2012: Top 10 Albums

The 2012 musical year has now come to a virtual close. In the past I’ve done both write-ups and boring old lists; this year will be a combo: lists with short blurbs. I hope that you like it, and that my list perhaps persuades you, reader, to listen to something you might not have otherwise. Likewise, I’m looking forward to any lists of my friends that get created.

10. Cloudkicker- Fade:  Not better than Beacons, but it still manages to capture some of that atmospheric wall-of-sound, and is a welcome return from the new direction introduced by Let Yourself Be Huge.

9. Sithu Aye- Invent the Universe: Really solid, melodic instrumental progressive metal (aka “djent”).  Sithu’s got an ear for melody and build-up that lots of his peers just lack.  I’m looking forward to future releases, and hopefully they’ll have better sound production, too.

8. Flyleaf- New Horizons: Considering this is the last record with their vocalist, maybe “New Horizons” would have been a better title for their next record.  Still, Flyleaf managed to recapture their unique combo of melody and aggression.  New Horizons features some incredibly catchy songs, as well as an awesome retooling of an old fan favorite.

7. Alcest- Voyages de L’ame: A very good, atmospheric album that feels tedious at times. While enjoyable, this is probably the last “shoegaze” black metal album Alcest can do before the formula starts feeling too repetitive.

6. Howard Shore- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey OST: Unlike many other parts of the Hobbit film, HowardShore’s score is every bit as epic as the original trilogy’s, and features both memorable themes and newer ones that are every bit as good.  Thorin’s pensive medieval soundscape and Gandalf’s new, more eccentric theme are brilliant; so are the hints of cacophony that hover over the movements leading us towards Smaug.  Shore’s ability to weave heroic themes with chaos is what confirms him—and not Williams or Zimmer or others who always get suggested— as the right composer for scoring Middle-earth.

5. Storm Corrosion- Storm Corrosion: Atmospheric music that is haunting and dark, and every bit as good as Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning and Opeth’s Heritage. If this is what Wilson/Adkerfelt is like, I hope this won’t be their only collaboration.

4. Wintersun- Time I: I actually haven’t heard Wintersun before, so I didn’t have any real hopes or expectations going into picking up Time I. I was not, however, disappointed and, needless to say, nor was anyone else. Time I is epic, atmospheric black metal that has a energizing power metal vibe throughout while never sounding too bombastic. Although a shorter work (essentially three longish songs with two instrumental movements sandwiched between), it has gotten no shortage of playtime from my CD player.

3. Katatonia- Dead End Kings: A much more diverse and rewarding album than their last effort, Dead End Kings features both faster songs and more downtrodden, lyrical Katatonia trademarks. “Lethean” might be their best live song.  Looking forward to more as I slowly make my way through Katatonia’s back discography.

2. Anathema- Weather Systems: Unlike Anathema’s last album, Weather Systems is more like a song-cycle chock full of recurring motifs and melodic hooks.  Weather Systems also distances itself creatively from Steven Wilson enough to cover more than two emotions (sad, and weird).

1. Sigur Rós- Valtari: My favorite album of the year, from what I consider to be the most truly “musical” band around. Valtari offers SR’s trademark combo of post-rock and world music, and is  emotionally and thematically consistency throughout. Some fans were disappointed, but I think Valtari has gotten better with every listen.  As reflected by its fuzzy, obfuscating creative direction, you need time and patience before you can truly know Valtari, and in turn learn to love it.


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