The Top 30 Albums of 2012

30. Toadies – PLAY.ROCK.MUSIC

Sure, No Deliverance was a fun reunion album, but it lacked the punch of the early material.  No more; PLAY.ROCK.MUSIC seamlessly blends the old with a new, raw sound that carries Toadies’ now-legendary Texas rock swagger into the new millennium the way we true fans have always imagined.

29. METZ – S/T

Quite probably the coolest post-hardcore troupe to fashion themselves hype in our ever-accelerating times, Metz is abrasive, loud, terse, and confrontational.  Their entire self-titled debut is a kick to the gut with distorted guitars, echoey vocals, and 100% headbanging.

28. Beach House – Bloom

The indie darlings return refreshed and sounding sharper than ever.  While the effort doesn’t have as many standout tracks as the the breakout album Teen Dream, Beach House have concocted a collection that, on its own, is stronger as a whole.  Recommended for repeated listens all the way through.

27. The Walkmen – Heaven

With 2012, The Walkmen have perfected the art of a band that can never come close to making a bad album.  While not everything out-of-the-box works on Heaven, we still see some sharp reminders of the strength of the group, not to mention a few return-to-form numbers that will leave lifelong fans such as myself very very happy.

26. Eternal Summers – Correct Behavior

The Commonwealth delivers this “dream punk” outfit right to our doorstep with this breakthrough album, a single serving of unabashed, yet undeniably catchy and charming, lo-fi rock and roll.  Minus “Summerset,” Correct Behavior clocks in for a very brief, fun listen – an easily digestible treat for 2012.

25. Two Gallants – The Bloom and the Blight

It’s about damn time.  Our favorite alt-country duo have finally followed-up their impressive output of the mid 2000’s with a strong statement that more than makes up for lost time.  From the crunch of the opener “Halcyon Days” to the last notes of closer “Sunday Souvenirs,” The Bloom and the Blight is a must-listen for the year and a quick reminder of why we loved these guys so much in the first place.

24. TNGHT – S/T EP

The biggest critical darling EP of the dance-loving publications this year is worth the hype.  Lunice and the always-impressive Hudson Mohawke go together like peanut butter and jelly.  With a track like “Higher Ground,” you can’t say no to not having this small sampling of brilliance scattered throughout your next party playlist.

23. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

If Killer Mike’s sixth studio album doesn’t cement his place as a modern elder statesmen for a younger generation of comparably bland hip-hop, perhaps it will help further demonstrate just how amazing El-P is at producing.  Either way, you get two of rap’s greatest minds collaborating on probably one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade.

22. Tourist – S/T EP

One of the overlooked treasures of 2012, this short instrumental EP takes just about everything relevant about electronic music and turns it on its head in a beautiful, cascading, and infectious fashion.  I don’t know much about this group, other than this EP is all at once alluring, addictive, danceable, and incredibly beautiful.

21. Grimes – Visions

So much has been written about this fantastic newcomer female electro-pop artist that I’m not going to cover any new ground here.  Just know that her show at Lambert’s this year was spectacular, and this album also was.  You’ve seen it on every other list, most of them ranking it even higher than I did.  Do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in it.

20. Diplo – Express Yourself EP

Speaking of amazing modern producers of our time, let us not forget the megastar that’s popular enough to swoon ladies in a Blackberry commercial and still produce amazing dance music.  His latest EP is a collection of his Major Lazer-based beats and other house-influenced candy.

19. Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind

One thing better than one of your all-time favorite bands reuniting?  That band getting back in the studio.  Granted, there’s a lot of pressure for veterans to pick up where they left off, but the Five do their legacy justice, only occasionally veering into Folds-solo territory and mainly focusing on the dirty bass-and-piano dirge they’re best known for.

18. Dent May – Do Things

He may have hung up his ukulele, but Dent May hasn’t quit his irreverent, semi-sarcastic, and musically sunny take on music.  They’re may be more synths than strings this time around, but the vibe is still the same – an album that was perfect for the summer of 2012, and any summer after.

17. Ceremony – Zoo

Very easily the loudest album on my list this year, the much-ballyhooed Ceremony has produced one of the finest post-hardcore albums of 2012, receiving ongoing praise throughout , as well as many celebrated live performances.  Take one listen to “Hysteria” and you’ll be compelled to throw a fit of just that very thing.

16. Twin Shadow – Confess

George Lewis, Jr. continues his ongoing trek of songwriting perfection.  While not as completely sharp as his previous effort, Twin Shadow’s Confess is still a memorable, and one of the best, indie rock records of the year, combining a Ringwald hop with some of the most romantic tunes you’ll hear for the next twelve months, maybe more.

15. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

Rather than stick to the tried-and-true formula, this relentless duo trade in the Jock-Jams-On-Speed mantra (for the most part) and replace it with cleaner guitar sounds, polished vocals, and brighter melodies filled with optimism.  It’s not perfect, nor as memorable as the debut, but Reign of Terror proves this unique pairing is much more than a flash in the pan.

14. Schoolboy Q – Habits and Contradictions

The Black Hippy Collective domination continues.  Taking the silver for the year is Schoolboy Q, a more in-your-face counterpart to the more successful and introspective Kendrick Lamar.  If the Collective’s star laments the consequences of one’s actions, Q encourages them, providing a fresh perspective on the hedonistic times we live in.  And there’s plenty of general hip-hop bravado to be found here as well, for those wishing to merely dip their toes into Schoolboy’s psyche.

13. Death Grips – The Money Store

You might call Death Grips’ 2012 a year of ultimate rising and falling in quick succession, but I seriously doubt the group sees it that way.  If anything, being signed and then cut from a major label almost overnight only adds to the brand of this impressively talented, extroverted, and seemingly lawless crew.  Take one listen to their best album of 2012 (they had another one that I’m sure you’ve at least heard about….because of its album cover) and you’ll understand just what I mean.

12. Passion Pit – Gossamer

Passion Pit’s second full-length is more of the same, really: catchy electro-pop tunes, that now-trademark falsetto, and a beat foundation that will keep your hips shaking.  There aren’t enough points of differentiation here that distinguishes this one from Manners, unless you count the fact that this time around, there’s more filler.  And the juxtaposition of upbeat tunes with bleak subject matter, of course.  Still, sticking with what works isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and this is without a doubt a shining spot in 2012.

11. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel

She’s finally back, warts and all.  Fiona’s return to the spotlight has brought with it the classic Apple we’ve all loved to watch: incredible live performances, dramatic onstage rants and press releases, and a new album full of music so unbearably beautiful we should be grateful to be alive in this moment in time, for we are the first of generations to hear it in its fresh glory.  Magnificent.

10. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream

If you’ve given up on popular music, you shouldn’t.  Case in point: Miguel.  This up-and-comer has one of the biggest radio hits of 2012, which is our generation’s “Sexual Healing.”  I’m of course talking about “Adorn,” but there’s so much more R&B brilliance on this no-filler of an album.  Listen all the way through many many times, preferably with someone you love.  You won’t regret it.

9. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

And we’ve come to probably the most acclaimed album of the year, and rightly so.  Ocean’s had a hell of a year, publicly and musically, and without putting too fine a point on the former, we can see how it resonates to the latter.  The mesh of styles and sounds on Channel Orange is all at once overwhelming, exhilarating  and unforgettable.  If you’re one of the few lost souls who hasn’t yet heard this, do yourself a favor.

8. Bob Mould – Silver Age

Ironically named, for it’s Mould’s first proper foray into the sounds of his youth.  It’s no surprise that this year Bob embarked on a tour playing Copper Blue from his old outfit Sugar in its entirety, then retired the album at Fun Fun Fun.  After doing so, he launched into “The Descent,” the primary cut from this album, and the result is mainly indistinguishable.  And that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.  Finally.

7. Purity Ring – Shrines

Their spattering of leaked tracks rocked my 2011, and all of those can be found here, alongside many more goodies that embody the influence of the Knife and the undeniable charm of simple pop music.  Sometimes creepy, sometimes beautiful, always a breath of fresh air.

6. Green Day – Uno!, Dos, Tre! Trilogy

Being a Green Day apologist and loyal fan until I die, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t play these three albums nonstop.  Or that I wasn’t upset with the Billie Joe meltdown and postponing of promotions and subsequent slumping of sales.  But maybe this outing was a bit much; these three could have been condensed into a pretty stellar single disc, in my opinion.  So, yeah, there, I said it, not the band’s best work.  I still loved it.  And I love what I love.  And like Green Day….I still don’t really care.

5. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

Hip-hop has become a force to be reckoned with, not just in sales, but in smarts.  I feel like it’s becoming more and more regular for a rap album to easily garner Album of the Year.  There’s just simply so much of it challenging the status quo, not just of its own genre, but popular music in general.  And Kendrick Lamar is the latest to up the ante.  If Section.80 was his introduction to ruling the world, let this one be his magnum opus.  And it’s going to take a lot to dethrone the king this time around.

4. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

What Japandroids are doing with rock and roll is just perfect for the times we live in.  While pop radio promotes partying away our economic collapse, hip-hop gets introspective, and rock music all but dies, this incredibly loud duo defibrillates the sound while combining the mantras of the other two.  A pinch of the too-epic nature of Titus Andronicus, the noise of the surprisingly-forgotten No Age, and the melodic chops of rockers before them like Superchunk, and it is indeed rock to celebrate.

3. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

If Japandroids perfected their sound, Cloud Nothings pretty much abandoned theirs.  Dylan Baldi’s bipolar nature led his project to nail a 180, turning their rep of lo-fi post-punk catchiness to angry, heavy, distorted madness.  Still, Baldi wasn’t able to shed his knack for writing great songs, as we hear on “Stay Useless,” “Fall In,” and the nine-minute self-loathing ode “Wasted Days.”  Baldi has proclaimed this is the direction the band is headed in, and if the aptly-titled Attack On Memory is any indication, it’s one worth keeping an ear on.

2. Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears

It only took seven years, but the king of the hillbillys, the heir to the honky-tonk throne, the new bastion of Bakersfield, Mr. Dwight Yoakam, has finally given us an album of new material, and the result was worth the wait.  The living legend blends his signature style of roots rock and Hollywood country with pop, modern rock, and Americana, and features production from none other than Beck.  It’s so nice to see one of my favorites return to the limelight, only to have roses thrown in his direction.  Yoakam’s old sound not only ages well, his new material promises to stand the test of time alongside it.

1. Deftones – Koi No Yokan

It’s probably unprecedented, but for two out of the last three years, my favorite album belongs to the Deftones.  And while Koi No Yokan doesn’t pack the punch Diamond Eyes did back in 2010, they still easily trump the output of every other.  Encompassing more grit, more atmosphere, more soundscape, more experimentation, and even more accessibility in places, this time around isn’t as consistent by any measure, but it’s certainly more interesting.  And it continues this band’s post-traumatic trend of composing some of the best material they’ve ever come up with in their near-twenty-year career.

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