December 17, 2012

Best of 2012: The Albums

Dear 2012: Thank you. For the first time in years, there were actually songs permeating throughout mainstream popular culture that I could not only stand, but thoroughly enjoyed: most notably, Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" (her version with The Roots is endlessly joyful). There were also much-welcome trends, like the return to the 1990s R&B sound, as updated and expanded upon by acts like Haim and Jessie Ware. For me, the year also featured a large swath of compelling and straightforward old-fashioned verse-chorus-verse-chorus punk and rock albums: power chords, sing-along choruses, and punchy amplified solos again proved to be one of the simplest and most affective structures in pop music. More generally, it was an incredible year for the album. Even with heavyweights like Jack White, Beach House, and Grizzly Bear releasing records that left this particular fan in a sleepy pool of his own drool, there was a multitude of exceptional records from newcomers and smaller acts alike that made whittling down this list a sincerely difficult feat. After nearly 12 months, these 35 records are the ones still endlessly spinning on the turntable: the most inventive and relentlessly enjoyable albums of the year based on my completely subjective assessment.

Album: The Tough Shits :: The Tough Shits
Label: Burger Records
Favorite Lyric: "Old people go on dying / And rich people keep on buying stupid shit."
Stream: "Cats & Dogs"
Why It's On Repeat: This record is filled to the brim with sharp expertly-honed hooks and laugh-out-loud self-deprecating wit and humor that's brash, dirty, and wholly welcoming. It's as if your best friends are having a party, passing around a few bottles, and telling old stories: there will be jokes at your expense, but you won't care because you're having more fun than you've had in ages. I can't ever remember having this good of a time listening to a record. Plus, how fantastic is the demented cartoonish cover art by Avi Spivak? This gatefold jacket is easily our favorite layout of the year.

Album: Lace Curtains :: The Garden Of Joy And The Well Of Loneliness
Label: Female Fantasy Records
Favorite lyric: "Fuck gravity, it's keeping me down."
MP3"Bedroom Honesty"
Why It's On Repeat: Every song on this record could've made our best songs of the year list. Easily. I don't always know where the fuck Michael Coomers is coming from lyrically (see: "took a picture of cum on your bed;" "daydreaming about fucking my friends"), but his words are some of the more inventive, intelligent, and challenging I've ever come across. Coomers broaches difficult subjects like sexuality and gender confusion with the occasional stream-of-conscious narrative and somehow turns it all into sing-along pop territory. His debut as Lace Curtains should go down as a classic.

Album: Father Johny Misty :: Fear Fun
Label: Sub Pop Records
Favorite lyric: "I ran down the road pants down to my knees, screaming: / 'Please come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me.'"
MP3"Nancy From Now On"
Why It's On Repeat: J. Tillman got into a van with "enough mushrooms to choke a horse" and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go: the result is an adventurous trip into the mind of a deeply intelligent, sarcastic, jaded, and funny-as-hell human being. The expert production by Jonathan Wilson lends Tillman's variegated journey a pitch-perfect rock 'n' roll soundtrack for him to weave his bizarre tales and always insightful musings on humanity, and more specifically, Southern California.

Album: Whites Wires :: WWIII
Label: Dirtnap Records
Favorite lyric: "If you don't come back, please write."
MP3: "Down On My Own"
Why It's On Repeat: Ottawa punk rockers The White Wires set out to craft the perfect pop record on their third outing, III, and that's just what they did. With 7 tracks squeezed into each side of this LP and only one that breaks the 3-minute-mark, the trio comes out racing with razor sharp hooks that sink in fast and deep with a Greatest Hits-quality consistency.

Album: The Walkmen :: Heaven
Label: Fat Possum
Favorite lyric: "After the thought / After all the bubblegum / There is no sweetness / Left on my tongue."
Stream: "Heartbreaker"
Why It's On Repeat: No band in recent memory has aged with quite the same class as The Walkmen. In fact, no contemporary rock band in the world is delivering albums of this consistently high and classic quality. When Hamilton Leithauser sings the chorus on the finger-plucked doo-wop dressed "We Can't Be Beat," he's simply stating a fact.

Album: Floating Action :: Fake Blood
Label: Harvest / Removador
Favorite lyric: "You take it all. Always."
MP3: "Not What I Came For"
Why It's On Repeat: Have you ever searched for an obscure recording that when finally unearthed feels like buried treasure? That's how Fake Blood plays: deep crackling grooves, layers of gritty reverberating guitars, and loose vocal takes sung in a hushed falsetto that feel a world away from modern life. It's a coastal road journey down to the empty morning-lit beaches and up through the cool mountain air.

Album: Eternal Summers :: Correct Behavior
Label: Kanine Records
Favorite lyric: "It's a piece of a plot / Of a story we are not."
MP3: "You Kill"
Why It's On Repeat: On their first record as a 3-piece, Roanoke's Eternal Summers beef up and polish their signature sound transforming into a tightly wound hit-making machine: "Millions," "You Kill," "I Love You" and "Wonder" are some of the very best songs of the year. Splintering-fast beats, manic strums of guitar, and Nicole Yun's barbed melodies keep this record in a perpetual state of awesome.

Album: King Tuff :: King Tuff
Label: Sub Pop
Favorite lyric: "All I ever wanted / Was everything / And now I'm being haunted / By those dreams."
MP3: "Bad Thing"
Why It's On Repeat: King Tuff seamlessly channels his outsider eccentricities and quirks into giant sweeping glam-dusted rock anthems on his second album. Following up cult favorite Was Dead, Tuff takes advantage of the extra studio dollars from Sub Pop to up the sonic ante, delivering a string of thumping, stadium-worthy, 1970s AM radio quality singles like "Bad Thing," "Anthem," and "Keep On Movin."

AlbumNatural Child :: Hard In Heaven
Label: Burger Records
Favorite lyric: "Drink it up. Fill my cup."
MP3: "Derek's Blues"
Why It's On Repeat: If The Rolling Stones were a bunch of goofy stoners raised in Nashville, they might sound something like Natural Child. This trio may not be as technically accomplished as their British brethren, but their fiery interplay, skilled use of dynamics, and wild scorching blues riffs are just a toke away from something truly great. In the age of the laptop, Natural Child are traditionalists: a guitar, bass, and drum combo that sing about good times.

Album: Michael Hurley - Back Home with Drifting Woods
Label: Mississippi Records
Favorite Lyric: "His thoughts and dreams are distilled in the tea."
Why It's On Repeat: Michael Hurley brings a warm personal touch to his all releases with hand-drawn album art and sparse home-recorded songs about drinking tea, watching a girl roller skate, and the day-to-day minutiae of the blues. When you play a Hurley record, it almost as if he's sitting in your house, nestled next to a fireplace, inviting you into his strange world.

Album: The Babies :: Our House On The Hill
Label: Woodsist
Favorite lyric: "I wanna get lost / Lost in the sound / Away from the crowd / Lost in you."
Stream: "Get Lost"

Album: Woods :: Bend Beyond
Label: Woodsist
Favorite Lyric: "Just to see, just to know / Just to bend beyond the light."
Stream: "Impossible Sky"

Album: Damien Jurado :: Maraqopa
Label: Secretly Canadian
Favorite Lyric: "I don't recall ever a time when you felt fine / Leaving the room saying you will come back and I believed you."
MP3: "Museum of Flight"

Album: Tanlines :: Mixed Emotions
Label: True Panther
Favorite Lyric: "Sing along when you need it."
MP3: "All of Me"

Album: The Memories :: The Memories
Label: Underwater Peoples
Favorite Lyric: "When you gave that drawing back, I knew it was over."
Stream: "Higher"

Album: Fletcher C. Johnson :: Salutations
Label: Burger Records
Favorite Lyric: "You can save it all for a rainy day / Cause when it rains, I'll be sleeping anyway."
Watch: "Happy Birthday"

Album: Matthew Dear :: Beams
Label: Ghostly International
Favorite Lyric: "Am I the chrome man? / Am I not of great design? / Do I feel love like all of the others? / Or is this feeling only mine?"
Watch: "Her Fantasy"

Album: Lands Peoples :: Pop Guilt
Label: Analog Edition
Favorite Lyric: "No, I will not go on talking about the sons or daughters we won't have"
MP3: "Ghosts"

Album: Sonny & The Sunsets :: Longtime Companion
Label: Polyvinyl
Favorite Lyric: "When I look into your eyes I see the void."
MP3: "I See The Void"

Album: Allah-Las :: Allah-Las
Label: Innovative Leisure
Favorite Lyric: "Spent two year of my life in a foreign land / Came home to my young wife as a different man."
MP3: "Don't You Forget It"

Album: Terry Malts :: Killing Time
Label: Slumberland
Favorite Lyric: "Up on the hill I held your hand / Both of us so drunk we could'nt stand / Making our way in the moonlight / Wondering what death would be like."
MP3: "Tumble Down"

Record: Jessica Pratt :: Jessica Pratt
Label: Birth Records
Favorite Lyric: "You call me lady when the chips are down."
MP3: "Night Faces"

Album: Hundred Visions :: Permanent Basement
Label: self-released
Favorite Lyric: "Surfing in a horrible wasteland / Wishing I'd have stayed in bed."
MP3: "Let's Go Young"

Record: Chromatics :: Kill For Love
Label: Italians Do It Better
Favorite Lyric: "In a white room / Where the grass would grow / And the music was slow / All the pleasure and pain / Washed away like the rain."
MP3: "Into The Black"

Album: Lower Dens :: Nootropics
Label: Ribbon Music
Favorite Lyric: "Do you believe / No one is waiting / Brains without names."
MP3: "Brains"

Album: Grass Widow :: Internal Logic
Label: HLR Records
Favorite Lyric: "It's not mine / I woke up in a different time / Never wanted a shrine to be made for me / Write an Algorithm for apathy / I know nothing belongs to me."
Watch: "Milo Minute"

Album: La Sera :: La Sera Sees The Light
Label: Hardly Art
Favorite Lyric: "When you sit beside me / I can see much further / Than my own dimension / I can't wait much longer / Will you please be my third eye tonight?"
MP3: "Break My Heart"

Album: Ty Segall :: Twins
Label: Drag City
Favorite Lyric: "There's a problem in my brain."
Stream: "Would You Be My Love"

Album: Thee Oh Sees :: Putrifiers II
Label: In The Red
Favorite Lyric: "Remember a day / When fat kids got high?"
MP3: "Lupine Dominus"
Watch: "Lupine Dominus"

Album: Sharon Van Etten :: Tramp
Label: Jagjaguwar
Favorite Lyric: "Trying hard to breathe / Head between my knees / Take my hand and squeeze / Say I'm alright."
MP3: "Serpents"

Album: Jessie Ware :: Devotion
Label: Island
Favorite Lyric: "It's the sweet words that pull me in."
Watch: "Sweet Talk"

Album: Chain and The Gang :: In Cool Blood
Label: K Records
Favorite Lyric: "I don't believe in free will / I just do what I feel."
Watch: "Certain Kinds of Trash"

Album: Bare Wires :: Idle Dreams
Label: Southpaw
Favorite Lyric: "We're lost in impossible things."
Watch: "School Days Are Over"

Album: Tame Impala :: Lonerism
Label: Modular
Favorite Lyric: "He feels like an elephant / Shaking his big grey trunk for the hell of it."
Watch: "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards"

Album: The Orwells :: Remember When
Label: Autumn Tone
Favorite Lyric: "We got this fear of aging / We're living in a daydream / I know when something's changing."
MP3: "Mallrats (La La La)"

Jessica Pratt - Jessica Pratt


  1. lots of great records here. kudos.

  2. I'm still really diggin' The Orwells. I hope they put more stuff out soon. Still so many albums I've missed this year, though!

  3. Lace curtains are a great band and the album The Garden Of Joy And The Well Of Loneliness is a classic masterpiece.

  4. I gotta say that ET was a nonstop source for great new music for me in 2012. So many discoveries here - my faves prob being Tough Shits and TV Torso. Thanks man, keep it up!

  5. Cheers to a great year in music. Thanks for the wonderful curating. A bit confused as to how you enjoyed the Carly Rae Jepson track...