I can't call them the "best albums of 2012" because as high an opinion as I hold of my own opinions, "best" is obviously pretty subjective. So instead, I present to you, dear listener, a playlist of songs from some of my favorite albums released in 2012.
What rocked your socks in 2012? What are you looking forward to in 2013? Tell me in the comments.
- Ben Folds Five - The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
It was exciting to hear the Five back together again, and even though Ben Folds is definitely past his peak, songwriting-wise, there are some standouts on this album.
Hear also: "Do It Anyway"
- Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
This album keeps blowing my mind, every time I listen to it. Their sound has grown a little more polished, and their vocal harmonies are taking center stage here, backed up by some fantastic arrangements. These songs are whimsical, weird, far-out, but somehow really accessible and stick in your brain like tar.
Hear also: "Gun Has No Trigger"
- Metric - Synthetica
Metric's not covering a ton of new ground on this album, but the songs are tight and the theme is consistent. If you like her sound, you will like this album. This track features Lou Reed (who seems to pop up everywhere these days) to great effect.
Hear also: "Breathing Underwater"
- Passion Pit - Gossamer
Passion Pit is trying new things here, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. The major new thing is a sense of emotion that was missing from the (catchier) songs on Manners. Still, I give them credit for trying, and there are some great songs on here.
Hear also: "On My Way"
- Regina Spektor - What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
About 1/2 of this album is unmitigated schmaltz, but she executes it well. The other half sounds like a Regina Spektor album, albeit a recent one. Meaning a little less quirk, a lot more production. But the good songs are really good.
Hear also: "Oh Marcello"
- Soundgarden - King Animal
A new Soundgarden album! My inner 16-year-old about lost his mind when I heard about this album. And you know what? It's actually pretty good. It sounds like...a Soundgarden album. Not revelatory, but certainly not bad. I know it sounds like faint praise, but after all this time this could have been just awful.
Hear also: "Black Saturday"
- The Coup - Sorry To Bother You
The Coup kind of went off in a weird direction on this album, and while I always want to give bands credit for trying new things, it doesn't always work here. The album is inconsistent, but it's never boring, and that's no small feat.
Hear also: "You Are Not A Riot"
- The Flaming Lips - The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
Guess what? The Flaming Lips made a weird album! Shocking! Even more shocking, most of the songs are really good. Because they reach far, when The Flaming Lips fail, they fail spectacularly, and this album has its share of failures, but for the most part the weird experiments pay off. This song features Ke$ha for some reason.
Hear also: "That Ain't My Trip"
- Yeasayer - Fragrant World
Yeasayer has steadily moved from "we make interesting world music" to "we make fun synth-pop music with some texture" to "we want to be Hot Chip." I like this album in spite of itself, which I know doesn't make sense, but there it is.
Hear also: "No Bones"
- The Roots - How I Got Over
This album feels like it wouldn't be out of place playing in a smoky Parisian club. The beats are solid but never in your face, the rhymes are tight but not showy, and the music takes center stage more often than your typical hip hop album. Then again, The Roots aren't your typical hip hop group. This song features My Morning Jacket's Jim James.
Hear also: "Right On (ft. Joanna Newsom)"
- Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour
I first heard of these guys at SXSW 2010 (where I took a picture with them!), and I have been a fan ever since. This album is bluesy and hard rock-y, channeling the best of Jack White's side projects without all the overhead of Jack White himself.
Hear also: "Lies"
- Menomena - Moms
Menomena's first album after Brent Knopf's departure is a powerhouse. Big anthemic songs filled with heavy riffs and depressing lyrics. I do miss Brent's influence (if you do, too, check out the new album Prophet from his awesome band Ramona Falls, which almost made this list), but I like the direction Menomena is going in and I hope they keep it up.
Hear also: "Pique"
- Damien Jurado - Maraqopa
This album is way more psychedelic than I would have expected from Damien Jurado, but despite some new production techniques, he still lays down a foundation of solid songwriting backed up by real emotions.
Hear also: "Life Away From The Garden"
- Dan Deacon - America
Dan Deacon has really upped the ante on this album, laying down connected, ethereal, lush, richly textured electronic songs that invade your earspace and don't leave much room for thought. This is music you really listen to, despite the absence of understandable lyrics (or even vocals, much of the time). His best album yet.
Hear also: "Lots"
- Dr. Dog - Be The Void
Dr. Dog took back the production reins on this album, and while the finished product could have used an editor or someone else saying "hey, maybe we don't need 10 repetitions of this chorus" or whatever, but this is still one of my absolute favorite albums of last year. This band is great at stealing parts of classic bands' sounds (e.g. guitars from the Dead, backing vocals from the Beatles, etc.) and making them sound almost fresh.
Hear also: "Do The Trick"
- Dr. John - Locked Down
Confession time: I did not know Dr. John was still alive. Good for him! Despite pairing up with notable hack Dan Auerbach on this album (no, I am not a Black Keys fan), this is still a fantastic blues album, dripping with New Orleans attitude and killer hooks.
Hear also: "Big Shot"
- Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes
I've seen Flying Lotus filed under hip hop, alternative, instrumental, electronica, experimental, IDM, and more. I have no idea which one is right, but I do know that this album extends his sound, and sees him working with a lot of collaborators, each of whom brings out something different in his sound, while still showcasing his seemingly boundless creativity and thirst for sonic experimentation.
Hear also: "See Thru To U (feat. Erykah Badu)"
- Imperial Teen - Feel The Sound
Imperial Teen keeps putting out catchier and catchier albums. Even though this one is a little over-produced (and definitely mixed too loud), there's no way to listen to this album and not get some of the sticky-sweet ear candy stuck in your head.
Hear also: "Don't Know How You Do It"
- Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory
Punk! Pop! Depressed! Ecstatic! This album can't make up its mind, and that's just fine. The result is high-energy ear candy that keeps plowing ahead even when it slows down.
Hear also: "No Future/NoPast"
- Miike Snow - Happy To You
I've been waiting years for Miike Snow to release a new album, and my love was justified last year. They're not exactly stretching on this album, but if you like brilliant production chops, tweaked out synths, smooth vocals, and ridiculously catchy songs, this is the album for you.
Hear also: "The Wave"
- Das Binky - Divide the Storm
This album is a labor of love by Wisconsin-based multi-genre wizard (and frequent musical collaborator of yours truly) Das Binky. Binky has a knack for writing beautiful songs with powerful hooks, no matter what genre he's working in - but I think he shines brightest on his ballads and his BNL-esque pop tunes. Vocals on this by Mr. Wired For Music himself.
Hear also: "My Country Tis Of Me"
- El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
El-P is all riled up on this album (as usual), and this song features him in a great state of high dudgeon about...something. It almost doesn't matter because he's so good at shaping his rage into something the rest of us can enjoy.
Hear also: "Drones Over Bklyn"
- Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Spiritualized nailed it o this album, where you can hear Jason Pierce fully embracing his new ("new" meaning the last decade-ish) style of songwriting, where the words and vocals are in the forefront, but with brilliant blues-infused almost-psychedelic riffs anchoring the songs.
Hear also: "Mary"