CK’s top ten albums of 2012

21Dec12

WOW. 2012, am I right?

This year was an especially difficult one for us top album listers because there were so many great albums released. It’s a good problem to have – every Tuesday, I’d look at the list of new album releases, and it was like those lists were saying, “Happy Birthday, Dude.”

Happy Birthday, Dude

On the flip side, that also means there were quite a few records that didn’t get the time of day. C’est la vie, I suppose – it goes to show you never can tell. Have a good time with the list, and share your thoughts! As always, all album links will open in Spotify. Enjoy…

10. Stars – The North
Just when you thought they were done (after 2010’s decent but mostly disappointing “The Five Ghosts” sounded like it might be a death knell) Stars have turned around and totally redeemed themselves. This Canadian collective’s seventh studio album puts them back on the right track they forged with their classic 2004 album, “Set Yourself on Fire”. Stars aren’t breaking any especially new ground here, but they do show that they’re the masters of the chill male/female indie pop collective game. There wasn’t another record this year as simultaneously exciting and soothing as this one.
MUST HEAR: “The Theory of Relativity,” “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It,” “The North”

9. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
After the success of 2009’s “Bitte Orca,” Dave Longstreth and co. have come back with a smaller, more intimate follow-up. I absolutely loved “Bitte Orca,” and this was my most anticipated record of 2012. For the most part, they didn’t disappoint. Songs like “Offspring Are Blank” and “See What She Seeing” bring to mind some of the finer points of that record, while others like “Dance For You” and “Just For Chevron” bring intriguing new elements to the Projectors’ signature, inimitable sound.

This record drops because of one bad skip track – “Maybe That Was It,” a song that sounds like a Pink Floyd b-side being covered by a band of 11-year-old Guitar Hero players who have never held real instruments in their lives. Other than that, though, a must-listen record in a strong year. If there were some Men in Black-style method for erasing this song from everyone’s memories, this would be a top-4 record for 2012.
MUST HEAR: “About To Die,” “Dance For You,” “Gun Has No Trigger”

8. Ke$ha – Warrior
I can’t remember another 2012 album that I wanted to dance to more than this one. I hope that this record is indicative of who Ke$ha is becoming – a version of Lady Gaga who is more focused on making mindless dance-pop and less worried about being “important” (nothing against Mama Monster; this record is just so much fun). True, there are moments of overwhelming stupidity (most notably the Iggy Pop-fueled dumb sex romp “Dirty Love”), but overall, this is a record poised to be the soundtrack to the greatest end-of-the-world party ever.
MUST HEAR: “Die Young,” “Out Alive,” “Only Wanna Dance With You”

7. Mika – The Origin of Love
On 2009’s “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” Mika sounded like the boy who sleepwalked through the songwriting process. While 2007’s “Life in Cartoon Motion” was campy, poppy fun, “TBWKTM” was a lazy retread with only a couple of highlights. With “The Origin of Love,” though, Mika has refreshed his career. He’s taken his top-of-the-line Freddie Mercury impression and layered it over a new electronic soundscape. This added dimension may turn off some previous fans, but it’s a welcome change in my mind. Mika needed to do something if he didn’t want to join an underground Queen cover band, and this may have done it for the time being.
MUST HEAR: “Make You Happy,” “Stardust,” “Overrated”

6. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
Every year, we have one record that stands out as the best campfire record of the year. Whether it’s Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago,” The Tallest Man On Earth’s “The Wild Hunt,” or Bob Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks,” there always seems to be one record to encourage hearty singalongs from everyone within earshot. Usually, those records take a little while to grow on me, but this year, “The Lumineers” hit me right in the heartstrings. The arrangements on these songs are simple and catchy – primarily performed on acoustic guitars and pianos, these are the kinds of songs that you feel like have existed since the beginning of everything, but somehow, you’re also hearing them for the first time.
MUST HEAR: “Ho Hey,” “Big Parade,” “Classy Girls”

5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
“Channel Orange” is the biggest record on this year’s list. This sprawling epic twists and turns through tracks ranging from 40 seconds to almost 10 minutes, but a few common threads persist through the whole album. Heartbreak and angst follow Ocean, but he deals with them by employing his amazingly smooth voice. Albums of this length can be exhausting, but this instant classic of modern R&B. The only question left to be answered is what Ocean will do for a follow-up.
MUST HEAR: “Pyramids,” “Pink Matter,” “Sierra Leone”

4. Regina Spektor – What We See From The Cheap Seats
I resisted Regina for a long, long time. While she’s put out several individual tracks I’ve liked (most notably “Eet,” “On The Radio,” and “Us”), her records have never held my attention the way they do for some. “What We See From The Cheap Seats,” though, bucks that trend in a big way. According to my iTunes stats, this has actually been the album I listened to 2nd most over the past year, which doesn’t surprise me. Once I turn this album on, it’s very, very difficult to turn it off.
MUST HEAR: “All The Rowboats,” “How,” “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”

3. Kishi Bashi – 151a
My biggest surprise of the year goes to this little record by K. Ishibashi, a violinist for Of Montreal and Regina Spektor. While Andrew Bird has stagnated in the violin/loop pedals/interesting arrangements game, Kishi Bashi is jumping in to fill that niche. “151a” is less a debut album and more of a soundtrack to an unwritten movie, including songs that sound like they need to be played during scenes where the main character is running through the rain (“Intro/ Pathos, Pathos”), experiencing a montage that shows him on a fun date (“Bright Whites”), or sleepily walking through a gloomy nightclub (“Wonder Woman, Wonder Me”).
MUST HEAR: “Bright Whites,” “Manchester,” “It All Began with a Burst”

2. Gotye – Making Mirrors
This record might be one of the all-time winners of the “Every Song Sounds Completely Different, but They Are Obviously All By The Same Band” category. “Somebody That I Used To Know” is a great song, but “Making Mirrors” also takes the listener on a whiplash-inducing tour of Gotye’s influences, including tracks that sound like they were co-written with Earth Wind and Fire, Jamie Lidell, U2, Paul Simon, or Yeasayer. In a way, it’s a shame that there was a big hit from this album; I think a lot of listeners will discard the record, never realizing how many standout tracks there are here. Gotye mastermind Wally de Backer fully centers this record in a combination of 1980s acoustic-pop and 2010s mainstream-indie-pop savoir-faire while somehow surpassing the sum of those parts.
MUST HEAR: “Somebody That I Used To Know” (but you’ve already heard that one), “Eyes Wide Open,” “I Feel Better”

1. fun. – Some Nights
2012 was an amazing year for music; perhaps the strongest since 2006. My Top Ten list ebbed and flowed and changed over and over as more and more great records were released. There was one constant, though. One record stood above them all since its release in February: “Some Nights,” the sophomore album by fun. While there were many, many excellent albums released throughout the year, “Some Nights” never wavered from its top spot on my list.

When I listed fun.’s debut record “Aim & Ignite” fifth in 2009, I wrote, “I can’t wait to see what comes next.” After a three-year wait, what came next was the best record of the 2010s so far. Featuring production from Jeff Bhasker (who is better known for working with Kanye West and had never worked with a rock band before), “Some Nights” has tapped into the potential you’d expect from a band formed from the wreckage of The Format, Anathallo, and Steel Train. As great as those bands and “Aim & Ignite” were, “Some Nights” blows them all away.

Despite a thread of melancholy that persists throughout the record, the one prevailing theme from “Some Nights” is, above all, a theme of hope. Nate Ruess strains to shout and hit every crazy note, but through tracks like “It Gets Better,” “Carry On,” and “We Are Young” (featuring Janelle Monae), that voice becomes a voice of calm and a voice of  anticipation. Anticipation for what comes next in life, for good or ill. Nate Ruess has solidified his place in the pantheon of great rock frontmen, and no matter what happens in 2013 and beyond, I’m glad we will have this record to make the world a whole lot more… well… fun.
MUST HEAR: “Some Nights” (my song of the year), “Carry On,” “Stars”

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