Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best albums of 2012: 20-11

Happy Boxing Day and welcome back to our countdown. Today we crack the top 20 for 2012. This list goes all the way to 11. For those of you who missed our previous installments of this countdown of the year's best albums, you may find them here (50-41), here (40-31) and here (30-21).

20. Best Coast - The Only Place

The Beach Boys mounted an admirable comeback to reclaim their title as the kings of summer sounds. But Best Coast cranked out the definitive summer album of 2012. Even now, in the doldrums of winter, I still catch myself listening to The Only Place, in a wistful, California Dreamin’ kind of way. Bethany Cosentino’s strong vocals carries consistently through the entire album, from the surf-and-sun opening track to the longing finale “Up All Night.” Endless Summer, indeed. - AC

As someone who greatly enjoyed the first Best Coast record, I found The Only Place to be overly saccarin and downright camp. The album lies flat, going absolutely nowhere and sounding more of someone who dreams of being Californian than actually understanding the cultural. Irish imports The Thrills have consistently done a better job of translating that classic California surf ethos by writing better lyrical content and bringing better production. Best Coast's second record annoyed me by track 3 and by the time I had reached the end I was glad I hadn't wasted my money on the vinyl. - JG

No, in response to everyone who asks, I don’t only love this album because the cover features a bear hugging the state of California. It’s also a gorgeous, sun-kissed pop gem, with some classic touches that hearken all the way back to the 1950s and 1960s. A delight. - GC

Didn't quite capture the spirit of the first album. Instead, it sounded like a band that desperately wanted to be like the Best Coast of a few years ago. Given that, I still enjoy a number of tracks on the album, and it's something I'll put on for some mindless chill time. Also, these guys were fantastic live when I caught them at Royale in Boston earlier this year. - GR

Yeah, what they all said. It's like they're stuck in neutral idea-wise. The title track is lovely, though. - DW

I didn't enjoy this as much as their first album. - RB

19. Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
Another of the handful of albums that absolutely surprised me this year. Killer Mike comes from the same Atlanta scene as Outkast (and has worked with them a number of times), and has that same snappy drawl that Andre 3000 and Big Boi are known for. His beats border on ridiculous at times but, again, it's somewhat familiar territory given his pedigree. - GR

Yeah, Killer Mike is in a class by himself as Atlanta's resident radical rapper if you will. If you listen to The Coup or Dead Prez, this isn't exactly going to shock you. But it's got a Goodie Mob circa '96 vibe to it, in a sense and you can appreciate that. Except it's more aggressive than that. Killer Mike is a unique character in a rap game full of copy cats. - RB

18. Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls

Forget the Janis Joplin comparisons. Brittany Howard is good, but not that good. Still, a strong album that got a lot of critical acclaim. - AC

I had intended to included this album on my list, but didn't have the time to give it the thorough overview that I felt that it deserved. Looking forward to delving in more in the weeks to come. - CM

I feel like this album should've been better than it was. Like, Alabama Shakes are a band that were made for me to leave. But their songwriting chops leave a bit to be desired and I'd love to see them head to Nashville and get some help with that or do some lab sessions with Drive-By Truckers. They're going to get better though and that's saying a lot given that they're pretty damn good to begin with. - RB

I really, really wanted to love this because of all the hype. But it never quite seemed to go anywhere. - CD

My wife and I first saw Alabama Shakes perform on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, after hearing about them and their single for a month or two. We picked up the vinyl to hear the rest of the record. We listened. I liked it. And then it sat. For months. I put the album on my car iPod and every time it would come up in shuffle... I would skip them. For me this constitutes a fail and is why they didn't make my list. There is no doubt Howard's voice is distinct and amazing. And I love the musicianship. But if an album doesn't compel me to keep listening... I guess it's not for me. - JG

17. Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now

Not as brilliant as his previous release, Harlem River Blues, but yet another solid product from a terrific songwriter. - AC

I agree with Andy. Harlem River Blues is brilliant and amazing while Nothing's Gonna... is great and nice to listen to. The songs, in general, are less compelling melody-wise... a bit more tame for this genre and JTE himself. One good point is that the songs on this record sound a lot less like Ryan Adams copies than those on Harlem River Blues, which may be part of my reason for feeling it didn't live up to the previous effort. I still love Justin Townes Earle and his voice, and I'll keep listening to this record into the new year. - JG

16. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball

The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, who was Bruce Springsteen’s soulful sidekick with the E Street Band, passed away in 2011. But Clemons’ passing did not diminish Springsteen’s latest offering. Wrecking Ball is as anthemic as so much of the great early work that featured Clemons’ wailing sax. Nearly 40 years since Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. introduced us to the man who saved rock'n'roll from disco, The Boss continues to create music that matters in the prophetic sense. In this case, he takes on the Wall Street investment bankers and politicians who tossed a wrecking ball into the U.S. economy in the years leading up to 2008’s crash. As he has with much of his work, Springsteen continues to examine the gap between American reality and the American dream. Wrecking Ball’s best tunes -- notably “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Shackled and Drawn” -- echo the hardscrabble protest folk of Woody Guthrie, and despite a couple of weak tracks, this album is Bruce’s most significant since The Rising. - AC

15. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

A good listen, but I didn't get the absolute adoration this got when it came out. - GR

It comes by its adoration honestly. And it's not just because Frank Ocean outed himself -- this is sonic craftsmanship we've been missing from rap and hip-hop since Outkast essentially broke up. The aching of "Bad Religion," the waking-up-at-noon-strung-out of "Super Rich Kids," the longing of "Thinkin' About You." For as terrible some of us in this group have made out music in 2012 to be, Channel ORANGE stands out as the one album we'll point to later as one that changed music. - DW

"Super Rich Kids" is like Benny & Jets 2K12. This entire album is just so good. Frank Ocean is the best songwriter in R&B right now (Yes, Ne-Yo he really is...) and while Channel Orange is a bit spastic at times, it really does live up to all of the tremendous praise it got. It's introspective, modern, emotive and so so good. Can't say enough about it. -RB

14. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...

This album is an interesting release with a bit of a new sound from Fiona Apple. While it once again fails to capture the strong, soulful sound she found on Tidal, this latest release does include some odd combinations of bouncy rhythms and sad, melancholy melodies. There are moments on this album where Apple's voice almost returns to that deep, sultry, soulful sound she exhibited in her debut, but there are other times when it's almost tinny. Overall, it's pretty fantastic jazz-influenced album, with haunting melodies, though. - CG

I'll admit that this isn't really anything more than an experimental release from Fiona in a sense and yet, I felt that over time it was the most complete and mature album she's ever released. It was my top album of 2012, probably because I was in the mood for this sort of dour, somewhere depressing trope of breakup songs and the such. But there's something no one releasing mainstream music right now who produces tracks with the vocal dexterity, vocabulary and depth that Fiona Apple does. She's an acquired taste, but it's one wallop of a taste and this is a masterpiece. It's a challenging album and you have to be in the place for it,'s a stripped down beauty of a work. - RB

Guys (and gals), I like Fiona Apple. I always have. But this record was too erratic and messy to make any sense to me. The writing is sometimes witty in her dry and sarcastic way, and sometimes borders on cliché and juvenile. The music is... not fun to listen to? I think that is the best way to describe it. This is a record for Fiona Apple superfans who think she can do no wrong. [ insert Ron Bronson's last sentence here, because that's exactly it] - JG

13. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

Sweden rarely steers me wrong, and these sisters are no exception. Maybe it’s something about the cold that breeds a certain point of view from which you can write the most poignant songs. At any rate, from the minute I heard “Emmylou,” I was immediately enamored. There is so much energy, emotion, defiance, vulnerability and sweetness in these songs. The harmonies, woven amid handclaps, organs, and a sweet country vibe, make for a delightful experience. - GC

Two Swedish sisters with a passion for Americana, discovered on YouTube, brought to America, and get an assist from Colin Oberst. And it's arguably the best alt-country album of the year. And yes, "Emmylou" is an immaculate gem of a song, tying the high lonesome to the earthiness of Johanna Soderberg's voice. - DW

12. Ben Folds Five - The Sound of the Life of the Mind

Ben Folds does very little wrong. I was happy to see the Five get back together, and interestingly, this doesn't sound like a Ben Folds solo record; it sounds like a natural extension of Reinhold Messner. - CD

11. Soundgarden - King Animal

While no one's saying this is as good as [insert name of your favorite Soundgarden album], Chris Cornell and the boys hardly embarrass themselves in this credible rocking effort. Standout track: While perhaps an obvious title, "Been Away Too Long" bleeds old-Soundgarden style in just about every way. - TN

Thank you, Soundgarden, for stopping Chris Cornell from making more solo albums. - GR

All of the tracks have that classic, unique Soundgarden sound. Many are heavier than anything you'd find on Superunknown, but none have quite the edge that was found in most tracks of Badmotorfinger. All-in-all, it's an impressive effort and an enjoyable album, but I suspect a lot of my fondness for this album is a result of the band's long absence from the scene, rather than being impressed explicitly by the musical quality of the album. - CG

Gordon nailed it.  Although I loved Audioslave, Chris Cornell's solo stuff is largely awful, although I did enjoy his solo acoustic record.  And I was never a big Soundgarden fan; I leaned toward the less sludgy grunge stuff.  But "Been Away Too Long" is right, as it turns out. - CD

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't agree that The Idler Wheel is only for Fiona "superfans", since I wasn't a big fan of hers till that album and as far as I can tell a lot of her fan base didn't care for it as much as the critics.