Here are the 10 best albums of 2012 as rated by yours truly. I feel strongly that a year-end list shouldn’t be swayed by the most buzz or suckered by the heaviest promotions. I listened to almost 100 albums in 2012 and these 10 stood out to me. I hope you find at least one you like in my list.
10. Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy. Nada Surf is power-pop bliss. This is a great comeback album for these guys, who have been making music since the early ’90s. Stars, the first new album for the band in four years, has an incredibly infectious sound.
9. Frankie Rose – Interstellar. Frankie Rose is a veteran of indie groups, including Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls. While her 2010 release (recorded as Frankie Rose and the Outs) showed glimpses of what was to come, she also stuck with that ’60s girls group genre that made her former bands popular. Here, Rose puts out a highly original album that draws liberally from ’80s pop.
8. The Men – Open Your Heart. The Men made one of the best rock albums of the year, hands down. The spirit and energy of these guys reminds me of the Replacements in their heyday. Like those classic Mats albums, Open Your Heart, takes some cool twists and turns, including the country-influenced Candy, to help pace an otherwise frenetic album.
7. Beachwood Sparks – The Tarnished Gold. With the popularity of Sub Pop labelmates Fleet Foxes, I’m surprised Beachwood Sparks didn’t generate more interest. This easy-going alt-country gem represents another comeback, the first release in 11 years for Beachwood Sparks. Fans of Jayhawks and early Wilco will want to get this album.
6. Grizzly Bear – Shields. Grizzly Bear picks up where it left off with the stunning 2009 release Veckatimest. If you liked that release, there’s a very good chance you’ll dig Shields as well. I’ve always found Grizzly Bear’s sound hard to describe. The oft-used term chamber pop doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Shields is full of dramatic flourishes, which I think makes for a very exciting album even though it’s not exactly rock.
5. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon / Ocean Roar. Released separately, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar are companion albums from the brilliant Phil Elverum, an artist who self releases his music. Elverum makes quiet music that builds into intense landscapes of sound. Both albums were recorded in a vacated church in Washington state where Elverum says he contemplated his own existence. It’s an atmospheric journey marked by many musical peaks and valleys.
4. Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth. There’s a petition pushed by fans of Mountain Goats to make the band’s principal John Darnielle a U.S. poet laureate. I can’t say that I’ve ever been so fanatical about Darnielle or his longtime band, but I do know a great album when I hear one. And Darnielle made one that musically stands up to his thoughtful lyrics.
3. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan. Frontman David Longstreth said Dirty Projectors’ most recent album was influenced by Lil Wayne, Neil Young, Guided by Voices, Rod Stewart and Blind Willie Johnson. No one makes music quite like Dirty Projectors. Harmonized female vocals are often as prominent (or even more dominating) an instrument as the guitar. But no worries — there are guitars on this album, including on the big opening song, Offspring Are Blank. Once compared to prog rock, Longstreth reportedly pointed out in an interview that he wasn’t a big fan of Yes.
2. Ty Segall – Twins. He made three albums in 2012 and they were all really good. Twins is a solid collection of songs from one of the most exciting rock musicians working today. Year-end album lists tend to leave out the best and most fierce rock albums. That’s a shame. Inspired by Stooges, T-Rex and others famous many years before this rocker was born, Segall’s sound is a bit anachronistic and yet his music is so fresh.
1. Woods – Bend Beyond. And speaking of anachronistic… With its psychedelic sound, Woods draws on an earlier era of rock music. When played live, the band extends the excellent title track to 10 minutes (more than double the album length for the song). But you certainly don’t have to be fan of jam bands or psychedelic ’60s to appreciate Woods. I’ve been listening to this band for years and I’d say this is its most accessible album yet. There’s not a bad song in the bunch. It’s very compelling and highly recommended.
Do you want more? Check out my list for the rest of the top 40 here.
Woods – Bend Beyond. On last year’s Sun & Shade, Woods stretched one song past 7 minutes, while another clocked in at almost 10. That’s not the case with the band’s latest, an airy yet punchy psychedelic trip. The longest song on this album comes in at just more than 3 minutes. The songs are very immediate and accessible. Woods is really a phenomenal band that continues to make music unencumbered by outside influences. Albums are released on the band’s own Woodsist label. And there’s not a bad song on this one.
Sic Alps – Sic Alps. This San Francisco band picks up where local comrades Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees left off. It’s garagey but a little funkier than Ty and Thee Oh Sees. While the album opener, Glyphs, sounds much like a Ty Segall song, I’m thrown by the second song, God Bless Her, I Miss Her, with its choogling rhythm. Like all the band’s I’m featuring in this post, Sic Alps draws from the ’60s psychedelic sound.
Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II. Speaking of Thee Oh Sees, John Dwyer and Co. has a new album to blow your mind. The album opens in typical fashion for this band with a thumping rocker, Wax Face. But by the third song, So Nice, the band shifts gears to a Velvet Underground-style number. Lupine Dominus is a nod to krautrock. There’s other experimentation, like the short Cloud #1, but it’s mostly just great songs. Thee Oh Sees play Logan Square Auditorium with Segall Friday.
Listen to Give Your Light Off, the B side to Woods’ 7-inch release of the single Cali in a Cup. Woods just released the awesome new album Bend Beyond. It’s definitely worth a listen.
The new music releases are shooting out like clay pigeons. This Tuesday features the release of new albums by Grizzly Bear, Woods, Dinosaur Jr., Robert Pollard, Sic Alps, Band of Horses, Alt-J, Menomena, the Sea and Cake, the Whigs and others. I predict some of these will be heading toward year-end lists, especially Woods and Grizzly Bear.
Among reissues, check out Fac. Dance 02, the second compilation from the legendary Factory Records of Manchester.
Here’s a video from Woods for Cali in a Cup, a new song on the album Bend Beyond, which will be released in a couple of weeks.
Here’s a new song, Size Meets the Sound, from the next Woods album, Bend Beyond. The album is scheduled for release September 18. I’m looking forward to this one.