50 Essential Albums Released in 2012

Posted by Aaron Detroit, December 5, 2012 11:00am | Post a Comment

Aaron Detroit, Buyer at Amoeba Hollywood. I've worked in Hollywood for eight years, but started my time with Amoeba - way back in 1998 -  at the San Francisco store. This is my extensive list of 2012 releases that I fell in love with or had serious affairs over the past 365 days. 2012, for me, was a surprising and amazing year in music. Nearly all 50 releases here could have been a Top-Ten contender almost any other year, and the Top Ten is full of records that could easily have been #1.

50 Essential Albums of 2012

1.  SCOTT WALKER Bish Bosch (4AD) 

The 6-year-long wait was well worth it, as is usually the case with Walker. This isn't the latest indie background music du jour - It's an Absurdist's symphony. Melody is eschewed for repetition, but you still walk away with the damned thing in your head. E-bows, machetes as percussion and disturbing (as well as amusing) scatological metaphors are some of the unlikely ingredients that make up this terrifying (and weirdly infectious) beauty. There's really nothing else like it, so enjoy figuring it out for the rest of your life.  

2.  SWANS The Seer (Young God Records)

This record has been described as a sort of culmination of all-things-Swans (even Jarboe is back for some vocal and "voice collage" duties.) To my ears, this is very true and believe it to be one of Michael Gira's greatest works. An epic, unrelenting 2-hours sprawled over 2-CDs or (an edited) 3-LPs. Sort of like Gira dragging his apocalyptic ballads through sections of Górecki's Symphony No. 2 with shades of Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd (Gira has recently -and not-surprisingly- cited both as favorite works.) 

3.  ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF Ceremony (Kning Disk)

The epics didn't stop in 2012. On her sophomore release, Swedish composer/singer von Hausswolff brings long instrumental pipe organ pieces together with well-crafted existential pop tunes and a set of ethereal pipes all her own. This was my pick of the year for many months.

4. MIREL WAGNER Mirel Wagner (Friendly Fire Recordings)

 My 2012 sleeper hit. Originally released in Scandinavia last year, the quietly-strummed folk-noir and murder-balladry of Mirel Wagner's sef-titled debut landed stateside this year. Her voice is somber and child-like, the arrangements are minimal and stark but make no mistake, she is singing the blues.


5. ANDY STOTT Luxury Problems (Modern Love)

Stott has been my man the last couple of years, dragging techno through the cold, dead and decaying streets of his beautiful post-apocalyptic soundscape. This time it's even better as he's brought along vocalist
Alison Skidmore who adds a heavenly presence over Stott's rather nebulous grooves.

6. ASSEMBLY OF LIGHT Assembly Of Light (At A Loss Recordings)
A choral group with a dozen-or-so members from Providence, RI known for their show-stealing appearance on metal-duo The Body's 2010 release, All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood. AOL's self-titled debut-proper has some of the same heavy/ethereal juxtapositions, but the vocals are turned up-to-11, floating above the crushing waves of drums and demon-yowls to a stunning effect.

7. FRANK OCEAN Channel Orange
(Def Jam)
Outside the hype, this guy is the genuine deal. Orange is a cohesive old-school album with vivid modern snapshots of moving to the city and the characters he met there. There's not a bad or so-so track among the bunch here and not a "banger" in sight! One foot in the modern R&B canon and one foot in the future Ocean himself is the designer of. The Orange Print? Maybe. I feel Orange every time.

  8. THE COUP Sorry To Bother You (Anti)
Boots Riley resurrects The Coup as a full-band after a 6-year hiatus to drop the rare 'record of our times.' Funky, fierce, funny, heart-wrenching and inspirational. 

9. FIONA APPLE The Idler Wheel… (Epic)
Another long (7 Years!) hiatus spawns an essential release. Apple is in familiar territory lyrically, but her relationship analysis is wry and witty as ever and exceedingly more adept. It's a sparse affair with piano and clever percussion arrangements done solely by Apple and her drummer.

10. VATICAN SHADOW It Stands To Conceal (Hospital Productions)
The ever-prolific Dominick Fernow's most exciting project and most wonderfully-crafted LP to date. It Stands To Conceal, a triple-LP threat made-up of material released digitally (and on an absurdly limited run of cassettes) earlier in the year, propels us roughshod over it's murky sonics that mirror the murky state of US Foreign Policy.

11. ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS Cut The World (Secretly Canadian)

A gorgeous orchestral recording of some Antony classics new & old alike. One of the most stirring voices in recent memory, on his most definitive recording thus far. The title track is indeed like a knife.

12. X-TG Desertshore/The Final Report (Industrial Records)
Desertshore/The Final Report was originally planned and announced as a Throbbing Gristle tribute to Nico's influential Desertshore albumuntil Genesis P-Orridge abandoned the sessions and eventually the group all-together. Peter Christopherson (who had long dreamed of "re-imagining" Nico's songs) was unthwarted and continued work on the LP until his death in November 2010. Remaining TG members Chris & Cosey eventually finished his work via instructions and notes their departed friend left for them. The result is a 2LP stunner with guest vocalists including Marc Almond, Antony and Blixa Bargeld. The second LP, The Final Report, is the sort of cosmic jam that is fitting as a send-off for those crossing the final Threshold.

13. ZELIENOPLE The World Is A House On Fire(Type)

Rare-but-fitting rock release on Type. Long-running Post-rock Chicago group with ethereal touches that recall late-era Slowdive and Piano Magic.

14. RUBY THROAT O’Doubt O’Stars (Sleepslikewolves)

British folk-noir duo return with their third and best LP to-date. Recorded entirely on a canal boat ( and includes the sort of "field-recording" and ambience one might expect from such a recording) which also doubles as the bands home. In a universe all themselves, but existing between the more lovely moments of Current 93 and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and the more meditative moments of Mazzy Star and PJ Harvey.

15. HORSEBACK Half Blood(Relapse)

I described this album as "Blackened Bong Scrapings" in this past fall's Music We Like. It's still the best description. Part-Black Metal, Part-Americana, Part-Ambient, Part-Groove - Half Blood is in a category all by itself.

16. RAIME Quarter Turns Over A Living Line
(Blackest Ever Black)
A good pairing with sensory deprivation and really killer speakers. For Raime, it's all about atmosphere and this ain't the beach. Unless there's been a nuclear war. Bleak, dark caverns of sound with faint screams from the abyss.  

17. NENEH CHERRY & THE THING The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)
7 surprising covers and one original by the long-AWOL diva. Cherry makes her return backed by the Scandinavian avant-garde jazz outfit, The Thing. The group's loose grooves suit Neneh's smooth and honeyed yet still bold voice. The versions of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" and The Stooges' "Dirt" are phenomenal.

18. DEATH GRIPS No Love Deep Web (Self-Released) / The Money Store (Epic)
The rabble-rousers of 2012 released two full-lengths this year, but only one saw a commercial release. This was due to some band shenanigans or because of a major-label dragging it's prehistoric feet - depending on who's side you listen to. Regardless, none of the distractions surrounding this group take away from the fact that they are making some of the most enthralling, intense and futurist punk (that's what I call it) music around. 

19. XIU XIU Always (Polyvinyl)
Jamie Stewart has been making records as Xiu Xiu for over a decade, but his brand of transgressive and experimental pop is still as striking and jarring as ever. The album's brightest and most unsettling moment features a soaring vocal by the great Carla Bozulich (The Geraldine Fibbers, Evangelista.) She sings Stewart's lyrics of graphic wonderment around surviving a hate-crime. This is the sort of pudding-proof that Stewart is still the bravest and most unflinching lyricist of his generation (and the next.)

20. PERFUME GENIUS Put Your Back N 2 It (Matador)
Perfume Genius aka Mike Hedges' debut album was my Top Pick of 2010. His sophomore album (released in a very crowded year of stellar releases) is a slightly more polished gem but every bit as emotionally affecting. Striking confessional ballads - some wrapped in lovely, hazy Badalamenti/Twin Peaks-inspired arrangements.

21. ERAAS Eraas (Felte)

Eerie, goth-y, atmospheric and wonderfully weird pop music from Brooklyn duo.

22. PYE CORNER AUDIO Sleep Games (Ghost Box)

Beautiful sci-fi melodies, thumpin' nods to Detroit electro & techno, and lots of John Carpenter-inspired synth arpeggios. File Under: Night Driving Music.


23. ORCAS Orcas (Morr)

Dusky and other-worldly electro-acoustic pop from
 the ingenious pairing of Benoit Pioulard and Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below.) 


24. ALEXANDER TUCKER Third Mouth (Thrill Jockey)

Gorgeous folk enhanced by loops, drones and subtle synthesizer. 

25. VCMG Ssss (Mute)

Another great pairing, this time it's the reunion of Vince Clarke and former Depeche Mode bandmate, Martin Gore. Old-school, dark, minimal techno by two masters of the electronic music genre.



26. JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS Evidence (Metamatic)
A very fine dark-synth LP. The hook-up between original Ultravox frontman (and established solo artist) John Foxx and producer Ben Edwards aka Benge has been rather fruitful, Evidence being, well, evidence of that (it's album number 3 in as many years). This album sees collaborations with neo-synth-ites Xeno & Oaklander, The Soft Moon and Gazelle Twin.

27. JESSICA BAILIFF At The Down-Turned Jagged Rim Of The Sky A fresh (Kranky) 
Her best LP, a decade into the midwest native's career. Haunting shoegaze, church-like dirges and fuzzed-out folk.

28. MENACE RUINE Alight In Ashes (Profound Lore)
A strange, hypnotic and powerful trip from these mystical weirdos, blackened psychedelic drone-y organ wielders and general genre-defiers. 

29. NEW WAR New War (Fast Weapons)
Melbourne quartet featuring super-sassy frontman Chris Pugmire (formerly of Seattle's Shoplifting). Thrillingly dark (just how I like my Australian bands) and extraordinarily fresh post-punk. File: Post-Riot Grrrl Birthday Party.

30. JK FLESH Posthuman (3BY3)
Billed as a 'solo project' from Godflesh /Jesu-guru Justin K. Broderick. Fantastic industrial metal dub. 

31. SILENT SERVANT Negative Fascination (Hospital Productions)

Exceptional industrial and post-punk-tinged techno on Dominick Fernow's Hospital Productions.

32. LIGHT ASYLUM Light Asylum (Mexican Summer)

Light Asylum
is a pan-sexual disco located somewhere between the lands of Yaz(oo) and Nitzer Ebb.

33. BAT FOR LASHES The Haunted Man (Capitol)

Natasha Khan's third album delivers icy yet emotive pop via swirling synths and infectious melodies and lots of Kate Bush-worship along the way. My favorite LP cover of 2012.

34. BETHIA BEADMAN Made Of Love (Rosalie Records)

Bethia has a fairly amazing back story (google her!), but it's all so unimportant once her sparkling debut saunters up to your ears. References have been made to Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, and Crazy Horse, but Beadman's voice is such a wonderful surprise, you forget other records exist for Made Of Love's duration.

35. PATRICK WOLF Sundark and Riverlight (Bloody Chamber Music)

2012 was a year populated with career-artists revisiting their catalog and re-recording their classic works in new arrangements (Bryan Ferry, Antony, Tori Amos, and even Kylie Minogue) - orchestral, stringed or otherwise. But Patrick Wolf's themed double album of acoustic re-do's is so successful in it's execution, it plays like a album of fresh songs. 

36. BLACKHOUSE The Blackhouse (Mello Music)
Producer/Singer/Song-writer Georgia Anne Muldrow and Lootpack producer, DJ Romes, together make up Blackhouse  - an inspirational electro-funk journey in the tradition of records by Soul Sonic Force.

37. LED ER EST The Diver (Sacred Bones)
Brooklyn minimal wavers bring Astral projections from under the stairs with nod's to mid-80's Coil on their sophomore LP and Sacred Bones debut.

38. PROSTITUTES Psychedelic Black (Stabudown) 
A bit more under-the-radar than it should be, Prostitutes' debut LP is somewhere between the murky-depths of the post punk-tinge of Raime and the sandpapered techno of Andy Stott or Vatican Shadow, but it's atmosphere is less dense and sways between cold electronics of a Horror film soundtrack and an instrumental flipside of an early-80's RoughTrade single.

39. SAMANTHA GLASS Mysteries From The Palomino Skyliner (Not Not Fun)
Despite his cool name, the mysterious Beau Devereaux performs under the pseudonym Samantha Glass to create his trance-inducing brand of dreamy lo-fi electronic bedroom music.

40. ROSENKOPF Rosenkopf (Wierd)
Another surprise, this band is a fashion throw-back (hello, Chicago goth club circa 1989) but musically is quite unique. Shades of space rock, industrial and synthpop with harsh black-metal style vocals buried in the mix. Killer.

THE SOFT MOON Zeros (Captured Tracks)

Solid sophomore release from krautrock and industrial-influenced post-punker that reveals Luis Vasquez's expanded sound to be a full sonic assault with brilliant production.

 GEOFF BARROW & BEN SALISBURY Drokk: Music inspired by Mega-City One (Invada)

Geoff Barrow of Portishead fame and film composer cohort create imaginary post-apocalyptic landscapes with nods to classic John Carpenter soundtracks as well as some krautrockish tracks that sound like a better version of Barrow's other side-project Beak>.

43. KILLER MIKE  R.A.P. Music (Williams Street)

Killer Mike is on fire with this solid old-school 12 track album, produced by EL-P and featuring one of my Top Ten tracks of 2012 -The alternative history lesson of "Reagan." More contemporary hip-hop should sound as fresh.

44. CAT POWER Sun (Matador)

I'd given up on Chan Marshall around the time she released her umpteenth batch of covers, but Sun is the logical follow-up to her last great album,  2003's You Are Free. Marshall updates her spare rock sound with textural synth and modern R&B-phrasing that sort-of makes me wish she'd produce and compose for a vocalist like Mary J. Blige. A welcome return!

45. PIANO MAGIC Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet (Second Language)

No surprises here, further moody atmospheres, angular bass and Glen Johnson's broody ruminations.

46. CASTRATII Eora (Time No Place)
A thick, pulsing, pretty beast of synthpop with guest vocals from Leila Moss of The Duke Spirit.

47. WHITE LUNG Sorry (Deranged Records)
No one has shown up to take Courtney Love's job in the last 10 years. Give White Lung's front-woman, Mish Way, sometime and we'll likely see something equally incendiary and catchy as Live Through This from Way's camp. In the meantime they've dropped this hotshot of adrenaline that snuck up on me at the last minute. Punk Rock Ear Worm.

  48THE IRREPRESSIBLES Nude (Of Naked Design)
Grand operatic gay pop with electronic flourishes.


49. CARTER TUTTI VOID Transverse (Mute)
Chris & Cosey team up with Factory Floor's Nik Colk Void to splendid results. A live and completely-improvised album of dense electronics, bass and treated vocals.



50. DAUGHN GIBSON All Hell (White Denim)
A singer/songwriter record made up of samples and loops from obscure vintage country LPs and Gibson's deep, affected vocals. Shades of Magnetic Fields and Scott Walker with a sense of romance and a tongue-planted-in-cheek. 

Honorable Mentions (A List Of Other Worthwhile Albums):

  • BEAK> Beak II 
  • MELODY’S ECHO CHAMBER Melody’s Echo Chamber
  • OMBRE Believe You Me
  • BLACK BANANAS Rad Times Xpress IV
  • WORM OUROBOROS Come The Thaw
  • DEMDIKE STARE Elemental
  • SYMMETRY Themes For An Imaginary Film
  • CHELSEA WOLFE Live At Roadburn / Unknown Rooms
  • KING DUDE Burning Daylight
  • CLAMS CASINO Instrumentals 2
  • COLD SHOWERS Love & Regret
  • CHRIS COHEN Overgrown Path  
  • TOR LUNDVALL The Shipyard
  • MARK STEWART The Politics Of Envy/Exorcism Of Envy
  • KENDRICK LAMAR good kid, m.A.A.d city
  • JESSIE WARE Devotion
  • SINEAD O'CONNOR How About I Be Me (And You Be You?)
  • TWIN SHADOW Confess

Ten Great EPs of 2012

1. VATICAN SHADOW September Cell

2. PIANO MAGIC Chemical

3. PARENTHETICAL GIRLS Privilege, Pt. V: Portrait Of A Reputation

4. COLD CAVE A Little Death To Laugh


6. BRONZE AGE Antiquated Futurism


8. BLANCK MASS White Math

9. TROPIC OF CANCER Permissions Of Love

10. THE HAXAN CLOAK ...The Men Parted the Sea to Devour the Water 


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