Top Eleven Songs of 2012:
Listen to Best of 2012 on Spotify
Tame Impala – Lonerism
"I'm playing a part as somebody else / while trying so hard to be myself"
One of my favorites about doing year-end lists is the moment when it goes from multiple albums contending to an unequivocal choice. I first heard this album in November and was blown away; it wasn't until the rack-and-stack process that I knew for sure, six tracks and six seconds in, this was definitely album of the year. Fantastic psychedelic rock follow-up to their 2010 debut Innerspeaker, an Honorable Mention on that year's list.
Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal
"Some days I don't know if I am wrong or right / Your mind is playing tricks on you, my dear / 'Cause though the truth may vary / This ship will carry our bodies safe to shore."
How great is it that we live in a day and age when a debut album from a five-piece indie band can score a top ten Billboard album and a number one song in the States? Sometimes you find great music, and sometimes it finds you. Reminiscent of Arcade Fire and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, and a great example of how indie rock really has taken on a full-fledged personality.
Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
"Can I feel so utterly unreal / like nothing I can do will make things change / I'm stuck in here and tired if everywhere / I'm never going to learn to be alone."
Finally, we can finally say that the best band from Cleveland is someone other than the Presidents of the U.S.A! Third album by these guys with a very different feel. Album title is intended to suggest "An attack on the memory of what people thought the band was." I'm completely okay with this.
Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
"At night I wonder, how do I swing this? / I’m gonna be up for a long while / cause I gotta know it / Know it tonight / Cause if I did, would that not be nice?"
I hate to say things like "Indie Rock Supergroup", but ... Spoon frontman Britt Daniel. Wolf Parade guitarist Dan Boeckner. I mean, really. Some killer tracks, with clear influence by two of today's best songwriters. Throw in a killer cover of Rowland S. Howard's cult favorite, "Shivers", and you've got me hooked. One can only hope this is not a one-time side project.
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
"Unrequited love / to me its nothing but a one man cult / & cyanide in my styrofoam cup / I could never make him love me."
With as much attention as he received for writing this open letter about his sexual orientation, as well as his subsequent performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, it would be easy to suggest this album is more important as a watershed moment for the Hip Hop community than it is from an artistic merit. Truth is, it's both. Has a style which reminds me of later era Prince.
Ty Segall – Twins
"I'm out on the streets you know / I'm looking for you / You give me the sweets you know / You know I'm not good."
Since 2005, Segall has released seven albums, six albums from side-projects, and dozens of 45s/EPs. He makes Jack White and Ryan Adams, two of the most prolific musicans this century, look lazy. How prolific, you ask? Three days into 2013, he released another album. Mix of garage, psychedelic, indie, and folk rock. And fuzz. Oh, the glorious fuzz. You cannot stop Ty Segall. You can only hope to contain him.
Japandroids – Celebration Rock
"Remember when we had them all on the run / And the night we saw the midnight sun / Remember saying things like we'll sleep when we're dead / And thinking this feeling was never going to end"
At first, I was a little worried about listening to an album that sounds like bad high school poetry. But instead, I think it was me reacting to the themes about living in the now and appreciating the moment. Were I to sing these songs myself, I think I would be accused of having a mid-life crisis. Then again, I'm not that much older than frontman Brian King. In the grand scheme of things, they are the modern day Thoreau: living simply, sucking out all the marrow of life. Who doesn't want that?
Best Coast – The Only Place
"Cause when I wake up in the morning or the middle of the night / I wonder who's there, and what they've said / But when I wake up in the morning or the middle of the night / I look at you and I know it's alright."
Continuing in the lo-fi theme from their debut album, Bethany Cosentino brings a in-a-better-place sentiment to her lyrics. Likely that producer Jon Brion (known for his work on Spoon's "The Underdog" off of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga) had something to do with that.
Nick Waterhouse – Time's All Gone
"There’s some place that I’d rather be / It’s something been on my mind almost constantly / Some place I don’t expect you to understand / People talk to me and I know they don’t comprehend."
If you liked Raphael Saadiq's last album, miss Amy Winehouse, or are wondering why you suddenly want to buy an Acura, you should check this album out. Great throwback R&B sound.
Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light
"Some say you got a rotten soul / But I said 'Janey loves rock 'n' roll' / Said you ain't got time, you're a long time dead / Ain't got time to mess my head with you."
Every way I try to describe this album sounds pretentious. Here's my last attempt: less space rock, more indie than prior records; has a Phil Spector wall-of-sound element to it (minus the crazy); frontman Jason Pierce seems to channel a combination of Blur's Damon Albarn and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. Yeah, still pretentious. How about this: Dr. John co-wrote a killer track ("I Am What I Am")? I'll stop now.
Beach House – Bloom
"My mother said to me that I would get in trouble / Our father won't come home cause he is seeing double"
Third act included this year using female/male vocal harmonies. Has a dreamy kind of feel that reminds me of The Smiths, or possibly Juliana Hatfield fronting Depeche Mode.
Jack White – Blunderbuss
"I won't let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me."
Eleven studio albums in 14 years, twenty one more as a producer. One of three featured guitarists in It Might Get Loud. Oh, and one Bond song. So, yeah, you can say there's a reason Jack White should be considered one of the most important musicians of the Aughts. And yet, there was much disappointment when he and Meg White announced the White Stripes were no more. Fifteen months after the announcement, he released his first eponymous album. Why self-titled at this point? Consider this: it's probably a good thing that Wu-Tang Clan member RZA couldn't make a studio session; otherwise, we could very well have heard White collaborate with Tom Jones. Tom. Fucking. Jones. None of White's post-White Stripes work will truly sound like The White Stripes, but this album definitely sounds like him.
Bad Books – II
"We started a fire that was never supposed to burn out / You started a band that was cool for a while but it turned pretty bland."
Imagine Grandaddy's Jason Lytle producing an album for Fountains of Wayne. That should be all you need.
Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
"I went to church and I went to school / I played by all of your mother's rules / But now its time to drink the wine / And wave goodbye, bye bye, bye."
YOU CANNOT STOP TY SEGALL! YOU CAN ONLY HOPE TO CONTAIN HIM! Ty Segall becomes the first artist to chart twice in my year-end music list. Both Bright Eyes and Deerhunter nearly accomplished this in 2004 and 2008, respectively. The New Pornographers' A.C. Newman and Neko Case both charted their solo work in the same year. Based on how quickly he's releasing music these days, he might even do it again in 2013. Might. This album is definitely darker and more psychedelic than Twins, so start with the other album. If you like what you hear, get your hands on this one.
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
"There he goes, he finally closed the door / I turn the lock feeling more confused than before."
Similar story to that of Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino two years ago: fresh off of a break-up, she holed herself up in a recording studio. After doubting her ability to write songs for electric guitar, producer and frontman of The National Aason Dessner coaxed her into recording them. By the time she sings, "One day I'll be a better writer," you realize her songwriting potential was always there, while also bringing to mind Mark Knopfler's style of self-depricating writing ("I can't do the talk like the talk on the TV"). It also doesn't hurt to line up guest spots for friends from prior tours (The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Beirut's Zach Condon, and Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner).
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
"Never kisses, all do you ever send are full stops."
They're like TV on the Radio. Except they're white. And English. And maybe took singing lessons from the woman in tUnE-yArDs. Here's a trivia fact: they're name comes from the keys you press on a Mac to type their actual band name (i.e.., Δ). I'm really surprised how few American blogs included the 2012 Mercury Prize Winner in their year-end lists. Their video for "Breezeblocks" is reason enough to give them a chance.
Foxygen – Take The Kids Off Broadway
"I will stand up for my rights / from Jesus Jones and all his parasites / they do their testing on mice / and psychedelic chromosome device."
This album is a little different, but if you're patient it can go a long way. It's a homage to a vinyl collection, and a pretty impressive collection at that. Sounds like Lou Reed, Bowie, Ray Davies, and The Glimmer Twins sitting around exploring the studio space (note the nod to Velvet Undergound on the album cover design). By the way, they just released another album two days ago. We might be hearing more of this band in future lists.
Guilty Pleasure of the Year
Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Shall I wait until your facepalm is done? Are we there yet? Okay, good.