No, there’s no Kesha, Maroon 5, or Carly Rae Jepsen on this list, and that’s how I like it. This list, at the moment anyway, reflects what I feel to be the best albums released in the year 2012. I’ve listened to a ton of albums this year, so this represents just a small smattering of what I feel to be the best. Most of these albums have an in depth review on this very blog, so check it out! Also, many of these albums appear on Donovan’s top ten list, and rather than re-inventing the (idler) wheel, I copied his descriptions for those albums because he’s right.
20. Ben Folds Five – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
While this isn’t Ben Folds’ best, it still deserves a place at the top for this year. This marks the group’s first album of new music in thirteen years.
19. Father John Misty — Fear Fun
J. Tillman, principal behind Father John Misty, is odd. You’ll never be able to tell where the performer ends and the real person begins. Fear Fun provides a beautiful example of good songwriting, blameless production, and a cohesive album.
18. Fiona Apple — The Idler Wheel…
It only takes reading the lyrics of one song to realize Fiona Apple is certifiably crazy. But her eccentricities and paranoia make for beautiful music. I’ve always been on the fence with Fiona Apple, but The Idler Wheel… won me over.
17. The Tallest Man on Earth — There’s No Leaving Now
Sparse instrumentation and poetic lyrics bolster There’s No Leaving Now. Swedesh singer, Kristian Matsson, pairs his intricate guitar work with beautiful stories to excellent effect.
16. Paul McCartney – Kisses on the Bottom
There’s a reason Sir Paul McCartney is a legend, and he proves it on this album. With redone classics, he shows his versatility and sensitivity to every genre out there.
15. Bahamas – Barchords
Barchords is the kind of album that you want to play at a party—not the rave kind of party—but the sipping-wine-and-having-good-conversation kind of party. The album, if spun in the background is unassuming, but still powerful enough that someone will inevitably turn to their neighbor and utter “this album is really good, who is the artist?” It’s Bahamas, and you really should get the album—there isn’t a bad track on it.
14. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
After 30 years, Bruce Springsteen continues to push himself as an artist to be a little better. I sincerely recommend Wrecking Ball to you.
13. Beach Boys –That’s Why God Made the Radio
A new Beach Boys album? Yes, please! Celebrating their 50th Anniversary, all surviving members came together to record this new album and
embarked on a world tour.
12. Maps & Atlases — Beware & Be Grateful
Too often, quality musicianship appears on albums at the expense of catchy hooks and superior songwriting. Beware & Be Grateful offers a unique middle ground where technical musicianship is a defining quality but it doesn’t overpower the songs.
11. Muse– The 2nd Law
While Muse‘s sound hasn’t drastically changed from album to album recently, their newest showcases their highly skilled playing ablilities with a penchant for melodic runs and crazy arpeggiated lines. This album seems, more like anything else, like Muse just let loose and made something they wanted to, instead of trying to best themselves. A good call.
10. Lord Huron — Lonesome Dreams
Lord Huron’s debut is a well-crafted, sepia-toned, harmony-driven collection of songs, a wonderful listen.
9. Sufjan Stevens — Silver & Gold
Sure it’s a Christmas album set, but it still deserves a place in the top ten with its well-crafted renditions of Christmas classics.
8. Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods
While the band has seemingly stayed in their rock-out-in-the-nineties formula, I applaud them for using horror as a theme for this album. It’s refreshing. It takes courage for a band to negotiate the waters of commitment and concept. All in all, the album doesn’t mark a huge debarkation away from the norm for the Pickups, but Neck of the Woods is a wonderfully executed concept.
7. Sigur Ros – Valtari
The band has long dealt in the expansive, repetitive, and minimalist world, where vocals gradually accumulate to a climax, and where reverb reigns. The band’s sound is artful. Valtari is perhaps more calming than anything, something to listen to while you sip a bit of scotch or cocoa and sit by a fire while you gaze outside into the beauty of the world.
6. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — The Heist
I’m always a sucker for great local music. Lyricist Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) oozes Seattle pride with every line of every song. He has a keen instinct to balance biting social critique with joyful content. Where one song decries the pain same sex couples feel around the debate for marriage equality, Macklemore feels equally at home singing about wizards and castles.
5. Mumford & Sons – Babel
The lyrics of Babel are deliberately spiritual, and something of great beauty. The spiritual side of music is something that is deliberately endeavored upon extremely rarely, and I commend the band for embarking down that journey, even if it is formulaic (banjo + jamming guitar = success). It’s a vulnerable place to sing from, and that makes the formula not matter whatsoever.
4. Beach House – Bloom
Beach House has created an album of subtle nuances and an evolution in their sound. The same dark-themed, largely hypnotic, and sultry sounds of albums past are still very much present. But, when listening to the album overall, I think there is a new depth and solidarity to the sound. With lyrical evolution, the album seems both the same and somehow different from the past. I find it intriguing that Beach House chose to evolve lyrically rather than musically, as it hints at their philosophical stance on music. Perhaps they believe that music is only as powerful as the lyrics which inspire it. Perhaps they’re right, at any rate they’re making me ponder the question. Bloom is true to its name: the band is assuredly blooming into its own.
3. The Shins – Port of Morrow
A band member purge definitely helped focus the album. With freshness came a sense of new inspiration for the band. Mercer puts just as much thought into the musicality of each song as he does the lyrics, and it shows. Port of Morrow is thoughtful, and only gets better with each listen. I think you should try it out.
2. Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts
No longer should you see Norah Jones as the demure girl who took home a ton of Grammy’s for her sultry performance on Come Away With Me. Jones has evolved into her next stage. Alternative Rock now graces her album, Little Broken Hearts, kindly assaulting our senses with a brand new, evocative sound. Rhythmically complex, melodically intricate, and lyrically thorough, this album is worth ignoring any preconceived notions you may have about Norah Jones.
1. Helio Sequence –Negotiations
It’s been a long time since I could listen to an album in its entirety, and love every note, every hit, every string plucked, and every lyric. In short, Negotiations is wonderful. Get it now; it will be a lifelong companion to be certain. There’s a reason it made the best album of the year for me.