Monday, December 10, 2012

Favorite 10 Albums of 2012

While the demands of family life, work, and my recent return to academia have made blogging and podcasting all but impossible - I wasn't about to let 2012 pass without compiling another "Favorite Albums" list. These are always always my favorite blog posts to compose of any given year. 2012 has been an excellent year for music and although I haven't had much time to write about music, I've probably listened to more new music this year than any I can recall. In addition to new stuff there have been other discoveries like reissues (Archers of Loaf), mixtapes, and older albums I've checked out  as well (Butterglory, The Homosexuals and Suicide come to mind). Like every year, I know that I've only scratched the surface and will probably find things in the coming months that in hindsight I wish I would have put on this list. On a related note, I've  also fallen in love with the incredible Destroyer record Kaputt from last year - probably would sit at #2 were I to revisit that list

So, without any further exposition these are my favorite records of 2012:

#10 Big K.R.I.T. - 4eva N a Day
Yes, this is technically a mixtape - but unlike the solid but relatively unsatisfying Live from the Underground that came out a few months later, this mixtape finds one of the most creative voices in Hip Hop at the peak of his powers. KRIT produced the entirety of this mixtape and the result is a collection of tracks that hang together well enough to be considered a proper album. There is a certain starkness to KRIT's production that really resonates with me and the title track remains my favorite song of the year (and my Son's too. He smiles every time it comes on). Personal touches like a snippet of a voicemail from KRIT's father give the album a sense of intimacy that is often missing from contemporary hip hop.

#9 Titus Andronicus - Local Business
While it may lack the conceptual hook of 2010's The Monitor - Local Business is another step forward for Titus, who are quietly growing into one of the greatest punk bands of this era. Its impossible to talk about Titus without mentioning frontman Patrick Stickles. His hurried warble is a key part of their signature sound and lyrically much of Local Business focuses on some of the less than uplifting aspects of his personal life like his battle with selective eating disorder (its the superb "My Eating Disorder" that got me hooked on this LP) and his neurotic depression in general. This is an immensely satisfying album that I'm continuing to appreciate more and more as the days go on.

#8 The Henry Clay People - 25 for the Rest of Our Lives
There is just something to be said for when an album has a real sense of currency. Millenial malaise is at an all-time high right now with many of us finally having to become adults in a country that baby-boomers and gen-xers ruined. To be sure, the lyrics should resonate with anyone under 30, particularly for those of us who have seen our careers go off the rails. I've been keeping my eye on this band for some time now and this is their first release that has really stuck with me in terms of riffs and hooks. Just a solid rock album with some very timely themes and real depth to it.  

#7 Matthew Dear - Beams
Its entirely possible that when I look back on this list in a few years, I'll regret not ranking this one higher.  Its the grooves that hooked me almost immediately, from the bassline of "Earthworms" to the hypnotic churn of the riff in "Fighting is Futile". Above all of these grooves Dear lays down incredibly unique vocal performances with deeply personal lyrics that touch on themes of vulnerability, doubt and identity. 

 #6 The Wooden Sky - Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun
Lets be honest - Americana has really lost itself as a genre over the past few years. While some of the most boring shit imaginable seems to flourish in popularity (The Civil Wars, for example) and once incredible artists like The Drive By Truckers and Ryan Adams continue to slide into mediocrity - it took an album like this to realize just how powerful Country Music can be. Thanks to excellent production from Howard Bilerman (of Arcade Fire fame) tracks like "Child of the Valley" sound expansive and haunting like a long night drive on a deserted highway. "Take Me Out"  is one of the finest country songs I've heard this decade, with swelling strings and an immaculate arrangement.    

#5 Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid: M.A.A.D City
This is probably going to be looked back on as the most significant hip hop album of this decade. As an MC, Kendrick has it all. Versatility, skill, creativity, and an incredible knack for storytelling. In terms of production there are just so many moments of intangible greatness on this album, take the string outro to "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe", for example  Its ultimately Lamar himself that makes this album such an instant classic, though. Without a doubt the best debut hip hop album since Illmatic

#4 The Walkmen - Heaven
Heaven feels like a transitional record to me, the next step on a journey that started with Lisbon. This band is clearly searching for something and their songwriting continues to mature and expand. If this record had better sequencing ("We Can't Be Beat" is an awful opener) and contained some of the songs that later came out online it probably would have been higher on this list. There are more than enough amazing songs to make this album essential, though. "Heartbreaker" is as good of a single as they've ever made, "Line By Line" is breathtaking and "The Love You Love" harkens back to some of their earlier work. More than anything though, this album gets me excited about the things this band is capable of doing in the future. 

#3 Wild Nothing - Nocturne
A lot of dumb people will listen to this this album and write it off as 80's nostalgia because of the obvious references to bands like The Smiths and Joy Division. They'll be missing out on one of the best albums of the past decade as a result. Nocturne is a good example of a band getting a bigger budget and making good use of it. The lush string arrangements on "Shadow", for instance. My favorite part of this album is the guitarwork, though. The guitar lines are uncomplicated and incredibly melodic (yes, like The Cure) and are the perfect companion for Jack Tatum's dreamy vocals.   

#2 Tame Impala - Lonerism
I've recently gained a deep appreciation for Psychedelic Rock through my love of Guided By Voices. Much like GBV merged elements of Psychedelic Rock with Low Fi, Punk and Prog Rock, Lonerism finds Australian band Tame Impala marrying Psych Rock with textures from Dance music, Electronica and Indie Rock. Its become something of a cliche among music writers to compare the vocals of Kevin Parker to John Lennon - but it is worth nothing just how close Parker comes to replicating the haunting qualities of Lennon's vocals on tracks like "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards". I took to this album almost immediately, I only wish I could replicate the experience of hearing album opener "Be Above It" for the first time. There are some really incredible riffs on this LP as well, "Mind Mischief" and "Elephant" come to mind.  

#1 Tanlines - Mixed Emotions
Reading through some of the other "Best of 12" lists that have popped up this month it would seem that I might be alone in thinking that Mixed Emotions deserves this kind of acclaim, but I'll be damned if this isn't the finest record I've heard all year. While synth-pop has enjoyed some recent ubiquity my attraction to this record has little to do with whatever sense of currency or hipness the production might have - its all about the songwriting. Tracks like "Green Grass", "Real Life" and "Lost Somewhere" are creative, catchy as hell and would sound just as classic coming from bands of any number of different genres. Having said all that, its worth mentioning just how effortlessly this duo uses a variety of instruments (particularly synthesizers) to create a massive and varied sonic landscape for all of these wonderful melodies to occupy. There have been some albums released this year that I know are more important than this LP (Kendrick Lamar) and there have been some albums released this year that are more inventive as a whole (Tame Impala, Matthew Dear), but there is just something about Mixed Emotions that has compelled me to revisit it again and again. Its that rare quality that led me to award the top spot of last year's list to Days by Real Estate and it remains my favorite record of that year and the 2011 album I listen to most frequently. I'm confident that like Days, I'll revisit Mixed Emotions in the days and months ahead and find myself gravitating towards different tracks and discovering things that I hadn't really listened to before. Despite its pop sensibilities, its that dense of a record.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice, Blake. I especially like your top 3. I need to revisit the Tanlines album. Feel like there are songs that I didn't give enough attention or haven't hit me in the right way yet.
My top 5
1. Clinic- Free Reign
2. Chairlift- Something
3. Tanlines- Mixed Emotion
4. Cloud Nothings- Attack on Memory
5. The Magnetic Fields- Love at the Bottom of the Sea

This is like the year of the synthesizer/drum machine. Right now I'm really enjoying the new Divine Fits album; will probably make my top 5 after a couple more listens. We should do a top 5 songs of the year comparison. -Mario