Welcome to a humble rundown of our favourite releases this year. This list features 25 fantastic artists, some of which are already well-established, others which have very promising careers ahead of them. The ordering isn't completely strict - each and every album on the list is highly recommended, and the ordering could change on any given day, so give them a spin if you've not heard them. They're really good.
25. Beach House - Bloom
Genre: Indie / Dream Pop - Label: Sub Pop
With their fourth album, Beach House have retained the sound that has brought them so many admirers, which is refreshing to see while so many other bands either drastically alter their sound or do nothing to advance it. The textures are all-encompassing, and Legrand’s sultry voice beckons you in to swim around in them. Bloom is a beautifully crafted, commanding and aptly-titled album that adds a sharp kick to the intimacy of the previous three records, whilst still maintaining that sweet, honeyed sound.
24. Every Time I Die - Ex Lives
Genre : Metalcore - Label: Epitaph
The biggest compliment I can give to Every Time I Die is that I can't think of a single band of their ilk that is similar. Whilst they obviously share some of the same characteristics as other Metalcore bands (massive riffs, pounding drums and bass-heavy production), their use of progressive elements and vocal range is wholly unique. Ex Lives is an exceptionally strong follow up to 2009's New Junk Aesthetic, confirming ETID as one of the most consistently surprising groups around. Hell of a live act, too.
23. Dark Time Sunshine - ANX
Genre : Hip-Hop - Label: Fake Four Inc.
The first of this years Hip-Hop giants. ANX is the follow up the duo's fantastic debut, Vessel, and improves upon their unique sound to create a more well-rounded release. Musically, It is a difficult album to pigeon hole, with producer Zavala serving up a wide range of fascinating instrumentation ranging from psychedelic synth hooks to hypnotic drum loops, whilst Onry Ozzborn stamps his typically insightful, thought-provoking brand of rap on top. It's a wonderful combination, resulting in a release that firmly places Dark Time Sunshine amongst the elite of modern Hip-Hop.
22. The Maccabees - Given To The Wild
Genre : Indie - Label: Fiction
It's great when a band can evolve whilst retaining their identity, and that's exactly what The Maccabees have managed here. The traditional roots of the band still form the core of the release, but these foundations are now supported with a more refined, mature approach to songwriting. There's increased experimentation within the tracks, and an obvious willingness to explore ideas further than their previous work. With a hardened influence from post-rock adding an extra sonic dimension, Given to the Wild could well turn out to be a watershed release for the quartet.
21. Clubroot - III - MMXII
Genre : Electronica - Label: LoDubs Records
Shaped by his surroundings, St. Albans native Dan Richmond has painted an uneasy, visceral portrait of life and the elements that build it. An eerie atmosphere envelops the clockwork hi hat loops, melancholy basslines and muted sweeps, with sparse vocal samples combining to make III MMXII a thoroughly involving listen. Much like Swarms' Old Raves End, it's an electronic release with a soul, offering something new with each listen.
20. Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster - Exegesis
Genre : Post-Metal - Label: Self Released
When you listen to Exegesis, there will be moments where you can almost hear the hat of influence being doffed. A Tool-esque riff here, an Oceansize-esque key change there, a Pelican-esque drum loop yonder, but it doesn't matter. TNBD are their own band, with their own sound, and that's that. Perhaps the most remarkable fact about this album is that it was self-funded and self-produced, which is an incredibly impressive feat given the quality of the mixing. The drums are tight, the guitars rumble along with precise energy and honest vocals soar and crash alongside atmospheric soundscapes. A top release.
19. Birds In Row - You, Me & The Violence
Genre : Hardcore - Label: Deathwish Inc.
One of the most unique hardcore releases of the year now, as french band Birds in Row deliver a debut that carries significant emotional weight and a fusion of abrasive instrumentation and heartfelt vocals. There's a lot of experimentation going on here, with tracks ranging from minute-long traditional hardcore brutality to twelve-minute voyages that verge into emo and post-metal territory. However, the diversity doesn't create a lack of focus, with You, Me and the Violence remaining a captivating listen throughout. The future is bright.
18. Hammock - Departure Songs
Genre : Post-Rock - Label: Hammock Music
Post-Rock is a funny genre. Whilst it has the undeniable potential to stir emotion (like any other music, really), it seems to attract a large number of masqueraders. Vapid rise/fall instrumentation that follows the same formula under the guise of thoughtful honesty. Pretty on the surface, but rotten underneath. Enter Hammock, a post-rock duo that, with Departure Songs, have almost single-handedly restored my faith in a genre that often lacks the beauty that it tries so hard to create. A lengthy but wholly worthwhile release with some of the years best ambiance.
17. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Genre : Post-Rock - Label: Constellation
The quiet release of Allelujah! conjured up the sort of mysticism that goes hand-in-hand with Godspeed’s music. At the same time as other post-rock paragons Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky are putting out bitesize post-rock, Godspeed are turning heads. The kicker, though, is that shed the record of that mysticism and it’s still a thoroughly engaging, pleasantly nauseating experience. It boasts a frantic dynamism that can only affirm that Godspeed are the unequivocal kings of the genre, a fact made even more surprising considering this is the band’s first release in ten years.
16. The Walkmen - Heaven
Genre : Indie / Alt - Label: Fat Possum Records / Bella Union
Heaven is The Walkmen all grown up. It’s always a treat to be able to watch bands change and develop their sound, whether drastically or gradually. This, their seventh album, is a far cry from their most revered effort; Bows + Arrows, an album that brilliantly harmonised young, spirited angst and old-fashioned aesthetic. Heaven, then, acts as a fond reflection of the band’s achievements, a celebration of not going the traditional rock-n-roll route of implosion and infamy. It’s plain to see that The Walkmen are at peace with their career trajectory, and though Heaven isn’t as brash and abrasive as older records, they’ve still been able to retain their quality without dilution.
15. State Faults - Desolate Peaks
Genre : Screamo - Label: Tiny Engines
Hailing from Santa Rosa, California, State Faults have begun to carve a name out for themselves in a somewhat crowded scene with the release of Desolate Peaks. Whilst the high-pitched screams will no doubt polarise some, the pulsating drums and shimmering guitar patterns work together to create a majestic blend of traditional screamo and post-rock. The West Coast Renaissance continues, and it'll be interesting to see the direction they take from here.
14. Grizzly Bear - Shields
Genre : Indie / Alt - Label: Warp
Grizzly Bear are heralded for their charming sound, crafting many songs that blur the line between old and new. Veckatimest was a triumph, and it felt like the four-piece had achieved the sound that they wanted to achieve. But Shields came along, and it meshed straight away. The songs progress from the sound of Veckatimest and prove that they can be noisy and abrasive if they so choose. Opener ‘Sleeping Ute’ is a shocking diversion from their previous sound, and the rest of Shields follows suit majestically, acting like a grand but dirty showroom of the band’s greatest attributes.
13. Gaza - No Absolutes In Human Suffering
Genre : Grind / Sludge / Hardcore - Label: Black Market Activities
This is a fascinating yet wholly unforgiving album; a cocktail of grind, sludge, hardcore and metal elements mixed together in a glass made of anger and cynicism. Lyrical themes ranging from Atheism to Politics, all of which are delivered with earnest conviction, roar over the pulsating percussion and rampant riffs. It's difficult not to be engrossed by the initial frantic pace that Gaza set, and it never lets up. The finest record of their career.
12. Swans - The Seer
Genre : Industrial / Alt - Label: Young God
I've heard it said quite a few times that Swans are a difficult band to get into. Maybe that's the case, but once the gates of fear are breached and you delve into one of their albums (spanning 30 years), one of the most interesting and dynamic bands around will grab you in and slap you senseless. The Seer continues in the vein, offering up a plethora of musical experiences from industrial drone to weary folk. Make no mistake, this is by no means an 'easy listen', but it is an incredibly rewarding release that deserves the time it commands.
11. Loma Prieta - I.V
Genre : Screamo - Label: Deathwish
The is the album Loma Prieta have had in them for years, finally combining all the elements that they displayed on previous releases into one focused and substantial whole. It'll come as no surprise that I.V was written during an 'intense and emotional' period; there is an extra layer of sincerity in the delivery that was previously lacking, manifested in the abrasive instrumentation and pained screams, which in turn make I.V one of the finest emo releases in recent memory.
10. The Tallest Man on Earth - There's No Leaving Now
Genre : Folk - Label: Dead Oceans
I had the great pleasure of being able to see Kristian Matsson in London last year, and despite making us wait for a good half an hour after the support act, he proceeded to put in one of the best live performances I've ever witnessed. The man seems incapable of penning a bad song, flawlessly weaving together the weathered tones of his guitar picking and the Dylan-esque sincerity of his vocals. There's No Leaving Now very much picks up where The Wild Hunt left off, resulting in another fine addition to his increasingly impressive discography.
9. Lone Wolf - The Lovers
Genre : Folk / Indie - Label: It Never Rains Records
This album almost didn’t see the light of day. Paul Marshall had to ask his generous fans to pledge towards the album’s release in return for prizes such as private living room gigs. It certainly paid off, and it’s a great job that it did. The Lovers is a much different album to Marshall’s last effort, The Devil and I. Whilst they were unified by the sense of dark, velvet charades, the two are markedly dissimilar. The Devil and I spins tales and webs of fire and murder, but The Lovers is a personal insight into Marshall’s life. It is beautiful, spacious, and at times shiver-inducing.
8. Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind
Genre : Hardcore / Metalcore - Label: Epitaph
It's hard to believe that Converge have been around for nearly a quarter of a century, yet still have the passion and talent to remain at the forefront of Metalcore. The constant ability to shape and refine their sound with each new release is admirable, and All We Love We Leave Behind is no exception, seamlessly slotting in as another distinguished entry into their already formidable catalog. All the classic familiarities which made them a staple of the genre, with enough new ideas to keep them fresh and exciting.
7. El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
Genre : Hip-Hop - Label: Fat Possum Records
The years' best Hip-Hop, and El-P's best since I'll Sleep When You're Dead. Intelligent lyrics, excellent beats and predictably awesome production values make Cancer 4 Cure an essential acquisition I actually found 2011 to be somewhat lackluster for the genre, so it's great to see such a slew of fantastic releases that are actually saying something worthwhile. Also, be on the lookout for the fantastic guest spots from Danny Brown and Killer Mike.
6. Basement - Colourmeinkindness
Genre : Pop Punk / Alt - Label: Run For Cover Records
A bittersweet entry, as whilst Colourmeinkindness is a fantastic follow up to Basement's debut, I Wish I Could Stay Here, it is sadly their last. The announcement that they are to disband after the release of this album caused me substantial distress, but such is life. Musically, it's a noticeably grungier concoction than its predecessor, but that engaging balance between pop-punk and emo remains. A fitting swan song to one of UK's best bands, but it came far too early. We'll light a candle in your memory, Basement.
5. We Lost The Sea - The Quietest Place on Earth
Genre : Post-Metal - Label: Self-Released
I remember receiving a bandcamp link for this some time ago, and being told how I couldn't let the year expire without giving it a listen or two. For some reason, it it kept being pushed aside in favour of newer, shinier albums. Well, that was an error, as The Quietest Place on Earth turned out to be a giant of a release, encapsulating the best elements of post-rock, post-metal and grunge. Near perfect production really elevates the moody atmosphere without impacting the weight of delivery. A fantastic surprise at the end of the year.
4. Damien Jurado - Maraqopa
Genre : Folk - Label: Secretly Canadian
Despite a career spanning eighteen years and eleven albums, Damien Jurado is a name that is relatively unfamiliar to most. And that’s a tremendous shame – Maraqopa, his most recent effort, is most touching and poignant. That this is Jurado’s eleventh effort is a testament to how much he loves what he does. Maraqopa sounds like a collection of songs made by a man who has nothing else other than the music he makes, and although the songs are quite varied stylistically, they are still cohesive with the gentle dilapidation of Jurado’s being.
3. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
Genre : Indie / Alt - Label: Carpark Records / Wichita Recordings
Dizzying, barbed and hair-raising, it’s easy to see that Cloud Nothings literally put blood, sweat and tears into Attack on Memory. It has been criticized for being too obvious and transparent a shift in style since expanding from Dylan Baldi’s solo project, which seems an unfair reproach when taking into account just how good ‘No Future/No Past’ is. It’s a disconcerting opener that doesn’t allow you space to breathe, and while it’s different to everything else on the album, it’s one of the most memorable songs of the year, especially when juxtaposed against the pop-punk of ‘Fall In’ and ‘Stay Useless’.
2. Amenra - Mass V
Genre : Post-Metal / Sludge - Label: Neurot
Mass V is a truly magnificent creation. It is dark, bleak and crushing, yet beautifully encapsulating and utterly unforgettable. Belguim's Amenra have pieced together a standout release in an often stagnant genre, and whilst you can hear the distant echos of Neurosis in their sound, they offer something powerfully unique. Mass V is also a true testament to the power of the 'album'; the ability to weave a story from track to track without losing its narrative. It's an exhausting and demanding ride, but one you'll instantly remember and want to go on again and again.
1. Evening Hymns - Spectral Dusk
Genre : Indie / Alt - Label: Out Of This Spark
Before hearing Spectral Dusk for the first time, I had never heard of Evening Hymns. Right from the get-go, it’s clear that the record is going to be an expressive and personal journey. It’s a challenge in itself to not become affected by the voice of Jonas Bonnetta, which is as fragile as it is powerful. Each guitar strum, soft or hard, is enough to wrench at the pit of your stomach. The crashing of reverberated drums ricochets around your skull. The most resonating and bone-chilling moment, though, comes at the very end of the hour, as Bonnetta abruptly finishes with a quiet, pained sigh.
- Aesop Rock - Skelethon
- Anathema - Weather Systems
- Anberlin - Vital
- Basement - Colourmeinkindness
- Cloudkicker - Fade
- Deftones - Koi No Yokan
- Enslaved - RIITIIR
- Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage
- iNTRiKeT - The Woods
- Killer Mike - R.A.P Music
- Liars - WIXIW
- mewithoutYou - Ten Stories
- Ne Obliviscaris - Portal of I
- Skyharbor - Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos
- Soul Cycle - Soul Cycle II
- The Chariot - One Wing
- The Early November - In Currents
- Tigers on Trains - Foundry
- We Are Augustines - Rise Ye Sunken Ships
- While She Sleeps - This Is The Six
- Young Magic - Melt
- Acres - Acres [EP]
- Burial - Kindred [EP]
- Kato - Came With Nothing, Left With Nothing [EP]
- Machinst! - Blacklist [EP]
- This Routine is Hell - Repent. Repeat. [EP]