The Best Albums of 2012

This past year (well past by this point might I add) provided us with a slew of good to great music. There were new albums from Ben Gibbard, Muse, The Killers, and B.o.B. to name a few. They all made solid efforts in 2012, but they didn’t quite crack the top ten albums. Below is my list, long overdue.


01: Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal

From the opening of the first track you can almost sense that this is a special effort. There is a quiet intensity, a captivating beauty, that threads through every melody and harmony on this wonderful debut album from Iceland. By the time you get to the final track you’re only thought will be to press play again.

mp3 : Of Monsters and Men – Yellow Light


02: The Lumineers – The Lumineers

Another brilliant debut album on the list. Bursting with raw emotion and well written lyrical vignettes this album is filled with driving drumbeats and folk fueled romance. Although a few of their tracks are more aligned with radio friendly airtime it’s when they slow down that their true talent shines through.

mp3 : The Lumineers – Submarines


03: John Samson – Provincial

Many of the songs that appear on his debut solo effort closely mirror his top shelf work with The Weakerthans. While some reviewers this past year found this off-putting I find John Samson’s lyrical storytelling to be just as captivating with or without his regular band.

mp3 : John Samson – Heart of the Continent


04: Mumford and Sons – Babel

Not much needs to be written about this band or this album. They’ve grown up from an indie darling quartet to a full on success recognized the world over. This album is a worthy continuation of their career.

mp3 : Mumford and Sons – Where are You Now


05: Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold

I know; this is a Christmas album that’s actually a collection of five separate EP’s that were written over half a decade and they just happened to be released as a box set in 2012. I know all the reasons that this technically shouldn’t be on a list, but the entire collection is simply so good that it can’t be relegated to one month of listening every year. On top of that you can listen to each EP in chronological order and follow along with the evolution of his musical style.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Christmas in the Room


06: The Walkmen – Heaven

On this album The Walkmen continue their waffling between being effortlessly cool and trying really hard to channel Bob Dylan. The magic is when both of those efforts combine into a single glorious song. This is their best album since Bows + Arrows.

mp3 : The Walkmen – Line by Line


07: Beach House – Bloom

Although not quite as captivating as their previous effort (Teen Dream) their latest effort provides the same breathy vocals and building crescendos that have become their trademark.  This music would fit in almost any scenario.

mp3 : Beach House – Myth


08: Matt & Kim – Lightning

If you didn’t feel like dancing you will after a single listen to this album.  Or you might have a seizure.  It’s honestly a tossup.  Matt & Kim put out a solid album this time around and their one weakness (vocals on slower tracks) is kept to a minimum this time around.

mp3 : Matt & Kim – Now


09: fun. – Some Nights

It began for most people when their song We Are Young was featured prominently in a primetime commercial (possibly debuted during the Big Game?)  If you were daring enough to jump into the full album from that snippet you would find yourself treated to a modern day pop musical; complete with letters to moms, hanging out with friends, and pleas to find true love.

mp3 : fun. – All Alright


10: Jack White – Blunderbuss

I feel like I’m breaking an unwritten rule putting Jack’s first solo album this far down my list.  The problem is that for every brilliant track on the album, there is another track that reminds you how great Jack White is when he’s surrounded by other creative people.  This is a solid album, but it’s not his best effort.  I’ll go ahead and label it the Josh Ritter effect whereby an album starts off brilliantly and then veers into head scratching territory.

mp3 : Jack White – Freedom at 21

 

Sufjan Stevens upcoming album Silver & Gold has a free single entitled Christmas Unicorn

Sufjan Stevens has a new Christmas/Holiday album coming out this November. It is called Silver & Gold and will have a total of fifty eight songs.  If you head over to his streaming page you can download the last track from the compilation for free in high quality digital format.  Appropriately it’s entitled Christmas Unicorn and it sprawls for a full 12+ minutes.  I would expect nothing less from Sufjan at this point.  Take a listen below and then head over to his page to preorder the digital version or the vinyl limited edition if you have money to spare.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Christmas Unicorn

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Coldplay album Mylo Xyloto

Despite what you may think the latest Coldplay album, Mylo Xyloto (amazon) (itunes), is a decidedly Coldplay effort.  Sure it is an evolution and continuation of their sound.  Granted it might not be their greatest work, but it’s not their worst album either.  Maybe we should call it what it is; an experiment.  And to be quite fair, they should be allowed to experiment.

Unless, of course, that experiment leads to collaborating with Rihanna.  If you strike that one song (Princess of China) from the record it’s mostly a solid Coldplay set list.  Their previous work, Viva la Vida, grouped song pieces together to make short audio plays such as the extended tracks Yes and Death and All of His Friends.  On Mylo Xyloto the boys instead opted to separate all tracks into more radio friendly segments and as such we’re treated to short 45 second lead in songs such as Mylo Xyloto, M.M.I.X., and A Hopeful Transmission.  So while at first blush these song segments may appear “new” to Coldplay, they’re really just repackaging their own system.

Where the band really experiments is with their sound.  Although a large part of the album is pure and simple Coldplay they do find some room for a new vibe.  On the fourth track, Us Against the World, the opening thrity seconds could have come directly from Explosions in the Sky.  The track Paradise feels  like a rnb deconstruction of classic symphonic Coldplay.  Major Minus comes across as a tribute to U2.  The album’s closing track Up With The Birds has a brief flirtation with sparse atmospheric rock before galloping back into a standard Coldplay close.

mp3 : Coldplay – Charlie Brown

At the end of the album you’re left with the feeling that this is undoubtedly another Coldplay effort.  There is enough new material to stay interesting (and sell tickets on their next tour), but it’s also familiar enough that they won’t be alienating any of their fan base.  Well, except for the one track Rihanna.  That track is an aberration and should probably be erased from your memory.

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Cults debut album Cults

The debut album from Cults (amazon) (itunes) is the type of sound that makes you nostalgic for an era you never lived through.  At times it feels like I’m sitting in a retro 50’s throwback diner, spinning singles in a genuine jukebox.  A handful of tracks bring me back to the mid seventies (which I never experienced), wistfully slotting wildflowers into rifle barrels.  Yet, at the same time, this album is grounded in today; each song is unique, breezy, and easy to listen to multiple times.

mp3 : Cults – Go Outside
mp3 : Cults – Bad Things

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We Were Promised Jetpacks album In The Pit of the Stomach

The Scottish quartet released a rollicking sophomore album this month and it is solid.  If you enjoyed their debut in 2009 then this followup, In The Pit of the Stomach (amazon) (itunes), will fit nicely with your expectations.  Although this album is a bit darker in nature it never strays too far from solid riffs and insanely addicting guitar melodies.

mp3 : We Were Promised Jetpacks – Circles and Squares
mp3 : We Were Promised Jetpacks – Act On Impulse

Circles and Squares is the opening track from the new album and from the very first second you can tell this is a slightly more grandiose version of We Were Promised Jetpacks.  Act on Impulse is the fourth track from the album  and I love how it builds slowly, patiently, resolutely refusing to be a three minute pop song.  After repeated listens I think I enjoy this track so much because the underlying repeated guitar line sounds a lot like the guitar in The Past is a Grotesque Animal by Of Montreal.

Bottom line, solid album that easily escapes the prototypical sophomore slump.

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Beach House album Teen Dream

I blame it on the general malaise that assails all creative types when the world is cold, gray, and mostly dusk and darker.  I blame it on the slowing of blood in vessels constricted due to perpetually cold weather more conducive to sitting still, hibernating, than to exploring and creating.  I even blame it on the rain that was falling.

For whatever reason I completely missed out on this album in 2010 and it is a shame.  In fact I missed out on a few great albums last year that would have easily crept into my best of list.  Limited time, need for sleep, and general life duties be damned; I should have listened to Beach House.

mp3 : Beach House – 10 Mile Stereo

Fortunately their album Teen Dream (amazon) (itunes) is still good a full year after being released and you don’t need to make the same mistake that I did.  If, for whatever reason, you still haven’t listened to Beach House then get out of the house, feel the spring approaching, and experience this album.

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The Best Albums of 2010

The past year was filled with unforgettable music.  As I was poring over all of the great albums I began agonizing (often vocally to my wife) about how I was possibly going to choose which albums would make this list.  Throughout the past two months I’ve been listening to twenty albums on constant repeat and below I present to you the fruits of this labor.

01 : The National – High Violet (amazon) (itunes)

The National crafted an album in 2010 that surpassed all of the hype that has been surrounding them since they released their album Alligator in 2005.  Of all the great music in 2010 this album narrowly surpassed the rest of the pack in grabbing and holding my attention the most.

mp3 : The National – Sorrow
mp3 : The National – Conversation 16

02 : Cloud Cult – Light Chasers (amazon) (itunes)

There are five or six albums in this list that could have easily laid claim to the coveted number one position.  Light Chasers sits at number two on the list because every single song adds to the story arc and each track contributes something new, yet cohesive, to the experience.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – The Invocation (p.1) – You’ll Be Bright
mp3 : Cloud Cult – The Arrival – There’s So Much Energy In Us

03 : Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz (amazon) (itunes)

Many people didn’t know what to think of Sufjan’s return to music.  He eschewed his well known banjo and modern folk interpretations and instead produced a sprawling epic that combines intricate storytelling with even more intricate electronic compositions.  Truly a great album.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Now That I’m Older
mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Vesuvius

04 : Jonsi – Go (amazon) (itunes)

Jonsi went solo this year from Sigur Ros and he came up with an album that sounds as great as his band, but it moves along with a joy and brevity that they don’t typically employ.

mp3 : Jonsi – Kolnidur

05 : Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (amazon) (itunes)

When you see Arcade Fire at fifth on this it’s easy to see just how hard it was to arrange the top ten.  The only problem I have with this album (which is the same as everyone else) is that it isn’t full of songs on the same level as Wake Up.  I know that isn’t fair, but it’s what we’re all waiting for.

mp3 : Arcade Fire – Rococo

06 : Vampire Weekend – Contra (amazon) (itunes)

In 2008 I was ready to write these Ivy League yuppie kids off as a typical flash in the pan.  On their sophomore album they’ve found a way to turn smug indie rock into something worth listening to over and over again.

mp3 : Vampire Weekend – Horchata

07 : Broadcast 2000 – Broadcast 2000 (amazon) (itunes)

The only reason this great album doesn’t move higher on the list is that many of the songs appeared two full years ago on their debut EP.

mp3 : Broadcast 2000 – Rouse Your Bones

08 : Freelance Whales – Weathervanes (amazon) (itunes)

Having been released back in early April it’s easy to see why many list makers completely forgot about this slice of well crafted folk pop.  The entire album is well crafted and infectious.

mp3 : Freelance Whales – Generator Second Floor

09 : Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (amazon) (itunes)

While I don’t agree with his lyrics, his message, his ego, or his personality I do agree with critics and listmakers across the globe that realize this album is worth looking past Ye’s flaws.

mp3 : Kanye West – Lost In The World (feat. Bon Iver)

10 : Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History (amazon) (itunes)

Each year I seem to find one amazing pop album that I can listen to again and again.  In 2009 it was Phoenix and in 2010 it was Two Door Cinema Club.

mp3 : Two Door Cinema Club – Eat That Up, It’s Good For You

Those are my top ten albums for 20010.  If you’d like to see my previous lists follow these links; 2009, 2008, 2007 (or click here to see all 4 years on one page).  I’m looking forward to 2011 in music as there will most likely be albums by Radiohead, Coldplay, Bon Iver, and The Strokes.  Enjoy the music.

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