Year-end lists are so often are based solely on the records that received the most press. Here's a look beyond the major-indie PR bubble at some of the year's best underground sounds and DIY label releases.
Hear Hums, Opens [Inner Islands]:: Gainesville duo Mitch Myers and Kenzie Cook's 2012 atmospheric recording of bright minimal psychedelia is mesmerizing: soft guitar hums, floating chants, chirpy percussion. Ethereal drone elements and folksy found sounds make each track blend into the next.
TOPS, Tender Opposites [Arbutus Records]:: Montreal's underground produced the most interesting new music this year (Grimes, Doldrums, Majical Cloudz), but this LP by TOPS is perhaps the most essential and painfully overlooked. "Turn Your Love Around" and "Go Away" are two of the best avant-pop jams of the year.
Pegasvs, Pegasvs [Canada Records]:: The debut record by a Barcelona dream-pop duo I caught at Primavera Sound festival this year. Producer Sergio Perez and singer Luciana Della Villa started playing together in 2010 after years of playing in various psychedelic and pop bands in Spain. Their lyrics are all sung in Spanish, but the strength of their synth-and-drum shoegaze translates, regardless. Start with "La Melodia del Afilador" or "Brillar."
Hysterics, Hysterics [M'Lady's Records]:: When both Kathleen Hanna and Calvin Johnson have name-dropped a young hardcore band in interviews, you know they are worth checking out. This summer I decided to catch a show by Olympia's Hysterics at a practice space in Allston, and, as it turns out, Kathleen and Calvin know what's up. The fiery shouts and ear-splitting riffs on Hysterics's debut EP make for some of the year's most urgent punk songs.
Sourpatch, Stagger & Fade [Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records]:: A true DIY gem full of feminist dream-pop of the West Coast variety. Fans of Black Tambourine and Velocity Girl will wonder how it possibly took them so long to find these songs.
Happy Jawbone Family Band, The Silk Pistol [Night People]:: Happy Jawbone might be the best band in New England. A long-time favorite among Boston's basement show-goers, this year the always-excellent Night People label of Iowa City took notice, releasing the band's follow-up to OK Midnight You Win (out last year via Feeding Tube). Happy Jawbone's scrappy weirdo psych-pop is Brattleboro's best-kept secret, but their recent signing with Mexican Summer may change that in 2013.
Procession, Your Turn To Feel [Self-released]:: Eight tracks of hooky shoegaze from a Grand Rapids, Michigan, post-punk group I was introduced to at this year's Ladyfest Boston. The lead track "Mementos" was one of the most-played songs on my college radio show this year, but the entire album is worth playing on repeat. They're not reinventing dream-pop, but there's something distinct to their vocalist's wide-eyed youthfulness and ultra-sincere lyricism countered by walls of distortion and fucking huge noisy guitars.
Ed Schrader's Music Beat, Jazz Mind [Load Records]:: An addictive 10-song full-length from a Baltimore noise-rock duo whose name has been circulating around the underground music community for years. The word "visceral" has been thrown around a lot this year, but the highs and lows here are hard not to feel shook up by.
Daniel Bachman, Seven Pines [TompkiNs Square]:: It's pretty understandable that Bachman's LP went overlooked this year: all-instrumental acoustic guitar records are rarely this interesting. But this 22-year-old from Fredericksburg, Virginia, plays seriously excellent, complex songs inspired by folk and blues as much as experimental drone and psych.
Waxahatchee, American Weekend [Don Giovanni]:: Former PS Eliot singer Katie Crutchfield's solo debut of minimal acoustic guitar is sad and angsty as hell, but might be my favorite album of the year.