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My 20 Favourite Albums of 2012

Posted on 12 January 2013

Almost Mainstream Best of 2012

Songs from twenty of my favourite albums of 2012. Quality stuff. More justification after you start streaming and then scroll down.

Almost Mainstream Episode 47 – 20 Favourite Albums of 2012 – January 11 2013 on Mixcloud

(download)

Alright, after the most-listened to tracks episode of my radio show finished off 2012, I’m starting 2013 with the more subjective realm of favourites. I’ve once again opted to do an albums version because basically my favourite songs is covered off by what I play on the show and post on the website. Albums are a trickier business- you need some great singles, but the other stuff has to be good, as well, otherwise it’s just not worth it to listen to the whole thing. In that sense, I think a smart move for an artist would actually be to err on the side of less songs when making an album, because the listener is left hungry for more (just like I generally prefer a three-minute pop song to a five-minute, unless there’s a really good reason for that extra two minutes).

For this year’s picks I did attempt to listen everything that was a critical favourite, and think I did hear all the main ones. However, my personal list diverges from the critics’ consensus a lot more than normal. I liked quite a few of the albums in those lists, but not enough to bump anything here. There’s a few I think might have a chance at shifting up here (Tame Impala, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis) and a couple I left off because  technically they came out in 2012 (Grimes & The Weeknd). Others are deliberately not on here, though. Beach House, Grizzly Bear, and Sharon Van Etten are three particularly frustrating experiences, as they are all raved about, but all feel like a chore to listen to- and I tried, multiple times.

Anyways, the point of these things is they’re subjective anyways. So here’s my twenty favourites. They’re in alphabetical order, aside from my top three. I put those at the end, so if you’re a busy person who only has time to listen to three albums from the past year skip to the end of this post and find out what they are so you can enjoy them and nothing but them for the next year.

Note: I’ve also made an Rdio playlist that has all these albums except A Tribe Called Red, which isn’t on there yet.

The Bottom Seventeen (alphabetical order):

A Tribe Called Red – A Tribe Called Red

Their Soundcloud says “We’re an all Native American DJ crew from Ottawa Canada. We remix traditional Pow Wow music with contemporary club sounds.” That about sums it up. Also, they’re political, which is always exciting.

Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

First track “Hold On” is a contender for earworm of the year, and it sets the stage for an awesome blend of southern blues, garage, and soul, but in a way that doesn’t suck. They opened for Jack White, which is completely appropriate.

alt-J – An Awesome Wave

You know those optical illusions where if you look at a picture one way, it’s a candlestick, but if you adjust your eyes slightly it’s two people kissing? That’s what alt-J is like. Listen to it one way and it’s fast-paced dance music. Adjust your ears, and it’s mellow background noise. Forget Gotye, this is the Australian music everyone should have been listening to this year.

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – Theater Is Evil

It really confuses me that this isn’t on best of lists. The opening trio of songs is possibly the best sequencing of the year, and it doesn’t slow down from there. I made the case for “Smile” as a possible song of the year, and I still think it holds water. Like David Bowie for the internet age.

Bahamas – Barchords

Here’s one that confuses me for not being a Polaris Prize finalist. Every song is just understatedly amazing- you think it’s standard indie singer-songwriter stuff but then you just notice how fine-tuned this guys songwriting is and you get sucked right in.

Boxer the Horse – French Residency

I feel like this is one that you’re either going to be drawn into or not. For me, it’s like if you crossed Apollo Ghosts with Blue Rodeo, which in my alternate universe is all the convincing you should need to want to listen to them, but in reality I know means nothing. So listen to them. And also Apollo Ghosts.

Cadence Weapon – Hope In Dirt City

At first I really liked this album, but then I started to think it might not be deserving of a spot. Then I listened to it again and got sucked into the depths of these beats- plus the always-on lyrics- and it just keeps moving up in my estimation.

Carly Rae Jepsen – Curiosity EP/Kiss

OK, I guess this is kind of cheating since it’s an EP and an album. The EP is the stronger of the two because it isn’t bogged down by any filler that weighs down the second half of Kiss. But still, each of these is full of such solid, straight-ahead, unironic pop songs more influenced by the AM dial than the club that I feel obliged to put them together. Taylor Swift wound up being the “look, I’m not pretentious because I like top 40, too” pick on all the year-end lists, but it really should have gone to Jepsen.

Chiddy Bang – Breakfast

I’m not positive that this isn’t just a handful great songs keeping an album of fair-to-middling ones afloat, but if it is, it worked for me. The summer rap album of 2012.

Death Grips – The Money Store

This is the sort of thing that only college radio will play. This is why you should listen to college radio.

Jack White – Blunderbuss

Jack White has had two albums with the Raconteurs, two with the Dead Weather, and six with the White Stripes. For my money, this is in his top three overall, and considering my age of musical discovery came during the garage rock revival of the ’00s (three of the first songs I learned to play on guitar were White Stripes songs), that’s saying something.

John K. Samson – Provincial

I’m not entirely certain why Samson had to leave behind the rest of the Weakerthans to make this album, since it doesn’t exactly break that bands’ formula of strong songwriting anchored by some of the best lyrics by anyone ever but still, this is an album of strong songwriting anchored by some of the best lyrics by anyone ever, so it goes on the list.

Kid Koala – 12 Bit Blues

Remember when Moby made a bunch of money by combining old blues music with dance music? This is like that except it’s upbeat blues instead of sad blues, and turntables instead of late-90s electronica. So in other words it’s completely different.

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

Some rap music is still angry. Great voice.

Metric – Synthetica

I don’t really know what to say about this one. Metric is a solid, solid band and this is a solid, solid album. I assume they’re doing arenas now? They should be.

Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts

Did anyone see this one coming? Unlike other instances of producers who work with everyone (cough, cough Rick Rubin, cough, cough the Neptunes), Danger Mouse has taken on an incredibly diverse group of musicians, put his blueprint on them, and put out album after album of great stuff. Still, who would have thought that he would take lite-jazz chanteuse Norah Jones and turn her into a broken-hearted-yet-tough good-not-bad pop singer? I really hope that album with U2 turns out well.

Patrick Watson – Adventures In Your Own Backyard

I didn’t really “get” Patrick Watson’s first two albums until after a few listens, but this one immediately grabbed me. Cinematic, haunting, and beautiful.

The Top Three:

I don’t like ranking big lists of things in numerical order, because it’s really tough to be like “this good collection of one genre of music is slightly better than this good collection of a completely different genre”. But this year, I do have three albums that kept fighting for the number one spot, so I’ve put them here, again in alphabetical order.

Frank Ocean – Planet Orange

This is the consensus for album of the year, and it’s a fair one. I’ve listened to it again and again and I find something new to hear every time. I’m not positive it will age well, but it’s definitely perfect for now.

Islands – A Sleep & A Forgetting

It seems like I’m alone in putting this up so high, and that’s a shame. It got great reviews at the beginning of the year when it was released, and I’ve had it on repeat since then. There’s no gimmicks, just a great set of songs backed up by actual heartbreak and a strong sense of how to make a hook.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

By far the most appropriate title on this list, this is celebration rock, just pure, joyful noise. If you don’t like dissonant fuzzed out lo-fi high-speed indie garage bands you probably won’t like this, but if you do, you’re in for a treat. Now start a band.

By the way, if you like what you hear here, you should check out my radio show/podcast Almost Mainstream. I also like sharing my favourite songs on This Is My Jam and my Twitter feed is @akurjata.

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