Tk’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

20Dec12

One week ago today, I still had no idea what my #1 album of the year would be. There were just too many good releases to sort through. In fact, it wasn’t until a few days ago that I forced myself to finally, ultimately come to a decison based on the question: “Which of my top albums has the highest marks for quality, consistency, and personal impact?” The result is surprising, even to myself, but I could not deny the power of that particular album.

But don’t go reading ahead! Please, please show my 2 – 10 a little lovin’, as they can be temperamental and jealous (especially around this time of the year).

The albums below are like a taco truck is to a hip, concept-based restaurant. Both are great, but this year I fell for the no-BS approach… just give me some meat and bread. The fanciest we’ll get is a little salsa on top, but no need for frills or novelty or creativity for the sake of creativity. No need to reinvent the wheel if the wheel is the best way to get from A to B. No need to turn everything into a metaphor… oops, too late.

10. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory: This album will make you wish you were in high school. Or, it will at least make you wish that you wished that you were in high school. Attack on Memory is forceful and concise, blazing its way through 8 angsty anthems of Cleveland-based noise rock. Go ahead, climb into your beat-up Subaru wagon wearing your beat-up Converse All-Stars and chant along: “I thought I would be more than thiiiis.” LISTEN TO: Wasted Days

9. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan: Bitte Orca showed Dirty Projectors to be one of indie rock’s most creative and talented groups, but the whole thing felt cold and distant to me. We know that this band can be brilliantly esoteric but what really makes Swing Lo work for me is its warm, personal, and, at times, old-fashioned aesthetic. There are a few prog-rock moments that somehow blend but the real gems feature Longstreth and friends at their most stripped-down. LISTEN TO: Dance for You

8. The Men – Open Your Heart: The Men play sometimes-fast, always-loose punk rock. When I read that they are a guitar-based band reminiscent of an early, more aggressive Foo Fighters, I thought I would turn it off within a few minutes. I don’t usually like guitar-based music or the Foo Fighters. The album works on many different levels, though. It flows seamlessly from short, vocal-heavy cuts to atmospheric guitar interludes to upbeat instrumentals. It is raw and imperfect and helped renew my fractured relationship with rock and roll. LISTEN TO: Oscillation

7. Moonface – Hearbreaking Bravery: If you’re familiar with Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown, then you’re familiar with Spencer Krug’s tense, Bowie-esque musical storytelling. Take the peaks of Wolf Parade (which were mostly provided by Krug anyways!) and remove the meandering valleys and you have Moonface. Bravery has 10 heartbreaking tracks of artful rock with synths, pianos, and a memorable vibrato from one of the best in modern music. LISTEN TO: Yesterday’s Fire

6. Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls: It’s impossible to talk about Alabama Shakes and not start with Brittany Howard. Often compared to Janis Joplin, she commands your attention with a big, soulful voice that can croon, belt, even screech. The band came into the year with a lot of buzz and has been able to keep up the momentum thanks to this head-turning debut album and sold-out shows across the country. Let the Shakes take you for a trip through their universe of blues rock & soul: Hold On

5. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball: Part of what makes The Boss so iconic is that his music provides a voice for all Americans. He appeals to both the blue-collar and the white-collar employee, the rural and the urban resident, the red and the blue state. Wrecking Ball is a sountrack for the Great Recession with moments of both frustration and hope. It traverses country, rock, and gospel and leaves the listener feeling like we will make it through these difficult times because we have each other. Thank you, Bruce, for this simple and direct message that we all need to hear from time to time. LISTEN TO: Wrecking Ball

4. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar: The only things more American than Bruce Springsteen are the sun-drenched harmonies of First Aid Kit. That’s why it is so head-scratching that they somehow, inexplicably hail from Sweden. These sisters have studied all of the American folk greats and are a welcome addition to the over-saturated new folk scene. The harmonies are lovingly predicatable and the melodies will warm you like that yule log channel on Christmas Day. This album features a song of the year candidate in “Emmylou” and guest spots by Bright Eyes and The Felice Brothers, alongside an assortment of singable new classics. LISTEN TO: Emmylou

3. Beach House – Bloom: I hadn’t listened to Bloom until a few weeks ago. Beach House’s previous records struck me as boring and rather typical indie fare. After relentless recommendations, though, I decided to check it out. I turned on the first track, “Myth,” and thought it might just be an amazing blip in a mediocre career. Then the second track, then the third… every single track sounded like a self-assured band writing the best songs of their lives. French-born Victoria Legrand sings in a dreamy, almost smoky, fashion over the steady backing keys, guitars, organ, and drums. The result is career-defining (wet)dream pop that must be heard. LISTEN TO: Myth

2. Max Richter – Recomposed Vivaldi: The only thing ballsier than recomposing Vivaldi is eating a live chipmunk in Eugene. Or chewing gum in Singapore. Max Richter is a (ballsy) German composer and pianist who wanted to fall in love with Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” again. It can be difficult, though, to hear something that has been relegated to background music with fresh ears so he freshened it up by gutting some parts and adding new pieces, while phasing and looping other parts. That sounds like either a terrible idea or a genius one. It’s hard to express the thrill of hearing the familiar violin riff on “Spring 1” put on a loop with chilling chords underneath it, breathing dramatic new life into an old masterpiece. The whole album offers thrills of this sort, combining the fluttery Baroque bounce with beautiful Minimalist and Postmodern classical. LISTEN TO: Spring 1

1. Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America: As noted above, there is an incredible over-saturation of new folk groups in the music market. Bands like Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters & Men, and The Avett Brothers have hit the big-time and a legion of imitators or been-doing-it-forever’s are churning out the folk tunes like nobody’s business. That is why I almost missed this album. Is there room for yet another folk singer? The answer is yes.

Anais fuses childlike vocals (often sounding like Joanna Newsom’s sister) with mature lyrical insights uncovered through the narrative tales of various characters. Like the Boss, she taps into the Great Recession for musical inspiration and offers a hopeful (or at least pensive) refuge from the anxiety in the mundane tasks of her characters. She has a knack for melody and employs some savvy musicians to back her up with an eclectic array of horns, strings, and other noise-making things. She also has avoided being trapped in the 18-29 year old indie crowd of supporters… that is, my Dad’s book club friends may be more likely fans than an Echo Park hepcat. All in all, Anais has crafted stories worth telling and tells them in a way that merits repeated listens. LISTEN TO: Young Man in America

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