Good news, guys. I finally finished listening to every single album put out in 2012, and I’ve come up with my top ten:
10. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel
I didn’t want this to be on the list. I almost put that terrible Perfume Genius album on here just to push Fiona Apple out of the top ten. I didn’t want to like this album (I am not now, nor have I ever been a “Sullen Girl”), but it’s undeniably good.
9. Swans – The Seer
This band is just as big and beefy as ever. This album feels like a tidal wave that you watch rising in front of you, waiting for the whole thing to come crashing down on your head. This is everything I hoped metal could be. Huge single note drones – not for laptop speakers. Overdriven chaos. Drum hits that start above the head.
8. Death Grips – The Money Store
Zach Hill has too many side projects to keep track of, but here’s one worth keeping an eye on. Death Grips is mean and gritty and will punch your grandma in the face. As a side note – it’s nice to see a Sacramento band make the list. That may or may not have been orchestrated.
7. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
I had to put at least one hyper-produced, super clean album on this list. And there’s pretty much nothing else in this top-ten that will try to get into your pants the way this album will.
6. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
This album was produced by Mike Mogis, and it sounds like a Mike Mogis album. It’s doing that alt-country thing (like Bright Eyes and Wilco), but softly. Very soothing stuff, and a necessary inclusion on this list for a huge Loretta Lynn fan (me). “Emmylou” might be my favorite song of the year.
5. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
This band kicks it off at a 9 and never really lets it get any lower than that. This album would be great for parents of small infants. What’s that noise? Do you hear the baby crying? No. I can’t hear anything because I’m being crushed to death under a wall of stadium rock.
4. Billy Woods – History will Absolve Me
Worst album cover of the year. By far. My expectations for the music on hear was shockingly low, but I ended up really liking this. The beats are weird and fun, and Billy Woods can go from sounding like Common to Killer Mike. It’s rare to find that sort of range on a rap album.
3. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
This album, more than any other I heard this year, suggested the sound of things to come. There’s a thin line between being creatively weird and still standing up to repeated listens, and Alt-J rides it perfectly. Certainly, the quartet’s clean piano lines against synthetic drums and often minimalist (there it is again) compositions, aren’t going to make the Now, This is Music 44! cut, but that has never been any indication of greatness. Put this album somewhere between Das Racist, WHY?, and The Xx.
2. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
I’m not going to say much here. You either like Canadian Post-Rock or you don’t. And I do. If you’re a GYBE fan, you’ve been waiting a long time for this album, and it just might be their best yet. Good luck listening to it without putting your fists in the air. I tried. It can’t be done.
1. The Xx – Coexist
The album is sparse, with minimalist guitars, and the composition of these songs is just so, so smart. It never feels empty, but comes oh-so-close by hanging reverberated notes out into the silence between soft vocals. This is an album of anti-anthems, but it still sounds great with the volume cranked. And again, it’s just smart song writing. More and more of what I hear on the radio has that hyper-produced sound, where things are so sparkly and huge that the artistry of the song (or even the band or singer) gets lost behind the production. This album reminds us of what can be accomplished without the gimmickry of a humongous recording budget. I have zero complaints.
There’s nothing like a “top ten” list to invite the vitriol of an anonymous (or relatively anonymous) internet. Let me know how I got it all wrong.