1. METZ - METZ
Like many local show-goers, I've been saying for years that METZ could be huge if they ever got their shit together and put out an LP, but even I didn't expect the kind of buzz they've been generating on the strength of their full-length debut (and I don't just mean tinnitus). The local trio's nervy, aural gut-punch of a live show has been Toronto's little secret for a few years now, but the album shows that they have more than just volume. They also have hooks, songcraft and an impressive gift for tension and release (but mostly tension). They're definitely making the most of their moment in the spotlight.
2. FRANK OCEAN - channel ORANGE
Sometimes it's hard to separate the album from the story, but Frank Ocean's opus would be a gamechanger with or without the redemption arc (Def Jam dropped him in a previous guise before re-signing him as Frank Ocean) or the heartbreaking account of same-sex unrequited love that accompanies it. The Odd Future crooner doesn't so much rewrite the rules of R&B as the artist he's most frequently lumped in with, the Weeknd, but he does do impressive things within them, jumping from prog-funk to soulful balladry with poetry, nuance and grace.
3. TAME IMPALA - Lonerism
Psychedelic rock doesn't always get its fair shake as a genre these days, frequently disparaged as empty display of far-out grooves and shameless trippiness (as if affecting a response is a bad thing). Tame Impala have managed to avoid those pitfalls with an impeccably crafted album that goes for conceptual weightiness over cutesy, colourful whimsy. The focus is firmly on songwriting, but it still makes your head swim. Turns out all you have to do to impress critics as a psych band is throw around words like "isolation" and "solipsism."
4. CADENCE WEAPON - Hope In Dirt City
Grimes' breakout album, Visions, put Montreal's weird pop scene in the spotlight this year, but she's been reticent to act as its representative. Instead, that role has fallen to the former Poet Laureate of Edmonton, Rollie Pemberton, whose latest album as Cadence Weapon perfectly captures the smoky, post-ironic, post-internet, iPod-DJ'ed, live-tweeted quarterlife crisis condition of his generation and his scene, all to the backdrop of Bollywood, psych, blog-rap, post-punk and Brazilian funk. Hip hop has plenty of odes to bottle-popping and club-hopping, but Pemberton has a lock on the left-of-the-law loft party.
5. GRIMES - Visions
Okay, fine. There are some things that, as a critic, make me put up my shields. For a good part of the year, that meant I slept on Grimes, whose whole fully-formed-from-Tumblr aesthetic pushed my cynicism trigger. But somewhere around my tenth unprovoked listen to Visions I realized - wait a second - I think I actually like this album. Actually, a lot. That doesn't mean I won't stop doing my impression of her helium baby vocals at my girlfriend when she blasts Genesis, but I also won't deny her future-pop zeitgeist-catching genius, or the microscope she put on Canada's weirder, fringier sounds in Montreal and beyond.
6. TY SEGALL & WHITE FENCE - Hair
Ty Segall is still in the first half of his twenties, but he's already amassed a long, sprawling catalogue. This year, he released three (!) full-length LPS, not to mention a number of singles, reissues and compilation appearances. Slaughterhouse is a ripping blast of noisy garage rock recorded with his band, while Twins is another in a line of rock solid solo records. But I give the edge to Hair, a psychedelic throwback collaboration with soul spirit White Fence that sounds like a loose, acid-fuelled jam session by two whiz kids at the top of their game.
7. MAC DEMARCO - Rock And Roll Nightclub
After releasing a few underrated, under-the-radar cassettes under the name Makeout Videotape, singer/songwriter Mac DeMarco "went solo" this year and put out a couple of records under his own name. The aptly named second album, 2, seems to be the one catching the year-end lists, but I prefer the earlier Rock And Roll Nightclub , which better showcases his warped, disorienting pop jangle alongside his equally warped sense of humour.
8. THE MEN - Open Your Heart
After years in chillwave/glock-rock/chamber-pop purgatory, 2012 brought a marked return in indie rock that actually, you know, rocks. Cloud Nothings had a strong year, for one, and Japandroids jumped onto everyone's radar with Celebration Rock (though personally, I thought it was a repeat of their debut, Post-Nothing, without the oomph). The bright side of this development is that it led me to The Men, an unassuming Brooklyn (yes, Brooklyn) four-piece that deals in no-frills power-pop layered in beautiful sludge, jangle, volume and melody.
9. Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
Some critics have been ready to call it a career for Leonard Cohen in various parts of the last few decades, but the old monk still has some things left to say. Old Ideas is easily his best album in at least ten years, easing up on the cheesy synth sounds that he's become so fond of, instead surrounding his elegant, evocative songwriting with earthy, understated arrangements. Lyrically, it touches on all his familiar themes - spirituality, sexuality and exhaustion - but it does so with the reflection that only 78 eventful years (captured in this year's excellent biography, I'm Your Man) can bring.
10. Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits
It didn't take Dan Boeckner long to bounce back from the breakup of Handsome Furs... at least, not musically. After parting from his partner, Alexei Perry, the Montreal howler flew to Los Angeles, jumped into the studio with Spoon's Britt Daniel, and created an album that pares down both bands' already no-frills rock to their most swaggering elements. Divine Fits were unfairly discounted for the same reason most supergroups are, but this was not just an ego-driven cashgrab. Hey, it beats the last Spoon record.
Yamantaka//Sonic Titan - YT//ST
I've been telling people that this is my favourite record of the year before I realized that, whoops, it came out in 2011. In my defense, I wrote my review in December of last year, right around the same time that I was putting together my year end list, so I didn't have time to properly consider it. If I had a do-over, though, the Montreal//Toronto prog/metal/rock/J-Pop/Noh-Wave band would have taken my number one spot, even without the aid of their unparalleled, theatrical live show.
Daphni - Jiaolong
Ceremony - Zoo
Mares Of Thrace - The Pilgrimage
Phèdre - Phèdre