20. An Awesome Wave---Alt-J
Being tapped as, 'the next,' anything is almost always bad, and Alt-J is proof. The Cambridge boys created quite a stir earlier this year, and while there's nothing wrong with that, something tells me that even the quartet themselves shuddered a bit when they heard the Radiohead comparisons. No, An Awesome Wave isn't the visionary work that many offerings by Thom Yorke's crew are, but it's just about everything else. The disc is a testament to the powers of space and atmosphere, each twinkling guitar line and odd-ball harmony bouncing off the walls, echoing and reverberating without end. It's an album made of deceptively simple parts, specific moments, such as the piano interludes on Something Good or the climactic breakdown on Taro, highlighted by their lack of cluttering adornment. As it turns out, you don't have to be the band of your generation to be pretty damn good.
19. Beasts of the Southern Wild Original Soundtrack---Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin
I know; this is kind of a goofy pick, but man, oh man, am I prepared to defend it. What Romer and Zeitlin have accomplished here perfectly befits its parent movie, which is to say it's almost too beautiful to even handle. A dazzling, bewitching mixture of bells, violins, cellos, and positively triumphant horns, the soundtrack stands as my personal favorite instrumental LP of the year, a light smattering of vocals only occasionally (and welcomely) invading the proceedings. Having seen the film obviously effects my standpoint in a way that I can never truly change, but I can't help but think There Once Was a Hushpuppy, with its stunning emotion and grandeur, would be just as breath-taking without a narrative to reflect upon.
18. Locked Down---Dr. John
If you've ever thought to yourself, 'man, I would really like The Black Keys if they were just noticeably better,' have I got the album for you! Before any Dr. John devotees jump down my throat for such a proclamation, allow me to explain. The 72-year-old's debut, released in 1968, entered the world before either member of The Black Keys, and his crowded discography reveals just how prolific he's been ever since. But Locked Down is clearly product of the latter band's increased popularity and visibility, especially because lead Key Dan Auerbach is on board as producer and guitarist. The two are a match made in heaven, John bringing the spunk, funk, and down south voodoo to which the Keys have always aspired, Auerbach providing excellent production, and occasionally ripping on that ax so hard you worry he'll break it. Who knew that Auerbach, who's somehow found a way to the big time making guitar jams sans real guitar solos, had this much ability, this much piss-and-vinager? Locked Down is a swampy, sweaty romp, filled with varied instrumentation, eye-popping fret work, and hooks that superglue themselves to your mind.
A tactile, folksy, woodsy tour through the midwest led by dual vocalists Klara and Johanna Söderberg. Not only can the sisters create an astounding harmony with one another, each possesses a unique enough croon to be able to trade off lead vocals without the slightest hint of quality drop-off. Those adverse to twang and over-earnestness need not apply, but they'll miss out of one of the most gorgeous, affecting albums of the year, all longing and perfectly mapped-out sad-folk tunes. Emmylou and I Found a Way are earworms of the highest accord, the rest of the disc filled with the siblings' lush melody and melancholy. The Lion's Roar is longing incarnate, able to prompt nostalgia and lovelorn pining within nanoseconds of pressing play.
Quite possibly the single most varied album of 2012, fin is an entirely unpredictable journey composed of throbbing electro, blustery percussion, sneaky vocal samples/appearances, and undeniable rhythm. Sure, its technically a dance album, but such descriptions feel simple-minded in this instance. They fail to capture the cavernous stylistic divide between the haunted jungle of opener Depak Ine and the unmitigated warmth of Journeys. They ignore the way that space-case El Oeste flips into the arresting, aggressive tone of Oro y Sangre on the very next track. Albums this ambitions and expensive ought not be condensed into tiny boxes; they belong on speakers, played loudly enough to stretch out, and take over a room. Or just in your ears will do.
What a strange, perplexing beast Luxury Problems is. Winner of 2012's, 'Biggest-Pain-in-the-Ass-to-Try-to-Describe,' award, Andy Stott's latest certainly isn't for everyone, and on the first spin or two, it's hardly for anyone. But the LP is one that lavishly rewards revisitation, the murky texture and doomed groove that lord over the whole disc able to bore their way deeply into your mind and body when given a chance to sink in. Is it dance music? Is it electro? Is it some insane new take on looping prog rock? More than anything, Luxury Problems is a place, a soundscape that envelopes and controls, chugging along on a sinister current that turns out to be just as danceable as it is foreboding. It's dark stuff, made all the more alluring when you discover the haunted beauty just below the surface.
14. Blunderbuss---Jack White
It feels strange, describing Blunderbuss as Jack White's debut album. White has been a household name for more than a decade now, building his rep through work with bands like The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, and, of course, The White Stripes. But this LP wasn't just another release; the sudden-but-kinda-predictable break-up of the Stripes in early 2011 left many blue Elephant and White Blood Cells fans to morn the loss of a sound that they'd loved. But this, 'debut,' of sorts, his first release since the split, does away with these concerns, not because it sounds particularly like his old band, but because it sounds so much like Jack White. Each project he touches becomes imbued with his distinct feel and flair, and his solo work is no different, thus far interchanging the rollicking guitar jams of old (Sixteen Saltines) with doo wop-infused southern rock (I'm Shakin'). These are not earth-shattering changes, nor are they rehashes of the past. They're the creations of an artist who still has something to say, and thank god for that.
Some hip-hop albums take on great significance, attacking social norms and expectations with fiery rage, exposing political inequalities, or deep personal examinations. Then there's discs like 1999, a retro-to-the-bone mixtape that pours out of speakers like fun itself. Joey's set feels as though it dropped in from a different age, one where beats were stitched together out of looping, simple-minded samples, and MC's flowed like men possessed (in other words, the 90's). Bada$$ is a revelation, his word-play only trumped by the road-runner speed with which each witticism is delivered, moving on to the next thought or phrase before you've even digested the first. His supporting cast, members of the hip hop collective Pro Era to which he belongs, is his match every step of the way. They're all tuned into the same frequency, giving the disc a sense of cohesion and insularity where many mixtapes allow guests verses to render them feeling scatter-shot. These guys know how to party like it's... you get it.
12. Coexist---The XX
Standing beside Animal Collective's Centipede Hz as the killed-by-hype albums of the year, fans of The XX's debut disc really ought to lay off the hate-eraid on this one. Coexist perfectly maintains the aesthetic of the band's now-canonical XX, only instead of going with the bigger-is-better blueprint like most band's who experience early success, their sophomore set actually slims down their notoriously economic sound. The result, to my mind, is that the songs are a touch less durable, failing to prompt the replay button as often as their predecessors. They're also more immediate, just about every single hook sticking upon first impact, unwilling to let go. Songs like Chained and Sunset feel like they've lived in your ipod for years upon first listen, and if Coexist doesn't quite match the heights of what came before it, the band in question is still a pop-writing marvel, and their 2012 is a winner.
Homespun doesn't even begin to describe the sound that Mac DeMarco has created on 2; there are stretches of the thing where you might as well be in the room with him. A proud graduate of the Kurt Vile School of Musicality and Worldview, DeMarco takes the aesthetic to an even lazier, more simple-minded place (yeah, I know), which wouldn't have a chance of working if he wasn't so freakishly gifted. His voice might not be traditionally amazing, but it has a swagger and confidence that's impossible not to follow. He won't melt your face with a guitar solo, but his melodies are so absurdly sublime, so unique yet instinctive, that it hardly occurs to you. 2 is DeMarco realizing what he's good at, and scrapping absolutely everything else. The instrumentation is sparse, often just a simple drum pattern, a guitar, and a pedal, serving to draw you even further into intricacies of those strings. It's a masterclass in songwriting, unpredictable in all the right ways, and intrinsic in even better ones.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2012:
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012: