Monday, December 24, 2012

Best albums of 2012: 30-21

And the countdown goes on. Here are our selections for best albums of the year, Nos. 30 through 21. As always, bonus content (a playlist) is included at no extra charge.

30. Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror

Not nearly as good as their debut (perhaps too polished?), but still a fun album to make your ears bleed to. - GR

What Gordon says. The novelty of punk rock cheerleading has worn a bit thin. But it's hard to argue with a full frontal assault of bombastic power chords. - AC

29. Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

In many ways, this album feels like the culmination and accumulation of Neil Young's career. The opening track, "Driftin' Back," is an epic 27:43 meander from acoustic, Harvest-era Neil to Buffalo Springfield Neil to "Cowgirl in the Sound" Neil to Crazy Horse Neil. The album is filled with loooong tunes broken up by a few shorter ones (personal favorites: "Born In Ontario" and "Twisted Road"). If you're a fan of this musical genius, you'll enjoy this long, strange trip that is Psychedelic Pill. But be warned: It ain't for everyone. - AC

28. Bonnie Raitt - Slipstream

What a pleasant surprise it was to hear from Bonnie Raitt again. She hasn't lost a step since the lofty heights of her 1990s success. She no longer rules the world (as she points out in her opening track) but she seems OK with it. - AC

27. The Wallflowers - Glad All Over

Among the notable '90s acts that recorded an album in 2012 after a layoff, I consider this the best. It helps that The Wallflowers were fairly timeless in their sound anyway. Standout track(s): Two songs featuring a collaboration with The Clash's Mick Jones seem an odd concept, but "Misfits and Lovers" (and, to a lesser extent, "Reboot the Mission") is full of win. - TN

What? The Wallflowers are back? Those dudes were a highlight of my high school years. Definitely going to have to give this one a go. - CM

I picked up Rebel, Sweetheart, The Wallflowers' last effort, back when it released and thought it was just okay. I'm a fairly big fan of Jakob Dylan as a singer and songwriter, however and was très impressed with his solo records. Glad All Over sounds and feels like Dylan smashed up his solo recordings' sensitivity and new-classic folk melodic nature with the rock and strong hooks of Breach or Bringing Down the Horse. In a lot of ways, I feel Glad All Over is better crafted as a full album than their seminal work. The being said, the two tracks co-written with Mick Jones should have been left to another – and different – full-length record not under the Wallflowers label. They feel somewhat out of place with the rest of the record. Or, in other words, I could tell when those songs came up without any help... and for me, that's an issue. - JG

26. Tame Impala - Lonerism

Tame Impala had me with the "Jungle Love"-esque synth intro of "Music to Walk Home By" and the jangly guitars that open "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards." But the heavy breathing on "Be Above It" is just obscene. A mixed bag that came this close to making my top 50. - AC

Easily one of the best live shows I've ever seen. Tame Impala's release here isn't their best output, but it has bright moments and is a good enough entrypoint if you've never heard of these Aussies before to check out 2010 LP "Innerspeaker" as it's a far superior output. Also check out the Swedish band Dungen, since for a long time, the way I introduced Tame Impala was "they're like Dungen but in English." - RB

25. Cat Power - Sun

Chan Marshall (Cat Power) cut her hair and went in a new direction with Sun. But the sultry, seductive vocals and powerful, spare songwriting remain. - AC

A thousand times, yes. - GR

I admit that I’ve been ambivalent toward Cat Power for a while, and it was with hesitation that I approached her latest album. But I was pleasantly surprised to find an inspiring, affirming, and at times grooving collection of songs. Favorites include “Manhattan,” “Cherokee,” and “Human Being,” where she declares: “You've got your own voice so sing / You've got two hands, let's go and make anything / We all got rules we all have to break / We all have to make those mistakes.” Amen. - GC

24. Dr. John - Locked Down

The man who once sang about being in the right place at the wrong time got his timing right this time around. Collaborating with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who produced the album, Dr. John created a masterpiece that celebrates the good physician's New Orleans blues and jazz roots in a fresh way, with a fresh look at the world. - AC

23. Tennis - Young & Old
Grand and dreamy pop from a husband-and-wife out of Denver. - DW

There’s a sweetness to the songs on this album that can probably only be crafted by a husband-wife musical duo. But it is not saccharine or twee. Their classic-sounding, lo-fi pop melodies yield a sense of timeless affection, with just the right amount of spunk now and then. - GC

I echo Georgy's sentiment about it being classic-sounding. Tennis basically makes 80s music made too late and it just has all of the best feelings of putting your cassette tapes in the car for a long drive on a summer day. It's fun, breezy and downright pleasant. Young & Old was a complete album and one of my favorites on repeat for a good part of 2012. - RB

22. Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur

I’ve long been enamored with this Canadian import, and her latest album does not disappoint. Another rich tapestry of love and longing, woven with a wry frankness and hemmed by gorgeous melodies and Edwards’ stirring voice. - GC

I too, am an unabashed Kathleen Edwards fan. Change The Sheets is another solid single to add to her canon of my favorite tracks. - RB

What can be said about Kathleen Edwards? She consistently crafts solid songs that stick in you head and get to your heart. I consider myself an Edwards fan, but didn't pick up the Voyageur record until the second half of this year. I was really glad that I did. -JG

She just keeps getting better. There's a longing to this set of songs, filtered through her own divorce and the new king of post-breakup music, Justin Vernon. - DW

21. Swans - The Seer
I'm startled that this ranked so high on this list. Thirty-minute tracks, wild tempo changes, progressive esoterica, digital soundscapes. I loved it. Glad it was more than just me who did. - GR

The Seer is the musical equivalent of Schindler's List -- an intense two hours that, at the end of it, makes you grateful to be alive. - DW

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