Man, what a thrilling year of music we had. So many surprises, and so many favorite bands making some of the best music of their careers. It was gratifying to sit and listen to it all go by, to see and feel the shows we were able to make it out to see. But there can only be 10 favorites in our list below, and we're super pleased to be able to share them with you below. We'll reiterate our position: music is important. This thing we all share, the fandom, the making, the considering, the camaraderie of being out in the clubs: you get to a point in your life where you realize how important that is. It's inherently optimistic, in a way, our collective pursuit -- whether that be a pursuit of artistic perfection or the hedonistic thrill of having the music just wash over you -- innit? We thank all of the bands we wrote about this year for inspiring us, and we thank all of you readers for sharing our passion for it all. We're more excited than ever for the future, and as difficult as recent events have been for so many, let's remember: the potential for greater things is always sitting out there. The bands whose albums are below certainly chased that and made good. Take a few minutes to reflect with us upon the best 2012 had to offer.
1. Karl Hendricks Trio -- The Adult Section -- Comedy Minus One
Was anyone expecting a new record from Karl Hendricks Trio back when the calendar flipped to January? Was anyone expecting it to be this great? We're betting for most of us the answer to those questions are no. While we weren't looking, Mr. Hendricks was slowly writing rock hits in his beloved home town of Pittsburgh, at the pace of a few a year by his own reckoning, and retrofitting his Rock Band back to its original Trio configuration. Gone -- obliterated under the delightfully excoriating guitars of "The Men's Room At The Airport" -- are the lighter touch and looser feel of 2007's The World Says, which is a fine record indeed [review], but it didn't contain the sort of mint condition Hendricks losercore found on the Trio's classic records. Does that make The Adult Section a "return to form," a phrase we loathe? Whatever it is, it resulted in a collection of fiery rockers and thoughtful ballads, a collection that was our favorite of 2012. Stream "The Men's Room At The Airport" via the embed below or stream the entire record via Spotify via this link. We were pleased to be able to publish a comprehensive interview with Hendricks in July that you can read right here.
2. Golden Gurls -- Typo Magic -- Self-Released
Ever since Baltimore-based Golden Gurls' record was brought to our attention we have written about it early and often, so it should surprise precisely no one to find it firmly lodged here in the upper echelon of our year-end list. Along with the above-referenced The Adult Section, Typo Negative was among the first things we grabbed (well, you know, digitally grabbed, "grabbed") whenever we had some mental headspace and music-listening downtime, meaning it was the thing we listened to a lot because we WANTED to, not because it was sitting in our queue awaiting our critical attention. The tune "I Can See The City From Here" was one of our favorite songs of the year, but song-for-song Typo Magic is remarkably strong all the way across the record, from the delicately burbling ballad "Cars On Mars" to the cracking anthem "Excited." We reviewed Typo Magic here in May, and published an interview with Golden Gurls' fronter Andrew Mabry right here in September. Stream the whole thing via the Bandcamp embed below.
3. Ringo Deathstarr - Mauve -- Sonic Unyon
Because of a successful PledgeMusic campaign mounted by the band to fund it, Ringo Deathstarr's sophomore set Mauve didn't enjoy the element of surprise as did Typo Magic, which dropped out of nowhere upon on us, but nonetheless the record's length and depth made it incredibly enjoyable. We spun the Austin-based trio's LP constantly during the waning days of summer and into the early fall, side one for days and then side two for days because our turntable is a real pain in the ass to access to rock the flip. No matter. Mauve is bursting with lysergic stargazing rockers ("Slack," "Waste") and dance-inflected, moody groovers ("Brightest Star," "Drag"), and the Deathstarr sounds almost eerily at ease working within its various idioms. Perhaps it is the greater emphasis on ambience and atmosphere that distinguishes much of the music on Mauve from the band's prior releases, but truly nothing seems out of the band's grasp on the record. As such, we're eager to hear where Elliot Frazier and his cohort take the band next. Stream "Rip" via the Soundcloud embed below, or listen to all of Mauve at Spotify via this link.
4. Infinity Girl -- Stop Being On My Side -- Self-Released
What else is there left to say about Infinity Girl? The young Boston band's star has burned very brightly over the course of the last six months on the strength of this record and the band's impassioned live shows. In light of the news that the band is entering a hibernation of indeterminate length, Stop Being On My Side (and the recently issued, sparkling Just Like Lovers EP) takes on even greater importance as a document of a great shoegaze band. It's all about the songs, of course, and readers already saw us name "Please Forget" as one of our favorite tracks of 2012 here. But the record is filled with great music from front to back, until the final moments of "Cannons" fade out. Seeing the band close its EP release show earlier this month with a crushing iteration of that tune was the perfect way for Infinity Girl to close this chapter. Until another one begins, we've got this record, which we reviewed right here in June. We were privileged to publish a long-form interview with fronter Nolan Eley and drummer Sebastian Modak right here in July.
5. Johnny Foreigner -- Names EP -- Alcopop Records
Just having the Birmingham, England-based noise-pop titans come to America would have been enough. That they played our benefit show in Boston early last month was completely unreal and awesome. But to top it off by dropping a sterling EP this fall as well? Johnny Foreigner have always been the band that kept on giving, but despite not releasing a full-length this year we can't help but feel lucky as a fan. The four songs released on Names (three each in the U.S. and the U.K., although one title was exclusive to each territory) are all electric, fist-banging rockers of the first order, and the EP -- the band's fifth -- is another in an impressively lengthy strand of brilliant releases. We reviewed Names right here last month. Stream the whole dealy via the Bandcamp embed below.
6. Big Science -- Difficulty -- Self-Released
It's a very compelling transformation, that evolution of San Diego-based The North Atlantic's post-hardcore/Archers alloy into the brilliant, crystalline, reggae-influenced space pop of Chicago's Big Science. The quartet released in May its debut full length Difficulty, and it is a slow-burning, certified indie rock classic. Drawing from the band's strengths as first mapped on the excellent 2008 EP The Coast Of Nowhere, Difficulty captures the band's music in full, dewy bloom. Opening with the spectral ballad "All Of The Heat Has Escaped" and climaxing with the spine-tingling, wide-screened guitar anthem "Subliminal," Big Science's record was a jaw-dropper at every turn. With its lush sonics and sturdy rhythms, the record is an embarrassment of riches, and certainly one worthy of wider attention and critical kudos. Stream all of Difficulty via the Bandcamp embed below.
7. Swearin' -- Swearin' -- Self-Released
Sometimes we think this record is almost cheating, the way Brooklyn quartet Swearin's self-titled debut LP gives us exactly what we want: great melodies, punky attitude, raw production. And so maybe Swearin' is doing us two great services: not only is it giving us music we love, that reminds us of The Breeders and early Built To Spill, but also it's a reminder that maybe the seriousness with which we typically focus our critical ear upon music can sometimes cause us to miss the point. That point being that great music can also be fun. Not to discredit any of the brilliant songwriting here, or the propulsive energy with which Ms. Allison Crutchfield and her band of merry persons deliver these twelve numbers. For much of the year Swearin' was available as a free download, but it was subsequently released by Salinas Records and is available as an LP or CD right here. It's a crucial record, it includes one of our favorite songs of the year, and you should buy it. In the meantime catch the stream via the Bandcamp embed below.
8. Hospitality -- Hospitality -- Merge
It seems like every year there is one pure indie pop record that comes along and wins our heart outright. And while it was a tight battle for that distinction between this and Allo Darlin's Europe, the ITunes playcounts don't lie, and Brooklyn-based Hospitality's delicious self-titled debut full-length takes the prize. From the odd disco of "The Birthday" to the nostalgic, pretty strummer "Betty Wang," from the shimmering wall of sound in "Argonaut" to the relatively rocking album highlight "The Right Profession," Hospitality boasts gems at every turn that only gained more luster as we listened repeatedly in recent months. Listen to "Friends Of Friends" via the Soundcloud embed below or stream the entire thing via Spotify right here.
9. Ted Billings -- American Bedrooms -- Self-released
Ted Billings' first solo full length is the most recent entry into our list, a feat made possible by the collection's forthright hooks, near-palpable energy and rich narrative. That Boston rocker Mr. Billings was able to turn this set around in only one year after his band Age Rings' epic 2011 release Black Honey -- which was made available as both a double album to Kickstarter backers and an abridged, single disc set released by Midriff Records -- is a remarkable feat. Perhaps the short window of time to work in helped inspire Billings. No matter what incited it, the well-sequenced American Bedrooms is an eminently listenable record, eight tightly composed power-pop songs that inexorably proceed to a startling conclusion in the sweet and dour ballad "Rotten World." Highly recommended. Stream the entire record via the Bandcamp embed below.
10. Everyone Everywhere -- Everyone Everywhere (2012) -- Self-released
Philly-based emo heroes certainly seem to go about things in their own way, be it the clever blog tour that promoted their first self-titled set a few years ago or the fact that its most recent record -- also excellent -- was self-released on the band's own imprint and promoted with a huge UK and European tour months ago, but will only see a local record release show next month (Jan. 19 at The Barbary in Philadelphia). Indeed, Everyone Everywhere has already sold out of its first pressing, and the band hasn't even celebrated the thing in its hometown yet. It's certainly worth the fuss, as the album showcases the band taking its big guitars and punchy rhythms and using them to make a record dealing with markedly more mature issues. Album highlight "No Furniture" was among our favorite songs of the year, and we reviewed Everyone Everywhere  in September right here. Stream the entire thing via the Bandcamp embed below.