[sic] Magazine

Annual Round-Up pt. 3: My 2012 – Releases Of The Year

Completing my annual round-up 2012 are what I consider to have been the best releases of the year – those albums, EPs, re-releases and compilations that have stood out most from that which I’ve listened to. As usual, there’s been plenty of good-to-downright-great releases, each and every one of the below worth recommending in their own way.

Particular credit must again go to 4AD who have this year managed five entries in my top 100, but equal dues must go to Captured Tracks from whom five artists also feature – a label with an impeccable roster to which history will surely award legendary status. Special mentions also go out to the Hardly Art , Sacred Bones , Secretly Canadian , Sub Pop , Bella Union and Tri Angle imprints for each managing four entries apiece.

Other statistical analysis interestingly shows that two thirds of those that comprise this list call the US home, with the UK and Canada unsurprisingly taking the lion’s share of places remaining. Germany, Australia and Sweden each take two places, with the remaining few claimed by Austria, Spain, Italy and Denmark.

It must be said though that I have only one pair of ears, a set amount of hours in the day and a bank balance that is far from inexhaustible so there are, perhaps, certain notable omissions from the list below. I have, for example, not yet been able to get my listening tackle around releases from Tamaryn , Melody’s Echo Chamber , Lotus Plaza , Daughn Gibson , Prince Rama , Pond , Titus Andronicus , Andy Stott and Godspeed You! Black Emperor amongst others. Who knows what may have been, but here is what definitely was:

1. SwansThe Seer [ Young God ]

Where does hell end and heaven begin? The Seer is an absolute monster entirely befitting of Swans and, in particular, Michael Gira ‘s fearsome reputation. Reputedly 30 years in the making and two hours in length, Gira certainly hasn’t pushed himself, his band or his listeners this hard for a couple of decades. Yet, The Seer is not some extremophile’s paradise, rather a record of extremes that reels from rousing battle sequences to pretty patterning and then on to crushing noise. Indeed with a touch of judicious editing here and there, a compressed edit may well have been looking at close to a perfect ten.

Incorporating almost every element of the back catalogue – blistering No Wave, black jazz, blunt-force blues, post-rock, Art rock, perhaps even pop – Swans are still a beast in the throes of evolution and one willing to learn and use its teachings as a weapon. In fact, so many genres are tackled concurrently, so many labels applied and then ripped apart during the course of The Seer as to suggest that Swans have finally completed their voyage. Maybe it’s now time to finally start referencing them on their own terms – as true originals. Visionary.

[sic] review: The Seer

2. Cloud NothingsAttack On Memory [ Wichita ]


Dylan Baldi hasn’t quite pulled a 180 with Attack On Memory , but since his previous LP last year a lot has changed. For a start, Cloud Nothings is now a band – a historically sympathetic hardcore one at that – and Baldi’s former breakneck pop-punk is now just a dot on the horizon. Then there’s the almost inevitable no-frills Steve Albini production. The plentiful hooks of before undoubtedly remain too; it’s just that they’re now buried under shifting rhythms and crunching guitar walls. There’s such burning commitment and generally just too much awesomeness afoot here to write off Attack On Memory as some tawdry exercise in grave robbing for it’s not only respectful, but also essential in its own right.

[sic] review: Attack On Memory

3. JapandroidsCelebration Rock [ Polyvinyl ]


Two EPs and two LPs down and you just know that Japandroids will never make a bad record. They were prepared to throw in the towel after Post-Nothing for goodness sake and you’d bet your bottom dollar on them calling it quits before mediocrity ever came begging. So, on Celebration Rock , the album that was never meant to be, Brian King and David Prowse remain a rough-and-ready punk-rock twosome capable of astonishing turns of melody amid sense-shredding noise. Moreover the pair seem less and less to be just rock stars, but the best friends you’ve never formally met … and Celebration Rock the best party you could ever hope to attend.

[sic] review: Celebration Rock

4. ExitmusicPassage [ Secretly Canadian ]


Husband-and-wife duo Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church really deserve the all-too-few plaudits they’ve received this year, for their Passage album is a thing of beauty that catches the ear with epiphanic post-rock as well as chilly electronic dream-pop. At times it’s like listening to Austra fronting Sigur Rós and Mew concurrently, at others Zola Jesus having a stab at Beach House . Listen out for this on all next year’s BBC nature documentaries.

[sic] review: Passage

5. White MannaWhite Manna [ Holy Mountain ]


Like the best type of history lesson, White Manna run the whole gamut of psyche with this self-titled epic – ranging from meditative space-rock to druggy fuzz, from cosmic solos to monolithic riffs, huge pedal effects to G-force rock that drags at the cheeks at it races past, as well as vintage outdoorsy repeats. And this is before certain strains of American punk are introduced. Listening to White Manna is like getting your brain rotated at precisely the right speed so that it liquefies.

[sic] review: White Manna

6. Purity RingShrines [ 4AD ]


There will always be a place in my heart for intelligent pop and Shrines was at the crest of this year’s svelte now-wave of such material. Drawing from choice producers such as Clams Casino , Megan James and Corin Roddick experiment with mutant R&B, splicing it with arpeggiating 808 rips and tinny skitters robbed from darker genres, syrupy raps and screwed slo-mo beats from elsewhere. All things considered, Purity Ring may not so pure after all.

[sic] review: Shrines

7. Tame ImpalaLonerism [ Modular ]


There’s been a lot of mileage gotten out of 60s psyche revivalism recently, so it seems only natural to now have a swing towards the 70s, which has seen Tame Impala land one of the most surprising successes of the year with Lonerism . Naturally there’s quite a lot of pomp, but it’s the fetishist retro-hooks that win you over. If the more subtle A-side doesn’t get you then the euphoric flip will leave you feeling all but abused.

[sic] review: Lonerism

8. PoliçaGive You The Ghost [ Memphis Industries ]


Much has been made of Channy Leanagh ‘s willingness to embrace Auto-Tune, but it’s a discussion rendered moot when her voice is often echo-looped and multi-tracked so heavily too. Add onto this Poliça’s maximal percussion thanks to dual drumming options and it’s easy to see why Give You The Ghost is still upsetting the nearly-pop status quo. Strikingly original, there was no better opening 1-2-3 in 2012 than can be found here.

[sic] review: Give You The Ghost

9. Sharon Van EttenTramp [ Jagjaguwar ]


It’s a sad fact but, for many reasons, most artists get steadily worse. Sharon Van Etten is going in the opposite direction – and she started well enough. Tramp is her third long-player in four years and though popular focus may be on its supporting cast which includes Zach Condon , Jenn Wasner , Julianna Barwick and Aaron Dessner , it really ought to be on her jaw-dropping ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

[sic] review: Tramp

10. MoonfaceWith Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery [ Jagjaguwar ]


Siinai prove a beautiful counterfoil to Spencer Krug ‘s ever-distinctive vocal and balls-out bravado. Together, their Heartbreaking Bravery LP undoubtedly demands a lot of the listener, confronting him/her with noodling asides and towering crescendos as often as it soothes with post-rock ambience. Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? You may have just found it.

[sic] review: Heartbreaking Bravery

11. Porcelain RaftStrange Weekend [ Secretly Canadian ]

True to the excellent and varied Porcelain Raft releases to date, Strange Weekend is always good quality, sometimes loop-led, usually electronic-influenced, one-man singer-songwriting of the laptronic dream-pop variety. If it ain’t broke keep profiting.

[sic] review: Strange Weekend

12. The KVBAlways Then [ Clan Destine Records ]

I’d have to cobble up a coherent one-liner encapsulating Joy Division, J&MC, shoegaze, psyche, dark-wave, drone and straight-up noise to do Always Then justice, but then I suppose I just did. If you’re not on the edge of your seat salivating at the very thought there is something very wrong with you.

13. John TalabotƒIN [ Permanent Vacation ]

No matter how much you dress up John Talabot’s ƒIN with guitar chords, varied synth and calypso funk it is unquestionably a collection of deep house loops and summertime vibes – not only that it’s also brilliant. In my head, this is what they play at the best clubber’s clubs the world over.

14. Black AtlassThe Black Atlass EP [ S/R ]

Everyone in the known universe is name-dropping Frank Ocean when it comes to the future of R&B. Last year it was The Weeknd . Though these kids sure have some jams, ain’t none of them got nothing on this Canadian teen prodigy. Go ahead, beat the cool kids to this drop.

15. LyonnaisWant For Wish For Nowhere [ Hoss ]

You might think filling out the entire flip of your powerfully abrasive noise-rocker with one long drone-athon is a bit of a cop out, but you couldn’t be more wrong. As much as A and B compete so too do they complement and that the healthiest sort of rivalry I know.

16. DIIVOshin [ Captured Tracks ]

Spawn of label-to-catch Captured Tracks, DIIV are no longer Dive, but they are branching out, incorporating meditative psychedelia into their guitar-led dream sequences and jangling indie. Oshin is an immersive and intoxicating listen as a result.

17. EasterInnocence Man [ White Box ]

Perish the thought, but Innocence Man could well be the result if your prized collection of Sonic Youth , Idlewild and The National LPs were to fuse in some godforsaken fire. Easily one of the best British releases of the year. Keep your eyes peeled for more in 2013.

18. GrimesVisions [ 4AD ]

The outer-limits pop of Visions is bursting with possibility and experimentation. Clare Boucher is no longer simply writing songs, she’s transmuting a singular vision through her Grimes persona – and currently she can see light years further than almost anyone else.

[sic] review: Visions

19. The Lost RiversSin And Lostness [ Northern Star ]

Out of nowhere – or Baden-Württemberg be more precise – shoegaze/industrial upstarts The Lost Rivers saw 2012 as an opportunity to look APTBS straight in the eye and match them blow for blow – the unseeded rookie knocking the champ back with a bloody nose. This fight just got interesting.

20. Dope BodyNatural History [ Drag City ]

Party punk I guess, Natural History isn’t the easiest to pigeonhole, but it is tremendous fun all the same. Acerbic noise, herky-jerk tempos and a killer vocal growl dominate, helping to marginalise a few concessions to silliness.

21. Ed Schrader’s Music BeatJazz Mind [ Upset The Rhythm ]

An extreme record of sorts, Jazz Mind lasts just 20 minutes yet its minimalist punk is curiously addictive. Amidst lo-fi garage and hardcore inflections, so too are there are contributions from Matmos and No Age members in here somewhere. Exhilarating stuff.

22. MetzMetz [ Sub Pop ]

You may have heard people saying something along the lines of Metz being the first band on Sub Pop in ages that sound like a proper Sub Pop band. There’s an awful lot of truth in that powder-keg précis as Metz appropriately bring bucketfuls of bile in their bellies.

23. LiarsWIXIW [ Mute ]

Liars are now one of the alternative world’s mainstays. They’ve been consistent, innovative and interesting for over a decade and there are very few bands that can say that truthfully. The WIXIW odyssey in electronic rock is fresh and hungry too – this story ain’t done yet.

24. Death GripsThe Money Store [ Columbia ]

Majors don’t take chances and I bet Columbia are regretting taking on this LA riot now, for when they weren’t dealing with erect penises and album leaks they were contending with some of the most anti-social hip-hop noise ever. Music to put the fear of God into parents everywhere.

25. ChromaticsKill For Love [ Italians Do It Better ]

What a pity that Ruth Radelet , Johnny Jewel et al couldn’t have been more concise for Kill For Love starts so brightly before meandering off into pedestrian Italo stylings that it really ought to be higher up this list. An opportunity missed.

26. Cat PowerSun [ Matador ]

Chan Marshall is on a journey and Sun captures her most recent developments; at times sombre, at others angry she’s nevertheless confident enough to explore the power of voguish electronica, presenting for the most part an album of optimism and quality.

[sic] review: Sun

27. How To Dress WellTotal Loss [ Weird World ]

Now that he’s decided to stop recording on some desolate heath, Tom Krell ‘s minimal R&B can be appreciated in full rather than via windblown snippets. Happily, Total Loss proves a glorious exercise in modesty under these changing circumstances.

28. Beach HouseBloom [ Bella Union ]

It’s simple. Dream-pop hit Bloom contains two of this year’s best tracks so here is the album on this list. Why not higher? Well, by their own standards, the remainder of Beach House’s oeuvre is less memorable. Still, thanks again for the joyous “Myth” and “Lazuli”.

29. The Tallest Man On EarthThere’s No Leaving Now [ Dead Oceans ]

Super Swede Kristian Mattson couldn’t have been more prophetic with his choice of album title – there’s no deviating from a singer-songwriter as impressive as he. There is no choice but to follow – there’s no leaving now.

[sic] review: There’s No Leaving Now

30. The Soft MoonZeroes [ Captured Tracks ]

Those hoping to find Luis Vasquez in a lighter mood than in previous years should look away now for his bleak Zeroes is as oppressive and awkward as ever, piling dark waves of intensity onto snarling post-punk structure as only he knows how.

31. Evian ChristKings And Them EP [ Tri Angle ]

Before the condensed 12”, Tri Angle let slip an extended download of Kings And Them – a collation of online highlights from the UK producer. Chopped samples, skitter pads and syrupy 808s – you know the drill by now – Evian Christ is set apart by his aggressive drops.

32. Grizzly BearShields [ Warp ]

Always the bridesmaid, Ed Droste now finally seems to be getting the recognition he deserves and he’s done it commendably, i.e. without making carbon copies of “Two Weeks”. Parts of Shields are as lush as a slap in the face by spring itself.

[sic] review: Shields

33. Heidi HarrisIn The Lee [ Reverb Worship ]

And now for something completely different. The misleadingly named Reverb Worship label only came on to my radar this year – their MO to uncover the most beguiling leftfield folk going and coerce it out of its kooky corner. In The Lee is a spooky and wonderful example.

34. Ty Segall BandSlaughterhouse [ In The Red ]

… or the one where Segall snagged himself the best garage-rock touring band around, listened to the best of The Stooges and slayed all before him. Slaughterhouse may well be evil enough to grant Segall a one-way ticket to the madhouse.

[sic] review: Slaughterhouse

35. DaphniJiaolong [ Weird Records ]

Forming a 2012 house/techno trinity with Andy Stott and John Talabot , Caribou -man Dan Snaith sounds like he’s having the time of his life on Jiaolong – going so far as to create his own imprint on which to release it.

36. RØSENKØPFRØSENKØPF [ Weird Records ]

Like Swans , some bands just cannot be taken piecemeal and the fearsome RØSENKØPF are another to add to that list. With its roots as much in apocalyptic metal as they are industrial, this eponymous noise-rock is as black as they come.

37. Moon DuoCircles [ Souterrain Transmissions ]

Moon Duo remain but an alter-ego of their Wooden Shjips front and despite a couple of cuts like the summery psyche loops of the title track, Circles is as comfortable an LP as one so deeply mired in signature grind and fuzzed-out repeato-drone can be.

[sic] review: Circles

38. Perfume GeniusPut Your Back N 2 It [ Organs ]

Call me a traditionalist, but I’m still not at all down with text-speak outside of the adolescent mind. The same cannot be said however for the many tender moments of beauty that comprise Put Your Back N 2 It . Well done.

39. Thee Oh SeesPutrifiers II [ In The Red ]

In one corner you have John Dwyer and in the other Ty Segall . Hearing them duke it out for the undisputed garage-psyche crown of San Francisco in recent years has been a real pleasure – the broad Putrifiers II naturally no different.

[sic] review: Putrifiers II

40. SpiritualizedSweet Heart Sweet Light [ Double Six ]

Jason Pierce has a knack for the most incredibly soaring yet mute neo-psychedelia that leaves the converted gasping for air yet the uninitiated scratching their heads. Sweet Heart Sweet Light doesn’t buck the trend. You’ll therefore know on which side of the fence you sit.

41. oOoOOOur Love Is Hurting Us [ Tri Angle ]

Now that witch-house/drag has officially crumpled, the impeccable esoterica of the Tri Angle stable can continue forward unencumbered, leaving beautiful ambient-beat statements like this to flourish.

42. A Place To Bury StrangersWorship [ Dead Oceans ]

Another year, another knee to the groin courtesy of APTBS. Perhaps patchier than previous offerings, the gleefully destructive Worship is still as empire-crushingly essential a release as 2012 has seen.

[sic] review: Worship

43. Total BabesSwimming Through Sunlight [ Old Flame ]

Seeing their [sic] tip for 2012 success through to quasi-fruition, the likeable lo-fi pop-punk of Swimming Through Sunlight might not have made headlines, but it won at least one heart here.

44. PinsLUVU4LYF EP [ Bella Union ]

Alongside Savages , all-girl rockers Pins are leading a vanguard of new British talent and their few urgent statements so far committed to wax smoulder with sex and violence in equal measure. Dynamite.

45. The BabiesOur House On The Hill [ Woodsist ]

The maturing relationship between Kevin Morby ( Woods ) and Cassie Ramone ( Vivian Girls ) is starting to pay real dividends and their varied Our House On The Hill can’t help but hint at a future smash.

[sic] review: Our House On The Hill

46. Ty SegallTwins [ Drag City ]

When he wasn’t bashing out evil space-rock or vintage 60s psyche, Ty Segall was knocking out bread-and-butter garage-rock. None have been busier nor more consistent than he this year.

47. Black MarbleA Different Arrangement [ Hardly Art ]

Dark-hearted synths will forever brood in the shadows while fads pass, throwing out sharp post-punk reminders like Black Marble’s A Different Arrangement when the mood takes them.

48. HallsArk [ No Pain In Pop ]

Between post-dubstep, chillwave and glitchy bedroom electronica resides Halls and his forlorn brand of atmospheric sadwave. Ark is less a manifesto and more a cry for help.

49. Broken WaterTempest [ Hardly Art ]

Sometimes you don’t have to innovate, for reverential noise-rock retrospectives such as Tempest are more than capable of snaring fresh ears and reigniting the tinnitus in old ones.

50. U.S. GirlsGem [ Fat Cat ]

Quite literally cleaning up her act in 2012, Megan Remy is now proving the rough-edged diamond she always threatened to be – her lo-fi alt-pop shimmering on Gem as much as it crackles.

The best of the rest (ordered by release name and with some loose genre classification alongside label detail):

Mac DeMarco – 2 (Indie/Singer-Songwriter) [ Captured Tracks ]
Tu Fawning – A Monument (Indie/Chamber Pop) [ City Slang ]
Advance Base – A Shut-In’s Prayer (Indie/Singer-Songwriter) [ Caldo Verde ]
Shearwater – Animal Joy (Experimental Indie) [ Sub Pop ]
OMBRE – Believe You Me (Ambient Indie) [ Asthmatic Kitty ]
Woods – Bend Beyond (Psyche-Folk) [ Woodsist ]
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself (Singer-Songwriter) [ Bella Union ]
Animal Collective – Centipede Hz (Psyche-Pop/Experimental) [ Domino ]
Indian Handcrafts – Civil Disobedience For Losers (Stoner-Rock) [ Sargant House ]
The xx – Coexist (Atmospherica) [ XL ]
Twin Shadow – Confess (Synth-Pop/Post-Punk) [ 4AD ]
K-Holes – Dismania (Garage-Punk) [ Hardly Art ]
White Fence – Family Perfume Vols. 1 & 2 (60s Psyche) [ Woodsist ]
School Of Seven Bells – Ghostory (Dream-Pop) [ Full Time Hobby ]
Errors – Have Some Faith In Magic (Electronica) [ Rock Action ]
Holy Other – Held (Electronica/R&B) [ Tri Angle ]
Holograms – Holograms (Punk) [ Captured Tracks ]
Creature Breath – I Am Creature Breath (Folk/Experimental) [ Reverb Worship ]
Nedry – In A Dim Light (Post-Dubstep) [ Monotreme ]
Frankie Rose – Interstellar (Synth-Pop) [ Memphis Industries ]
Terry Malts – Killing Time (Punk/Rock) [ Slumberland ]
King Tuff – King Tuff (Indie/Alt-Rock) [ Sub Pop ]
howse – Lay Hollow (Electronica) [ Tri Angle ]
The Fresh & Onlys – Long Slow Dance (Garage/Indie) [ Souterrain Transmissions ]
Peaking Lights – Lucifer (Ambient-Dub) [ Weird World ]
Damian Jurado – Maraqopa (Singer-Songwriter) [ Secretly Canadian ]
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes (Psyche-Pop/West Coast) [ 4AD ]
SpaceGhostPurrp – Mysterious Phonk: Chronicles (Hip-Hop) [ 4AD ]
Soap&Skin – Narrow (Singer-Songwriter/Neo-classical) [ PIAS ]
Micachu & The Shapes – Never (Experimental Pop) [ Rough Trade ]
The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know (Post-Punk/Krautrock) [ Fat Cat ]
Wild Nothing – Nocturne (Indie/Dream-Pop) [ Bella Union ]
The Raveonettes – Observator (Shoegaze/Indie) [ Vice ]
The Menzingers – On The Impossible Past (Punk-Rock) [ Epitaph ]
Nite Jewel – One Second Of Love (Chillwave) [ Secretly Canadian ]
The Men – Open Your Heart (Punk/Rock) [ Sacred Bones ]
Carlton Melton – Photos Of Photos (Stoner-Psyche) [ Agitated ]
Slug Guts – Playing In Time With The Dead Beat (Sludgecore) [ Sacred Bones ]
Black Bananas – Rad Times Xpress IV (Alt/Art-Rock) [ Drag City ]
Mac DeMarco – Rock And Roll Night Club (Indie/Singer-Songwriter) [ Captured Tracks ]
La Sera – Sees The Light (Singer-Songwriter) [ Hardly Art ]
Chairlift – Something (Synth-Pop) [ Young Turks ]
Bowerbirds – The Clearing (Folk/Pop) [ Dead Oceans ]
Pop. 1280 – The Horror (Noise-Punk) [ Sacred Bones ]
Best Coast – The Only Place (Pop) [ Wichita ]
Get Well Soon – The Scarlet Beast O’Seven Heads (Folktronica/Classical Pop) [ City Slang ]
Memoryhouse – The Slideshow Effect (Dream-Pop) [ Sub Pop ]
This Many Boyfriends – This Many Boyfriends (Indie/Punk) [ Angular Recording Corp ]
Wymond Miles – Under The Pale Moon (Indie/Singer-Songwriter) [ Sacred Bones ]
Echo Lake – Wild Peace (Shoegaze/Indie) [ No Pain In Pop ]

[sic] review: Damien Jurado – Maraqopa

[sic] review: Bowerbirds – The Clearing

[sic] review: Nedry – In A Dim Light

[sic] review: La Sera – Sees The Light

[sic] review: Terry Malts – Killing Time

[sic] review: The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

[sic] review: Mac DeMarco – Rock And Roll Night Club

[sic] review: Tu Fawning – A Monument

[sic] review: Twin Shadow – Confess

[sic] review: Get Well Soon – The Scarlet Beast O’Seven Heads

[sic] review: Carlton Melton – Photos Of Photos

[sic] review: This Many Boyfriends – This Many Boyfriends

[sic] review: Animal Collective – Centipede Hz

[sic] review: Nite Jewel – One Second Of Love

[sic] review: King Tuff – King Tuff

[sic] review: SpaceGhostPurrp – Mysterious Phonk

[sic] review: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes

[sic] review: OMBRE – Believe You Me