This isn’t a ‘best of’ list. There are tens of thousands of albums released each year. Some are probably very good. A few may be regarded as classics at some point in the future. Some were hailed as classics this year and will be forgotten in future. Some I would like a lot if I ever heard them. Most of the albums I would like I will never hear. Some I will hear next year or in the years after that. So, this is just the ten albums I bought this year that I still like and play at the end of the year and enjoy enough to recommend them to others.

Zen Mantra – ‘How Many Padmes Hum?’ (Muzai)
Very melodic and jangling pop which is also a bit sonically messed up. For something created by a 17-year-old in a Christchurch bedroom it starts remarkably with a slow instrumental like something from an early Popol Vuh album then goes on to filter the best of the Creation Records catalogue from the late 80s and mix it up with the ghosts of some classic Kinks and Syd-era Pink Floyd, without sounding retro or like a pastiche. It sounds contemporary thanks to an undercurrent of electronic pop, a drum-machine and a general self-produced fuzziness. These songs are great – instantly memorable, well-crafted, noisy pop fun. Those with a love of classic psychedelic pop, ‘shoe-gaze’ pop or guitar pop from any era should give it a listen. http://zenmantra.bandcamp.com

Dear Time’s Waste – ‘Some Kind of Eden’ (Scrappy Disc)

This has been a more difficult album to get to know (and then love) than the 2010 debut album ‘Spells’ (which was my favourite album of 2010). ‘Spells’ was a splendid, layered fantasy of imaginary films, underwater mythology and word-plays. ‘Some Kind of Eden’ is a much more claustrophobic and stripped down collection. The fidgety electronic sci-fi beats and sparse instrumentation keeps the listener at arm’s length. But the restrained, personal and sometime exultant songs are sung in one of best and distinctive voices I’ve heard since Cocteau Twin’s Liz Fraser.

Experience it live in the studio here with ‘Heavy/ High’ Live in Session http://youtu.be/ZAkTixawul8

Mirroring – ‘Foreign Bodies’ (Kranky)

Mirroring is a collaboration between Grouper (Liz Harris) and Tiny Vipers (Jesy Fortino) which should be the only two reasons you need to have to get it. Each artist operates at different ends of the quiet ambient folk/ experimental spectrum. Grouper uses layered reverb and delays on guitar and voice to create dark pools of noise. Tiny Vipers hypnotic picked acoustic guitar is sparser and her clear, haunting voice sounds as old as the earth. Together they fit together in extraordinary ways which you really have to hear rather than read about.
http://www.kranky.net/

Wavelength – Samara Lubelski (De Stijl)

Timeless, lush, psychedelic songcraft from US multi-instrumentalist. The jangling guitar/ 12-string drone, treated violin, and especially the almost whispered half-spoken, half-murmured vocals make this one of the most distinctive and exotic albums I’ve heard this year. Contributions from PG Six on guitar and Steve Shelley on drums and an artist I will definitley be exploring further. There is an impressive back-catalogue to check here: http://www.samaralubelski.com/
http://destijlrecs.com/

Melody’s Echo Chamber ‘Melody’s Echo Chamber’ (Fat Possum)

French chanteuse Melody Prochet teamed up with Australian multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker from Tame Impala to produce a colourful album that is pop confectionary of the best kind. It blends an imaginary psychedelic past (it never sounded quite as lush and trippy as this) with a more trance-pop present (shades of Boards of Canada maybe). It sounds warm and bright, all blown out and overloaded like the audio equivalent of an over-saturated Super 8 movie, imagery this video for ‘I Will Follow You’ adopts.
http://www.fatpossum.com/

Mount Eerie – ‘Clear Moon’/ ‘Ocean Roar’ (P Eleverum & Sons)

Two separate albums released on LP a few months apart this year. The first, ‘Clear Moon’, is mostly quiet, damp, reflective. The second ‘Ocean Roar’ is, as the title suggests, a sometimes deafening roar of layered noise within which are periods of eerie oily calm. Both albums are heavy with the atmosphere and stories of life amongst Pacific Northwest Washington State coastlines and rainforests. Melodic experimental pop from the twilight where electronica is replaced with the warm buzz of layered natural percussion loops. Mount Eerie plays in Dunedin on 7th and 8th of February.
http://www.pwelverumandsun.com/

Death and Vanilla – Death and Vanilla (Kalligrammofon)

Given my infatuation with the entire Broadcast catalogue it was little wonder this album took just a couple of songs to embed itself. At first it almost sounds too influenced by Broadcast. But the more it becomes familiar the more it distinguishes itself as something of its own, particularly with the vocals mostly treated with effects that render them ghostly wisps. It sounds timeless and every play brings out new favourites. The first pressing sold out quickly and it looks like I got one of the last copies of the second pressing. But you can download the digital album here: http://deathandvanilla.bandcamp.com/

Die! Die! Die! – Harmony

This fourth album from the hardest working band in NZ rock is thrillingly abrasive at times but in the best possible way and laced with a tonne of melody. The guitar sound here is a distorted layered maelstrom that reminds at times of a less murky and submerged My Bloody Valentine. Also some great dynamic variations to balance out the intensity.

Exlovers – Moth (Young and Lost Club)

I’m not even sure this is a 2012 album. Some of the songs were singles a few years ago and the album packaging has no clues. But my friend Ben in London assures me it is a 2012 release. Regardless, it is an almost perfect collection of wistful, chiming guitar-pop. The distinctive synchronised and subdued male-female lead vocals highlight the melancholy of the lyrics perfectly.
http://www.youngandlostclub.com/

Tame Impala – Lonerism (Modular)
Hearing the Melody’s Echo Chamber album (produced and performed largely by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker) that finally convinced me to check out this year’s Tame Impala album. I needn’t have worried about resisting the hype. It is a very good album of imaginary psychedelic pop with enough memorable tunes to stand out amongst the novelty of the hyper-saturated sound.

Can – Lost Tapes (Mute)

Some list this a a re-issue, but as it is all previoulsly unreleased it is a new release… of old stuff. It is a massive listen, challenging at times maybe (only if you aren’t used to Can) and full of remarkable treasures. The music of Can has not dated; it is as weird and distinctive now as it was in the early 70s when I first heard it as an adolescent. Can saved me from heavy metal at the time and have been a constant presence in my life ever since. This is not the best place to start your own obsession with Can (try Ege Bamyasi, Tago, Mago, Soundtracks and Future Days first) but you’ll want to hear it eventually: http://mute.com/can/the-lost-tapes-vinyl-box-set-release-dec-2012

Trick Mammoth – Floristry

I’m so old fashioned that I almost forgot the download-only album ‘Floristry’ from Trick Mammoth that I really enjoyed during 2012. Whenever I think of ‘albums’ I think of physical objects – a CD in a sleeve, an LP in a sleeve. Even if I burn a downloaded album to CDR to play it on the stereo it still doesn’t register as an ‘album’ with me. But the Trick Mammoth album was a collection of gorgeous bedroom psychedelic pop songs I would have been thrilled to own on LP (or even to release on LP).

http://trickmammoth.bandcamp.com/album/floristry

As good as the simple unadorned solo Trick Mammoth album is, the current morphing Trick Mammoth band is and even more exciting prospect for 2013 based on the evidence of this song – my song of the year: http://theatticrattle.bandcamp.com/track/baltimore-full-band-single

And let’s not forget my other song of the year ‘Husbands’ from UK post-punk 4-piece Savages: https://soundcloud.com/#pop-noire-radio/savages-husbands

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