02 January 2013

2012:: Favorite Albums

Our musical tastes are like fingerprints -- we've each got our own little curlicues and whorls to guide us. Out of the almost 500 albums I listened to in 2012, these may or may not have been the best (whatever that means), but they were my favorites, though I probably liked yours too, so don't fret too much about it.

These are grouped together with alphabetical listings in each group... everything subject to change at any time!

The Top Ten (in alphabetical order)

The Bad Plus -- Made Possible
Did you know that I loved The Bad Plus? Until they release a clunker, there's a place on this list reserved for these guys. The first two tracks on Made Possible are pure magic and the rest of it is as good as The Bad Plus gets. The feeling of "your favorite band keeps getting better" is a powerful one.
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Beachwood Sparks -- The Tarnished Gold
Here's what I wrote for Hidden Track earlier this year: "Crunchy, psychedelic country music from a gone-but-not-forgotten era – right down to the band and album name and cover art — sounds right at home here and now: Haight-Asbury’d acoustic, electric and steel guitars meet lush Laurel-Canyon’d harmonies to smile-inducing effect. This is the musical equivalent of putting some West coast sunshine in a jar and saving it for a cold, dark mid-February New England. Of course, you can enjoy it any day… and should!"
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Andrew Bird -- Break It Yourself
Here's what I wrote for Hidden Tracks top 25 entry for this album: "Sometimes a great athlete is described by the phrase “the laws of physics do not apply.” The same words describe Andrew Bird’s newest album: the music floats as if unencumbered by gravity; the songs stretch and contract, ignoring time’s steady tick. The last couple of years have found Bird dabbling in instrumental music more and more and this mindset shines through on the album, in little minute-long blurbs between songs and within the compositions themselves. I read a review that declared this album to be “perfect” and who am I to argue?"
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Dr. John - Locked Down
If you pinned me down and made me choose, this would be my favorite album of the year. So perfectly realized, so perfectly funky/rocking/greasy/dark/dirty/awesome. This is music of another time and place injected full-form into the here and now. As I wrote for HT, it sounds like Dan Auerbach as Marty McFly, Dr John as Marvin Berry; a time-traveling Delorean and one funky-as-hell Enchantment Under the Sea dance."
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Grizzly Bear -- Shields
Sometimes a band hits that sweet middle -- the Goldilocks Effect where everything is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right. That's where Grizzly Bear is with this one, hitting just the right level of orchestral big, soft folk-y little, buzzing psychedelic and pulsing rock. If one album could somehow sum up the sound of all the other albums in my top 100, this would be the best representative sound. Also, the songs are bleeping great.
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Heartless Bastards -- Arrow
I've written about this album twice already for HT, that's how much it moved (and continues to move) me. Here's what I wrote earlier this month for the top 25 column: "To be a truly great rock band, at some point you need to stop sounding like the great rock bands of the past and chart your own path. With 2009’s The Mountain and even more so with this year’s Arrow, The Heartless Bastards have proven their greatness, staked out a path and delivered some truly kick ass rock and roll. As I wrote earlier this year, Arrow features “superlative songs with patient, build-to-climax construction and some of the most soulful female vocals to sing them.” Erika Wennerstrom has a special from-the-soul passion – when she sings here of life, longing, love, you wish she was singing about you. Listen again and again and you might just convince yourself she is.
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Pond -- Beards, Wives, Denim
When I started my weekly album picks column for Hidden Track, my first "you've gotta hear this!" pick was this Pond album because... you've gotta hear this! It came out of nowhere and kicked me in the brain, sounding like an album a bunch of Aussies made specifically for me. Deeply psychedelic with fuzzy distortion and extended prog jams, perfectly executed. This was one of my favorite discoveries of the year, and discovering new favorites is my favorite pastime.
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Tame Impala -- Lonerism
It's fun to watch a band have their big "sophomore moment" and, with all eyes on them, just nail it the way Tame Impala did in 2012. This album is a masterpiece, a whole-is-greater-than-its-parts assemblage. Best-in-genre psych-rock, yes, but so much more once the surface is scratched as penetrating grooves and gee-whiz songwriting are revealed.
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Jack White -- Blunderbuss
Of all the albums on this list, this is the one I'm guessing most people have already heard. I'm not sure there are any other artists of his generation making music that satisfies the mainstream and yet has enough teeth and creativity for the bunkered-down music snobs as well. Apparently, rock and roll is the universal language and no one is speaking it better than White.
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Woods -- Bend Beyond
Woods seems to travel along two separate paths -- earnest poppy folk on one branch and jammy psychedelic on the other -- and over time those two have been inching closer, like some sort of inverse Beatles or something. With Bend Beyond, they all but converge (does that make it Woods' Revolver?) in joyous fashion.
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Just one notch below... (11-25 in alphabetical order)

The Amazing -- Gentle Stream
Cat Power -- Sun
Jason Collett -- Reckon
Conduits -- Conduits
Django Django -- Django Django
Dr. Dog -- Be the Void
Floratone -- Floratone II
Hospitality -- Hospitality
Will Johnson -- Scorpion
Little Barrie -- King of the Waves
Brad Mehldau Trio -- Ode/Where Do You Start
Mmoss -- Only Children
Plants and Animals -- The End of That
Matthew E. White -- Big Inner
Zeus -- Busting Visions

Honorable mention (in alphabetical order)

Air -- Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Amadou and Mariam -- Folila
The Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound -- Manzanita
Chicha Libre -- Canibalismo
Erik Deutsch -- Demonio Teclado
Diiv -- Oshin
First Aid Kit -- The Lion’s Roar
Get the Blessing -- OC DC
Goat -- World Music
Here We Go Magic -- A Different Ship
Michael Kiwanuka -- Home Again
Lambchop -- Mr. M
Cate Le Bon -- Cyrk
Jay Farrar/Jim James/Anders Parker/Will Johnson -- New Multitudes
The Pines -- Dark So Gold
Quantic w/ Alice Russell -- Look Around the Corner
Prince Rupert’s Drops -- Run Slow
Frankie Rose -- Interstellar
Royal Baths -- Better Luck Next Life
School of Seven Bells -- Ghostory
The Sheepdogs -- The Sheepdogs
Christopher Paul Stelling -- Songs of Praise & Scorn
Tennis -- Young and Old
Toure-Raichel Collective -- The Tel Aviv Session
Dustin Wong -- Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads

Finally, my 10 favorite EP's of 2012 (in alphabetical order):

Andrew Bird -- Hands of Glory
Deer Tick -- Tim
Chris Forsyth -- Kenzo Deluxe
f’ed up -- Year of the Tiger
Hopewell -- Another Music
Oneida - A List of the Burning Mountains
Punch Brothers -- Ahoy!
Robbers on High Street -- Anything Could Happen
Jonathan Wilson -- Pity Trials and Tomorrow’s Children

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