Best Music of 2012

Top 50 Albums of 2012

on December 14, 2012, 1:00am
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grizzly bear shields jpg 630x640 q85 Top 50 Albums of 2012

40. Grizzly Bear – Shields

For their third effort, Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor, and Christopher Bear got volatile. Nothing quite matched the sugary bliss of 2009’s “Two Weeks”, but what Shields lacks in radio-friendliness it makes up for in ball-grabbing moments of grandeur. The record touches on everything from psych-rock to OK Computer-esque sonic booms (listen to the last minute of “Yet Again” for a prime example of the latter) and captures an inner struggle between the fear of being alone and a need for solitude. Grizzly Bear have always been a collaborative entity, but never has Rossen’s herky-jerky picking style synched up so beautifully with Bear’s jazz-indebted percussion as it does on “Sleeping Ute” or on triumphant closer “Sun in Your Eyes”. Not often does chaos sound that sweet. -Bryant Kitching

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crystal castles iii e1348676099314 Top 50 Albums of 2012

39. Crystal Castles – (III)

“Discourage affection,” Alice Glass scathingly shouts on “Sad Eyes”. Yet (III) overwhelms with intimate intensity, pummeling the gut with a scattershot punk mentality that, oddly enough, feels pretty good. It’s dark, disparaging stuff — some of this year’s bleakest — but it never feels macabre. Echoing past greats like Depeche Mode, New Order, and even Nine Inch Nails, Glass and Ethan Kath tinker their sound just enough to vacuum the imperfections of (II) and recycle the pulsating energy that made their 2008 self-titled debut so enthralling. Whether it’s the cyclone of terror within “Plague”, the devilish angst of “Wrath of God”, the sugar high of “Violent Youth”, or the transcendental baths of “Child I Will Hurt You”, the album’s manic enough to always sound engaging and, most importantly, intriguing. -Michael Roffman

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beaksecond Top 50 Albums of 2012

38. Beak – >>

On the other side of the digital music revolution is Beak>, the standard-bearers of ur-krautrock for the 21st century. Their analog, organic, one-take compositions on > > recall Can on quaaludes –or Neu! on acid — all with a focus on rhythm and mood over melody and hooks. The sizzurp synths and selective drumming of Portishead’s Goeff Barrow often sound like they were recorded with just some contact mics in a practice room somewhere, especially the muzaky “Egg Man”. But they turn it up for teethier rock jams in “Wulfstan II” and “Kidney”, all while vocals are mumbled underneath suggesting more texture than actual lyrics. The album is a tribute to the old form of three audiophiles bouncing ideas off each other with their musicianship being the only thing that stitches it together. -Jeremy D. Larson

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henryclaypeople 25 1500 rgb e13400758975421 Top 50 Albums of 2012

37. The Henry Clay People – Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives

A 29-year-old who sings about being 25 and sounds like he’s 16, Joey Siara of The Henry Clay People proves that hindsight has to be well-timed. Anyone trying to capture early- to mid-twenties turmoil when they’re of that age often sounds shrill and dramatic, where as those who wait until they’re in their twilight years tend to come off as weary and nostalgic. But Siara and company get it just right by knowing the difference between being bored and being boring; the hooks are in brother Andy Siara’s solos, not his chords, and Joey keeps his lyrics caffeinated despite their wisdom. “I still feel too young to ever do what I’m told / Our blood runs hot but our heart beats cold / And our stubborn heads never let shit go / Even when we know we should / And we know we should.” Let’s hope Forty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives is this smart. And fun. -Dan Caffrey

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future pluto Top 50 Albums of 2012

36. Future – Pluto

Atlanta rapper Future lives in an alternate universe where rappers took Lil Wayne’s assertion of Martian origins as the beginning of a trend, one which Future takes to its logical conclusion by placing his own origins at the farthest reaches of the solar system. But Pluto doesn’t sound otherworldly, instead it forms a canvas of pop-rap and chart R&B of the past 10 years, splicing Timbaland, T-Pain, and T.I.; future Funkadelic, Auto-Tune Chi, and Trap Muzik trap music. Pluto uses its loose framework to tie together a mixtape’s worth of genre musings, and the album format to force himself to render each musical cul-de-sac in photographic detail. -Chris Bosman

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Artwork 260x260 Top 50 Albums of 2012

35. Tig Notaro – Live!

Pneumonia, a hospitalizing intestinal bacteria, a romantic breakup, the death of her mother, cancer in both breasts—it all happened to Tig Notaro in four months. As a comedian, she knew she had to return to the stage and tell jokes. But how do you do that? How do you entertain people under these circumstances? She set her current material aside and started writing about those four months of hell. Then, when she went onstage at L.A.’s Largo, she let it all out. The recording of this intensely personal set would later be released as Live.

Despite the dark subject matter, despite all the shit that was happening to her, Notaro never lost her humility or humor. She makes the audience laugh about her cancer and teases them when they get emotional at the darkness of it all. Live is optimistically heartbreaking. That Notaro can smile and laugh her way through it is a display of utter strength, one which transcends comedy. -Jon Hadusek

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cohenoldideas Top 50 Albums of 2012

34. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

It’s comforting to know that at 77 Leonard Cohen can still turn out an album as accomplished as this. It dissects his familiar themes of sex, mortality, and redemption, and one where words are squarely set to music, rather than the reverse: so perhaps no surprises there, then. As if it were possible, his voice has gotten even lower and his perpetually poetic lyrics fold with self-deprecation, as in “the lazy bastard living in a suit” and a recognition of his own failings (“I had to be people I hated / I had to be no one at all”). If Cohen is to finally hang up his hat and live out his days without the stress of writing songs or touring, then Old Ideas is a fitting testimony to a legend. -Tony Hardy

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 Top 50 Albums of 2012

33. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss push the volume and vim past 11 on their Treats follow-up, Reign of Terror. But there’s a new balance in the mix, as Krauss’ vocals no longer sit behind that wall of distortion shredding out from Miller’s guitar. The product of closer collaboration between the pair, their respective assets become dual centerpieces. This allows them to manage what few can: a second album that moves forward while still maintaining the band’s essence. That essence, a brash now-ness of noisy pop gall and defiantly roared disenchantment, is essential for Sleigh Bells, and for 2012. Being able to bottle both the us and the Us rarely comes as such raucous delight. Those Keds on the cover weren’t bloodied by “a cocaine nosebleed or a busted lip”; it was from kicking the sophomore slump square in the jaw, and pushing off into 2013. Hold on to those laces. -Ben Kaye

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catpowersun e1340035806740 Top 50 Albums of 2012

32. Cat Power – Sun

Cat Power is no stranger to trouble. And though Chan Marshall’s records have often been seeped in it, Sun conveys a sense of rejuvenation — as if sprinting away from a checkered past. But as always, Marshall’s storm lurks in the periphery. The beauty is how successfully it captures the mania we’re all capable of in just one minute of a day. Shifting from happy, to sad, to haunting, to jarring in mere instances, it’s a journey to the end of chaotic production. Yet, somehow, it always feels vaguely uplifting — Marshall’s soulful voice backed by a smoky version of itself. Taking nods from Beth Orton, salsa, gospel, and just about everywhere sounds are made, Sun is kaleidoscopic, jaunty, and content with its own confusion. It sounds like nothing else. Marshall asks herself, “Whose side are you on?” It’s clear that she has no answer herself. She’s OK with that too. -Drew Litowitz

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tnght ep Top 50 Albums of 2012

31. TNGHT – TNGHT EP

The biggest problem with the Lex Luger vein of bombastic Southern rap production is that the countless producers who have adopted it are lazy with it, doing little more than whipping up two bars of melody and drums and leaving “loop” on for three minutes. Not TNGHT. Solo, Montreal’s Lunice and Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke have embraced innumerable electronic subgenres, all of which have required strong senses of expanding and contracting to make work. On this five-song, 15-minute EP, the two fuse their respective skillsets with that familiar Third Coast repetition and blare, resulting in beats that not only knock by themselves but have also already meshed well with rappers like XV (“Bugg’n”) and Busta Rhymes (“Goooo”). If this is what rap’s next revolution is going to sound like, you won’t be hearing too many complaints about it. -Mike Madden

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