As much as I love year-end best-of lists, I also kind of hate them. Because, really, any retrospective like this is bound to be woefully incomplete, and entirely driven by personal taste. But at the same time, they often cue me in to cool releases I might have missed along the way. So take this list for what it is, and in the spirit in which it’s intended: these are my personal favorite music releases of 2012, nothing more and nothing less. I personally enjoyed listening to them, and I hope that maybe you will too!
Quite possibly my favorite album of the year was the reunion LP by The dBs — Falling Off the Sky — which was as good as, if not better than, any release from their ’80s heyday. Great songs. Great production. Great deluxe value package (180-gram LP, CD, and download for $20!). The release was only marred by a run of annoying off-center LP pressings (I have gone through four copies seeking a good one) but hopefully that issue has been rectified by now.
Negotiations by The Helio Sequence is a fab new release from the Portland duo, on 2 LP clear vinyl, with a nice download and a bonus disc that lets you set up a sort of DIY surround sound, making this one an extra tasty for us fans of immersive music experiences.
Rework_ Philip Glass is perhaps the first remix album that I can honestly say I love. This late-in-the-year offering from Glass’ own Orange Mountain Music label is a fascinating end-to-end listen, co-produced by none other than Beck! The album was released on iTunes but it was also released as a limited edition 2 LP set on lovely clear vinyl (500 copies made). It’s going fast, though, so if you want it, act now!
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends combines art and music in one sweet package, with literally every disc in the run pressed with different color combinations of vinyl. Add the fact that discs contained some very cool experimental, often beautiful music to boot, and you have a winning offering.
Jerry Garcia & Merle Saunders: Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings comes in two forms: a 4-CD box set or a 2-LP purple colored vinyl reissue. Either one would be a wonderful addition to your collection.
ELP fans should definitely get a kick out of the awesome 5.1 surround sound mixes — by Steven Wilson! — included with the deluxe re-issues of the band’s first two albums, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Tarkus.
While you’re in surround mode, also check out Pat Metheny’s The Orchestrion Projecton Blu-ray. It’s an essential, awe-inspiring look and listen!
Neil Young’s Americana and Psychedelic Pill are also essential Blu-ray releases, but don’t expect surround treatment. What you get here are great high-resolution audio and cool visuals for a very fair price. A win for Neil Young fans who are into high-res sound.
Few bands put out three albums in three years, much less three albums in one year ; that two of Guided By Voices’ three new records in 2012 qualify as great in my book (Class Clown Spots a UFO and The Bears for Lunch) made this trio all the more exciting. One even comes on colored vinyl!
Sigur Rós’ Inni is a wonderful 2005 live concert document on a gorgeously filmed black & white Blu-ray Disc overshadowed the band’s actual “new” release in 2012.
The Beatles also had some new releases this year, most notably the deluxe Blu-ray editions of Yellow Submarine and Magical Mystery Tour. They may not be perfect reissues, but they are still pretty stellar overall.
Paul McCartney’s super deluxe RAM box set is also an absolute must-have, with a great sounding 96/24 high resolution download and the accompanying previously impossibly rare mono LP.
Velvet Underground’s Scepter Studios Sessions acetate also finally saw the light of day in an official release. As a PS: the uber high-resolution download of the self-titled third Velvet Underground LP available at HDTracks.com sounds amazing!
The Who’s Quadrophenia film also saw a spectacular restoration by Criterion on Blu-ray disc this. Amazing sound. Dramatically improved visuals. Every Who fan needs this one.
Wing Beat Fantastic: Songs written by Mike Keneally & Andy Partridge was a welcome surprise from, respectively, the late-period-Zappa-band-stunt-guitarist and XTC’s main songwriter and lead singer. Full of lush aural joys, the album feels almost like a lost XTC album, falling somewhere between Nonsuch and the Apple Venus/Wasp Star duology. Essential for XTC fans.
Lastly, I want to implore you again if you haven’t already to The Move: Live at the Fillmore 1969 a good listen. Even though it is not a new album, this is an important and (relatively) stellar archival release of the only known complete concert by the much-loved and influential-but-underrated-in-the-U.S.A. British Invasion band that eventually morphed into The Electric Light Orchestra. Live at the Fillmore catches The Move — led by the great Roy Wood — pulling out all the stops to wow the US audiences. The sound is quite good for an archival soundboard type recording. That it exists at all is a miracle. Essential for fans of ELO and The Move.