December 14, 2012

The Best Albums of 2012

25. The Staves - Dead and Born and Grown


The Staves-"The Motherlode"
This album is a simple display of how far solid songwriting and three beautiful voices will get you. Quite far it turns out. The British gals have been opening up for Bon Iver in Europe and making waves with their gorgeous, stripped down live show. Their debut album fleshes their sound out, but doesn't over do it, maintaining focus on the pristine harmonies and the rustic, woodsy guitar lines. 

24. Nas - Life is Good

It is not often that a rapper mentions his own divorcee in a remotely positive light. Nas, however, confronts the subject head on, presenting his ex-wife's wedding dress on the cover of his new album and lyrically dedicating the record to her. In doing so, he weaves a deeply personal account of his life, touching on subjects from his daughter to his love life, but most of all, his thoughtful introspection. Plus, this might be one of the last albums to feature vocals from the late Amy Winehouse. 

23. Jack White - Blunderbuss

Jack White-"Sixteen Saltines"
Jack White has always kept his name shrouded behind the name of a group. Whether it was the White Stripes, the Dead Weather, or the Raconteurs, White was always in creative control. But now, with this album he boldly stepped out on his own, labeling it with only his name. Hey, if I made this album I would damn well want credit too! He somehow made an album that would not have fit with any of his previous projects, but still sounds undeniably like a Jack White record. His trademark wobbly voice and bluesy licks keep it familiar but there is a tenderness and openness here that was hidden on his previous work. 

22. Baroness - Yellow & Green

Baroness-"Take My Bones Away"
This enormous double album sounds even bigger than it is. The sludge metal band lightens things up a bit and continues to evade simple classification on their third full length. The heaviness is still there, arguably even more so, but so is a new variety and experimentation the group has only leaned towards until now. They dove right into a giant genre-less void and it brought them huge success, and the catchiest, most exciting metal album of the year. 

21. Grizzly Bear - Shields

Grizzly Bear-"Speak In Rounds"
After Veckatimest made me a fan, I always categorized Grizzly Bear as sleepy indie rock that to me, got a little tiresome. The the band read my mind and released Shields. Right off the bat, the pace is more lively and everything is louder. There isn't a standout 'single' kind of track like "Two Weeks" was, but that only helps this album feel cohesive. The group retains their slightly ambient bend, but they trade sleepy ambience for a more tense, excited tone. 

20. Delta Rae - Carry The Fire

Delta Rae-"Morning Comes"
"Gospel stomp". Those two words introduced me to Delta Rae and brought the huge "Bottom of the River" to my ears. While that classification does a pretty good job, there is a lot more to their sound. There is part Southern twang, four phenomenal voices (three of them are related), and even a little musical-like spectacle added to the original formula. The singers take turns and hit with enormous harmonies. The songs are frightfully catchy, and are written to be big. Luckily, on their debut album they really pull it off. 

19. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

First Aid Kit-"King Of The World"
Considering the Söderberg sisters were born in Sweden, they sure know a lot about Americana. Over calm acoustic guitars with a touch of twang, the ladies pay homage to their idols and do so in spectacular fashion. Gorgeous Scandinavian space and minimalism entwined with rootsy campfire moods. Did I mention Conor Oberst makes a cameo?

18. Field Report - Field Report

Field Report-"Taking Alcatraz"
It seems as if Chris Porterfield had a lot riding on this album. The former bandmate of Justin Vernon does not want to be known as just that. Luckily with this collection of rustic tracks he sets himself apart while sounding just similar enough to attract some similar fans. He has managed to make his own brand of Midwestern folk, sounding equally new and familiar at the same time. All with beautiful melodies, harmonies, and arrangements. 

17. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

Michael Kiwanuka-"Home Again"
Named the BBC's Sound of 2013, Mr. Kiwanuka continues this year's trend for containing awesome new voices. His soulful croon caught the attention of Adele, who had him open for her on her British tour, and now it's popping up everywhere. This album is amazingly calming while remaining sophisticated and neither too poppy or tacky like many soul singers can be.

16. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

Dirty Projectors-"Gun Has No Trigger"
Dirty Projectors have always made sophisticated, complex, and challenging music. Not to say it isn't rewarding, but it often keeps many potential fans at arms length. With their latest, David Longstreath gave up on trying to make things difficult; he just pounded out some of the most straightforward and fantastic songs of his career. 

15. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

Frank Ocean-"Thinkin Bout You"
Without a doubt, this album was the most publicized and controversial album on this list. With his coming out letter released only days before the album dropped, Ocean instantly became the poster boy for gay rights among the neo-R&B crowd. Good thing his music is awesome too! The amazing, poetic abilities displayed on this record are the same that are visible in his letter and are what made his admission of love touching and heartfelt as opposed to a publicity stunt. 

14. Ellie Goulding - Halcyon

Ellie Goulding-"My Blood"
Her first album catapulted her to the top of the pop world, and she didn't let it get to her head. Instead of a boring recycle of her first record, she really evolved as an artist, opening herself up more and creating a record that is darker, deeper, and more emotional than her last. All of this without sacrificing an ounce of catchy likability. Well done, Ellie. 

13. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city

Kendrick Lamar-"Backseat Freestyle"
When Dr. Dre tells you he found the next big thing in hip-hop, he's probably right. His latest protege, and his most publicized since Eminem, shattered everyone's already high expectation with this album. Critics are already debating whether or not they can call this a classic album yet. Sure ya can! Lamar, with his 'from the streets but not of the streets' attitude gives a previously unheard perspective from the sidelines of his home of Compton. This is an important record, and aside from all the analysis on its impact, it is the best soundtrack of the year for a chill hangout. Dr. Dre is right on the money. 

12. Town Hall - Roots & Bells

Town Hall-"Mary A. Longden"
While the best word to describe this New York trio's debut is charming, they are not simple like the word connotes. The instrumentation is creative, the lyrics are honest and touching, and the vocals are fresh (male/female harmonies again). This is one of those debuts that really makes you wonder why there guys aren't known around the country. I'm not sure, but I don't think I will have to wonder for too long. 

11. Milo Greene - Milo Greene

Milo Greene-"Cutty Love"
Milo Greene isn't a real person, but the beautiful indie folk that bears his name is as real as it gets. One of the most exciting debuts of the year is a cinematic experience that, while having powerful singles, feels like a cohesive work of art. One of the most surprising things about this group is their lack of a frontman. Instead, four of them share vocal duties and switch instruments all the time, creating an evolving focus that never weakens. 

10. Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

Alabama Shakes-"I Ain't The Same"
Frontwoman Brittany Howard has been one of the hottest new things in the music world for a while now. After she wowed crowds with her enormous howl, this album was one of the most anticipated of the year. Thanks to a backing band that sound like it has been playing together for 20 years, Howard's vocals are in good hands, resulting in a killer set of tight, fun, bluesy tracks. 

9. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - The Heist

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis-"Ten Thousand Hours"
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are sweeping the nation fast. Not only are they doing it completely independent of a record label, but they are also doing it with a powerful message of honesty, love, tolerance, and party. Macklemore, as much as any other MC is able to put all parts of his personality on display, from deal-hunting hipster ("Thrift Shop") to social activist ("Same Love") to recovering addict ("Starting Over"). The most important thing in his eyes is honesty and that is one of the reasons this was the best rap album of the year. Unfortunately Ryan Lewis's production often gets snubbed a mention in reviews because of Macklemore's incredible lyricism, but not here. Without the perfect musical half to complete the duo, I wouldn't be writing this here. Lewis is able to translate Macklemore's thoughts perfectly into music and he even goes farther, saying something of his own in the beats. 

8. Dry The River - Shallow Bed

Dry The River-"History Book"
This is my dark horse album of the year. At first I let it slip by after a few listens as being a fairly good folk album with interesting heavier influences. but after I saw them live at Sasquatch, I kept coming back to their album, realizing more and more every time how I had completely missed something awesome the first time around. They combine baroque and folk influences with heavier rock ones to create something quite powerful and a seriously great listen. 

7. Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal

Of Monsters And Men-"Dirty Paws"
Arcade Fire, whether they know about it or not, has a long lost cousin in Of Monsters and Men. The Icelandic group pops out cheery anthems like it's nothing and looks adorable the whole time. The sweet male/female harmonies (I can never resist those) and sing along choruses have captivated audiences all around the world led by the ridiculously perfect summer jam "Little Talks." This album is made of singles and could use a tad more variety, but I'm perfectly content to wait for album #2 for that. 

6. Bahamas - Barchords

Bahamas-"Lost In The Light"
I would not expect the songs on this record to be stuck in my head for weeks at a time, but alas, Afie Jurvanen has found a way to make sure it happens. The Canadian guitarist has one of the smoothest voices I've ever heard and his music (perhaps influenced by his Scandinavian heritage) is sparse, simple, and delightful. Accompanied by two wonderful backup singers, Jurvanen tells tales of love while showing off quick guitar licks but carefully not overusing his obvious skills. He has one of the most exciting new sounds in music and I would be surprised if people didn't start catching on more. 

5. Purity Ring - Shrines

Purity Ring's music is dark, trippy, and frighteningly catchy. On Shrines, the Canadian duo creates the sonic landscape of a new, unexplored world. The synths simultaneously hover high above you and punch you in the gut. Megan James's sweet voice adds a sense of childlike wonder to the strange alien world the music occupies. Her voice leads you down the rabbit hole and never lets you out, hypnotizing you until you are lost in an odd state of fright and amazement. 


Rarely does a band's name speak as perfectly to the sounds of the music as Cold Specks does. The voice of Al Spx paired with her minimalist instrumentation feels cold, but in a crisp, wintry way. Her songs chill your bones but keep you cozy at the same time with how peaceful they sound. Her voice sounds worn and wise enough to be able to teach some lessons. Luckily the songwriting is easily strong enough to back up the gem that is her voice. 

3. Bowerbirds - The Clearing

Bowerbirds-"In The Yard"
This is the album that finally realized every ounce of potential Bowerbirds had been accumulating for the last few years. From the start, "Tuck The Darkness In" reveals that the duo let loose this time, not being afraid to let things build into beautiful climactic chaos. They hunkered down and wrote this album while building themselves a cabin in the woods so it makes sense that every track feels full, lush, and very naturally grown. 

2. The Lumineers - The Lumineers

The Lumineers were born from pain and you sure can hear that in Wesley Schultz's voice. This year the  Denver, Colorado group rose to the top of the twangy, hoe-down inspiring, folky heap. But unlike so many of the others (I'm looking at you Mumford) they don't try and have a party in every track. The range of this record, along with incredible songwriting, heart-wrenching lyrics, and some good old-rollicking fun help set this one apart from the pack. "Ho Hey" was the track that really pushed these guys forward, but "The Dead Sea" had the line that stuck with me the most: "You told me I was like the Dead Sea / You'll never sink when you are with me." Listening to this album, I'm really starting to believe him. 

1. Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit

Dirty, fast, mean, and hell of a lot fun is what rock 'n' roll should be, and that is exactly what this album is. While this isn't the San Diego group's debut album, they opted to give it their own name because they claimed to have found the sound they had been striving towards as a band. They got our expectations really high from that statement and they still blew me away. Without a weak track, this record has just the right amount of twang, and a whole lot of Matt Vasquez's gritty howl. Pop this one in your car stereo and you'll never want to stop driving. 

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