If pure creativity and uncompromising expression are among your favorite qualities in music, 2012 has been the best year for new recordings in a very long time. There have been a large number of amazing records this year, and the best among those records rivals the most amazing music I've ever heard.
I find myself lagging behind in posting reviews over the last few months, but much of the music I'm presently evaluating deserves to make "the list" of amazing 2012 records. So consider this post to be both an annual "favorites" list from the Words on Sounds camp, as well as a preview of some upcoming reviews of records so noted.
Wherever possible, I'm going to link each record to an artist or label-direct method of ordering.
I have a hard time reducing so much evocative, brilliant, and moving music into lists, but I guess that's what reviewers do occasionally. So here's my top 20 absolute favorites of 2012, regardless of genre considerations:
Normal Love - Survival Tricks
Zs - Score: The Complete Sextet works 2002-2007
Igorrr - Hallelujah
Killer BOB - Fear May be a Builder (full review coming soon)
Pajjama - Staarch (full review coming soon)
Yowie - Damning With Faint Praise
Behold the Arctopus - Horrorscension
Lovely Little Girls - Cleaning the Filth from a Delicate Frame
Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra - Bum Bum
House of Hayduk - City of Quartz
Kayo Dot - Gamma Knife (or digital-only here, but the vinyl is damned beautiful)
Tom Ze - Tropicalia Lixo Logico (no US distro yet, alas)
John Frusciante - PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone
Captain Beefheart - Bat Chain Puller
Ernesto Martinez - Sincronario
Jeremiah Cymerman - Purification/Dissolution (full review coming soon)
Higgins - Stereo (full review coming soon!)
Diamond Terrifier - Kill The Self that Wants to Kill Yourself (full review coming soon)
Triptet - Figure in the Carpet (full review coming soon)
Giant Claw - Mutant Glamour (full review coming soon)
Favorite creative approaches to rock-related idioms:
Extra Life - Dream Seeds
Neptune - msg rcvd
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Wei Zhongle - s/t
BBBJr - How to Fuck All Your Co-Workers in One Sitting
Japonize Elephants - Melodie Fantastique
Starring - ABCDEFG-HIJKLMNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ
Farmers Market - Slav to the Rhythm
Acid Mothers Temple - Son of a Bitches Brew
SCUO - 5678765 (full review coming soon)
Jealousy Mountain Duo - No. 2
Ahleuchatistas - Heads Full of Poison
Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesore - Sister Death
The Residents - Coochie Brake: Sonidos de la Noche
Many Arms - s/t
Magma - Felicite Thosz
Thinking Plague - Decline and Fall
TrioVD - Maze
Alamaailman Vasarat - Valta
Dysrhythmia - Test of Submission
Hazel-Rah - The Africantape EP
Stern - Entitlement
Big Blood - Old Time Primitives
George Korein and the Spleen - Condition of Air (full review coming soon)
Bobby Conn - Macaroni
Nels Cline/Elliot Sharp - Open the Door
Favorite creative approaches to pop idioms:
Micachu and the Shapes - Never
Grimes - Visions
Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
Byrne/St. Vincent - Love This Giant
Ergo Phizmiz - Eleven Songs (full review coming soon!)
Maps and Atlases - Beware and be Grateful
Deerhoof - Breakup Song
Of Montreal - Paralytic Stalks
Soap & Skin - Narrow
Power Animal - Exorcism
Guano Padano - 2
BEAK> - >>
Shugo Tokumaru - In Focus? (getting US release in early 2013)
Favorite creative approaches to non-rock/pop idioms (jazz, classical, free improv, lowercase, soundart, etc).
Ron Miles - Quiver
Charles Gayle Trio - Streets
Chicago Underground Duo - Age of Energy
Cactus Truck - Brand New For China!
Boron - The Beige Album
Joe Moffett - Ad Faunum (full review coming soon)
Floratone (Bill Frisell) - Floratone II
Johnny DeBlase Quartet - Composites
Nick Millevoi - In White Sky
Tatsuya Nakatani - Nakatani Gong Orchestra (full review coming soon)
House of Low Culture - Poisoned Soil
The Home of Easy Credit - s/t
Skeletons - The Bus
Boron - The Beige Album
(D)(B)(H) - Masterpieces of Objective Reporting
Don Preston - Filters, Oscillators and Envelopes 1967-82
Psychotic Quartet - Cordyceps
Hafez Modirzadeh - Post-Chromodal Out!
RED Trio + Nate Wooley - Stem
William Hooker Strings 3 - A Postcard from the Road
Philip Gayle - Babanco Total
John Zorn - A Vision in Blakelight and Nosferatu
Anderson/Pepper/Tamura/Petit - Closed Encounters of the 4 Minds
The Gate - Destruction of Darkness and Vomit Dreams
Moulttrigger - Birds (review coming soon)
Louis Guarino Jr/Benjamin Klein - Standing Still in a Whirlpool of Dreams (review coming soon)
AMFJ - BAEN (review coming soon)
Philip Glass - Rework
Eftus Spectun - Turtus
Trapist - The Golden Years
The Year of Pauline Oliveros
Composer Pauline Oliveros turned 80 this year, which has been celebrated with the release of recordings new and old. Important Records released a 12-disc box set of some of Oliveros' amazing tape and electronic music of the 1960s. This kind of music is hard for me to review, but a pleasure to experience, and $80 for a 12-disc box set is a great deal for experiencing some of the best efforts in early electronic/tape music.
More recent efforts by Oliveros and her Deep Listening Band ensemble have also been released this year: Important gave us Octagonal Polyphony and Great Howl at Town Hall. To those, Minneapolis-based vinyl-only label Taiga Records gave us 2 additional double LPs produced with immaculate attention to detail, direct metal-mastered 200 gram vinyl in double-wide jackets with metallic inks and flooded pockets, themselves enclosed in a custom slipcase. These sound as amazing as they look, and the pleasure of not only hearing but truly feeling Oliveros' "Primordial/Lift" and the Deep Listening Band's "Needle Drop Jungle"in these incredibly celebratory packages is an opportunity I suggest taking. I'm relatively new to the "Deep Listening" concept, but it's clear that both this music and the broader practice of deep listening have going to become an important part of my life and ears.
Labels worth watching
In addition to Taiga and Important mentioned above, this has been a banner year for labels like Northern Spy and Public Eyesore, who are maintaining ambitious release schedules full of compelling music. I'm excited to see what the next year will bring from them. The last few years of Skin Graft releases have also been among my favorites. I'm also amped for the newest batch from New Atlantis Records, as almost everything I've heard from them gets stuck in my head for weeks. I'm keeping an eye on the recent efforts coming from Engine Studios, whose releases have some overlap w/New Atlantis artists and are another great source of amazing creative music from many styles and geographies. And cassette labels are continuing to flourish: this year, releases from Orange Milk, Words and Dreams, and Crash Symbols in particular continued to kick my ass, along with occasional cassette editions from labels like Captcha and Sockets.
Things to anticipate in 2013
--a new Pajjama record?
--Mike Pride Drummer's Corpse?
--several awesome projects from Jeremiah Cymerman's 5049 label?
--more BBJr vinyl via Captcha?
--Luke Polipnick debut?
--new Period album?
...but I don't want to think too far forward just yet. I have plenty of reviews left to finish from the end of 2012, and there are a few records I haven't even found the time to acquire yet that I'm sure will be amazing (like the 2nd I Don't Hear Nothing But the Blues album, a few new releases from the Eh? imprint of Public Eyesore, etc). With a year so rich in creativity as 2012, there is a lot left to hear, and hear again. Happy listening, and Happy New Year!