Remember me? After a long semester and indefinite hiatus, I’m back right on the cusp of the new year to make sure you don’t miss the best of the best from the last 12 months. I’ve reviewed some of my favorites already, but there are a few in here that I missed the first time around, or that were released while I was (supposedly) advancing in my education. I’ll give you a top ten with a variation of genres, and wrap it up with a list of honorable mentions. Happy Listening!
P.S. These are in no particular order.
10. Sweet Heart Sweet Light- Spiritualized
Spiritualized is one of those bands that puts something out every couple of years, and constantly tops themselves. Led by the ingenious Jason Pierce, this most recent installment had me close to tears. Beautiful choral and string arrangements, lyrically poignant and indescribably flowing, the record is a must-listen all the way through. He also sounds uncannily like Lou Reed. Here’s one of the singles, if you’re still not convinced to listen to the whole thing.
9. Channel Orange- Frank Ocean
The best song wasn’t the single, but you weren’t either.
To be completely honest, if I had to pick one album from this list as the definitive Best Album of 2012, it would be this. Fortunately, I like to appeal to those with varying tastes, so I will not favor this album over any other. Even though it is my baby.
Mindless praise aside, Odd Future house singer Frank Ocean blends electronic and acoustic tastes of R&B in a whole new way on his debut LP. The entire album grooves, and we see excellent guest work from the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Andre 3000, and John Mayer. Each song is perfectly tailored with pop sensibilities, and his lyrics varie from comical quips and clever rhymes to deeper introspection and social commentary. The production and performance is spot on as well, and the way Frank meshes with anyone he shares the sound waves with is nothing short of amazing. I strongly encourage even those who tend to avoid R&B to give it a chance. You won’t be able to turn it off.
Here’s the Stevie Wonder-esque Sweet Life.
8. Blunderbuss- Jack White
I believe I’ve already blabbed enough about why Mr. White’s solo album is wonderful, and worthy of a spot. Check out my Blunderbuss review here.
Here’s the last track on the record performed live, which really defines all the tones Jack explored.
7. Until the Quiet Comes- Flying Lotus
FlyLo has had on hell of a year. His dark ambient beats and mellow electronica that have been permeating Adult Swim announcements and underground clubs for years have gained some popularity , he started his rap career as a mysterious Captain Murphy alongside Earl Sweatshirt, and he’s released my (as well as many other critics) favorite electronic record this year. The album has a constant, beautiful flow to it, and female vocal samples from the likes of Erykah Badu improve on Lotus’s mostly instrumental past. Earlier works such as Los Angeles and Cosmogramma are almost designed for a constant listen through, but Until The Quiet Comes is much more flexible. Each song is a complete thought, but it also improves upon the track following it. The record still feels like Flying Lotus, but new tones and song structures make this one of his most refreshing releases. Check out See Thru To U below, and let it take you away.
6. Lonerism- Tame Impala
Tame Impala. If you’re looking for modern psychedelic rock, it doesn’t get much better than this. Couple flangy, reverby guitars with a bombastic drummer and a singer that sounds like Paul McCartney, and you have all the essentials in summery vibes and head bobbing grooves. Their previous release Innerspeaker had become my favorite record of the psychedelic variety, and I didn’t expect this to top it. I was very wrong.
Everything that made Innerspeaker great is utilized exponentially. A very prominent and driving bass line, use of both acoustic and electric keys with a variety of “trippy” effects, and soaring vocals permeate every track, and the album builds upon the successful elements of it’s predecessor in the most effective ways. The group really capitalizes on walls of sound to get their message across, and this is without a doubt one of the best records with a psychedelic tinge to be released in the past 10 years. If you like, rock, flange, the Beatles, and good music, give Lonerism a spin. Heres’ my favorite track, Music To Walk Home By.
5. Good Kid, m.a.a.d City- Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar has always been lyrically brilliant. His October release Good Kid, M.A.A.D City tells a story of an adolescent struggling in the inner city, caught between gang violence, drugs, sex, and his obligation to his faith and family. Each track has an excellent beat, articulate lyrics, and most importantly, a place in the overarching story. Smooth, grooving bass and synth work really pulls this album together without taking away from the true star: Kendrick and his biting, witty, and reflective lyrics. Check out his track with Drake, Poetic Justice.
4. Boys and Girls- Alabama Shakes
Alabama Shakes unique rock, motown, and bluesy blend more than earns it’s place on this list. Check out the full review here.
3. Celebration Rock- Japandroids
Japandroids is the group that has given me the most energy this past year; they just make me want to move. Blocky fuzzy guitars, bombastic and driving kit work, and straight forward lyrics of love and vulnerability makes the duo one of the most powerful forces in garage rock history. If you haven’t checked out the first record Post Nothing, I highly recommend it, but this little number from Celebration Rock hooked me.
2. Love this Giant- David Byrne and St. Vincent
This has to be one of David Byrne’s greatest works, and though I do like St.Vincent as a solo artist, she flourishes with Byrne. Check out the full review here.
1. An Awesome Wave- Alt-J
I don’t know how to describe Alt-J to you, reader. Tribal indie rock? Electronic folk? I think you better decide for yourself. All I have to say is this is one of the most refreshing records from a new band I’ve heard this year. Enjoy Fitzpleasure below.
Welp, that’s all folks! Here’s a list of honorable mentions that I also enjoyed this year!
Church of Rock and Roll- Foxy Shazam- Check out my concert experience here.
Mr. M- Lambchop- old fashioned Americana/folk/Alt-country with a little bit of a bite.
Port of Morrow- The Shins- Not as good as previous endeavors, but still a very good release.
Valtari- Sigur Ros- Sigur Ros’ most recent release is very much reserved compared to the last record, and it is beautiful.
Oceania- Smashing Pumpkins- Billy is back to his roots, and Oceania is a welcomed departure from Tarantula. Check out my review here.
Periphery 2- Periphery – If hardcore/djent/metal is your cup of tea, this should be your AOTS.
Gossamer- Passion Pit- Michael Angelakos brings a solid sophomore effort out of production hell and mental instability. Check out the review here.
Swing Lo Magellan- Dirty Projectors- An excellent follow up to Bitte Orca. Check out the double review with Passion Pit above!
Shields- Grizzly Bear- Shields brings in a more electric and heavy side to a usually softs-spoken Grizzly Bear.
Cruel Summer- G.O.O.D Music- Kanye’s label puts out some solid tracks on this group LP.
The Money Store- Death Grips- An angry, politically charged mc, a drummer, and a keyboard player get together for some grungy lo fi experimental hip hop.
No Love Deep Webb- Death Grips- their second surprise release this year after, apparently done without the label’s permission. Much more produced, but probably my favorite release from them thus far.
Visions- Grimes- An electronic outing with Claire Boucher is not one you’ll likely forget.
Habits and Inhibitions- Schoolboy Q- Some of the most chill beats to be released this year, each caressing Schoolboy’s insightful and hard hitting rhymes.