Photos by G.
So my list of top albums of 2012 will be divided into 3 sections. First will be my top 5 albums of 2012. Next will be 3 albums I like but I don’t love and finally will be the three biggest disappointments of the year.
My favorite 5.
1. “Lonerism” by Tame Impala. Lana Del Rey’s album had been on heavy rotation with me for the first 9 months of the year and in October, when Tame Impala’s 2nd album “Lonerism” was released, I listened to it obsessively and still can’t get enough! As a whole, the album is a musical journey and experience of epic psychedelic proportions. Groovy guitars, rockin’ beats and lead singer Kevin Parker’s voice, which to me sounds like a perfect amalgam of John Lennon and George Harrison. I love this album so much I am already dying in anticipation for their next album (which as of press time isn’t coming out any time soon). My favorite track on the album is a song called “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” which seriously makes me feel like I am floating when I hear it. And if you can track down the non-album bonus track “Led Zeppelin,” it’s a must hear!
2. “Born to Die” by Lana Del Rey. There are two camps: Lana lovers and Lana haters. It’s rare to see such a strong reaction to a singer, when there are artists out there that are obvious targets being completely devoid of talent. Lana Del Rey is gorgeous and has a unique voice that sounds like a tragic torch song singer. Her lyrics are all about being a bad girl and her adventures with bad boys. The music definitely is a throwback to another time and the album is packed with great songs. The heavenly and noir “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” went viral and put Lana on the map. The album came out in January and in November, she released a special “Paradise Edition” with 8 additional tracks and the songs are just as epic as the regular album tracks.
3. “A Thing Called Divine Fits” by Divine Fits. Divine Fits is a super-group comprised of Britt Daniel from Spoon, Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade (both on guitar and vocals), Sam Brown from New Bomb Turks (on drums) and Alex Fischel (on keyboards). This combination makes for a solid and quite funky garage rock album. I especially love the songs “For Your Heart” (with a great vocal delivery on the chorus “You better tell me why you keep me searching in the dark for your heart.”) and “My Love is Real” (which features another great line – “My love is real until it stops”).
4. “Beacon” by Two Door Cinema Club. I love Two Door Cinema Club. Their debut album made my best albums list when it was released in 2010 and I’m so happy to report that I enjoy their 2nd album so much. TDCC has a winning formula – short, sweet and to the point dance/rock songs that are all upbeat and instantly catchy. It’s hard to pick a favorite song since I like the entire record and I am so glad that there’s no sophomore jinx with Two Door Cinema Club.
5. “Django Django” by Django Django. The debut album from the British (via Scotland) quartet is hard to define sonically. It has elements of pop, rock, dance, shoegaze, grunge, garage rock, 90s alternative, chillwave and is another album that is very cohesive when you listen to it from start to finish. Lead singer Vincent Neff’s voice sometimes sounds like David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and sometimes Django’s music sounds like Syd Barrett era Floyd, without sounding derivative. So many of the songs including “Firewater,” “Love’s Dart,” “Life’s A Beach” and “Default” are so good that you will listen to them on repeat.
EP that I love:
5a. “Wake All My Youth” by Young Empires. When I discovered the music of Canadian dance/funk/punk band Young Empires, I fell in love at first listen. Every one of their songs is danceable and catchy and I had their 7 track EP on repeat for months on end. Since the EP was released, the trio has become a quartet (adding a drummer) and if you think the songs are good on record, wait until you hear them performed live. They are transformed into an even bigger and more rocking dance party and I am praying that 2013 sees a full length release from Young Empires.
Albums I like but don’t love.
6. “Elysium” by Pet Shop Boys. You know how I love my boys! Their 2009 album “Yes” ranks amongst my favorite PSB albums and 25 years into their career, that is extra awesome. They decided to work with Kayne West’s producer (lord knows why) and record the album in LA, so you’d kind of expect upbeat and punchy songs that you could listen to as you drive down Pacific Coast Highway. Instead, the tracks are mostly slow and subdued. The first song “Leaving” is a perfect upbeat PSB track and the final song “Requiem in Denim and Leopard Skin” is an epic closing track (that sounds incredibly similar to “DJ Culture Mix” that was released in the early 90s). The B-sides from the album are quite good and they are a lot more upbeat than the album tracks and in fact a lot of the album tracks sound like they should be b-sides. It’s refreshing that Pet Shop Boys are still capable of making good music because many of their contemporaries have long since lost it.
7. “Banks” by Paul Banks. The lead singer of Interpol has made another solo record (and an EP). Rather than use his alter-ego Julian Plenti, Banks uses his real name for a collection of good but not great songs. He also released the EP “Julian Plenti Lives…” (as pictured above) in 2012. This is not to say there are not great songs on the album. The lead off song “The Base” is excellent (and my favorite track on the record). At the 2:37 mark when Paul sings “So steep,” is probably my favorite moment on the record. There are a lot of Interpol-worthy tracks such as “Young Again” and “I’ll Sue You,” but a some instrumentals and a couple sample heavy tracks leave me thinking this is more like album filler.
8. “Co-Exist” by The XX. This is an album that I really enjoy when I listen to it from start to finish. It’s super mellow and is a really good early morning or late night album. The problem I find is that I often like to make a playlist where I put all of my current favorite albums in and hit shuffle and when I hear many of these songs individually, often they are not the right vibe I am looking for. In a way, it’s a casualty of the 2-second attention span generation to me. Now, what I’d love to see for both of The XX’ albums are remix albums with thumping beats. That would probably propel them into becoming one of my favorite groups.
9. “The 2nd Law” by Muse. The songs on this album that are good, are not just good, they are some of the best songs EVER. Opening up with the epic track “Supremacy,” the song is almost like an alt-rock version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen because it has elements of so many kinds of music in it. In terms of epic-ness, the song sounds like a James Bond theme and I freely admit, the first time I listened to it, my mouth dropped open – which is a feat that doesn’t occur very often. The lyrics are a continuation of “Uprising” which would become the world’s national anthem if it were up to me. The album also features really great and catchy rock songs like “Panic Station,” “Survival,” (whose first chorus is one of the best rock and roll moments of 2012) “Madness” and “Follow Me.” A dub-step instrumental and a handful of weak tracks towards the end of the record as compared to the genius of the way the album opens are the Achilles heel of the record stopping it from it achieving world dominance.
10. “Magic Hour” by Scissor Sisters. When I first heard this album, I had many “WTF?” moments, but the record grew on me over time. It appeared that in desperation to have a worldwide hit record, the very unique band worked with a bunch of “it” producers. I sort of understand this logic as they are huge in other parts of the world and their native United States just doesn’t seem to get it. I truly think it’s tragic as I’ve had so much fun over the years seeing them perform and their albums are filled with catchy dance music that is a lot more fun than your typical mainstream fare and perhaps that is why they’ve been one of America’s best kept secrets. If the US seemed to miss it from albums 1-3, the cat was let out of the bag with the summer anthem “Let’s Have A Kiki” which is an expression that has deservedly worked its way into the pop culture vernacular.
Albums that really disappointed me.
11. “Push and Shove” by No Doubt. I’m from Orange County, California where No Doubt are from, so not only have I been a fan of theirs for longer than you have, but I’ve been waiting more impatiently than you for a new record. I think the band started to really lose creativity after their breakthrough album “Tragic Kingdom” was released. They started to sound less like themselves and became “No Doubt lite” in attempt to sell more records. Not to say they didn’t have some good songs, but overall both post-Tragic Kingdom albums were stinkers. Lead singer Gwen Stefani’s solo albums are both terrible and completely soul-less despite working with every “it producer” under the sun. Setting my standards really low for the new album, it surpassed my expectations and was even worse than I could have imagined! Squeaky clean No Doubt ballads? Obviously the band all has kids now and they’ve made it known that they would record only in between feeding times and family obligations. The bad thing is, I thought they’d be able to conceal it better, but it clearly shows in the extremely dull tracks they have convinced themselves into saying in public are their best material.
12. “MDNA” by Madonna. Another dull record. Madonna tries to act like someone 20 years younger both on stage and on record – on stage by still showing the world her tits and on record by working with the flavor of the month producers. STOP DOING THAT! Just make a Madonna record! Give us a dance groove that is irresistible and makes us want to forget our cares and throw our hands in the air. That’s why the world fell in love with Madonna and that’s what people really want to hear. Inserting raps by Nicki Minaj (with her touting how great Madonna is) is fucking embarrassing and not necessary. Her song “I Don’t Give A” which is all about how much Madonna multitasks makes me feel as much pity for her as I do for spoiled rotten rich people that are complaining how hard they have it. This mixed bag collection also features songs that sound like pale imitations of old songs, and it makes the listener want to reach for her older music instead. Madonna shouldn’t be counted out entirely because she made the song “Gang Bang” which is unlike any song she’s ever done before and that gives me hope much more than her “poor me syndrome” and Kaballah filled lyrics give me.
13. “Not Your Kind of People” by Garbage. It’s great that mid-90’s alt-rockers Garbage have set aside their differences and made a new record. Many of the songs sound like classic era Garbage tracks but they suffer from not having the hooks that make you want to listen to their early stuff on repeat. I love the track “Blood For Poppies” a lot, but I admit that it had to grow on me before I really fell in love with it, whereas I used to find myself falling in love instantly with Garbage songs. Though the album is a little uneven, I won’t miss seeing them live because they still know how to rock an audience!
What were your favorites? What disappointed you? Don’t be shy. But let’s keep the discussion on music, ok?