Sunday, December 23, 2012

Best albums of 2012: 40-31

The countdown continues. Here are albums 40 through 31 (don't forget about the playlist at the bottom):

40. Dirty Projectors - Swing Low Magellan

I only listen to Dirty Projectors for Amber Coffman, who is a great singer trapped in this overwrought avant garde band run by a guy who thinks he's the indie Burt Bacharach or something. - DW

Not a DP fan. Maybe I just don't give this group the credit they deserve. But I just. Can't. Take. The dissonant, quavering vocals. - AC

39. The Tragically Hip - Now for Plan A

Even if my favorite band fielded what feels like a subpar (for them) effort (more "Trouble at the Henhouse" than "Fully Completely," if you will), Gordon Downie and mates are always interesting. Standout track: Though virtually unpronounceable, the breezily likable "Goodnight Attawapiskat" is a candidate to become a staple in the band's always-outstanding live shows. - TN

They're Canadian, they've been producing great music for what seems like forever now, and they have a dude named Gordon. - GR

Even a mediocre effort from my favorite Canadian band will finds it's way onto any "best of" list form me. I had this at #10 this year.  My favorite track is "Streets Ahead". - MG

38. Everclear - Invisible Stars

Looks like the best move for Art Alexakakis and Co. was to hang up the crunchy guitars for several years to return refreshed and refocused for their best effort since 1997's "So Much for the Afterglow." Standout track: Some stretching lyrical turns notwithstanding, the civil rights anthem "Jackie Robinson" is among the band's finest works. - TN

Wait...Everclear made a new album? Do all the tracks sound the same? - GR

This is probably the biggest surprise on my list this year. While I've always casually enjoyed Everclear's radio hits, and I am a bit of a fan of frontman Art Alexakis' personality, I've never really paid much attention to the band. While you won't find any phenomenal guitar solos or drum fills on this album, it is a consistently solid rock album (which seems to be becoming rarer & rarer as time goes on) that I enjoy from start to finish. - CG

I'm stunned that this made the overall list. I liked it, but it wasn't anything special. - CD

37. Propagandhi - Failed States

Solid Propagandhi album. Saw them recently in Cambridge in all of their blisteringly fast, preachy splendor, and I wasn't disappointed. - GR

After three long years, Canadian punk band Propagandhi has released, IMHO, one of their best albums to date (which is no surprise whatsoever, given that they've always been a consistently solid band). The quality of meticulous drumming and speedy guitarwork are miles beyond many of the other albums that I've come across this year; they've clearly made great use of the time since their last album to leave no remnants of their melodic punk roots. - CM

This album combines elements of Propagandhi's signature sound with bits and pieces of emo-core and classic metal, and results in yet another phenomenal effort from the band. Long gone are the imprecise, three-chord, ska/reggae-influenced elements of the band's first album; they've been replaced with precision solos, vocal breaks and hard and fast guitar riffs. While, musically, this album is probably the band's greatest effort to-date, it doesn't seem to include nearly as many of the overtly radical political statements that have come to define Propagandhi. It is, however, a fantastic example of musicianship, and an amazing example of what can be done by a group with such varying influences. I have no doubt that fans of the last few Propagandhi albums are happily slam-dancing and breaking things while listening to this album, but I also suspect this is the type of album that could pick up a number of new fans from other genres for the band. - CG

36. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

I came to this one very late this year, but this surprised me when I found it -- a smart rap album that doesn't glorify "the gangsta life" as much as it dissects it, deconstructs it, and lays it all out for you to see. - DW

My personal playlist have never been as hip-hopcentric as it was this year. Kendrick Lamar's debut release was hyped and unlike many albums these days it absolutely met the hype and surpassed it. It's part-concept album, part-storytelling. Kendrick's flow is adaptable, subject matter deep and it's just a well-crafted album. If you don't like rap, this isn't going to turn you into a hip-hop fan or anything. But if you appreciate the craft, spend some quality time with this album as it's more than likely to go down as one of the best rap albums released in over a decade. -RB

I tried to get into this, but my vibe was quickly obliterated by that one song. - AC

35. Bob Dylan - Tempest

Bob Dylan is no stranger to the long-form ballad (“Desolation Row,” “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”), but he outdoes himself with the title and penultimate track of this masterpiece. Clocking in at just under 14 minutes, “Tempest” tells the epic tale of the RMS Titanic, fittingly to the tune of a sea shanty. Aided by a terrific backing band that includes Los Lobos’ David Hildalgo on accordion and guitarist Charlie Sexton, Dylan gruffly plows through old-timey tunes ranging from swing (the opening track “Duquesne Whistle”) to country to Delta blues in a way only Bob Dylan can. The old folkie can still out-folk the newbies like Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe, Alabama Shakes, et. al. Even after countless listenings to this album, it remains a mystery to me why I admire Dylan’s gruff lion-in-winter vocals but am still not much of a Tom Waits fan. Tempest is my pick for album of the year. - AC

Tempest did not make my top 20. I'm not sure exactly what put me off from the record. Dylan certainly returns to form in both songwriting and instrumentation, which is always welcome. But I wonder how relevant he is. I found myself bored to death in the middle of the album and several time complete ignoring it. Certainly Bob Dylan, but not great enough to reach the heights of what made him the legend he is. - JG

I couldn't get this disc out of player fast enough. Bored to tears. - CD

*AC hands CD a tissue*

Dylan continues his string of excellent albums in the 2000's with another strong effort.  While not quite as compelling as "Love and Theft", it still showcases why Dylan is such an important voice in music even today. "Tempest was my #6 album of 2012 - MG

34. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra - Theatre Is Evil

I tried to see why so many critics found this album so compelling. I failed. - TN

Came across this record on a recommendation from Ben Folds, and although I still can't quite define why, it really blew me away.  It's like nothing else I listen to, but at the same time, it sounds just like everything else I listen to.  It rocks, it's quirky, it's melodic... I don't know. Just grabbed me and won't let go. I keep coming back to it.

33. The xx - Coexist

The xx's debut was interesting, with that stripped-down sound and the boy-girl alternate singing. But Coexist seemed like more of the same. While a decent album, I couldn't find room for it in my top 50. - AC

While I'm not ecstatic about this effort, it's in rotation for me right now. - GR

I felt bored after the second or third listen. Alt-J made a better xx album than The xx. - DW

32. Air Traffic Controller - Nordo

I first heard the single, “Hurry, Hurry,” randomly via Facebook, and from that instant I was hooked. I went to the Soundcoud page for the song multiple times daily, and when the video came out, I watched that a ton, as well. Perhaps it had something to do with how I’ve felt so far this year, but the song would not let me go. When the full album finally came out, the grip only intensified. One of the most refreshing, catchy and compelling pop albums I’ve heard in a while. - GC

31. Kimbra - Vows
One of my favorite albums of the year. Kimbra, though certainly most well known for her feature appearance on a certain Gotye track that some of you may have heard once or twice, is just flat out awesome. An amazingly sexy, jazzy voice coupled with inventive music and soulful performance. She's easily the best thing to come out of New Zealand this year. - GR

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