2012 Readers Poll - The Results

This is the 15th Annual Brainwashed Readers Poll: the longest running poll from a digital publication that allows the readers to both nominate and vote for the best and worst of the year. The writers don't all necessarily agree with the placement and rankings, but we have our last word in the comments we have provided.

Thanks to everyone who participated in both rounds and we wish you the best for 2013.

Album of the Year

  1. Swans, "The Seer" (Young God)

    This was definitely in my own personal top three for 2012 and I’m pleased to see that I am not alone. This is a towering work of sheer power, every aspect of Gira’s previous work being assimilated, regurgitated and reborn in a glorious way. – John Kealy

    I listened to this entire album even when I didn't have the time to. Seriously, I'm going back and tracking it and I don't know how I pulled 120 minutes out of thin air to enjoy this from start to finish as often as I did. Nothing represented the year more for me than this album. My favorite by far of Michael Gira's work and a culmination of past ideas that outshines all of them in ambition and execution. – Adam Devlin

    There were a ton of very good albums released this year, but very few great ones.  This was one of the great ones; more a crushing statement of intent than a mere collection of new songs. -Anthony D'Amico

    Definitely one of my absolute favorites this year.  While My Father was a great album, it still felt a bit too in-line with his Angels of Light work.  This carried the same power and intensity that all of the classic Swans albums did, while still feeling like a new direction in Gira's long and storied career. - Creaig Dunton

    I didn't start digging into The Seer until I saw Swans on the supporting tour, but once I invested the time required to digest its 2 hours, oh man—it's obvious The Seer is leagues ahead of pretty much anything else I heard this year. This is absolutely essential listening, on par with Children of God, White Light from the Mouth of Infinity, and Soundtracks for the Blind... if not an arm's length ahead of them all. – Stephen Bush

  2. Scott Walker, "Bish Bosch" (4AD)

    While it was less of a leap forward from The Drift than expected, Bish Bosch was still one of the best things I have had the joy to listen to. Difficult and convoluted, it is a treat for anyone who cares about actually sitting down and devoting their attention to a work of art. This is far beyond a simple album, it is a masterwork in song craft. – John Kealy

    I have absolutely no stomach at all for Walker's recent work.  The farting noises and lines like "I've severed my reeking gonads" make me feel far more like I am listening to a psychotic breakdown or an exorcism than an actual album.  I suppose that is actually an amazing achievement, but it is also kind of unlistenable. - Anthony D'Amico  

    This only just came out and I think I've had the chance to hear it twice through without interruptions or distractions. I like it and I'm glad to hear more humor in Walker's music ("Epizootics!" is a lot of fun), but there's no way I can rate this thing without listening to it a lot more than I have. - Lucas Schleicher

    I wish Scott Walker could have released this in January of 2013 so I could have more time to digest it. What few songs I've put to memory are absurdly powerful statements, and the album as a whole suggests some profound significance that is waiting to be unveiled like an answer to a divine question. – Adam Devlin

  3. X-TG, "Desertshore/The Final Report" (Industrial)

    I am still digesting these two albums and while Desertshore has grown on me more and more since my first tentative listens, The Final Report is the real point of interest here. It is a wonderful album that truly deserved its own fanfare, rather than being tagged on with the heavily hyped Nico cover album. A bittersweet end to something that was only beginning. – John Kealy

    The Desertshore covers album was enjoyable in parts, but I'm a sucker for Nico's original and, like almost any covers LP, this honestly doesn't touch the original. Carter Tutti Void's Transverse was the superior TG-related offshoot. – Stephen Bush

  4. Andy Stott, "Luxury Problems" (Modern Love)

    I only liked about half of this album, but that half is awesome.  - Anthony D'Amico

    Didn't grow on me as much as I'd hoped. "Hatch The Plan" was great but "Numb" was the worst way to start the album and I was too impatient to let most of it sink in. – Adam Devlin

    Close to the most over-rated album of the year. There's an EP's worth of ideas here I guess. - Lucas Schleicher

    Alison Skidmore's vocals are a perfect addition to Stott's core sound, but Luxury Problems has the sound of a transitional release with growing pains. Still, there are at least three killer tracks on here ("Numb," "Hatch the Plan," "Luxury Problems") and Stott's best work is most likely yet to come. – Stephen Bush

  5. Raime, "Quarter Turns over a Living Line" (Blackest Ever Black)

    Exactly as sparse and unfriendly as they needed to be. Raime made a monster of an album that thrives on every single precise note they play. – Adam Devlin

    This exceeded my expectations in every way.  Easily the best thing that they've ever done..  - Anthony D'Amico

  6. Om, "Advaitic Songs" (Drag City)

    Along with Swans and Scott Walker, 2012 was the year of Advaitic Songs. It felt like Om were always working up to a moment of white light epiphany and Al Cisneros’s vision came through fully here. Seeing them perform these songs live was a revelation, a deeply moving experience that will never leave me. – John Kealy

    I've enjoyed every new Om release on its own terms, and Advaitic Songs is no different. Advaitic Songs expanded the band's core aesthetic a step further, blending traditional Arabic music and instrumentation into Om's sound like never before. – Stephen Bush

    I completely expected this to get savaged in the poll this year.  I'm pleasantly surprised that it didn't, but it isn't Om's finest hour. -Anthony D'Amico

  7. Earth, "Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II" (Southern Lord)

    This sequel to their 2011 album of almost the same name was a let down for me. Granted, I was not a huge fan of the first installment but here Dylan Carlson sounds like he is treading water. This is a shame because his solo projects from this year show that he is not ready to go out to pasture yet. – John Kealy

    I haven't listened to this since spring 2012, but remember liking it fine. Perhaps not Earth's most memorable work, given that it's more improvised and less meticulously composed, but a solid listen nonetheless. Shame that Horseback's tremendous Half Blood didn't make the poll; those guys did metal + drone/ambient + roots music better than anyone this year—Earth included. – Stephen Bush

  8. Six Organs of Admittance, "Ascent" (Drag City)

    I'm a massive fan of Chasny's acoustic work, so this was a bit of a grower for me personally. Now the whole thing is a killer listen front-to-back, and Chasny's electric playing is straight fire. Can't recommend this highly enough. – Stephen Bush

  9. Demdike Stare, "Elemental" (Modern Love)

    Not as impressive as Tryptych (or as totally overwhelming) was but there's still a pool of beautiful sounds to dive into and explore. Their previous work was more subdued while this release is menacing, and oddly catchy.  – Adam Devlin

    Hardly a leap forward from their previous work, but hey, if it ain't broke... – Stephen Bush

  10. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, "'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!" (Constellation)

    Congrats to these Canadian "anarchists," who, now sponsored by the Acura Jumbotron and subsidized by the Canadian government, have finally learned how to capitalize. All snark aside, the album is sadly a half-assed effort compared to monumental, genre-defining releases such as Skinny Fists, Slow Riot, or F#A#. A deep listen to Allelujah and comparison to their heyday reveals the band's loss of interest in making captivating music or relevant statements. - Jon Whitney

    Godspeed were a bolt out of the blue for me a decade ago. I have loved everything else they have done yet their decision to release a couple of old pieces with very little in the way of new material was a little disappointing. I love these pieces, I devoured bootlegs of live performances over the years but it does feel like an empty gesture after such a long wait. The fire is still there but the fear is that it will go out. – John Kealy

    For those of us who weren't Godspeed (and/or post-rock) fanboys back in the day, this is a welcome album. I enjoyed the original GY!BE albums on Kranky/Constellation just fine, but didn't seek out bootlegs and don't recall hearing any of the songs from 'Allelujah! when I saw GY!BE live in 2003, so it's not a far cry from their older work to my ears (if not a huge progression, either). – Stephen Bush

    Oh good, the decade-long politicized post-rock drought is finally over. - Anthony D'Amico

  11. Shackleton, "Music for the Quiet Hour" (Woe to the Septic Heart)

    Strikes a careful balance between totally gorgeous and totally obnoxious. – Adam Devlin

  12. Windy and Carl, "We Will Always Be" (Kranky)

    "Fainting in the Presence of the Lord" is a stunning statement, an epic closer, and one of the best songs of the year. - Jon Whitney

    Far and away my favorite ambient album of the year, as well as W&C's best work to date. This should've been in the top five, folks. – Stephen Bush

  13. A Place to Bury Strangers, "Worship" (Dead Oceans)

    A couple tremendous songs on here, but overall, APTBS haven't topped their debut album with any of their more recent efforts. – Stephen Bush

    This band gets better and better in my opinion. - Jon Whitney

  14. KTL, "V" (Editions Mego)

    One of the best things either Stephen O’Malley or Peter Rehberg have ever done. This is immense. – John Kealy

    Immense and monolithic, like an aural Stonehenge. – Stephen Bush

  15. Julia Holter, "Ekstasis" (RVNG Intl.)

    This is gorgeous, and a fine step upward from Tragedy. Excellent writing and arrangements throughout, and a beautiful headphones album. – Stephen Bush

  16. Silent Servant, "Negative Fascination" (Hospital)
  17. Motion Sickness of Time Travel, "Motion Sickness of Time Travel" (Spectrum Spools)

    I got burned out on Rachel Evan's work very quickly, as she released a lot of similar-sounding material in a short time.  This sprawling, hallucinatory epic won my attention back.  -Anthony D'Amico

  18. Oren Ambarchi, "Sagittarian Domain" (Editions Mego)

    A personal favorite of 2012.  Ambarchi was cranking out new material all year, but this one it just all came together right.  Long and repetitive, the tension built from an understated opening into a hypnotic 70s cop film funk and a gloriously beautiful ending is undeniable.  - Creaig Dunton

  19. Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin, "Instrumental Tourist" (Mexican Summer)

    Enjoyed it less than I had hoped. Sort of felt like someone else had just combined past work of theirs clumsily without giving thought to organization. They made a point of trying to capture the spontaneity of a live recording, but Ravedeath, 1972 did better work with improvised recordings and Lopatin's input seems almost negligible. A few nice tracks are overshadowed by lots of filler. – Adam Devlin

    Thiis release watered down Hecker and Lopatin's individual aesthetics to the detriment of both, leaving an album that is neither here nor there. I'd sooner put on Returnal, Replica, or a good half-dozen of Hecker's albums before listening to this one again. – Stephen Bush

  20. Lee Gamble, "Diversions 1994-1996" (Pan)

    Awesome EP from Lee Gamble, who I'm excited to hear more from. Pan definitely deserves to have at least one of their releases high up on this list. One of the best labels of 2012 without a doubt. - Lucas Schleicher

  21. Loscil, "Sketches from New Brighton" (Kranky)

    As solid as anything Loscil has done before, with the exception of Plume which I heard first and will always cherish. Loscil takes subtle, intimate moments and pulls them to the foreground so they can flourish. A perfect soundtrack to any rainy afternoon. – Adam Devlin

    Delicious. - Jon Whitney

  22. Oren Ambarchi, "Audience of One" (Touch)

    Paul Duncan's vocals on "Salt" still surprise me. The first time I heard Audience of One, I checked the player to make sure the wrong CD hadn't made it into the case somehow. I like hearing Ambarchi try new things (and he tried a lot this year), but I liked this album from him the most of all. - Lucas Schleicher

  23. Dead Can Dance, "Anastasis" (PIAS)

    Horrible and sickly, the world really did not need another Dead Can Dance album. World music for people who hate the world. – John Kealy

    Seeing them live this year made it clear that this was a lot more like two solo EPs than any sort of real creative reunion.  Still, some of it was quite likable - it did not come close to capturing the magic of their golden age, but it was definitely a hell of a lot better than the execrable Spiritchaser.  Some of Brendan Perry's songs are extremely cringe-worthy though.  - Anthony D'Amico

    DCD have always been more akin to their colleagues on 4AD (Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, et al.) than world music of any kind. Ignoring a handful of Perry's lyrics, I enjoyed Anastasis far more than I had anticipated, and "Amnesia" is one of my most played songs of the year. – Stephen Bush

    Perry still has an amazing set of pipes. - Jon Whitney

  24. The Caretaker, "Extra Patience (After Sebald)" (History Always Favours the Winners)

    Patience (After Sebald) did not require a sequel.  One album of blurred Schoenberg samples was more than enough, thank you. -Anthony D'Amico 

  25. Monolake, "Ghosts" (Monolake)

    More production than composition, but it's pleasant. Not memorable at all, but very pleasant. – Adam Devlin

  26. Liars, "WIXIW" (Mute)

    A few cuts reminded me of the band's heyday ("Brats"), but otherwise, I found WIXIW forgettable—not bad, per se, but I had no urge to keep listening after a couple initial spins. – Stephen Bush

  27. Vatican Shadow, "Ghosts of Chechnya" (Hospital)

    If all of the good Vatican Shadow songs released this year were condensed into one album rather than endless stream of EPs and reissues, it probably would have been one of my favorite albums of the year.  As it stands, this is my least favorite of the two "new" VS full-lengths to get released this year (I prefer Atta's Apartment).  "Voices Came Crackling Across A Motorola Hand-held Radio" is definitely one of Fernow's finer moments though. -Anthony D'Amico

    Could Fernow have released any more records this year? There were (I think) three full-length Vatican Shadow records, at least two EPs, a few limited edition cassettes, the Christian Cosmos stuff, and a 3xLP compilation right at the end of the year. With the exception of a standout song or two, I could have done without all of them. And I'd rather listen to Muslimgauze anyway. - Lucas Schleicher

    I dug Vatican Shadow when I heard the tape version of Kneel Before Religious Icons, but once again Fernow's saturating the market.  While I do remember this one and Atta's Apartment being enjoyable, I'll be damned if I can remember specifics.  I also wish I had waited for the 3xLP.  Cheaper, but likely better fidelity, even if it doesn't come with a Mohammad Atta jacket patch. - Creaig Dunton

  28. Dirty Three, "Toward the Low Sun" (Drag City)

    Like Iron Maiden, Dirty Three will never sound like anyone else and they will never disappoint. However, unlike Iron Maiden, they do not release albums with enough regularity. More please! – John Kealy

    Incredible comeback effort from Dirty Three with a spontaneous, live-recorded feel to many of its songs. – Stephen Bush

  29. Myrninerest, "'Jhonn,' Uttered Babylon" (The Spheres)

    I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but this album is absolutely spectacular. It sounds like a lost All The Pretty Horses-era Current 93 album, only more intimate, personal, and understated (aside from the occasional yowl).  This absolutely belongs in the top five.  Also, David Tibet wins my coveted "Most Amusing Leonard Cohen Reference in a Song" award for 2012.  -Anthony D'Amico

    Just picked this up tonight on the strength of its placement in the Brainwashed poll. Don't let me down, D'Amico! – Stephen Bush

  30. Pye Corner Audio, "Sleep Games" (Ghost Box)

    The moodiest thing Ghost Box has ever put out, and an outstanding effort. – Adam Devlin

  31. Aluk Todolo, "Occult Rock" (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)

    Aluk Todolo have always sounded like they do not belong in any neat pigeonhole and Occult Rock reaffirms this feeling. Far more accessible than their previous releases but at the same time heavier than a concrete block around your neck, this is brilliant. – John Kealy

  32. Goat, "World Music" (Rocket Recordings)

    This album is as hot as they come right now. Wonder if we'll all remember them this time next year. - Lucas Schleicher

  33. James Blackshaw, "Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death" (Important)

    Between this and the Myrninerest album, Blackshaw had a truly stellar year.  This is some of his finest work to date. -Anthony D'Amico

    Blackshaw's guitar playing on Love Is the Plan... is top-notch, but I've never cared for his piano work nearly as much, and the vocals are an odd choice. I would have preferred a back-to-basics approach. – Stephen Bush

  34. Ufomammut, "Oro: Opus Primum" (Neurot)
  35. Ufomammut, "Oro: Opus Alter" (Neurot)

    Ufomammut released not one, but two of the most monolithic, blindingly heavy albums of the year. Neurosis, watch your backs... – Stephen Bush

  36. Evan Caminiti, "Dreamless Sleep" (Thrill Jockey)
  37. Keiji Haino, Jim O'Rourke and Oren Ambarchi, "Imikuzushi" (Black Truffle)

    This is an absolutely blistering live set that gets better every time I hear it. – Stephen Bush

  38. Mount Eerie, "Ocean Roar" (P.W. Elverum and Sun)

    Between this and Clear Moon, I think 2012's been the best year for Elverum in a long while. – Adam Devlin

  39. Bill Fay, "Life Is People" (Dead Oceans)

    I'm glad this didn't completely fall through the cracks, as it seemed like it came out with hardly anyone noticing.  Fay is quite a compelling guy when he's at his best.  -Anthony D'Amico

  40. Jon Porras, "Black Mesa" (Thrill Jockey)
  41. Locrian and Mamiffer, "Bless Them that Curse You" (Utech/Sige Records)

    These two projects mine similar ground on their solo works, but on this collaboration, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. - Creaig Dunton

  42. Neneh Cherry and the Thing, "The Cherry Thing" (Smalltown Supersound)

    No one seems to talk about this but I think it is a terrific album. I was afraid of some horrible trip hop with skronks but this is the real deal. Fantastic playing and Cherry’s vocals fit perfectly amidst The Thing’s primal roar. – John Kealy

    I still can't believe this album actually exists, as it seems too good to be true: the artist responsible for "Buffalo Stance" collaborating with The Thing?  And they do a Suicide cover?!?  My head just exploded. -Anthony D'Amico

    Not sure I can vouch for the Madvillain cover, but Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" is indeed a brilliant reading by everyone involved. Heard in an interview the whole thing was improvised in the studio from memory. If that's true, then Jesus—that's even more impressive. – Stephen Bush

  43. Hildur Gudnadottir, "Leyfdu Ijosinu" (Touch)
  44. Richard Skelton, "Verse of Birds" (Corbel Stone Press)

    Another year, another achingly melancholy and almost supernaturally beautiful Richard Skelton album.  -Anthony D'Amico

  45. Aaron Dilloway, "Modern Jester" (Hanson)

    One of my favorite records of the year, and probably will remain one of my favorite records for a long time. It's strangely controlled and straightforward for a noise release, yet it still manages to convey a million things at once. There's been plenty of nice things said about this record and I'm inclined to agree with the hype. – Adam Devlin

    "Eight Cut Scars" is possibly the single most annoying song that I heard this year, but this was otherwise a masterfully crafted and absorbing album. -Anthony D'Amico 

  46. Christian Fennesz, "Aun" (Ash International)
  47. Cyclobe, "Sulphur-Tarot-Garden" (Phantom Code)

    The most beautiful release of the year, I am still reeling from my first listen. – John Kealy

    I hope this eventually gets released in a less hopelessly limited way, as these are easily some of my favorite Cyclobe pieces ever. -Anthony D'Amico

  48. Aaron Dilloway and Jason Lescallet, "Grapes and Snakes" (Pan)

    The first half of this album was a bit more restrained than I would have expected, but "Burning Nest" is pure genius. -Anthony D'Amico

    Definitely not what I expected from this pairing. In the end I liked hearing the first side more than the second; Dilloway is as good with quiet stuff as he is with the loud. Maybe better. - Lucas Schleicher

  49. Actress, "R.I.P." (Honest Jon's)

    This was instantly forgettable.  -Anthony D'Amico

  50. Bob Mould, "Silver Age" (Merge)
  51. Grimes, "Visions" (Matador)

    I can't get past her singing voice, and I don't think I want to try anymore. – Adam Devlin

    Nothing Claire Boucher does musically will ever be quite as awesome as this was.  -Anthony D'Amico

    Most overrated album of the year. – Stephen Bush

  52. Mount Eerie, "Clear Moon" (P.W. Elverum and Sun)
  53. Holly Herndon, "Movement" (RVNG Intl.)

    This is objectively not a good album. -Anthony D'Amico

    I can imagine her talents will serve her well as an amazing producer, but as a composer and arranger, the disc is an amateurish, clumsy, and directionless school project. - Jon Whitney

  54. Kevin Drumm, "Relief" (Mego)

    37 minutes of crushing, monolithic perfection.  - Anthony D'Amico

  55. Moon Duo, "Circles" (Sacred Bones)

    I love everything Moon Duo have released, and Circles is no different. Another subtle step forward from the sound they've always owned. – Stephen Bush

  56. Thomas Köner, "Novaya Zemlya" (Touch)

    Strangely, I have not been able to get into this as much as his earlier works though I know it is of the same quality. I need to give it more time. – John Kealy

    Played this a few times, but it didn't grab me like Permafrost did back in the day. – Stephen Bush

  57. Jason Lescalleet, "Songs about Nothing" (Erstwhile)

    The best album on this list. Along with Pan, Erstwhile had a phenomenal year in 2012, and Jason's Songs About Nothing is among the very best from that label. It's a kind of audio rebus, a tribute to Big Black, and a very, very unique electronic album. Nobody else makes music like this. - Lucas Schleicher

    I am thrilled that Lescalleet has gotten so much attention this year, but I don't fully understand why this was the album that brought it to him.  I thought this was merely good.  Maybe people just really love Big Black humor. -Anthony D'Amico

    I did appreciate all the Big Black references on this one, but I felt it was overall pretty strong even without that, and the longer piece on the second disc with the Depeche Mode punchline was fun to say the least.  - Creaig Dunton

  58. JK Flesh, "Posthuman" (3BY3)

    I felt a bit let down by this one.  As a fan of Broadrick from way back, it felt too much like he was co-opting the atrocious dubstep trends rather than being his usual innovative self.  It wasn't a BAD album, but I just was not too enamored by it.  Hopefully the resurrected Godflesh will be a better outlet for his more aggressive tendencies.  - Creaig Dunton

  59. Rangda, "Formerly Extinct" (Drag City)

    Less spontaneous and more rehearsed sounding than the debut. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing yet. – Stephen Bush

  60. Vatican Shadow, "Atta's Apartment Slated for Demolition" (Hospital)
  61. Edward Ka-Spel, "Ghost Logik" (Rustblade)

    "The Voyeur" is one of my favorite Ka-Spel pieces ever.  Edward is untouchable when he is in storyteller mode.  -Anthony D'Amico

  62. Emptyset, "Medium" (Subtext)
  63. Holy Other, "Held" (Tri-Angle)

    This is sex music for cough syrup abusers. -Anthony D'Amico

    Finally—a release on Tri-Angle that 100% lives up to the hype. – Stephen Bush

  64. Lee Gamble, "Dutch Tvashar Plumes" (Pan)
  65. Mirrorring, "Foreign Body" (Kranky)

    I played this way too many times into the wee hours of the night. Mesmerising. – Stephen Bush

  66. Vladislav Delay, "Kuopio" (Raster-Noton)
  67. Chromatics, "Kill for Love" (Italians Do It Better)
  68. Eleh, "The Weight of Accumulation" (Important)

    Pure magic. – John Kealy

  69. Zelienople, "The World Is a House on Fire" (Type)
  70. Andrew Chalk, "Forty-Nine Views in Rhapsodies' Wave Serene" (Faraway Press)

    I'm going to put these songs on so many mixtapes. Mesmerizing little compact glimpses into another world. – Adam Devlin 

  71. Helm, "Impossible Symmetry" (Pan)

    "Stained Glass Electric" is about as awesome as noise gets. -Anthony D'Amico

  72. High on Fire, "De Vermis Mysteriis" (Century Media)

    Switching to Kurt Ballou as producer made all the difference between this and Snakes for the Divine. Where is Converge on this year-end list, by the way?! – Stephen Bush

  73. Jessica Bailiff, "At the Down-Turned Jagged Rim of the Sky" (Kranky)

    A welcome return to form. – Stephen Bush

  74. Locrian and Christoph Heemann, "Locrian and Christoph Heemann" (Handmade Birds)

    I dig most of Locrian's work, and this one was definitely good, but I felt the collaboration with Mamiffer made for the better release, it felt like more than the sum of its parts. - Creaig Dunton

  75. Lotus Plaza, "Spooky Action at a Distance" (Kranky)

    This was much less compelling than Lotus Plaza's debut.  I have no idea what you guys found to like about this. -Anthony D'Amico

    "Monoliths," mainly. – Adam Devlin

  76. Nurse with Wound / Graham Bowers, "Rupture" (United Dirter)

    I am surprised this has not polled better as it is a stunning and mesmerizing work, even if it is as sad as it is engaging. – John Kealy

  77. Nurse with Wound and Blind Cave Salamander, "Cabbalism" (Dirter)

    I am also surprised this has not polled better as it is absolutely perfect. – John Kealy

  78. Nadja, "Dagdrom" (Broken Spine)

    Sticking Mac McNeilly behind the drum kit is a wonderful twist on Nadja's core aesthetic. – Stephen Bush

  79. Peaking Lights, "Lucifer" (Mexican Summer)

    This was easily the most exasperating album of the year for me.  It sounds like someone remixed an Astrud Gilberto album for in-store play at Starbucks or something.  The dub version is thankfully a bit better though. - Anthony D'Amico

  80. Alexander Tucker, "Third Mouth" (Thrill Jockey)

    Forgettable and bland. – Stephen Bush

  81. Blut aus Nord, "777 - Cosmosophy" (Debemur Morti)
  82. Container, "LP" (Spectrum Spools)

    You know someone is the real deal when they are too busy kicking ass to even bother thinking of titles to differentiate their albums. -Anthony D'Amico

  83. Jim Jarmusch and Jozef Van Wissem, "The Mystery of Heaven" (Sacred Bones)
  84. Jim Jarmusch and Jozef Van Wissem, "Concerning the Entrance into Eternity" (Important)

    Jarmusch I can take or leave as a director (though Dead Man is a firm favorite) but this album with Van Wissem was terrific. I need to get that other one they did. – John Kealy

  85. Keith Fullerton Whitman, "Occlusions; Real-Time Music for Hybrid Digital-Analogue..." (Editions Mego)

    A two part 35 minute synth exercise in deliberately avoiding all semblance of rhythm and melody. Liked it more than I should have. – Adam Devlin

  86. Bill Orcutt, "Why Does Everybody Love Free Music but Nobody Loves Free People?" (Palilalia)
  87. Eli Keszler, "Catching Net" (Pan)

    An incredible cacophony. I hope to see him play live sometime. – Adam Devlin

    I bought Cold Pin when it first came out and was blown away by it. It still sounds good to me now, but I haven't warmed up to the additional music on this 2CD set yet. Another one of those albums that I need more time with. Keszler is an amazing performer though and for anyone that didn't get Cold Pin, Catching Net is essential. - Lucas Schleicher

  88. Fushitsusha, "Hikari To Nazukeyo" (Heartbeat)

    Like a storm in my ears though this was less like the Fushitusha of old and more like Haino’s other recent band Seijaku (with more oomph to their sound). Haino's return to Fushitsusha was one of the year's top surprises and from the sounds of things, he is only warming up. Their other album should have charted too but the damn things are so difficult to find outside of Japan. Hopefully the third album in this trilogy is easier to get. – John Kealy

  89. Kyle Bobby Dunn, "Bring Me the Head of…" (Low Point)

    Back in July I said that this album contains "some of the most beautiful and ambiguous music I have heard this year." I stand by that claims five months down the road. Dunn makes big, sprawling, beautiful music with a dry, dark underside. There's more going on here than meets the eye/ear. - Lucas Schleicher

  90. Marissa Nadler, "The Sister" (Box of Cedar)

    "In a Little Town" spent a lot of time in heavy rotation at my place. -Anthony D'Amico

  91. Mohn, "Mohn" (Kompakt)

    The subterranean bass frequencies on this thing are otherworldly. Play it loud. – Stephen Bush

  92. Twinsistermoon, "Bogyrealm Vessels" (Handmade Birds)

    Much more song-based than Twinsistermoon's previous efforts. I like this, but it was just released so I'll need more time to digest. – Stephen Bush

  93. Gabriel Saloman, "Adhere" (Miasmah)
  94. Natural Snow Buildings, "Beyond the Veil" (Blackest Rainbow)
  95. The Slaves, "Spirits of the Sun" (Digitalis)
  96. Disappears, "Pre Language" (Kranky)

    This definitely had the unintended effect of reminding me how much I used to love GVSB, but "Joa" and "Pre Language" are seriously bad-ass songs in their own right.  Also, Brian Case is an awesome frontman. -Anthony D'Amico

  97. Duane Pitre, "Feel Free" (Important)

    Another absolute gem from this year, Pitre’s Feel Free and his album with Eleh were both standout releases for me. Feel Free is like Terry Riley’s In C reborn and remodelled, moving with the same unstoppable propulsion but into a very different space. – John Kealy

  98. Fenn O'Berg, "In Hell" (Editions Mego)

    This was definitely better than some of their other recent work, but I wish they'd actually make a real album.  It seems like such a waste for these three to only unite for improvised performances. -Anthony D'Amico

  99. Mike Shiflet, "The Choir, the Army" (Under the Spire)

    This was quite a divergence from Shiflet's recent noise epics on Type, but it was characteristically excellent.  -Anthony D'Amico

  100. The Legendary Pink Dots, "The Creature that Tasted Sound" (Trademark of Quantity)

    The title piece easily eclipses the rest of the album, but the hallucinatory soundscapes that make up the remainder are quite good in their own right. -Anthony D'Amico


Single of the Year

  1. Burial, "Kindred" (Hyperdub)
  2. Burial, "Truant/Rough Sleeper" (Hyperdub)

    The longer Burial's songs get, the less I like them.  I couldn't get into this at all. - Anthony D'Amico

    I feel the exact opposite. Burial's newer work takes time to evolve in ways that always surprise me. – Adam Devlin

    "Rough Sleeper" is one of the best Burial songs yet. Love the fractured house vibe that flickers throughout. – Stephen Bush

  3. Cut Hands, "Black Mamba" (Blackest Ever Black)

    Dullest ever dull. - Lucas Schleicher

  4. A Place to Bury Strangers, "Onward to the Wall" (Dead Oceans)

    APTBS always seem more interesting when described than listened to. This release follows that formula. – Adam Devlin

    A powerful punch, and possibly a much stronger statement than the album. - Jon Whitney

  5. Vatican Shadow, "Iraqi Praetorian Guard" (Blackest Ever Black)
  6. Emptyset, "Collapsed" (Raster-Noton)
  7. Pete Swanson, "Pro-Style" (Type)

    There's basically only two songs here, but at least they were both scorchers. -Anthony D'Amico

  8. Myrninerest, "Journey to Avebury" (The Spheres)
  9. The Haxan Cloak, "The Men Parted the Sea to Devour the Water" (Southern)
  10. Matmos, "The Ganzfeld EP" (Thrill Jockey)

    I liked this a lot, but then again, you already knew that, right? – John Kealy

  11. Grails, "Black Tar Prophecies Vol. 5" (Kemado)

    This split with Pharaoh Overlord was a monster though I wish it was a Grails full length. – John Kealy

  12. Blanck Mass, "White Moth/Polymath" (Software)
  13. Oneohtrix Point Never, "Dog in the Fog: Replica Collaborations and Remixes" (Software)
  14. Tropic of Cancer, "I Feel Nothing" (Sleeperhold)
  15. Coh, "Soisong" (self-released)

    Octagonal CDs will not play on any of my devices. However, in my mind this sounds like an obvious progression of where SoiSong left off. Perhaps Ivan Pavlov puts more of his own spin on things and Sleazy’s side of the split is somewhere out there in the ether(net). – John Kealy

  16. Tropic of Cancer, "Permissions Of Love" (Mannequin)
  17. British Murder Boys, "Where Pail Limbs Lie" (Liberation Technologies)
  18. Electric Sewer Age, "Moon's Milk in Final Phase" (Divine Frequency)
  19. drcarlsonalbion, "La Strega and the Cunning Man in the Smoke" (Southern)

    I was expecting this to be crap but it’s excellent. – John Kealy

  20. Jesu, "Duchess/Veiled" (Matador)
  21. Kangding Ray, "The Pentaki Slopes" (Raster-Noton)
  22. AUN, "Full Circle" (Denovali)
  23. Six Organs Of Admittance / ( r), "Shivers" (Tourette)
  24. Windy and Carl, "Windy and Carl" (Blue Flea)
  25. Boduf Songs, "Internal Memo" (Morc)

    Like Grails, I love hearing new Boduf Songs but want a full album. – John Kealy


Live album/vault recording/reissue (or otherwise not really a "new full-length album")

  1. Swans, "We Rose from Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head" (Young God)

    Godly. – John Kealy

    I don't think any recording medium can capture the intensity of a Swans performance, but this set does its damndedst to. - Creaig Dunton

    Best possible memento I could ask for from the My Father Will Guide Me... tour—an exhilarating reminder of the power of Swans' live set. – Stephen Bush

  2. X-TG, "Faet Narok" (Industrial)

    A really nice companion to the “real” album, at times I find this to be superior to Desertshore itself. – John Kealy

  3. Grouper, "A I A" (Kranky)

    I've played this in 2012 as much as any of Liz Harris' work in years past. She keeps getting better with age, and A I A is perfect late-night listening for fall/winter. Cannot wait to hear the collection of Dragging a Dead Deer-era recordings on Kranky this spring. – Stephen Bush

  4. Swans, "The Burning World" (Water)

    One of Swans' only albums that I can take or leave. While I didn't hear the reissue, I'm unsure how much a remastering/repressing can butter up one of their weakest efforts. – Stephen Bush

  5. Sleep, "Dopesmoker" (Southern Lord)

    Worst album cover ever, and it needed to be a double CD with the Jerusalem mix on it (because nothing beats that one). – John Kealy

  6. Porter Ricks, "Biokinetics" (Type)

    Utterly amazing and sounds way too current for an album originally from 1996. Would be my favorite reissue of 2012 were it not for the Zs box set. – Adam Devlin

    This was a fantastic repackaging (complete with beautiful new artwork) of this too-often ignored '90s classic. – Stephen Bush

  7. David Lynch and Alan Splet, "Eraserhead Original Soundtrac Recording" (Sacred Bones)

    Fantastic reissue of an iconic soundtrack. I would love to see other soundtracks from Lynch’s movies done in a similar way. How good would a vinyl box set of the Twin Peaks material be? – John Kealy

  8. Vatican Shadow, "Kneel before Religious Icons" (Type)

    Again, Fernow was shoveling this stuff out at an obnoxious rate this year, but this early release still stands as one of the best of the project, thankfully saved from the oblivion of overpriced, underproduced tape market. - Creaig Dunton

  9. Laurie Spiegel, "The Expanding Universe" (Unseen Worlds)

    Superb reissue with very good additional pieces. - Duncan Edwards.

    One of the best things released all year, new, vault, or otherwise. - Lucas Schleicher

    Flawless. – Stephen Bush

  10. Eleh, "Radiant Intervals" (Important)

    As good as it was in 2010 but this time it’s shinier. – John Kealy

  11. Carter Tutti Void, "Transverse" (Mute)

    This noisy and hypnotically rhythmic live collaboration with Factory Floor's Nik Void was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year for me.  -Anthony D'Amico

    This was leagues better than X-TG's Desertshore/The Final Report and should be ranked far higher. – Stephen Bush

  12. Daphne Oram, "The Oram Tapes Volume One" (Young Americans)
  13. Psychic TV, "Dream Less Sweet" (Angry Love)
  14. Sugar, "Copper Blue" (Edsel)

    Best album Mould has released his entire career—Hüsker Dü included. – Stephen Bush

  15. Ben Frost, "Steel Wound" (Room40)
  16. Antony and the Johnsons, "Cut the World" (Secretly Canadian)

    While I love the performance, I cannot get by that mad ecology/moon speech at the beginning. – John Kealy

    That was my favorite part. – Adam Devlin

    Sorry but I think I spit up a little bit when I first heard that speech. - Jon Whitney

    One of my most treasured releases of 2012. This plays almost like Antony's greatest hits, with several of the new arrangements and performances outshining the album versions ("Swanlights," "Epilepsy Is Dancing," "I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy"). Along with Transverse, this is one of the most compelling live albums of the year. – Stephen Bush

  17. Luc Ferrari, "Presque Rien" (Recollections GRM)

    Wonderful reissue of one of the most important compositions of the 20th century. – John Kealy

  18. Nurse with Wound, "A Sucked Orange / Scrag" (Dirter)

    This year has not been as prolific for Steven Stapleton as previous ones but I was glad to see this get the reissue treatment as it is a minor masterpiece. Rocket Morton. Rocket Morton. Rocket Morton. You get the picture. – John Kealy

  19. Natural Snow Buildings, "Night Coercion into the Company of Witches" (Ba Da Bing!)

    One of the most monumentally noisy NSB releases I've heard. It's been difficult to get through three CDs in a single listen, but taking Night Coercion disc by disc, I'm enthralled. – Stephen Bush

  20. Sugar, "Beaster" (Edsel)
  21. Nurse with Wound, "Creakiness and Other Misdemeanours" (United Jnana)
  22. Four Tet, "Pink" (Text)

    I haven't heard the eight songs on Pink as a collected album yet (damn $30 import CDs...), but the tracks I have heard individually over the past year are nothing short of stellar. Kieran Hebden has done no wrong to these ears in the last decade or so—he's one of the most consistent musicians I can name across any genre. – Stephen Bush

  23. John Maus, "A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material" (Ribbon Music)

    What kind of world do we live in where this makes it onto a best of list, but Alga Marghen's Eliane Radigue 2LP doesn't? Nobody will care about Maus in a few years. What a waste of a spot. - Lucas Schleicher

  24. Pandit Pran Nath, "Ragas of Morning and Night" (Mississsippi)

    While I am fairly certain this is a bootleg, the original recording is beyond words, no description can come close to capturing how unreal Pandit Pran Nath's performances were. This needs to be more available and I am glad Mississippi (who previously booted Pran Nath's Earth Groove) are doing it. The few Pran Nath recordings out there are not enough and too many of them are beyond the pockets of most music fans. - John Kealy

  25. Sugar, "File Under: Easy Listening" (Edsel)
  26. Catherine Christer Hennix, "Chora(s)san Time Court Mirage: Live at Grimm Museum, Vol. 1" (Important)

    Absolutely sublime performance by Hennix, it is a treat to finally have access to more of her work. This is inspirational and transcendental, if only it lasted forever. – John Kealy

  27. Current 93, "And When Rome Falls" (Coptic Cat)

    Current 93's live albums have historically been excellent, but this one felt one-dimensional and bombastic to me.  A piano is definitely not the ideal foil for David Tibet's artistry.  -Anthony D'Amico

  28. Gate, "The Dew Line" (MIE)
  29. The Durutti Column, "Short Stories for Pauline" (LTM)

    All the tracks on this so-called lost album have been heard elsewhere, but despite some parts that are almost too mellow, a most welcome release. - Duncan Edwards

  30. The Slaves, "Ocean on Ocean" (Helen Scarsdale)

    I was absolutely thrilled to see this get a proper reissue.  This is definitely one of the most unique and absorbing drone albums in recent memory. -Anthony D'Amico



  1. "The Minimal Wave Tapes Volume Two" (Stones Throw)

    Not quite as well-arranged as the first volume but still an excellent collection. – Adam Devlin

    The first collection was immeasurably great; Volume Two has plenty of highlights, but doesn't gel together quite as well as its older sibling. – Stephen Bush

  2. "Broken Flag: A Retrospective 1982 - 1985" (Vinyl-on-Demand)

    A nice mass-market release of the vinyl collection from a few years back.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more material added though, since the BF catalog is sprawling to say the least. - Creaig Dunton

  3. "Touch: 30 Years and Counting" (Touch)
  4. "Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran" (Sham Palace)
  5. "A Wrenched Virile Lore" (Sub Pop)

    People actually listen to Mogwai remix albums? I had no idea! – Stephen Bush

  6. "BIPPP: French Synth-Wave 1975/85" (Born Bad)
  7. "Bollywood Steel Guitar" (Sublime Frequencies)

    The fact that this list is riddled with Sublime Frequencies reissues rather than new albums depresses me.  Please come back, Sublime Frequencies.  You've been entirely too quiet lately. -Anthony D'Amico

  8. "Cumbia Beat Vol. 2: Tropical Sounds from Peru 1966 - 1983" (Vampi Soul)
  9. "Eight Trails, One Path" (Three Lobed)

    One of the year's only salvageable releases from the corporate cash-grab known as Record Store Day (which, for those who haven't done their homework, is a thinly veiled effort by RSD sponsors like EMI, Universal, Sony, WEA, and Warner Bros. to help save their own skins). – Stephen Bush

  10. "Time to Go - The Southern Psychedelic Moment: 1981-86" (Flying Nun)
  11. "Eccentric Soul: Omnibus, Vol. 1" (Numero Group)
  12. "Personal Spaces" (Chocolate Industries)
  13. "Istanbul 70: Psych, Disco, Folk Classics" (Nublu)
  14. "Saigon Rock and Soul: Vietnam Classic Tracks 1968-1974" (Sublime Frequencies)
  15. "Starting into the Sun: Ethiopian Tribal Music" (Sublime Frequencies)
  16. "Strange Passion" (Finders Keepers)

    This compilation of Irish post punk music makes me feel like I was born too late. – John Kealy

  17. "Zendooni: Funk, Psychedelia and Pop from the Iranian Pre-Revolution Generation" (Light in the Attic)
  18. "Bruce Haack Remixes" (Stones Throw)
  19. "Dross Glop" (Warp)

    Better than the album it was remixing. – Adam Devlin

    I lost interest in Battles when Tyondai Braxton made his exit. Comparing the pukey cover art of Dross Glop to that of, say, Mirrored makes me comfortable in my decision not to even hear this. – Stephen Bush

  20. "Trust" (Time Released Sound)
  21. "U.S. Bestial Forces" (L. White)
  22. "We Are the Works in Progress" (Asa Wa Kuru)
  23. "A Journey Into Greek Electronic Music, Classics and Rarities (1978-1991)" (Into the Light)
  24. "Diabos del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1975 - 1985" (Analog Africa)
  25. "Eat the Dream: Gnawa Music from Essaouira" (Sublime Frequencies)


Boxed Set

  1. Can, "The Lost Tapes" (Spoon/Mute)

    This was an absolute joy to listen to and explore. Just when you think you have heard all you need to hear from such a legendary group, this comes along and reminds you why you fell in love with them in the first place. – John Kealy

    No mistakes about this release; someone did sift through the archives and pulled out some fine achievements. - Jon Whitney

    Another perfect chance to play the Damo Suzuki telephone game, where I listen to the same lyric over and over and bastardize it into something weirder. Are you racing with the streaker? – Adam Devlin

    There's no denying that much of Can's work on The Lost Tapes matches and lives up to their proper albums. In at least one case ("Graublau"), they have completely outdone themselves. Excellent curation. – Stephen Bush

    Exactly what these vault-raiding compilations should be, a lot of tracks that match the quality of what was on their albums, and not bogged down by unnecessary alternate takes or demo versions.  Hopefully that vault of live material Schmidt mentioned in interviews will get the same treatment. - Creaig Dunton

  2. William Basinski, "The Disintegration Loops" (Temporary Residence)

    Who actually bought this when so many other more essential box sets got released? Could have (and should have) been done with less garish overworking of the medium, or at the very least a bare-bones CD box should have come out too. - John Kealy

    I can't wait to see how this is repackaged and reissued next year! -Anthony D'Amico

    The music is peerless, but the box set (though it looks gorgeous) is also overpriced. It would have been just as helpful to get stand-alone vinyl pressings. – Stephen Bush

    Gorgeous, over-priced, and extravagant. Definitely a cool and impressive set, but I prefer these albums on CD, uninterrupted by flipping. - Lucas Schleicher

    Whoever voted for this box who actually owns it, please raise their hand....  I thought so. - Jon Whitney

  3. Pauline Oliveros, "Reverberations: Tape and Electronic Music 1961-1970" (Important)

    This collection was a sore point for my wife as she hates electroacoustic music and I got totally stuck into this. What a magnificent body of work, and to think this was only the beginning of Oliveros’s journey through sound. – John Kealy

    This is a monumental box set, and comprised much of my late-night listening through the fall and winter. – Stephen Bush

    This is the work of a living legend. - Jon Whitney

  4. Eleh, "Retreat, Return, Repose" (Important)
  5. Codeine, "When I See the Sun" (Numero)

    Anyone who hasn't heard the original Codeine recordings is in for a treat. These sound fantastic on vinyl. – Stephen Bush

  6. [V/A], "Broken Flag: A Retrospective 1982 - 1985" (Vinyl-on-Demand)

    This is essential listening for anyone who likes noise.  -Anthony D'Amico

  7. Ramleh, "Awake!" (Harbinger Sound)

    This has to be one of most improbable and puzzling boxed sets ever.  I like Ramleh, but probably not nearly enough to enjoy listening to 8 CDs that comprehensively document the years 1982 to 1984.  -Anthony D'Amico

    That improbability is what makes this set so great.  An almost pathological cataloging of Gary Mundy's early career, presented in a manner far more lavish than it probably deserves.  - Creaig Dunton

  8. Feedtime, "The Aberrant Years" (Sub Pop)
  9. Clock DVA, "Horology" (Vinyl-on-Demand)
  10. Colin Potter, "Recent History" (ICR)
  11. Esplendor Geometrico, "1980-1981 Prehistoric Sounds - Necrosis en la Poya & More" (Geometrik)
  12. Amon Tobin, "Amon Tobin" (Ninja Tune)
  13. Sema, "Time Will Say Nothing (1982 - 1984)" (Vinyl-on-Demand)

    Probably the most unexpected release of the year, this was also one of the best. A true labor of love and some of the most beautiful music in the world. – John Kealy

    Very sad that I missed this. One of the few VOD sets that I'd love to have. - Lucas Schleicher

  14. Francois Bayle, "50 Ans D'Acousmatique" (INA-GRM)
  15. Merzbow, "Lowest Music and Arts 1980-1983" (Vinyl-on-Demand)

    For me, the most surprising musical event of 2012 was that Vinyl-on-Demand somehow managed to find some Merzbow recordings that have thus far avoided being released.  Frank Maier must be a goddamn sorcerer. -Anthony D'Amico

  16. [V/A], "Eccentric Soul: Omnibus, Vol. 1" (Numero Group)

    Great idea, but not many great songs. -Anthony D'Amico

  17. Daniel Bachman, "Seven Pines" (Tompkins Square)
  18. Incapacitants, "Alchemy Box Is Stupid" (Alchemy)

    Compared to the original Box is Stupid set from a few years back, this one was certainly light on the packaging and presentation, and not to mention a bit costly.  However, it is the Incapacitants, and it collects all of their exceptional albums on Alchemy, some unreleased live and collaborative material, and two DVDs of one of the most "fun" noise projects ever.  I forgive the set's transgressions. - Creaig Dunton

  19. John Duncan, "First Recordings 1978-1985 V1.2" (Vinyl-on-demand)
  20. Lou Ragland, "I Travel Alone" (Numero Group)


Act of the Year

  1. Swans
  2. X-TG
  3. Nurse With Wound
  4. Oren Ambarchi
  5. Scott Walker
  6. Burial
  7. Can
  8. A Place To Bury Strangers
  9. Andy Stott
  10. Om


New Artist of the Year


I totally missed the Goat phenomenon this year, but now that I've heard them, I'm glad they got this.  World Music nailed every key psych/space rock trope with vibrancy and style while avoiding the misguided self-seriousness that plagues most of their peers. -Anthony D'Amico


Overlooked Staff Picks

Nazoranai, "Nazoranai" (Ideologic Organ/Editions Mego)

I love Keiji Haino and this year was a great year for anyone with an interest in his work. Between Fushitsusha not only releasing two full albums and touring along with his own solo work (see the earth-shatteringly good soundtrack to the new documentary on Haino for some amazing solo and Fushitsusha jams), it was his other collaborative efforts which caught my attention most. This live album recorded with a new trio featuring Oren Ambarchi and Stephen O'Malley was probably the highlight for me, there was nothing that approached the intense gravity and power of this performance. What a sound, what a noise and what a rush! - John Kealy

Steve Hauschildt, "Sequitor" (Kranky)

While Spencer Yeh's Transitions is definitely the most egregious snub of the year in my eyes, I think Hauschildt got quite a raw deal himself.  A few of the more space-y and atmospheric pieces tend to drag a bit, but Sequitor's poppier moments are pure kitschy, lush, burbly fun (and unexpectedly soulful besides).  "Constant Reminders" is easily the best song that Kraftwerk never wrote and I cannot stop listening to it. Also, it seems like a bizarre negative image of Emeralds'Just to Feel Anything, replacing the drama and moodiness with warmth, lightness, and an endearing sense of playfulness (and being a more enjoyable album for it).  -Anthony D'Amico     

Christian Wolff/Keith Rowe, "ErstLive 010" (Erstwhile)

The ErstLive series got four outstanding additions this year: one emotional and mind-blowing solo set from Keith Rowe, an excellent rendition of Antoine Beuger's S'approcher s'éloigner s'absenter, a mind-bending, ultra-minimal set from the duo of Taku Unami and and Radu Malfatti, and this first-time collaboration between Rowe and Christian Wolff, which I listened to the most. It's an under-appreciated and overlooked improv set from two legends who are still making incredible music more than forty years after they began. Wolff and Rowe's performance is subtle, sensitive, and totally engrossing. It points to a lot of fascinating ideas about the similarities between composition and improvisation and it encourages a kind of interactive listening that I don't always get from other music. But I love that I can turn it on and enjoy it for all its restraint and quiet beauty too. This was a pivotal record for me in 2012 and among the very best I heard all year. - Lucas Schleicher

CS Yeh, "Transitions" (De Stijl)

C Spencer Yeh'sTransitions proves that the casual brilliance of his debut single "In The Blink of An Eye/Condo Stress" was no fluke. He covers Stevie Nicks with a straight face, and his re-imagining of "Rooms on Fire" as a goth-synth piece is one of several tracks here that I have played continuously throughout 2012. This is an avant-pop album full of crisp guitar, sonorous vocals, bubbling synth, a little distortion and bold instrumental squiggles all of which put me in mind of Arthur Russell and the early solo records of Brian Eno. The original brainwashed review mentioned Robert Wyatt and Slapp Happy and "short punchy songs packed full of meaty bass lines, kitschy drum machine grooves, and a host of amusing curve-balls like horns, wah-wah guitar, and crude 8-bit-sounding synth textures." Yeh writes simple and enticing lyrics but his sketchy approach keeps their exact meaning tantilizingly just out of reach, oblique, and mysterious.Transitions even rehabilitates the line "on a dark desert highway" for which we should all be grateful. I am gobsmacked that this album was not included in the 100 Best and can only conclude that the world has finally gone mad. - Duncan Edwards

Horseback, "Half Blood" (Relapse)

In an overwrought marketplace of artists experimenting in a metal framework, Jenks Miller is one of the few that both manages to reach for new and different sounds while still maintaining a listenable, even sometimes catchy, overall sound.  Minimalist in the La Monte Young sense, there is a clear, but tasteful repetition throughout.  Plus, the idiosyncratic pairing of southern rock twang with ugly metal touches makes for a record that sounds like no one else. - Creaig Dunton

Fontanelle, "Vitamin F" (Southern Lord)

After a decade this supergroup returned with an absolute scorcher of a record. It's a monstrous fusion of dirty funk, jazz, and electronics contained within seven excellent pieces. Without hip, pretty faces or a mega tour, it's no surprise the album went relatively unnoticed. For those unconvinced, have a listen to the song featured in one of the most recent Brainwashed Podcasts. - Jon Whitney


Lifetime Achievement Recognition


Michael Gira

Through Swans, The Body Lovers/Haters, The Angels of Light, a solo career and back to Swans again, Michael Gira has charted an inimitable and intimidating path across the face of music. The last few years in particular have seen him rejuvenated and riding the crest of a wave I hope never breaks. The Seer is a monument to his will and integrity, the reformed Swans being far from a crappy cash grab. Like Neil Young’s return to Crazy Horse or Keiji Haino’s resuming of Fushitsusha, his act of bringing back Swans has opened up avenues that he has not tread in years and to find new routes that we have never seen before. The intensity, the power and the honesty at the center of his performances in any situation remain strong. Gira has put his life into his art and his art pulses with life, never lagging and never relenting. - John Kealy

Gira is an institution and a testament to perseverance. Could you have predicted anything close to his current career trajectory from the first time you listened to Filth or Cop? He's fared so well in these past few years since reforming Swans and touring constantly, and he seems more inspired and aggressive than before, like all he needed was a break to catch his breath. Being younger than most of the people I know who love Swans, I feel an odd sort of mirror image evolving for me, sharing the same exact feelings about the band they had felt years ago like they were brand new. Seeing them live last year and watching The Seer unfold was revelatory; I witnessed first-hand proof of a man who had stayed irreverent, resourceful, and forward-thinking well into his 50s and never stopped putting out incredible work all the while. The idea of a musical legend eluded me until I saw one in person. That is Michael Gira. – Adam Devlin

Michael Gira's mark on the world of music is immeasurable. For three decades he has been a beacon of all that is pure emotion musically: unfiltered, unapologetic, and uncompromised. Swans alone have influenced numerous careers spanning multiple genres. As a businessman, Gira has supported some incredible and diverse acts through Young God Records, releasing some fantastic albums, dismissing all limitations of sound or style. Gira hasn't ever resorted to self-reinvention; he has always been himself, and has never had to rely on self-parody or capitalized on any nostalgia. Michael is one of the hardest workers in the business and is always respectful and generous to his fans and supporters. He continues to make music available for those who take the time and effort to listen and invest. This year saw a massive three LP album and a live compilation—both heavily funded by overwhelming fan support—and more exhaustive touring. The younger people who weren't available to see Swans in the '80s or '90s are not getting some group of old guys paying tribute to their heyday, they're getting the real thing. The proof is, and has always been, right there. - Jon Whitney

I am a bit of a casual Swans fan by Brainwashed standards, but my appreciation for Gira as a bulwark of integrity, passion, will, and perfectionism in recent years cannot be overstated.  Since Swans' return in 2010, he has seemed like a man possessed, delivering absolutely brutal live shows and releasing albums that threaten to eclipse everything he's done before.  With The Seer, he may have actually succeeded in that (though I personally still stubbornly cling to Soundtracks for the Blind as favorite Gira album).  After three decades of making and supporting great and uncompromising art, he is not merely one of the last men standing from the '80s underground, he is actually thriving.  (Also, Young God is responsible for bringing Fire on Fire into my life, for which I am eternally grateful.) -Anthony D'Amico

Swans contributions to heavy, difficult music for the past three decades is undeniable, but Gira has shown himself to be an artist that can not sit still, and is never afraid of completely changing his sound at a moment's notice.  In recent years, he has shown no signs of relenting, and besides curating the Young God label he managed to resurrect Swans with the same power and complexity that they had during their entire career.  Additionally, his funding of these recent two albums was essentially embracing "crowd sourcing" before it became common knowledge, on his own terms and quite successfully.  Adding that to a relentless touring schedule playing intense shows that artists a third of his age could only dream of doing, and I think his recognition is more than appropriate. - Creaig Dunton



Worst Album

  1. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, "Theatre Is Evil" (8ft Records)

    I always come back to my Elie Wiesel, who said: "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference." THANK YOU BRAINWASHED READERS, FOR KEEPING ME A LITTLE MORE ALIVE THAN IF YOU'D SIMPLY IGNORED ME!!!!!! - Amanda Palmer

    Honestly there's a buncha haters out there and Amanda Palmer is too easy a target. I bet next to none of these detractors actually heard this record as the #2 entry is easily the worst album of the year. - Jon Whitney

    Hey, wait, I heard it! All Kickstarter drama aside, this album is cluttered and annoying. It's not the worst album of the year, just bloated and pointless. – Adam Devlin

  2. The xx, "Coexist" (Young Turks)

    It's so boring even the singers sound bored. How on earth do people get away with this crap? - Jon Whitney

    Their first album, xx, stood on the strength of its songwriting—paeans to love highlighted by sparse, stripped-back arrangements that earned comparisons to Young Marble Giants. I don't find Coexist nearly as offensive as Mr. Whitney, but its lack of well-written songs does make it sounds boring. "Angels" is fantastic, but nothing else stands up to the debut. – Stephen Bush

  3. Animal Collective, "Centipede Hz" (Domino)

    Does Animal Collective still sound like Animal Collective?  If so, I guess I probably don't like this very much either. -Anthony D'Amico

    I'll get flak for saying I loved most of what Animal Collective put out up until now. At least with this record I can stand in solidarity on the people saying they don't understand why this band is so popular. This was a hollow effort. – Adam Devlin

    Historically, Animal Collective are at their best when their arrangements have room to breathe and flow (they still haven't topped the acoustic-inflected beauty of Sung Tongs). Even records like Strawberry Jam were jam-packed full of ideas, but didn't feel cluttered and overproduced. Centipede Hz sounds like AC couldn't decide how to arrange most of these songs; the result is too many cooks in the kitchen throwing ideas into the mix. The only redeeming song, "New Town Burnout," was actually a leftover from Tomboy. – Stephen Bush

  4. Of Montreal, "Paralytic Stalks" (Polyvinyl)
  5. Hot Chip, "In Our Heads" (Domino)

    I had high hopes on the whole album after hearing "Let Me Be Him," which I have listened to quite a lot, but the whole thing is a severe let down. - Jon Whitney

  6. David Byrne and St. Vincent, "Love This Giant" (4AD)

    Completely full of itself and NPR-ready. - Jon Whitney

    What's wrong with their faces? – Adam Devlin

    Little did I know, when Talking Heads released their still-excellent Fear of Music LP, that they were actually forecasting my feelings toward David Byrne's music a few decades later. – Stephen Bush

  7. Grizzly Bear, "Shields" (Warp)

    "A Simple Answer" was nice. – Adam Devlin

    I would sooner slice off my own ears with a dull machete than listen to music that is predominantly "nice." – Stephen Bush

  8. Inade, "Audio Mythology One" (Loki-Found)

    I'm surprised that such an obscure releases was able to elicit so much vitriol- now I am morbidly eager to hear this.  The label's description says that "these are essential pieces of the vast network of sound manipulation that fills the blackened soul of night, the heart of primal urgency, haunting and dramatic, abounding with the ethereal mist of unease and dense ruminations that breathe and exhale awe with every resonant pulse."  If all that turns out to be true, I think you guys owe Inade a big apology.  -Anthony D'Amico

  9. Dirty Projectors, "Swing Lo Magellan" (Domino)

    I didn't hear a single song from this album, but I didn't need to. I know it's one of the worst albums of the year. Thanks for confirming my convictions! - Lucas Schleicher

  10. The Big Pink, "Future This" (4AD)

    I actually like that tune ("Hit the Ground") that samples Laurie Anderson's "O Superman." - Jon Whitney