I’m a little late on this one.
I wanted to sit down and write about my favorite albums of 2012, the music that came out, crossed my path and meant something to me for any combination of reasons.
I wanted to talk about how there were songs that reminded me how wonderful it is to be young and alive even though it’s messy and mean, like Japandroids and The Menzingers. And how there were songs that blasted the cracks in my heart with deadly aim, and others that caulked in the gaps, like those from The Gaslight Anthem and Lovedrug.
I wanted to do this yesterday. But time got the best of me, and here we are, 2013 with no “Favorite Albums of 2012” on the blog. Let’s proceed.
Normally people order and rank these things; I have done this in the past and found it to be useful, clean and a fun reference for discussion purposes should the topic ever arise. My rationale for placing an album on this list could come from many places: Did I hear it, and love it instantly? Was I drawn to replay it in full one more time, or are there tracks that I simply couldn’t get enough of? And why? Was it the meaning, the message, the technique, or the timing?
I’ve also decided to highlight other albums that caught my ears for being very successful records in one way or another, because 2012 was a damn fine year for new music from artists both familiar and burgeoning. Here’s a whole bunch of proof:
10) mewithoutyou – Ten Stories
Kicking off the list, an old favorite band out with a new, thematic collection that’s eerie and haunting and potentially their most polished, meticulously produced effort yet. Details pop out at every new listen, a harmony or a guitar part or an elusive, mysterious phrase. So enchanting, how could you not want to get lost in the night inside an otherwordly tale?
Posts from the Year: 7/15/12
9) Passion Pit – Gossamer
Ya heard. Electropop made it on my favorites list. But I’ve never liked electropop this much before, I’ve never seen the weirdness and depth this way. Played it all the time, even got my mom hooked on it. I found this album uplifting and entirely thoughtful, bright and shiny but ever calm, ever cool and just enough collected. I hear the live shows are slammin’. Also: Gossamer is, and has been, one of my favorite all-time words.Shimmers just like it should, a perfect title.
8) Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams
Oh how perfect and beautiful this album is, how folksy. Though it seems acoustic and auxiliary-heavy Americana bands are a stone’s throw from every dive bar in mid-sized cities to the hottest clubs frequented by trendy, hipster-inclined urbanites, Lord Huron is, to my ears, the real deal. Kick back, relax and let their lonesome dreams interrupt and intersect with yours for awhile. And take a walk in the fucking woods while you’re at it.
Posts from the Year: 12/12/12
7) Bad Books – II
Perhaps I am inclined to rank anything involving the likes of Andy Hull and Kevin Devine, given my listening roots grew up in their respective heydays. And yet I have never appreciated them as much musically as I do today. Maybe it’s in the maturity, the sardonic tone, or the willingness to try on styles and sounds exemplifying a mastery of creative convention. Bad Books colors in the lines, but this is by no means a dig on lack of originality. Rather, we’ve got layers and layers of complimenting and contrasting rock ‘n’ roll theory. More, please.
“Folded arms and I felt your heart hum/Speedy eyes and I want what I want/Truth cut with a generalized fear/Cash baggies and an ash tray beers/I know you know/I wanna love you but I can’t let go/Honey, it never stops/No it never stops”
6) Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
How did you not just instantly love this band? Rootsy and bluesy and fusion-y and all kinds of familiar, Alabama Shakes debuted with a powerful hello to an indie pop audience that was ready to lap up something designed to comfort the soul. We’ve got real instruments, real vocal talent like we haven’t heard in some time, real skilled players, and a whole lot of heart. Between the dynamics, the passion and the style, Alabama Shakes has serious rock chops, and I’d bet strong that we’ve only seen the start.
(Bonus Link: Listen to this full KEXP performance!) Seriously. Do it. Your face might melt, though.
5) fun. – Some Nights
Yes, I know I’ve said The Format is better (and first!) but what a record this was. Everyone seemed to love it, everyone related to it. At the tail end of 2012, I found myself replaying this album over and over. Great for drives, for thinking alone. Nate Ruess is a genius at capturing the mischief in melancholy, the hope in the view from the ground, and I am grateful he continues to make wonderful music to share with the world.
“My head is on fire/But my legs are fine/After all they are mine”
Posts from the Year: 8/14/12
4) Lovedrug – Wild Blood
Redemption comes in many forms. Lovedrug’s first full-length after a run of successful EP releases left me feeling full and happy, and intrigued by the new direction of a band. Focus, melody, depth and layers were always strong currents, but these qualities are the crux of Wild Blood’s impressive, hungry and ever-onward spirit. Glad this record was made, because it marks something of an end of an era for me — a triumphant effort from a band I’ve followed for years in a year that, for me, showed similar feats.
3) The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past
Sometimes, people kind of laugh a little when I tell them I’m a pop punk/hardcore/whatever the fuck you call emo these days fan. A bit of an eyeroll. But The Menzingers are amphetamine laced proof that the genre isn’t dead and Epitaph is a fighting beast of a label(so shut your fucking trap). Heart-wrenching and boldly embracing pathetic helplessness and hopeless, this album is a collection of odes to self-fulfilled failures past and present. As I am a codified expert on such instances in my own life, it was entirely too easy to relate. Coated in familiar chords and fast-finger solos and just the right amount of scream, I listened to this at my worst only to end up feeling pretty damn close to my best.
2) The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
What to say that I haven’t said? Do I have a bigger music idol of 2012 than Brian Fallon? Not really, maybe, probably not. “Handwritten” proves that TGA will continue to churn out confessional narratives with amphitheater-sized proportions. They’ve proven to be true to their own style, a dash of the past included, so the end product is good, old-fashioned, new rock and roll. And this album could’ve been a make or break moment after so many past successes. No doubt it was a daunting task to say, “Oh shit, gotta write more great songs.” And yet, I am more of a fan than ever.
“And we waited for sirens that never come/And we only write by the moon, every word handwritten/And to ease the loss of youth and how many years I’ve missed you/Pages plead forgiveness, every word handwritten”
1) Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Japandroids just got it just right. They got the hunger right, the anger and fury, the passion, and the inescapable needs and conflicts of living fast. They’ve captured a certain brazen slyness that once thrived all over punk and rock scenes that’s shrunken to give way to pretension, a forced literariness that can be so guarded. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not really a good one either, if you’re looking for something to rock out to.
If you told me that 2012 would be the year that it turned out to be for me personally, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Or, maybe I would’ve of, but immediately passed out from fright, thereby changing said future through butterfly effect means. So, the present is fleeting, the past is permanent and the future, a wide scary unknown. In this lost haze, Japandroids brought a reminder that all you have is you and now, and fast is fun when your eyes are open.
Musically, omigod, so cool. Not only was I completely blown away by the sheer sonic power of such a tiny band (two skinny white dudes!), but you don’t hear guitars played in this way, so full of repetitive fierceness, in ways that are simultaneously melodic. This has a lot to do with the chord choices, and phrasing of vocal, but we’ve got some real metal technique doing some indie rock things.
So thanks, Japandroids, for making me remember so much of what I love about loud and fierce rock music, and for laying it all out so honestly, that there’s no way I will ever be able to hear these songs, and not connect to the moments, people and places of 2012. What more do you want out of an album of the year?
Best EPs: The 1975 – Sex EP, The 1975 – Facedown EP
Best Genre-Bending, The Cool Award: Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Most Ambitious, Most Likely to Make Me Dance Contemporary Ballet, Most Poetic Album Title: Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Best “Comeback:” Soundgarden – King Animal
Best Collaborative: GOOD Music – Cruel Summer
Best Album for a Love Scene in Outer Space: The xx – Coexist
Best Metal (TIE): Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind, Every Time I Die – Ex-Lives