Best new music of 2012

I generally don’t write these kinds of lists because a) there’s bound to be a bazillion great releases from this year that I haven’t heard yet, and b) of all the stuff I have heard I’m sure I have yet to fully appreciate some of it and I’ll probably very soon grow tired of some of the ones that sounded excellent the two times I listened to them. So in reality it would be much better to let everything settle and make this a 2011 list, but I’m not going to be that clever this year.

So here’s my top music purchases of 2012 that were also released in 2012, in some sort of order that I’m sure I’ll soon regret and want to change:

 

Blut Aus Nord – Lots of stuff

French avant-garde, semi-industrial black metal visionaries Blut Aus Nord gets a special treatment on this list for his/their output which has been absolutely amazing over the past two years. First there’s the 777 trilogy, completed this year with the releases of “Cosmophony” while parts 1 and 2, “Sect(s)” and “The Desanctification”, came out in 2011. Then there was the re-release of 2010’s “What Once Was… Liber I” as well as a follow-up in the previously unreleased “What Once Was… Liber II”. All of these albums—5 in total!—have astonishing packaging and represent a completely unique musical vision in today’s extreme metal landscape.

 

Blut Aus Nord – “What Once Was… Liber I”

Debemur Morti Productions DMP0065
12″, EP

Listen: You can’t, this isn’t available anywhere. Even the label’s web shop is closed right now. Try buying on Discogs.

OK so this is a 2010 release but the updated cover artwork alone makes the reissue worth mentioning: Embossed gold print on faux leather and a sleeve so thick normal polythene protective sleeves won’t fit. Sonically this is some of the most dissonant and inhumanly cold black metal available, but as with everything out of Blut Aus Nord there’s an amazing structural beauty and spellbinding progression hidden behind the mayhem and sulphur-gargling vocals. Two side-long tracks, 16 and 15 minutes respectively, of the black metal equivalent of an all-engulfing, avalanche-like pyroclastic flow, interspersed with sparse glimpses of what was to become the calmer tracks from the 777 trilogy. Unless you’re a seasoned extreme metal listener, you’re almost guaranteed to be in way over your head here.

 

Blut Aus Nord – “What Once Was… Liber II”

Debemur Morti Productions DMP0079
12″, EP

Listen: You can’t, this isn’t available anywhere. Even the label’s web shop is closed right now. Try buying on Discogs.

This year’s follow-up “Liber II” has a bit meatier production, much more in line with the 777 trilogy, and takes the dissonance even further to near panic-attack inducing levels. Other than that, the description for part I fits well here too. These two records (as all other from Blut Aus Nord) are not made up of standard rock tracks clad in more distortion and double kickdrums like so much mediocre black metal is. Instead, this is truly, through-and-through, some next level shit going on. Music with this level of complexity and harshness takes a lot of time to fully penetrate and understand, and I’m still getting new impressions every time I listen to this. Utterly mesmerising, in a most terrifically terrifying way.

 

Blut Aus Nord – “777 – Cosmosophy”

Debemur Morti Productions DMP0082
LP, Album

Listen on Spotify

Easily the most acessible album in the trilogy and clearly not black metal any more, Cosmophony had me quite disappointed as I was expecting more of the infernal wall of dissonance that “777 – Sect(s)” consisted of and that “777 – The Desanctification” still retained traces of. Instead we’re greeted here by almost post-rock arrangements, clean singing as well as spoken word parts, and a near glacial pace in many tracks. But oh did this record ever grow! This album is narcotically addictive and posseses a depth and richness of nuances that keep unravelling with repeated listening. As the dust settles, it’s evident that this is still clearly Blut Aus Nord, because no other band possesses this combination of harmonics, arrangements and riffcraft. In the history of not just black metal but all metal, Blut Aus Nord has established themselves (himself?) as one of the great innovators, and with this trilogy this is cemented further. Blut Aus Nord has risen to become one of my favourite bands of all time, regardless of genre.

Recommended track: Epitome XVI (Spotify).

Also check out the 2011 releases “777 – Sect(s)” (much more in line with the What Once Was records) and “777 – The Desanctification” (right between Sect(s) and Cosmophony):

Spotify: 777 – Sect(s)
Spotify: 777 – The Desanctification

 

Etnica – “Live In Athens 1996″

DAT Records, Etnicanet DATCD004
2 × CD, Album

Listen: Spotify
Listen: Youtube (CD 1)

The music you listen to the most in your teens will always remain important to you. That is the truth for almost everyone, and from age 15 I was deep into goa trance. For that reason it’s very difficult for me to imagine what this sounds and feels like to someone who stumbles across this coming from a different background, so I will start by quoting user “Canyon-Kalle” from his review of this release on Discogs.com:

This release is hands down one of the crown achievements in goa trance’s history.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is absolute, undisputable truth no matter what you think of the genre’s aesthetic merits. I am lucky enough to have had most of the music on here as DAT rips for many years now, and I am very, very happy that it finally gets a much deserved proper release.

If you’re new to the genre, Etnica of old were for goa trance what Autechre are for IDM: Simply on a level of their own, that noone else can touch. The musicianship on display here is absolutely, utterly mindboggling, especially considering when this was made. A simple sequencer—perhaps an Atari 1040 that I know they used for some time—and hardware synthesizers tweaked to the stars and back, all playing the most gloriously spiralling melodies swirling up and down through the minor key scales, and as if that wasn’t enough the tracks are arranged with a greater sense for progression and buildup than anyone else in the genre has ever mustered before or since. Etnica/Pleiadians/Crop Circles in the 4 member era (6 for Crop Circles) defined, perfected and brought goa trance to its ultimate potential. This release strengthens their already amazing legacy even further, and I could only have wished that they dropped the band name after Carlo Paternò and Andrea Rizzo left. The magic we get to hear on this album left the band with those two men.

Single track to sample: Nu-uh, you listen to the whole goddamn thing, son.

 

Deathspell Omega (untitled box set)

Norma Evangelium Diaboli NED031
7xLP Picture disc compilation box set

Listen: Spotify

Despite my immense appreciation for Blut Aus Nord above, Deathspell Omega remain my #1 favourite black metal band. While they had a new release this year, the mini album “Drought“, an appendix to the already completed trilogy, they get to be represented on this list with the magnificent 7xLP picture disc box set that compiles their trilogy of albums and all additional output since 2004’s “Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice“. In my opinion, the music herein has raised the bar for conviction, ambition, composition, lyrics and the overall art of black metal more than pretty much all other bands in the genre. As with anything that pushes the boundaries for a genre, their music has been divisive (as in, some people get butthurt because it doesn’t sound like their favorite shit band) and for most people, me included, requires quite a lot of time to fully devour and digest. But that is also the type of music that is the most rewarding, and few other bands or artists have given me more listening pleasure than Deathspell Omega.

From the cold, overwhelmingly oppressive religious ecstasy of “Si Monvmentvm…” to the staggering near-chaos hyperspeed complexity of “FAS” to the jagged, mathy mangling of “Paracletus” they have reached some sort of ultra-metalized post-rock/free jazz insanity on Drought, and I have no clue where they will go from here, or even if they will continue to exist as a band. No matter what though, they have left a colossal legacy in these 5 hours of music.

Sadly the sound quality on these picture discs is quite poor, so regard this as a collectors item more than media for listening. You can get ahold of most of the vinyls (and of course the CD’s) separately.

 

Petar Dundov – “Ideas From The Pond”

Music Man Records MMLP037
3×12″ + CD, Album

Listen on Spotify
Listen on Youtube

Petar Dundov is a genius and one of the few people who’s output has always, from day one, had that extra level of musical refinement and finesse that sets him apart from his contemporaries. From the early days of cheerful, pacy acid trance as “Unreal” [listen] in the mid 1990’s to the cybernetic techno stylings of “Brother’s Yard” [listen: 1, 2], he’s now releasing under his real name. The style has evolved into some sort of grown-up trance/house hybrid, tailor made for pink sunsets by the mediterranean coast. On this album he takes it further, away from the dancefloor and into pure sequencer-esque harmonic bliss. Decievingly simple but an album I’m quite sure will stand the test of time.

If you just want to hear a single track, make it “Around One”: Spotify, Youtube

 

Lunar Miasma – “Managing The Dream”

Tranquility Tapes TQ29
Cassette, C28

Listen: Track B1 available on SoundCloud

I have mentioned Panos Alexiadis’ Lunar Miasma project before in this blog, which he has since shut down in favor of the new project Holefold Diver with Giorgos Axiotis.

This is drippingly ripe with nostalgia and pours over the mind like great washes of childhood summer bliss. The very reason we humans listen to music is for the emotional impact, and this is emotions distilled to the highest possible concentration. Even if he never returns to this type of sound with future projects (which would be a terrible shame), he has taken this style trippy synth bliss to what has to be perfection. The legacy that the Lunar Miasma project leaves is fantastic and I feel as though I will treasure his music for many, many years to come. Amazing.

Bonus: Don’t miss another of his final 2012 releases, the quite similar Observing The Universe released on (and, as I’m writing this, amazingly still available from) Moon Glyph.

 

DIIV – “Oshin”

Captured Tracks CT-158
LP, Album

Listen: Spotify
Listen: Youtube

I was never into The Cure or other gloomy brit pop/rock back in the day, nor the late 1990’s wave of shoegazy indie bands. Apart from buying maybe a CD or two I was a sideline observer, appreciating some of the dreamy, kraut-y bits and glistening, ringing guitars that shone through on occasion. For the seasoned indie head Brookyn youngsters DIIV might not bring anything new to the table, but to me all the elements I’ve appreciated in this type of music has come together to glorious effect on this album. I might grow tired of this in a month or six and I may not buy any more music in this style for years but I don’t care: Right now this feels amazing and that’s all I need.

Single track to sample: “Doused”: Spotify, Youtube

 

Polar Inertia – “The Last Vehicle EP”

Dement3d Records DM3D003
12″, EP

Listen: Spotify (note: the tagging is fucked up, the tracks on this release are “The Last Vehicle”, “Major Axis” and “Parallel Transport”)
Listen: Youtube – 1, 2, 3

In the pleasantly gloomy style of techno that’s been happening over the past couple of years—see my blog post about this style—the Sandwell District people (label and artist – see for example Silent Servant elsewhere in this list) have been on a higher level in terms of sheer quality than most, but I have to say that Polar Inertia is right up there with them. Minimalism is generally very difficult to do right in any artform: Structures get too repetitive and the depth proves rather shallow on repeated listening. But these guys (or guy, or girl—I have no idea who’s behind this mysterious moniker) get it very, very right. The individual sounds, the production, the progression, the atmospheres, the textures—it’s all very masterfully crafted and unlike 99% of techno I don’t get bored. Instead I just want more and more, which is why Polar Inertia’s sparse output is so frustrating.

 

Expo 70 – “Beguiled Entropy”

Blackest Rainbow BRR243
LP, Album

Listen: One track avaiable on the label’s Bandcamp page (as I’m writing this there are 4 copies left of the album.)

I adore Justing Wright’s tripped-out, drone guitar soundscapes enough to have twentytwo (!) releases of his by now. My one wish would probably be that he’d adjust the quantity/quality balance of his output somewhat towards the latter, but enough of his releases are amazing that I really can’t complain. Besides, most of what he records is a single take, so it is what it is. Beguiled Entropy is not the single best thing he’s ever done, but it gets close: Once it gets going it’s absolutely intoxicating. Very smoky, delay-ridden guitar and synth drone jams for inwards journeys in blacklit rooms with incense and puff seats.

 

Outer Space – “Akashic Record (Events: 1986 – 1990)”

Spectrum Spools SP 019
LP, Album

Listen: Spotify
Listen: Youtube (last track of the album)

Not entirely unrelated to the sound of Lunar Miasma, Outer Space brings more of that lush sequencer synth trippery, headed by John Elliot from Emeralds. Elliot also records under the name Imaginary Softwoods, where he released one of 2011’s greatest records in “Paths Of Spectrolite“.

The title makes it seem as though this is some set of long lost recordings, but that’s just make-believe; This is new music, and these guys were in kindergarden—at best—back then anyway (OK, except for Drew McDowall). The first track feels a bit out of place, but once we get past that this record is a true feast of kaleidoscopic swirling, bubbling, soaring synth gloriousness. I’m not sure if this will hold up 5 or 10 years from now, but right this minute I’m absolutely loving it.

 

Abigor ‎– Quintessence

End All Life Productions EAL066
2 × CD, Compilation, A5 Hardcover, Limited Edition

Listen: CD1 as a single video on Youtube

I’ve never understood why people cared for Abigor, and CD 2 here—a collection of old demos—is so atrociously bad it took me 4 sessions to listen through it just once so I can say I’ve at least heard it. The contrast to CD 1 is, thankfully, amazingly stark. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the original release of Channeling The Quintessence Of Satan, nor do I want to after this. The band re-recorded the album and added a bass to the lineup (evidently omitted originally), to create what is an almost perfect blend of Salvation-era Funeral Mist [Spotify] and later Katharsis output. If those references aren’t familiar, this means face-meltingly fierce black metal of the most infernal, putrid, hellacious and chaos worshiping kind imaginable. While this is a modern re-recording, the sound is appropriately very far from polished; it is truly hell in metal form. This album took a while for me to understand, and the first few tracks seldom do it for me, but if I hang in there the reward is magnificent. This is probably even harder to digest than the other black metal on this list, but give it a go if you want to see how deep the abyss truly is.

 

Tidal / Rambutan – “Sounds Of The Future / Trapdoor To Infinity”

Aguirre Records ZORN29
LP

Listen: Vimeo (total track length on LP is 20 mins, this is just an excerpt)

I’l start by saying you can completely ignore sida A here; This record is all about the glorious droney ambient drift of Rambutan. The track has flecks of distortion and noisy structures, and these helps steer it well clear of the artifically sweetened, cheesy drivel that devaluates the ‘ambient’ genre name. With these seemingly unlikely textures he weaves one of the most soothing and serene music releases of all of 2012. The associations go to light through foliage, glittering waves in a seaside sunset, tickling grass against one’s legs in a summer field, shimmering hazy intoxication and unrelenting youthful love. Hauntingly beautiful and a stand-out in a sea of me-too ambient and drone releases.

 

Cornigr – “Relics Of Inner War”

Final Agony Records FA-07
LP, Album

Listen: Youtube (single track)

Being in a band hints at some level of comradery, which in turn fits poorly with the anti-everything negativity many black metal bands strive to radiate. This is why I have soft spot for one man bands in this genre, and Cornigr is the singular vision of “Vainaja” from Finland. The record was in fact originally released as a cassette in 2011 and on CD and vinyl this year, but I’ll give it a pass. Musically we’re served some astonishingly harsh and cold, reverb drenched true-to-its-roots black metal. Decidedly less avant garde than both Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega elsewhere in this list, but instead a perfection of the 90’s sound. Sonically it’s as though the vocalist is howling in a tin box, backed up by the “band” in a nearby cave, all in the middle of Finnish winter. Any other, less extreme production would rob this of its impact. A nearly perfect album, delivered with astonishing focus and determintation, probably because noone else interefered. A singular vision, masterfully executed.

 

Giorgio Gigli | Obtane – “A Sad Wandering Dreamer Trapped In Contemporary Memory Architectures”

Zooloft ZOOLOFT00I
12″, EP

Listen: Youtube (extract)

Gigli’s output is always good but sometimes a bit too anynomous. Here however, he and Francesco “Obtane” Baudazzi delivers one of my new favorite techno tracks of all time in “Theory Of Radical Structures”. The version on Youtube is just an extract; the full thing is well over 10 minutes of this amazing hypnotism with windswept, wintery tundra atmospheres over the growly bass that simmers like thick porridge underneath.

 

Runner-ups

Some of the stuff that I’m not convinced enough about (or haven’t heard sufficient number of times) to put on the main list.

Techno

2012 was a good year for dystopian techno, so here’s some more:

Francesco Baudazzi – “The Black Nobility Of Venice And Genoa” – Surface LTD SFLTD 002, 12″, EP

Honestly this should probably be in the main list, it goes well beyond regular techno. There’s some proper depth and new ideas here.  This guy normally records as Obtane, listed above in the Giorgio Gigli release.

 

Svreca – “Vilna / Hagagatan” – Semantica Records SEMANTICA 33A, 10″, EP

Industrialized techno darkness that might not feel super relevant in 10 years but captures the techno zeitgeist perfectly. Side B is in my techno mix from last week.

 

Petar Dundov – “Stairway / The Arch” – Music Man Records MM156, 12″, EP

More trancey house bliss for caribbean sunsets. I love both tracks but side B, “The Arch” is the winner here.

 

Silent Servant – “Negative Fascination” – Hospital Productions HOS-357, LP, Album

Half techno and half skeletal kraut beats, this album is worth it for the closing “Utopian Disaster (End)” alone. If you just want the techno bits, grab the extended remixes 12″ [Spotify]. I bought both.

 

Milton Bradley – “Reality Is Wrong” – Prologue PRG027, 12″, EP

This contains the finishing track from my techno mix, and is perhaps the darkest techno release I’ve bought in 10 years. Fantastic quality throughout.

 

Misc electronic

Senking – “Dazed” – Raster-Noton r-n 142, 12″

The production level here is pure hifi porn, and this is something rare in 2012: intelligent dubstep.

 

Daniel Menche – “Guts” – Editions Mego eMEGO 138V, 2xLP, Album

Throw rocks at a piano, record the impacts with all kinds of microphones, then edit and distort the ever living hell out of the result, and you get this. Well, to be correct, Daniel Menche gets this, somehow. His sound editing technique is unlike anyone elses to my ears, and I’ve called his output “audiophile noise” before. Harsh, harsh walls of the most ultra detailed noise cascades.

 

Eleh / Duane Pitre – “Empty Summer Endless / Feel Free Installation” – Important Records IMPREC350, LP

I have tremendous respect for the mysterious Eleh, but the winner here is Duane Pitre’s fantastic sine-like, resonant plucks. Beautifully minimalistic, even cute, shimmering and summery ambient. There’s a Soundcloud excerpt of this particular mix/piece here.

 

Procs – “Touchdown In Hizzytown” – Lost Theory Records LTRCD004, CD, Album

This is psy-trance as much as Blut Aus Nord are “rock”. While everyone else is busy inbreeding the genre to new record levels of utter shite, Mikael Stegman brings completely new influences: A carnival from outer space, four gypsy weddings, basslines played by actual swamps and the testicles of Mike Patton. Insanity.

 

Non-electronic
Mgła – “With Hearts Toward None” – Northern Heritage NH-077, LP, Album

A little heavy on the tremolo picking (just like Nightbringer’s “Death And The Black Work” from 2008) but a very well crafted and enjoyable album of quality black metal. I haven’t appreciated the band before, but this is excellent quality throughout. It’s been noted though that some riffs, and even whole songs, are pretty much stolen from Swedish band Kaos Sacramentum. Listen and judge for yourselves.

 

Dodecahedron – “Dodecahedron” – Season Of Mist Underground Activists, SUA 023 CD, Album
Bought this during the first days of 2013 after I gave up on getting ahold of the vinyl, which I was reluctant to get because this band felt like too much of a Deathspell Omega ripoff. They still give me that feeling and sometimes I can’t stand it, but how can more Deathspell-esque black metal be a bad thing? So I bought the goddamn CD and if they’d been a tiny bit less screamo and more original this would have made the main list.

 

Closing words

I realize as I’ve been putting this list together that haven’t listened to nearly enough new music this year. I should probably make another list of 2011 albums, or even a 2002 list to see which records survived 10 years of scrutiny, but the above took enough time to compile that I need a break now.

A last honorary mention also has to go to the still unreleased ambient collaboration between Nicholas Szczepanik and Celer that I blogged about before.  The best ambient I heard in 2012: https://soundcloud.com/nszcz

Comments
One Response to “Best new music of 2012”
  1. Derek says:

    Dude, only item in the list I recognize is Deathspell Omega’s new EP. Begun the download queue.