#1. Moonface with Siinai - Heartbreaking Bravery
Well I figure there isn't much reason to leave anyone in suspense because yet again -- for the 7th straight year -- a Spencer Krug album makes its way to the top of a Vague Space end of the year countdown. In 2007, it was Sunset Rubdown. 2008, Wolf Parade. 2009, Sunset Rubdown again. 2010, Wolf Parade's Expo 86 edged out Arcade Fire and Frog Eyes (and looking back, the album I've listened to most since then among the three is Frog Eyes' Paul's Tomb -- by far, oh well). 2011 saw Spencer dispensing with his former bands and starting anew as Moonface and winning the title with a keyboard-based electronic/drum machine album called Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped. And that won album of the year. Then he returned of course with a new album for the 9th straight year, this one a collection of hard rock heavy instrumentation songs with Finnish metal post-rockers Siinai, full of bombast and delight and some of the most beautiful songwriting he's made in recent incarnations. In a stronger year for music, this may not have made the top of the list, but it was sadly a weak year in 2012 -- only two of my top 20 favorite bands put out a new album this year -- so it's not at all surprising that Spencer is on top once again.
#2. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
The only true challenger to emerge to the Spencer domination this year was a plucky young Canadian band that features only two members - a drummer and a guitarist, who both sing on the records and somehow make a full sound that rocks the shit out of everything else on this chart. The weaker middle portion of the record, particularly the misstep "For the Love of Ivy" cost it the top spot, but "Nights of Wine and Roses", "Younger Us", "The House the Heaven Built" and "Continuous Thunder" are four of the best songs of the year and represent half the album. I really can't wait to see what the future holds for them, and not just because I got to see them live in two incredible shows over the past week.
#3. Shearwater - Animal Joy
At the start of the year, my life was falling apart. I'd had surgery at the start of December and 4 and 5 and 6 weeks later, the pain was just as strong if not stronger than just after the surgery and I felt like I might never get better. It's been a year now and I'm not better but that's a story for another post (I am able to manage to have a life again, despite the pain at least) but in January a year ago, one single album from one single band was a lifeline for me. The album kind of falls apart in the second half but the opening tracks, from the exuberant "Animal Life" through the monumental "You as You Were" to the majestic "Insolence" and the thrashy "Immaculate" were really the only positive things I can point to from all of January a year ago. Thank you, Shearwater.
#4. Sigur Ros - Valtari
Sigur Ros has had better albums in its history but this was a definite return to form after the relative misstep of their last album and as the only band in my top 12 favorite artists to release an album in 2012, they find themselves with a high spot on this countdown. And with songs like "Varúð" and "Varðeldur" and "Ekki mukk" and "Rembihnútur", the spot is well deserved. It was a long wait between albums for them after Jonsi went off on his own for a couple solo attempts (well, one solo and one with his partner) so I was glad to have them back and they didn't disappoint.
#5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Alleujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Besides having the most exclamation points of any entry on this list, this album also has the least songs -- a grand total of four, or really just two, when you filter out the noise drone filler of two of the tracks. But oh what great tracks the other two are. Yes, they may be rehashes of previously played live recordings from way back that were known as "Albanian" and "Gamelan", but the updated fully recorded versions "Mladic" and the absolutely wonderful "We Drift Like Worried Fire" were good enough to get this album into my top 5 of the year. It certainly doesn't hurt that we've waited 9 years since the last GY!BE release and that their reformation for touring purposes last year was shocking enough and we never expected a new album from them this year. But it was a pleasant surprise. And I can actually dream of new material from one of the original -- and still greatest -- post-rock bands ever invented.
#6. Caspian - Waking Season
Beautiful new music from post-rockers who hadn't put out a new album since 2009.
#7. Mount Eerie - Ocean Roar
One of two new recordings from Phil Elverum and his post-Microphones band, this one the stronger, with such gems as the title track, "I Walked Home Beholding" and the amazing "Pale Lights".
#8. Divine Fits - Divine Fits
Dan Boeckner of Handsome Furs (who sadly called it quits this year) and Britt Daniel of Spoon. What could go wrong? Certainly not this great debut album. Check out the acoustic video for the great Dan song "Civilian Stripes" below.
#9. Guided by Voices - Let's Go Eat at the Factory / Class Clown Spots a UFO
Robert Pollard and his reunited band actually put out three new albums of three-minute music this year but I haven't had the chance yet to digest his third. So I'm lumping the other two together and giving it the #9 slot. Lots of great songs, lots of major misses. Sort of like the rest of GBV's career, just older and perhaps not really wiser.
#10. The Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth
Ah, John Darnielle. You can do no wrong. Just listen to him talk about one of the great songs from this album below. Every one of his songs has just such amazing meaning. Thank you, JD, for all your great music in my life, and in this year.
#11. Sebadoh - Secret EP
Yes that Sebadoh. Had a new album out this year. That was more than a bit unexpected. Pretty sure their last release came out in 1999, which has them ahead of GY!BE in longest stretch between new releases on this countdown.
#12. Bowerbirds - The Clearing
#13. Plants and Animals - The End of That
#14. Passion Pit - Gossamer
#15. Mono - For My Parents
#16. Balmorhea - Stranger
#17. Beach House - Bloom
#18. Titus Andronicus - Local Business
#19. Stagnant Pools - Temporary Room
#20. Mount Eerie - Clear Moon
#21. Crystal Castles - (III)
#22. Dirty Three - Toward the Low Sun
#23. Jason Lytle - Dept. of Disappearance
#24. Woodpigeon - For Paolo EP
#25. Hammock - Departure Songs