Top 25 Albums of 2012

 

Happy New Year, everybody! Just like that, 2012 goes right out the window. However, as we look forward to a brand new year, we mustn’t forget the musical beauty of this past year. Have a look at what we thought were the Top 25 Albums of 2012 – we being Cormac Kilduff, John Mohan, and yours truly.

On top of giving you a bit of background on each Top 25 album, we’ve created a playlist for your listening pleasure while you read. Aren’t we considerate? Oh, you know, it’s nothing. Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

25. Deep Sea Arcade – Outlands
March 16 – Ivy League Records
Australia

There’s something about this Aussie five-piece that stands out. Not yet five years old, Deep Sea Arcade are not only headlining shows in their homeland, but have toured with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Modest Mouse and the Kaiser Chiefs, among others. The group’s Britpop/slacker/surf-rock sound is tighter than a knot in a wet shoelace and catchier than the clap. With clear nods to formative rock decades – the British ‘90s of “Girls”; the California ‘60s of “Together” – it goes without saying that the group have not reinvented the wheel. However, what they have done is learn to roll that wheel at a steady, infectious pace, to the point where every track on Outlands comes across as a single. Get a whiff, North America – Deep Sea Arcade is coming soon to a beach party near you. -DR

 

 

24. The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
March 26 – Warner Bros.
United States

Long gone are the oft-lamented days of At The Drive-In and, as of the end of this year’s Noctourniquet tour, perhaps also gone are the days of the Mars Volta. Qualifying the band’s break as a “hiatus”, co-founder Omar Rodriguez-Lopez seems to have turned the page, at least for the moment, in the impressive tome he and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala (co-founder) and bandmates have scripted over the last decade. Is Noctourniquet “as good as” 2003’s groundbreaking De-Loused In The Comatorium or 2005’s equally audacious Frances The Mute? It’s a difficult question to answer, considering Mars Volta’s overall discography, which has rarely not been daring, new, and supremely creative; the Volta’s latest may be dwarfed by the greatness of its predecessors. In any case, whether it’s considered on its own or put up against the band’s previous work, Noctourniquet is a dense, spicy aural feast of experimental jazz, rock and latin sounds that should not be ignored. -DR

 

23. Lambchop – Mr. M
February 21 – Merge Records
United States

The first line on “If Not I’ll Just Die” is one of my favourite intros to an album in years. Lead singer Kurt Wagner meanders on about what seem like random thoughts that run through his head. He even talks about the very instruments he’s singing over; “Here come them crazy flutes, them crazy flutes again.” The album is packed full of funny and endearing lyrics and it pulls the listener into Wagner’s train of thought, which for me is what songwriting is all about. The music itself sounds like something Stott Walker might have made if he had chosen a different career path than that of a slightly odd recluse. -CK

 

 

22. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes
September 26 – Warp Records
United States

Flying Lotus dominated in the fall of 2012. The entire campaign around his album launch and accompanying tour was just explosive. Coming fully loaded with a short film, lead single and a new outgoing approach to interviews compared to that on previous releases and, finally, his post-release unveiling of his Captain Murphy alias with a mouthwatering roster of acts on his extremely popular mixtape. He ended 2012 with a tour of Asia with his Brainfeeder crew. –JM

 

 

 

 

 

21. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
November 6 – Modern Love Records
United Kingdom

Andy Stott is a techno producer based in Manchester, arguably the UK’s most important city for music. Luxury Problems is his third album and I was hooked from the second the first track “Numb” began. The album has an unsettling element to it, a grit if you will, which may be a product of his industrial Manchester environment. This rawness is what drives the album for me, and is one that will keep you returning to it to try and figure it out. Also, this album should be listened to nice and loud on your headphones. -CK

 

 

 

 

20. How To Dress Well – Total Loss
September 20 – Acéphale / Weird World
United States

Love Remains was the 2010 release from Tom Krell that raised quite a few eyebrows among critics. Krell was noted for his unique production style and superb yet understated vocal capabilities. Total Loss was born into the world in the fall of 2012 to critical acclaim; so much more accessible than its predecessor and with less sound trickery and a greater focus on clarity, highlighting Krell’s most outstanding skill, his powerful, unique voice. The edgy beats and percussion he employs are rough in all the right ways and are strategically placed on each track, either offering the lead to the vocal or allowing for orchestral movements to flow. The album still has many dark serpentine paths in it, but all in all, it sounds a lot more defined and polished than its predecessor. -JM

 

 

19. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
April 30 – Sub Pop Records
United States

Joshua Tillman’s latest incarnation is Father John Misty, a devil-may-care rock troubadour who’s been dipped in Jagger swagger, rolled in Beatles flour and pan-fried into a brand new piece of authentic, thigh-slapping, finger-snapping Americana. Tired of his “wound-licking” musical self, Tillman (Saxon Shore, Fleet Foxes) decided to shelf his own name and reinvent himself as a performer. The reinvention paid off as Fear Fun delivers odd stories of those on the fringe, mixing weird sadness with a wry, “shit happens” smile. “Oh, pour me another drink / And punch me in the face / You can call me Nancy” – rarely has drunken truth been sung so beautifully. Here’s hoping Father John Misty was not a one-album exorcism for Tillman. -DR

 

 

 

18. Bleeding Heart Pigeons – Soliloquies, Massacres
independent
Ireland

Bleeding Heart Pigeons, a three-piece from Limerick, Ireland released Soliloquies, Massacres on Soundcloud, so this is not actually an album, but I wanted to add it to my list anyway because they have an interesting story to them and these songs are fantastic. BHP have been playing together for the last five years, which normally wouldn’t be that important, but I should probably mention that none of them are even 20 yet. Lead singer Mícheál Keating has a truly original and diverse vocal style. He can jump between a soft R’n’B type falsetto, to a full-on angsty outcry, almost as if he’s begging for you to listen to his words. And, speaking of his words, he’s a deep songwriter for such a young man. The lyrics to “Catharsis” (see playlist) are about as deep as it gets. -CK

 

17. John Talabot – Fin
February 14 – Permanent Vacation
Spain

After a string of releases on several labels throughout 2010/2011, Talabot delivered his first full-length in early 2012. Fin is a collection of well-measured dancefloor tracks with varying styles and genres, from house to disco, to a much darker sound on some tracks, yet all with a steady tempo. After the album release, Talabot hit the road supporting the XX on their North American tour and performed tracks from Fin live with the aid of serial collabrator Pional, an excellent up-and-coming producer and vocalist in his own right that’s featured on three of the tracks on Fin. -JM

 

 

 

 

16. The Life and Times – No One Loves You Like I Do
January 17 – SlimStyle Records
United States

I was instantly hooked upon hearing The Life and Times’ third LP No One Loves You Like I Do, their first on SlimStyle Records. It struck chords in me only Ken Andrews’ Failure was ever able to strike. Little did I know, there was a bona fide connection here: Allen Epley (guitar, vocals) used to play in Shiner with Tim Dow as drummer; Dow went on to play in Andrews’ post-Failure projects ON and Year of the Rabbit. Bam. Tenuous connection? Perhaps, but a connection nonetheless. In any case, with No One Loves You Like I Do, Epley and company have crafted a chronicle of love and loss that is neither saccharine nor rehashed. The marriage of ringing notes, powerfully fuzzy guitars, pensive lyrics and of drums that are excitingly unafraid of both silence and chaos makes for a tense, immersive and hard-rocking affair that is too damn good to go unnoticed. -DR

 

 

15. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
June 5 – Polyvinyl Record Co.
Canada

Hailing from where other than Vancouver BC, this two-piece shot to critical acclaim with their 2009 debut Post-Nothing. Full of teenage rocker anthems, they quickly became a much loved band the world over. Being a two-piece can somewhat limit a band in terms of the songs they write/perform, but Japandroids make it look easy. They get loud, energetic and shouty a lot, similar to the way the Black Keys used to back in the early 2000s. -CK

 

 

 

 

 

14. Tindersticks – The Something Rain
February 21 – Constellation Records
United Kingdom

Stuart A. Staples (vocals, production), David Boulter (keys) and Neil Fraser (guitars) have been the core of Tindersticks since 1991. Rounded out by Earl Harvin (drums, percussion) and Dan McKinna (bass), the UK five-piece released their ninth studio album this year, an album teeming with vibrant, renewed energy despite having to deal with the passing of several friends and family members during the recording process. With the exceptional “Slippin’ Shoes” as its midway peak, The Something Rain is a subtle, unhurried journey where the music carries as much narrative weight as the lyrics. Whether it’s the jazz-flecked rock jam of “Show Me Everything” or the cool yet loving humour of “Chocolate”, Tindersticks’ latest showcases a band at the top of its game that has succeeded in striking a balance between musical maturity and fresh enthusiasm. -DR

 

 

13. David Newberry – No One Will Remember You
March 6 – Northern Electric
Canada

As a new generation falls head over heels in love with folk/roots music and anybody with a beard and a guitar is looked at as a potential star, the wheels of this bloated bandwagon begin to creak and moan. That’s of no interest to David Newberry, who’s veered off in his own musical direction, far away from the yawn-worthy, well-worn path of easy, unadventurous folk. Be it the solemn confidence of “So It Goes” and “English Bay”, or the tavern-tinged echoes of “Rock Bottom” and “No One Will Remember You”, Newberry’s unique lyrics and precise musicality injects fresh new life into a dusty genre. Only his second full-length, No One Will Remember You announces with authority the arrival of one of our nation’s newest and finest songwriters. -DR

 

 

12. Kendrick Lamar – good kid m.A.A.d. city
October 22 – Top Dawg / Aftermath Entertainment / Interscope Records
United States

Kendrick Lamar – a man reviving hip hop, straight off them ‘killa streets’, paying tribute to his educators along the way. These educators quickly became collaborators for Lamar; Dr. Dre, Warren G and Talib Kweli, three men considered hip hop gods, from back when hip hop still felt like a religion. Nas said hip hop was dead in 2006 and he was right, and was even a little late in saying so. Thankfully, a revival is in full swing thanks to young guns like Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown, Flying Lotus’ latest project, Captain Murphy, and Lamar’s label mate Schoolboy Q. These rappers talk about things that matter to the listener, and that for me is what hip hop was built on, a cultural movement. Long may it continue. -CK

 

 

 

11. Four Tet – Pink
August 20 – Text Records
United Kingdom

After releasing several excellent 12″ singles via his own imprint Text Records, Kieran Hebden was creating tracks at such a rate that over a period of a few months, he must have realized he had accumulated the bones of a more than decent album. Pink is jam-packed with fresh vibrant beats, rhythms, and all around massive dancefloor hits. In 2012, he set the marker for the rest to follow. Four Tet is at the peak of its powers at the moment and everything Hebden touches turns to gold. His production style is widely imitated worldwide, but no one does it quite like Four Tet does, check it out. -JM

 

 

 

 

10. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
February 21 – Secretly Canadian
United States

From the first strums of “Nothing Is The News”, Maraqopa unfolds itself and rolls on smoothly as a treble-soaked, post-rock road trip with a faded map. In “Life Away From The Garden”, a daydream world can be perceived through the smoky glass of gentle keys, soft strings and the voices of distant children. Maraqopa is Jurado’s tenth LP, his sixth on Secretly Canadian, which is also home to Animal Collective and The War On Drugs. With his latest, the Seattle, Washington native offers up a meticulous, seasoned batch of indie folk-rock that exhibits poise, restraint, and confidence in one’s sound, all of which combine for an undeniably gratifying listening experience. -DR

 

 

 

9. Jessie Ware – Devotion
August 20 – PMR / Island (UK); Cherrytree Records (US)
United Kingdom

Jessie Ware first emerged as an underground guest vocalist for people like SBTRKT and Katy B, but in 2012 she pounced on her opportunity and emerged as one of the UK’s finest vocalists, male or female. The album’s lush production grabs you from the off, and doesn’t let go until about ten songs in. Not to say the end of the album is weak, but the first eight or so songs are excellent. The toots of the horns on “Running” in between her vocals give the tune a great feel. Oh, and she oozes sex appeal, similar to the way Sade does, and that’s saying something. -CK

 

 

 

 

8. Tame Impala – Lonerism
October 5 – Modular Recordings
Australia

Kevin Parker is Tame Impala. He wrote the entirety of both 2010’s Innerspeaker and this year’s Lonerism on his own, out of his Perth home. After he writes an album, he calls on his mates to tour what he comes up with. His vocal sound is often compared to that of John Lennon with plenty of reverb and delay, lathered over layers of synths and freaked out psyched up guitars that never seem overkill or to intrude on each other. Watching Parker mastermind the songs live is something special; he stands barefoot over a massive selection of guitar pedals and a laptop and makes layering vocals and guitar parts look like child’s play. Stoners and groovers everywhere are quickly falling in love with his vibes. The single “Elephant” is hard not to be enveloped by, but “Why Won’t They Talk To Me” (see playlist) was the standout tune for me, and it ties in nicely with the album title. -CK

 

 

7. Actress – R.I.P.
April 20 – Honest Jon’s
United Kingdom

R.I.P. is one of the most challenging pieces of music released in 2012. It is the second offering from Actress, aka UK-based producer Darren Cunningham. The first six tracks are pretty much beatless and stray far in before the first beat drops; after that, it’s an array of cluttered beats and rough and ready structures. Actress’ entire sound is glazed with an aged vinyl sound that gives it an extra nostalgic edge. Though surely quite “far out” for the casual music listener, anyone interested in seeing which boundaries are being pushed these days is encouraged to give R.I.P. a thorough spin. -JM

 

 

 

 

6. Purity Ring – Shrines
July 24 – 4AD / Last Gang Records
Canada

The release of Shrines marked the culmination of a year-and-a-half’s worth of anticipation from when Purity Ring made its first wave in January 2011. Corin Roddick first asked Megan James to sing over an electronic piece he’d created in late 2010; “Ungirthed” was posted online in early 2011 and quickly spread, its slow and futuristic boomy synth sounds burrowing into keen ears around the world. As the Edmonton duo spawned more singles, each as strong as the last, the clamor grew among fans and critics alike; dropping in mid-summer 2012, Shrines has lived up to the stratospheric expectations placed upon it by both camps. Now comes the imposing task of following up this remarkable debut with an equally impressive sophomore effort. -DR

 

 

5. Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral
February 6 – 4AD
United States

If the name Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, Gutter Twins) doesn’t make you giddy or melt a little, you haven’t been listening. The Washington state native has been making music professionally for nearly 30 years, genre-hopping all around the Rock. Blues Funeral lands like a boulder dropped in slow motion from up high into a lake on a sunny day. Let me explain – this being an album by Mark Lanegan, one of North America’s true modern bluesmen, there is of course a dark, weighty undercurrent throughout. However, this isn’t a down-and-out collection of regretful, whiskey-glazed musings (however great those can be, as Lanegan has proven, especially in his solo work). While there are (beautifully) gloomy moments – such as “Bleeding Muddy Water” - they are balanced by lighter, synth-soaked pieces (“Ode to Disco” and “Harborview Hospital”) and driving rock numbers (“The Gravedigger’s Song”, “Riot In My House” and “Quiver Syndrome”) that rev and grind in a way that is uniquely Lanegan. I challenge any supposed rock fan to try and not enjoy this. -DR
4. Gang Colours – The Keychain Collection
February 27 – Brownswood Recordings
United Kingdom

Not many can use the grand piano like Gang Colours. Will Ozanne utilizes his skill well on his first album The Keychain Collection. Though mainly R’n’B, Garage and House-based, many of the tracks are sprinkled with beautiful piano rhythms. Out on Giles Peterson’s Brownwood and based out of Southhamton in the UK, Gang Colours has carved a niche for himself within the buzzing electronica scene, not a million miles from James Blake, but with a decidedly more dancefloor groove. On this, his debut, he illustrates exactly what he is capable of, at times expertly flexing his electronica muscle, and other times exploring his more classical side. -JM

 

 

 

 

3. Plants and Animals – The End of That
February 28 – Secret City Records
Canada

Why The End of That wasn’t in the running for this year’s Polaris Music Prize is an absolute mystery to me. Now with two EPs and three LPs under their collective belt, Plants and Animals’ latest full-length is their tightest effort yet. Some of the jammy meandering of 2010’s La La Land has been shaved off, and guitarist/vocalist Warren Spicer seems to have found his vocal sweet spot – somewhere between an unplugged Tom Petty and Bob Dylan at his feistiest. “The mountains in the distance look so fake I can’t believe it’s not real mountains”; “I tried your cocaine, just to know what it could do / I had to try it again, just to give it a second chance”; “I’m gettin’ tired of the freefall / I’m lookin’ forward to the spring”; lyrical gems such as these are liberally sprinkled throughout, standing out like moments of revelation. As a whole, the album comes off as a spirited drive through a person’s second coming of age – the exuberant naivety of irresponsible youth is gone, and one’s years and experiences combine to provide a richer, more thoughtful and nuanced perspective on a tomorrow that is as open and unsure as ever. -DR

 

2. Frank Ocean – Planet Orange
July 10 – Def Jam Recordings
United States

This album is topping best of lists the world over, and with good reason. Its release was highly anticipated for two reasons: the first, Ocean (born Christopher Breaux) is good. Before he even started thinking about his debut mixtape, Nostalgia ULTRA, he was busy making a name for himself through working with heavyweights such as Nas, Pharrell Williams and Beyoncé. He’s also the hook man for OFWGKTA. Secondly, he timed his coming out as bisexual to perfection – the week before Channel Orange‘s release – but I’m only going to focus on the former, as the album doesn’t need to rely on social media tactics to show how good it really is. The smoothness in his voice reminds me of the great Marvin Gaye, and his mix of tunes, and ideas in general, are as in tune as Prince was before he got all weird. -CK

 

 

1. School of Seven Bells – Ghostory
February 28 – Vagrant Records / Ghostly International
United States

This year, School of Seven Bells were not only able to maintain the momentum created by their 2008 and 2010 releases (Alpinisms and Disconnect from Desire, respectively), but kicked things into overdrive with Ghostory. The word “dream” gets tossed around a lot when describing this New York City duo, and for good reason; the band’s glossy and spacey synth work and vocal effects cast a graceful, misty haze on all of their songs. That said, this is very much a waking dream – nobody’s falling asleep here. Whether it’s the dark, hypnotizing indie-disco bang of “Low Times” or the hot and breathy bedroom-eyed pulse of “Show Me Love”, Vibe is king on Ghostory. -DR

 

 

 

 

 

No list is ever truly complete, is it? Here’s some more great music that came out in 2012 that’s worth a listen:

Rococode – Guns, Sex & Glory
February 7 – independent
Canada

 

 

 

The Men – Open Your Heart
March 6 – Sacred Bones Records
United States

 

 

 

Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
March 12 – Polydor Records
United Kingdom

 

 

 

The New Law – The Fifty Year Storm
January 1 – independent
United States

 

 

 

Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky
September 17 – Jagjaguwar
United States

 

 

 

 

More Best of 2012 lists:

Top 10 Remixes of 2012 – by John Mohan

Top 10 Metal Albums of 2012 – by Daniel Robichaud

  • jack lemmon

    bleeding heart pigeons,, killer sound from these kids,,, check out an earlier song ‘ they’re cutting down the old oak tree’….a 3 and a half minute coming of age triumph….