CK’s “Not Top Tens” of 2012
Here we go. Four simple categories, 41 albums, one amazing song. This is how CK’s year-end analysis begins.
HONORABLE MENTION: Number 11 through 15 on my top ten list, in alphabetical order. These albums are given the same full review as the top ten (coming soon!). This year, you get a bonus 16th record!
WORTH NOTICING: A list of albums worth checking out, reviewed in tweets. I posted them on our occasionally-used Twitter in rapid succession, and now they’re here!
DISAPPOINTMENTS: There was a lot of great music this year. There was also a lot that should have been greater.
SONG OF THE YEAR: There isn’t always a song that represents the year in my mind, but I’m not afraid to name one if there is.
Calvin Harris – 18 Months
One of the better dance records of the year, “18 Months” includes some of Harris’ more ubiquitous jams, including “Feel So Close” and the Rihanna collaboration “We Found Love” (which was previously released on her record, “Talk That Talk”). This Scottish DJ puts a slightly gentler spin on his dance music than much of what’s hip these days, which is a refreshing change from the beat-dropping of most current dubstep and electronic artists (see “Bounce” for example). The result is a fun, enjoyable dance record that can work as either background music or party music (with the exception of a couple skip tracks).
MUST HEAR: “Feel So Close,” “Iron” (feat. Ellie Goulding), “We Found Love” (feat. Rihanna)
Matisyahu – Spark Seeker
I miss this guy, but that’s okay. This guy is still putting out some pretty good music. From the Hebrew intro to the Middle Eastern-sounding interludes and uplifting lyrics, Matis is letting us know on this record that he hasn’t let go of his spirituality (for example, on “Bal Shem Tov” he sings, “I’ve got nothing to fear cause the battle’s already been won. / This is the time of divine favor / Sublime love cuts like a razor”). This record seems more “corporate” than his others, but it is still 100% Matis. He’s fading further away from reggae, though, and some of the electronics make me wonder how this record will sound live.
MUST HEAR: “Live Like a Warrior,” “Sunshine”
Mumford & Sons – Babel
Did you like Mumford’s first album, “Sigh No More”? Then you will like this new one. I am confident. I know that because this is essentially the same album, just put into a box, shaken, and reassembled. I loved the first record, but this is a slight disappointment because listening to it is almost the exact same experience as listening to the previous record. If you still like banjos, passionate vocals, folky overtones and hopeful lyrics, this is another great record for you. I still like all of those things, so here we are!
MUST HEAR: “Lover of the Light,” “I Will Wait”
Muse – The 2nd Law
“The 2nd Law” is a record straddling the line between Muse’s straight-ahead rock past (“Absolution”) and the pseudo-concept of their previous album (“The Resistance”). As a result, you have a record that is very solid, but seems kind of halfway done. There is some experimentation happening here but most of those experiments fall flat, whether it’s having another band member take the lead vocal duties or an ill-conceived foray into dubstep. The one that does work, though, works well, as the disco-beat of “Panic Station” adds a fun dancy element to Muse’s intense Brit-rock.
MUST HEAR: “Survival,” “Madness,” “Panic Station”
SOL – Yours Truly
When a friend showed me this Seattle-based rapper’s Imogen Heap-sampling track “Paint,” I went nuts. Now, “Paint” is definitely the highlight of this record, but SOL has talent. From the grinding, building orchestral backdrop of “Stakes Still High” to the laid-back acoustic groove of “Need Your Love,” SOL traverses multiple genres. Oh, and let’s face it, you have to love an album that samples the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack (on “Falling Stars”).
MUST HEAR: “Paint,” “Stakes Still High”
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
I like thinking about seeing Sleigh Bells live. Now, I don’t know that I’d actually want to see them live because I would like to keep my sense of hearing, but their records just SCREAM for live shows. “Treats” was a solid debut, but “Reign of Terror” is more immediately accessible and pushes the fun to a new level. What Sleigh Bells are going for is the biggest, crunchiest guitar riffs and tracks you can lose yourself in. When the guitars kick in on album opener “True Shred Guitar,” you’ll find yourself gasping for air in all the right ways.
MUST HEAR: “Comeback Kid,” “Road to Hell”
WORTH NOTICING (big list this year)
Adam Lambert – Trespassing: Disappointing sophomore effort, but some fun tracks nonetheless.
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls: Loads of talent and some crazy pipes, but drags in too many places to be higher than this.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave: Not especially innovative, but a mesh of very creative influences. Reminds me of Yeasayer, Radiohead, The Antlers.
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre is Evil: Theatrical? Yes. Evil? Meh. Provocative and big.
Andrew Bird – Break it Yourself: Decent, but doesn’t break any new ground for Bird. He’s in danger of becoming monotonous.
Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind: I thought I would be more excited about this, but.. meh. “Suburbs” and “Silverman” > BF5
B.o.B – Strange Clouds: Some really fun stuff here, including SOTY candidate “Where Are You (B.o.B vs Bobby Ray)” & “Both of Us” w/T. Swift.
Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball: This was a top 10 record for much of the year. A solid return for THE BOSS.
Chairlift – Something: Another decent album mostly buoyed by a great Song of the Year candidate: In this case, the stompin’ “Met Before”.
Deadmau5 – > Album Title Goes Here <: My first experience with the ‘mau5, and it’s a good one. Plus, a song based on a Bradbury story!
Geographer – Myth: A little poppy, a little mathy, this is great “making breakfast” music in the vein of Phantogram.
G.O.O.D. Music (Kanye West, et al) – Cruel Summer: A solid “crew” album, but pales in comparison to Jay and ye’s “Throne” or 2010’s “MBDTF”.
The Hives – Lex Hives: An improvement over “The Black and White Album,” but doesn’t quite recapture the magic. Still great live, though.
The Helio Sequence – Negotiations: That’s a pretty singing voice you’ve got there. Where was that on the first couple of records?
Hospitality – s/t: To be honest, I don’t remember anything about this record, but I put it on this list so it must be okay. I trust myself.
Hot Chip – In Our Heads: A return to form for this synthpop crew. How much of that form can you take, though?
Jack White – Blunderbuss: Though he has 1,000,000 projects, this is the one he attaches his own name to. ROCK for ROCKERS. Get this and ROCK
Jessica 6 – See The Light: Former members of Hercules and Love Affair are still dancing to that 90s club groove.
The Killers – Battle Born: “Sam’s Town, Part 2: Just a little step down from the original.”
Maroon 5 – Overexposed: I’m as surprised as you are, especially since this is a step down from “Hands All Over”.
Motion City Soundtrack – Go: More pop-rock goodness from MCS… but do they need to change their sound at this point?
Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal: A great album, but I feel like this record comes out three or four times every year.
Passion Pit – Gossamer: I’m not used to Passion Pit sounding melancholy. More joy would equal a greater output in my opinion.
Patrick Watson – Adventures In Your Own Backyard: Go listen to “Into Giants” right now. Go ahead, the list will be here when you get back.
Reel Big Fish – Candy Coated Fury: Furious indeed. On par with all of RBF’s post-“Cheer Up” material. Exactly what you’d expect.
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Area 52: Some new material, some old material spruced up with a live band. Still the same fun Mexican guitar tunes.
Say Anything – Anarchy, My Dear: Their first record since “…is a real boy” to really recapture The Say Anything Attitude.
The Shins – Port of Morrow: The first “Mercer solo” record doesn’t disappoint… much. Pretty much sounds like The Shins.
Titus Andronicus – Local Business: Usually, I can’t do the whole “lo-fi garage punk” thing, but I love this record for some reason.
The xx – Coexist: Another “more of the same” record. If you liked their debut, you’ll like this one!
Yeasayer – Fragrant World: Of all the Yeasayery records this year, this one was the Yeasayerest.
Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
Metric – Synthetica
Sigur Ros – Valtari
The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
SONG OF THE YEAR
fun. – Some Nights
Wow. The driving drumbeats. The “gang vocals”. The guitar squealings. The way it jumps in at a high note and successfully rides the waves to highs and lows. Nate Ruess’ voice. The electronic blips and final touches. The uneasy resolve in the lyrics. Staccato reactions seem to be the best way for me to describe this song, because that’s all my brain can process after listening to it. Strong, weary, exhausting, and emotional – everything I want in a great, epic song is here. Truly, this is an anthem for the year that was.
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