To me it's been a disappointing year of indie rock releases. Not that the releases themselves have been disappointing -- to the contrary, there are a number of really strong, really great albums below, some of the best output of these bands. But there haven't been enough new releases from my favorite bands to appease me so far in 2012. In fact, Sigur Ros is the only band in my top 30 favorite artists to release a new album so far this year (unless you count Spencer's latest incarnation, which you probably should, but that still only makes 2 out 30...). So that's been disappointing. And it's probably because I've been out of the loop due to the continuing saga of painful nerve damage in my toe but I haven't really heard many new bands or albums this year that have caught my attention. So yeah, 2012 hasn't been a great year for indie rock. The following albums, though, are all really good.
1. Moonface with Siinai - Heartbreaking Bravery
OK, you didn't think Spencer wasn't going to be #1 did you? I guess if he keeps putting out a new album every year, in whatever incarnation, and I keep loving each one so much, he pretty much earns #1 until further notice. But this is the album that I've listened to the most this year -- and it's not even close -- as well as the only album that I truly deeply loved. It's not at all like last year's Moonface record that ended at #1. And it's not at all like the 3 Sunset Rubdown and 3 Wolf Parade albums that dominated these charts from 2005 to 2010. It's maybe a little like Sunset Rubdown, or that would be the closest comparison in a way, but it does amaze me that Spencer can put out a different, wholly original work every single year and they all still have his signature sound and still connect with me in a different way. Siinai in person looks like a hair metal band from Eastern Europe in the '80s and yet the music they made to surround Spencer's vocals is truly, utterly glorious. Album of the year so far.
2. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
I missed several chances to see Japandroids in concert recently and it's killing me but so is my foot and the Moonface show was the first one I felt good enough to see but I have to believe this amazing sound is truly magical live. I think Japandroids took a step forward between their first album and this album, a punk explosion in the best connotation of the name. "Younger Us" is one of the best tracks of any band that I've heard in years but it was already out in 2010 so it's not even one of my most listened to tracks on this album. That honor would go to "Continuous Thunder" or "The House that Heaven Built" or the scorching opener "The Nights of Wine and Roses". Their songs do not have any deep meanings or lyrical flourishes like Spencer spins into his records, but deep thoughts or even actual thinking isn't needed to listen to this music. Just crank the speakers as high as you can get them and enjoy.
3. Shearwater - Animal Joy
The first half of this album, with "Animal Life" and "You as You Were" and "Insolence" and "Immaculate" signalled an impressive advance forward for a strong band that wasn't necessarily one of my all-time favorites but had one of the best collection of tracks of any album in some time... but then the second half kind of fell apart for me, not bad but more in line with some of their more mediocre recordings in the past. I do love Shearwater and they have put out some amazing songs in the past and this year. But "You as You Were" was so inspiring, I'd hoped the album would have ended up that good.
4. Sigur Ros - Valtari
Beautiful, particularly the first 6 songs of the 8 song album. Truly magical really. But the langorous last 2 songs that last for over 15 minutes and don't really go anywhere keep the album from being higher on this list. The rest of the album, though, is a surprising turn back to the band's earlier work -- of 10 years ago -- from the beautiful openers "Eg anda" and "Ekki mukk" through the stunning "Varuo" and the slow building "Varoeldur" that all work so well together. Jonsi was involved in a number of side projects since the band's last album way back in 2008 but it's nice to see that when Sigur Ros is back as one, they can still bring it.
5. Guided by Voices - Let's Go Eat the Factory / Class Clown Spots a UFO
Two separate albums by the venerable band have come out this year and it's back to the original band around Robert Pollard that put out the indie rock classics Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes back in the early '90s. The sound of these albums is as close to that old sound as I would think possible at this point, some 20 years later, and it's an impressive task. Pollard put out some really great albums with different band members in the intervening years but nothing ever reached the glory of Bee Thousand (as few albums by any band have ever reached). I'm not saying these albums are there either but a great gaggle of songs in these collections really do sound as if they were ripped from the same sessions that produced that early brilliance and made everyone who loves indie rock a fan. "Chocolate Boy", "Who Invented the Sun", "Waves", "How I Met Your Mother", "Hang Mr. Kite" and "Spiderfighter" from the former are all excellent songs. "All of this Will Go", "Keep it in Motion", "He Rises! Our Union Bellboy", "Forever Until it Breaks" and the title track from the latter are equally as good. Now, as with any GBV album -- even the great classics -- there are a number of experimental misses (his albums always have so many songs and no one ever accused Pollard of not needing an editor) so I like to think of a combination of the best songs from each album combining into one great album and forget about the rest.
6. Bowerbirds - The Clearing
7. Mount Eerie - Clear Moon
8. Plants and Animals - The End of That
9. Beach House - Bloom
10. Dirty Three - Toward the Low Sun
11. PS I Love You - Death Dreams
12. Blackout Beach - 11 Pink Helicopters in the Coral Sky
13. Woodpigeon - For Paolo EP
14. Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves
15. Dntel - Aimlessness