Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Matt's Top 20 Albums of 2012

With this list representing the third of its kind, I find myself repeating the preamble I have come accustomed to crafting.  Once again, there was a ton of new and amazing music that crossed my path in 2012, and no, in no way do I feel like I heard all that was worth hearing.  Actually, it seems like the more I hear, the less I feel I truly know.  But with me now having access to Spotify and therefore just about any album that has ever been released, at least I can explore more and listen to whatever I want at the drop of a hat.

Like Kevin, this list represents my personal favorites of the year and in no way am I trying to say that they are the best albums released this year.  Of course, my thoughts on this could change over time whether it be in five years or five days.  Either way, it's cool to think about and I enjoyed the challenge of putting this together.  So, without further ado, here you go.

20)  Tennis - Young and Old

Great indie pop from a relatively new husband/wife act from South Carolina.  A lot of it sounds like vintage 50’s surfer music and you can totally picture yourself on a beach listening to a lot of these tunes.  The modernized indie sound is an added plus.

19)  Metric - Synthetica

I had been meaning to get more into this group for years as I kept hearing great songs pop up here and there on the radio.  I finally delved into this album that is packed with power and dance pop gems that for some reason sound ten times better with a woman singing them.   

18) Lord Huron - Lonesome Dreams   


A very somber and melodic album from a new band I learned of this year.  There are elements of Fleet Foxes here with a lot of acoustic folk pop songs and harmonies, but for me the songwriting is much more consistent than Fleet Foxes who always seemed overrated to me.  


                                                           17)  Bob Dylan - Tempest

Though I’ve never been a huge fan of Dylan’s more recent output, I was surprised by his latest release which I found way more consistent and enjoyable than I thought I would.  Though some of the songs drag on a bit, the overall structures are there and are very solid.  As if he needed to add another great album to his catalogue, he just keeps going.  Which is pretty amazing because in all honesty it seems like he should be dead by now.

16) The Shins - Port of Morrow

I was surprised by how consistent this album was.  I kinda thought the band would be finished once front man James Mercer fired the other three founding members and went off on his own to do some stuff with Danger Mouse, Modest Mouse, and any other mouse he could find.  But he brought the band back this year (or at least the name) and crafted a very solid album of indie pop that proves he is not going anywhere anytime soon. 

15)  Spirituzlized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Although I could probably do without two of the longest tracks on this album, the rest is just so good.  This is an act that I just learned of but has been around for many years.  It’s hard to get a grasp on what is going on as the album jumps all over the place (sometimes in the same song) but when it hits, it’s either beautiful and contemplative or frantic and avant-garde.  This may be the most interesting album I’ve heard all year.

14) Beach House - Bloom

Though the album is pretty much the same song over and over again, they sound so good you kinda look past that.  There is a lush and ambient sound to each track and whatever they are doing in the studio with whatever equipment they’re using, this Baltimore based duo has stumbled on to something beautiful.  For their next effort, I might be more critical if they don’t branch out any further, but for now I think I’ll just enjoy this for what it is.

13)  The Raveonettes - Observator

The Raveonettes have been consistently putting out records since I first heard of them back in 2003, and though I very much like their style of combining old 50’s du-wop with a more modern indie rock sound, they have been spotty over the years.  For some reason, this album put everything together on a more consistent level for me and it was nice to hear.

12)  Grimes - Visions

A very catchy dance/pop album with synthesizers all over the place.  Lead singer Clair Boucher’s eerily creepy yet melodic voice sets the tone for a lot of these songs that can make you want to dance or just sit in a daze wondering if you somehow took a hit of acid without realizing it.

11)  Woods - Bend Beyond

Every year a band will release and album and I’ll hear and love it and then get all excited because I feel like I just discovered the next best thing or something and come to find out the band is not new at all but more like six years old.  And then I feel like I don’t know anything at all.  Along with Spiritualized, this indie-folk group from Brooklyn was new to me, but not so much to many others.  On this release, they created an album that at times sounds like experimental Pink Floyd and at others sounds like vintage Band or Crosby Stills & Nash records.  Either way, that’s a win for me.

10) Dinosaur Jr. - I Bet on Sky

Though this band has been around for ages, this record is the first one I ever sat down and listened to and I’m very glad I did.  It took me back a little to the mid-90’s with that alt-rock/grunge sound that was so prevalent at the time.  Oddly enough, it didn’t sound all that dated and included some of the best riffs of the year.  A little voyage into their back catalogue may be in order.

9) Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Chords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Apple’s fourth record in a whopping 16 years was much welcomed, though it did take me a long time to digest and get into it (Almost as long as it takes to get through the ridiculously pretentious title.)  But when I did, I really appreciated her passion, energy, and in some cases schizophrenic mania that came through the speakers.  She’s on some other level.  

8) Sharon Van Etten - Tramp

I never heard of Van Etten before this year, but I was very impressed by this eclectic effort that showcased her strong songwriting skills and beautiful voice.  Equal parts soft melodic tempo and sinister sounding tunes in minor chords, this album is one I could go back to many times over.

7)  Jack White - Blunderbuss

Jack White’s continuous streak of doing no wrong continues on his first solo record that incorporates an eclectic mix of blues infused rock with acoustic ballads and funk based traditional roots rock with country elements.  I know, a little bit of everything, right?  There are several moments here where you just feel like getting up to clap and sing along in many of the gospel like refrains and there is a lot on this album that music lovers of all genres can take something from.  Though it runs a bit long, it holds up and keeps you engaged even during some of the weaker tracks.  

                                    6)  Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball

An excellent release from the Boss that would be much higher on this list had he cut out about four throwaway tracks that also make the album go longer than it should.  But the rest is so good that it demands a high presence on this list.  I also got to see Springsteen live for the 8th time this year, and I can’t stress this nearly enough:  If you haven’t seen him live yet, make that a priority for 2013. 

5)  Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal

I was first led on to this band by my aunt and I mistakenly thought she was referring to Monsters of Folk.  She kept talking about how awesome they were and I was left with a lukewarm feeling of, “Ehh, that album was alright, but it also came out two years ago.  What’s the big deal?”  But then my cousin jumped in and cleared up the confusion and I went home to check it out.  Chock full of catchy Icelandic pop that reminds me of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes but even better.  Very full sounds and instruments of all kind along with dual lead vocalists both male and female make this one of the best of the year.

4)  Japandroids - Celebration Rock

This blistering 40 minute 8 track album might not pack a ton of songs, but it really does deliver one of the more raucous indie rock efforts in recent memory.  The guitar drum duo out of Vancouver, Canada pick up that torch from previous noisy two pieces The White Stripes and Black Keys and modernize the sound with more distortion and bombastic sounds that straddle the line between hardcore punk and melodic rock.  It’s a phenomenal album that just gets in there and gets right out without wasting one second, except perhaps for the fireworks exploding sounds that bookend the beginning and end of the record.  Yet, somehow even that fits right in.

3)  Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory

From the opening seconds of this phenomenal record, you get the feeling that something evil is about to happen.  Building to a crescendo, lead singer Dylan Baldi is screaming as if these words are his last and his style doesn’t deviate much from that the remainder of the album.  And just when you get some idea of what’s going on, the nearly 9 minute epic second track “Wasted Days” comes on and just blows you away.  What would normally be annoying vocals is offset by the wall of sound of guitars drums and bass that are very tight, ferocious, and melodic.  Overall, an excellent indie rock record that gets better the more you listen to it.

2)  Titus Andronicus - Local Business

These guys from New Jersey are probably my favorite new act of the past two years.  Their 2012 release here continues where they left off and they crafted an amazing album that somehow combines hardcore punk, power pop, and prog rock in a way that I have never really heard before.  It’s solid all the way through and just leaves me amazed by how unique and powerful it is.  Excellent, excellent, excellent.

1)  First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

As soon as I heard this I loved it.  There is nothing all that groundbreaking with this album, but it includes a complete listing of well-crafted folk pop with lush harmonies and catchy hooks.  It is consistent and the songs vary in structure and tempo enough to keep what would be an otherwise mediocre album into my favorite of the year.  I can’t imagine this ever getting old.

Honorable Mentions:

The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter
Green Day - Uno!
Mumford and Sons - Babel
The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
Diiv - Oshin
Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit
Two Door Cinema Club - Beacon
Tanlines - Mixed Emotions
Nude Beach - II
- M







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