To my ears, 2012 was a year of great new individual songs, but not so strong for new and original albums. I spent more time discovering and buying up terrific reissued/remastered albums (by the likes of Blur, Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., etc.) than new releases. That said, there were enough eclectic releases that enjoyed many rounds of play on my CD system/mp3 player to make up a Top 10 list. Here they are, in alphabetical order (because I am not a strong proponent of rankings).
Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
Natasha Khan’s Bat for Lashes is the lone female-fronted group in my list. She is a one-of-a-kind talent with The Cure/Siouxsie Sioux/Bjork/Kate Bush style recordings that are nothing short of enchanting, dark, and oftentimes dreamy. This third album of hers (following the excellent Fur and Gold and Two Suns) is no less so.
“Laura” is as stripped down as she is on the album cover, with its delicate approach of a single piano and light orchestral touches. As on previous releases, she also creates some danceable tunes like “A Wall” and “Rest Your Head,” and Kate Bush-esque ethereal audio magic (“Marilyn”). It all adds up to yet another treasure of an album for Khan.
Black Keys – El Camino
This album came out in December 2011 and took off last year with a few successful singles that were heard everywhere on FM radio and even on TV (during the 2012 “Final Four” basketball tournament). So I couldn’t ignore it even if I wanted to.
Indie purists may frown upon this one-time two-member band that has fully expanded into a full band. However, “Lonely Boy,” “Money Maker” and “Gold on the Ceiling” are irresistibly catchy, badass rockers. And the album is full of more like them, which is why it belongs on my list.
Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory
This Ohio rock group has been around for a few years and this is their second studio album. It may also be their masterpiece, even if it’s only eight tracks long. From brilliant posthardcore (“No Future, No Past”) to memorable postpunk (“Cut You” and the Strokes-ish “Stay Useless”) and …Trail of Dead rawness (“No Sentiment”), there is no real weak track on here. It’s a strong disc from start to finish.
Deftones – Koi No Yokan
I’ve already laid out all the praise I could think of for this, the best Deftones album in years, in my review from a while back, which you can read here.
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
This protege of Dr. Dre made his major label debut with this release, which is full of humor, cameos (from Mary J. Blige, Drake, Dr. Dre, etc.) and some seriously infectious beats and grooves.
Mumford & Sons – Babel
Don’t change what got you successful in the first place. That’s the motto of this aggressive folk rock band, which came out of nowhere to sell over five million records of their debut record Sigh No More and now continues where it left off on this new record. It is not only heavy on the guitar tuning spectrum but on emotion, with spirited vocals and banjo-led riffs (“I Will Wait”) that channel the lighter side of (friends) the Dropkick Murphys, and even The Pogues.
Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
Billy Corgan is one of the most divisive figures in alternative rock history, no doubt. But for once, the music does the talking here on Oceania, the best Pumpkins release since before the millennium.
Torche – Harmonicraft
Even if it’s not quite as universally awesome as past releases, no one does ultra heavy pop metal like these guys.
Wild Nothing – Nocturne
Jack Tatum can do no wrong when it comes to creating ’80s-ish dreampop, especially when created in part with influences such as The Smiths. The dark beauty in the likes of the title track, “The Blue Dress” and “Shadow” are just as strong as “Chinatown” and other gems Tatum has come up with in the last few years.
Neil Young – Psychedelic Pill
This iconic rocker had yet another successful year, with not one but TWO albums with Crazy Horse released – the covers album Americana and Psychedelic Pill, a highly lauded tour with the band, and the release of his Waging Heavy Peace book.
I proudly own all three releases (being the longtime fan I am), saw his awesome show in Boston, and can honestly say that Psychedelic Pill is his best album in ages. And while some artists try to stay away from nostalgia, Young fully embraces it in sound and lyric, especially on terrific tracks like “Twisted Road” and the “Hey Hey, My My…”-ish “Walk Like a Giant.” Even the longer jams like “Ramada Inn” are a joy to listen to.
At over 80 minutes, the album runs really long, but I never really noticed until after I finished listening to it. And that’s a sign of a great album.
The following is a list of albums I liked a little less than the ones above, either because there just weren’t enough standout tracks or because the album’s sound was a bit too monotonous for my liking. Still, these are contenders for albums that I will surely grow to love more as time goes on.
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Rush – Clockwork Angels
Testament – Dark Roots of Earth
The Sword – Apocryphon
(PLEASE NOTE: Last Updated 2/11/13)