The Best Music of 2012 [#30-#21]
December 21, 2012 Leave a comment
Join me to celebrate more incredible music as the countdown continues.
As always, our Spotify playlist has been updated to add great tracks from these 10 outstanding albums…
30. First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar
Little did we know when we first blogged about these two Swedish sisters in 2008, applauding their rough but sincere Youtube cover of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” by Fleet Foxes, that they’d end up as one of the most exciting acts in music a few years later. With The Lion’s Roar, First Aid Kit definitively arrives on the scene. They blend the best elements of 70s folk-rock and Scandinavian songcraft, and their sibling-harmonies are always sparkling. Supported by Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and his skilled minions, they crush with tracks like “Blue” and “Dance To Another Tune,” but “Emmylou” seems their clearest statement of purpose, shouting out to their idols and evidencing their ability to write a killer chorus.
29. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
When you listen to the staggeringly good “Adorn,” the Prince comparisons you hear thrown around for Miguel don’t seem like too great of a reach. Now, let’s not get too carried away. Kaleidoscope Dream isn’t quite an immortal album, but there are moments of true brilliance, like the amazing pivot to the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” that he pulls off at the end of “Don’t Look Back.” The 26-year-old Miguel shows remarkable upside on this record and plants his flag as one of the leaders of the outstanding new wave of R&B masters. While there are missteps here and there — “Pussy Is Mine” is poorly executed from a melodic standpoint despite its provocative lyrics — this album isn’t to be missed.
28. Schoolboy Q, Habits & Contradictions
He’s not the most celebrated of the Black Hippy crew (composed of himself, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar), but with “Hands on the Wheel,” a stellar A$AP Rocky collab, Schoolboy Q definitely bested all his compatriots in the competition for best hip-hop single of the year. As great as that track is, I enjoy “There He Go” even more; it instantly fires you up with its mix of lyricism, beatsmanship and some skillfully applied horns. Q straddles the line between sheer hedonism (“life for me is just weed and brews”) and thoughtful street poetry (the heartfelt rhymes in “Blessed”). He’s a work in progress, but this is a very impressive record.
27. Caspian, Waking Season
This post-rock sextet from Beverly, MA delivered a monster record this year with Waking Season. For fans of mind-blowing instrumental soundscapes, this record is essential. I loved what Blake Solomon of Absolute Punk wrote about this record: “What they do is form entire worlds of feedback and build-up and synthesizer wizardry and drama. This isn’t fucking study music or bedtime lullabies – Waking Season is the most dynamic and affecting record of this year and probably last year (too lazy to look).” Now, I may be biased because these guys are Boston homeboys. But I don’t think so. Try out “Halls of the Summer” or “Gone In Bloom and Bough” and enjoy the way your mindbrain reacts!
26. P.O.S., We Don’t Even Live Here
Pissed Off Stef is RAGIN’ on this disc. If you only try one song from this LP, I’d go with “Fuck Your Stuff,” the explicit version (obviously). Stefon Alexander cares not for your materialistic attitude! I’ll admit that I wasn’t familiar with P.O.S., who also has a side gig as the keyboard player for the hilariously named Marijuana Deathsquads. But the Minnesota native won me over immediately with his aggressive, entertaining rapping on “Bumper,” and I loved this disc. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) even makes an appearance.
25. Minden, Exotic Cakes
Under the radar alert! A covert operative in Portland let me know about the greatness of Minden, a band that brings 70s disco grooves to the twentytweens indie scene. On tracks like “New Age” and “On Assignment,” the boys in Minden inspire you to rock the dance floor with your best moves. I mean, just look at these gorgeous bandmates. How can you not succumb to their spell?
24. Fang Island, Major
Backpat time, we told you about Providence’s power rock trio Fang Island in 2010, passing along their great video for “Daisy.” Now the band of RISD alumni is back with an LP that you’re sure to love. Were I forced to describe it in one word, I’d go with “joy.” Even when singing of darker themes, Fang Island maintains a blissed spirit in their musicianship that can’t help but lift your heart. “Sisterly” is a great example — it builds great riffs atop a pounding rhythm and frosts the cake with a thoroughly uplifting vocal.
23. Cat Power, Sun
Cat Power is revered for her catalogue of quiet, emotional recordings, but my favorite tracks of hers have always been the more rocking “He War” and “Free.” That’s why Sun is one of my most-played albums of the year. Juxtaposing Chan Marshall’s intense vocals with driving instruments on tracks like “Ruin,” this album connects. On the 11-minute epic “Nothin But Time,” Cat Power builds a towering sonic wall and invites Iggy Pop to dance atop it. (The only thing that would make this album better would be a bonus track mashup of the hook of “3,6,9” with the Ying Yang Twins’ verse on “Get Low” over the beat of “Whisper Song.”)
22. The Mountain Goats, Transcendental Youth
Cult hero John Darnielle and his increasingly tight-knit band return with energetic songs about lost souls, mental illness and struggle. If you aren’t yet a member of the Church of Darnielle, whose congregants call him the unsung Dylan of his generation, I can tell you that this is as good an entry point as any. Just to give you an idea of the originality and wit of Mountain Goats, “The Diaz Brothers” is a track that pays homage to two offscreen characters condemned to death by Tony Montana in Scarface. I also thoroughly enjoyed the title track and the “Lakeside View Apartments Suite,” but give this an album a spin and see if you don’t find your own faves from this deep and nuanced set of songs.
21. Tanlines, Mixed Emotions
Brooklyn’s experimental pop pair opened eyes in 2012 when they delivered this tight, impressive group of funky tracks. I spent most of the summer rocking out to “All Of Me” and “Green Grass,” both of which make you want to clap your hands and boogie. They mix electronic beats with strummed guitars with plenty o’ synth, and the vocals are always solid if understated. It’s in the vicinity of so-called “chillwave,” but sometimes verges on a poppy edition of Roxy Music. Tanlines’ progression from a remix-oriented side project to a band unto itself has been fun to watch, and Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen prove a well-matched pair. (For a fun bonus, track down the Memory Tapes remix of “Real Life,” which was one of my favorite random finds of 2011.)
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THE BEST MUSIC OF 2012