The 2012 albums that I listened to most & had the deepest personal connection to. It was an above average year in music in my mind with a focus on pop based indie. Most of these records were pleasant surprises that exceeded expectations:
1)Twin Shadow/Confess (4AD)
Twin Shadow’s ‘Confess’ sounds like the work of an orphaned child raised by Prince, The Boss & Morrissey. On his sophomore release George Lewis Jr. sheds all indie trappings for the bombast & pop star flair that suits him best. With brash, arena size production & confessional songwriting to back it up ‘Confess’ burns with cinematic fire. It’s a love letter to the 1980′s that stands up to the quality of any pop music made in that era.
Key Tracks: ‘You Call Me On’, ‘Beg For The Night’, ‘Five Seconds’, ‘Run My Heart’
2)Tallest Man On Earth/There’s No Leaving Now (Dead Oceans)
If you like one of Kristian Matsson’s songs you will probably like them all. With his sandpaper vocals, toy guitar and sharp folk melodies his appeal seems to grow with every passing release. While ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ is more sonically accomplished than it’s predecessors it still embodies his simple approach-the Dylan-esque travel worn troubadour, heart forever on his sleeve.
Key Tracks: ‘Wind & Walls’, ‘Criminals’, ‘To Just Grow Away’, ‘Revelation Blues’
3)Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros/Here (Vagrant)
Despite not having anything as expansive as “Home” or “40 Day Dream” Edward Sharpe’s second record accomplishes something much more- a cohesive effort that is listenable all the way through, many times over. Embracing a humble, down home approach with tasteful world music themes ‘Home’ strikes a more genuine, likable tone than their first release.
Key Tracks: ‘Man On Fire’, ‘Mayla’, ‘That’s What’s Up’, ‘Fiya Wata’,
4)Gotye/Making Mirrors (Eleven)
And here is the ever present radio single that everyone loves… or hates… or loves & says they hate while performing a parody of it on youtube. There’s something to that i think. Behind the single there’s an album of quality and substance, borrowing/worshipping a whole different set of 80′s pop singers than you would have expected. But that seems to be Wally De Backer’s specialty-curveballs… and great pop songs.
Key Tracks: ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, ‘State Of The Act’, ‘Giving Me A Chance’
5)Passion Pit/Gossamer (Columbia)
Peel back ‘Gossamer’s’ initial layer of electro pop sunshine and you will find some pretty dark subject matter in the lyrics. Passion Pit’s third release finds Michael Angelakos pushing these polarized elements to the brink. Some topical, most personal Angelakos’ lyrical growth on this record is evident- yet so are his demons. This is what top 40 sounds like in an alternate universe.
Key Tracks: ‘Cry Like A Ghost’, ‘Love Is Greed’, ‘Take A Walk’
6)Jens Lekman/I Know What Love Isn’t (Secretly Canadian)
How does an open hearted optimist reconcile a badly broken heart? Jens Lekman seems to have been put on earth to answer these questions with his songs. Like Jonathan Richman a generation before him Lekman tackles the serious, mundane & silly details of life & love with tenderness, wit and a masterful use of melody. ‘I Know What Love Isn’t’ is a study of every aspect, phase & pitfall of losing the love of your life.
Key Tracks: ‘Every Little Hair Knows Her Name’, ‘She Just Don’t Want To Be With You Anymore’, ‘The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love’
7)Andrew Bird/Break It Yourself (Mom & Pop)
Don’t allow Andrew Bird’s consistent excellence to exclude him from any such list. If you are a fan of Mr. Bird & ‘Break Yourself’ didn’t blow you away upon first listen give it another shot- it will eventually seep into your heart & soul and become one of your favorite Andrew Bird albums. If you are not a fan of Mr. Bird- become one. Because he simply does not make bad records.
Key Tracks: ‘Orpheo Looks Back’, ‘Eyeoneye’, ‘Danse Carribe’
8)Grizzly Bear/Shields (Warp)
Dark and understated with flourishes of pop brilliance ‘Shields’ accomplishes the rare combination of challenge & accessibility. Seemingly the heir apparent to Radiohead, Grizzly Bear always seem to make this sound easy. Play two of it’s finest tracks: ‘Yet Again’ & ‘Sleeping Ute’ in succession & discover a masterful blend of pop song & art project- but which is which? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…
Key Tracks: ‘Yet Again’, ‘A Simple Answer’, ‘Sleeping Ute’
9)Lord Huron/Lonesome Dreams (IAmSound)
Inhabiting the space somewhere between Vampire Weekend & My Morning Jacket, Lord Huron’s debut album seems to highlight the infinite possibilities of the post indie era. On the tails of two largely unsung e.p.’s ‘Lonesome Dreams’ joins ‘Graceland’ inspired world-pop with straight alt-country americana.
Key Tracks: ‘Time To Run’, ‘The Man Who Lives Forever’, ‘In The Wind’
10)Wild Nothing/Nocturne (Captured Tracks)
Dreamy end of summer shoe-gaze. Hypnotic pop conjuring memories from two decades before. Or this year. It’s the sunday before school starts, wandering the abandoned boardwalk amusement park with headphones turned up. Or-driving home from the airport at 1am with the windows down & the stereo blasting, wondering how it all went so wrong.
Key Tracks: ‘Paradise’, ‘Rheya’, ‘Shadow’
The songs I heard the most in 2012 that didn’t end up being annoying (yet):
‘Orpheo Looks Back’/Andrew Bird
‘Somebody That I Used To Know’/Gotye
‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’/Father John Misty
‘I Will Wait’/ Mumford & Sons
Honorable Mention Albums (alphabetical)
Some deserved the top ten, others enjoyed steady play throughout 2012. These are the runners up:
Bat For Lashes/The Haunted Man
Beachwood Sparks/Tarnished Gold
Beth Orton/Sugaring Season
Bruce Springsteen/Wrecking Ball
The Dandy Warhols/This Machine
The Darkness/Hot Cakes
Dr. John/Locked Down
Father John Misty/Fear Fun
Fiona Apple/The Idler Wheel…
The Killers/Battle Born
King Tuff/King Tuff
M. Ward/A Wasteland Companion
Mumford & Sons/Babel
Norah Jones/Little Broken Hearts
Of Monsters & Men/My Head Is An Animal
Santigold/Master Of My Make-Believe
Favorite Non-Favorites (things heard along the way)
These just weren’t in my strike zone but are respected for their quality & innovation:
Alabama Shakes/Boys & Girls
Baroness/Yellow & Green
Flying Lotus/Until The Quiet Comes
Frank Ocean/Channel Orange
Godspeed, You Black Emporer/Allejulah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Kendrick Lamar/Good Kid M.A.A.D. City
Lana Del Rey/Born To Die
Reissues, Collections & Non 2012 Favorites
Here are some classics I discovered or re-loved in 2012:
Aphex Twin/Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Archers Of Loaf/Icky Mettle
Nic Jones/Penguin Eggs
The Radio Dept./Clinging To A Scheme