30. Adventures in Your Own Backyard by Patrick Watson
Watson crafted a beautiful complete album that relies not on the lyrics in the songs or even the tunes the instruments carry, but in the atmosphere and mood that resonates long after you’re done listening.
29. Hospitality by Hospitality
I have described the album as being for lit majors by lit majors. That’s probably not a ringing endorsement for some of you, but it’s a catchy artsy ode to the simple problems faced by twenty-somethings. Suffice it to say, I got a kick out of it.
28. Here by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
I enjoyed the whackiness of Edward Sharp and such’s debut, but the sequel provides a much more developed product. There’s no standout track like Up From Below’s “Janglin’,” but their whole laid back beach community revivalism offers a nice edition to their growing repertoire.
27. Green Day trilogy
Okay, I’m definitely playing favorites here. I’m subconsciously yearning for the days of Dookie and American Idiot. Actually, I’m doing that consciously. But one of America’s longest running pop rock acts deserves a pat on the back for their super ambitious three albums in three months project, right? If you take the best of the thirty-seven songs skewed across three albums and put them into one, it totally deserves to be on this list. That’s what I’m doing.
26. Slaughterhouse by Ty Segall Band
The first of a couple of appearances here for Laguna Beach’s finest. Everyone else seemed to think Slaughterhouse was Segall’s best release of the year. This isn’t intended as any to knock him or his band. The ultra grungy garage noise fest on Slaughterhouse is good (particularly “Wave Goodbye”), just not his best.
25. The Seer by Swans
How many different ways can you describe this album? Expansive? Intense? Primal, even? The album is certainly all of those things, which can be a bit exhausting in its comically long running time (two freaking hours!), but it taps the very recesses of your beating heart and your soul. I challenge you not to get chills when Karen O pops up on “Song for a Warrior” for some of the albums only words.
24. All Hell by Daughn Gibson
Ever wondered what it would be like to hear a classic style crooner belting out numbers over some truly haunting musical tracks? Well, wonder no more as Daughn Gibson manages to croon like Scott Walker while terrifying me to the very marrow of my soul.
23. Breakup Song by Deerhoof
Deerhoof may not have mastered noise as well as Sleigh Bells or Death Grips, but they know how to pump up the volume on their twelfth (seriously?!?) album. It may just be loud for the sake of loud, but what the hell, it’s hard not to enjoy.
22. 1999 by Joey Bada$$
Okay so the kid knows how to rap. You’d think by 2012 that I would learn not to be surprised by a kid born in the mid-nineties spitting out verses worthy of an MF Doom album, but here comes Joey Bada$$. It may be thoroughly depressing that he’s not even old enough to vote and already more successful than I will ever be, but he’s an absolute master with the words.
21. Be the Void by Dr. Dog
I feel like I hardly see albums like Be the Void any more. Its ambitions are so simple. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but at the same time not gagging for a top forty hit. They just managed to provide a handful of basic rock tracks. They don’t wail, they don’t expand my horizons, they don’t change the way you think about music or your life, but they don’t insult me with simplicity or beg for airplay. They’re interesting, well-crafted and easy to listen to.
20. I Bet On Sky by Dinosaur Jr.
In the same vain as Be the Void, Dinosaur Jr. delivers a pretty cut and dry album. It’s centered around basic hooks and memorable refrains, but that doesn’t stop it from being truly excellent. It is remarkable that Dinosaur Jr. is able to churn these out after nearly thirty years together!
19. Lonerism by Tame Impala
On their quest to sound like transient John Lennon acid trips, Tame Impala delivered again. I owe the album more credit than that, as a noticeable improvement from their debut. Kevin Parker admitted that the album really struggled to not be a pop album, but it had just enough of that radio accessibility mixed in with their guitar psychedelia signature to be a fit for both the turntables in wood paneled basements as well as contemporary FM stations. But that’s just me.
18. Hair by Ty Segall and White Fence
Hey, speaking of wood paneled basements, check out this throwback to mid-60 garages. There is enough of a hint of yester-year nostalgia to give the album a little bit of depth that Segall’s raw style doesn’t usually provide. It’s definitely homage, but never a gimmick. The two act “Scissor People” is one of Segall’s best cuts yet.
17. Lock Down by Dr. John
Hey, speaking of throwbacks… okay, I should stop that. But honestly, who would have thought that the biggest return in 2012 would come from Malcolm Rebennack? The Cajun fried New Orleans sizzle is certainly there, but what pushes this album to the next level is soulful guitar provided by Dan Auerbach. His presence is so strong that the album feels like half of a Black Keys album… which is never a bad thing.
16. The Glorious Dead by The Heavy
I really don’t know why The Heavy isn’t more popular. I could see why music snobs would dismiss their borderline cover band style of rock, but how has the American public not taken this band and run? They did lend “How You Like Me Now” to about two thousand commercials and trailers over the past two years after all. Their third LP delivered more of their brain-rattling riffs, rousing choir refrains and Zeppelin-style heaviness (pun intended).
15. Twins by Ty Segall
If it weren’t for last year’s Goodbye Bread, I’d say that Twins was the finest record of Segall’s young but astoundingly prolific career. The title is meant to explore the two different styles of his music (the fuzzy grunge noise seen on Slaughterhouse and the lo-fi beach jams seen on Goodbye Bread), by offering an inconsistent product exhibitioning both. As a result, I found the album’s winding journey through tracks of all different lengths and styles to be rather exciting.
14. Port of Morrow by The Shins
James Mercer seems like a really good guy and a great contributor to contemporary music, but to be completely honest, I found the first couple of Shins albums to be largely forgettable. Whether it is the new lineup or new direction, Port of Morrow just seemed so much more unique. His always-striking imagery and atmospheric melodies provide their best album yet.
13. Shields by Grizzly Bear
I wondered after Shields came out if Grizzly Bear had taken the crown of Best Indie Rock act from Arcade Fire. I had to come down a little, but Ed Droste has delivered his fourth straight home run. The lengthy exposes and landscapes that the tracks of Shields create are nothing short of beautiful. The songs seem to have a little bit more depth and emotion than the gratifying artifice of Veckatimest. There’s no denying that this is a band that is firing on all cylinders.
12. Putrifiers II by Thee Oh Sees
I never heard Putrifiers I (because it doesn’t exist), but it sounds like I’d love it. I don’t really know how to classify Thee Oh Sees. They have been described as psychedelic, garage, artsy, punk and flat alternative. They never really seem to shift roles, though. They manage to be all of those all at once on Putrifiers II. The songs are groovy and humorous but also provocative but also kind of hard rock but also kind of chill at the same time. You see what I’m saying?
11. Heaven by The Walkmen
Heaven is a lofty concept for any band to try and tackle, but The Walkmen seem to have done it. In their version, Heaven is a timeless place where all of your emotions seem clear and understandable. Hamilton Leithauser sings of love and daily life but always does so with conviction and a calming insight that carries the album to a higher plane.
10. America Give Up by Howler
Seeing the same thing unfold over and over again in the music scene gets awfully old. We saw it last year with Lana Del Rey, and now we see it with Howler. A new band or artist hits the scene with an impressive debut album or single, there’s a shred of positive response to it, then, the rest of the music elite perceives this as undeserving praise and takes it upon themselves to completely bury the artist because, as rookies, they are unworthy of fans’ enjoyment. I liked Howler’s debut. I liked it a lot. I liked it before I knew their lead singer was nineteen, that they’d been called the new Strokes, or that they’d already been built up and torn down in the blog cesspools. I’ll try to keep it simple so as not to offend anyone, but the album is solid from top to bottom with its chill youthful surfer punk servings and catchiness. That’s all. Is that too much to say? Besides, is calling someone the new Strokes really a far stretch when new Strokes stuff kinda sucks?
9. Undersea EP by The Antlers
I’m not really sure why EPs don’t qualify as real records in peoples’ minds. They’re not even included on the majority of yearend album lists. How fair is it to exclude Earl, Broken Dreams Club, or Magical Mystery Tour from any list? The latest from the dreamy Brooklynites may only be four tracks, but that’s all it takes for them to whisk you away to their fluffy reality. In just twenty-two minutes, The Antlers have created their own little subaquatic universe.
8. WIXIW by Liars
Throughout the year, I described Liars’ latest edition to their catalogue as “the album Radiohead wishes they could make.” Yes, I assigned it that tag partly out of a desire to stick a finger in the eye of the Radioheard (they’re just so much fun to piss off), but I really meant at least part of it. Liars, much like Radiohead, have had their moments of making music that’s just way too out there for the general populous to enjoy, but WXIW (pronounced “wish you” apparently) has worked out all of those kinks. Every track pushes boundaries and tears down conventions, but the band doesn’t sacrifice its identity, nor does it just go avant garde for the hell of it (cough, King of Limbs, cough). The ambience of “The Exact Colour of Doubt” may be the most impressive track on the album with its use of minimalism, but it’s hard not to have your mind blown by the title track. You owe it to yourself. So does Radiohead.
7. 2 by Mac Demarco
Need to chill out, bro? Well look no further than the welcoming simplicity of Mac Demarco. There’s not a lot to his game. That’s not a criticism, just the truth. It’s just Mac Demarco, his guitar, some catchy beats and lyrics about, you know, stuff. It’s this style that makes it so accessible, but the album utilizes the format so well. Demarco’s songwriting is superb, even if it’s not necessarily thought provoking. He welcomes listeners in with his friendly style, relateable themes and really nothing offensive or challenging for anyone. It’s just good. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
6. In Our Heads by Hot Chip
Why don’t they play stuff like this at clubs? Why do I have to suffer through Ke$ha or Black Eyed Peas? There was a time, where the music forced upon me by DJs lead me to believe that the ability to dance to a song was what made it shitty. Thankfully, Hot Chip has thrown that notion right out the window. Turns out you can make good, honest and touching songs that are simultaneously fit for the dance floor. Guess those other songs were just shitty for other reasons. Hot Chip produces a recognizable and extremely enjoyable groove while never coming off as contrived or artificial. Here’s hoping a nightclub gets the memo.
5. Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors
I couldn’t imagine David Longstreth and his merry band possibly topping Bitte Orca with its follow up, but I dare say they managed to surpass the predecessor. The best thing I can say about the Dirty Projectors is how damn good they’ve become at sounding like the Dirty Projectors. No, that wasn’t a typo or a descent into madness. They have managed to craft a sound that no one can even come close to replicating. Whether it’s the completely instrument-less music section of “Offspring Are Blank,” or the Christmas minstrel sound on “Just From Chevron,” or the harmonizing on “Unto Caesar,” they deliver their product on their terms.
4. Reign of Terror by Sleigh Bells
The art of noise is a tricky racket. You’re always riding a fine line between blissful sensory indulgence and being unbearably annoying. If Sleigh Bells showed anything with their sophomore outing, it’s how good they have become at pushing us to the edge of that line but never crossing it. Track after track is, for lack of a better word, loud. I mean really loud. Like I’m embarrassed at traffic lights loud. But it is SO. DAMN. GOOD. The noise never feels unnecessary or even out of place. It washes over you and puts you in a state of mind. As impressive as the managing of the decibel levels is, it is equally matched by their perfect homage to the hard rock path they’re treading. They dish out Queen-like stadium rock on “True Shred Guitar,” Van Halen-style guitar clinic on “Never Say Die,” or the wrenching do whoppy “End of the Line.”
3. channel ORANGE by Frank Ocean
With each passing track, I find myself wondering how Frank Ocean is possibly a member of Odd Future. It isn’t just that Ocean is a contemporary R&B performer by craft in a group of aggressive rappers. It isn’t just that Ocean is openly bisexual and the group is notoriously homophobic. What sticks out to me the most is how mature Ocean’s music sounds next to the youthful rallying of Tyler the Creator and his band of envelope pushers. channel ORANGE is a profound testament to Ocean’s immerging ability as a storyteller. The album is a lush portrait of Southern California romance, superficiality, drug excess, and, above all, loneliness. His cause isn’t hurt in the slightest by amazing guest appearances by Andre 3000 and the Earl Sweatshirt.
2. Blunderbuss by Jack White
Jack White seems content to maintain his slightly psychotic rock persona even in the wake of the marriage/music project that was The White Stripes. It’s amazing how someone can make music that is so dependent on genuine human emotion and heartache, while its writer and creator has created a public persona full of so much bullshit. It’s all in good fun, though, as White nailed his solo debut. For thirteen straight tracks, White delivers one classic cut after another. Every single one could have been a staple on a greatest hits album from a classic rock band. He hits every possible taste along the way; innovative lyric spitting on “Love Interrupted,” roadhouse rousing numbers like “Trash Tongue Talker,” old fashioned hard rock on “Sixteen Saltines,” and, of course, some personal languishing of Meg on “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy).
1. The Money Store by Death Grips
When reading Pitchfork’s review of the top albums of the 2000s, they unsurprisingly picked Radiohead’s Kid A as their number one, writing, “Radiohead were not only among the first bands to figure out how to use the Internet, but to make their music sound like it.” That quote kept coming to me as I listened to The Money Store endlessly over the course of 2012. The music itself is unwelcoming. It is a cacophonous layers of random sounds, staggering beats, and the paranoid screaming of Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett. Upon first listen, it will seem overwhelming. Upon multiple listens, it will sound disturbingly familiar. In the same vain that Radiohead made an album that sounded like the Internet, Death Grips have taken that a step further, crafting an album in 2012 that sounds like a society that is the Internet. It is loud. It is sensory overload. It sounds like a pop song, a rap battle, a club track, an experimental DJ set all at once. My personal favorite, “I’ve Seen Footage” somehow manages to capture the past and the future at the same time. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.