14
Dec
2012
Top Ten Albums of 2012
Darren's Top Ten Albums
Darren
Ah, 2012 came and went. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in a Starbucks in Lebanon writing my Top 10 albums of 2011, well before I had written any album reviews or douchey takes on the Top of the Pops Chart, and before I had accepted a neat promotion to become the Music Editor here at Review to Be Named. Now we have a whole new year in music, which had many ups and downs. While 2010 was a year of old favorites making great releases and 2011 was a year of great debuts, 2012"¦was a year of letdowns by usual favorites of mine and surprisingly good albums by bands I usually overlook.

Honorable Mentions:

-The Antlers - Undersea EP - This relatively short, four song EP is a great showcase of what the Antlers do best- spaced-out sounding ambient rock tracks. It's a great follow up to their 2011 release Burst Apart, a must-have for fans of the band, and hopefully a taste of their next full-length.

-Crystal Castles - (III) - Despite being labeled as a hipster staple, this was my first exposure to Crystal Castles, and I was surprised how dance influenced the album was. Most tracks make heavy use of drum loops and high-pitched synthesizer melodies to give them a "rave-ish" sound while singer Alice Glass belts out incomprehensible lyrics (that are apparently about oppression). I recommend tracks "Plague" and "Sad Eyes."


10 . Passion Pit - Gossamer

Genre: Super happy sounding electronic/indie



Passion Pit came out with debut Manners in 2009, which defined their synth and falsetto-heavy brand of indie pop. Three years later we have Gossamer, which largely continues this successful formula, albeit slightly toned down. Gossamer is still 12 high-energy tracks of singer Michael Angelakos belting out his chipper-sounding vocals with sinister undertones about his depression, opening with the single "Take A Walk" about an immigrant losing all of his money. Following tracks "I'll Be Alright" and "Carried Away" have some of the highest energy on the album (the latter being my favorite), and include lyrical gems like "I'm so self-loathing that it's hard for me to see reality from what I dream." Some songs like "Constant Conversations" and "On My Way" are more chilled out, and the second half of the album is a little more subdued and a lot more forgettable than the first. While the album lacks really strong prominent tracks like "Little Secrets" from Manners, it still is a great follow-up. Also I reviewed it here.

Standout tracks: "Take A Walk," "I'll Be Alright," "Carried Away," "Mirrored Sea"

9. The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten

Genre: Punk but about things like classic cars and not angry at governments



Ah, the Gaslight Anthem, a band that seems incapable of making a bad album. After three previous releases, Handwritten is a continuation of the band trying new sounds while never doing a u-turn on their tried & true punk, folk, and blues influences. It's not as raw as Sink or Swim, as reverb-y and indie as The 59 Sound, or as Springsteen-sounding as American Slang. Opening tracks "45" and "Handwritten" are both straightforward and really solid tracks, and some of the more American Slang sounding tracks like "Mullholland Drive" and "Howl" work amazingly on the album. Some songs like "Keepsake" and "Too Much Blood" try a bit more of a bluesy influence, which works too. However, songs like "Mae" are a little too intense for the album, and closer "The National Anthem" is my least favorite of their slower songs. Singer Brian Fallon's lyrics are still as American as apple pie, albeit with fewer 50s shout outs to greasers and whoever Maria is. For fans of the band this is a must-have, and while it's no '59 Sound, it does show The Gaslight Anthem can evolve without changing who they are. Also I wrote more about it here.

Standout tracks: "45," "Handwritten," "Mulholland Drive," "Howl"

8. Miike Snow - Happy to You

Genre: Indie pop that dabbles in electronic and piano rock



For a band that I have never heard of last year, these guys sure have exploded onto the indie scene. I got into them from last.fm noticing that I've been listening to more and more electronic-influenced music, and last.fm was all "BRO YA GOTTA CHECK OUT MIIKE SNOW." While I never listened to their 2009 self-titled debut, I did immediately like this year's sophomore release Happy to You. The tracks all stand out from each other very well, which wins major points in my book, and nothing really feels formulaic. Some songs like "Pretender" and "Paddling Out" have very strong 90s dance music sounds to them, while others such as "Archipelago" almost sound like they could have been penned by Ben Folds in parts. Other tracks are more "experimental," such as "Vase" and "Bavarian #1 (Say You Will)," which really utilize the fact that the band's music is mostly synthesizer-based. The album's main shortcomings are its oftentimes nonsensical lyrics (such as "you don't need to lose your shirt to do the devil's work" as a chorus) and singer Andrew Wyatt's tendency to sometimes overdo the odd vocal effects - namely making his voice drop pitch. Vocals aside, I'll definitely be getting Miike Snow's debut after this and am disappointed that I missed them in concert this year. Also the video I included is really fucking weird.

Standout tracks: "Bavarian #1 (Say You Will)," "Pretender," "Archipelago," "Paddling Out"

7. Jack White - Blunderbuss

Genre: Indie rock with the occasional dash of folk, country, and classic rock influences (among others).



Following the split of The White Stripes last year, I started to wonder what Jack White's next project would be (sadly, I did not wonder the same thing about Meg). I loved his side project The Raconteurs and was hoping to see more of them, but instead we got a solo album that actually is as good if not better than what I was hoping for. Blunderbuss is an odd mix of older White Stripes-style garage rock ("Sixteen Saltines"), newer White Stripes experimentation ("Missing Pieces") and Raconteurs folky jams ("Blunderbuss," "Weep Themselves To Sleep"). Then you have tracks that don't really sound like anything Jack White has done before, such as "I'm Shakin'" with its backup singers and the Rolling Stones-sounding "Trash Tongue Talker." In other words, this album is very eclectic and it would be difficult to sum up its "sound." Last track "Take Me With You When You Go" alone sounds like its two halves could have been written by two different bands. This is a very impressive solo album for Jack White, and it shows that he can do a variety of styles really well without Meg White, Alison Mosshart, or the guys from the Raconteurs (even though I love all of these associated bands/side-projects).

Standout tracks: "Sixteen Saltines," "Weep Themselves to Sleep," "I'm Shakin'"

6. The Tallest Man On Earth - There's No Leaving Now

Genre: Folky singer-songwriter



Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Mattson generally has two parts to his successful music formula - an amazing talent for the acoustic guitar and a distinctive voice reminiscent of early Bob Dylan. When I saw The Tallest Man On Earth in concert this past summer it was just that - Mattson with his guitar - and it was amazing. While he could have continued this formula uninterrupted on his third album, Mattson instead decided to throw in a few more instruments on some tracks on There's No Leaving Now, which really works well and distinguishes the album from his first two releases. Opening tracks "To Just Grow Away" and "Revelation Blues" feature a heavily-muted electric guitar, "1904" has sparse electric guitar notes, and "Bright Lanterns" has a pedal steel guitar to give it a country sound. The new thing that I feel didn't work was the guitarless title track, which is just Mattson and a piano. Even without these new features he can still make a great song by just strumming an acoustic guitar, as shown by "Wind and Walls" and "Little Brother." Essentially, Mattson shows that he is a one-man band that can do old tricks without making them seem repetitive and can hold his own throwing new elements into the mixture without spoiling anything listeners love him for.

Standout tracks: "Revelation Blues," "1904," "Wind And Walls," "Little Brother"

5. Mystery Jets - Radlands

Genre: British indie rock with strong American influences



As someone who listens to quite a bit of British indie rock, I'll be the first to say that a lot of it can sound similar. The Libertines, Razorlight, The Pigeon Detectives, and The Kooks all have somewhat similar styles you come to expect from this genre, so when I received recommendations for Mystery Jets, I expected them to fit right into this sound. Not having listened to them before, I got this year's album Radlands and really was surprised by what I heard. The opening title track opens with a very Radiohead-sounding guitar part before moving into a chorus that couldn't sound any less like Radiohead. Some songs have a very noticeable country sound, such as "The Ballad of Emmerson Lonestar," "Luminescence," and the female-fronted "Take Me Where The Roses Grow." The album's more straightforward rock tracks such as "You Had Me At Hello," "Someone Purer," and "Sister Everett" all sound more American than British, with only the falsetto-heavy (and super catchy) "The Hale Bop" really sounding the opposite. Lyrically, a number of the songs reference Christianity ("Someone Purer," "The Hale Bop" and "Sister Everett"), yet my favorite lyrics on the album come on "Greatest Hits," which is about a couple divvying up their record collection and is full of indie, alternative, and classic rock namedrops. While there are a few less-memorable songs on the album, each track distinguishes itself from the others and the album as a whole is worthy of multiple listens. For fans of British indie rock, I recommend it mostly because it is anything but your standard sound.

Standout tracks: "Someone Purer," "The Hale Bop," "Sister Everett"

4. Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Genre: High-energy indie rock with a bit of a punk sound



Once a year I need a fix of loud and high-energy indie rock, and when Titus Androncius's third album Local Business underwhelmed me in October, I began to look elsewhere for this sound. I saw all of the hype around Celebration Rock, and downloaded it on a whim. This turned out to be a great impulse decision, as I got hooked on the album immediately. Essentially, the energy stays up for all 8 tracks on Celebration Rock and every lyric is more or less shouted by singer Brian King while drummer David Prowse lays down intense drum beats. There's a strong punk influence too, and it's not just because of the background shouts of "wo-oh-ohs" on many tracks. When the album opens up with "The Nights of Wine and Roses," and both members shout "WE YELL LIKE HELL TO THE HEAVENS!" in the chorus, you know what you're in for (I feel doing all-caps lyric quotes is only appropriate). Lyrically, the album goes between standard lines about drinking, love, and badassery, and more introspective lines about aging
("Younger Us") and lines like "YOU'RE NOT MINE TO DIE FOR ANYMORE, SO I MUST LIVE!" off of "The House That Heaven Built." Essentially, if you need 35.2 minutes of pure awesome rock energy, this should be your go-to for 2012.

Standout tracks: "The Nights of Wine and Roses," "Evil's Sway," "Younger Us," "The House That Heaven Built"

3. The Vaccines - Come of Age

Genre: British indie rock/garage rock



As I said in my full review of this album, it was just one year ago that I was putting the Vaccines' debut What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? on my 2011 Top Ten. While one might expect their rush into a sophomore album to be exactly the same sound as the debut and generally mediocre, Come of Age is neither. Instead of typical garage rock riffs and singer Justin Young's reverb-heavy vocals, you have a more stripped-down album with a much more "retro" sound. From the guitar melodies to the style influences, only a few tracks sound like they would have been at home on the Vaccines' debut ("Change of Heart Pt. 2" comes to mind here), and most could have been by an entirely different band. This doesn't mean that they're any less catchy, as I find "I Always Knew," "Teenage Icon," and "Ghost Town" as great, accessible tracks with pretty talented guitarwork too. They even try some more "out there" styles, like the psychedelic-influenced "Aftershave Ocean" and "I Wish I Was A Girl." Lyrically, a lot of tracks are great with their lines of self-deprecation, from the "I could bore you with the truth about an uneventful youth or you could get that rap from someone else" on opener "No Hope" to "reserved and shy, your average guy, no pissing stare - just out of shape with messy hair" on "Teenage Icon." Sure there are some missteps, as I think the debut did its slower songs much better, but at this rate the Vaccines could come out with a new album every year and I wouldn't complain.

Standout tracks: "No Hope," "I Always Knew," "Teenage Icon," "Ghost Town"

2. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

Genre: R&B (No, really)



Yes, I'm as surprised as you are that indie fan Darren put an R&B album on his top ten list, let alone in the #2 spot. But one of my more indie-oriented friends raved about how I had to get this album for a while, and said that it didn't matter that I wasn't terribly into R&B. Well holy crap was he right, because this album really blew me away on the first few listens. Despite being 17 tracks, it flows together amazingly well and the interlude tracks don't feel redundant at all. Lyrically, the album has some common themes - tracks about unrequited love such as "Thinkin Bout You," (which is both sarcastic and sincere) and "Bad Religion" really show off Ocean's vocal ability. Tracks like the soul-influenced "Sweet Life" and the tongue-in-cheek "Super Rich Kids" (which features rapper Earl Sweatshirt) both mock apparently blissfully unaware wealthy, while "Crack Rock" shows an unromanticized look at a drug addiction and social divides. Then you have "Pyramids," the 10 minute long centerpiece of the album that starts out with a very dancey, clubby sound but significantly mellows out halfway through (I prefer the first half but the whole thing is great). Somewhat similarly, towards the end of the album you have "Pink Matter," which starts out with a mopey beat and occasional kung-fu chants but then Andre 3000 from OutKast comes in halfway through and totally steals the show. Even most of the tracks that I haven't mentioned are worth a listen (though I could never get into "Pilot Jones" and "Forrest Gump"), and the album as a whole is an amazing collage of great beats, usually incredible lyrics, and Ocean's vocal talent. So if you too were a skeptic about R&B, disregard all that and get this album.

Standout tracks: "Thinkin Bout You," "Super Rich Kids," "Pyramids," "Pink Matter"

1. Hot Chip - In Our Heads

Genre: Electronic/indie finely crafted by nerdy looking dudes.



As I've been listening to more and more electronic music (or at least electronic-influenced indie) in the past couple years, I've been trying to find more and more albums that really set the bar for what I like in the genre. Since LCD Soundsystem retired last year and Cut Copy didn't come out with anything this year, my fix for "indie songs that use a shit-ton of synthesizer" turned to Hot Chip, a band that I had heard of for years but never checked out before. Although the few songs from prior years that I had heard in passing never really caught my attention, I got their fifth album In Our Heads and was taken in my first listen. Right from the opening track "Motion Sickness," Hot Chip shows that they are masters at layering their drum loops and synthesizer melodies into musical collages, and "How Do You Do" hammers this point in further. They can handle a good synthesizer breakdown well, as shown in "Don't Deny Your Heart." Some tracks are more electronic and dance music oriented than indie, such as "These Chains" "Flutes," and the very New Order-sounding "Ends of The Earth," whereas others are more slow jams like "Look At Where We Are" and "Let Me Be Him." Lyrically, most of the songs are love songs with your general love-song lyrics, although they do throw in a few ridiculous lines now and then- for example, my favorite track "Night & Day" goes between being dirty and making no sense whatsoever. Basically, if you at all like electronic music or indie music with electronic influences, I definitely recommend this album, and even if you don't, this album is a great introduction to the genre.

Standout tracks: "Motion Sickness," "How Do You Do," "These Chains," "Night & Day," "Flutes"



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