TOP FIVE ALBUMS OF 2012

Well, it’s a new year, and what better reason is there to finally show you my top five albums of the year? (Well, there is the fact that I’ve procrastinated, but let’s go with 2013.) For a long time, I considered 2012 a weaker year for music, and that’s because I hadn’t yet found an album that was anywhere close to my top three of 2011 (Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues, Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, and M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming). As the end of the year drew near, though, not only were some incredible albums released, but I also realized that while 2011 had a handful of near-perfect albums, 2012 has had over twenty that for me have been at least really, really good. And through the whole list-making process, I’ve come to love my top three of the year about as much as last year’s.

What does 2013 have in store? We already know we’re probably going to see new releases by Arcade Fire and Wilco, but beyond future releases, there’s a lot on my mind about my music consumption habits. Perhaps I’ll write a whole post about it, but I’m definitely planning on spending a lot more time on releases that I like and less time trying to like all the other hundreds of albums I read about on the internet.

But let’s just get down to it: my top five albums of the year.

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swinglo

5. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

I like to think of Dirty Projectors as a band of the future, not really because they use any revolutionary technology or recording techniques, but because David Longstreth’s songwriting is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I was introduced to the band with 2009’s Bitte Orca, and upon first listen I had no idea how to process what I’d listened to, or what to think about it. I am a longtime fan of progressive rock, and even I was taken aback by the tempo and time signature changes and unusual, intricate instrumentation. Even today, Bitte Orca remains one of my favorite albums for the fascination it was able to produce in me.

Swing Lo Magellan is a different story, and it’s no less fascinating. In fact, it may even be more impressive for the way it simplifies and makes accessible Longstreth’s music and lyrics, while maintaining the same level of uniqueness. Lead single “Gun Has No Trigger” actually keeps the same beat through the whole song, and it’s chord progression actually makes sense. It sounds like — Dare I say it? — pop music. And the great thing is, it feels just as strange and wonderful as anything else Dirty Projectors have recorded.

A thorough listen will treat you to searing rock (“Offspring Are Blank”), pretty 60s-esque acoustic balladry (“Swing Lo Magellan”), jittery indie (“See What She Seeing”), and more. And throughout it all, the unifying themes remain the same: melody, simple arrangements, and pure character.

Highlights: “Gun Has No Trigger,” “Swing Lo Magellan,” “Unto Caesar”

Spotify link!

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bloom

4. Beach House – Bloom

This was the first album to come out this year that really grabbed me and pulled me in. It was released in May, during which month my wife and I were house-sitting for an art professor of ours. Virginia was starting to get hot and muggy and very green, and I was waking up at 5 AM a few times a week to go open up the gas station where I worked. I downloaded this album on a whim, having moderately enjoyed Beach House’s last album, Teen Dream, and I didn’t listen to anything else for a few days. In fact, I had it on repeat and would start it over as soon as it ended, something I almost never do. Even now, in the middle of a cold snowy Utah winter, I put on Bloom and I’m immediately transported back to the warm, sunny Virginia countryside.

That’s what’s so great about Bloom. It has an incredible ability to transport, to envelop you and make you feel like you’re in a different place, a place that feels timeless. And this timeless aspect of Beach House’s music is intentional. The two members of the band have continually stated in interviews that they are not interested in ever changing their sound, just refining it. While this has caused some listeners to dismiss Bloom as a retread of Teen Dream, there’s no denying the admirability of a band sticking to their guns. And in my opinion, they’re better for it. The hypnotic synth line in opener “Myth,” the moment of suspension before each chorus of “Other People,” the single repeated guitar note that goes on for several minutes in “Irene” — these elements are evidence of bravery and total belief in the music. And they completely and utterly pay off.

Highlights: “Myth,” “Other People,” “New Year”

Spotify link!

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goodkid

3. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

In another world, one in which I am a bona fide, one-hundred-percent hip-hop fan, this is my favorite album of the year, and probably my favorite album of several years. But since I am a white dude who primarily listens to indie rock, it’s relegated to number three. I can say though, that because I do from time to time enjoy rap, even if I only listen to a handful of rappers, this is officially my favorite hip-hop album of all time.

Non-rap fans, bear with me. I want to explain to you why I think this album transcends the limitations of its genre. (I’ve even gotten my wife, a genuine rap-hater, to listen to a few tracks and seriously consider the album’s impact.) First of all, it tells a story, and not just any story, but an autobiographical account of a young Lamar growing up in Compton, California, and experiencing first-hand the world of drugs and alcohol and crime, knowing he can and should ascend beyond its reach. In particular, it details the events of a day or two in his teenage life, during which he has a brush with gang violence and is impacted enough to rethink his life and goals. It’s a story that’s undoubtedly been told in hip-hop before, but rarely with this level of potency. It’s as if Lamar, sensing his career on the edge of breaking, poured his self into recording as personal of an early-career statement as possible.

To be honest, I could go on and on about this album and how powerful it is, even for a guy who grew up comfortably in a white middle-class situation. So for the sake of brevity, let me just say that this “short film by Kendrick Lamar,” as it says on the cover, is every bit as engaging, entertaining and important as any film.

Highlights: “The Art of Peer Pressure,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”

Spotify link!

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awesomewave

2. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

Online indie-music mag Pitchfork panned An Awesome Wave, giving it a 4.8 out of 10 and giving me further evidence of why I hate Pitchfork (though, for better or worse, I simultaneously love it and check it near-daily). The entire review seemed like space to whine about how Alt-J was being referred to as “the new Radiohead,” and that they were getting so much press and attention for all the supposed innovation in their music. It’s almost laughable how bitter the reviewer sounds.

An Awesome Wave won this year’s Mercury Prize, an award given to the best British album of the year, and it’s totally deserving. To be honest, I wouldn’t quite call Alt-J “the new Radiohead,” but I would hail them as a fresh young band who know how to take the simple elements of music and arrange them in unique ways, much like Radiohead. And in fact, the music is deceptively simple. The band recently appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, and one can easily see that they didn’t really have to strip their music down that much for it to be considered “stripped down” or acoustic. Songs like the hypnotically hesitant “Something Good” or the beautiful “Bloodflood” are really only made up of a few instrumental sketches layered over one another. The key that seals Alt-J as one of the most fun bands to listen to this year is singer Joe Newman’s voice. It sounds kind of like a soulful Kermit the Frog. And it’s so great; seriously, it’s hard to describe, so you just have to listen to them and you’ll know how good it is.

I stumbled upon this album quite by accident, and I was hooked from the first listen. Much like Beach House’s Bloom, I couldn’t take it off repeat for a week or so, and let me reiterate: I almost never listen to my music on repeat. There’s just such a wealth of beauty and intrigue and freshness here. It’s irresistible.

Highlights: “Breezeblocks,” “Dissolve Me,” “Bloodflood”

Spotify link!

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shields

1. Grizzly Bear – Shields

Unlike quite a few of the albums on this list, the excellence of Shields came as no surprise to me. It was easily my most anticipated album of the year. Grizzly Bear (incidentally the band upon which I would be most likely to bestow the title “the new Radiohead”) is a band that is ceaselessly inventive: melodically, lyrically, instrumentally, and on and on. From the gentle chamber-folk of 2006’s Yellow House to the rich and intricate explorations in 2009’s Veckatimest, the band is always pushing boundaries and leading themselves into new territory. Shields is more urgent and guitar-driven than it’s predecessors, and it’s also probably Grizzly Bear’s best work to date.

There is a word that I’ve been tempted to use while describing other albums on this list, but I refrained because I wanted to save it to describe this one: “sublime.” “Transcendent” would also work. Listening to the album as a whole (as one should always do, but especially with this album) gives me a feeling I rarely get from other music, one that I am constantly pursuing. It’s a feeling that I have been elevated to another plane. That even the unexpected directions and turns that the music make are just right, as if they are the way things have always been and are supposed to be.

When lead single and opener “Sleeping Ute” was released in June, I was on vacation in Utah (before moving here) and had a very busy agenda. I somehow found time to get on the internet to listen to it, and from the very first seconds of swirling guitar, I knew Shields would be the best album of the year. And I was right. If you are in any way conscious of smart songwriting or beautiful composition, you need this album. And know that it comes with my highest recommendation.

Highlights: “Sleeping Ute,” “What’s Wrong,” “gun-shy,” “Sun In Your Eyes”

Spotify link!

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Here’s the entire list of albums of the year:

  1. Grizzly Bear – Shields 
  2. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
  3. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
  4. Beach House – Bloom
  5. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
  6. The Shins – Port of Morrow
  7. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
  8. Purity Ring – Shrines
  9. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
  10. Tame Impala – Lonerism
  11. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
  12. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
  13. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light
  14. Django Django – Django Django
  15. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
  16. The Walkmen – Heaven
  17. Divine FIts – A Thing Called Divine Fits
  18. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
  19. Field Music – Plumb
  20. Lower Dens – Nootropics
  21. AU – Both Lights
  22. Liars – WIXIW
  23. Menomena – Moms
  24. Passion Pit – Gossamer
  25. Dr. John – Locked Down
  26. Hospitality – Hospitality
  27. Jukebox the Ghost – Safe Travels
  28. Yeasayer – Fragrant World
  29. Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams
  30. The Men – Open Your Heart

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So what’s next for this blog? Well, I’m going to start doing actual album reviews as they come out. I’m pretty excited about that. I want to start writing about other areas of entertainment: movies, books, video games, etc. I’ll only write about those as I experience them, though. And I am ALWAYS open to feedback. In fact, I would love to hear advice from anyone. Anything else I should write about? Any ways I can make the blog look better, or any ways I can bring more attention to it? I want this to be a big priority for me, and it’ll be easier if more people are reading. So if you read this, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on facebook (since that’s where most, if not all, readers come from). Until then, get listening! 2013 is here, and with it a clean slate ready to be cluttered with great music.

Cheers!

SAD

TOP ALBUMS OF 2012 #s 10-6

I hang my head in shame: it’s after Christmas, there are only a couple days left in the year, and I haven’t yet brought you my top ten. My only solace comes in all the words I have written in favor of albums ten through six. Man, they’re good. Maybe they should have been my top five…. But no. Those will come later. For now, read and bask in the glory that is this music.

lonerism

10. Tame Impala – Lonerism

When I heard some of the early hype for Lonerism, I decided to check out Tame Impala’s first album, Innerspeaker, and I was blown away by the waves of psych-guitar bliss. Listening to it felt like watching a giant globe rolling down a hill: the songs would continually and gradually evolve, exposing new sides yet still feeling like part of a whole. It was a revelation.
Where Innerspeaker rolls, Lonerism meanders. And that’s not a bad thing. Rather than unified togetherness, it seems to explore multiple situations and environments; early singles “Apocalypse Dreams” and “Elephant” are evidence of this. Both songs repeatedly expand and retract their scope, but both sound very different from one another. The lyrical theme of the album bolsters the sound as well: the exploration of loneliness seems to isolate the separate elements from one another.
Overall, Lonerism is an album that gets in your head, not in the sense that you’ll be humming all the melodies for days, but in the sense that listening to it on headphones is an involving and self-contained experience. It feels like it’s almost not meant for speakers or multiple listeners. And that is where its strength lies.

Highlights: “Apocalypse Dreams,” “Keep On Lying,” “Elephant”

Spotify link!

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centipede

9. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz

Much was said about Animal Collective’s previous album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Critics called it “one of the greatest American albums of the last few decades” and the like. A masterpiece, they said. And as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t get into it. Maybe it was because I was a newcomer to AnCo. Maybe I was too into the down-to-earth sounds of folk-rock and indie rock (which I was). Either way, there’s no denying that the hype for MPP was so immense, Animal Collective’s follow-up would undeniably be panned.
While it hasn’t exactly been panned, per se, Centipede Hz has been surprisingly ignored for an album by one of the most beloved indie bands of the last twenty years. For me, Centipede Hz is a gateway. While the spacey echoes of Merriweather Post Pavilion didn’t do it for me, the squirmy, noodly density of this album certainly did. It sounds like a group of outcast aliens plugged a whole bunch of instruments, acoustic and electronic, into one another and flipped the switch. The vocals sound like they’re being pushed out of a compressed air hose. The spaces between songs are filled with science-fiction radio transmissions and odd mechanical sounds. And for me, it all becomes some crazy, colorful, beautiful alien symphony. And somehow, the rest of Animal Collective’s output makes sense, too.

Highlights: “Rosie Oh,” “Applesauce,” “New Town Burnout”

Spotify link!

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shrines

8. Purity Ring – Shrines

Purity Ring is primarily concerned with aesthetics. Almost every element of their music, it seems, is made to appeal to the physical senses. Take the lyrics, for instance: in the first ten minutes of the album, we’ve already heard references to cutting open sternums, being embraced literally by ribs, and multiple repetitions of “ears ringing, teeth clicking.” The corporeal aspect of existence must be very appealing to Megan James.
It doesn’t stop there. The electronic production by Corin Roddick evoke sounds and processes of the physical world, as well. The synths shimmer and swell, bubble and burst; the beats are restless, hi-hats buzzing and ever-present snare fills descending. Above it all, James’ voice, harmonic and girlish at times, soars and swelters. It all makes for a rich and busy listening experience that can envelop you (much like being embraced by ribs). It’s also very good for driving at night through the city — all of the pops and swirls complement city lights among the darkness.
Purity Ring first showed up on the scene in January 2011 with their first single, and it took a year and a half to develop it into an album. Hopefully the pay-off of this album is indicative of the band’s future, because it is very bright indeed.

Highlights: “Fineshrine,” “Ungirthed,” “Grandloves”

Spotify link!

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breakit

7. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

I first stumbled upon Andrew Bird with 2009’s Noble Beast, which is now considered by many to be Bird’s weakest album. Indeed, looking back at it now after becoming a pretty big fan, it does overdo some of Bird’s signature moves — the hyper-literate lyricism, the slightly twee whistling, the odd song structures and cute titles. But for a newcomer, all it took were the clever and relaxed vibe and the whistle melody of “Oh No,” and I was hooked. Bird’s main instrument is the violin, and it takes a strong musical mind to push an instrument with such a legacy to such fresh lengths.
Break It Yourself, followed up quickly by the also-fantastic companion piece Hands Of Glory, is a simple, stripped-down (if one can say that at all about Bird’s folksy music) affair, and it’s probably the artist’s best work. It tones down the aspects that overwhelmed Noble Beast to a tasteful and appealing level. The album was recorded live at Bird’s farmhouse-turned-studio, and it certainly sounds like it. The songs are open and spacious, but personal, as are the lyrics. The lyrical focus, rather than on interesting and funny words, is on nostalgia, family and breakup.
I have yet to find another artist that mixes so perfectly the relaxing and the engaging. And I’m okay with it, because I know Andrew Bird will always be around to simultaneously intrigue and soothe.

Highlights: “Danse Caribe,” “Lazy Projector,” “Lusitania”

Spotify link!

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portofmorrow

6. The Shins – Port Of Morrow

In a way, Port of Morrow, along with Andrew Bird’s album, is a greater accomplishment than many of the albums on this list. Both albums were released in March and quickly established themselves as some of the best albums of the year. However, it’s impossible to really make a concrete list like that in March. So the fact that both albums held their merit throughout the entire year of great releases is a pretty big victory.
The Shins have always been a favorite band of mine, ever since I discovered them, like so many others, through the film Garden State. Natalie Portman’s claim that they’ll “change your life” may not hold much sway, but it is true that James Mercer and company have a musical and lyrical sense that doesn’t exist in many other places. Port Of Morrow continues that legacy, albeit somewhat controversially: After their last release, 2007’s Wincing The Night Away, Mercer allegedly fired all the other members of the band. He did a short stint with Danger Mouse as Broken Bells, and now he’s back with four new bandmates.
Not a few fans have been disappointed and a little estranged by these events and by the new album. It’s understandable. Musically, it eschews much of The Shins’ trademark quirky indie touches in favor of slick pop anthems. But it’s also incredibly hard to resist. I defy anyone to find me an album more chock full of relentlessly catchy songs. Mercer has honed his lyrical abilities as well; most of these songs come in the form of stories of youth and letters to old friends. And he remains an absolute master of melody. It all comes together to make a near-perfect summer record, and I will reiterate: It’s irresistible.

Highlights: “Simple Song,” “It’s Only Life,” “40 Mark Strasse,” and every other song on the album.

Spotify link!

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Well, there you have it, folks. Let that tide you over until I reveal the top five. But seriously, all the albums in the top ten are so close to one another in quality that you can’t go wrong picking any of these. Well, except for the top three. The top three are incredible and peerless albums. But 4-10 are great! So get listening, and I’ll be back soon to tell you what else to listen to.

Cheers!

SAD

TOP ALBUMS OF 2012 #s 15-11!

The next five albums on my list are, aside from one of them, bold and grand statements of musicianship. They all feel huge and, in some ways, difficult to listen to. But all are extremely rewarding. Two of them are currently topping many year-end lists; while they didn’t reach that honor for me, they’re worth checking out.

channelorange

15. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

This album is the overwhelming number one critics’ choice for album of the year. And while it is an incredible album, let me just get my cynical opinion out of the way. Days before the album dropped, Ocean published a letter on his blog, admitting that he is gay. It was a bold and defining moment; of all musical genres, hip-hop has been perhaps the least accepting of homosexuality. And even though I don’t think he planned it as a publicity stunt, I do think that it added a little too much hype to channel ORANGE. 

Now that that’s out of the way, though, let me talk about why this album is so great. It is very accessible: to those unfamiliar to the R&B genre, or to those who haven’t as yet explored it, this is a fantastic introduction. It has pretty universal appeal. Add to that the fact that it has some absolutely perfect songs that explore childhood, class differences, and the feeling that you don’t belong in the world, and you’ve got a recipe for success. If it weren’t for the short interludes (“Fertilizer,” “Not Just Money,” “White”) that I feel distract from the flow, and the kinda-hokey closer (“Forrest Gump” — sorry…) it would be at or near the very top of my list. But forget about all that and listen to the highlights, and it’s a blissful experience.

Highlights: “Sierra Leone,” “Bad Religion,” “Pyramids” ( <— which, in case you haven’t read my last post, is the best song of the year)

Spotify link!

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djdj

14. Django Django – Django Django

This is my second favorite debut album of the year, behind Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave. Django Django sound like Cut Copy had a baby with Peter Bjorn and John, for those who are familiar with those bands. For those unfamiliar, I’d say Django Django sounds like a vintage sci-fi musical being performed on the beach at sunset. They are relentlessly catchy, so much so that you won’t believe that each song can actually be catchier than the last. It’s an album chock full of chunky synths, tambourines, surf guitar and lots of vocal harmonies. Perfect for a head-bobbing commute or a dance party.

Highlights: “Default,” “Waveforms,” “Life’s A Beach”

Spotify link!

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huh

13. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

First let me say: How ’bout that cover art, huh?

Now: If you don’t like music that can be a bit repetitious, skip this album. But if you’re like me and repetition makes you perk up your ears and pay attention to the little details, the subtle changes and building tension that usually accompanies this particular songwriting device, then go out and buy this album right now. You should know, though, that this isn’t like minimalism — another brand of repetitious music — but rather like “maximalist” rock’n’roll. Many of the songs are at least six or seven minutes long, and most involve a motif that gets repeated throughout, and all of them involve a veritable pile of instruments and voices. It’s a grand, often hazy and frequently exciting foray into the history of rock music.

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tiwiwttdotsawcwsymtrwed

12. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

I’m a relative newcomer to Fiona Apple, but she only has a handful of albums out now, so theoretically it shouldn’t take me long to familiarize myself with her work. But if her former albums are anything like this one, it may actually take a while. Apple’s music is deep and dense, and what’s interesting is that musically, it’s actually quite simple. What makes it hard to penetrate is her lyrical intensity. Even for me, a guy who primarily listens to the music and instrumentation over the lyrics, they pack a punch and hit right in the gut. This albums is a thorough exploration of the psyche: in and out of relationships, daytime and nighttime, through relaxation as well as intense personal contemplation. And honestly it’s this intensity that makes it sometimes hard for me to listen to. If I were to rate the albums by their accomplishments rather than by my favorites, this would be number one, hands down.

Highlights: “Jonathan,” “Werewolf,” “Anything We Want”

Spotify link!

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attack

11. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

Cloud Nothings’ previous releases are full of short, fast, and loud pop-punk songs. Besides the typical pop-punk subject matter (relationships and why life is hard), they aren’t really about much. For Attack on Memory, the band enlisted the help of legendary producer Steve Albini, who (as expected due to his past work with the likes of Nirvana) has brought a sharper edge to the music. The “punk” side of the equation is dominant, and the songs are rougher and less refined, and all the better for it. The lyrical matter is still reminiscent of emo bands of old, but it’s more poignant; the overall theme is that of growing old, of changing and trying to hold on to the vitality of youth. 

Highlights: “Wasted Days,” “Stay Useless,” “Separation”

Spotify link!

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Alright! Next up: top ten. Though I may do an honorable mention post before then… either way, be excited. Sadly I probably won’t finish before Christmas, as was my goal, but I’ll definitely be done by the end of the year.

Cheers!

SAD

The 25 best songs of 2012 (AKA my favorite songs of 2012).

2012 was a great year for music. For the first time, I was able to have a running list of my favorite songs as I encountered them — lovingly compiled in this Spotify playlist. I’ve taken my twenty-five favorites and ordered them…and here they are!

25. The Shins – “40 Mark Strasse”

24. Fiona Apple – “Anything We Want”

23. Lord Huron – “Time To Run”

22. Alabama Shakes – “Hold On”

21. Menomena – “Plumage”

20. Dan Deacon – “True Thrush”

19. Jukebox the Ghost – “Say When”

18. Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”

17. Anais Mitchell – “Shepherd”

WARNING: This is the saddest song of the year. Prepare for tears.

16. Cloud Nothings – “Stay Useless”

15. Django Django – “Default”

14. Animal Collective – “Applesauce”

13. Dirty Projectors – “Gun Has No Trigger”

12. Divine Fits – “Like Ice Cream”

11. Alt-J – “Breezeblocks”

10. Usher – “Climax”

The sexiest song of the year.

9. Liars – “Brats”

8. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Only In My Dreams”

7. Kendrick Lamar – “Real”

The closer of the story on Lamar’s fantastic album good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and the most powerful.

6. The Walkmen – “Heaven”

5. Civil Twilight – “Doorway”

Civil Twilight can be kind of dumb, but this is a great pop song. I AM NOT ASHAMED!

4. Tame Impala – “Elephant”

So psychedelic, yet so accessible!

3. Beach House – “Other People”

That moment of suspension right before the chorus comes in gives me shivers every time.

2. Grizzly Bear – “Sleeping Ute”

The first track I heard from the new album, and I knew from the first thirty seconds it would be an incredible album. And it is.

1. Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a long song. Especially if there’s some kind of story or character portrait involved. This song is like a short film to me.

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Here is a Spotify playlist of the top 25 in order.

As you can probably tell, most of my favorites from this year were straight-up pop anthems, though there were a few psych-rock goodies and a couple of smooth R&B gems. Hope you enjoyed! Next post will be best albums #s 15-11!

Cheers,

SAD

 

 

TOP ALBUMS OF 2012 #s 20-16

If I were to pick a running theme through the five albums featured on this post, it would probably be the pop sensibilities each of them bring to the table. At least four of them have songs that could be on the radio, and the other… well, it has short songs at least. So if you’re looking for some new music to scratch your pop itch, but you want it with a little more character or a little different than something you’d hear on the radio, look no further than these next five albums.

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20. Lower Dens – Nootropics

Dream pop has been a big thing the last couple years or so, and it seems to be getting bigger and bigger. Beach House, DIIV, Real Estate, and Porcelain Raft are all bands that are actively pursuing the dreamy aesthetic. But while Beach House remains firmly in the midtempo range of songs, Lower Dens has gone even further and slowed things down. A little darker than their contemporaries, Lower Dens makes mysterious and intricate pop that draws equally from krautrock and 80s shoegaze. They are unafraid to let their compositions run wild, with a number of instrumental interludes that easily stand on their own. Nootropics is a perfect companion to a lonely night.

Highlights: “Propagation,” “Lion In Winter Pt. 2”

Spotify link!

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19. Field Music – Plumb

Those of you with A.D.D.: This is the best album on this list for you (well, this and Dirty Projectors probably). Out of its fifteen tracks, only seven exceed two and a half minutes long. Indeed, this is an album that switches tack easily and often. One could even call it a suite of prog-pop movements, but only if said movements were quick and short. If you prefer your songs long, or if you feel that this tactic can leave one feeling a little unfulfilled, then maybe it’s not for you. But I certainly enjoy listening to a piece that keeps listeners on their toes, and this is definitely that.

Highlights: “A New Town,” “Who’ll Pay The Bills?”

Spotify link!

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18. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse

Ty Segall is a prolific garage-punk songwriter and performer. Just this year, he has released three albums: Slaughterhouse, with the “Ty Segall Band”; Hair, with a band called White Fence; and a solo release, Twins. Sadly, this is the only one of the three that I’ve heard, as it’s hard to find recent Segall releases to stream online. But at least I’ve heard this one: it’s a fast, fierce and fun blast of garage punk if ever there was one. On one hand, it’s a good introduction to the world of punk rock because of Segall’s knack for pop melodies. But on the other hand, it’s an unhinged exploration of the sheer noise that can emanate from guitars and amps (see album closer “Fuzz War,” a ten-minute barrage of guitar feedback and little else). It all makes for a wild, but exciting, listen.

Highlights: “Wave Goodbye,” “Diddy Wah Diddy”

Spotify link!

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divine fits

17. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

This was one of my most anticipated albums of the year ever since it was first announced, and it doesn’t disappoint. Divine Fits is a supergroup formed by Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, and while I’m not a crazy Wolf Parade fan, I’d kill for anything Spoon-related. Add the fact that their sound simultaneously explores 80’s New Wave and angular guitar rock, and I’m drooling. Let me reiterate: it doesn’t disappoint. Each track is catchy in a different way. The album is diverse enough to be consistently interesting, but coherent enough to all fit together well. Even writing this now, I’m wondering why it’s not higher up on my list…. Just go listen to my highlight tracks and you’ll know what I mean.

Highlights: “Would That Not Be Nice,” “Like Ice Cream,” and pretty much every other track.

Spotify link!

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heaven

16. The Walkmen – Heaven

I’m a relative newcomer to The Walkmen; I downloaded their previous album, Lisbon, a few months before this one came out, and gave it a cursory listen or two. It was pleasant but not mind-blowing. And while you couldn’t really call Heaven mind-blowing either, it is really fantastic. I knew I wanted to give the band a second try after hearing “Heaven” on good old WNRN back in Virginia — it’s an upbeat, old-fashioned indie rock song and one of my favorites of the year. And the rest of the album, while not being quite as upbeat as that song, meets or exceeds its quality. The guitars are clean and non-distorted, the vocals are well-executed, and the lyrics relate to the happiness that comes with growing older and having families. Sounds like a win in my book.

Highlights: “Heaven,” “Song for Leigh”

Spotify link!

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See, I told you I’d be more diligent about getting these out. I think next I’m going to do my best songs of 2012 list, so stay tuned!

Cheers,

SAD

Blog revisions and albums number 24 through number 21.

‘Sup y’all. Clearly it’s been a while. Basically I’ve got two jobs now, and I’m working pretty much every day of the week, so it’s been tough to motivate myself to write. So I’ve been thinking about some changes: Starting now, I’m going to write about at least five (only four today, though) albums per post, and only write a paragraph or so for each one. Because come on: in what other album lists do albums get a whole review? I was getting a little carried away.

So there are a couple reasons for this: Obviously it’s because I’ve been busy. It’s also because I want to finish the list before Christmas at least! I want to start writing other posts as well, covering movies, books, and the like. And this will allow me to clear everything out by the end of the year, so at the start of the new year I can start focusing on real album reviews. Reviewing them as they are released, etc.

I’ve also got some other lists in the works that I’ll be revealing the next couple of weeks: best songs of the year, album honorable mentions, and random things like underrated and overrated albums.

This really is the start of a sort of dream of mine. I’m very new to it, and I read album reviews online and in publications and think it’s a long way before I can review like that. But it’s a good start at least. So I want to make sure I do it right and hone my skills so that I can further pursue this dream of mine.

So ya wanna hear about the 24th best album of the year? DO YA?!

passion pit

24. Passion Pit – Gossamer

Passion Pit’s 2009 debut, Manners, was a shimmering synth-pop album with a few fantastic songs and lots of filler. It felt quickly thrown together and a little slipshod. Gossamer, while still a shimmering synth-pop album, feels like the complete opposite: made with great care. Each song is catchy and hooky in a different way, from the hyper polyrhythms of “I’ll Be Alright” to the sultry R&B of “Constant Conversations.” Lyrically, the album reads like a manifestation of a damaged soul: frontman Michael Angelakos suffers from bipolar disorder. He’s certainly found a way to channel his sufferings into great music: Gossamer shines.

See previous paragraph for highlights.

Spotify link!

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moms

23. Menomena – Moms

I haven’t followed Menomena’s career too closely, but I do know that their first few releases were pretty experimental, and as they’ve progressed, they’ve evened out to be more accessible. Moms retains some elements often related to experimental rock (alternative instrumentation, creative song structure), but otherwise it’s a solid rock record. Thematically it deals with a disconnect — one between childhood and adulthood, or perhaps between the person one wants to become and the person one already is. Direct evidence is in “Baton,” during which frontman Danny Seim repeats the phrase “I wish…” then turning around in the next track, “Heavy Is As Heavy Does,” to declare “I don’t care much for wishful thinking.” The contradictions in the lyrics fit perfectly with the dramatic and exciting instrumentation. Overall this is a fun record with surprising and pleasant depth.

Highlights: “Plumage,” “Don’t Mess With Latexas”

Spotify link!

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liars


22. Liars – WIXIW 

If you really want experimental, check out Liars’ discography.  This is a band who, in my mind, sit down before recording each album and discuss all the ways they’re going to throw listeners for a loop, the ways they’re going to differentiate their sound from what they’ve done before. WIXIW (pronounced ‘wish you’) is the electronic album. Liars have used electronic sounds in their music before, but this album embraces them universally. As is inevitable with any big electronic change in sound, it’s been compared to Radiohead’s Kid A, and while the feeling and sound is largely similar, WIXIW remains 100% Liars. It retains the sinister quality of their music, while including many beautiful moments to counteract it. Definitely worth a listen for fans of Kid A or the dark side of dance.

Highlights: “No. 1 Against the Rush,” “Brats” (<—–THIS SONG KILLS BY THE WAY)

Spotify link!

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AU

21. AU – Both Lights

I’m gonna open by saying that this album has my favorite album art of the year, and that that’s actually the reason I decided to check it out. I was reading a Pitchfork review of the album (they gave it a disappointed 6.6, by the way), and I was so mesmerized by the artwork that I decided to ignore the review and give it a listen anyway. I’m glad I did — this is one gut-punch of a listen. Psychedelic and experimental in nature (I swear I didn’t realize all these quote-unquote experimental albums were right next to one another on my list), the music exhilarates one moment and soothes the next. It starts off with some of the most frantic drums I’ve heard in a long while, and the rest of the album is a serious rollercoaster ride between dizzying excitement and woozy dreaminess. If you want a crazy and ceaselessly interesting album to listen to, go here first.

Highlights: “Solid Gold,” “Go Slow”

Spotify link!

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I’m glad I finally got this going again. I promise the next installment will be up really soon! I’ll force myself to do it! In the meantime, if you’ve missed any posts, here’s the list so far:

  • 30. The Men – Open Your Heart
  • 29. Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams
  • 28. Yeasayer – Fragrant World
  • 27. Jukebox the Ghost – Safe Travels
  • 26. Hospitality – Hospitality
  • 25. Dr. John – Locked Down
  • 24. Passion Pit – Gossamer
  • 23. Menomena – Moms
  • 22. Liars – WIXIW
  • 21. AU – Solid Gold

Cheers!

SAD

TOP ALBUMS OF 2012 #s 27-25!

To make up for the lack of posts in the last little while, and because I need to finish this list at least by Christmas, I’m gonna give you the next three albums on my list…in one post!

#27: Jukebox the Ghost – Safe Travels 

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In my music discovery’s Internet-driven existence, it is extremely rare for a band to slip through my fingers. I’m usually familiar with an artist’s name, at least. That’s not to say that I know all artists, and I’m not trying to brag here, but spending at least an hour per day reading up on music news and reviews has that effect. That’s why it was a pretty big surprise, then, that after hearing “Schizophrenia” (from their 2010 album Everything Under the Sun) and looking up its artist, I read “Jukebox the Ghost” and thought “I have never heard of these guys before.”

I really enjoyed the song. It came at a time when I was listening to lots of Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket and Wilco, and it was nice to hear something that was bright, happy and easy to listen to while still retaining a good level of musicianship. When I got home I put on the album, and my wife and I listened to the whole thing, marvelling that each song seemed catchier than the last. Eventually Everything Under The Sun became our go-to driving album and the one that we could both most equally agree on.

Jukebox the Ghost make smart, catchy, piano-driven pop music. They’re kind of like a mix between early Fall Out Boy and Ben Folds. The lyrics are quirky and unique. The music isn’t too complicated — in fact, they don’t even have a bass player, and they stick to the piano-guitar-drums interface live. The simplicity works in their favor.

I was excitedly anticipating this year’s release, Safe Travels, and it mostly lives up to my expectations. The band has come to that moment every band seems to face at some point: they’ve made the “mature” album. That’s not to say they’ve rid themselves of the catchy, simple pop of their first two albums; the happiness is still here. But it’s balanced out with more serious and somber lyrics and some Death Cab-esque indie rock. “Dead,” especially, channels such a sound with a slow-building piano exercise that leads to a huge climax. “Adulthood” bemoans the inevitability of growing up. 

Overall, it’s nice to have a little bit of variety in the album experience. But part of me can’t help but miss the carefree attitude of the last album. 

Rating: 7.6

Highlights: “Say When,” “Dead,” “Everybody Knows”

Spotify link!

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#26: Hospitality – Hospitality

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I kind of owe my discovery of this album to Arrested Development, for the simple reason that the video for lead single “Friends of Friends” stars none other than Maeby herself, Alia Shawkat. I read the description, thought “Hey! It’s Maeby! I should watch this!” and ended up enjoying the catchy tune as well.

If you were to come to me and ask for a recommendation exemplifying Brooklyn, New York’s indie scene, I would probably point you to this album. I suppose I’ve never been to Brooklyn, and I’m sure there’s a lot more to the music scene there than this example suggests, but based on everything I’ve read about, or listened to from, Brooklyn, this sums it up pretty well. It’s easygoing, clever, quirky indie-pop. 

Some proof of said quirky-ness: Hospitality’s frontwoman sings in a sing-songy girly voice. They have a song called “Betty Wang.” They have a song about the triumphs and pitfalls of being a liberal arts student. 

It all makes for a fun, light college-indie album. It’s the perfect thing to put on on a warm summer evening, or the soundtrack to wishing for a warm summer evening. I can also tell you from experience that it’s great dishes-washing music. And I think it’s a testament to the album’s simple pleasantness that I’ve got nothing more to say about it!

Rating: 7.6

Highlights: “Liberal Arts,” “Sleepover,” “Eighth Avenue”

Spotify link!

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#25: Dr. John – Locked Down

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I feel a little sheepish reviewing this album for two reasons. First, there’s no escaping the intimidation of judging the work of an artist who is respected for a long and fruitful career. Dr. John has been in the music-making business for over fifty years now, representing the musical legacy of New Orleans. Second, I haven’t listened to any of his previous work. At all. In fact, I think the first time I heard of Dr. John was the release of this album. Just writing this now makes me feel like hiding my head and moving on to the next album.

One thing keeps me going, though: this is a really friggin’ good album. It keeps the aforementioned “Nawlins” legacy going strong. Okay, admittedly, I’ve never been to New Orleans either, but its importance in the history of music is undeniably. And Locked Down touches on all areas of that history. Voodoo blues, jazz and R&B are all heavily represented here. You can tell from the first funky bass line that opens the title track that you’re in for an immersive, colorful and hugely entertaining listen.

Locked Down was produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, which is another reason it garnered lots of attention when it was released in April. Say what you will about the Black Keys (I personally am not much of a fan of their more recent work, both on record and on, ahem, commercials, but I digress), there’s no denying that Auerbach has done excellent work, both behind the boards of the album and as a prominent guitar presence. He brings out the best in Dr. John, emphasizing bluesy organ-guitar attack throughout. The ripping guitar that brings in the ending of “Getaway” is probably one of my favorite moments in music this year.

Overall, this is a fine, swampy listen. It’s great fun, and you can bet that I’m going to sheepishly continue to listen to it.

Rating: 7.9

Highlights: “Locked Down,” “Getaway,” “You Lie”

Spotify link!

I’ll be working my butt off this week to bring you guys more content! So check back often!

SAD