I know it sounds a bit over enthusiastic, but 2012 is one of the better years of music I can recall in recent memory. It felt like all the different genres and sub-genres were on the top of their game.
I don’t want to ramble too long now, but I would like to put out the disclaimer that I have not listened to every single album that came out this year. In the past, I’ve written my top albums lists for more formal publications which meant trying to create a list that was centered on importance of the albums in the scheme of the larger music community. However, since this is my personal blog, I’ve decided to order these just be my own interest and liking.
So without further ado, here are my top 25 albums of 2012.
25. Metz – [self-titled]
2012 felt like the second coming of “the year that punk broke.” Instead of describing Metz’s self-titled debut album, I might as well just describe a bulldozer or a wrecking ball. It’s thunderous, destructive, erupting, and pummels buildings into dust (well, almost). Of the raucous garage/punk albums to come out this year, Metz’ did it the loudest and maybe the harshest – citation: “Wasted.”
24. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Grizzly Bear is probably one of the most intricate and skilled groups in music right now. All too often I’ve seen group with talented members produce incredibly lackluster music because “hey lets throw in 5 time signatures and I’ll come up with some disorienting counterpoint melodies” just doesn’t usually sound very good. On “Shields,” Grizzly Bear is able to harness their abilities into a richly textured piece with inviting melodies. The lead single “Yet Again” exemplifies their tactics of throwing in unusual and galloping harmonies to produce a singular accessible track.
23. Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes
Any artist who gets the Thom Yorke stamp of approval must have something going for them. “Until The Quiet Comes” has Flying Lotus prove yet again that beats don’t just have to be “cool and interesting,” they can also be moving and wraith-like. Tracks like “Getting There” find FlyLo treading ground laid down by the like of Nujabes years before. At any moment on “Until The Quiet Comes” the songs can go from fragile to an infectious groove.
22. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Tame Impala is definitely headphone music. Every listen to “Lonerism” is a new chance to discover some new guitar effect or overdub you didn’t notice before. Psychedelic-garage rock, through Tame Impala, is making a come back from the label of “high school Pink Floyd tribute band” to beautiful, intricate pop outfit. Whirring amp feedback on “Gotta Be Above” and flange accents on “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” are wonderfully weird Easter eggs for a powerfully infection record.
21. Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives
For those who have followed Death Cab For Cutie from the early records till now, the past few years have been confusing, awkward, and sometimes even upsetting (“IF HE DOESN’T WRITE ANOTHER SAD SONG, I’M GOING TO BURN DOWN BEN GIBBARD’S HOUSE AND SPREAD THE ASHES ALL OVER THE SET OF ‘NEW GIRL!'”). While I wasn’t a big fan of “Codes and Keys” and struggled with half of “Narrow Stairs,” Ben Gibbard’s solo effort “Former Lives” seems to accomplish the direction those two albums were heading in. The storytelling of “Teardrop Windows” and the self-realization of “Oh, Woe” give glimpses of ghosts of Gibbard’s past while the instrumentation shows where he’s at now.
20. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
A hip-hop album detailing life growing up in Compton is not necessarily original on a surface level, but Kendrick Lamar is an artist who knows the importance of perspective. “good kid, m.a.a.d. city” gives Lamar’s insights on the self-destructive tendencies of his beloved hometown with spiritual and pensive overtones throughout but mostly deals with his own personal struggles. The stand out track “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” finds Lamar lifting up his music as the one thing that he wants to keep untainted, a sort of emotional core to the record.
“I am a sinner whose probably gonna sin again. Please forgive me, things I don’t understand. Sometimes I want to be alone. Bitch don’t kill my vibe.”
In just one line (on a record full of equally as brilliant one liners) Lamar weaves in art, loneliness, and faith into his own mission statement. So while Yeezy and Hova are debating whether or not their jackets are Margiela, Lamar will be out here relating to everyone else who can’t afford a yacht.
19. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Since when did The Tallest Man On Earth start going electronic?
Vocalist Joe Newman (whom I’m still not convinced isn’t Kristian Matsson, The Tallest Man, himself) brings grit and imperfection to a genre dominated by the pristine production of experimental-electronic-rock. The songs feel like fables, drawing inspiration from elementary sources like “Where the Wild Things Are” (“Breezeblocks”) or even shapes (“Tesselate”). Alt-J isn’t the next Radiohead, they’re the next Alt-J.
18. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
The dooming, slow bass lead into “Wave Goodbye” followed by the flood of guitar distortion and a 60s pop vocal melody epitomizes Ty Segall. “Slaughterhouse” was one of three records Segall put out this year. Each one was great for their own reasons, but” Slaughterhouse” found Segall in his best stride. Beneath the layers of fuzz distortion are exceptionally melodic guitar lines. It’s as if The Beatles decided after they wrote “Helter Skelter” that they should go further and darker in that direction.
17. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Majellan
I must confess, I’ve never really been a big fan of Dirty Projectors. Most of their previous work has come off to me as pretentious and inaccessible. Coming in to “Swing Lo Majellan” I was expecting to feel the same, but wanted to give them one last shot – that was a good idea. This record finds the band toning back a bit on the overly complex song-structure and harmonic intricacies while retaining what makes them unique. “Gun Has No Trigger” and “About To Die” lean toward the grandiose spectrum of Dirty Projectors where songs like the title track and “Impregnable Question.” The fact that “Unto Caesar” features the band laughing as they try to figure out when to bring in the harmonies gives the feeling that the band is learning to let loose a bit.
16. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
Kristian Matsson (The Tallest Man On Earth) has developed a definitive style, one that is hard to deviate from much. Instead of changing his songwriting approach on “There’s No Leaving Now,” Matsson mixes things up with the production. His past two albums have felt like creaky, old solo recordings. The new record feels like a relic from a dusty record bin. The inclusion of faintly mixed electric guitar on the tracks gives a warmth to the album. “Revelation Blues” could be a b-side to an unknown Sun Records artist and “1904” sounds like a long lost A.M. radio gem.
15. Tanlines – Mixed Emotions
“Mixed Emotions” must have escaped from a break in the space-time continuum (or maybe a Hot Tub Time Machine). Tanlines could be quiet at home with 1980s contemporaries like Tears For Fears and Simple Minds. “Mixed Emotions” is full of synth-based anthems contemplating a possible mid-life crisis. Opener “Brothers” is deliberate with execution with a swaying beat. Eric Emm’s voice sounds like it could break out into “Melt With You” at any moment. Guitars shimmer, electronic drums give their unearthly thumps, and there are even some tropical overtones. If the 80s had been more like this, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten such a bad rap.
14. Dan Deacon – America
How this album did not make a bigger impact in 2012 is beyond me. Dan Deacon’s “America” brought together electronic production with live orchestral instrumentation to create a poignant, self-aware album about, well, America. Deacon has described it in some ways as a protest record – specifically the masterful four movement USA suite at the end of the record. Songs like “Lots” are blown out in the vain of a Steve Albini record. “True Thrush” has a dream-pop vibes with rushing drums. The inclusion of real, acoustic drums gives this album punch. This album reminds us that Deacon is not just a musician, he is a composer.
13. Grimes – Visions
I wasn’t sure what to make of Grimes when “Visions” came out. Then I spent more time with it. This album captures feelings of meekness and desperation with massive production, which seems a bit contradicting at first. At the center of every track is a soft, wavering melody – everything else is just a gorgeous garnish building off of that core. “Genesis” is the perfect example of this. Beneath all of the swirling piano lines, bass thumps, and sporadic beats is the small framed Grimes saying “Oh heart, and then it falls, and then I fall, and then I know.” It’s simple, but meaningful.
12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
The field recordings of chatter at the beginning of “Mladic,” the first track on “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend,” set an ominous tone for this bleak and tumultuous record. Soon after a violin rises in and bending guitar notes pop in and out as the song rises to its breaking point that won’t let up for the rest of the 20 minute track. Godspeed You! Black Emperor quietly released shrieking record while on tour, keeping up with their mentality of “this isn’t business, this is art and a statement.” Many bands have popped up trying the instrumental prog-chamber rock style since GY!BE’s last recorded 10 years ago. GY!BE unintentionally prove they still do it best, but that doesn’t seem to be their primary concern. Moreover, they’re proving that the same issues we lamented 10 years ago are still relevant today and there’s no excuse.
11. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon
“Clear Moon” is an ethereal look at nature, monotony, and living through Phil Elverum’s (Mount Eerie) Walden-esque insight. At one moment Elverum might be channeling Nick Drake – picking out a delicate melody while quietly reminiscing (“Through The Trees Pt. 2”). The next thing you know, he’s turned into Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine – drowning his thoughts beneath a flood of looming guitar distortion (“Over Dark Water”). It is hard to pinpoint exactly how to classify this album with its variety noise and sounds. His narrative strings it all together – simple pondering and speculating of the world around him. It is simultaneously a call against unnatural living and doubt if that’s even possible. Elverum paints vivid pictures with his lyrics and uses the music only to texture them.