Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Best Albums of 2012

I wasn't really thinking about it much, but this year can be characterized by a lack of new albums by bands I already listen to. Or maybe that's just my rationale for not listening to much. Anyway, this is all stuff I really liked.

Best of 2012

7. Burial - Kindred

It almost seems rude to call this dubstep, when it's so different from what people have been taught to expect through hearing that word in loud, obnoxious remixes in clubs and TV commercials. What Burial makes is more ethereal, mysterious, and simply interesting. It's not as easy to dance to, but the three songs on Kindred are some of his best work and the best that the genre has to offer.

6. Twin Shadow - Confess

I don't know if I should be embarrassed by my increasing affection for things from the 80s, which extends to things that only pretend they are. Either way, I really liked this album, which sounds like it could fit right into the new wave movement, thanks to its synth-heavy pop sound and sincere vocals. There are a couple songs on here that grabbed a hold of something inside me and just haven't let go.

5. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

I really had no concept of what Fiona Apple sounded like before I listened to this album, and it's still kind of hard to describe for someone of my limited means. There's a lot of piano, and not a lot of traditional rock instruments, but you might still describe it as a kind of alternative rock, with a lot of different sounds, from Fiona's raw-sounding vocals to feet scraping on the ground. I found it a lot more entertaining than you might think just listening to a random ten second snippet from anywhere on the album, and while I'd hesitate to recommend it to a lot of people, I still liked it a lot.

4. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

Another album of a type I previously haven't really listened to, and another that I enjoyed a lot. There's not much to justify though when the merits are so obvious - Frank has a beautiful voice, and he sings a lot of very catchy hooks over unique, effective beats. The various guests are used tastefully, without intruding on the sound he carefully develops over the course of the album. Some songs definitely rise above others as more repeatably listenable, but the whole thing is definitely worth experiencing.

3. Beach House - Bloom

There's not much that really separates this from Beach House's last album. You could pretty much shuffle the two track lists together and create a single, unified sounding work. I did find myself just a little bit more attached to this one, though. It's dream pop at its finest, with the husky vocals and etheral synths blending together to produce a mesmerizing effect. Solid from start to finish.

2. Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, m.A.A.d City

I don't have many examples to go to, but this is probably the best rap concept album I've ever heard. Over beats that aren't flashy but totally work for the tone of the lyrics, Kendrick raps about life in Compton, crime, alcohol abuse, peer pressure, religion, and many other topics, tying them together to paint a sometimes dark but ultimately hopeful picture. It almost has a perfect arc to it too, except for a final track featuring Dr. Dre that's plenty good on its own, but happens to seem out of place after the unconventional and suitably emotionally climactic two songs that come before it. Absolutely worth listening to.

1. Grizzly Bear - Shields

Shields does not have a song on it like "Two Weeks", the great single from Grizzly Bear's previous album that bled out into larger pop culture. I mean, "Yet Again" is really damn good, but it's not "Two Weeks". Still, I found Shields to be their best album yet from start to finish - they have always had moments of greatness in the past punctuated by dull spots, and those dull spots seem to be completely absent here. I could throw around words like "textural" without really know what I mean, but I'll just say it's the most well-formed and accomplished album from 2012 that I listened to.

Delayed Entry

This is the best album that wasn't released in 2012 but I didn't hear until then.

Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

It's incredible how many outstanding songs Stevens was able to put on one album. I just wish he included a few less not outstanding ones. The highs on Illinois are so high that it comes close to being one of the most perfect albums recorded. If it just had some fat trimmed out, especially near the end... but I digress. It's hard to get worked up about an album having too much music. So much of what's here works extremely well, I kind of have to wonder if that excess is actually required for the whole thing to exist. He's done other stuff that's more compact, but it's not as deeply enjoyable to listen to.

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