Monday, January 7, 2013

Top 10: Albums of 2012

People have tried to sum 2012 up musically in many ways. It's been described as a year of self-pity and of fiscal awareness, but it's entirely possible that 2012 did not have single theme. 2012 saw a further blurring of the line between independent and mainstream music, and once again saw a redefinition of what it takes to make a song popular (spoiler alert: Glee helps a lot). 2012 was the year Taylor Swift went pop, the year a young girl with the stage name Kitty Pryde made a career for herself the new-fashioned way, the year a Korean man (PSY) had a big American hit.

Once again, I've compiled a list of my favorite albums of 2012. I don't think this was the best year for music, but it certainly wasn't a bad one.

10. The Haunted Man by Bat For Lashes
Natasha Khan falls just the Kate Bush side of Florence and the Machine's Ceremonials in The Haunted Man, with a tiny dash of The Xx. While there are no big hits like "Daniel" contained within The Haunted Man, it's a pretty cool album that lives up to the quality of her previous works.

Key Tracks:
"All Your Gold"
"Winter Fields"

9. Roses by The Cranberries
Having reviewed Roses way back in March of last year, I'm incredibly impressed by how much the lyrics and melodies come back to me. It's a much better album even than I remembered. The songs toward the end of the album are a little weaker than those that start it, but it definitely stands up, and I feel as though Roses should have received more attention this year.

Key Tracks:
"Schizophrenic Playboys"

8. 151a by Kishi Bashi
I was going to rank this album lower, until I gave it another listen, and then I began to wonder if it should be higher. The musicality is ace, and the songs are still catchy. The vocals and instrumentals are everywhere, whilst still seeming meticulously placed. If you haven't listened to it already, I recommend.

Key Tracks:
"Bright Whites"
"Chester's Burst Over The Hamptons"
"I Am The Antichrist To You"

7. Moving Up Living Down by Eric Hutchinson
I reviewed Moving Up Living Down when it came out. It's a little different from Sounds Like This, but not necessarily in a bad way. There's a greater variety of styles, and a new kind of power to the production. The lead single "Watching You Watch Him" is strong and there are plenty of album tracks to back it up. 

Key Tracks:
"Best Days"
"Watching You Watch Him"
"Not There Yet"

6. The Sound of the Life of the Mind by Ben Folds Five
A somewhat morose album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind features more collaboration between Ben Folds and Nick Hornby. The album is beautiful, moving, and very occasionally uplifting. The lead single even featured a video that starred Fraggle Rock's Fraggles.

Key Tracks:
"Erase Me"
"Do It Anyway"
"Hold That Thought"

5. sketches by edu
Andrew Horowitz released his first solo work exclusively on cassette this year. The nine song work was pure beauty. Each track feels hand-crafted and adorable. sketches closes with the only song not written by Horowitz, a cover of "Rainbow Connection" that does the song as much justice as Kermit's original.

Key Tracks:
"miss melody"
"at the end"

4. Hawaii: Part II by ミラクルミュージカル
Hawaii: Part II was released about a month ago on bandcamp (my review). Something of a concept album, the tracks from Hawaii: Part II still stand well one by one. Joe Hawley's side-project is quite the masterpiece. 

Key Tracks:
"Isle Unto Thyself"
"Dream Sweet in Sea Major"

3. Some Nights by fun.
After listening to Aim and Ignite many times over the past few years, Some Nights came as something of a disappointment. The radio did not agree with me, making "Some Nights" one of the most overplayed songs of 2012. Don't get me wrong, it's still an amazing album, but I was a little underwhelmed. I think radio listeners should also understand that the rest of the album is as good as the two lead singles.

Key Tracks:
"Carry On"
"All Alone"
"Out On The Town"

2. Former Lives by Benjamin Gibbard
While I realize certain albums on my list are odd and off the beaten path, I'm surprised I haven't seen Former Lives on more 2012 best of lists. Ben Gibbard created a great album that certainly stuck with me. There's not a single song on the album that I would skip, and almost every one has a very special place on the album and in my life.

Key Tracks:
"Oh, Woe"
"A Hard One to Know"

1. Mia Pharaoh by Miniature Tigers
Falling only slightly short of the picture perfect Tell It To The Volcano, Mia Pharaoh took an adventurous leap into the 70s- but with synths. Lead single "Boomerang" was a great preview of the album's feel. Miniature Tigers manage to find the space between cute and sexy, between retro and modern, having a sound that no one can emulate, and that is exclusively theirs (their album of covers could have easily made it into my top ten, but technically it's an E.P.). I'm sure I listened to this album more than any other this year, and for good reason. The songs are well-sculpted, catchy, sensual, and strangely cute. If you haven't listened to Mia Pharaoh yet, get on it.

Key Tracks:
"Sex On The Regular"
"Afternoons With David Hockney"

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