker: Third Mouth
This is the soundtrack to all those Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated stories if those stories were really ancient myths. Acoustic metal through the language of folk, Tucker is a magician of song-story. His singing is reminiscent of Brian Eno, an Eno haunted by witch kings and desolate planets. Third Mouth is a quiet masterpiece.
4. Panabrite: The Baroque Atrium
Analog Synth smoothly spread over glitch and natural sounds. Norm Chambers takes the saccharine of new age music and infuses it with a deep, dare I say, spiritual authenticity. Lot of great kraut and kosmiche nods here, but still an original and lovely undertaking. This is the one of the best 70s album of 2012.
3. Pretty Things: S.F. Sorrow
Okay this wasn’t released in 2012, but it is the album I listened to the most this year and an album that deserves much more recognition. Some argue this is the first true rock opera, but who cares. It’s simply one of the great albums of the 60s, a psychedelic overload of heavy weirdness, right/left channel vacillation, and guitars drowning in reverb.
2. Thee Oh Sees: Putrifiers II
The rambunctious soulmates of The Fresh and Onlys, Thee Oh Sees bring a fuzzy swagger to the lo-fi psych rock proceedings with their best album to date. Thee Oh Sees is a little dark at time, but they are more trickster than devil, more like your weird cousin who is always tripping on mushrooms but whose manic chatter is infectious. I keep thinking if I play this one more time I am going to get sick of it, and I never do.
1. Goat: World Music
I don’t think music has made me this happy in a long time, and by that I mean happy like a drunken satyr being torn apart by a group of hallucinating maenads. This mysterious group of loa-possesed musicians have formed a secret society of heavy guitars, feedback, and screaming vocals. It’s like everything you’ve heard before transformed into something you can’t believe you are listening to. The first time you play it don’t be surprised if you just start laughing from the sheer giddy pleasure of this ecstatic religious feast.