Friday, December 28, 2012

2012's Top 20 Albums

20) Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour (Electric Blues/Vagrant)
England’s Band of Skulls made some pretty cool bluesy rock on Sweet Sour that makes me think they’ve listened to a lot of Jack White’s catalog. And that’s not a bad thing if they can make albums that can rock as hard as this one. 
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Sweet Sour,” “Wanderluster,” “The Devil Takes Care of His Own”

19) Brendan Benson - What Kind of World (Readymade Records)
Benson doesn’t quite approach the heights of his past two solo efforts on What Kind of World. And that’s okay, because even on his worst day The Raconteurs singer-guitarist can come up with great hooks that will be stuck in your head for days.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “What Kind of World,” “Pretty Baby,” “bad For Me”

18) Joseph Arthur - Redemption City (Lonely Astronaut)
Arthur has struck (or perhaps rediscovered) a new creative vein in the past couple of years. He's gone back to working solo making his own albums (leaving band work to his supergroups Fistful of Mercy and RNDM) and that seems to have refocused his songwriting. Redemption City is a lose sequel to 2002’s Redemption’s Son and it captures Arthur at his best, laying down stream of consciousness lyrics over loops and subtle keyboards and guitars. Best of all? He gave it away for free through his website. (I did throw a few bucks in his online tip jar. I mean, making 24 songs can’t be cheap.)
On the Web: Best Tracks: “I Miss the Zoo,” “Wasted Days,” “Surrender to the Storm”

17) The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter (American/Universal)
This follow-up to I And Love And You isn’t a stone cold classic like that 2009 album. The Carpenter is another solid roots offering from Seth and Scott Avett and it features yet another fantastic song with a title that starts with pretty girl.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Pretty Girl From Michigan,” “Geraldine,” “Live and Die”

16) Blonds - The Bad Ones (Gluck Music)
Jordy Asher and Cari Rae record music that Lana Del Ray would make if she had an ounce of talent. In other words, they make music that is influenced by 60s girl groups yet retains a modern edge. And they weren’t manufactured in a lab like Ms. Del Ray, which is a plus.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Heartstrings,” “The Bad Ones,” “Falling”

15) Arkells - Michigan Left (Heavy Plaid)
This Canadian quintet was one of the more pleasant surprises to hit my mailbox this year. Their second album is chock full of hooky songs that I found myself humming days later. And they did a song called “Kiss Cam!” This should be played at ballpark across the land immediately.
On the Web: Best Tracks:Michigan Left,” “Book Club,” “Kiss Cam

14) Neil Young with Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill (Reprise)
Two quirky albums from Neil Young and Crazy Horse in the same calendar year? What year is this, 1979? The 27 minute opening song “Driftin’ Back” has some of the lamest lyrics Young has ever written. (Getting pissed about MP3s, Neil? This isn’t 2000 and you’re not Metallica.) But the lengthy jam segments make up for it. “Walk Like a Giant” clocks in at only 16 minutes and there’s not a wasted minute in that glorious tune about realizing your time is running out.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Born in Ontario,” ’Walk Like a Giant,” “Twisted Road”

13) Jack White - Blunderbuss (Third Man/Columbia)
The solo debut from the guy behind The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and Dead Weather contains elements that made all those bands fascinating to hear. I think it’s fair to say that Blunderbuss comes across like Jack White's Greatest Hits You Haven't Heard Yet.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Sixteen Saltines,” “Weep Themselves to Sleep,” “Trash Tongue Talker”

12) Ryan Monroe - A Painting of a Painting on Fire (RCM Records)
Monroe is a member of Band of Horses which, I must admit, I didn't know he was in the band until I read the press release that came with the album. Monroe created an album that was much better than the one his band did this year. I also nominate Monroe for album title of the year.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Doritoys,” “A Painting of a Painting on Fire,” “Turning Over Leaves”

11) Bahamas - Barchords (Brushfire Records/Universal)
This album takes a mellow path like Jack Johnson (not surprising since the group is signed to Johnson's label) but Bahamas mastermind Afie Jurvanen doesn't make me think I should be in Hawaii. The guitar tones on this album are some of the coolest sounding ones I’ve heard in years echoing 60s surf guitar masters. I don’t want to sell this whole album as a sleepy beach nostalgia trip…even though there is a song called “I Got You Babe,” which should be titled “Not That I Got You Babe (As It Sounds Like Neil Young’s Zuma).”
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Caught Me Thinking,” “Okay, Alright, I’m Alive,” “I Got You Babe”

10) Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge)
I was disappointed with Spoon's last album, Transference, as it seemed frontman Britt Daniel was just rehashing previous efforts. Perhaps Daniel felt that way himself, as this side project with Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner seems to have reinvigorated his knack for hooky songs presented in a minimalist way.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “My Love Is Real,” “Would That Not Be Nice,” “The Salton Sea

  9) First Aid Kit - The Lion’s Roar (Wichita Recordings)
Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg wrote interesting songs with great harmonies on their first album The Big Black and the Blue. This second album has all those elements are still in play, but producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) gives the duo's songs some well deserved production heft. The title track deserves to be played at an ear-shattering volume on top of a huge mountain because, well, it's that epic.
On the Web: Best Track: “The Lion’s Roar," “King of the World,” “Blue”

  8) Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit (Rounder)
Delta Spirit strip out some of their American and alt-country influences on their third album, aiming for a sound that sounds a bit more contemporary. They don’t always hit the mark, but when they do on tracks like “Empty House” and “Tear It Up” it’s exciting and captures the energy of their phenomenal live shows.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Empty House,” “California,” “Idaho

  7) Young Fresh Fellows - Tiempo de Lujo (Yep Roc)
Any year that has a new album from my favorite Seattle quartet can't be that bad. (Well, okay, maybe that’s not exactly true of this year.) There’s something that happens when Scott McCaughey, Kurt Bloch, Jim Sangster and Tad Hutchinson get together. It’s a smart-yet-silly kind of fun music that is sorely lacking these days. Reportedly the 12 songs on this album were recorded in one 12 hour session at Bloch’s studio. If that is actually the case (these guys like to cloak the truth in some, at times bizarre, wordplay so I’m doubtful) that makes this album all that more impressive. And they wrote a song about Dr. Zizmor from those subway ads!
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Cleflo and Zizmor,” “A Fake Hello,” “Margaret”

  6) Shovels and Rope - O’ Be Joyful (Dualtone)
My friend Jim Flammia sent me this debut from the Charleston, South Carolina duo. Jim is a publicist I’ve known for 15 years, and he and I share a similar taste in music. Yet I wonder if he knew exactly how much I would love this album when he dropped it in the mail. The first time I heard Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent sing together on the album opener “Birmingham” I knew that there was something special going on here. The gritty guitars, clanging old drums, and raw harmonies -- it’s a stunning combination that produces some of the best rootsy music I’ve heard in ages.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Keeper,” “Hail Hail,” “Birmingham

  5) Hospitality - Hospitality (Merge)
I have to give props to my friend Bill Pearis for hipping me to Hospitality with a mix he sent me in 2011. Amber Papini has one of the most distinctive voices I’ve heard in years (apparently she taught herself to sing via repeated listenings of the Psychedelic Furs' Talk Talk Talk, which is so crazy it has to be true) and the album is wisely built upon putting her voice front and center. Papini is also fascinated with doors, keys and locks, as half the songs on her use some combination of those words. Hospitality is probably too quirky for mainstream acceptance, but in a perfect Steve-led world they’d be big stars. (And the Yankees would never make the playoffs.) 
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Friends of Friends,” “Eighth Avenue,” “Sleepover”

  4) Frank Ocean - Channel Orange (Def Jam)
Frank Ocean made headlines when he wrote a lengthy blog post about how the first love of his life was a man. In the world of R&B and hip-hop, that's a huge leap of faith believing that your audience won't turn upon you. His bravery is reflected in Channel Orange, an album that demands you give it some real focus to catch its true greatness. Ocean is an incredible singer and he bares his soul through his raw lyrics. It’s incredibly compelling. And I’d rank his performance of “Bad Religion” backed by The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as the best TV appearance of the year.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “Bad Religion,” “Thinking About You,” “Pyramids”

  3) Bob Mould - Silver Age (Merge)
When I interviewed Bob Mould about his book See a Little Light in 2011 he mentioned that when he started writing songs again he wanted to do something fun after digging through his past for two years. Who knew that he'd come up with his best album in two decades? Mould and his band of the past four years (bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk/Mountain Goats drummer Jon Wurster) are the closest he’s come to the power of Sugar and this album echoes Copper Blue in many aspects. Mostly because it fucking rocks.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “The Descent,” “Star Machine,” “Keep Believing”

  2) The Figgs - The Day Gravity Stopped (Stomper)
How many acts can say they recorded one of their finest albums 25 years into their career? Neil Young? Bob Dylan? Van Morrison? Bob Mould? Whoever you believe should be on that list, it's a short one. The Figgs have done just that -- and with a double album. Side one -- “On the Grounds of Stately Homes,“ “Chased,” “The Lovely Miss Jean,” “Inspector R.T” and “Brain Be Gone” -- is easily one of the Top 3 sides of an album the band has ever recorded. A fine example of a great band learning to age gracefully.
On the Web: Best Tracks: “On the Grounds of Stately Homes,” “Do Me Like You Said You Would,” “Chased”

  1) Nada Surf - The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (Barsuk)
This may be the first Nada Surf album that captures the essence of their concerts -- the heartbreak, the joy, the longing and most importantly, the rocking. The band really lets it rip from the opening track “Clear Eye Clouded Mind” and doesn’t let up throughout, taking advantage of their touring fourth member Doug Gillard. He joined the band in 2010 when they toured behind their covers album and eventually became an integral part of their sound. His stint with Guided By Voices produced some of that band’s best work and he’s seemingly done the same magic for the songs of frontman Matthew Caws. Gillard’s sharp solos aren’t that flashy, yet they’re perfectly constructed and improve each track. (The brief solo in “Waiting for Something” is a work of guitar art.) Caws isn’t writing about heartbreak and despair anymore, but as someone else who’s found some serenity in his life, I really appreciate how he’s been able to take the next step with his art without having to tap into a reservoir of pain. (Ooh, that’s a good name for an album. Don’t steal it.)
On the Web: Best Tracks: “When I Was Young,” “Waiting for Something,” “Teenage Dreams”

No comments: