Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Best Albums of 2012

If you read this blog religiously—which, as flattering as that might be for me, is probably a bad omen regarding the level of excitement in your life—then you've probably been a bit concerned by my erratic posting schedule. I've been pretty consistent over the past two years with publishing two pieces a month, generally about two weeks apart. No longer, but no need to worry. I have reasons and excuses and apologize if it in any way caused you any amount of apprehension. But I'll get to that in the near future. For now, I give you the fifth annual Top 10 albums post from Arbitrary JudgEment (plus a few extras), capping off a half-decade of pure, unconditional, musically biased enjoyment. Read like no one is watching.

  • Close Only Counts in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Grizzly Bear—Shields; The xx—Coexist; Metric—Synthetica; Band of Horses—Mirage Rock; Mumford and Sons—Babel; Beach House—Bloom; Imagine Dragons—Night Visions; M83—Hurry Up, We're Dreaming; Two Door Cinema Club—Beacon; Alabama Shakes—Boys & Girls

  • The Best Songs That Didn't Appear on any of my Best Albums
The Avett Brothers—“I Never Knew You”
Infectious, foot-stomping beat with lyrics haughty enough to make you consider dumping your significant other, purely so you can gain the scornful satisfaction of posting a link to this song on their Facebook page.

Walk the Moon—“Ana Sun”
The best way to appease my generation is to sympathize, rationalize, hyperbolize, and cement the profundity of every trivial and arbitrary moment of our lives. Setting these notions to music is just gravy. This is probably why there has been a bevy of danceable tunes in recent years portraying a random, drunken night at the bar as some seminal and defining moment in all of our lives. (This is also largely why Ke$ha and Katy Perry exist as relevant figures in our culture.) “Ana Sun” is the pinnacle of this classification of song.

Passion Pit—“Hideaway”
One of a few tracks I thoroughly enjoyed off this album, and the one I seem to keep coming back for the most. Although a tad disjointed compared to 2009's Manners, “Hideaway,” “Take a Walk,” and “Constant Conversations” will keep this album in my rotation for the foreseeable future.

  • The Top 10
10. Minus the Bear—Infinity Overhead
I may have been a tad swayed after seeing the band live and talking with them earlier this year, but I thought Infinity Overhead was a beautiful return to form for the group. I probably enjoyed the risks and deviations of Omni a bit more, but standard Minus the Bear is still good Minus the Bear.

9. Taylor Swift—Red
“We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is really just terrible. But “I Knew You Were Trouble” is impossible to turn off, “22” makes the lamest possible age actually seem fun and enjoyable, and “Stay Stay Stay” could probably turn love's biggest cynic into a blubbering puddle. Plus I can just imagine, the month after this album came out, when all of my friends that are still in college were whispering “Loving you is red” to impressionable young coeds at deafening house parties or in the corner of a crowded bar...and that line actually working for them.

8. The Lighthouse & The Whaler—This is an Adventure
My two greatest discoveries while living in Cleveland were eating at Borderline Cafe across the street from my apartment, and listening to this band. At least I can take TLATW with me. I wish I could do the same with Borderline's banana nut french toast.

7. Bob Dylan—Tempest
No need to repeat myself.

6. Cloud Nothings—Attack on Memory
They have that ever-elusive, rock band ability to sound both content and anguished at the same time, proud and chagrined, accepting and ambitious. The album's intent is never more evident than through the evolving lo-fi sound and Dylan Baldi's deep, humming voice on “Stay Useless”: Can I feel, so utterly unreal / But nothing I could do would make things change / I am stuck in here / I am tired of everywhere / I'm never gonna learn to be alone / I need time to stop moving / I need time to stay useless.

5. Japandroids—Celebration Rock
“The House That Heaven Built” is musical perfection. The gritty sound is a lost art among today's scene. The lyrical concepts are existential. The three- to four-minute constructions are incensed yet wholly satisfying. It's as if the band's sophomore effort put the indie scene at ease with a style quite the contrary. They are the Black Keyes with a little extra umph—in sound, not stature. But maybe someday.

4. Of Monsters and Men—My Head is an Animal
The haunting and pressing sound. The mystical imagery. This weird, crazy video, but more importantly, that song. Now wait, wait, wait for me, please hang around / I'll see you when I fall asleep...

3. Jack White—Blunderbuss
I've put my appreciation and infatuation with Jack White into words on plenty of occasions at this point, and this album—his first solo work—is on par with some of his best work. The now-routine rattling riffs and ear-splitting solos are accompanied by vague yet cutting lyrics. As the title of the fantastic New York Times Magazine feature by Josh Eells stated: Jack White is the Coolest, Weirdest, Savviest Rock Star of Our Time. I'm pretty sure he inspired that character on the show Nashville, too. (The Connie Britton fans out there know which one I'm talking about.)

2. Best Coast—The Only Place
There are times when simplicity is preferable to complexity, when retro is worthy of being revived, where the calm achieved by multiple moving facets is fulfilling in a way that rambunctiousness and instability can never be. These times also seem to be far less prevalent in music than they are in various other forms of art and entertainment. But on The Only Place, Best Coast ascends to each and every one of those levels, basic achievements begetting impressively nuanced results.

1. Imperial Teen—Feel the Sound
The album is essential Imperial Teen: bubbly, poppy, peppy, crisp, clear, blissful alt-rock, unencumbered by the fact that this is no longer the late '90s or that so much about the side streets of rock their style has pushed them toward is actually changing as well, working to get closer to the metropolis as opposed to being smitten staying where they are—as long as they can continue to be who they are, who they've always been. The band is doing nothing new or shocking on Feel the Sound; there are no surprises, save for the overall pleasant one directed at an album that is cohesive and familiar and welcoming and warm. “Runaway” is addictive, “Out From Inside” is rollicking and demands that you clap along. Look, I'm a bigger fan of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, Joni Mitchell's Blue, or Springsteen's The River than most people probably are. I hit play on Cat Stevens and Gordon Lightfoot and Warren Zevon's late-in-life stuff with regularity. But there is something necessary and under-appreciated about perpetuating all the good and positive things that music and life and other broad, cliched tropes have to offer. We don't do if often enough. It's a good thing Imperial Teen is around to help out.

Thanks for reading

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