As the Gregorian Calendar draws to another close, every audiophile and entertainment publication in the world begins to compile their lists on what they consider to be the best albums of the year. As if one person or even a group of trendy youths sitting in an office can even begin to scope out the vast spectrum of music released this past year. Certainly no one can put out a list that is the official list of the best for everyone in the world. But everyone tries. Just like I am going to now.
Most of the end of year lists are assembled in order of which is best. In other words, which albums still sound good and in style at the end of the year. I built my list with a different idea in mind. I looked at the albums from this year and picked the ones that are truly the greatest. The ones that will stand the test of time and inspire the music of tomorrow. The albums that don’t belong to a specific trendy scene. These are, in my humbly mortal opinion, the albums I can see myself clicking on and enjoying all over again years from now. They have and will continue to influence the music I make and will forever provide me with the joyous gift of escape from this weary dimension.
25. Dark Ambient Forest – The Collapse of Reality EP
2011 saw the rise of this promising Australian musician. His talents progressed significantly with each release, culminating with this ominous EP. These four tracks mix dark ambient and sound collage into somber elegies of the soul. They paint a portrait of life’s difficulties and the dark hole they can drag you into.
Top Tracks: Swamp of Misanthropic Terror, Silent Storm
24. Low – C’mon
Low returned with a positive outlook and a more intense sound. This album bridges many gaps, going from poignant to soothing and bleak to upbeat. Their understated comeback adds another layer to their complex musical psyche. They have gone into a deep dark hole and come out of it wiser and more enlightened. Everything they have learned is presented to us here so that we may find our own ways to evolve.
Top Tracks: Try to Sleep, You See Everything, Witches, Especially Me
23. Grouper – A I A
Soft, dense tremors of beautiful music. That’s the best way to describe this record. From simple guitar work to Liz Harris’ gorgeous voice, this album emanates an ethereal plain of comforting melancholy. Shimmering Ambient swells envelope you like a warm soft blanket. You can lean back and fall into your own mind, reviving your soul and spirit.
Top Tracks: Soul Eraser, A Lie, Vapor Trails, Come Softly
22. Panda Bear – Tomboy
Panda Bear has yet again redefined his sound and pushed music in a wonderful direction. Abrasive drones and dense walls of sound send you into a psychedelic wonderland. He has presented a new form of psychedelic pulses for a new decade, another chapter to the manual.
Top Tracks: Tomboy, Surfer’s Hymn, Last Night at the Jetty, Alsatian Darn
21. SineRider – Ambivert EP
Five peaceful and rejuvenating songs make up this EP. It’s a quiet release with nothing revolutionary but it still possesses a wonderful gift. It is a relaxing descent into sleepy dreamlands. The serene feelings you get after listening to this need to be experienced to be understood.
Top Tracks: Light Thinker, Sleepless, Kalt
20. thescientist – Synths at Midnight EP
This prolific artist has touched base with many genres this past year. His dabbling into Ambient has been one of his best showings. Crafting heavy atmospheres that embody the pitch-black night, the scientist has given us another reason to stay up late. The night has always been a mysterious curiosity and now we have a soundtrack to accompany it.
Top Tracks: Piano at Midnight, Comet, Introspective
19. Tardiss – Behind the Blind
Taking cues from all the great IDM artists before them, Tardiss have cultivated a garden of inspiring songs for the cityscape. They slow down the world and give us a chance to appreciate all the beauty and grandeur surrounding us. The infectious beats flow through your whole body, making you want to strut your stuff on a bustling city street.
Top Tracks: Spinner, Eighty Sixty, Feathers and the Frail, Silver Fences
18. Earlyguard – Solitary Moon
Earlyguard’s subtle electronic impulses have crafted a Drone opus on a celestial scale. The spacey tones transport you to the cosmos and filter out all unfortunate vibrations. Blissful and placid, the atmospheres expand before you as the orchestra of space is played. Though dark and lonely, there is comfort to be found in this album’s vast emptiness.
Top Tracks: Luna Approaching, Solitary Moon
17. Deaf Center – Owl Splinters
Extremely Dark Ambient music meshes with classical overtones in this stunning atmospheric presentation. The various soundscapes compliment each other and fill us with poignant lamentations. Such spectacles take us from one end of the emotional spectrum to another, giving us a sorrowful yet joyful feeling that is so hard to express correctly.
Top Tracks: New Beginning (Tidal Darkness), The Day I Would Never Have, Close Forever Watching
16. dEUS – Keep You Close
dEUS have come full circle. From their humble beginnings in the Alt Rock 90’s, they have transformed into a mature band that still knows how to rock. They have ditched their artsy styles for standard rock formats yet still manage to surprise us. They have found a niche in the overpopulated world of rock music and are calling it their own. They have once again impressed and evolved, leaving the door open for what happens next.
Top Tracks: Keep You Close, Dark Sets In, Constant Now, Easy
15. J. Dujardin – Lessons In Failure
One of the most poignant and beautiful releases of the year, J. Dujardin pours his heart and soul into a somber piano against dense minimalism. His heartbreaking perspective of life is a lesson to us all and each of us can relate to the sorrowful expressions of these songs. The overall simplicity is a welcome change from the complexities of modern music. This album is stripped down to the very core emotions that exist deep inside us all.
Top Tracks: As the End Draws Near, Sunken Into the Ground, I Will Stand Next to You, With Nothing Left to Lose
14. Uitgezonderd – Stervend Stil Leven
Dark and soothing piano tones are Uitgezonderd’s secret weapon. They are bleak and sad yet optimistic, giving us a view of better times. They compliment the ominous electronic soundscapes penetrating the background. This simple release is sublime in its message. It’s a portal that opens the doors in our hearts, healing us and giving us the wisdom to make positive strides in the world.
Top Tracks: Rugosa, Vernietiging, Kerpen, Vaarwel
13. coldreavers – Blue Eyes
A mysterious man from Russia has merged Ambient, Trip-Hop and World Music into a stunning blend of music that transcends cultures. Crawling beats intertwine with various vocalists and take us on a tour of the darker sides to life. There are sounds on here that have never been heard before and they are all mixed into each other, creating a surreal experience.
Top Tracks: Flying, Morning In the Café, Face In the Moon, Blue Eyes, Heart
12. Lusruta – Solemnizing the Trivial
Lusruta sends us on a mission into our minds with quest for revelation. The intense drones drown you in a sea of mental stability, healing your body and soul. You float amongst the sounds, staring intently at the lush tranquility that surrounds a bleak and dark world. Immerse yourself in this album and you will be revitalized, blessed with new insight and wisdom.
Top Tracks: Ruh, Nadir, Maban
11. J. Dujardin – This Will Be the Last
Guitars take the helm in this sonic underworld journey. An ominous wave crashes above as you lie submerged in desolate waters. Ambient tremors echo around you and you quickly learn to face the morose feelings head on. This is one of the most enjoyable dark albums of the year. Its eerie overtones are a source of comfort and provide a wonderful listening experience.
Top Tracks: Seashore, Destruction, New Beginning, It Will Never End
10. Adamned.age – Fragile
Fragile is eight soothing lullabies. A harmonious blanket in which you can take solace for a short rejuvenation. The dream world being weaved is grounded by the programmed drums that keep your feet on the ground. You are still left with room to float about. Simply enjoy the voyage and where it takes you.
Top Tracks: Seclusion, Interstellaraum, Integration Schmerz, Fragile
09. Drugstore – Anatomy
Drugstore have returned, gun in hand, prepared to show the world they will never give up. After years of hardship and torrential adversity, frontwoman Isabel Monteiro has emerged stronger and ever more vigilant. She has indexed her lessons and turmoils on this album. With a toned-down style and sentimental mood, she gives us a glimpse into the world of perseverance. Anatomy shows us the true strength of a survivor.
Top Tracks: Sinner’s Descent, Can’t Stop Me Now, Standing Still, Clouds
08. Tom Waits – Bad As Me
Tom Waits has pulled out all the stops and gave us a short summary of his life. By utilizing his strongest points he has made an extremely versatile album. Everyone can relate to at least one thing on here. He makes us angry then puts it all into perspective, making us reflect on life and the big picture. He does this all while remaining the weirdest and baddest mother ever to get behind a microphone in a seedy bar.
Top Tracks: Chicago, Get Lost, Face to the Highway, Bad As Me, Hell Broke Luce
07. The Horrors – Skying
The spirit of shoegaze is being kept alive by this group of British youngsters. They are a cusp of the coming resurgence of early 90s underground music. They have taken lush Ambient textures and infused them with classic British rock elements, forcing the two to make a psychedelic love child. Distorted walls of sound have officially come full circle and now the idea is evolving. This is the start of a new chapter in rock music.
Top Tracks: Changing the Rain, You Said, Endless Blue, Still Life, Oceans Burning
06. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
Tim Hecker has set a new standard in electronic music. Ambient, Noise and Drone are combined into a perfect harmony with nothing to compare it to. Stunning beauty explodes from each track, shining brightly amongst a noisy background. A heavenly ambrosia has been brewed complete with a dark gritty aftertaste that still makes you salivate for more.
Top Tracks: In the Fog: I, In the Fog: II, In the Fog: III, In the Air: I
05. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
Still light years ahead of the rest of us, Radiohead provides a glimpse into the future. This album is 100% unique; only Radiohead could have come up with such a grand composition. Funk elements mingle amongst buzzes and clicks that open doors to strange and twisted dimensions. They have progressed in a staggering way once again and we are presented with another opportunity to progress as well. Though dwarfed by their previous monumental releases, this one will stand on its own. It represents a path we all must take at one time or another.
Top Tracks: Bloom, Lotus Flower, Codex, Separator
04. BRAIDS – Native Speaker
This is the future of pop music. From Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s dreamy vocals to the crash of mutilated electronics, every aspect of this album is a pathway. They all lead towards glorious times and amazing sounds in the music yet to come. The songs vary from movers and shakers to psychedelic reflections and all possess the magnificent quality of something new. There is a refreshing originality that makes me want to jump for joy.
Top Tracks: Plath Heart, Glass Dears, Native Speaker, Lammicken
03. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
This year has been the start of an uprising of the people and years from now this album will serve as a soundtrack for the times. PJ Harvey lets out all her patriotic rage, bashing policy and the current state of the nation. Her beautiful voice sails over forlorn instrumentals and a melancholy aura erupts. The whole album paints a somber image that puts our rage into perspective. Not only is the status quo pissing us off, it is also making every niche in life painful to experience. Truly one of the most insightful albums to come out in a long time.
Top Tracks: The Last Living Rose, The Words That Maketh Murder, On Battleship Hill, England
02. Wishcollapse – Volume 2
This is some of the most beautiful Ambient music ever conceived. A complete operatic opus raining blissful beams of light onto your being. There is such technical grace and natural intuition that everything flows perfectly. Not much can be said about this album except listen to it. It’s inspiring tones will burrow deep inside your heart and make you float on air.
Top Tracks: Cosi come deve andare, Opera incompiuta
Björk – Biophilia
Björk has done it again. Her eccentric musings have once again molded a masterpiece for the ears. Whether you go into this album thinking about the meticulous technical aspects or not, you will appreciate its matchless beauty. Her absolutely gorgeous voice continues to tug at my heart strings. The subject matter of the songs are weaved so deeply into nature you get the feeling that it is the heavens and the earth speaking to you, using her as a messenger. She has pushed the boundaries of music into uncharted territories, testing the waters and returning to share their wisdom with the world.
Top Tracks: Moon, Cosmogony, Virus, Mutual Core, Solstice
I hope this list has exposed you to some new music and that you seek out what you truly love. I wish you all a happy new year and best wishes in 2012!