20. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
Sharp guitars bounce between Spoons Britt Daniels irresistible howl as he tells us, She waited for me like ice cream on A Thing Called Divine Fits sugary tenth track. The song feels like the album covers plump red cherry sitting atop an 11-song sundae of collaborative goodness.
While Daniel effortlessly shines on Flaggin A Ride, Would That Not be Nice, and Civilian Stripes, its former Wolf Parade frontman Dan Boeckner who elevates the Fits, both on the record and in concert, as he sings and strums with a sense of urgency — specifically on “Baby Get Worse” or “For Your Heart”.
The two are joined by The New Bomb Turks Sam Brown on drums and Alex Fischel on keys the adventitious result of Daniels request to join forces with Boeckner. Daniels return to Spoon is imminent, but he’s since promised that this project will remain a real band, and well gladly wait like ice cream for more of this thing called Divine Fits. -Amanda Koellner
19. Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
The stark cover shot of a nude Natasha Khan carrying a naked, seemingly lifeless man on her shoulders, his limbs artfully preserving her modesty, sets up the unlikely expectation of a new minimalism in her music. Unlikely because of the bands track record for lushly layered soundscapes, and the fantastical imagery that is bedfellow for Khans Bat for Lashes persona. Her core fans should not be worried that Khan has opted for the fully stripped away on The Haunted Man.
The textural density is still present in the music. but its more distilled and refined, even in Laura, where the perils of celebrity require no more dressing than a piano, delicate orchestration, and cry-out vocal clarity. There is still drama aplenty in Khans voice, swooping, soaring, dispensing belief while a certain worldly wisdom shows a distinct development from the otherworldliness of her past work. The Haunted Man is blessed with inspirational melodies, simply vocalized or embellished with imaginative orchestration, intense rhythms, and unexpected bridges. Its sense of theater demands your attention and richly rewards it. There may be no seismic shift in style, yet, to return to that cover image, Natasha Khans strength is that her music reveals all. -Tony Hardy
18. Miguel – Kaleidoscopic Dream
Claps abound in pop music today. The ear garnish is so common that we forget it used to be kind of cheesy, but Miguel restores our faith on his scintillating second full-length album. The slow clap heard on the luscious The Thrill is enough to bring a tear to ones private eyes. And like Hall & Oates, Miguel worships two things: rich girls (Let my love adorn you, he entreats) and soul music. Also like Hall & Oates, hes better off sticking with the latter. In the 80s, Hall & Oates used soul to interpret new wave, and similarly, Miguel applies soul to electronic/R&B music. Synthetic or not, this divine foundation draws us and the palms of our hands closer with every beat.
The bass lines on Dream manifest as background for Miguel’s multiplicity of personalities, from supernatural predator (Dont Look Back) to pleading prey (Use Me). The deep tones bolster all the instrumental and emotional risks that take place. Synths shift beneath vocals that spew angelic falsetto and dirty-talk tutorials at the same time. Achieved is a sound that’s staccato, yet lush, which matches his emotional tenor. It’s more mature than simply “hot” and “cold” — it’s “passionate” and (as a consequence) “afraid.” The closer, Candles in the Sun, dithers about bureaucracy and government aid – an R&B folk song thats both brooding and self-aware. It sounds like Liz Phair called shotgun in Miguel’s Little Red Corvette. That image is emblematic of Miguel’s work and portrays the spectrum of musical possibilities he sees in his riveting kaleidoscope dream. -Sarah Grant
17. Grimes – Visions
Grimes is the funnest act of 2012. Whether shes selling pussy rings on Tumblr, singing to herself at the varsity football game, or just charming the clothes off an audience with fem-glam insanity, its easy to see why Claire Boucher is the artist this generation deserves. Grimes is less refined, more street-savvy, and embodies a DIY entrepreneurial spirit which more mainstream acts wish they could exploit. Visions sights Grimes stepping into the spotlight, like a robotic Kate Bush on a steady diet of Adderall and dusty Nintendo cartridges. This musical ADHD makes the album one of the least predictable listens in recent memory.
Tracks like Genesis, Oblivion, and Circumambient start at point A and end at points unknown. But listeners find solace by clinging to the soft, sweet harmony of their blissful tour guide’s looped vocals that echo off the periphery and simultaneously transform into coy, synthesized confessions and cries for help with lyrics like I need someone now / To look into my eyes and tell me / Girl you know you’ve got to watch your health. I challenge anyone to sit through this album and not smile. Or, if feeling so bold, position yourself in the center of five streaming laptops and play the days top ten YouTube videos simultaneously; I promise, one experience will be a cathartic mish-mash of youthful girliness and poppy heartthrob, while the other is just a bunch of lame webcam videos. -Dan Pfleegor
16. Death Grips – The Money Store
“The whole concept was to piss and shit and cum into this thing.” Death Grips drummer and beatmaker Zach Hill’s comment to The Stool Pigeon perfectly sums up The Money Store, a raw smear of punk hip-hop that sounds drenched in the bodily fluids of its creators. Whereas many great rap albums are man vs. nature or man vs. man, chronicling a protagonist’s war with a menacing urban environment, The Money Store is mostly man vs. himself, pin-balling inside the veins, tubes, and plagued skull of vocalist Stefan Burnett a.k.a. MC Ride. The inward retreat makes room for plenty of horrifying surreal imagery.
These are stream-of-consciousness spews, not well-honed narratives. “Bangin’ bones on Roland / Jungle rottin’ / Chicken skeletal system bombin’ / Unidentified genre abductor.” “I got this pregnant snake / Stay surrounded by long hairs / A plethora of maniacs and spiral stairs.” This is the stuff nightmares are made of, made all the more nightmarish by the barrage of junk percussion and junkie electronica that backs every track. No posturing, no bragging, no self-aggrandizing. You won’t remember these lyrics after first hearing the album. Hell, you probably won’t remember what any individual song sounds like right away, save for maybe “Ive Seen Footage”. But The Money Store will leave you feeling energized, assaulted, and, whether you like it or not, soaked. -Dan Caffrey