|10. Screaming Females – Ugly
Here’s an album that I found refreshing mainly on the basis of how unbelievably hard it rocked. I can’t recall the last time I heard a band take the same ‘ol classic rock riffage and wailing guitar solos and turn it into something that doesn’t sound completely stupid, let alone as unique as Screaming Females do on Ugly. Sure, this album’s a little longer than it needs to be and not every song is super memorable, but when everything clicks, man, it clicks in a blaze of grimy, ear-splitting, fist-pumping glory.
|9. Tame Impala – Lonerism
I usually don’t find myself partial to bands attempting to revive the psychedelic sounds of the ’60s, but it’s kind of hard to resist when Tame Impala so thoroughly brought their A-game to Lonerism. It’s got all the hazy pop-jams of their first album, but just blown up to epic proportions with a sound that kind of just hits you like a wave of nostalgia that somehow feels distinctly contemporary. Also, these songs are just damn catchy, and in particular “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” was a song that seemed to keep getting stuck in my head repeatedly, as I couldn’t see much point in resisting.
|8. The Walkmen – Heaven
I think by this point, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never meet anyone who’s nearly as big of a Walkmen fan as me, and that’s fine. I get it, they’re not the most exciting band to get into, and yet Heaven might be the most accessible album they’ve released so far. That’s not to say it’s their best, as it’d be pretty hard to top their last two albums. Still, with Heaven I found it oddly assuring to hear these guys in such a state of warmth and optimism, considering they seemed to be fighting against such sentiments with every fiber in their collective beings during those early years.
|7. El-P – Cancer For Cure
El-P’s Cancer For Cure wasn’t even close to being the year’s most acclaimed hip-hop album, and yet for some reason it was able to hook me into a genre that I usually tend to neglect. Maybe it was just the immediacy of El-P’s flow, as he sounds like a guy who’s channeling the fury of hip-hop’s early MC’s, but with a tongue-twisting lyrical intricacy that’s just as paranoid as it is pissed off. And then on top of that there’s the glitchy sci-fi infused production, which further cements El-P as one of undergound hip-hop’s foremost auteurs.
|6. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
I don’t usually make a lot of late editions to my music lists, but I guess the wintery sounds of Sharon Van Etten seemed so well suited for this time of year that I couldn’t resist. Also, I resisted checking out this album for much of the year because at first glance it just seemed so darn sad in comparison to a lot of the music that I usually latch on to. And yes, Tramp is a sad-sounding album, but it’s sad in all of the keenly observed, sweepingly beautiful, and delicately delivered ways that I would want this kind of music to sound.
|5. Beach House – Bloom
I’m still not one-hundred percent sure why Beach House is a band that appeals to me, but they sure do. I mean their sound is often based around guitars, but the kind of synth-y dynamics that are also a part of their sound seems more like something that you’d equate with the kind of synth-pop bedroom projects that I usually find to be pretty boring. But I guess Beach House aren’t a bedroom project, they’re more of a Cathedral project. And when you’ve got a band reaching for something so huge and expansive, and with such an endless array of beautiful melodies, I guess it can turn cynics into believers.
|4. The Men – Open Your Heart
For me, 2012 was a year in which indie rock saw a return to the kind of loud, fast, and emotional guitar-driven music that was so prevalent in the 80’s and ’90s, before emo had to come in and ruin the party. The Men’s Open Your Heart was a joyous revival of these influences, and yet it managed to impress me in the way that it seemed to so effortlessly jump between different genres without missing a beat. Some might call this kind of approach uneven, but for me, every little weird musical detour on Open Your Heart felt like a celebration of punk rock’s seemingly endless possibilities.
|3. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Shields might not have been as universally beloved as 2009’s Veckatimest, but for me it was a reaffirmation of these guys’ abilities to weave together these carefully constructed soundscapes that one can comfortably lose themselves in. And whereas Veckatimest sounded more like a band trying to hone their songcraft into as complete a package as possible, I like how on Shields they managed to losen up a bit and thus come up with something that sounds relatively spontaneous (at least for Grizzly Bear). But in the end it’s just an album that sounds really god damn lovely, and that’s about all I can say for certain.
|2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Ah finally, I get to talk about an artist that isn’t from the East Coast/Brooklyn. Though I enjoyed the debut album from these Vancouver dudes, I don’t think I ever entertained the idea that Japandroids would be capable of putting out something as utterly thrilling and endlessly listenable as Celebration Rock. On one of our podcasts earlier this year, I think I proclaimed Tim by The Replacements as the album that I wished all music sounded like. I’m a little hesitant to admit it, but I think Celebration Rock comes pretty darn close to capturing that same sound of a band giving it everything they’ve got, just in the name of rock and fuckin’ roll. So yeah, this is basically the kind of album that I’m hoping for with each coming year, and yet…
|1. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
Fiona Apple somehow managed to fulfill a musical need that I didn’t even know I had. A sparsely produced album full of uncomfortably intimate lyrics and weird makeshift percussion is not something that I thought would appeal to me, but now it’s hard for me to imagine getting through 2012 without The Idler Wheel. It’s just really refreshing to hear someone take their own personal demons and turn it in to something that’s not only confessional but oddly accessible, due to Apple’s knack for lyrics that are very specific and yet universal at the same time. “Every single night’s a fight in my brain”, “We can still support each other/All we gotta do’s avoid eachother”, “All that loving must’ve been lacking something if I got bored trying to figure you out”. All these lines somehow got stuck in my head over the course of this year, despite how heart-breakingly personal their sentiments are. But I guess sometimes a pop hook needs an equal amount of honesty to give it some weight, and this album felt like it weighed a ton.