Here are my favorite albums released in 2012, for your consideration:
10. Passion Pit – Gossamer
Passion Pit has done something really incredible with this album. In a way, it is a grueling homage to the darker side of the psyche – covering topics ranging from alcoholism to suicide to heartbreak. The music feels almost euphoric, but there is a frenzied aspect to it at times, as if the world is about to crumble around the players, and thus the listeners. This only seems to add to the beauty of this skillful composition; it is a labor of love that would a shame to disregard or under-appreciate.
Here’s “Constant Conversations” from the album:
9. Holy Other – Held
Interesting that one of the most intimate records of the past year is a mostly instrumental, chopped and sliced electronic album, created by the UK-artist Holy Other. The surface level of beats, abstract synths and strung-together snippets of vocals and other timbres gives way to a deeper whole – exposing the sound of an intensely personal struggle, of feeling powerful and powerless, simultaneously, of feeling at once closeness, and distance.
Listen to the title track, “Held”:
8. Dry The River – Shallow Bed
This album came out of nowhere, at least for me. I was introduced to it on AOL’s Spinner. They had Dry The River’s album up for streaming, and I gave it a chance at work. A lot of times I get caught up in work and the music I’m listening to can float past me, but Dry The River managed to infiltrate my half-attentive brain to a point that I stopped working completely to just listen. After work, I went back and listened again, and again and again. This UK band has made a truly magnificent record, full of orchestral moments of quiet reflection which lead into incendiary choruses that will blow your hair back. And the chorus of “Weights & Measures” is perhaps one of the catchiest I’ve heard in a long time – simple, yes, but that only makes it more irresistible, and therefore more powerful.
Listen to “Weights & Measures” here:
7. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
It’s hard not to immediately like Alt-J. Their music is exceptionally appealing, with R&B beats and vocals meeting pop and rock harmonies and instrumental riffs. I heard these guys way way back, when they were still going by ∆ instead of using the symbol’s keyboard equivalent (Press”Alt” + “J” on your keyboard in a text box if you’re puzzled) as a more accessible, and more pronounceable, alternative. I’m happy to have a full release to speak on, and it’s great to see these guys gaining some serious recognition for their unique and talented sound, especially in their native UK where they won the 2012 Mercury Prize.
Check out “Tessellate” by the band below:
6. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
It was pretty much a given that any record put out by Andrew Bird would make my list. I’ve loved all the music Bird has put out since I’ve been following him, and 2009’s Noble Beast remains one of my favorite records of all time. The violin and guitar playing prodigy that is Andrew Bird has made yet another well thought-out, beautifully arranged record of whistling-infused folk rock music. It’s infectiously beautiful and becomes more so with each repeated listen.
Check out “Give It Away” here:
5. Tall Ships – Everything Touching
This was a latecomer for me – in fact despite the record having come out in October of 2012, I never heard it until this month, at the very start if 2013. This record takes all the energy and intricate guitar and drum work of the best post and math rock, and combines it with the well thought out and masterfully sung lyrics and complex vocal harmonies largely missing from these genres. This incorporation is what makes Everything Touching stand out, and the final track, “Murmurations” is a 9-minute masterpiece of slowly-building sound construction that leaves you aching for more at its end.
Listen to/download the 1st track, “T=0″:
4. Beach House – Bloom
This record opens with “Myth” (below), and I can’t say I’ve heard a more instantly engaging introductory track to an album in quite some time. A simple beat quickly leads into mingling guitar and keys riffs. The drums build and the riffs continue. Then the stirring vocals of Beach House’s Victoria Legrand join in. And you…are…hooked. Thankfully the rest of the album does not let up, but continues to deliver delicate yet ardent shoegazing pop music that never lulls or begins to blend incoherently but remains distinct and focused. Listen to “Myth” here and don’t blame me if you can’t stop there.
3. Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal
Although My Head Is An Animal was released in Iceland in 2011, I’m counting it in my best of 2012 since it wasn’t released in the U.S. until April. I’ve made many a mention of the truly great music that seems to be streaming endlessly out of the Nordic countries, and Of Monsters and Men exemplify this trend. Their energy-infused folky rock, complete with shout choruses and beautiful vocal harmonies, is just extraordinary. And if you ever get the chance to see them live, please do – they put on one of the most memorable shows I’ve seen in the past couple of years.
Check out their single, “Little Talks”, below:
2. The Helio Sequence – Negotiations
I’ve waited 4 and a half years for The Helio Sequence to put out a follow up to their truly excellent 2008 release, Keep Your Eyes Ahead. In that nearly half a decade, my musical tastes have changed a lot – but my love for this band has never faltered. Their new record, Negotiations, does not disappoint in the slightest. The effect-laden guitars and keys swirl around the authoritative drumming of Ben Weikel, and Brandon Summers vocals soar across this backdrop more persuasively than ever. This band has been together over a dozen years now, and Negotiations is a record only possible because of the cohesive relationship of these two extremely talented musicians. If you’ve never listened to this band before, there’s no better place to start than with Negotiations.
Listen to “October” from the record:
1. Grizzly Bear – Shields
From the moment I heard their single, “Sleeping Ute” (below), I knew Grizzly Bear’s follow up to 2009’s Veckatimest was going to be a special record. The album opener, “Sleeping Ute” explodes out of the gate with a rampage of thundering percussion and crackling guitars. From there the album waxes and wanes, with acoustic and orchestral passages transitioning effortlessly into glorious detonations of sound. Chris Bear’s percussion is at its most complex and compelling, and the vocals of Rossen and Droste compliment each other so precisely it is hard to imagine a better vocal pairing since McCartney/Lennon. This is a warm record, and though it is not without its darker images and blue musical moments, this a record for laying supine, in the cool grass, and, as the name of the album closer suggests, with ‘the sun in your eyes’.
Oh and the gatefold double-vinyl pressing is 100%, Grade-A brilliant.
Check out “Sleeping Ute” and then go buy this album: