This is about twelve days later than I would have liked to have done this, but I’m happy to present the inaugural “top 26 albums of the year” countdown at This is That Song. I can make excuses like “I was holding out for the yet-to-be-released My Bloody Valentine record”, but really I just kept putting it off. And I kept going to the movies. Why 26? I wish I had some reason for favoring the number 26 instead of 25, but the honest truth is that I got close to the end and made a shocking discovery that I had somehow forgotten to put one of the top ten finalists on the board. So I went back, slotted it in, made the appropriate countdown adjustments, and I didn’t have the heart to kick any of these out of the conversation. There are plenty of records that I like which didn’t make the cut. And obviously there are plenty of well-celebrated records from 2012 that I don’t like at all. It’s a subjective list and my opinions are mine alone.
So without further ado, here’s the list.
In each case, you can click on the album artwork for details of a suggested way to buy the album.
- 26. Endless Flowers by Crocodiles
Here’s a record that I didn’t even know existed until I heard the marvelous Daytrotter session that the band did back on October 23. I knew that the band existed and I knew that Brandon Welchez is married to Kristin “Dee Dee Penny” Gundred from Dum Dum Girls, but I never knew what Crocodiles sounded like. It was a really pleasant surprise. I’ve listened to the album a lot since then. Oh. And the band name is a nod to the album by Echo & The Bunnymen. That’s good enough for me. This is the third album by Crocodiles.
- 25. Oshin by DIIV
DIIV started off as a side project for Beach Fossils guitarist Zachary Cole Smith and grew into a bigger thing. Over a summer, he locked himself in a sweaty, windowless, un-air conditioned painter’s studio with no running water in Brooklyn for a couple of weeks with no outside stimulus other than the books and records that he brought with him. He emerged with the songs that would become this record. This is the first record by DIIV.
- 24. True by Violens
Violens is a band that I know very little about. Thanks to my obsession with Slumberland Records, I got this album back in the spring. I’m drawn to it because it reminds me of early Pale Saints in a number of ways. This is the second album by Violens.
- 23. Toward The Low Sun by Dirty Three
This Australian instrumental rock trio has been killing it since 1992. Some of their previous records have been a little Danny Elfman-ish, and this one isn’t quite like that. It’s sort of impossible to describe this band to someone who’s never heard them before. It’s instrumental punk rock with a violin as the lead instrument. Since it’s mostly a violin thing, you can expect the normal “violin gamut” of emotions. Fear. Uneasiness. Sorrow. Hope. Arousal. Usually all of those and more within each song. This is the eighth album by Dirty Three.
- 22. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
While some will argue that she’s become less focused since becoming “Justin Vernon‘s Girlfriend”, I don’t have any issues with the new album. She went through a rough patch between the previous album and the new one. Divorce. The new record is, by all accounts, her most personal. It’s also the least “country” of the lot. I really like the country songs that she does, but her drift towards rock isn’t bad. This is the fourth album by Kathleen Edwards, and it was short-listed for this year’s Polaris Music Prize.
- 21. Sees The Light by La Sera
Another band that I know little about. The frontwoman is Katie “Kickball Katie” from Vivian Girls. On her first album, she was a one-woman show, but on this one, she enlisted the help of some friends, including the drummer from Brian Jonestown Massacre. It’s west-coast garage rock/pop-punk. Simple and awesome. I had never even heard of this album until I got an email from a promotions firm reminding me of all the sweet 2012 records that their roster of bands released. It was a late but deserving entry into the fray. This is the second album by La Sera.
- 20. Piramida by Efterklang
I eagerly anticipated this album and pre-ordered the special book-binding CD, and I have to say that it took a while for this one to sink in. After a few listens, I finally got it. The making of the album has a really unusual story. The band traveled to an abandoned Russian mining town in the Arctic Circle. The town literally became a ghost town overnight in the 1990s. The mine shut down and everybody just took off. Everything today stands just the way it did that day. The band traveled to that town and spent several days there getting some field recordings for the album. They also made a documentary film about the experience. This is the band’s fourth album.
- 19. Death Dreams by PS I Love You
After 2010’s Meet Me At The Muster Station, I eagerly anticipated the follow-up, and the noise-rock duo didn’t disappoint me at all. It’s sort of en vogue for bands to be two-pieces these days. A lot of bands use a lot of tape loops and laptops and stuff like that. The drummer for Wye Oak simultaneously plays drums with one hand and keys with the other. PS I Love You frontman Paul Saulnier does something a little more impressive. He simultaneously sings, shreds guitar, and plays “bass” with a foot-operated Moog pedal organ. Not bad. This is the second record by PS I Love You.
- 18. Ekstasis by Julia Holter
Unlike some of the other stuff (so far) on this list, this is a super-mellow record that’s built for relaxation. I first heard of Julia Holter when I was doing my research for Hopscotch. She played on the very busy first night of the festival, and I got to see most of her set in a very strange venue. Read all about that here. This is the second album by Julia Holter. There was never even supposed to be anything more than a 7″ record, but she ended up working on two albums simultaneously and releasing them in quick order.
- 17. The Lion’s Roar by First Aid Kit
They sound like they’re from Ohio, but these sisters are from Sweden. What’s that? Swedish sisters? No, they’re not Swedish twins. They’re better at making records than those guys are. But seriously… click that link. After its January release, this was one of the first new releases that I got in 2012, thanks to a heads-up from a Music Geek friend. This indie-folk record was pretty much all I could listen to for a while. Even while I was going bananas over Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp, I was all over this record. I migrated away from it for a few months, but after revisiting during my year-end list work, I was reminded of how brilliant this sophomore album is.
- 16. The North by Stars
This album wasn’t exactly what I was expecting out of one of my favorite bands of the last 10 years. It’s got a bit of a 70s vibe to it. A little disco. A little soft rock. Still, though, these guys are sentimental favorites, and when Torquil and Amy sing together, something magical happens. This is their sixth proper album.
- 15. Interstellar by Frankie Rose
The former drummer for Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls released her second solo record this year, and it’s an impressive one. It’s got elements of goth, dream-pop, punk, and lots of other styles. And it’s just pretty damn good.
- 14. Wild Peace by Echo Lake
I’m certain that I’m selling this album short. It’s a staggering debut record by a dream-pop band with a world of promise. It’s really hard to believe that this is their first record. Unfortunately, their story comes with a great deal of sadness. Five days before the album dropped, their drummer passed away at the age of 25. He spent a long time battling some unnamed illness. He never got to see the fruits of their hard work. Look out for these kids. They’re really going to do something big.
- 13. The Slideshow Effect by Memoryhouse
A great debut record by the dream-pop duo from Guelph, Ontario. They caught a bad break back in April when they had a lot of gear stolen from their van outside a gig in Washington DC. Thankfully, they have friends and fans who helped them obtain replacement gear and they were able to get back to it. Fans of Beach House will like this.
- 12. Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
This is first new album in ten years by the seminal Montréal post-rock band, and it certainly wasn’t a disappointment. They preceded the release of the album with a North-American tour to dozens of sold-out clubs. Not wanting to miss that, I got tickets as soon as they went on sale, and I had an amazing time at the show. This is their fourth album, but their first since 2002.
- 11. Europe by Allo Darlin’
Half of the band is Aussie, half is English. They call London home. If The Lucksmiths were fronted by a woman, they might be Allo Darlin’. This record had a bunch of advance praise, but it still surprised me how much I like it. It’s their second album, and the first one that they’ve done for the venerable indie label Slumberland Records.
- 10. Melody’s Echo Chamber by Melody’s Echo Chamber
This debut record by the duo of Frenchwoman Melody Prochet and Australian Kevin Parker was a big hit at my house. I’d heard the name, but never heard the album until I got a “reminder” email about it from a promotions firm. It didn’t take me long at all to fall head over heels for the psychedelic/dreamy vibe. I was reminded of Broadcast, and that’s a very good thing.
- 9. Tender New Signs by Tamaryn
This gal who lives in San Francisco and is from New Zealand has put out two spectacular records reminiscent of all of the delicious dream-pop that I loved in 1992. Her debut record was my 12th favorite non-Canadian record of 2010, and I like this one even more. This, her second record, is from the “pre-ordered physical copy and waited with bated breath” file.
- 8. Evans The Death by Evans the Death
Here’s another from the “anxiously anticipated debut record” and the “pre-ordered physical copy and waited with bated breath” files. The London indie pop quintet generated buckets of buzz well ahead of their self-titled debut. I’m a devotee of Slumberland Records, and I found out about the band and their record by lingering around the Slumberland site.
- 7. Worship by A Place to Bury Strangers
I got into this seminal noise-pop band only last year, and I had just enough time to catch up on the back catalog when the new record came out. They’re often hailed as “the loudest band in New York”, and I got a chance to find out for myself when I saw them play an autumn show with Bleeding Rainbow in tow. It was an excellent and very loud show. Every bit as loud as advertised. Thank goodness for my attention to hearing protection. It was one of my five favorite live shows of the year 2012.
- 6. Passage by Exitmusic
One of my favorite dream-pop records of the year, and another in a long list of bands who had generated a ton of buzz even before their debut dropped. This band is fronted by Aleksa Palladino, who is a regular on the HBO show Boardwalk Empire. The way she met her husband and bandmate Devon Church is just too crazy to be made up. Read all about that here. I was excited about the chance to see them at Hopscotch, but they had to back out at the last minute because of Boardwalk Empire.
- 5. Bloom by Beach House
The Baltimore dream-pop duo keeps getting better and better with each record. I didn’t get on board until their third record, and this one sort of floored me. They played a slew of sold-out shows in support of this, their fourth record. I didn’t make it out to see them when they played in my neck of the woods, but from what I heard, it was a breathtaking show.
- 4. Animator by The Luyas
Another one in the “pre-ordered the physical copy and waited with bated breath” file. I called their previous album Too Beautiful to Work my third favourite Canadian album of 2011, and I like this one even more. It’s a really extraordinary record, and if you listen to the whole thing without pause on headphones, it’ll be the best thing that happens to you for at least a week. This is their third record.
- 3. Tramp by Sharon Van Etten
This is bar-none my sentimental favorite. And somehow it falls all the way to number three in this list. Another from the “pre-ordered physical copy and waited with bated breath” file. It was the first 2012 album that I got, and the only one that I bought two physical copies of. It’s her most personal and her best record by miles. This record is less folk-y and more rock-y, but I love it. In late 2012, Jagjaguwar Records re-issued the album (this is why I bought two physical copies) with a “bonus disc” of outtakes and demo versions. That “bonus disc” is now offered as a separate entity. And it’s great. I finally got to see her in February, and it was in my top five live shows of the year. This is her third album.
- 2. Shields by Grizzly Bear
This is, I think, their best. They were already revered as one of the best American indie bands in a while, and this new record shows why. Another from the “pre-ordered copy and waited with bated breath” file. I think every time I’ve listened to this album, I’ve re-played it immediately. That’s been par for the course with all Grizzly Bear records, actually. It’s a little edgier and a little “bigger” than the previous three records, and I just can’t get enough of it.
- 1. For My Parents by Mono
I probably would have ranked this album somewhere in the 6-10 area instead of in the top spot, but when I saw this band live back in October, I was more gobsmacked than I’ve ever been by a live show. The album was from the “pre-ordered physical copy and waited with bated breath” file, and I liked it a bunch, but honestly that was it. Seeing those songs played live put them in a completely different perspective. Post-rock isn’t for everybody, but if you enjoy that kind of thing, it’s likely that seeing Mono live will be a mind-blowing experience. For about 15 years, I’ve been saying that the first time I saw Stereolab was the most mind-blowing show I’ve seen. That changed on October 23. And that catapulted For My Parents to the top of my list.
Thanks for reading. I might supplement this list with a list of my favorite EPs and my favorite concerts of 2012. Those lists won’t be nearly as comprehensive as this.