WiAC’s Top 13 Albums of 2012

There’s that old adage: if a tree falls on the internet and no one’s around to hear it, will anyone read its year-end list? Well, let’s find out! Even though we haven’t written a single post all year, rest assured that we’ve been listening to all kinds of great music, and some of it was even released this very year! And even though we’re a bit rusty, we’ve got some records we want you to know about.

This list is shorter than in years past, but we also feel stronger about each individual record than we have on any previous list, making it that much more fun to compile this thing. Also, this is the first time in 5 years that we both had the exact same record at #1 – so that’s pretty neat.

As always, we don’t pretend to be some great arbiters of fine musical taste. We don’t proclaim that these are the absolute best records released all year. These are just the records we absolutely loved the most. They’re the ones we kept coming back to, the ones that really moved us. They’re the ones we’ll remember when we look back on the last year of human civilization.

 

13. My Head Is An Animal

by Of Monsters And Men

[Universal Republic]

Sometimes it’s enough to just say that I like an album. The ‘why’ hasn’t been very important to me this year. Who’s to say what I find so enjoyable about My Head is an Animal? Male and female lead vocals? The la-la-las of “From Finner”? The hey-heys of “From Finner”? Just the simple fact that they’re Icelandic? Probably all-of-the-above, but I’m not thinking about that. What has mattered to me this year is the staying power of the songs and Of Monsters and Men has been my companion through countless hours of work, driving, cleaning the bathroom, lying aimlessly on the couch, etc. etc. -Logan

mp3: Of Monsters And Men – From Finner

12. The Only Place

by Best Coast

[Mexican Summer]

The Only Place takes all the things I enjoyed about BC’s debut, and improved on them just a bit – making an overall cleaner and crisper record. Not too clean or crisp, mind. That would ruin her… but it’s just enough to make this one a little less niche, while keeping all the hooks and humor that reeled me in to begin with. Per the (adorable) album art, she spends a fair amount of time lauding the Golden State – and being a California ex-patriot myself, I’m pretty much doomed to love her stuff no matter what (most of her rhapsodizing about her home state lines up so seamlessly with my own high-school nostalgia, right down to her covering Blink-182’s “Dammit” in concert – I mean, you can’t get any closer to my 1998 SoCal self than that song). And while the record is ostensibly a love letter to the Golden State, it comes wrapped in the kind of wide-eyed and sincere love of place that can be applied to anywhere you happen to call home, wherever it might be. –Chris

mp3: Best Coast – The Only Place

11. America

by Dan Deacon

[Domino]

Back in August Dan Deacon guest DJ’d on NPR’s All Songs Considered, and I’ll be honest: after listening to that show I was going to love America no matter what it sounded like. The guy is just so infinitely likeable, and for someone who graduated in ‘Electro-acoustic and Computer Music Composition’, he’s remarkably earnest, and refreshingly UN-pretentious. Deacon makes artsy electronic music but with a populace appeal – it’s complex and dense and referential, but it’s also insanely danceable and sometimes arrestingly beautiful (for proof watch THIS). By Deacon’s own admission, America is meant to be listened to in the LP format, with two distinct sides: Side-A contains the kind of noisy/cathartic electro-jams that are Deacon’s bread and butter, while Side B unfolds into a 20-minute symphonic suite employing electronic tools alongside a full orchestras-worth of wood, wind ‘n brass to bring to life Deacon’s expansive panorama of the American landscape. It’s evocative and gorgeous and challenging and it puts Dan Deacon solidly on the short list of artists who are meaningfully fuzzing the line between electronic pop-music and fine art. -Chris

mp3: Dan Deacon – True Thrush

10. Babel

by Mumford & Sons

[Glass Note]

Continuing my list of albums that you can purchase at Target is Mumford & Sons’ Babel. If I had to sum up my love of this album it would be in two hyphenated words: scream-sing. 2012 has been the year of the scream-sing for me. (Need proof? You’ll see those conjoined words again in just a few posts!) My favorite tracks from Babel are also the tracks that, when you sing along, you find the veins in your neck popping out: “Hopeless Wanderer”, “Below My Feet”, and the unbeatable “Ghosts That We Knew.” -Logan

mp3: Mumford & Sons – Hopeless Wanderer

9. Be The Void

by Dr. Dog

[ANTI-]

Right from the foot-stomping sing-a-long of the opening track, it’s clear that on Be The Void, Dr. Dog’s moved back to a more homespun sound than their last few albums, and the result is their most garage-sounding record ever. Be The Void sounds like a bunch of friends who love bands like Pavement and Three Dog Night equally, who got together for a weekend and banged out 11 of the absolute funnest songs they could come up with. These songs have that breathless live quality that make you want to sing loud and hard right along with them, especially on tracks like “Lonesome”, “Heavy Light”, and “Get Away”. I’ve said over and over if I could be in any rock band, it would be Dr. Dog. These guys just make the kind of music that makes the music-maker happy! Say that ten times fast. Then go listen to Be The Void. -Chris

mp3: Dr. Dog – Lonesome

8. There’s No Leaving Now

by The Tallest Man On Earth

[Dead Oceans]

Kristian Matsson’s latest record as The Tallest Man On Earth is my September record – it’s warm and cozy and it’s my relief from the long, hot summer. It sounds like autumn, with its clear, colorful days and crisp, cozy nights. It makes me think of riding bikes on leaf-littered trails and sitting out on high-school bleachers in sweatshirts. It’s not quite as wild and blustery as October yet, or as somber as November will be, but it’s also not without its own kind of tension – Matsson’s reedy voice has always had an inherent drama built into it, like the first harbinger that things are winding down, that this is the beginning of the end. The songs are gorgeous and flighty, and filled with the kind of evocative turns of phrase that made me first fall in love with this man. This is my September record, but I’ll be listening to it all year. -Chris

mp3: The Tallest Man On Earth – Revelation Blues

7. Gossamer

by Passion Pit

[Columbia]

Gossamer is just the most fun you will have listening to an album… until you actually start paying attention to the lyrics. That moment hit me sometime during my umpteenth time listening to “Constant Conversations”. That song is DEVASTATING! However, you know how I love a devastating song (See: The Antlers; entire discography of…). That said, some moments made me laugh. The reference in “Carried Away” to all of the subject’s money being in copper, I don’t think we’re dealing with a commodity trader, we’re dealing with a poor sad-sack graduate student who had to use pennies to buy a can of refried beans. (I may be filling in some of the specifics from personal experience.) -Logan

mp3: Passion Pit – Carried Away

6. Transcendental Youth

by The Mountain Goats

[Merge]

John Darnielle has few peers in the world of music-making – in terms of both talent and sheer volume (that’s volume as in quantity of work, not necessarily decibels) – he is in a league all his own. He explores characters and place with a thoroughness and compassion usually reserved for the world of literature, but then somehow packages them into little 3-4 minute songs with desperately strummed guitar chords and heart-swelling choruses that demand to be listened to over and over again. In Transcendental Youth Darnielle returns to the world he inhabited in 2004’s We Shall All Be Healed, this time populated by a semi-fictionalized cast of characters all tied together by their various struggles with mental illness – and through his empathetic exploration of their demons he proceeds to exorcise some of our own. Woven through the record is Matthew E. White’s gorgeous horn arrangements, acting as the perfect counterpoint to Darnielle’s raggedy voice, possibly providing the transcendence referred to in the record’s title for the fallen youth of these songs. I can’t adequately express how much I’ve loved this record this year – “Cry For Judas” is as triumphant as anything Darnielle’s ever produced, “White Cedar” may be the most beautiful Mountain Goats song ever, etc. etc. – the only thing I can do is tell you to go listen to it – over and over and over until you feel the same way I do. That is, that John Darnielle is a national treasure. -Chris

mp3: The Mountain Goats – Cry for Judas

5. From The Top of Willamette Mountain

by Joshua James

[Intelligent Noise]

What would WiAC be without our usual fanboy enthusiasm for Joshua James? Well guys he’s back and better than ever. It almost seems unfair. The velvety smooth “Ghost in the Town” and “Sister” which just demands you clench your fists and scream-sing along with Joshua… it doesn’t seem fair to so many other musicians. Sorry guys, you want to write a thematic album that explores a man’s sincere search for spirituality? You can’t, it’s already been done. (Go ahead, count the ‘hallelujahs’ in From the Top… only the best can pull that off without me feeling like I’ve strayed uncomfortably into contemporary Christian music.) In the track “Willamette Mountain” Joshua sings, “I got a million more stories.” Let’s hope so. -Logan

mp3: Joshua James – Mystic

4. Tramp

by Sharon Van Etten

[Jagjaguwar]

This record has absolutely ruled my world all year. Since February it’s been on near constant rotation at our house, and its relatively low position on this list is simply a testament to how much great music we’ve listened to this year. Tramp profoundly delivers on the promise of Van Etten’s 2010 album, Epic, helped in no small part by Bryce Dessner’s brilliant production – expertly fleshing out the songs while never distracting from their real treasure: Van Etten’s way with words. The word “poet” is thrown around way too often when discussing songwriters, but in this case I can’t think of a better descriptor –her economy of word is breathtaking, somehow packing so much into so little, like the couplet from “Give Out” – “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city / or why I’ll need to leave”. Tramp is full of moments like that: simple, straight-forward gut-checks that are at once profoundly personal, while also heartbreakingly relatable. -Chris

mp3: Sharon Van Etten – Give Out

3. I Know What Love Isn’t

by Jens Lekman

[Secretly Canadian]

“You don’t get over a broken heart / you just learn to carry it gracefully” sings Jens on “The World Moves On”, and in that simple phrase, Jens sums up the whole gist of this, his third album. It’s the break-up album that only Jens Lekman could have written – sad and beautiful and poignant, delivered with his wry sense of humor and acute self-awareness – never willing to give in to its own sadness or self-pity. It’s the kind of break-up album that acknowledges and affirms the heartbreak but is far more interested in trying to teach that heart how to “carry it gracefully”. In the song that bookends the record Jens searches for what that means in practical terms: “I started working out when we broke up / I can do one hundred push-ups / I could probably do two if I was bored” before he admits that “every little hair (still) knows your name”. But talking only about Jens’ lyrics is missing the whole point – because what makes Jens Lekman Jens Lekman is his ability to take sad songs and make them into something so ridiculous and beautiful that you can’t help but smile. In the past he’s done this masterfully for single songs at a time – probably the best example being “The Opposite of Hallelujah” from 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala, where Jens turns a conversation about debilitating depression into a heaven-reaching sing-a-long disco-anthem. Now take that and spread it over an entire album’s worth of heartbreak, and you’ll begin to understand how amazing this record is, and what it means to Jens Lekman to “carry it gracefully.” -Chris

mp3: Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t

2. 151a

by Kishi Bashi

[Joyful Noise]

I’ve been a Kishi Bashi missionary for the better part of the year now. As much as (SPOILER ALERT) Japandroids deserve the top spot, and for me it was perhaps the clearest choice for number one ever, Kishi Bashi was my go-to when someone asked about new music.  Share, share, share. “Manchester” this and “I Am the Antichrist to You” that. I never stopped talking about him (‘Him’ being Kaoru Ishibashi, aka Kishi Bashi). Did I feel betrayed when I heard “Bright Whites” on a commercial? Did I bemoan yet another gem of an artist having their beautiful work reduced to a ten second sound bite to sell HP printers? Heck no, just thrilled that perhaps Kishi Bashi is reaching more and more hearts.  So here I am again, sharing the most beautiful music of the year from a platform that reaches literally tens of people. -Logan

mp3: Kishi Bashi – Manchester

1. Celebration Rock

by Japandroids

[Polyvinyl]

Celebration Rock is an unbearably nostalgic record. Each track has a story and each story feels like it contains splinters of my own life. To explain, listening to “Younger Us” I had one story continually pop into my mind: It was 1 AM and it had been snowing all evening. I opened my sleeping roommate’s door and said, “Klompers, we’re all going sledding. Wanna come?” He sat up and still half-asleep said, “Let me get my coat and boots. I can dress in the car.” Hell ya Klompers, hell ya. Every track brings something back for me. They range from breakups to car rides to past introspective solitary moments (“Continuous Thunder”, “For the Love of Ivy”, and “Evil’s Sway” respectively) but each song resonates with me on a very individual level. I was reluctant to do this write up for that reason. My love of this album is very personal and I don’t think anything I’ve said translates to any of you. However, if you’re anything like me, you read the first sentence and the last sentence of these write ups and move on, so here goes. Hell ya Japandroids, hell ya. -Logan

mp3: Japandroids – Continuous Thunder

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  1. Jonny B’s avatar

    So excited to see this post pop up in my reader! Love this blog.

  2. Ty’s avatar

    I miss you guys!

  3. Ty’s avatar

    Surprised to not see Grizzly Bear, Andrew Bird, or Perfume Genius on here, but still a good list.

  4. Tobler’s avatar

    Thanks so much for the kind words guys!

    @Ty: those were all three really pretty records that for some reason never took hold around here (I, for one, listened to that Bird record quite a bit actually, but # of listens does not necessarily = favorite, you know?). This year was really liberating in terms of how little we listened to new music, freeing us up to just listen to whatever moved us (for example, I think I only listened to Mountain Goats records for 3 straight months) (those 3 months were the best).

    That’s also a testament to how much we love the records on our list this year… it’s not like we’ve only listened to some of them a half-dozen times and said “yeah that’s a really good record, that deserves to be on our year-end list” – which TOTALLY happens when you’re listening to 3-4 new records a week! If an album sticks around for a whole week or two it automatically becomes a contender for year-end listing. In contrast, Japandroids was listened to in triple-digit figures between the two of us this year. That’s ridiculous I know. But there is no question that we love it. Along with every other record on here.

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