This is my year-end wrap-up, listing my favorite albums of the year. I think 2012 was a very strong year—I had a hard time deciding which records fit in my top 25 (from which the playlist below is drawn), and very deep into the ranking of albums, there were still very good, highly enjoyable albums. First off, the playlist: as usual, these are arranged for musical purposes and don’t reflect any sort of ranking (see below for that). Also, I should note: I’ve altered the volume (but not the dynamics) of these tracks so they’re at roughly the same average loudness (i.e., they might be quieter than they would be on your own copy).
- “Is This the Picture?” Field Music Plumb
- “Teenage Dreams” Nada Surf The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
- “Perfect Ten” Jaill Traps
- “About to Die” Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan
- “Yet Again” Grizzly Bear Shields
- “Dragonfly” Paul Weller Sonik Kicks
- “Unfolding Black Wings” Violens True
- “Stellarscope” Vinyl Williams Lemniscate
- “Colours Running Out” Toy Toy
- “Waves of Fear” Maximo Park The National Health
- “This Is Sally Hatchet” Father John Misty Fear Fun
- “WIXIW” Liars WIXIW
- “Scotland Yard” John Cale Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood
- “Captain Video” Field Report Field Report
- “Do Your Own Time” A.C. Newman Shut Down the Streets
- “Lease and Flame” Rebecca Gates and the Consortium The Float
- “Shittalkers!” Ken Stringfellow Danzig in the Moonlight
- “Oh Mercy” Mark Eitzel Don’t Be a Stranger
- “Would That Not Be Nice” Divine Fits A Thing Called Divine Fits
- “Some Time Alone, Alone” Melody’s Echo Chamber Melody’s Echo Chamber
- “Living Room” Sean0Sean Arch Envy
- “Gamma Ray” Aimee Mann Charmer
- “Puts Me To Work” Cate Le Bon Cyrk
- “Ode to Banksy” Jesca Hoop The House That Jack Built
- “Phrasing” Scott Walker Bish Bosch
The Tier with Records I Knew from the Start Would Make This List
Divine Fits, Sean0Sean, Aimee Mann, Father John Misty, Field Report, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Field Music, A.C. Newman, Paul Weller, Dirty Projectors, Rebecca Gates and the Consortium, Nada Surf
If forced to choose, my top 3 would be Father John Misty, Nada Surf, and either Dirty Projectors or Field Report (see below).
The Tier with Records that Fought Their Way into the Top 25
Scott Walker, Ken Stringfellow, Vinyl Williams, John Cale, Jesca Hoop, Maximo Park, Jaill, Violens, Cate Le Bon, Mark Eitzel, Grizzly Bear, Toy, Liars.
Maximo Park made an impressive comeback: after its brilliant debut, its next few were rather middling. Ken Stringfellow’s record is a grower—it would not surprise me if I rate it even higher a year from now.
The Tier with Records that Are Still Excellent, Many of Which I Had a Really Hard Time Dropping Below #25
School of Seven Bells Ghostory, Ghosty Ghosty, Tame Impala Lonerism, White Rabbits Milk Famous, Lower Dens Nootropics, Of Montreal Paralytic Stalks, The Sea and Cake Runner, Juniper Tar Since Before, Sunbutler (Momus & Joe Howe) Sunbutler, Bob Dylan Tempest, The Figgs The Day Gravity Stopped, Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel…, Future of the Left The Plot Against Common Sense, The Mountain Goats Transcendental Youth.
In fact, two of my selected top 25 albums were not on Spotify, so the Spotify version of this playlist includes a track from Lower Dens and Juniper Tar. Juniper Tar is the third Milwaukee band on this list (Field Report and Jaill are the other two), and all three earned it. Especially Field Report, whose album is one of the more emotionally powerful I’ve heard in quite a while.
The Tier that’s Still Pretty Damned Good, Although One or Two Titles Ended Up a Slight Disappointment
Shearwater Animal Joy, Jack White Blunderbuss, Andrew Bird Break it Yourself, Malka Spigel Every Day Is Like the First Day, Clinic Free Reign, David Byrne & St. Vincent Love This Giant, Rufus Wainwright Out of the Game, The Shins Port of Morrow, Laetitia Sadier Silencio, Beachwood Sparks The Tarnished Gold.
I had higher hopes for the Shins, for Clinic, and for the Byrne/St. Vincent: none of them are at all bad records, but they weren’t quite the high triumph I’d hoped for, either.
The Tiers that Are Just Lists of Artists Because You Can Look Up the Titles Yourself (to Save Space)
Stevie Jackson, Garrison Starr, The Human Hearts, Paul Banks, Lee Ranaldo, Beach House, Animal Collective, Shannon McArdle, The Walkmen, Hospitality, The Magnetic Fields, Brian Eno, Stew & the Negro Problem, The Mike Benign Compulsion, The Corner Laughers, Young Fresh Fellows, Mission of Burma.
Momus, Rush, Lightships, the dB’s, Andrew Bird (again! Hands of Glory), Out of Order (the NYC one: Hey Pussycat!), Cardinal, Allen Clapp & His Orchestra, Leonard Cohen, John K. Samson, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Ben Folds Five, Brendan Benson.
Letdowns among the above: The Walkmen, Magnetic Fields (except that “Andrew in Drag” is fantastic), the dB’s, Mission of Burma, Benson. Also disappointing: Bob Mould, The Helio Sequence, Zammuto (half of the late, lamented Books), and Matthew Friedberger’s Matricidal Wastes of Keyboards (not its actual title…).
Album title of the year: (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson.
The Pollard Count
Three Guided by Voices albums (Class Clown Spots a UFO, The Bears for Lunch, Let’s Go Eat the Factory: in descending order), two Robert Pollard albums (only one of which, Mouseman Cloud, I’ve heard: it’s somewhere in the last tier above), plus probably more, including some singles. Of note: the not-actually-released album Let’s Go Eat the Class UFOs for Lunch by Guided by Sprout would have been a pretty good record, too (14 sole-written tracks, 1 co-write, and at least 2 b-sides…I didn’t pick up the single releases from the last two GBV albums…).
Three Notable EPs
I do not include EPs, live albums, or compilations in my top 25. I make the rules, that’s why. Anyway: B and Not B Colors, Shapes, and Lines, Translator Big Green Lawn, Howth Secret Goldmine.
Two Notable Covers Albums
Field Music Field Music Play… and the Darcys Aja: yes, that’s the Steely Dan album, top to bottom…and unlike many albums of this sort, the Darcys completely reimagine the album, without dumbing down Becker & Fagen’s chord changes (sometimes they reinvent them in less jazz-like but still unusual ways). Recommended.
Coming soon(ish): two “Songpile” mixes – best songs I ran into in the last three months that aren’t from albums I own, and my favorite covers of the last six months of the year.