I listened to more new music in 2012 than I did in any other year in my life to date. It has turned into some sort of obsession for me over the past couple of years to listen to loads of new material. And since normal people spend their time obsessing over “important” things (success, education, fitness, and other such wastes of time), I’m compelled to share my favorite discoveries each year. And so we come to this list: my top ten albums of 2012.
If you just want to hear the music (and you’re smart), you’ll scroll through here and listen to the albums and/or YouTube clips, along with some of the albums listed after #1. If you want to read a few thousand incoherent words in between those samples, by all means, read on. Oh, and one last note – each of these bands has a song in my top songs of 2012 list. So none of the songs I feature below are my top tracks from these albums. Go to the thing I just linked to two sentences ago to find the best songs from each artist here.
10. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
Spoonwas always an interesting band to me (“Why’s he starting off his list by talking about a band that didn’t even make an album this year? He should talk about someone who did make an album this year. This isn’t going well already.”). The have some serious grooves going on – something all the white kids can swing their hips to while they fall into a side-sweeping trance. For me though, they never had more than a few decent songs – they were likeable, but never put it all together.
In 2012, Spoon’s front-man collaborated on I guess what you’d call an indie supergroup (supergroups being bands that are collaborations between members of other bands – like Temple of the Dog (Soundgarden/Pearl Jam), Velvet Revolver (Stone Temple Pilots/Guns ‘n Roses) or Traveling Wilburys (go look it up)). This thing, this supergroup, is called Divine Fits. And while it has a lot of the same groove that Spoon had, it also connects with me in two other key components of music. First, it sounds like it could have been made in the 80s, which is a huge plus. More importantly though, and I guess these two things are kind of related, it makes me feel like I’m floating through space (“Salton Sea” in particular). Not only am I floating through space, but it’s happening while I’m still grooving out even though I know I’m in space and probably suffocating or however that works.
Okay I guess now that I think about it, this isn’t terribly different from Spoon except for the space part, which is just a monstrous check mark in the plus column for me. We live on earth, guys, it’s cool to feel like you don’t – don’t act like this is weird. Anyway, check out the track below and the whole album (though it dips off a little in the second half, hence this ranking).
9. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself/Hands of Glory
I’m vulnerable to any song with a violin hook in it. Just about every Andrew Bird song has compelling emotions bouncing off the strings, and I’ve grown to expect great things from him in each and every song he creates. Which is why his release is down in the 9-spot for me. It’s a really enjoyable album, and the B-sides (Hands of Glory) are just as good, if not better. I just have such high, almost unrealistic, expectations for Bird at this point that I based my feelings on this album off my feelings towards his previous work, which is some of my favorite music from any era.
I just finished watching Freaks & Geeks via Netflix, and I can’t help but relate my feelings to an episode (I’ll keep the description generic so you can understand even if you didn’t watch the show (side note: watch the show)). The main character’s dad, an ultra-conservative sourpuss when it comes to his daughter trying to be a kid, takes a liking to her burnt out, hopeless ex-boyfriend. They’re joking, they’re dancing, they’re having a great time – something he’s rarely seen experiencing with his daughter. But he doesn’t act happier around the ex because he likes him more. He admits he acts as he does around the ex-boyfriend because he doesn’t have any expectations for him. Me = Dad; Andrew Bird = daughter; Albums 6-8 = ex-boyfriend.
It’s really quick, but below is one of my favorite pieces of music from the year. You can check out the whole album if you’re left craving more, which you will be.
8. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Usually lyrics are one of my last factors in deciding how I feel about a song. It’s tough to put that aside with Kendrick Lamar’s second release, which takes you through his story and his feelings of growing up in Compton. As similar as Compton and Needham, Massachusetts, are, there’s no scenario in Kendrick’s songs that I can relate to. What I can relate to, and what made me identify so much with this album, are the emotions behind the stories. If you haven’t at some point felt like you were unstoppable and could take over the world or get away with anything, I’m sorry for whatever your childhood was.
The album brings me back to those feelings, those outlandish misconceptions, but Kendrick’s story is a little more real than going to an all-boys Catholic school and making a mockery of its student council election procedure. He talks about, y’know, sex and drugs and killing and stuff.
“Backseat Freestyle” is the stand-out for me, though I don’t think I’ll recommend that one to my mom any time soon. He also samples a band we’re going to see a little later in this list, which of course scores some bonus points. We’ll go with a different track below though – and you have to get to the 2:35 second mark for it to really take off.
7. Kopecky Family Band – Kids Raising Kids
I swear popularity for musicians is 99% luck. Obviously I think every band on this list should be popular, but this band in particular would absolutely take off if they got radio air time. I actually wouldn’t have even known of Kopecky Family Band’s existence without the aide (Aid? Aide? You’re all over the place, Word, and I’m not using Google to bail you out) of a message board I used to frequent. I don’t really know how to describe or compare them (a better version of Givers?); they’re just catchy and fun as heck to listen to. I do have a couple of bones to pick with them though.
First, the structure of the album is all wacky for me. I enjoy just about every song here, but the album doesn’t build off its own momentum. The first track that really caught my attention was “My Way,” but the song that follows it just totally deflates all the energy you’re feeling at the end of it. This is especially silly because that’s a good song, too, but it suffers from HAP (horrible album placement). “Angry Eyes,” my favorite track on Kids Raising Kids, is buried as the second-to-last song and is sandwiched between a couple of tunes I would put on my “Sleepy Time” playlist if I was 6-years-old or was a complete wuss and had such a playlist.
My other issue, just real quick before we get to the music, is the name of the band and title of the album. You look at that combination, and you think you’re getting Peter, Paul & Mary or the Partridges. They’re not like that at all. Just cut it to “Kopecky,” guys – sounds way better.
Anyway, sorry to get negative there, somehow I let some minor details get under my skin – totally out of character. Check out one of the best songs on the album below, which is basically the only non-live version of their music I can find on YouTube.
6. Tame Impala – Lonerism
If you constantly imagine John Lennon floating through the galaxy next to a drummer who just doesn’t quit, this is where the album-of-the-year discussion begins and ends for you. I feel like I’d just be wasting everyone’s time if I even attempted to describe this Tame Impala album any other way. It’s albums like this that make me realize I’ll never be able to fully appreciate some music with the assistance of some serious drugs. I mean, I’d go all “YOLO” here, but a) I hate the phrase and b) 27 isn’t really the prime age for experimentation (but it is the prime age for being a professional baseball player, so maybe I’m better off giving that a shot).
These songs don’t really pull a lot of different emotions out of me – they just rock. The drums in particular make me jealous that I probably will never be able to play an instrument in that fashion, as they just have a mind of their own. Take a minute or six and rock out to a song that’s title is too long for me to type.
5. Dr. John – Locked Down
There’s a rasp in Dr. John’s voice that just can’t be touched by other singers. Okay, “singer” is an interesting word there since he’s basically just talking and drawing some of the syllables out to make a chorus. Still, the Good Doctor has a unique voice that, when placed with the right music, works to perfection. And that happens pretty consistently throughout the 72-year-old’s 2012 release. Somehow, despite barely being about to move around a concert stage, Dr. John produced one of the most upbeat and funky albums of the year.
Alright, I guess it’s “Loose Term Day” here – Dan Auerbach, of Black Keys fame, actually produced the album. Maybe that got your attention? If it did, listen on. If it didn’t, listen on. This album’s pretty fantastic. I can’t really imagine someone being a genuine fan of music and not liking “Revolution,” but I also couldn’t really imagine hip-checking someone head-first into a wall playing a motion-based dance game, and, well, stuff happens. If you didn’t check out my top songs of the year post, you probably didn’t get to know “Revolution,” but I don’t want to throw in duplicates for the 8 of you that actually listened to that list, so here’s another similarly jazzy track from Locked Down.
4. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
If I could draw up the opposite sound to Kendrick Lamar, this might be it. Simple, soothing, nonsensical – it’s the type of album that could not only be the soundtrack to your road trip or play over a road trip montage in a movie, but it almost sounds like it was written on a road trip. Maybe that was confusing – let me allow FJM (aka Joshua Tillman (aka the drummer from Fleet Foxes)) to describe the album’s inception himself. I don’t think you really need more than the first sentence, but knock yourselves out:
“I got into my van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go. After a few weeks, I was writing a novel, which is where I finally found my narrative voice…. It was a while before that voice started manifesting in a musical way, but once I settled in the Laurel Canyon spider-shack where I’m living now, I spent months demoing all these weird-ass songs about weird-ass experiences almost in real-time, and kind of had this musical ‘Oh-there-I-am’ moment, identical to how I felt when I was writing the book.”
Kind of inspiring, honestly. We all can lose sight of where we are or who we are or what stories and experiences from our lives actually mean or if they’re just totally random and mean nothing at all. But when things come together, there’s just no feeling like it (I’d imagine). So I guess what I’m saying is, this is a really enjoyable and relaxing album from start to finish, and I think we should all pack in my Corolla and do a lot of drugs we’ve never done and drive somewhere crazy like Attleboro to write the greatest story ever told. But if you just want to listen to the song below and the rest of the album, that’s cool, too.
3. The Walkmen – Heaven
My honest first impression of this album – I could live without the first half, the second half is pretty solid. My current impression of this album – this thing rocks from start-to-finish with very few gaps despite being 13 songs long (by the way, can we just all agree to limit albums to 10 songs? I don’t need more than 10 songs from an artist at a time unless you’re writing a rock opera or your name is Kanye). Once you finish the build-up in the opening track (takes two and a half minutes, just deal with it), there’s a steady consistent rock for a few tracks, and then things get interesting. Actually, here’s how I would say this album plays out now that I’m really listening to it hard again (I listen while I write, in case you didn’t pick that up yet – stream of consciousness, get one).
Part 1: Tracks 1-5, pretty solid, especially the opening, but nothing that’s going to change my life
Part 2: Tracks 6-9, okay, this now sounds like a whole new album is starting, and I’m especially intrigued by the middle two songs
Part 3: Tracks 10-13, whoa, these guys are serious – rockin’ my jaw off for a couple tracks and closing out with a couple of slower, but really enjoyable songs
What I’m saying is, I like this album all the way through, but I love the second half and especially the last third (not doing the math, just assuming I’m right here). There are gems sprinkled throughout, but I think the best of the album is consolidated right at the end. Which is awesome for people like me who listen to albums in their entirety. Sometimes things don’t work out right off the bat and you have to actually stick through to the end to be rewarded – and even then, sometimes there’s no reward. Talking about listening to albums here, not some greater life lesson. Just listen to the album.
2. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Listen, I’m a white guy in his 20s who works on the internet all day and more often than not wears a sweater over a collared shirt to work. If you didn’t think Grizzly Bear was going to be in here somewhere, and somewhere high, you need to re-evaluate your stereotyping abilities (just don’t try to work on them in the Downtown Crossing train station – where stereotypes and conventional wisdom are on permanent vacation and discomfort reigns in their stead). So here they are, #2 on the list – but why #2? Well, let me share a few thoughts (you’re 2,500+ words in at this point, don’t you dare pretend like you have something better to do).
The first three songs (we’re not counting the 1-minute track here, for no better reason than it makes my incredible analogy work…wait for it…) and last three songs on Shields would all be in my top 50 songs of the year (but my own rules don’t allow that). That’s a heck of a loaf of bread on this album sandwich (I’m 2,500+ words in at this point, I’m not pretending like I have a better analogy to give). And while the middle has some lull to it, there’s not much on this album that I can fault.
I surefire way of knowing I’m in love with an album is that I can’t settle on what my favorite song is. I still can’t decide with this one. “Yet Again” (see below) stands alone so well and rocks all the way through. “Sun in Your Eyes” though, brings the album to a whole different level. If you listen to the album straight through – don’t do anything else, just lay down, put your headphones on and listen – the final track will absolutely blow you away. At that point you’ve become so invested in the music you just listened to that an emotional ending to the journey just pushes your sensations right to the brink. And it’s that feeling that puts this above almost every other album I listened to in 2012.
1. Beach House – Bloom
Story time, kiddies. Everyone gather around!
“Seven dollars,” said the theatre’s balcony bartender, responding to my bourbon itch. I left my card at the bar. The lead bouncer pretended to be tough for a minute, then let me run back to the hole-in-the-wall across the intersection that was holding my credit card captive. We had spent a solid 5 minutes going over the protocol for re-entry, but when I got back to the door, he just waved me in. Got my bourbon, got my seat, and then it hit me.
I had been sick for about two weeks straight going into the show, so I should have known that bar food wasn’t my best option leading into a concert. I spent the entire opening act clearing out my…conscience (in this instance, “conscience” means “butt”), and then I was good to go. Except when I got back to my seat and looked at the ground, all I saw was a bourboncide crime scene. Ice scattered across the floor, a 12-ounce plastic cup laying on its side without purpose – someone needed to answer for this. But being a relatively huge wimp (I’m ranking Beach House as my #1 album this year, for validation there), I just sat and waited for the main act.
And man, did that pay off. Did I say “pay off”? I meant “crap all over the stage”. Beach House really stinks live. I saw a 72-year-old Dr. John in concert twice this year, and Beach House made him look like Artie*. But I guess that’s kinda the point? When your sound is entirely built off programmed drums, echoes and enchanting vocals, that’s not transferring well in concert. But man, does it work on your headphones.
*the Strongest Man**
** in the World
The highs and lows of Bloom aren’t too far from each other, and the feel, sound, and emotion are consistent throughout. If “dream pop” is an art that people are trying to perfect, they’ll be using Bloom as their blueprint (saying this based off absolutely no prior knowledge of dream pop). So if you like lyrics for 12-year-old girls and want to feel like you’re riding through the Lisa Frank universe on a space dolphin, it’s hard not to say this is the best album that came out in 2012. And that’s exactly what I’m saying here.
Almost Made It
Oh, you thought I was done? Well, I am. But since 10 is such an arbitrary and restricting number, I thought I’d give you a list of the albums that just missed the cut. No more writing, just linking. Happy listening.