The CL Music Team Presents: Best Albums of 2012

From Father John Misty to Django Django to Big Boi and more.

And in the order I obsessed over them...

Sunglasses, Wildlife (Mush Records)

Ape School, Junior Violence (Home Tapes)

Sweet Valley, Stay Calm (Fool's Gold)

Here We Go Magic, A Different Ship + ADS Bonus Tracks (Secretly Canadian)

Holobody, Riverhood (Mush Records)

Emily Wells, Mama (Partisan)

Adrian Younge, Something About April (Wax Poetics)

Breton, Other Peoples Problems & The Blanket Rule EP (FatCat/Breton Labs)

Lawrence Arabia, The Sparrow (Bella Union)

Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe (Atlantic)

Wax Tailor, Dusty Rainbow from the Dark (Le Plan / Lab'Oratoire)
Video for "Time to Go" featuring Aloe Blacc below.

Honorable Mentions: Regina Spektor, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats; Miike Snow, Happy To You; Monophonics, In Your Brain; White Rabbits, Milk Famous; Ponderosa, Pool Party; Young Magic, Melt; Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan ; Tame Impala, Lonerism; Anywhere, Anywhere; Paul Weller, Sonik Kicks.

1. fun., Some Nights (Fueled by Ramen)
Some Nights is an arena-filling, damn fun collection of bombast co-produced by the man who brought you Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Both albums have the kitchen-sink approach — throw in a bunch of disparate-yet-melodic elements and see what floats. It's no surprise both ended up on the Top 40 — each is produced in a way that pleases the ear and stimulates the mind. Further, the sonic range of Some Nights should be warmly familiar to those who caught 2006's Dog Problems by The Format, the former group of fun. frontman Nate Reuss. Both albums brim with trenchant lyrics and a towering, diverse use of instruments. In the end, Some Nights succeeds because it's authentic — you get the feeling fun. cares about more than the total amount of copies sold.
Also, in no particular order ...
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (Def Jam)
Why?, Sod In The Seed EP (Anticon)
Jack White, Blunderbuss (Third Man)
The Album Leaf, Forward/Return (Self-release)
Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music (Williams Street Records)
The Shins, Point of Morrow (Aural Apothocary)
Sigur Rós, Valtari (Parlophone)
Why?, Mumps, Etc. (Anticon)
Kishi Bashi, 151a (Joyful Noise)
Video for "Manchester" below...

1. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball (Columbia Records)
No surprises any year that Bruce Springsteen releases a new album, there's a good chance that it'll end up occupying my top slot once I start tallying my personal votes. On his latest offering, Springsteen manages to incorporate new sounds and song structures into his repertoire, but he never loses his trademark personal touch throughout. The young hopeful ragtags who knew they had something to prove from 1975's Born to Run only to come face-to-face with merciless despair on 1982's Nebraska finally came of age and learned to come to terms with their own harsh realities and realizations this year on Wrecking Ball. Springsteen's tales of faith, love, hope and possibilities have taken on many incarnations throughout his 40 years of recording and on this, his latest album, The Boss proves that the wellspring of creativity is still flowing abundantly down in the swamps of Jersey. An important addition to the Bruce Springsteen catalog and his strongest and most consistent album since 2002's stark masterpiece, The Rising.

And in no particular order:

Redd Kross, Researching the Blues (Merge)
Jack White, Blunderbuss (Third Man Records / Columbia)
Cat Power, Sun (Matador)
Killing Joke, MMXII (Spinefarm)
Bob Dylan, Tempest (Columbia)
Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas (Columbia)
Joe Jackson, The Duke (Razor & Tie)
Patti Smith, Banga (Columbia)
Barry Adamson, I Will Set You Free (Central Control)
Paul Weller, Sonik Kicks (Yep Roc)
Video for "Green" below.

I take this end of year business entirely too seriously, using a month to replay everything I enjoyed most and listening to as many missed releases as possible. 2012's list grew to nearly 40 albums before narrowing down with hard choices. Each of the 10 below is a stunner from start to finish, defining a huge portion of my listening. In a year where my tastes have grown to include much more hip-hop and electronica, I was genuinely surprised my top picks are a hopeless tie between three releases seamlessly entangled in the past.

1. Father John Misty, Fear Fun (Sub Pop) The artist otherwise known as J. Tillman offers up 1970's influenced California hippie rock with dark lyrical twists. FJM wraps gloom and depravity in sun-soaked guitars, delivering his world-weary vocals with emotional transparency and more than a little tongue-in-cheek humor.

2. The Lumineers, The Lumineers (Dualtone) Stunningly simple Dylanesque love songs, backed with joyous finger-plucking and harmonies. While everyone else has been gushing over Mumford and Sons, this release easily stood out as my top folk pick.

3. Michael Kiwanuka, Home Again (Polydor) Beautiful and timeless, this album is what you'd get if James Taylor and Sam Cooke had a vinyl lovechild. It's a solid addition to anyone's collection; alternately filled with huge brass and soft guitars, all held together with Kiwanuka's soulful vocals. A new classic, and the only album I bought multiple copies of for gifts this year.

4. Chromatics, Kill For Love (Italians Do It Better)
5. Alt-J, An Awesome Wave (Atlantic)
6. EL-P, Cancer for Cure (Fat Possum)
7. Jack White, Blunderbuss (Third Man Records / Columbia)
8. Jessie Ware, Devotion (Island)
9. Kishi Bashi, 151a (Joyful Noise)
10. Blind Pilot, We Are the Tide (Expunged, 2011)

Video for "Nancy from Now On" by Father John Misty below.

Big Boi, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (Def Jam)
Tough year to compile a list. 2012 saw several of my favorite artists releasing great new material — M. Ward, Avett Brothers, Andrew Bird, Menomena, Dr. Dog, The Shins, Beachwood Sparks, Cat Power, Calexico and The XX — but I wanted to venture out of my comfort zone. I felt out of step with the hip kids this year; not big into electronic dance music or bands like Japandroids or Dirty Projectors, and among my standbys, not a one jumped out as No. 1. Some newbies stole my attention, like up-and-coming vocalist/arranger The Weeknd, who almost made my list. Still, I was wracked with indecision. It took the sophomore effort by a beloved Dirty South rhymer from back in the day to end my quandary.

Once again, BB shows off his nimble, lyrical prowess and expert molding of hip-hop-as-pop that transcends the predictable themes of any genre. Dangerous Lies and Vicious Rumors doles out addictive sonic treats, including numerous collaborations that, in my opinion, don't jumble in a disjointed mess (as Pitchfork's critic claimed). On the contrary, the continuity from song to song, with recurring instrumentation and vocalists, is as admirable as the album's broad stylistic scope and precise production. It's like an old-school variety show in a record with an all-star array of duets and trios, ranging from Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child in "Mama Told Me" — the best duet of the year — to indie acts Wavves and Phantogram, plus Ludacris, T.I. and few other notables. With a dynamic range highlighted by seemingly disparate elements — ethereal background vocals by way of Phantogram, rapid-fire rhymes, unusual electronic arrangements throughout and delicate acoustics in places, Dangerous Lies and Vicious Rumors is that rare example of today's eclectic mindset done right — all thanks to one badass master of ceremonies.

M. Ward, A Wasteland Companion (Merge)
Cat Power, Sun (Matador)
The Fresh and Onlys, Long, Slow, Dance (Mexican Summer)
Field Music, Plumb (Memphis Industries)
Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls (ATO)
Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dreams (RCA)
The XX, Coexist (Young Turks)
Rebekah Pulley and the Reluctant Prophets, Tralala
*Patrick Watson, Adventures in Your Own Backyard (Domino) *Heartfelt, not to be missed, the underrated record of the year; title track below.)

Honorable mentions: Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy; The Wknd, Trilogy; The Shins, Port of Morrow; Woods, Bend Beyond; Islands, Asleep & A Forgetting; Dr. Dog, Be The Void; King of Spain, All I Did Was Tell Them The Truth And They Thought It Was Hell; Freelance Whales, Diluvia; and The Tallest Man on Earth, There's No Leaving Now.

1. Justin Townes Earle, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (Bloodshot)
In July, I discovered Justin Townes Earle through his 2010 album, Harlem River Blues, which became my happy pill-popped first thing in the morning to help me tackle my day. It got me through traffic jams and cases of the mean reds. Imagine my delight, then, when I learned JTE had released an album in 2012 — and it was even better than his last. Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, his self-described "Memphis-soul" album, is a mostly-mellow affair laced with equal parts longing and resignation that helps me take a moment (or thirty) when things get too stressful. JTE's voice here is more ragged, rubbed raw, yet more emotive and confident; he pairs it well with a horn section that is more sultry "Mr. Monotony" than bubbly "Seventy-Six Trombones." Album highlights: the downtrodden "Unfortunately Anna" and the cocksure "Memphis in the Rain." Video of JTE performing "Memphis in the Rain" live at the Lightning 100 Studio below.

And the rest, in no particular order:

Two Gallants, The Bloom and the Blight (ATO Records)
Bob Dylan, Tempest (Columbia)
Father John Misty, Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
Angel Olsen, Half Way Home (Bathetic Records)
Aesop Rock, Skelethon (Rhymesayers)
Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel… (Epic)
Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (Carpark Records)
Amelia Curran, Spectators (Six Shooter Records)
Electrician, 32 (Punks and Criminals)

Video for “Hold on to Your Fear” by Electrician below.

1. Cory Branan, Mutt (Bloodshot)
"Down on the corner of what I want and what I tend to get…" From the first line of the first song on Mutt, it's obvious that Cory Branan understands the rules of the game of life. This record represents years of hard work and the successful melding of the various sub-genres that make Americana today — roots, rock n' roll, soul and a little stab of punk. If Cory wasn't such an amazing songwriter, a record like this could be discordant, but being a true troubadour, he happily manages not only to pull this off but shine bright while doing so. Cory recorded these songs awhile back and allowed them to simmer until he found them the perfect home on Bloodshot Records. So while I heard many of the songs on Mutt live years before they were pressed into vinyl, the recorded versions prove fresh incarnations of songs that I already loved. And, that's Branan in a nutshell — you never know quite what you're going to get, but you know you're going to like it. He's not afraid to experiment or deviate from the path well trodden while at all times keeping fully intact his unique smart and sardonic humor. I love the whole record, but my track picks are "The Corner," "Darken My Door" and "Survivor Blues." Branan plays New World Brewery with another of my favorite troubadours, Jon Snodgrass, on February 18. It's a Monday, but I can't think of a better reason to stay out late on the patio on a school night.
Also ...
2. Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
3. Tim Barry, 40 Miler (Chunksaah Records)
4. The Front Bottoms, The Front Bottoms (Bar None, 2011)
5. Torche, Harmonicraft (Volcom)
6. You Blew It!, Grow Up Dude (Top Shelf)
7. Dikembe, Broad Shoulders (Tiny Engines)
8. Lucero, Women & Work (ATO)
9. Forgetters, Too Small to Fail (self-release)
10. Pinback, Information Retrieved (Temporary Residence Ltd.)

Cory Branan performing "The Corner" during the Music Fog Marathon at Threadgill's in Austin.

This year proved epic as far as high quality releases go. There were so many albums dropped in so many different genres that Best Of lists I've seen so far have featured wide and varying selections, with some obvious overlap (Frank Ocean, Grizzly Bear, Tame Impala and Kendrik Lamar seem to be across-the-board darlings), but less than you might expect. Even the CL Music Team's own Best Of Lists reveal diverse ideas of what we thought was noteworthy in 2012, each list most definitely following each of our own personal genre preferences. And I don't think any of us were wrong. My own year-end list is followed by those of several other CL Team members, with their Number 1 favorite album of the year [WARNING: there's a NSFW album cover at the bottom] followed by a list of the rest of their faves along with any notes and thoughts on the year. Enjoy, and take a listen to the ones you haven't heard or heard of yet; I'm still cycling through albums from 2012 and will probably continue to do so for the next few months...

My own Top 10 encompasses those albums and bands I obsessed over most, listened to compulsively, and am still falling back to for comfort even today. I had a great deal of trouble trimming my own list down to 20, let alone 10, so I've narrowed it down to a dirty dozen for 2012, with some honorable mentions at the end...

1. Django Django, Django Django (Ribbon Music)
I pretty much pegged this as my album of the year upon second listen. This youthful UK foursome carries the modern torch of another late, great favorite UK group of mine, the Beta Band, and the resemblance isn't really much of a surprise considering that bandleader, drummer/producer David Maclean, is the younger bro of Beta's keyboardist John Maclean. Django Django's genre-nabbing spans garage pop, '70s rock, New Wave, dance music, art rock and psychedelia, and their layered mix of organic and electronic elements brim with vibrant percussive texture, exquisite vocal harmonies (ethereal, droning, sweet, looped and layered), and bits of sample and synth flotsam scattered amid musical moments that are quirky sweet, darker and stripped-down, or warped chaotic blissful washes of sound. Their eponymous debut pretty much touches on all the notes I love, and it's one that I have a hard time skipping through even when there's a track I really want to hear, since each one holds something unique and appealing. Video for "Hail Bop" after the jump along with the rest of my list and the CL Team's Best Of lists, too...

About The Authors

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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