Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best albums of 2012: 10 to 1

Cue Europe, somebody. This is the final countdown. Well, of the collective, anyway. For 2012, anyway. But many of us will soon post our individual picks for best or favorite albums of 2012.

In the meantime, here are our top 10 picks for 2012. (Here are the previous lists from this year: 50-41, 40-31, 30-21, 20-11.) As per custom, there's a Spotify playlist of selections from the top 10 at the end -- plus the epic playlist of our top 50, courtesy of Ron Bronson.

10. Father John Misty - Fear Fun

So this album showed up on my scene thanks to fellow .edu music critical Dylan Wilbanks. It's quality singer-songwriter tunes. - RB

Father John Misty and First Aid Kit owe me something for getting them in Ron's and Georgy's ears (respectively). - DW

9. Metric - Synthetica

I enjoyed this album a lot. The songs are full of a nervous kind of energy that gets me pumped. While Metric's previous effort, Fantasies, contained bits of brilliance, Synthetica holds together more cohesively. From the get-go, lead singer Emily Haines tries to disarm us, attempting to lower our expectations with the declaration that she’s “just as fucked up as they say.” But this album is anything but. A solid but of electropop in a lackluster year. - AC

Emily Haines' sultry voice is a fine starting point for any project, even if this isn't be best collection from the Canadian alt-electronica outfit. Standout track: "Breathing Underwater" shows what happens when Haines' voice, heavy hooks and the musical might of this band hit the right notes. - TN

You have to love an album that begins with the lyric, “I’m just as fucked up as they say.” That’s Emily Haines and Metric for you, just putting it out there like they’ve always done. The Metric brand of rock (again, Canadian!) is wreathed in a swirl of synthy melodies, but never lost in it. And Haines’ deceptively sweet vocals always pack a lyrical punch. - GC

I'm sad I missed out on Synthetica because I love Metric. It just fell through the cracks in my listening this year. I'm going to pick it up at the record store next time I'm there. - JG

Ultimately, as much as I wanted to like this album, it just never made it on my ballot. I kept wondering what Broken Social Scene, as a collective, could do with "Speed The Collapse" or "Artificial Nocturne." Metric as a band, sadly, has limits, as much as I like Emily Haines. - DW

8. Mumford & Sons - Babel

Gotta admit, I was sick and tired of hearing "I Will Wait" weeks before this album came out. So I was pre-prejudiced against it. Still, I was expecting more from these guys. It was just more banjo and bluster. Best track: "Lover of the Light." Mainly because it had a Dave Matthews Band sort of vibe. That's probably not a good reason for liking an alt-bluegrass band. - AC

Meh. I'm just kind of annoyed with these guys at this point. - GR

Any Mumford and Sons album will bring more than its share of musical prowess, powerful vocals and lyrical skill, but for whatever reason this effort never came all the way together for me. Your mileage may vary. Standout track: "I Will Wait" showcases the blue-sky possibilities with this band: plaintive words, powerful vocals, perfect playing in the fast-slow-fast structure. - TN

Much as the Avett Brothers did, the Mumford & Sons struck some previously untapped vein of appreciation of rollicking, foot-stomping, UK-infused Americana with their debut, Sigh No More. The sophomore follow-up, “Babel,” is not quite a slump, but it does feel somewhat shrugged at points, with fewer of the barbs and edges that made “Sigh No More” stand out. That said, the album is still a delight, at turns feverish and mournful, bitter and beautiful. - GC

I never had the chance to fully check out Mumford & Sons' previous album, so listening to this one in its entirety was a pleasure. While it received lukewarm reviews from some critics, I'm still cool with them - likely because I've always been That Girl Who Appreciates The Person Busting Out The Acoustic Guitar At Parties And Cottages By The Lake. I like their sound, and I love their cover of Simon & Garfunkel's The Boxer. - CM

I echo GR's sentiments. "Little Lion Man" will always be a great song, but...I'm over them. - RB

On Twitter in October I said there was a new album that bored me to death, but I was afraid to admit it as I'd be chastised by the rabble for not loving it. Yep, Babel. - DW

Bored to death. I'm glad Dylan didn't say which album he was talking about, because that meant I agreed wholeheartedly on my own standing. Except, I would've said it anyway (and I think I did to some of my friends). First off, M&S are a fad. Their musical style is not new or different. Babel does not progress or show they have grown as musicians. Rather, it comes across as "we have the formula to sell albums among the hipsters and wannabe-hipsters". But, as someone with hipster tendencies, I found the album somewhat insulting to me as a listener. I didn't think their first record, Sigh No More, was anything special (in fact, I don't think I bought it) either, but that's just me. - JG

[Hipster tendencies? - DW]

7. fun. - Some Nights

This settled my fix for Glee-style show choir music for this year, and probably beyond. - AC

Beyond the title track, "We Are Young" and some other good moments, there's too much filler here for me to put this higher than I did. Standout track: "We Are Young" is more than a catchy song, it's an anthem people may still be listening to decades from now. - TN

This album didn't actually make my list, but it's still an enjoyable album to listen to. While some of the songs on this album are purely modern pop, a lot of them (including the current smash title-track from the album) have me reminiscing about classic stadium rock. - CG

I had Some Nights on my list but had a hard time keeping it on. While I love(d) the singles, I'm not 100% yet on the rest of the album, despite my appreciate for Nate Ruess' lead vocals, his sense of musical adventure, and his channeling of Freddie Mercury on certain tracks. - CM

I wanted to like this, didn't do much for me. - RB

I agree that there's filler here, but "Some Nights" and "We Are Young" alone are enough to make this a classic. - CD

The first single choice of "We Are Young" is one of the worst travesties of this year. It's a horrible song with an annoyingly catchy but off-putting melody and pales to almost any other track on the record. That being said, the title track is a nearly perfect blend of what fun. should be and be writing. The one major criticism of the recording that I have is the overuse of autotune that just doesn't make sense. Some Nights is no Aim and Ignite but I think fun. deserves all of the award nominations they have received. - JG

6. Beach House - Bloom

I could listen to this album all day. Just really, really fantastic song writing. Their show in Boston was easily one of, if not the, best live acts I caught this year. - GR

I did enjoy their last album more, but I have to say that Bloom grew on me. In contrast to say, Best Coast, these guys took a huge step forward with their 2012 release. - RB

There was a lot of criticism of Beach House for not doing something radically different on this release. I disagree -- instead of standing pat like Best Coast did, Beach House evolved and refined their sound, made themselves bigger and louder while improving their songwriting and musical craft. "Zebra" on Teen Dream is the sort of song that makes you want to cry from how beautiful it is. "Myth" makes you cry. It's that much better. And so are Beach House. - DW

5. Jack White - Blunderbuss

Is this really a solo project, or is it just another side project for the wunderkind behind the Dead Weather and Raconteurs, the producer/collaborator of Wanda Jackson's great 2011 comeback album (The Party Ain't Over), etc.?  Blunderbuss meanders beautifully from guitar-saturated rock to ballads to a fun cover of the '50s R&B classic "Shakin'." In other words, it's a lot like a White Stripes album. Only somehow freer and more daring. - AC

Dear The White Stripes: Thank you for breaking up and allowing Jack to make The White Stripes music again. - GR

Ditto to the comments above - I gave it a listen, but really felt like White is just (still) making White Stripes music. Which is cool and all, but didn't wow me as much as I'd have wanted it to. Some development or risk-taking on dear old Jack's behalf would be awesome to hear. - CM

So, apparently the other critics on this blog have never listened to the White Stripes because Blunderbuss doesn't sound anything like a White Stripes record. To start, Jack put together two different bands to play on this record and to alternate on tour with the sole purpose of having the tracks sound different all the time. The album – specifically on tracks like "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy" – is far more piano-driven than anything the Stripes ever put out. The melodies are much pop-ier in melodic sensibility. Many tracks less saturated in guitar fuzz that you'd come to expect from Jack White. With his past three projects being extremely guitar heavy bands, Blunderbuss feels as though Jack has been set free creatively and do the record he's always wanted to do for himself. There are huge country overtones to the music, impeccable production, and all-over, scatter-shot tracks. This is not The White Stripes in any way, shape, or form. - JG

4. The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter

As with the Mumford & Sons offering, I had high hopes for this album. They were not realized. It's a mediocre offering from a talented troupe. Maybe expectations were too high. - AC

Sometimes, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, you just need to take the same wheel and roll it down a few new roads - and some familiar roads, too, just for old time’s sake. That’s what the Avett Brothers have done with The Carpenter - there’s not much changed from the formula that captured the nation’s attention with I and Love and You but that they had been developing since Emotionalism, The Gleam and beyond. But that’s just fine. Rocking chairs, heartache, starry-eyed reflection, foot-stomping on wooden porches, and some rye - that’s the Avett Brothers, now and likely forever. - GC

After the breakout success of I And Love And You, "The Carpenter" feels more like a typical Avetts record (complete with a "Pretty Little Girl from …" entry). Which, to me, means it's a great album but not as transcendently beautiful as their previous. Standout track: "I Never Knew You" is the quintessential Avett Brothers track, sounding sunny and funny despite sad subject matter, with a kilt full of killer wordplay, hooks and harmonies. - TN

While many of the songs are typical of the band—sad slow banjo that makes you cry, rollicking country jam that's surprisingly dark, sweet poppy radio track, etc.—I was still happy with this album. They've been on a roll since Emotionalism (still my favorite album of theirs), and The Carpenter is a respectable release, if not one that moves them forward. - GR

3. Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Beautiful noise. - AC

Vancouver-based Japandroid's sophomore album is nothing if not aptly named; its guitar fuzz and raw vocals ooze of the best late-night summertime parties. They've got awesomely rowdy energy that's carried throughout the entirety of the album, which is youthful and optimistic without being juvenile or, worse, cliché. I enjoy the fact that they're true to their sound and personality; one website claims that "instead of making the typical pitfall of hiring a renowned producer to “refine” their sophomore record, they brought in original engineer Jesse Gander, who coaxed them to “make this one a little more cruising down the highway, and a little less doing crystal meth on New Year’s.” And that's totally cool with me - there's too many indie bands who go for the New Year's Meth sound anyways.  - CM

I can't think of anything to say about this album other than I spent a good time of listening to it when it came out, that it served well as background noise to whatever I was working on. - RB

An album that's nostalgic in many ways -- nostalgic for DIY and punk, nostalgic for being 22 and invincible, nostalgic for the days when arena-filling bangers weren't seen as crass and over-the-top. The tightest, most focused 35 minutes of post-punk since Bad Religion's early days. I can't say enough good about this album because, seriously, this is the best rock album in years. - DW

Did you hear this band? All shoe-gazy and post-emo and noise-rock? It reminds me of everything I loved about late-90s emo and early-90s shoe-gaze. It's like Slowdive as a punk rock band. I was so pleasantly filled with joy by this record and was not expecting to be. - JG

2. The Lumineers - The Lumineers

Oh my my, oh hey hey. Here it comes. The big surprise album of the year for me. As 2012 began, I was looking forward to the crop of autumn offerings from folk-pop bands Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers -- so much so that I almost overlooked this gem. Fortunately, several of our group referenced this band and album in their mid-year review, and their comments convinced me to pick up this album. I’m glad I did. The Lumineers pump a fresh, distinctive sound into the banjo-and-mandolin movement. You’ve probably heard “Ho Hey,” the earworm single that garnered quite a bit of air time on satellite radio and indie-pop stations during the summer and fall, and it’s a great tune. But don’t stop there. Nearly every song on this album is a self-contained short story set to clean, simple production values. My personal favorites: “Dead Sea” and “Big Parade.” - AC

More folk fun. “Ho Hey” took over the airwaves much as Edward Sharpe did a couple years back with a simple but universally appreciated and delightfully expressed refrain - “I belong with you / You belong with me / You’re my sweetheart.” The rest of the album lives up the promise of that song. - GC

The Lumineers evoke simplicity, charm, and soulfulness, with lead vocalist Wesley Schultz' stylings sometimes reminiscent of Bob Dylan (Classy Girls, Flowers in Your Hair). With a good mix of upbeat songs (Big Parade, Stubborn Love), slower, earnest ones (Dead Sea, Slow It Down and Morning Song), and just plain simple, sweet ones (Flapper Girl), their album is an inspired breath of fresh air among the myriad of lesser folk-inspired indie releases of 2012. - CM

The crucial difference between the Lumineers and all the other members of this Americana invasion is Neyla Pekarek. She's the one who actually keeps them grounded musically. And she's a hell of a cellist. - DW

I'll admit it. I didn't want to buy this record when we were at the record store. I was afraid it was going to be an over-hyped, "people-with-no-taste-like-it" record because, like others have said, "Ho Hey" was everywhere on the radio (Austin kind of does that). But my wife wanted it, so we picked it up. The first listen through, I wasn't that impressed. It was better than I had thought. But then we kept listening to the album. And it kept growing on me. The intricacies of making a perfect, yet simple record like this began to show through. For the most part the songwriting is solid – few phrases come across as trite, and many are downright clever. And the musicality is great. Definitely a record worth more than its single. - JG

1. Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal

These Icelandic musicians made beautiful music in 2012. This was not my personal pick for No. 1, but certainly a contender for most of the year. I'm OK with where it landed. - AC

I’m echoing many of my colleagues when I profess my love for this album, but enough good things really can’t be said about it. This Icleandic band’s folk-tinged pop is uplifting, lush, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable. Must be the geothermic heat - just the right level of warmth. - GC

This beats out the likes of the xx and Stars for Best Pop/Rock Album Featuring Alternating Quavering Male/Female Vocals. Standout track: "Little Talks" shows this formula in all its glory, with the bonus of a rousing horn section. - TN

Goodness, gracious. This was one of those albums where I didn't know what I was getting myself into and then I couldn't stop playing it. "Slow and Steady" is my anthem of 2012. Just an enjoyable debut release in every possible way. - RB

Another band and record my wife liked and got me into. And what an astounding piece of music it is. Every song tells a story and every story is weird. At times Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir's vocals get on my nerves (and she's gonna ruin her voice, man...), but it's so crucial to the overall sound of the band. The album is near-perfect, in my opinion. -JG

KEXP does a live broadcast from Iceland once a year, and in 2011 they had Of Monsters And Men play a killer set during Seattle drive time (midnight in Reykjavik!) And yet, I still almost overlooked them because I confused them with The Head And The Heart (the Seattle band I'm most embarrassed to have represent my city). I'm happy I eventually came around. It is a very strange album lyrically, but musically it's a fine pop record. - DW

Selections from the top 10 of 2012:

The omnibus playlist of selections from the top 50 of 2012:

1 comment:

  1. Cool list. I work in PR and have run a volunteer online music magazine since 1997. So we have much in common.