The Best Music of 2012 [#50-#31]
December 20, 2012 Leave a comment
The countdown begins. Enjoy highlights from these albums via our growing Best of 2012 Spotify playlist.
50. Chairlift, Something
Boulder native Caroline Polachek has become a staple of the Brooklyn scene, and with Patrick Wimberly onboard as her bandmate, she’s cranking out some edgy indie pop of the highest caliber. “Sidewalk Safari” is a killer single that obliges you to crank up the stereo. With Wimberly dialing up the funky sounds and Polachek delivering tasty vox, Chairlift really brings it on this record.
49. Magic Wands, Aloha Moon
Married collaborators Chris and Dexy Valentine met when he developed a crush on her Myspace, and their union has resulted in some kickass music. Aloha Moon is packed with spacey tracks undergirded by tight grooves, like the standout single “Kaleidoscope Hearts.” Another cut that seems to have escaped from some Best of the 80s compilation is the throbbing “Warrior.”
48. Menomena, Moms
Apparently a concept album about guys with mommy issues, Moms contains some mighty moments from this Portland duo. “Plumage” has a MONEY three-note riff that grows in intensity and power as the song proceeds. Thumbs up also to the lumbering jam in “Heavy Is As Heavy Does.”
47. R. Kelly, Write Me Back
I’m on board for everything this guy does, and I mean that literally…I considered signing up for his cruise (before it got cancelled). I hope everyone reading this loves Trapped in the Closet and the incredible “Real Talk,” on top of Kells’ many classic hits. But perhaps unsurprisingly, his new record rules as well. “Love Is” evokes Barry White at his best and segues nicely into party jam “Feelin’ Single,” while “Beautiful In This Mirror” is a smooth meditation on couplehood. Robert’s still got it.
46. Trembling Bells & Bonny “Prince” Billy, The Marble Downs
A slab of stately folk from skilled practitioners of same. Will Oldham aka BPB joins well-regarded British group Trembling Bells for this choice collab. Its charms are immediately apparent in the opening cut, “I Made A Date (With An Open Vein).” Expressive vocals and rollicking musicianship are everywhere on this disc. It’s far better than the boring yet best-selling Mumford & Sons record.
45. The xx, Coexist
This ranking might be lower than many xx fans would like…this album is almost too chill for my tastes. That said, “Angels” is a killer opening track and the record received strong support from our expert panel, so this seemed as good a place in the countdown as any. The fact that it mostly puts me to sleep is probably more a problem with my attention span than with the record itself. /end backhanded compliments
44. Nas, Life Is Good
A little bit of a double dip on my part, as I hailed “Nasty” as a top hip-hop single in 2011, but that track forms a key part of another outstanding set from the pride of Queensbridge. “Daughters” is probably the most essential track on this post-divorce meditation…but I’d basically listen to Nas read the phone book. His immortal flow is as real as ever, and I appreciate that he’s still laser-focused on the rap game instead of empire building, opening a chain of restaurants or whatever. Now and forever, one of the best rappers of all time.
43. Dan Deacon, America
What makes this album essential is the magnificent, four-part “America” suite. It blends classical and experimental, and mixes electronically-generated sounds with the playing of real musicians, to express Deacon’s love/hate relationship with all things America. I’ll let him tell it since he does so with eloquence: “The inspiration for the music was my love of cross-country travel, seeing the landscapes of the United States, going from east to west and back again over the course of seasons. The lyrics are inspired by my frustration, fear and anger towards the country and world I live in and am a part of. As I came closer to finishing the album these themes began to show themselves more frequently and greater clarity. There seemed no better world to encapsulate both inspirations than the simple beauty found in the word America.”
42. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, Theatre Is Evil
I’ve never been a huge fan of AFP and her Brechtian cabaret style, even though she’s a homegirl who grew up in the next town over. And I didn’t get to this record until I heard about some controversy she had stirred up by financing a record with Kickstarter, getting a zillion dollars from her fans, and then trying to get musicians to join her tour stops for karma. Without speaking to the specifics of that drama, let me say that this record is outstanding. It’s just as theatrical as you’d expect from Palmer, but there are some true ROCK moments here. “Do It With A Rockstar” has a mighty hook and “Want It Back” is amazing from beginning until end. And any Bostonian will melt for “Massachusetts Avenue.”
41. Band of Horses, Mirage Rock
Compared to 2010’s staggeringly good Infinite Arms, this record isn’t lifechanging. But it’s packed with outstanding songs that will delight any fan of country-rock. “Shut-In Tourist” is as gorgeous as a mountainside morning. “Dumpster World” starts gentle and then switches on the thrusters. “Long Vows” is a stunning broken-heart song with outstanding harmonies. The highlight is probably “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone,” which will long ensure as a staple of BoH’s increasingly impressive catalogue.
40. Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music
Hip-hop’s most effective political MC since Chuck D is back with a vengeance on this full-length, blending wise lyricism with rapid-fire flows. “Go!” is the track blasting out of every rap fan’s stereo, but I was jaw-dropped by “Reagan,” a blistering takedown of the right-wing saint that also manages to put Obama and 90% of rappers on blast.
39. Sigur Ros, Valtari
Hewing to the philosophy of highlighting new and surprising releases rather than classic acts maintaining a well-establish legend, I initially overlooked this record. But after a few listens and some encouragement fro our expert panel, it was clear that Jonsi and his crew needed to be highlighted on this countdown. Valtari really should be enjoyed in its entirety, but “Ekki mukk” is a fine example of the band’s craft on this album — eschewing crescendos for sweeping mesmeric soundscapes, Sigur Ros is as effective as ever on this record.
38. Kishi Bashi, 151a
Known mostly as a violinist associated with Of Montreal, K. Ishibashi surprises with this enjoyable set of lighthearted indie pop, keyed by “Bright Whites,” which you’ve certainly heard on a commercial or soundtrack somewhere. Beyond its catchy single, 151a has interesting texture in songs like “I Am the Antichrist To You,” which scans like a warped Christmas carol. My personal favorite is “Beat the Bright Out Of Me,” which creepily blends triumphant harmonies with dark lyrics.
37. King Tuff, King Tuff
Stoner-punk Kyle Thomas and his compatriots deliver a wholly rad set of tunes kicked off by the thundering “Anthem.” The Vermont native has brought his game to LA and incorporated some of the snotty West Coast punk sound into King Tuff’s music. Cuts like the thundering “Bad Thing” remind me of the best of Wavves.
36. Grizzly Bear, Shields
While there’s no single as catchy as “Two Weeks” from Veckatimest, this is certainly the Brooklyn band’s most accessible set to date. Enjoyable all the way through, its highlights include the sweeping “Yet Again” and the swaggering “gun-shy.”
35. Memory Tapes, Grace/Confusion
The third EP from Dayve Hawk’s solo project, birthed in the wilds of Jersey, is his strongest work yet. These are chill epics packed with tasty melodies and ethereal themes. It’s a mesmerizing listen — dial up the six-minute “Neighborhood Watch,” which is several songs packed into one without a single awkward segue. Something magical happens at the 5 minute mark.
34. Chromatics, Kill for Love
Last year, we praised the Drive soundtrack, and Chromatics were as much a part of that sound as any band. On Kill For Love, the Portland quartet build on that sound with a cohesive set of originals and a great Neil Young cover reinvented in their electronic style. Ruth Radelet’s languid voice forms a key pillar throughout, but my favorite track is “These Streets Will Never Look The Same” with its synthesized male vocal.
33. Beach House, Bloom
Ballmer’s Beach House have crafted an intoxicating haze of an album that really oughta be listened to from beginning until end. My favorite moments are the wonderful “Other People,” the slightly funky “The Hours,” and the gentle “New Year.” The dreamy atmosphere of this record is complemented nicely by a steady stream of backbeats that keep your head nodding as your reveries take flight.
32. Fort Lean, Sunsick / Change Your Name
I’ve been hyping these guys all year on the podcast, and the Change Your Name EP they dropped in the past month (produced by Patrick Wimberly of Chairlift, btw) only confirmed that they’re realizing their massive potential. Frontman Keenan Mitchell has boss pipes and unleashes them in a variety of approaches — sometimes coaxing out gentle cries, sometimes hollering away epic hooks. The band is tight and confident and are always on point to deliver a sweeping guitar solo, a timely lick, a choice backup vocal or a driving beat. Catch ’em on the way up.
31. Ty Segall, TWINS / Hair (with White Fence) / Slaughterhouse (with Ty Segall Band)
Holy shred fest. You can tell Slaughterhouse is a mighty record by gazing upon its terrifying cover. But it was only one of three great records Ty Segall put out this year, each with its own unique character, but all showcasing his brilliant guitar skills. Segall merges Beatles-influenced psychedelia with Malkmus-esque lo-fi sounds and the results are marvelous. Which one you’ll prefer depends on your taste — hear Segall and White Fence channel 70s British rock in “Easy Ryder“, or hear him furiously mow through Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy” on Slaughterhouse. As for TWINS, as Youtube user Radical Edward wrote on a full-album post, “Jesus would smoke dope to this record.”
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THE BEST MUSIC OF 2012