Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Top 10 Albums of 2012.... (A Day Late or So)....

   So, at long last I'm returning to blogging by getting a quick top 10 list in at the last minute. (But hey, better late than never...)
    Now, I will admit my list is not a perfect example of everything that got released this last year...  I'm sure I'm missing some key good albums of the year, but I strictly compiled this list of albums that I bought and that got many repeated listens from me.
     And another thing, let's be honest here... This wasn't a fantastic year for new, cool music anyway... Sure there's lots of little indie bands who are awash in synths, or sounding like Of Monsters and Men, the Lumineers, Avett Brothers, etc... But not much has moved me this year. However, I have found at least these 10 that were quite good - if not a bit eclectic.
    So without further ado.... Here they are!

 Bloc Party - Four
    This definitely got the most plays from me this year.   
     Now, I'd always been a fan of Bloc Party since their debut, and continued to do so through their subsequent albums. After hearing this band stretch their sound from post-punk angularity to dappling in full-blown electronica, you found a band that was breath-takingly experimental and original. But also a bit difficult to listen to in one sitting. 
        But this new album finally brings back a bit of balance to the Rock Vs. Experimental ratio. Truly a fantastic return to form, and certainly their most cohesive since their "Silent Alarm."

 Fun - Some Nights
      Oh, yes.. The album you couldn't escape from over the past year.... I'm including this pick begrudgingly. Not to say that this is a bad band - they certainly have solid song-writing and good chord changes.  It's just that I have an aversion to auto-tune, and this album has a bit too much of it for my taste. So, it makes my listening experience less enjoyable.
       However, it is hard to deny the hooks of all these songs, and it's all done in a pretty smart way with a clear, pop production style.  While I certainly don't like everything about this album, I can say that it is a well-crafted pop album, and the vocals of Nate Ruess soar in a way reminiscent of Freddie Mercury, (which makes the use of auto-tune on the vocals all the more redundant and/or ridiculous, in my opinion)
        So, although you, me, and nearly everyone else on earth is probably sick of hearing "We Are Young" or "Some Nights", it should still be noted that these guys did make a good album that is undeniably catchy - which, I assume, was really the point.

 Odd Future - The OF Tape Vol. 2
      Alright, I'm the first to admit that I have very few rap albums in my collection. So this one is the odd-one-out in my top ten list. But it's pretty freaking awesome - as far as rap albums go.  We've basically got a collective of hip-hop stars, (i.e.  Tyler, The Creator, Hodgy Beats, Earl Sweatshirt, Domo Genesis, Mike G,  Frank Ocean, etc...), making a cool mixtape here.
         I don't have any truly great reason why I like this album, (rap is still an underexplored territory for me...), but it's a cool release, and enjoyable on repeated listenings.

 Muse - The 2nd Law
     About two albums ago, I kind of began losing interest in Muse. I still liked them, but they were moving in a direction focusing more on synths, and bit less on the guitar work. And then, "The Resistance" came out and more or less proved my suspicions right. 
     So, I approached another album by them with some trepidation, (specifically with "Madness" as a lead-off single).  However, after giving into my curiosity, I found a pretty good album here. A little bit of everything - "Panic Station" sounds like a Faith No More pop song, "Supremacy" sounds like a Led Zeppelin rip-off, "Survival" sounds like Queen and..... well.... Muse for that matter.  The only parts where this album falls short is in it's odd flirtations with dubstep, which sorta feel like a cop-out, (like a good band trying to sound relevant). While others have disagreed with me on this point, I stand by my opinion. Though, with that minimal amount of  short-comings the whole album does give a good and interesting  listen.

 The Darkness - Hot Cakes
     Who expected these guys to come back? I sure as hell didn't. After the less than triumphant arrival of "One Way Ticket to Hell.... and Back", and the subsequent trip to rehab for Justin Hawkins, I'd pretty much written off this band - thinking, "Hey, at least we got 2 cool albums out of these guys before they disappeared."
     And unexpectedly, arrives this album several years later. Imagine all the best parts of AC/DC, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, and Journey all rolled into one band - and that's these guys. Each song is filled with back-to-back, air-guitar solos and high-pitched vocals that will quench your thirst to rock. 
       Yeah, it's cheesy. Yes, it's over-the-top. But nobody does it better than these guys. Don't believe me? Check out the cover of Radiohead's "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" which not only gets an Iron Maiden-like workout, but also a guitar-solo break that pulls from the solo in Radiohead's "Just" - Absolute genius!
        You could say it's not serious music, and you'd be right - but it's non-serious music done by serious musicians. Check it out....

 Big Pink - Future This
     This is a pretty surprising follow-up for this band. Whereas their debut album was equal parts electronica and shoegazer guitar-drone combined, this new album focuses more on a sound very much akin to their only breakthrough US single "Dominos." So, really upping the ante of pop hooks here without going completely into near-self-parody, (like, the Fun album mentioned earlier), is the name of the game.
      However, this album has a great feel to it, and it's easy to lose yourself in it's swirl of synths and guitar-feedback. Think of it as an electronic rock album with a psychadelic touch.
 Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror
     Beats. Fuzzy, high-gain power chords. 
     That's the backbone of what Sleigh Bells is. Oh, and the chick lead singer. 
     All that aside, this album is a more than worthy follow-up to "Treats."  Granted, there's no "Rill Rill" on this album, but it's got an awesome track list, and it's fun. With the razor-sharp guitars, and speaker-rattling beats - this album can become hard on the ears at times, but with Alexis Krauss' vocals and it's short length, this album doesn't overstay it's welcome.
    Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls
     There's plenty of information on the web about how good this band and album is. So, if you don't already own it, you really should go out now and pick it up.  No other band mixes up rock and soul like this, and sounds so natural.  Pick it up. You need this.
 Santigold - Master of My Make-Believe  
      It's a mix of world music, hip-hop, reggae, etc... A super-fine pop album - This is the kind of album Gwen Stefani wishes she could make. Every song is great, but specifically check out "The Keepers" for it's odd, new-wavey vibe. Oh, and a guest appearance by Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeah's? Count me in....

 Lana Del Rey - Born To Die
       Another odd one for me, (in fact I've found more interest in the odd pop albums being released this year than the standard indie or alt-country bands I'm more inclined to like.... It really has been a sad year for music when the mainstream pop albums are more interesting than the latest Mumford and Sons album)...
 But I digress...
       Sure, I hadn't listened to Lana Del Rey until reading internet chatter about how crappy her performance on SNL was earlier this year. I watched it. It wasn't great, it wasn't horrible. It was just an excuse for people to bitch about something, (like most internet chatter...).
       No matter. I read a Rolling Stone review of this album as well before buying it. At the very least, they were uncomplimentary of it. I picked it up anyway.
       It's clear from the outset that her songs are cool little noir dramas that are way more interesting than anything by Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, or Lady Gaga, etc... Plus, these songs all feel like they were pulled from a soundtrack to a David Lynch movie - all 50's/60's Americana with large amount of darkness and absurdity. 
       ...(Lana Del Rey also recently released an EP with a cover of "Blue Velvet", which adds even more to the Lynchian motif she has going on with her type of pop music)...
         So, maybe the critics dislike it - maybe some of her fans were disappointed in her live performance... blah blah blah...
         What is important is the strange, sleazy world her songs create in one sitting. And as far as that is concerned, this album's pretty damn cool.