The Year That Was: Top 10 Albums of 2012

It’s the last day of 2012! This is the day where we congratulate ourselves on making it another 365 (well, this year 366) days, and dream of all the things that will happen in the next 365.

The end of the year is basically synonymous with listmaking. If we don’t rank everything that we did/saw/ate/drank/listened to/wore/ignored in the past twelve months, did they really happen?

There are few things about which I feel I have enough knowledge or experience to offer any kind of meaningful ranking. Except music. So lucky for you (or unlucky for you if you’re one of those weirdies who hate ranking things or music) I offer here my best attempt to rank the best of the best albums I loved in 2012.

A word about my process: It was a painstaking one, in which I wrote a master list of every album and song I enjoyed in 2012 and kept crossing off items until I had only 10 albums and 15 songs. Then I attempted to place them in some kind of order, which is more or less arbitrary since my musical taste is so situational and seasonal and reflective of my mood at any given moment.

So here they are! I’m not saying these are objectively the best albums of 2012, but they are my favorites. What did I leave out? Leave your 2012 favorites in the comments section!

1. Young Man in America by Anais Mitchell

Anais Mitchell is a master storyteller, and this album plays like a short story collection. Like a great story, a really great song surprises you, and nearly every song on this album surprised me in some way.

Check out: “Annmarie,” “Shepherds,” “You Are Forgiven,” really every song

2. Who’s Feeling Young Now? by Punch Brothers

Punch Brothers would have made this list no matter what, but their live show (which I had the great fortune to catch twice this year) earned them at least a few spots. These five guys are easily the most talented musicians I have ever seen perform, and they also seem to be having the most fun. Or at the very least, Chris Thile (the recent recipient of a MacArthur genius grant) is having enough fun for all of them.

Check out: “This Girl,” “Movement and Location,” “Hundred Dollars”

3. Sun by Cat Power

I will be honest and admit that I hadn’t really listened to much Cat Power before this year. She was one of those names I knew I should like, and would like if I really gave her a chance, but there are only so many hours in a day and so very, very many artists and albums competing for my attention. But the advent of Spotify has made it much easier for me to stay on top of new releases (Tuesday has become my favorite non-weekend day of the week!) so when this one came out I decided to give it a listen. And I fell in love. She has completely nailed that effortless cool thing, and to listen to her songs is to somehow be suddenly cooler.

Check out: “Ruin,” “3,6,9,” “Silent Machine”

4. Mixed Emotions by Tanlines

This is the album that made me dance. A lot. In my room, mostly, but also a lot at my desk. One of my big regrets of the year is not going to see Tanlines when they were in town–it was a weeknight, and late, and I couldn’t find anyone else who had even heard of them–but rest assured I will not be making that same mistake in 2013.

Check out: “All of Me,” “Lost Somewhere,” “Not the Same”

5. Celebration Rock by Japandroids

Part of me wonders if I’m only including this to get a rise out of Lauren–last week we got into a little Twitter fight over Japandroids’ merit. I think they’re awesome and one of the most exciting things going on in rock right now, and she says they make her ears bleed. I can’t remember the last time we so vehemently disagreed about an artist! So I guess that means Japandroids aren’t for everyone. But if you’ve ever wondered whether rock and roll has played itself out as a genre, these guys will give you hope. This is the type of album you blast in your car when you’re driving with the windows down on a summer night and you need music to express how totally and completely alive you feel.

Check out: “The House That Heaven Built,” “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” “Adrenaline Nightshift”

6. Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors

Coming into the year this is the album I was most anticipating and Dirty Projectors did not disappoint. DP are probably the most musically intriguing, inventive artists on this list. Their songs are so meticulously and masterfully built and they never go where you expect.

Check out: “Gun Has No Trigger,” “Swing Lo Magellan,” “Offspring Are Blank”

7. Lonerism by Tame Impala

I actually had Shrines by Purity Ring in this spot but as I was writing that one up I was listening to this album, which I had just cut from the list. Maybe it had been awhile since the last time I listened, or maybe I had just never listened close enough–I listen to a lot of music at work and obviously can’t give it my full attention–but I was struck anew by the Beatles/Beach Boys harmonies and psychedelic vibes Tame Impala is very successfully pulling off and realized it was actually the more enjoyable album (though Shrines is great too, I highly recommend you look it up.)

Check out: “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” “Endors Toi,” “Be Above It”

8. Barchords by Bahamas

This one I happened upon completely by chance: Afie Jurvanen (who performs as Bahamas) opened for Michael Kiwanuka and I ended up finding a new favorite. It’s weird–I had listened to Barchords on Spotify and found it meh, but then completely fell in love with every song when he played it live, and then went home and completely fell in love with the album. Thus is the power of live music!

Check out: “Okay Alright I’m Alive,” “Never Again,” “Lost in the Light”

9. Boys & Girls by Alabama Shakes

Soul is The Next Big Sound, and Alabama Shakes are the Next Big Thing. Seriously, I predict they are gonna get huge in 2013. Lead singer Brittney Howard is also getting all kinds of buzz as The Next Big Voice, and rightfully so–girl can wail. Alabama Shakes top my list of bands I must see in 2013.

Check out: “Hold On,” “I Found You,” “I Ain’t the Same”

10. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Welcome Wagon

Welcome Wagon write beautiful, worshipful songs that celebrate community with an honesty no one else I have heard is able to capture.

Check out: “Would You Come and See Me in New York,” “I’m Not Fine,” “Rice and Beans (But No Beans)”

Bonus: Silver & Gold by Sufjan Stevens

It’s hard to pick a Christmas album as a top 10 album, especially one with as many throwaway songs as Sufjan’s five-disc epic, but it’s also incredibly difficult to NOT include a new Sufjan recording because of course I listened to it and loved it more than any other album this year. So here we are. Sufjan and me, meant ta be ❤

Check out: “Christmas Unicorn,” “Christmas in the Room,” “Justice Delivers Its Death”

To check out these songs/albums, listen to this Spotify playlist! Maybe you’ll find some new favorites!

COMING LATER TODAY: TOP 15 TRACKS OF 2012!

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5 thoughts on “The Year That Was: Top 10 Albums of 2012

  1. This is a biased Hipster list with Alabama Shakes being the only marginal great album on here. First, Japandroids is the worst band of all time. Second, bands that are popular can make great albums too! We saw debut albums from Jack White, Imagine Dragons and Frank Ocean that were amazing. Then we saw Taylor Swift, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Mumford and Sons come out with great stuff. Then Linkin Park and The Killers shocked the world with some of their best stuff ever. Surely one or two of these could replace Japandroids and Welcome Wagon.

  2. I totally agree that it’s biased! Because it’s a list of my 10 favorite albums! Jack White, Imagine Dragons, and Mumford & Sons all made it really far in my process and probably would have been in a top 15, and definitely a top 20. And I totally admit that I have a hip-hop/rap blind spot — one I am trying to rectify in 2013!

  3. I have to say, after witnessing your twitter battle over Japandroids, I expected them to be a lot worse (quite frankly, I figured it’d be dubstep, and that Laura would be the crazy one here). But! They’re not offensive in the least. Not my fave, just some slightly punky fairly standard rock.

    My fave new find from this list, Tanlines. A band I was happy to see, cuz I just hadn’t noticed they had a new album, Welcome Wagon. Thanks again, Laura! (glad to know you’re not crazy/into dubstep).

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