Thanks in part to Crush On Radio, 2012 was probably the first year I tried to keep up with what was happening in the music world. I listened to over forty albums and EPs that came out this year, and have settled upon these top ten albums (and one EP that deserves mention) as the best of what 2012 has to offer. Naturally, they skew towards my own idiosyncratic taste in music. However, I stepped out of my comfort zone on a few of these picks, a testament to the power of a good record to challenge expectations.
Honorable Mention – Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze
If this were a full-length album, I’d have this in the top ten, but at five tracks, it has to be its own thing. Dum Dum Girls combine girl group pop and Ramones style punk with enough melancholy to add gravitas. The music on this disc is earnest and serious—and from my understanding, the melancholy is well earned. A must hear.
Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze on Amazon MP3
10. Eskimeaux – Eskimeaux
You probably don’t own an album that sounds anything like this. A sparse, but lush portal into a stranger’s mind and life. Eskimeaux know how to use studio effects to drive home a lyric, and it’s done well all over the record. To say more, I’d end up repeating my review of the record for Kittysneezes.
Eskimeaux on Bandcamp
9. Kendrick Lamaar – good kid m.A.A.d city
I’m only just starting to develop the vocabulary to appreciate Rap. Therefore, I approached this album with trepidation only to be won over by a stunning production and brilliant concept—a story of redemption from violence into the arms of something larger and better. The lyrics and their delivery are amazing too, as they must to make it a compelling listen. Even if you’re not a fan of Rap, this album is worth your time.
Kendrick Lamaar – good kid m.A.A.d city on Amazon MP3
8. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
For their sophomore effort, Japandroids strip down the conventions of classic rock to fit their minimalist aesthetic of guitar and drum kit. They fill their songs with heavy power chords, pounding beats, and lyrics about drinking, smoking, and fucking. Somehow, Japandroids make adolescent angst and disaffection cool again, while being aware of the futility and transience of those adolescent things. In the meantime, “we yell like hell to the heavens.”
Japandroids – Celebration Rock on Amazon MP3
7. Actress – R.I.P
Occupying a nebulous space somewhere between house music and ambient, this album secured a spot in my top ten before I even finished listening to it. It clicked once I realized that the stop/start transitions between tracks were intentional, that each cut was as it was meant to be, alone, disconnected, its own little electronic world to fall into. I need more albums like that.
Actress – R.I.P on Amazon MP3
6. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Kevin Parker sounds a hell of a lot like John Lennon. This is a neat trick, considering he’s Australian and not Liverpudlian. Lonerism sounds a lot like the psychedelic bits of Sgt. Pepper and Revolver, redone with modern technology. It’s an album that, with a pair of headphones, lets you sink in and feel at home. And, let’s be fair, if you don’t like Sgt. Pepper or Revolver, there’s something wrong with you. Beatle-based pop never died.
Tama Impala – Lonerism on Amazon MP3
5. Daughn Gibson – All Hell
Deconstructed country music for the 21st Century. Daughn’s deep bass croon sounds like a man who’s seen enough heartbreak and horror that nothing else could faze him, but still has trouble sleeping at night, and he’s not afraid to tell you what he’s seen. And he does it over music made of samples of country music, modified to crank up the inherent darkness. Turn the lights down, pour some whiskey and listen. Fire optional.
Daughn Gibson – All Hell on Amazon MP3
4. Crystal Castles – (III)
This is the most consistent and listenable release by Crystal Castles. Previous albums have had high notes, among tracks of difficult noise. Here, the off-putting veneer is pulled back, and the noise turned to punctuation around soulful songs of cold electronics and cold vocals. Even “Sad Eyes,” the closest Crystal Castles come to pop music on an album, is stark and cold. Yet I’ve warmed up to their odd blend of synthesized harshness.
Crystal Castles – (III) on Amazon MP3
3. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
At this point in his career, it may be that David Byrne can do no wrong. Certainly, teaming up with St. Vincent, who is the only contemporary musician matching Byrne’s brilliance, was a smart idea. Together they created an album of surprising pop brilliance. The decision to base the songs around an eight piece brass band is simply icing on the cake. Some reviews put Love This Giant down because it was exactly as they expected from its parts. And that is a bad thing why?
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant on Amazon MP3
2. Grimes – Visions
“Oblivion” is my favorite song of the year, without any doubt. It’s a sublime nugget of avant-pop. Its odd, throbbing baseline and helium vocals that will be on repeat in the little jukebox inside your head. The rest of the record doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Oblivion”—“Genesis” comes closest—it’s still a wild, textured ride showcasing the range of what electronic pop can be and become. It will stick with you. I can’t wait to see what else Grimes comes up with in the future.
Grimes – Visions on Amazon MP3
1. Hot Chip – In Our Heads
The first album I listened to by Hot Chip, 2010’s One Life Stand, showed a lot of promise, but failed to capitalize. Its followup, however, fulfills that promise and goes above and beyond. Hot Chip managed to make an album that, in the span of just under an hour, can have the listener undergo a transformative, almost spiritual experience and shake their booty. There’s not a bad cut on this disc, not a note or a lyric that could be deemed unessential, even on the longest tracks. Easily one of my favorite albums, not of the year, but of all time.
Hot Chip – In Our Heads on Amazon MP3