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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gearing up for the end of the year best-of list: 50 candidates

It's time for me to start obsessing over my list of favorite albums of 2012. The first step is whittling the list down to something manageable, so here are just over 50 albums that will most likely be what I pull from. There are a few albums I've heard songs off of that are probable strong contenders that I still need to pick up, but generally this list represents what I've enjoyed most this year.



For those of you that are Spotify inclined, here's a Spotify playlist with a cut from each album. I'm a bit stunned that Spotify had all of the albums.

The list is alphabetical - I haven't dug in and started ranking since I did my half year best-of list in July.

  • BAT FOR LASHES - the Haunted Man - The 3rd (and best album) from Natasha Khan is more intimate and compelling than her previous work, and spectacularly updates the Kate Bush sound [ band site ]
  • BEST COAST – the Only Place - 2nd album from the California duo offers more summery ear candy with jangley guitars and Bethany Cosentino's gorgeous voice, which reminds me of Neko Case. This time the band's lo-fi edges are cleaned up by producer Jon Brion. [ band site ]
  • JOHN CALE - Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood - Cale's first new album in 7 years is erratic, but like everything he's done, well worth hearing. He merges melodic pop ideas with a constantly expanding and diverse palette of experimentation like no one else. [ John's site ]
  • CARDNINAL - Hymns - It took 18 years, but Richard Davies and Eric Matthews finally release the follow up their much loved debut album. The album is a bit more diverse than the debut, but still touches on their orch-pop strengths and influences (ie early Bee Gees, Left Banke, and Love). [ band's page at Fire Records ]
  • CEREMONY - Zoo - Aggressive guitar post-punk from the one-time hardcore band from San Francisco. The band's punk roots are obvious, but I also hear bits of Wire, Joy Division, the Wipers, and the first few Green Day records. [ band site ]
  • NENEH CHERRY & the THING – Cherry Thing - Neneh teams up with a Scandinavian free-jazz trio for a wonderfully exciting album of originals and covers (Stooges, Don Cherry, Suicide, MF Doom, and Ornette Coleman) that melds avante garde spontaneity and funky grooves, capped off with some of Neneh's loosest vocals ever. 
  • CHICHA LIBRE – Canibalismo - This is one of most wonderfully weird records I've heard in the last few years. The Brooklyn band plays an updated version of Chicha (a dancable Peruvian hybrid of surf and psychedelia from the 60's and 70's), incorporating vintage synthesizers, looping mellotrons, twangy guitars, cumbia rhythms, and exotica atmospherics. You can hear bits of Martin Denny, Serge Gainsbourg, Mano Chau, Henry Mancini, and Messer Chups, yet they really sound like no one else. [ band site ]
  • JIMMY CLIFF - Rebirth - The Reggae great returns with a vibrant and highly enjoyable album of classic sounding rocksteady ska while still being vital for 2012. Cliff's voice is in great form, the politically charged lyrics are as relevant as anything in his catalog, and the horns are some of the best I've heard in years. Rancid's Tim Armstrong gives a crisp, economical production that highlights the strength of the originals and well-chosen covers. [ Jimmy Cliff's site ]
  • the CLOUD NOTHINGS – Attack On Memory - Cleveland band turns up the volume and intensity for an album of big guitar pop with huge hooks [ band site ]
  • CROCODILES - Endless Flowers - Less Echo & the Bunnymen and more Jesus & Mary Chain for the San Diego band's third album of big guitar psychedelia. It's poppy shoegazer stuff - totally retro, but quite enjoyable. [ band's FaceBook page ]
  • the dB's - Falling Off the Sky - The pop gods return with their first album in 25 years (and the first with the original Stamey/Holsapple/Rigby/Holder line-up since 1982's Repercussion). There are elements of everything the individual members have doing over the past two and half decades, yet it still sounds like a cohesive record. [ band site ]
  • DINOSAUR JR - I Bet On Sky - Loving a new Dinosaur Jr album is a surprise to me, since 1987's You're Living All Over Me is the only album I really like by them (and 1991's Green Mind is the only other one I even play anymore). But the songwriting this time is stronger and the hooks catchier than anything I recall from their catalog. The band sounds totally committed to serving the songs first, which actually compliments the band's signature sound and riffing rather than fighting it. [ band site ]
  • DISAPPEARS - Pre Language - Chicago post-punk band's third album is a moody dark affair loaded with hypnotic drones, icy guitars, and a vocal growl in the style of Mark E Smith. This is the band's first album with Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley sitting behind the drum kit. [ band site ]
  • DIVINE FITS - A Thing Called Divine Fits - Spoon's Britt Daniel teams up with Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade) and Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) for an album of solid new wave indie rock. [ band site ]
  • DJANGO DJANGO - Django Django - Debut album from the much buzzed London quartet  armed with a diverse collection of innovative art pop songs big on catchy hooks and toe-tapping melodies. [ band site ]
  • DR JOHN - Locked Down - Dr John's most most consistent album in 20 years, thanks in part to production from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. It's a surprisingly strong album of funky, gritty blues swamp rock that somehow sounds current and timeless at the same time. [ Dr John's site ]
  • BILL FAY - Life Is People - Praised by the likes of Jeff Tweedy, Jim O'Rourke, Nick Cave and Julian Cope, British singer/songwriter/pianist Bill Fay releases his third proper album after 41 years. The album is a beautiful collection of almost hymnal songs centered around Fay's wonderfully aged voice and piano. There's an intimacy and weightiness to the songs, which range from sparse piano/vocals to lushly arranged numbers with strings and a grand Hammond organ wash. [ Bill's page at Dead Oceans Records ]
  • FIRST AID KIT - The Lion's Roar - Country rock in the Gram Parsons tradition from 2 Swedish sisters with hauntingly beautiful harmonies. [ band site ]
  • the FRESH & ONLYS - Long Slow Dance - The San Francisco band's new album sounds like an American indie pop version of the Church or early Go-Betweens. With it's jangley guitars and shimmering melodies the band has shed their garage rock past in favor of a richer sound along the lines of an updated Paisley Underground. [ the band's blog ]
  • the FURIOUS SEASONS - My Analog Face - Delicate and relaxed pop from David Steinhart, front man of the underrated 80's California jangley pop band Pop Art. The songs feature gentle guitars mingling with violins and a rich, clean production. At times the band leans towards to folk, but others have the feel of Del Amitri or Reckoning era REM. [ band site ]
  • GUIDED BY VOICES – Let's Go Eat the Factory - The classic Guided By Voices line-up returns with an adequate facsimile of their glory days. Like most GbV albums - at times it works wonderfully and other it times it's just interesting. [ band site ]
  • RICHARD HAWLEY - Standing At the Sky's Edge - For his 7th album Hawley significantly steps out of his comfort zone with a more urgent batch of songs with the guitars up front and the most aggressive riffing he's ever done on his own records. The album is layered with atmospheric psychedelia, which adds a whole new dimension to Hawely's top notch songwriting and guitar playing. [ Richard's site ]
  • KELLY HOGAN - I Like To Keep Myself In Pain - On her first solo album in a decade, Kelly effortlessly shifts between traditional country, Americana pop, Adult Contemporary, and songs that sound like they could be standards from several generations earlier. [ Kelly's site ]
  • HOWLER - America Give Up - Minneapolis' Howler play hyperactive guitar pop with a little Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz and a lot of youthful sugar rush enthusiasm. The songs are short and punchy and tailor made for a summer party mix. [ band site ]
  • JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD - Hypnotic Nights - Jeff the Brotherhood play a weird hybrid of big dumb stoner rock and infectious Weezer-like pop. The band locks in on an insanely catchy hook and bludgeons you with it with the help of plodding drums and fuzzy guitars. [ band site ]
  • KAISER CHIEFS - Start The Revolution Without Me - This is the US version of the band's 2011 "create your own album" the Future is Medieval. The songs are decent new wave/post punk pop, but sound more like b-sides or album cuts. They don't sound inspired and none of the songs jump out. [ band site ]
  • the KIK - Springlevend - Bouncy Nederbeat (early 60's influenced beat music movement from the Netherlands) from the Dutch band's debut album. Not very original, but fun as hell. [ the band's site ]
  • MICHAEL KIWANUKA - Home Again - Stunningly strong debut from a British soul singer with a rootsy 70's soul and folk hybrid [ Michael's site ]
  • MARK LANEGAN - Blues Funeral - Moody, dark, and sinister - just what I wanted from the former Screaming Trees frontman [ band site ]
  • CATE LE BON - Cyrk - Folky pyschedelic pop from a Welsh singer who sounds a bit like Nico era Velvets. The slightly eccentric songs pull various elements (including fuzzy guitars, odd arrangments, and krautrock delivery) into a charming and very original album. [ Cate's site ]
  • LE SERA - Sees the Light - The 2nd album from Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman is a rush of charming indie pop melodies pushed to the next level by her captivating honey sweet vocals. [ Katy's site ]
  • the MAGNETIC FIELDS - Love at the Bottom of the Sea - Stephin Merritt returns to synths and more direct songs (well, as much as Stephin Merritt can be direct). It's quirky, catchy, often funny, and always interesting - which is exactly what I want from Magnetic Fields. [ band site ]
  • MAXIMO PARK - National Health - Newcastle's Maximo Park came out of the box strong with their debut album of bouncy angular pop, but lost their way quickly and I had written them off as a one album fluke. But here they've got a strong batch of high energy songs and revitalized delivery, making for quite an enjoyable album. [ band site ]
  • JD McPHERSON - Signs & Signifiers - The Oklahoma native masters vintage rock and roll and R&B swing on his debut album. Although the sound is authentic in recreating a byegone era, the songs and performances are sincere enough to avoid feeling kitchy or forced. [ JD's site ]
  • MIND SPIDERS - Meltdown - For their second album, Mark Ryan (perviously of the supercharged Texas garage band Marked Men) and the expanded Mind Spiders deliver a hyper garagey batch of powerpop/punk songs in the same vein as Jay Reatard. [ Band's FaceBook page ]
  • MOONS - Fables of History - 60's rooted Britpop from Paul Weller's keyboardist Andy Crofts. The album is solid and catchy, but not quite as memorable as the debut.
  • BOB MOULD - Silver Age - New music from Bob Mould had become less essenential to me over the past decade, but Bob is back and he's absolutely recharged. This album is ferocious and loaded with huge hooks in line with Copper Blue.
  • DAVID MYHR - Soundshine - Bright, shimmering power pop from the former frontman for Sweden's Merrymakers [ David's site ]
  • NADA SURF - the Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy - 7th album from the incredibly reliable New York pop band [ band site ]
  • A.C. NEWMAN - Shut Down the Streets - Not as immediate as his other records (solo or with new Pornographers), here Newman is in a more traditional singer/songwriter role with a more subtle, but highly rewarding, group of songs.
  • GRAHAM PARKER & the RUMOUR - Three Chords Good - Graham reunites with the Rumour for their first album together in 31 years. [ Graham's site ]
  • CHUCK PROPHET - Temple Beautiful - 12th solo album from the San Francisco singer/songwriter (and former Green on Red frontman) reminds me of an Americana Ray Davies meets Alejandro Escovedo [ Chuck's site ]
  • REDD KROSS - Researching the Blues - Classic Neurotica Redd Kross lineup returns after 15 years away and picks up right where they left off. This is the comeback record any Redd Kross could hope for - energetic glammy power-pop songs with crazy catchy melodies, big harmonies, and a grand sense of fun. [ band site ]
  • LEE RENALDO - Between The Times & The Tides - The first post breakup album from the Sonic Youth solo guitarist is surprisingly melodic [ Lee's site at SonicYouth.com ]
  • SAINT ETIENNE - Words and Music by Saint Etienne - The band's first album in 7 years is a Europop love letter to the enthusiasm of being a music fan [ band site ]
  • the SHINS - Port of Morrow - James Mercer refines his pop formula and widens the pop references just a smidge. This might be his strongest and most distinctive batch of songs yet. [ band site ]
  • SHOES - Ignition - The power pop legends return with their first album in 18 years - loaded with the hooks and harmonies you'd expect. This is a great album not because it's great that they're still doing it, it's a great album because the songs are top notch, the playing and production are fresh, and the band has an urgency they havven't had since the early 80's. [ band site ]
  • SUMMER GIRLFRIENDS - Shockwaves - Toe-tapping melodies and Summer pop fun from Chicago. They play the same style of punked up 60's rooted pop as the first Ramones albums that also reminds me of an American version of Fuzzbox. [ band's FaceBook page ]
  • LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III - Older Than My Old Man Now - As with most of his best records, Loudon sings about mortality, family, memories, and his place in the world with equal parts humor and deeply personal reflection. [ Loudon's site ]
  • PAUL WELLER - Sonik Kicks - An eclectic and uneven album from the Modfather, but amongst the genre-hopping experiments are some fabulous songs. As you'd expect, he's brought some classic R&B pop, and rock rooted songs, but he also dabbles in dub, electronica, and even Krautrock. The songwriting is strong, but I wish he was a bit more focused and made a more consistent record rather than one that sounds like a Damon Albarn b-sides collection. [ Paul's site ]
  • the WELL WISHERS – Dreaming of the West Coast - Classic power pop from the Bay area that works the same territory as Velvet Crush, Material Issue, and the Posies. [ BandCamp page ]
  • DWIGHT YOAKAM - 3 Pears - Dwight has never been one to stick with a formula, but on his first new album of original material in 7 years he tones down his Bakersfield side and stretches out even more than normal. He covers Merseybeat pop, 60's AM radio soul, soft ballads, bar-room rockers, and honky-tonk effortlessly and ends up with a diverse collection of songs that flows perfectly. For me it's his best album since 1993's This Time. [ Dwight's site ]
A few possible last minute additions are MADNESS, GRAHAM PARKER & the RUMOUR, CALEXICO, and KEN STRINGFELLOW, which I've only given a few listens to but like what I've heard.

There will be a lot of shuffling of rankings over the next month, but I'm pretty sure the top of the list will include Nada Surf, Cloud Nothings, Bob Mould, Shoes, Mark Lanegan, Redd Kross, and Michael Kinanuka.

Now it's time to figure out what I forgot. At this stage, there's always a big album or two I somehow left off the list. That's the kind of stuff I lose sleep over.

1 comment:

  1. Only surprisingly glaring omission, IMO, is Calexico's Algiers, which I think is the best album they've put out since Feast of Wire. I like it quite a bit.

    +1 for JD McPherson though. Nice to see a Tulsa guy getting some heat.

    I have the Mind Spiders first album, but haven't checked out Meltdown yet. I'll throw that in my mental file.

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