Monday, December 31, 2012

Joel's Favourite Music of 2012

This year I managed to pull together 20 records I liked enough to endorse for our annual countdown. This is impressive for me because I usually sit around five records in these sorts of things. This is for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I just don't tend to listen to a lot of new music during the year. Maybe Austin is changing that. Maybe it's just that I work for myself now and feel like I have the time to seek out new music. I think it may also have something to do with decided not to buy physical media unless it's in the form of a vinyl record... and most of the time that means new releases.
Whatever the cause, 2012 had some good records... not a lot of *great* records, but lots of good. These are my favourites, in reverse order.

20. Japandroids // Celebration Rock

Japandroids - Celebration Rock
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.

19. Bloc Party // Four

Bloc Party - Four
It took me a long time to pick up this record at Waterloo. But I finally did. I would consider myself a Bloc Party fan, overall, but have lapsed in the past couple of records they've released. Four is interesting. Some tracks are quintessential Bloc Party and everything we love about the band. Others, however are just weird. Ridiculously huge and distorted electronic bass drums, strange meter changes, and crazy punk-like guitar riffs. These tracks break up the rest of the record, almost to usher in a new act. It's an experience to listen to, for sure, and just a bit of a sign that the boys take their art seriously.

18. Ellie Goulding // Halcyon

Ellie Goulding - Halcyon
Tracks from Halcyon continue to pop up in movie trailers, remix compilations, soundtracks... Ellie Goulding has a haunting voice that feels more like instrumentation than anything else. The lyrical content of the album is smartly written with hooks that are striking, but not out of place, in a mostly electronic record. Moody and fun, put this record on while you're working or driving around in the rain.

17. 2:54 // 2:54

2:54 - 2:54
I found this record because of my buddy Ron Bronson. 2:54's self-titled offering is moody and level, serving as a great soundtrack to work to. The instrumental and electronic layering on this album provides a nice ebb and flow, propelling the record forward without boring the listener. That said, I found it best suited as a background track. It lacks any real melodic hooks and most likely will not stick in your head.

16. Stars // The North

Stars - The North
I walked past this record for months at the store, never picking it up because I thought the cover art looked too trendy. Later, I found out these Canadians had a ton of work under their belts and upon listening to the record, found it to be catchy, fun, and interesting. The North covers a wide range of styles and feels, at times, disjointed. But the overall effect is a collection of engaging sing-alongs.

15. The Lumineers // The Lumineers

The Lumineers
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.

14. Great Lake Swimmers // New Wild Everywhere

Great Lake Swimmers - New Wild Everywhere
I saw this record on a list someplace and decided to give it a try. I was surprised to have heard a few of the tracks, including the title track. It's a great, chill, acoustic-y record with traces of Celtic folk. It's a solid record with great instrumentation, catchy choruses, and great vibe. Some tracks can be a little grating, and in my head I connect it with Reel Big Fish... but overall this is a solid record.

13. Jack White // Blunderbuss

Jack White - Blunderbuss
I heard from a few amateur critics that this record was basically a White Stripes album. They must 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. I think the issue with those confused critics is a case of mistaken identity. The band (The White Stripes) didn't make the man (Jack White). Jack's style is all over The White Stripes because he specifically created it that way. It stands to reason that his other projects would sound like a logical progression of the Jack White sound.

12. Radical Face // Always Gold EP

Radical Face - Always Gold EP
My good friend Mallory recommended Radical Face to me after I heard it playing in her coffee shop. I lucked out in being able to put this EP on my 2012 list as it's the only thing he released this year. Radical Face, in general, has a great neo-folk sound with impeccable lyrical writing and great instrumental layering. This EP is engaging and leaves you ready for a new full release.

11. fun. // Some Nights

fun. - Some Nights
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 nonsensical use of vocoders/autotune. Some Nights is no Aim and Ignite but I think fun. deserves all of the award nominations they have received.

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

Justin Townes Earle // Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
Harlem River Blues is brilliant and amazing whileNothing'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.

9. The Wallflowers // Glad All Over

The Wallflowers - Glad All Over
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.

8. Kathleen Edwards // Voyageur

Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur
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. It's as solid as ever and extremely enjoyable.

7. Passion Pit // Gossamer

Passion Pit - Gossamer
I was primed to not like this record. Why? First off, Passion Pit's label only released a vinyl + audio CD version of this album with no digital download included. That audio CD drove the price up by almost $10 and immediately made me not want to purchase the album. Instead, I listened on Spotify and found it to be a much more enjoyable record overall than Passion Pit's debut. The songs are much more melodious and there is far less reliance on odd and jarring synth sounds throughout the record. It's a solid effort despite the sales misstep.

6. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals // The Lion The Beast The Beat

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
If Grace Potter's last records can be considered alt.country, The Lion The Beast The Beat shows that she has a heart pumping blood of rock n roll. This record is downright rowdy and incredibly fun to listen to. Each track rocks harder than the last and Grace shows what she's really made of: grit, noise, and catchy hooks.

5. RAC // Chapter One

RAC - Chapter One
RAC (Remix Artist Collective) released their first original single this year and followed it up with an official collection of their best remixes from the past few years. Chapter One is a great progression of remixes from a group of guys who eschew the stereotypical guise of club anthems and craft new musical arrangements for some of the best songs out there. This collection features remixes of songs by Foster the People, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Lana Del Rey, The Shins, and tons more. Check it out for reals.

4. A Boy & His Kite // A Boy & His Kite

A Boy & His Kite
I found A Boy & His Kite late this year, again, through Ron Bronson. Listening through the record it's hard to believe that all of the instrumentation, vocals and production were done by one guy in Colorado. It's remarkable, really. The quality of the recording alone sounds mildy gritty in a refined, "he knows what he's doing" sort of way. Then there are the songs. Lyrically intelligent and beautiful with hooks that don't annoy you. Hints of Sunny Day Real Estate and Fionn Regan come through in the vocal treatments while the music goes from stripped down synths to full-on orchestral instrumentation incorporating moving guitar lines reminiscent of a prettier Death Cab for Cutie in their earlier days... or perhaps closer to Saxon Shore. This is an album that gets me excited for music in ways I rarely get. It's a certain feeling I used to get when finding a new great album in college. This record has that something in spades.

3. Further Seems Forever // Penny Black

Further Seems Forever - Penny Black
FSF is back. With Chris Carrabba fronting the band again after an 11-year gap (and two other front men), Further's Penny Black returns to form bringing intelligence and sophistication that only comes from life experience. Carrabba brings his decade of touring and writing for Dashboard Confessional back to the always-engaging quirkiness of the old band with explosive results. Penny Black has a great single in "So Cold" and benefits from hard-hitting tracks progressing the record along. My only quibble is that the record seems full-bore until the last track which drops so drastically and suddenly that it seems nearly out-of-place. I longed for variance in song dynamics in the ways The Moon is Down captured with tracks like "Snowbirds and Townies" and "Monachetti" ... but I didn't get it. Still, I'm happy to have FSF back in my life.

2. Paper Route // The Peace of Wild Things

Paper Route - The Peace of Wild Things
This year's release from Paper Route is an honest, brutal, and brilliant piece of writing. JT Daly is at the top of his form, bringing his signature pop stylings and impeccable vocals to songs that come from the dark parts of recent experiences. Though some few lyrics come across as trite on their own, when combined with the musicality and narrative flow of each track, this record becomes a near-perfect pop album with crazy cool anthems and stick-in-your-head for days hooks.

1. Of Monsters and Men // My Head is an Animal

Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal
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 and deserves the recognition it has been receiving this year.



Addendum

Every year it seems like I find a few records after the cutoff. So here are a couple of late-finds for me that I also love.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Andy's favorite albums of 2012 (plus playlist)

I share the sentiments of many of my fellow higher ed music bloggers who say that 2012 wasn't a banner year for music. It wasn't a great year for pop and rock albums, either. Maybe that's why so many long-lost rock-and-rollers -- from the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Joe Walsh to the Beach Boys, Sinead O'Connor and Neil Young and Crazy Horse -- decided to put out albums this year. (Neil Young and his band, Crazy Horse, went so far as to release two albums in 2012, something unheard of these days. And then Green Day came along and phoned in three albums in short order.) Maybe these geezers thought the could fill a void. Or maybe, in a year when "Call Me Maybe" and "Gangnam Style" ruled pop culture, older artists, and a few newer ones, saw an opportunity to sneak in over a very low bar.

The year wasn't entirely a musical wasteland. There were some decent albums released -- just not a lot of great ones. I listened to a variety of albums in 2012, but I found none I would categorize as stellar. And with the reprise of so many old geezers, I found myself enjoying the familiarity of those artists, most of whom seemed perfectly happy producing songs and albums that were in keeping with the personas they developed over the years. (The exception was Neil Young, whose Americana did attempt something different. But it, too, was rooted in the familiarity of cover tunes.)

So if you find a bit of nostalgia in my picks, don't be surprised. 2012 was a year that found me looking backward more than forward.

Below is my selection of the top 50 albums of 2012. As you read, keep in mind that these were selected in early December, in time to be considered for our annual collaborative countdown on this blog. Since that time, my colleagues here have shared some albums I missed this year, and if I had it to do all over again, the rankings might be just a bit different. The top 20 would probably stay intact, but a few of the lower-ranked works could have been supplanted by new (to me) discoveries.

A Spotify playlist of selections from these albums accompanies this list and is embedded at the end of this post. But if you just can't wait, listen now as you read.

1. Bob Dylan - Tempest


Bob Dylan is no stranger to the long-form ballad (“Desolation Row,” “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”), but even he outdoes himself with the title and penultimate track of this masterpiece. Clocking in at just under 14 minutes, “Tempest” tells the 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 love Dylan’s lion-in-winter vocals but am still not much of a Tom Waits fan.

2. Ben Kweller - Go Fly A Kite


 Ben Kweller has been kicking around the alt-rock/indie scene for a while now. And while he’s come up with a few clever, catchy pop tunes, he’s never hit the big time. He probably never will.

But with Go Fly A Kite, Kweller hits all the right notes, in my opinion. This is a rollicking, fun dose of bombastic, rockabilly-tinged power pop. Kweller and his band deliver plenty of catchy guitar hooks, too. There isn’t a weak track on the album.

It seems that by creating Go Fly A Kite, Kweller has finally broken away from his past attempts to fit some alt-indie mold. The very title seems to be saying to the world, and to the recording industry: “Screw you, I’m making the music I want to make.” The result is a tremendous pop album that will likely be ignored by most end-of-year reviewers, on this list and others..

3. The Lumineers - The Lumineers


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 paid attention. 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.”

4. Best Coast - The Only Place


While the Beach Boys mounted an admirable comeback to reclaim their title as summer’s finest minstrels, Best Coast cranked out the definitive summer album. But I still catch myself listening to it in these bare-tree days of autumn, 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.

5. 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 doctor’s New Orleans blues and jazz roots in a fresh way, with a fresh look at the world. The voodoo vibe never sounded better.

6. 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.

7. Cat Power - Sun



Chan Marshall (Cat Power) cut her hair and went in an entirely different direction with this album. From the first notes of the opening track, “Cherokee,” you’ll recognize the departure from her past efforts. But the sultry, seductive, graceful vocals are still there.


8. Melody’s Echo Chamber - Melody’s Echo Chamber


Melody’s Echo Chamber is the best thing to come out of France since Plastic Bertrand (who is actually Belgian, but his big hit was written and sung in French, so that’s close enough, n’est c’est pas?) This album is drenched in dreamy, reverberating tunes, all wrapped around Melody Prochet’s lilting vocals and masterfully produced by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker.

9. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball


Big Man Clarence Clemons -- 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 big and anthemic as much of the great early work that featured Clemons’ wailing sax. Nearly 40 years since Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., 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.

10. The Vaccines - Come of Age


What would a top 10 list from me be like without a nod to UK punk? “Oh I could bore you with the truth,” deadpans Vaccines lead singer Justin Young on “No Hope,” the opening track of this British quartet’s sophomore album. And then he goes on to entertain us with his jaded delivery of clever lyrics, underscored by jangly surf-rock power chords. Influenced by the likes of the Libertines and the Arctic Monkeys, the Vaccines’ sophomore effort proves they are no flash in the pan.

11-20


11. Metric - Synthetica

I like this album a lot. While their previous effort, Fantasies, contained bits of brilliance, Synthetica falls together nicely. 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 f***ed up as they say.” But this album is anything but. A solid but of electropop in a lackluster year.

12. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - Here

This one snuck up on me. This folk-pop ensemble’s haunting first track, “Man on Fire,” hooked me early. The rest of the album followed suit in the typical foot-stompin’, knee-slappin’ fashion this band has made its trademark.

13. Scars on 45 - Scars on 45

Terrific, melodic Britpop that’s been in heavy rotation since spring. This year’s guilty pleasure.

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

The latest sensation from Iceland is sensational. Beautiful, melodic, warm.

15. George Harrison - Early Takes

A nostalgic album for fans of Harrison’s work, or the Beatles. It’s nice to get an unvarnished, behind-the-scenes listen to the work of a musical genius.

16. Joe Walsh - Analog Man

From the James Gang to a solo career to the Eagles and now back to flying solo after burning his wings with too much of the high life, Joe Walsh has been one of rock’s most underrated guitarists and songwriters. With the same acerbic, self-effacing humor that worked so well in ‘70s pop-rock tunes like “Life’s Been Good,” Walsh opens with a screed -- suitably accompanied by Walshian power chords -- about living life as “an analog man in a digital world.” The second track, “Wrecking Ball,” continues that thought, condemning the multitasking trap that ensnares so many of us, but it’s also a condemnation of the rock’n’roll burn-the-candle-at-both-ends lifestyle that became his trademark decades ago. He quickly turns sentimental and sweet, even grateful for life’s blessings, with later tracks, like "One Day At A Time," which could serve as a 12-step program theme song. He even throws in a fun guitar jam, “Funk 50,” that Walsh fans will recognize as a long-awaited sequel to his James Gang riff “Funk 49.”

17. The Beach Boys - That’s Why God Made the Radio

An unexpected pleasure. Who knew the Beach Boys could still harmonize and hit those high pitches after all these years, and after all of Brian Wilson's tribulations? With this release, they sound almost as sun-kissed as  they did in 1966.

18. The Darkness - Hot Cakes

Lord, forgive me for loving this album as much as I do. I can’t help it. Hot Cakes rocks. Equal parts early Queen (think “Brighton Rock” and you get the idea) and Eric Carmen’s “Go All the Way” Raspberries, with a dash of theatrical KISS thrown in, this album is a fun throwback to the Stone Ages of rock’n’roll.

19. Patti Smith - Banga

The poet-prophet of New York’s proto-punk scene in the mid-1970s proves she can still create vivid word-pictures with her lyrics, all carried along by a distinctive raspy vocal style. I think a lot of people missed out on this wonderful offering.

20. M. Ward - A Wasteland Companion

Another tremendous offering from one of the best singer-songwriters of the past decade. Now if he could just ditch that Zoeey Deschanel.

21-30

Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill
Rodriguez - Searching for Sugar Man
Justin Townes Earle - Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
Nick Waterhouse - Time’s All Gone
Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts
Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls
Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold
Sinead O’Connor - How About I Be Me (And You Be You)
Bonnie Raitt - Slipstream
Allo Darlin` - Europe

31-40

The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
Mumford and Sons - Babel
The Detroit Cobras - Mink Rat or Rabbit
Green Day - !Uno!
Old Crow Medicine Show - Carry Me Back

Smashing Pumpkins - Oceania
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Wild Nothing - Nocturne
The Shins - Port of Morrow
Beach House - Bloom

41-50

Neil Young - Americana
Heartless Bastards - Arrow
Dum Dum Girls - End of Daze (EP)
Regina Spektor - What We Saw From the Cheap Seats
fun. - Some Nights

The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter
Wanda Jackson - Unfinished Business
Lana Del Rey - Born to Die
Carina Round - Tiger Mending
Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth

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, but...it 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:



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, but...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

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