1. The Hobbit Soundtrack - The Misty Mountains - Haters be damned, I loved this movie. It made me cry like six times; the songs definitely played a big part in that. (The other part had to do with me being a huge, sentimental nerd.) The first thing I did when I got home was download this song. So many Middle-earth feelings.
2. Pallbearer - Foreigner - Pallbearer’s debut, Sorrow and Extinction, is easily my favorite release of the year. They wear their Warning influence proudly (which I am stoked on, since I LOVE Warning), but they do a great job of taking Warning’s highly-emotive doom metal and pushing it into more mystical, cosmic realms. This record never ceases to draw me in and keep me enthralled every time I listen. I had a pretty weird emotional moment listening to this song on the bus a little while ago. These guys are probably one of the top three live performances I saw this past year as well; they’re coming out West in a few months and I can’t wait to see them again.
3. Milk Music - No Life - I listened to Milk Music’s Beyond Living record so much this year. Really great raw, noisy stuff that reminds me a lot of The Wipers and Dinosaur Jr. (especially the loose, blown-out melody of the latter.) Missed them when they passed through Philly, but now that I live in the same state as them hopefully I’ll catch them live.
4. Blue Öyster Cult - Before the Kiss, a Redcap - After knowing and liking BÖC’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” for years I felt like there was something about this band I should be getting. I tried a lot of their stuff and connected with none of it other than an odd song here or there. Finally, their self-titled debut showed up at the record store where I used to work and I found something I liked. For me, the fueled-by-biker-speed hard rock of the early stuff balances out the more indulgent, proggy pop they explore on their later records, and it all works pretty well.
5. Varghkoghargasmal - Near the Stars - Super weird German one-man band playing kind of inept, instrumental, non-distorted metal that is kind of not metal at all. I have no idea what’s happening a lot on this record (Drowned In Lakes), but I am so into it; something about the loose clumsiness of the whole thing really sells it and makes it seem pretty sincere. I really love the way the reverby guitar sounds like a banjo at times on this song.
6. The Ruins of Beverast - I Raised this Stone as a Ghastly Memorial- I just got this record, Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite, and normally I wouldn’t throw something so new on a best-of list, but I have been OBSESSED. More weird German one-man metal, but this is on the opposite end of the spectrum; where Varghkoghargasmal succeeds by getting everything wrong, RoB does everything perfectly. Epic, atmospheric doomy black metal that’s crushingly expansive, mysterious and just SO GOOD.
7. Rein Sanction - F Train - Really cool early-90’s Sub Pop band that got lost in the whole grunge craze. They apparently got compared a lot to Dinosaur Jr. (some of which is warranted), but they definitely stand on their own--the singer certainly sounds like J. Mascis and the same sludgy heaviness is there, but Rein Sanction seem to take the sound into weirder, darker, more meandering places. Highly recommended for 90’s alt-rockers old and new.
8. John McLaughlin - Dragon Song - This song is from Devotion, a solo record from John McLaughlin, who used to play with Miles Davis and later went on to form the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I’m not a jazz fan by any means, so that stuff doesn’t mean much to me, but I figured I’d throw it in for any curious individuals. Really cool, heavy instrumental psych-rock stuff that kind of goes all over the place.
9. Alcest - Faiseurs De Mondes - Alcest’s Les Voyages de L'Âme came out right at the beginning of the 2012; I listened to it a little, liked it, and then totally forgot about it. When I was going over music to prepare for this year’s Songtrade I remembered it and now I’m totally into it. It’s probably a lot more rock-oriented than earlier records, but after careful consideration it’s not a jarring progression; all the elements I know and love are still present, just really well integrated. The same dreamy shoe-gaziness is there, the same hypnotic black metal-inspired transcendence is there, and the same overall beauty is the result--it just all hangs together in a more subtle way, which tells me that good old Neige has kind of perfected the way to take us where he wants us to go. I think this song is a pretty great representation of that. Alcest toured this year, too, and they pulled all of it off live just as well.
10. Wishbone Ash - Errors of My Ways - Really great 70’s jam with some killer twin lead guitar, which would later become the hallmarks of two of my favorite bands, Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. This is off of Wishbone Ash’s self-titled debut; they get a little more polished and proggy after this, but I think the raw folkiness works pretty well on this album. Epic guitar hippies.
Bonus Tracks: [This was a pretty weird year for me musically; I feel like I sought out a lot less music than normal. I was pretty preoccupied by my move out to Seattle both mentally and physically, so aside from a handful of the stuff up above I probably listened to more older stuff than anything else. I think it was a comfort thing. As a result, I listened to the following three songs about a million times, and I figured a 2012 list would be incomplete without them.]
11. Black Sabbath - Die Young - Heaven and Hell was the first record I listened to every Monday for about four months or so. Starting every week with a little Dio offered some necessary encouragement at a trying time, and I kind of think I should get this Monday-morning tradition restarted. Also, fuck is this a great song.
12. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Ramble Tamble - A copy of Cosmo’s Factory sat just across from me at the record store for months. Every time I couldn’t figure out what to play next I just grabbed it and threw it on the turntable. I got super obsessed with this song as a result. I really dig the weird, sprawling jam it becomes about two minutes in, and I like the way it just kicks back in a few minutes later like nothing happened. After this year, “Ramble Tamble” is for sure on the short list for my favorite Creedence song.
13. Candlemass - A Sorcerer’s Pledge - I listened to Candlemass’ Epicus Doomicus Metallicus so much during and after the move for some reason. So, so much. Not a day of packing or unpacking went by where I didn’t listen to this song or at least start singing it to myself when I wasn’t listening to music. I think it’s a testament to just how killer of a jam it is that I haven’t associated any of the stressfulness of said move with it--it’s just too good of a song. Even now when I listen to it I don’t think of cardboard boxes, I think of an ageless sorcerer cursed by his own foul deeds.