As a staff, we all have our own unique musical tastes. Sometimes those tastes overlap stylistically and sometimes they veer off into strange directions galore. Below are our top album lists of 2012, separated by writer and summed up with genre tags.
Vivian Hua – dance, electronic, indie, funk, metal
Judy Nelson – dance, electronic, indie, pop, psychedelic, soul
Ryan Pangilinan – pop, soul, pop-punk, punk
Peter Woodburn – electronic, hardcore, metal, instrumental
Vivian Hua’s Picks
Beach House records always come at moments in life which feel undeniably well-suited for my romantic trials and tribulations. Obviously their records weren’t custom-crafted for my existence, but their nostalgic, personable feel certainly makes me entertain that possibility sometimes. And it is exactly that sentiment which just about everyone feels when listening to Beach House; and that’s exactly why they’ve become the massive indie takeover band that they are. I love how mythological and macro-facing Bloom is compared to their previous releases; it really tugs at the heartstrings while simultaneously encouraging you to look up. In that sense, it’s exactly what I’ve needed all year.
Swedish producer Bam Spacey manages to create vocally-driven minimal house that works for nighttime reflections and morning pontifications alike. In the same emotional vein as Nicholas Jaar and Darkside, the music possesses a sultriness and smokiness about them that is my favorite universe, and one I don’t find enough of in electronic music these days. Tack on that he stays true to his native tongue and presents Swedish in a soft-flowing and beautiful way that really works with the music, and you have two winning releases propping Bam Spacey up into the #2 slot.
This album had been released prior to 2012 elsewhere, but came to the States in 2012. Lucky for this top 5 list! On How To Live With A Phantom, all of Japan’s fascinations with Latin-inspired grooves and downtempo swirl together with jangly indie rock to create an unassuming brilliance you would only expect from Asia and would next-to-never find grown natively in the West.
Talk about a well-crafted pop record! This Austin duo weaves together sparse elements into playful tracks heavy with attitude, catchy vocals, and superb instrumentation throughout. Percussion is the name of the game, with vocals, synths, drums, guitars, and basslines alike filling in every space while still managing not to become overblown.
++ SEE ALSO: DEEP TIME INTERVIEW
I’d argue that when ambient musicians Rafael Anton Irisarri and Benoit Pioulard get together to form Orcas, the amalgam of the two of them forms a superb collaboration that far exceeds who each of them is on an individual musical level. This isn’t meant to be a diss on either of them as musicians; it is merely a shining endorsement for Orcas. The best collaborations are sometimes imbued with a sense of magic that really goes beyond a mere individual. No different here.
++ SEE ALSO: ORCAS INTERVIEW
This is usually only my thing in a live setting, but my god, this double-disc LP is just so fucking good, and Swans themselves are so singularly amazing at what they do that it is undeniable to everyone who sees their pummeling live show (complete with Michael Gira’s charming yelling). Add in serious Middle Eastern influences on this record, and it’s a work of hypnotic droning reverie for champs! Swans are so incredible they can have half-hour songs and it doesn’t fucking matter; it’s still enjoyable.
After seeing Jimmy Edgar at Seattle’s 2012 Decibel Festival, I was an instant fan. Certainly it helps that he’s hot as is singing about sex through electro, old-school breaks, and funky house filters. But it also helps that he’s channeling his inner funk master with healthy doses of vocoder and that he’s like an electronic Prince magnetizing both males and females alike. Not every track on Majenta is my favorite thing, but the ones that aren’t pretty much are. Look out also for his collab with Machinedrum as Jets, of which this Fact Mag mix is something I have on repeat big time.
Peter Woodburn’s Picks
“The Bug” opens with a passage from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and it perfectly summarizes the grindcore masters’ best album yet. “This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse.” Vocalist J.R. Hayes pulled out some of his best lyrical work here, and guitarist Scott Hull is proving once again that he is on a musical level all on his own. Whether or not the Mayans called it right for 2012, Book Burner is the soundtrack to the apocalypse. Strap in and grind along, friends.
Only Michael Gira and company can get away with an album as absurdly audacious as The Seer. Let’s forget for a second that it is a double album clocking in at close to two hours, or the fact that there are two twenty-minute tracks and a thirty-minute one as well. If you can sit down and make it all the way through it — and it is a challenge — The Seer is the most rewarding musical experience of the year. Gira described the album as a culmination of all of Swans into one effort. The Seer is beautiful, eerie, punishing, exhaustive and exhilarating all at once.
Over 10 years ago, Converge burst onto the scene and turned the musical realm upside down and kicked it in the ribs until blood poured out into stereos to the tunes of Jane Doe. This time around, Converge have finally done it once again, nearly harnessing an extra decade of anger, rage and heartache in the most tightly controlled – yet wildly explosive – and Converge way. To call it one of Converge’s best is to call it one of the year’s best.
If The Beach Boys had an odd infatuation with electronics, synths, and distorted vocals, than you would have Django Django. The British act dabbles in pop with unabashed enthusiasm, but it’s not so much that they are a pop act. “Default” is so slathered in electronic assistance it borders on electronica without going that far. Pick any song off of this self-titled debut, and you have the catchiest song of the year.
Two songs are uber-GY!BE, and two of them aren’t. Either way, this is some fantastic instrumental art rock that should be steeped in pretension, but is instead some of the most accessible GY!BE material to date. There is a raw beauty to Godspeed’s work, and the real tragedy of the whole thing is that eventually each of their songs have to end — even if it takes twenty minutes or so.
 Torche – Harmonicraft
 Neurosis – Honor Found In Decay
 Baroness – Yellow & Green
 El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
 Title Fight – Floral Green
Judy Nelson’s Picks
An epic return to form. While her first few albums were very strong, Cat Power lost me a little in recent years. The Greatest just didn’t live up to its title, and rumors of how crazy she was to deal with didn’t help much. Pre-album buzz was strong, and Sun lived up to what I had hoped for.
[audio:http://www.redefinemag.com/mp3/downloads/Cat-Power_Ruin.mp3|titles=Cat Power – Ruin]
A much-anticipated follow up that met and then exceeded my expectations. Completely overcoming the sophomore slump, the Australian band turned the volume up on the fuzzy guitars and created another complex, layered album of trippy, psychedelic noise rock. My initial impression was of a modern take on ’60s rock (The Beatles most prominently), but after repeated listens, it was clear that there was much more at work. This album is a grower and a keeper.
Grimes was definitely one of the indie darlings of the year, and deservedly so. I was hooked on her first few albums and knew that I would like this one after hearing the singles. Some may dismiss her as a passing fad, and they might be right. But this is pure electro-dance-party fun, and I can’t get enough.
A breakthrough debut album for this Minneapolis-based band. Often listed as being heavily influenced by Portishead because of their moody, atmospheric vibe and strong female vocal leads, Polica have crafted their own place in the indie rock world this year. One of the few albums on this list for which I enjoyed every single song, this album comes highly recommended.
A seriously unique duo, THEESatisfaction came onto the scene early in the year with their debut aWe Natural, creating a wave of critical praise and eager buzz. The duo’s ability to seamlessly blend hip hop and R&B influences to make it sound fresh impressed me greatly. I was lucky enough to catch them live in a small club this spring, and they were more in sync than any other duo I have seen in a long time.
[audio:http://www.redefinemag.com/mp3/downloads/THEESatisfaction-QueenS.mp3|titles=THEESatisfaction – QueenS]
One of the better girl-fronted groups out this year (props to Frankie Rose as well), this album was a sleeper hit for me. It has excellent pacing, keeping my interest the entire time without being too overwhelming. Sometimes a gal just needs to hear another gal sing her heart out, with some good guitars to back it up (by her husband, NBD).
Ryan Pangilinan’s Picks
It was difficult to pick between these two pop records, chiefly because they’re two albums that head towards the same destination while slightly stylistically diverging. On True, Solange Knowles continues to escape Beyonce’s shadow (as well as the ghost of Amy Winehouse) by trading the ’60s revivalist sound of her last LP, “Sol-Angel,” for electronic-tinged R&B. For Lasorda’s part, their kitschy powerpop sound (all synths all the time) creates the perfect music for a dance party; it also doesn’t hurt that their lineup is rounded out by members of The Get Up Kids, fun., and Kevin Devine’s Goddamn Band.
So why throw a comedy disc in here? Why not? Hannibal Buress is a guy whose spent time writing jokes on SNL and 30 Rock and is finally getting his just due with his sophomore live recording “Animal Furnace.” His delivery has improved, as has his storytelling ability. He also recognizes when his jokes are tepid and doesn’t mind addressing it as much. More than anything, his impression of a French-Canadian cop had me in tears.
This album is 13-minutes-long, contains eight original songs, and a cover of the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Yet, it’s easily one of the best punk records I’ve ever heard. It’s easy to criticize it for being too short or sounding more like a demo than compared to their debut album, yet it’s Joyce Manor’s earnest ferocity that makes them a band that so many people care about.
Hands down, my favorite rap record of the year. Some of my friends may argue since I’ve probably spun Kreayshawn’s “Something About Kreay” more often in social functions, but when it comes to a record that I truly enjoy listening to, that would go to Oddisee. As a whole, this album is sparse and no weighed down by ridiculous interludes. It’s succinct, easy to listen to, and the rhymes and beats are top notch. It’s a shame that more people aren’t checking him.
For a longtime fan, this full-length has been a long time coming. The Ambulars are a fantastic powerpop trio and it shows up all over their debut on Salinas Records. The easiest comparisons will throw the Ambulars into the same ring as The Lemonheads or Superchunk, but take a deeper listen and the chunky guitars and melodies recall bands like Lifetime.