Joe’s Top 12 Albums of 2012

It’s that time of year again! Time to be bombarded with endless “best of” lists from anyone with an opinion and a lot of free time on their hands. Well to be fair, that time was about a month or so ago so really I’m just adding one more list way after the fact because I was too lazy to get it done sooner. Never-the-less, here’s my two cents on which albums were my absolute favorites of 2012.

20130121-153708.jpg1. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

Despite the fact that the order
of the first 5 albums on this list changed no less than 87 times, the debut album from Alabama indie rock darlings Alabama Shakes has always managed to keep a firm hold on to my number one spot. Their brand of old school soul and r&b infused roots rock is a perfect representation of all that is good in music today and lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard is nothing short of a musical force of nature. Sounding like the spiritual love child of Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin, Brittany and company deliver some of the most honest and heartfelt music I’ve heard in years and while it may arguably not be the “best” album of 2012, it’s definitely the one I keep listening to over and over again and the only album this year I truly feel everyone I know would enjoy from my younger friends to my older relatives. At the end of the day I think that’s what makes an album timeless and truly special.

20130121-160500.jpg2. Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit

California indie rockers Delta Spirit have been a favorite band of mine since I was introduced to their sophomore release “History From Below” in 2009. Their attention to detail when it comes to songwriting is staggering and their catalogue of songs (3 albums with their debut “Ode To Sunshine”) is chock full of slow building triumphs and festival ready sing-a-longs. My expectations for their latest effort were understandably high and I’m happy to say they were not only met but consistently exceeded with every subsequent listen. “Delta Spirit” is definitely their most produced and commercially accessible album to date but all that polish and shine never manages to dilute the heart and soul of the band. Lead singer Matthew Vasquez is constantly pushing himself outside his comfort zone and the rest of the band elevates every note by not being afraid to embrace new sounds and influences while simultaneously staying true to everything that they are. Excellent band. Excellent record. Not a bad song in the bunch.

20130121-160558.jpg3. Mumford & Sons – Babel

I initially had a really hard time putting Mumford & Sons above Jack White on this list and I’m sure I’ve already lost some credibility with some of you for doing so, but as groundbreaking perfect Blunderbuss may be, I just can’t stop listening to “Babel”. Mumford & Sons took hipster hearts by storm with “Sigh No More” and released what was arguably the best album of 2010. With an intensity and urgency not heard in folk music since the 1960’s, Mumford & Sons brought foot-stomping folk rock to the mainstream again and did it with such heart and honesty that it was impossible to ignore. Critical acclaim and over saturation threatened to derail whatever momentum they had but “Babel” only fanned the flames picking up exactly where they left off. Skeptics will claim they’re just rehashing old songs and refusing to evolve but I think their unrelenting willingness to be anything but true to themselves is exactly why they deserve to be where they are. Front to back “Babel” is an excellent record full of nothing but excellent songs showcasing a band at the height of success in their purest form. I dare you not to stomp along.

20130121-154959.jpg4. Jack White – Blunderbuss

When Jack White announced in 2011 that he would release his debut solo album in 2012, expectations were understandably high and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who felt he had already released 6 “solo” albums under the name White Stripes. Not to take anything away from drummer Meg White but we all know Jack was the creative force behind those phenomenal albums. Still, “Blunderbuss” would be the first official Jack White album and fans of White Stripes, Raconteurs and The Dead Weather everywhere were holding their collective breaths. Thankfully, a universal sigh of relief could be heard everywhere in 2012. Not only did Jack deliver a solid rock record spanning every genre he’s ever touched upon in the past, he also managed to do it without falling into the stereotypical trappings of most overly talented solo artists by bringing in numerous other players instead of recording everything himself. This allows every song to take on the life he obviously intended them to by allowing Jack White to just be Jack White and letting the music speak for itself. Our musical landscape is forever blessed to include Jack White and “Blunderbuss” is yet another reason to rejoice.

20130121-155333.jpg5.Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist

If you are over 25 you probably haven’t heard of Macklemore. I will be the first to admit my skepticism with this 30 year old white underground rap phenomenon from Seattle and admit that I judged without listening and criticized without knowledge. I couldn’t have been more wrong about who Macklemore is and what he means to the hip hop community. Ryan Lewis provides the infectious beats and rock solid foundation necessary for Macklemore to perfectly lay out line after line of expertly crafted conscientious hip hop. With some of the most raw and honest lyrics I’ve ever heard, “The Heist” is not only an excellent record to put on at a party, it’s also one of the most important records to date in the hip hop ethos. The DIY attitude that fills every track is a true testament to realizing your dreams and there is no shortage of inspiration to be had from multiple listens. Do yourself a favor and buy into the hype.

20130121-155429.jpg6. Band Of Skulls – Sweet Sour

Band Of Skulls’ debut album topped my best album list of 2008 and that says a lot given how great that year was for music. Needless to say, their sophomore release “Sweet Sour” was eagerly awaited and ripe for criticism and to be completely honest, on first listen I was disappointed. The brilliance of “Baby Darling Doll Faced Honey” was so great I was reluctant to realize the growth that needed to take place in this fantastic trio from London. And grow they did. Sweet Sour is a testament to the inherent good that can come from 3 musicians that truly know their respective instruments and also work together on a level that’s something beyond common understanding. I only hope we’ll all be talking about Band Of Skulls for years to come and I urge you to introduce yourself to this seminal band as soon as you can.

20130121-155527.jpg7. Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal

Iceland is a very cold place to call home which makes the sincerity and warmth of Icelandic natives Of Monsters and Men all the more beautiful and important. Their debut album is full of life and promise underscored by brilliant harmonies and epic builds. It’s an album that truly encapsulates the times and is inherently 2012 without trying to be. As far as hipster embraced music goes, this is as pure as it gets.

20130121-161144.jpg8. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Full disclosure, I love Fiona Apple unconditionally. She has been one of the biggest influences on my artistic life and she can generally do no wrong in my eyes (despite her ridiculously long album titles), so naturally I was reluctant to include her long awaited fourth studio album on my list if not for any other reason than blind bias. I include it now because it is honestly deserved of being included. Fiona Apple has long been a figure head for uncertainty and confidence all at the same time and her voice is attached to a generation of rebellious “others” who in actuality fit perfectly into the idea of what it means to be ideal. This dichotomy has never been represented better than it is on “The Idler Wheel…”. It may be Fiona’s most personal album since Tidal and it perfectly captures her essence as it is today while presenting it in expertly crafted folk/pop songs that any music fan can appreciate. I feel bad for not including it higher on the list but my biases keeps it where it is.

20130121-160742.jpg9. Muse – The 2nd Law

I love Muse. As a live band, they are one of the best I’ve ever seen. As recording artists, they have given us some of the best modern rock records we’ve ever had. As a fan, I was not only anticipating The 2nd Law, but I was expecting greatness far beyond what could ever have been delivered. This album is great, no question, but I can’t help but feel that by the last 3rd of the album that greatness fizzles somehow. That being said, The 2nd Law is still an amazing concept album from a very talented band who are never afraid to push the boundaries of what rock music can be.

20130121-161228.jpg10. Alt J – An Awesome Wave

Alt J has tremendous buzz overseas and rightly so. Their debut album is a breath of fresh air in todays alternative music landscape and manages to simultaneously sound absolutely fresh while consistently echoing Radiohead’s King Of Limbs. Simply put, if I was cooler, this album would be number one on my list. It may be a challenge for some to get past lead singer Joe Newman’s nasal vocal delivery, but the rewards are plenty for those who can.

20130121-161306.jpg11. Fun. – Some Nights

We Are Young is arguably the song of 2012 and might go down in history as the song of a generation. Also it might fall into the abyss and never be remembered again. Either way, “Some Nights” is a great album and will be remembered if not for nothing else but it’s keen sense of pop music and theatrical bravado. Lead singer and songwriter Nate Ruess’ commitment to bridging the gap between musical theater and pop music (conscious or not) is prevalent throughout the entire record and seems to be a perfect representation of what it means to be an artist in 2012. It’s an almost perfect pop/indie rock record and deserves to be included in every best of 2012 list, even if it’s near the bottom.

20130121-155911.jpg12. Santigold – Master Of My Make-Believe

Santigold should be on everyone’s iPod. Period. Her sophomore album does nothing less than solidify her as a true artist who thrives in her genre and holds a very deserved place in the pop culture pathos. Unfortunately, I couldn’t place her higher on my list because of too many filler songs on this album. If you know nothing about Santigold, get her first album immediately and proceed accordingly. Master Of My Make Believe is still a great album by a great artist and I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more from Santigold for a long time to come.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Jeff Beadle – Of Acres And Cities EP
Shovels and Rope – O’ Be Joyful
Hey Ocean! – Is
Half Moon Run – Dark Eyes
Tame Impala – Lonerism

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