Well, this is it. The top ten albums of the year for me. I know I missed a lot of great works from this year, trust me, I do, but 100 albums is already a bit much. There really isn't too much to say here--all of these records are absolutely incredible and deserving of the highest praise, and all are worth giving a shot. Please let me know about broken links if you encounter them, and as usual, comments and thoughts are always appreciated. That's about it, just click on the title of this post to view my top 10 albums of 2012, after the break!
10. Niechęć - 'Śmierć w miękkim futerku'
Genre: Dark Avant-Garde Jazz
Country of Origin: Poland
Niechęć came absolutely out of nowhere for me. The Polish quintet released their debut album and it simply exploded, and that's kind of all there is to it. Śmierć w miękkim futerku is one of the coolest and most creative albums I've heard in ages, combining hectic avant-jazz saxophone and drums with dark ambience, dramatic keys, giant build-ups and amazingly intense melodies. From the first song, this record's lofty goal is clear, and it succeeds in every regard. This is an album which takes a rough modern jazz format and warps it in every way, creating a remarkably dark album which combines everything from traditional jazz to rock to dub to post-rock and beyond, and every moment of it is vicious, original, and extremely impressive. From eerie saxophone solos to thick, groovy basslines, to the slow, epic climaxes and back, Niechęć have created an absolute masterpiece of a debut, and made one of the most intense, atmospheric, and deeply original albums out there today. Don't miss out.
Top tracks: After You; Niespokojny Relaks
9. Converge - 'All We Love We Leave Behind'
Country of Origin: USA
I can't remember the last time I've been as hyped for a record as I was for All We Love We Leave Behind. Thankfully, Converge proceeded to surprise absolutely no one and live up to every inch of the hype that had been thrown their way. On their eighth album, Converge pretty much just do what they do best--deliver crushing, breakneck-fast, intense and powerful metalcore. It's still hard to comprehend the level of technical skill the quartet has, but more than that, their ability to impress and express at every turn is simply ridiculous. All We Love We Leave Behind strips down the bits of experimentation on recent albums to instead deliver a pure, sincere, and extremely straightforward slab of vicious music. The riffs are huge and hit like a sledgehammer, the drums insanely fast, the bass as thick as always, and Jacob Bannon's trademark otherworldly screams top it all brilliantly. But really, that's kind of all there is to say about it. This is a jaw-dropping, fantastic album from simply the best metalcore band that there is, and nothing more. If you like aggressive music, this is as good as it gets, period.
Top tracks: All We Love We Leave Behind; Sparrow's Fall
8. Deftones - 'Koi No Yokan'
Genre: Progressive Alternative Metal
Country of Origin: USA
Deftones are one of those magical bands that just don't go wrong. Ever since the mid-'90s, these guys have delivered record after record of fantastic, intense, and incredibly atmospheric heavy rock music. Now on their seventh full-length, Deftones have thoroughly established their style and strengths, and are now playing straight to them. Koi No Yokan is not quite as straightforward or heavy as 2010's Diamond Eyes, but instead manages to work thick guitar riffs and Chino Moreno's absolutely soaring vocals into a beautifully subtle context reminiscent almost of Saturday Night Wrist. If you haven't heard Deftones before, this albums is just a fantastic starting point as any that they've released, and is one of the best melodic albums out there. For those who are already fans, you know what to expect, but can also rest assured that Koi No Yokan is absolutely everything a Deftones album should be, and it shows off the band's knack for powerful and biting emotionalism in the absolute best way.
Top tracks: Rosemary; Gauze
7. Flying Lotus - 'Until The Quiet Comes'
Genre: Experimental Electronic/Trip-Hop
Country of Origin: USA
Flying Lotus is one of those artists whose sound is so instantly recognizable that I barely even need to write a description here. I could just say that this is a new Flying Lotus album and probably his best yet, and everyone who had ever heard his work would know exactly what that meant. For those of you who don't know Flying Lotus however, Until The Quiet Comes is a fantastic starting point. This is a record of stuttering hip-hop influenced beats, laid-back vocal lines courtesy of big names like Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke, and twirling keyboard lines to add to the record's fantastic moody ambiance. The way that Flying Lotus's jumpy melodies and relaxed beats light up the music is stunning, and Until The Quiet Comes has this remarkable talent for coming up with the best ways to highlight its mood of choice. This is perfect bedtime music and even better working music, the kind of record which can beautifully sink into the background and swirl around your day-to-day activities like a hazy dream, or which can be focused on and reveal to the listener layer upon layer of polish, care, and singularly unique and expressive skill. This is the best work of one of the best producers out there, and it's simply a wonder to behold.
Top tracks: All In; me Yesterday//Corded
6. Death Grips - 'The Money Store'
Genre: Avant-Garde Rap
Country of Origin: USA
The Money Store was pretty much the biggest deal ever in the underground music scene when it came out. Strange, looping electronic beats, MC Ride's ridiculously aggressive and over the top shouted rapping, and somehow some of the catchiest choruses of the year still came out of this record. It was like Death Grips were trying to make the scariest, most abrasive and difficult pop album ever, but their anti-world attitude still made it feel like something revolutionary and huge. Although The Money Store bases its roots in hip-hop, the record takes heavy influence from noise, hardcore, pop, and electronic music. MC Ride's rapping goes about ten levels beyond aggressive, while still managing to be nuanced and memorable throughout almost every song, and the instrumentals on this record are pretty much unlike anything you've ever heard before (in the best way). Simply put, The Money Store is a confrontational and intense album which is hard to even imagine comparing to anything else, but it is also one of the most insanely creative, enjoyable and memorable works of the year. If you want a great album to sink into that's full of great lyrics to type in all caps as facebook statuses, look no further--The Money Store is proof that Death Grips are fucking awesome and here to stay.
Top tracks: The Fever (Aye Aye); Hacker
5. Sigur Rós - 'Valtari'
Country of Origin: Iceland
It's been roughly four years since Sigur Rós released a full-length album, so it was hard to contain my excitement when I finally got hold of Valtari. Over the past decade, the group have been slowly moving away from the ambient beauty and post-rock crescendos of their first releases, instead opting for a more indie pop/rock inspired sound, drawing from various sources to create catchy, accessible, yet still beautiful and moving sound. All of that has changed on their latest release however, as the eight songs on Valtari move at a glacial pace and present some of the most stunningly gorgeous ambient-styled music made since their third album, ( ), came out. The masses of strings, slow piano-and-bass backing, and lead singer Jónsi's perfect falsetto vocals all make this record simply the best thing the Icelandic band have released in ten years. The record is unflinchingly poignant, abandoning any pretensions and diving headfirst into deeply heartfelt beauty, and I simply could not ask for more. It's rare that I find a record that I don't have a single bad thing to say about, but Valtari is absolutely one of those. This record is an unprecedented work of heartrending and achingly brilliant art, and is one of the best albums by one of the best bands in the whole world, and that's simply all there is to it.
Top tracks: Varúð; Rembihnútur
4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - ''ALLELUJAH! DON'T BEND! ASCEND!'
Country of Origin: Canada
I have to say, I never thought I'd be doing a year-end writeup for a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. 'ALLELUJAH! DON'T BEND! ASCEND! is the post-rock juggernaut's first release in almost exactly a decade, and it's everything anyone could have hoped for. No, it's not the new Skinny Fists or Slow Riot or the new soundtrack to the apocalypse--this is a new Godspeed for a new generation. A Godspeed who are just as intensely emotive, unique, political and aggressive as ever, but with a new subtlety and a mindset they've never shown off in the past. The two roughly twenty-minute songs on display here are massive pieces of climactic, intense art which swell and burst with power and brilliance in every way that Godspeed have ever done, with giant nightmarish guitars and otherworldly violin lines leading wondrous melodies over the record's huge climaxes. But what's new to the band's repertoire is the two shorter drone pieces that divide the two larger tracks, offering a new sense of scale, emotional subtlety, and pitch-perfect atmosphere that truly helps round out the album. To put it simply, if you don't think this is the most important release of the decade, you need to listen to it and reevaluate your priorities. This is Godspeed You! Black Emperor's comeback, the reincarnation of one of the largest and most awe-filling, world-defying, and flat-out necessary bands of all time, and it couldn't have been better.
Top tracks: WE DRIFT LIKE WORRIED FIRE; MLADIC
3. Swans - 'The Seer'
Genre: Experimental Art Rock/Dark Post-Rock
Country of Origin: USA
Swans are a strange band. That's really a huge understatement, with these guys starting in the early '80s as one of the most aggressive, heavy, and monstrously scary bands that anyone had ever heard, they slowly developed an ear for subtlety and at times even climactic beauty over their career, before finally breaking up in 1997 after the release of their magnum opus double album, Soundtracks for the Blind. In 2010, leader Michael Gira finally rebooted his Swans project and released a fantastic comeback album, and now in 2012 we're facing what is honestly the band's biggest release yet. The Seer is an immense double-album spanning almost exactly two hours across eleven songs, ranging from ambient noise to beautiful acoustic passages to huge 32-minute songs filled with slow droning builds to huge crescendos. The Seer takes the idea of repetition and turns it into an artform, stretching a single melody out over several minutes until it slowly evolves and reveals more and more of itself as the songs bloom, working in all kinds of bizarre instruments, guitar licks, and Michael Gira's booming, fearsome, deep voice over the top of it all. This record is at times abrasive and viciously oblique, at times aggressive and bafflingly patient, and at times, truly beautiful and inspiring. This is the kind record which requires an open mind and a willingness to fully submerge yourself in it, but in the end, you will come out with one of the most impressive and creative works you've heard. The Seer is like nothing else out there, and in that, it's also perfect. Truly one of the greatest albums of the year, and one of the best releases by one of the most hailed and original bands that there is.
Top tracks: Avatar; Lunacy
2. Coheed & Cambria - 'The Afterman: Ascension'
Genre: Progressive Rock
Country of Origin: USA
The Afterman: Ascension was very, very nearly the number one album on this list. I feel like that should say a lot about how awesome I think it is. After finally finishing up their five-part concept series of albums that's been running since the band's first release way back in 2002, Coheed & Cambria decided to put out a pair of records following the fictional man that the series ended up being named after, Dr Sirius Amory. All lofty story goals aside though, the first of these two records is, quite frankly, a masterpiece. A lot of fans seemed concerned after the commonly-agree-upon drop in quality from the band's past two releases (although I, for one, actually loved both of them), but Claudio and his boys were determined to put everyone's fears to rest, as The Afterman: Ascension is, without a doubt, the best record that Coheed & Cambria have released since 2005. At just under 40 minutes, this is the band's shortest record yet, and that isn't a bad thing: Ascension is the perfect length to impress, excite, and then leave you wanting more. While it isn't a huge evolution for the band--they still stick to their accessible-yet-complex progressive rock formula with high pitched, soaring vocals, heavy guitars, ridiculous drum and bass parts, and epic song structures--they've absolutely honed and perfected their sound. From the ambient intro to the massive eight-minute epic opening track to some of the poppiest and some of the heaviest songs the band has written to the absolutely gorgeous ballad closer, this album never ever disappoints, and doesn't have a single moment of filler, which is a rare statement for a progressive rock album. To make a long story short, Coheed & Cambria have crafted one of the most exciting, huge, and dramatically glorious albums to come out of their genre in years, and have absolutely destroyed the rock scene of 2012, and showed off their breadth of style, maturity, and incredible talent both with their instruments and fantastic songwriting. The Afterman: Ascension marks one of the best and most-needed comebacks of the year, and offers proof that not only are these guys back up on their feet, but they are making some of the best music out there, and not a single one of their peers even comes close to competing.
Top tracks: Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute; Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher
1. 잠비나이 - '차연'
Jambinai - 'Différance'
Genre: Post-Rock/Experimental Folk/Avant-Garde Metal
Country of Origin: South Korea
Well, here we are, the best album of the year. Although it was extremely difficult to choose between this and what ended up at number two, 차연 (pronounced Chayeon for those who can't read Hangul and don't want to refer to it by its official translated title) is easily far and away the most viscerally impressive, powerful, and utterly original album I've heard all year, and it's up there with the best I've heard in my whole life. This is the kind of album that is so good that regardless of your biases, it feels almost criminal to put it anywhere besides the number one spot. I don't like calling albums perfect, but the fact is, this one is. There's really no way around it--Jambinai have not only made one of the greatest albums of all time, they've debuted with one of the greatest albums of all time. The record is an intriguing mash between slow acoustic passages, droning builds, massive post-rock climaxes, and even some legitimately heavy, metal moments. The record combines heavy drums and blaring guitars with traditional Korean instruments: the intense double-reed wind instrumentation of the piri, the deep bass zither of the geomungo, and the otherworldly bowed strings of the haegeum. The co-ed trio create the kind of incredible music that you rarely here from a band well within their prime, let alone from a band's first full-length. But even more than that, these three have created one of the most achingly beautiful works of art that there is, and manage to avoid the many clichés of modern post-rock, instead opting to make an exciting and intensely creative album unlike anything else out there. The record's ebb and flow, its trade-offs between heavy guitar driven sections and dark nods to traditional Korean folk, its ability to be heartbreaking one moment and viciously evil the next, these all truly propel the band above and beyond any other band in the many genres and styles that they cover. Simply put, Jambinai have released one of the most deeply personal, intense, expressive, unique, and intensely, massively awe-inspiring works of music ever made, and deserve nothing short of the absolute highest praise possible--this is among the greatest albums I've heard in my life, and you would be doing yourself an immense disservice to miss out on it. Différance is the kind of record which changes the way you view what music is capable of.
Top tracks: Connection; 감긴 눈 위로 비추는 불빛 (Kamgin Nun Uiro Pichuneun Pulbik)