Welcome to the first part of the Best Albums of 2012 list. Be sure to check back on Friday for Albums #10-4. As always, feel free to leave some comments, and thanks again for reading!
20. Mull by Alek Fin // The only EP on this list is an absolutely memorizing recording. Alek Fin has a voice that sounds remarkably like Thom Yorke and an electronic/rock type of musical output that lands somewhere between Kid A, The King of Limbs, and the work of James Blake. At times, Mull is astonishingly minimal, while other points show layered flourishes. It’s all intoxicating and I only wish there were more songs to hear.
19. Shields by Grizzly Bear // An immensely disappointing effort that is front-heavy and full of real clunkers in the back half. But those first four songs? Absolute magic. It’s a very difficult record to deal with: Veckatimest was full of delicate beauty and wonder. Shields overreaches, can’t quite execute its ambition, and doesn’t match the promise of the advance singles. But it’s still worth your time, if only to hear the singles and “Speak in Rounds.”
18. A Thing Called Divine Fits by Divine Fits // This collaboration seemed reasonable on paper and came out sounding great. The most noteworthy success essentially came like a fully-formed piece out of the Spoon catalog, but Dan Boeckner’s contribution is equally important. His passionate vocals and chilling synth work give depth to a fun and successful project.
17. Stars and Satellites by Trampled by Turtles // An exceptionally successful bluegrass/folk effort. The songs are gritty and emotional enough to hold meaning. The instrumental work is accomplished enough to inspire and impress. And perhaps the most important thing is the pacing. Stars blends quick, urgent tracks with slow ones that linger in the air. Equal parts toe-tapping and reflective, wholly enjoyable.
16. Europe by Allo Darlin’ // Here’s your light-pop, high melody fix for the year. And I don’t mean that in a dismissive way: Europe succeeds in a similar way to Belle & Sebastian. The sounds are relentlessly catchy and sugary sweet, but never overly saccharine. That balance is maintained by songs that have slightly more depth than the surface suggests (the noisy bits on “Northern Lights,” the space in “The Letter”).
15. An Awesome Wave by Alt-J // It’s not as perfect as some on NPR would suggest, but it’s a truly unique musical experience and certainly worth exploring. Sounds are layered in unexpected ways: drums pop a bit more than you’re used to hearing, the vocals jump around from dark to light, sometimes it even just swirls off into new segments. But it’s irresistible and executes its complex vision with surprising ease.
14. Blunderbuss by Jack White // After a more critical assessment of Blunderbuss earlier in the year, I’ve warmed to its imperfections. Yes, things are somewhat repetative, but Jack White’s musical instincts never really fail. Where an early White Stripes record would have left you humming a guitar part, White’s solo debut allows more piano lines to take the spotlight. It’s different, but ultimately successful.
13. Love This Giant by David Byrne and St. Vincent // I can’t fully grasp some of the (relatively) negative response to this record. Interesting song structures? Check. Infectious melodies? Yup. A surprisingly great blend of the exploratory rhythms of Byrne and the twitchy experimentation of St. Vincent? You got it. So what’s the problem? The horns? They’re perhaps the best hidden weapon and a summary the the whole record: unexpected yet very satisfying.
12. Port of Morrow by The Shins // The Shins’ first three records were all pretty great, so a five year gap and a number of James Mercer side-projects left me concerned about Port of Morrow. My fears were quickly alleviated. Mercer’s powerful songwriting skills haven’t left him, and this record clearly sounds like The Shins without feeling like a retread. Glorious pop and deceptive depth make this a worthy successor to the band’s past work.
11. Lonerism by Tame Impala // Lonerism isn’t as innovative as suggested, but it is as satisfying as the glowing reviews imply. Washed out and noisy, this record does help to revive my interest in psych rock. A constant swirl accompanies the guitars, a distant feel gives the singing an echo, and the drumming is economical. Get sucked in by the appeal of “Endors Toi,” the muscle of “Elephant,” or the odd smoothness of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” and stick around for the other great sounds.