Top 30 Albums of 2012 (Part 1 of 2)
In descending order:
Fun - Some Nights: I’ve written about “Some Nights” on this site before. I focused fairly on its strengths (big choruses, loads of sing-a-long moments ripe for “Glee-ificaction”) and weaknesses (downright hammy lyrics geared at wayward youth). As the year rolled on and I gave it more time, the weaknesses began to shine through. I’m not sure how much longer this album has in my library, so here it sits at the bottom of the list.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes: Is Ariel being serious with his spot-on revisits to the era of AM Gold? I doubt it. While I was lost on the charms of his previous album, “Mature Themes” is as catchy (and snarky) as early Zappa and Costello.
The Shins - Port of Morrow: After the departure (or firing, depending on who you ask) of most of his bandmates and a middling electronic side project, it is finally revealed that The Shins *is* James Mercer, just as Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor. This could have been far worse than it was.
Chairlift - Something: Say, speaking of departures… After an okay album featuring one really great song (or was that just the “iPod bump” in effect?), Chairlift went from a trio to a duo. From that came one of the greatest looks at 80’s pop in recent years.
Allo Darlin’ - Europe: Who doesn’t love a good twee album? Even when songs are about heartbreak, disappointment, or finding yourself whilst touring Europe in the midst of the debt crisis, chances are you’ll be singing along.
Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man: This is a tough one for me. I really wanted to love this album front to back, but I feel like Florence Welch of Florence and The Machine has killed my love for overreaching female vocalists who sound like every song is being recorded on the edge of a canyon. Granted, Natasha Khan does manage to scale it back quite a bit, adding less reverb to her vocals, making this album feel more like the last few songs from “Two Suns” rather than a revisit to her “Big Music” days.
Dark Dark Dark - Who Needs Who: Nona Marie Invie’s voice remains the most heartbreaking one I’ve heard in a long while. Guitar drones replace the band’s penchant for New Orleans flair (sp?), though a bit of that still remains, as in the “Gypsy music meets jazz” bridge in the title track.
Purity Ring - Shrines: 90’s R&B beats meet the creeping, creaking synths of The Knife.
Grimes - Visions: “Post-Internet”? No idea. What I do know is that Claire has a great voice, knows her range, and listening to her feels like combining Lady Gaga’s theatricality with Julianna Barwick’s ethereality.
METZ - METZ: Has it really been 20 years since Nirvana? Am I officially old enough to say “Music just hasn’t been the same since…” or “No one’s ever gonna replace…”? The answer to both of those questions are a resounding (and unfortunate) “Yes”, but this album reminds me of the first time I popped “In Utero” into my cassette deck and heard all the noise beneath the sheen that Cobain didn’t want in his music in the first place. (If the legend is to be believed.) The only difference is that on “METZ”, there is no sheen. METZ aims to blow out your speakers and eardrums. Everything is distorted to the max, the guitars are angular, and the vocals may as well just be random, guttural noises.
Ty Segall & White Fence - Hair/ Ty Segall - Twins (tie): Ty Segall released three albums this year. Three. In the span of six months. These were my two favorites. “Hair” was a spot-on trip down Memory Lane, if your memories consist of acid trips and San-Fran garage rock, complete with rickety Hammond organs that sounded like jalopies rolling downhill. “Twins” was a little bit T-Rex, a little bit 60’s bubblegum. And did I mention he’s only 22 years old?
Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city/Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE : I’m going to be honest here. I do not have the knowledge, nor the talent to talk about why I enjoyed these albums. What I *do* know is that for the first time in years, I haven’t wanted to toss a CD by an “urban” artist out my window, especially two that take full advantage of the length and capabilities of the CD format. Plenty of more talented and experienced music columnists have discussed the pros, cons, controversies, and talent found in these albums. If you’re curious, look up their reviews. If not; move along, nothing to see here.
First Aid Kit - The Lion’s Roar: Klara and Johanna Söderberg create the most gorgeous female harmonies on this album. “Old-fashioned folk music”? Maybe. They even wrote a love song with the lyrics, “I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June/If you’ll be my Gram and Johnny too.” With its instrumentation, production, and “folk and Western” feel, it’s like a long-lost classic of the “Laurel Canyon” era. And I don’t even mind the guest spot by Conor Oberst, AKA, one of those guys everyone calls “this generation’s Bob Dylan”.
Kishi Bashi - 151a: Shameful admission: For someone that’s lived in Virginia and complained about our music scene for several years now, I didn’t find out about Kishi Bashi until NPR told me about him. My first thought was something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m sure he’s great, but with accolades like this, it won’t be long until he travels to a larger city to ‘make it’”. And then I found out, he already had left Norfolk to make it, found out it really wasn’t for him, and moved back home. He’d toured and played with of Montreal and Regina Spektor, lived in New York, played a few highly-lauded SXSW shows, graduated from Berklee, and successfully Kickstarted his debut album. His album feels like a mixture of all his past experiences in bands, having a psychedelic of Montreal feel (before Kevin flew off the handle and became obsessed with split personalities and sex-funk), a touch of 70’s symphonic prog, and the art-pop music of the 00’s. When he performs live, he manages to captivate his audience by using only his voice, a violin, some loop pedals, and beatboxing to recreate the “mini-symphonies” found on this album. Truly a unique presence in our city.