Top 10 Albums of 2012

Posted: December 22, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I just want to use this intro to note that 2012 was an awesome year for music. I definitely like this year’s list more than my 2011 list, and I’d definitely take the top of this year’s list over last year’s. That doesn’t mean I now think 2011 was a bad year for music; I just think 2012 was better. I could’ve easily gone to 20 and still really liked every pick.

Last year I had a “Notable Omissions” section, but I didn’t feel like doing that this year. Sorry. I decided to just give you three honorable mentions instead. I also wrote a little bit more about each of the 10 albums that made the list. As always, any and all comments are welcome. I’ve linked to my favorite song from each album, so check them out if you don’t know them.

Honorable Mentions
The Fresh & Onlys- Long Slow Dance
King Tuff- King Tuff
Mac DeMarco- 2

10. Hospitality- Hospitality
Hospitality is a three-piece indie pop band, but Amber Papini is the clear leader. She’s the lead singer, lead guitarist and lone songwriter, and she’s incredibly smooth and melodic in all three areas. The album’s best moments come when the infusions of electric guitar, synthesizers and saxophone ratchet up the energy. “Eighth Avenue” and “Friends of Friends” make for a great open, and “The Right Profession” and “All Day Today” stand out as highlights as well.

Favorite song: “Friends of Friends”

9. Titus Andronicus- Local Business
Titus Andronicus firmly established themselves as one of the best punk bands around with their first two albums, and this year they delivered a third great album. Local Business isn’t quite on the same level as The Airing of Grievances or The Monitor, but it’s still good enough to crack my top 10. This might be their most cynical album yet — the opening lines are “OK, I think by now we’ve established everything is inherently worthless / and there’s nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose” — but musically it might be their most accessible to a larger audience. In addition to the one below, “Ecce Homo,” “In a Big City” and “In a Small Body” are other favorites.

Favorite song: “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus”

8. The Men- Open Your Heart
Among others, you’ll see The Men compared to MC5, The Stooges, Sonic Youth and the Foo Fighters. They’re not exactly like any of those bands, but you can definitely here the influence of all of them. Opener “Turn It Around” is easily one of the best rock songs of the year, and “Open Your Heart” and the much slower “Candy” are both great as well. Throughout the album, The Men alternate between straightforward hard rock, blues rock, country rock and noise rock. At the center of it all is the powerful guitar work of Nick Chiericozzi and Mark Perro.

Favorite song: “Turn It Around”

7. Hiss Golden Messenger- Poor Moon
Poor Moon is one of the best folk albums I’ve heard over the last few years, although it isn’t really fair to categorize Hiss Golden Messenger as just folk. Country, bluegrass, soul and folk-rock are all present as well. Just as the sound is very Americana, so too are M.C. Taylor’s lyrics. He writes about everything from drinking and drugs to searching for God. Most of the songs are built around acoustic guitar, but there’s also the occasional electric guitar, steel guitar, banjo, string section, organ and piano. “Blue Country Music” and “Call Him Daylight” are a great 1-2 open, and “Westering,” “Jesus Shot Me in the Head” and “O Little Light” are all fantastic too.

Favorite song: “Westering”

6. Gentleman Jesse- Leaving Atlanta
Jesse Smith was working as a bartender in Atlanta before releasing his excellent debut album in 2008, and it’s easy to imagine him playing all of his songs in that same exact bar. Like Gentleman Jesse & His Men, Leaving Atlanta is a collection of beer-soaked classic rock songs built around straight-ahead guitar riffs, common-man lyrics and sing-along choruses. It’s hard not to compare Smith to Elvis Costello given that his first album’s cover was a play on This Year’s Model and that, like Costello, a lot of his songs are about girl troubles. There isn’t a bad song here, but “I’m Only Lonely,” “Take It Easy on Me,” “Kind of Uptight” and “Frostbite” are my personal favorites.

Favorite song: “I’m Only Lonely”

5. Cloud Nothings- Attack on Memory
I didn’t fall in love with Attack on Memory right away, but I certainly got there after a couple listens. Fact is, it’s a phenomenal rock album. Opener “No Future/No Past” slowly builds up to Dylan Baldi intensely screaming the title over and over. “Wasted Days” is a nine-minute epic that features Baldi repeatedly singing “I thought I would be more than this” before the song veers off into a mess of frenzied guitars and drums. “Stay Useless” and “Our Plans” are also slacker anthems, while “Fall In” brings the power pop and “No Sentiment” brings the punk.

Favorite song: “Stay Useless”

4. Allo Darlin’- Europe
Europe is without question my favorite pop album of the year. Elizabeth Morris’ voice has quickly become one of my favorites of the last few years. The lyrics themselves aren’t always happy — some are quite gloomy and forlorn — but the jangly guitar and warm vocals make this an altogether uplifting album. “Neil Armstrong,” “Capricornia” and “Europe” are three great songs right out of the gate. “Northern Lights,” “Wonderland” and “Still Young” are other highlights. A lot of the songs deal with nostalgia and apprehension about the future, like on “Tallulah” when Morris sings “I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that’ll mean something.”

Favorite song: “Capricornia”

3. Woods- Bend Beyond
Speaking of voices I can’t get enough of, Woods’ Jeremy Earl delivers an incredible performance from start to finish on Bend Beyond. This is Woods’ seventh album, but it’s without question their best. They cleaned up the instrumentation and put a little more effort into the recording process, and the result is a masterpiece without a single down moment. Woods ranges from straight folk on songs like “It Ain’t Easy,” “Lily” and “Something Surreal” to psych-folk on songs like “Cali in a Cup,” “Find Them Empty” and “Size Meets the Sound.” The opener “Bend Beyond” is one of my favorite songs of the year, and “Is It Honest?” and “Impossible Sky” aren’t far behind.

Favorite song: “Bend Beyond”

2. Jack White- Blunderbuss
I’ll admit it — I was a little worried when I first heard that Blunderbuss was going to feature more piano and less hard rock than your average Jack White album. The last White album to be billed that way was Get Behind Me Satan, which is my least favorite White Stripes album. But Blunderbuss is so much better than that album. In fact, I think it’s White’s best album since 2003’s Elephant.

White plays a lot of the piano himself, although Brooke Waggoner is featured as well. The best comparisons I’ve seen for this album’s piano playing are Steve Winwood in the early years of Traffic and Nicky Hopkins during The Rolling Stones’ golden age. It’s there to provide rhythm, but you can also get lost in it if that’s all you focus on. Just listen to “Hypocritical Kiss,” “Weep Themselves to Sleep,” “Trash Tongue Talker,” “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and “I Guess I Should Go to Sleep.” There’s still rock here, too. “Sixteen Saltines,” “Freedom at 21” and “I’m Shakin” would fit right in on any Stripes album. “Love Interruption” and “Blunderbuss” are two great slower songs.

Favorite song: “Weep Themselves to Sleep”

1. Japandroids- Celebration Rock
It only took a couple listens before I realized that the question wasn’t whether or not Celebration Rock would be my favorite album of 2012; it was how far back do I have to go to find an album I’ve enjoyed this much? The answer: at least to 2006 and The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America, maybe even to 2004 and Arcade Fire’s Funeral. There’s nothing overly complicated here — it’s just 35 minutes of explosive hard rock with shout-along choruses about being young, cutting loose and not having a care in the world.

Opener “The Nights of Wine and Roses” begins with the lines “Long lit up tonight and still drinking / Don’t we have anything to live for? / Well of course we do, but until they come true / we’re drinking.” That pretty much sets the tone for the whole album. On “Younger Us”: “Remember saying things like we’ll sleep when we’re dead / and thinking this feeling was never gonna end / Remember that night you were already in bed / said fuck it, got up to drink with me instead.” On “The House That Heaven Built”: “When they love you and they will (and they will) / tell ’em all they’ll love in my shadow / And if they try to slow you down (slow you down) / tell ’em all to go to hell.”

All three of those songs are probably in my top 10 this year, but “Fire’s Highway,” “Evil’s Sway” and “Adrenaline Nightshift” are excellent as well. Between the fireworks that open and close the album and the numerous shouts of things like “Whoa-oh-oh!” and “Oh yeah!” this is just an incredibly fun album that more than lives up to its title. I know we still have seven years to go, but I fully expect Celebration Rock to be at or near the top of my end-of-decade list in 2019.

Favorite song: “Younger Us”

  1. […] Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw Hiss Golden Messenger came in at No. 7 on my 2012 list with the excellent Poor Moon, and they’re back again this year with the equally great Haw. […]

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