Whoa! Do I suck at blogging or what? Oh, well. I have learned to get used to this fact as time has passed and I will at the very least post a best-of list. I find it kind of funny that my previous year’s best-of is still on this front page. I guess being busy in life is a good thing, so I will go with that as my excuse.
2012 has been a fairly lackluster year on first glance. While I’ve felt there have been some very strong debuts and good stuff from some familiar faces, it seems to have missed that one amazing release that I listen to 10000 times. I usually have my favorite records of the year decided a month in advance of this post, but this year has been remarkably different. I’ve been neglecting putting this piece together simply because I wanted to listen to more. This list is definitely shorter than years past on this blog (2010 & 2011 lists), but it’s definitely got some quality. I am most impressed by the amount of newcomers this year.
And with that, let’s get down to business…
#1 By the Sea – By The Sea – By The Sea’s debut offering is a wonderful slice of shoegazey Britpop. A band out of that somewhat famous village, Liverpool, these lads served up nine songs that cohesively form my album of the year. Strong melodies and hooks with a unique “hush” quality to the lead vocals carry the listener through a wonderful menagerie of delightful sounds. Tracks such as the title track and lead single “Dream Waters” are among the standout highlights, but it’s rare with a debut to go from top to bottom and never have a skip. An excellent first foray and arguably the album I was most looking forward to prior to its release, so in that respect, it definitely scored well.
#2 Tennis – Young & Old – This is one of those albums that kind of snuck up on me. When it was first released earlier this year, I did not give much time to it. I was left a bit lukewarm after seeing the band perform live and I wasn’t prepared to give the follow-up to Tennis’ excellent 2011 debut, Cape Dory, the proper listen it deserved. When I finally came around to this record around September, I was extremely glad I did. This record takes the formula that made their debut so strong and made it even better. With some genuinely fantastic pop-rock tracks like “Origins” & “Petition”, Tennis makes a statement that says they are going to be around for a bit longer. Now if only the live performance matched the studio output, this would be a band to be reckoned with. Alaina Moore possesses a unique vocal timbre that is wonderful when its fully utilized, and I’m eager to hear what they do next.
#3 TOY – Toy – This is another debut from another excellent English band. Led by Tom Dougall (brother to darling of this blog, Rose Elinor Dougall), Toy are a band in the vein of The Cure and the New Order line of bands. Brooding new wave rock and roll with a mysterious edge to it. The release on venerated UK label, Heavenly Records (home to Doves) is a terrific album that has a mood and mystique to it typically associated with acts that have been around longer and have larger catalogues. The band were not afraid to go 7 minutes long on superb tracks like “Dead & Gone”, as well as releasing some online-only nuggets like the great “Clock Chime”. Along with the #1 on this list, TOY were one of the most exciting discoveries of 2012.
#4 The Spyrals – The Spyrals – Yet another debut and another self-titled one at that! This time the psychedelic offerings of San Francisco’s, The Spyrals. This was the first release I heard in 2012 (it was released on New Years Day) and was played to about death throughout the spring and summer (still going strong). Chock full of classic psychedelic sounds, blistering lead guitar, and a fantastic lead vocal, The Spyrals have yet to make much noise outside of their own genre, but hopefully that will change soon. With thumpers like “The Rain” and the guttural and hypnotic closer, “Evil Kind”, The Spyrals are able to take a sound very familiar to just about any rock and roll fan, and create new magic.
#5 Tame Impala – Lonerism – Australia’s Tame Impala did something not a lot of bands do this day in age, that’s better their debut album! Lonerism is an exciting psychedelic concoction that exemplifies studio wizardry and songcraft in one fell swoop. If I was able to give an award for “Best Mixed” or “Best Produced” record, this surely would get the nod. This is the type of record that rewards multiple listens, yet the melodies are crafted so well that it has the ability to hook you right from the word go. They also have a wonderful ability in making the live versions special yet not losing their sonic magic. Songs like “Mind Mischief” & “Feels Like We Only Going Backwards” exemplify the best in merging new sounds with the old. This is a band that has a long career ahead of them if they keep thinking forward and taking chances with their creations.
#6 GOAT – World Music – Goat are incredibly hard to describe, but I will do my best. Smoke a bowl of the best hash or weed you can get your hands on; turn the guitars up to 11; get some chicks to sing harmony, put in a bowl. Press puree. Do it again for good measure. Once you have done that, you might just be able to get an idea of the music of Sweden’s GOAT. Another psychedelic cocktail, this group does it their own way and by the time you finish your first listen, you’re queing it up again, just because. It’s not even worth suggesting tracks to listen to, because they all belong together. Besides, who woulda thunk “Disco Fever” following the double whammy of “Goatman” and “Goathead” would work so damn well?
#7 The Vandelles – Strange Girls Don’t Cry – The best way to sum up The Vandelles are “surf punk with 60s style pop stylings”. That’s definitely the only way to describe The Vandelles’ latest. An excellent power pop record from top to bottom, Strange Girls… features some really fuzzy guitars, excellent “gnarled” lead male vocals, and some pretty girl harmonies on the back end. Tracks like album opener “I’m Way Ahead of You” are stomped right into you from the beginning of the experience, through the fire of the title track, and right into its closer. The Vandelles take a formula and add their own twist to it very well. Like Tame Impala, a band that takes its album releases seriously, and can also deliver live as well.
#8 Stealing Sheep – Into The Diamond Sun – Another Liverpool act. Another Heavenly Records act. Stealing Sheep do it a bit differently though. Comprised of 3 girls who sing close harmony, this is an indie pop act with some songwriting and composition chops. Very much in tune with other “kitschy” sounding acts like The Talking Heads, Stealing Sheep have a sound all their own and have a quality that is very easy to fall for. Single “Shut Eye” is a excellent tune with a singalong chorus and a wonderful build.
#9 Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg – Well, look at this. Another debut. Another Englishman. Only this time its an 18 year old! I didn’t know what to think when I first heard of Jake Bugg. I was a bit “yeah right” that he was any good considering his age. Whoa, was I wrong. Bugg’s scoring well beyond his years with this cracker of a debut. Evoking classic singer-songwriters from his own country like Nick Drake, Bugg has that uncanny ability to paint a picture with lyrics that make you think you’re right there with him. He’s also able to incorporate other influences, ranging from Dylan to Bowie throughout a debut that I believe will be remembered 10 years from now for starting a career that has the potential to be very special. He also is able to make the classic sound modern like fellow troubadours in this vein, i.e. Ryan Adams. Personal favorite “Simple As This” is also on my favorite tracks list, and one listen is all you need.
#10 Jessica Pratt – Jessica Pratt – Oh? Another debut? Another self-titled? What the hell? And guess what? This is another youngin. I fell in love with this record from moment. It’s a very simple, yet evocative, folksy debut from 19 year old Pratt who like the aforementioned bug has the same gift for lyricism and storytelling in her music. The thing about Pratt that is so captivating, is her very mature sounding vocal. Bathed in mostly the sound of an acoustic guitar, Pratt’s 60’s style folk sounds echo only the very best in this style. You know, the ones who can go only by one name. Joni. Bob. This is an eye-opening debut from someone I expect very big things from. And now I’m off to listen to “Casper” for the 193rd time and cry some more.
11. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
12. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
13. Cosmonauts – If You Wanna Die, Then I Wanna Die
14. Swans – The Seer
15. The Walkmen – Heaven
16. Rose Elinor Dougall – The Distractions EP
17. Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge
18. Sharon van Etten – The Tramp
19. Beach House – Bloom
20. Ren Harvieu – Through The Night
1. I Already Forgot Everything You Said – The Dig
2. The Night – Rose Elinor Dougall
3. Nancy From Now On – Father John Misty
4. The Way In – Porcelain Raft
5. Simple As This – Jake Bugg
6. I’d Rather Be Lonely – The Black Angels
7. I Wanna Go – Summer Heart
8. Adventures In Your Own Backyard – Patrick Watson
9. Dodecahedron – Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves of Destiny
10. Take Us Alive – Other Lives
1. Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs – 12/8/12 – Union Pool, Brooklyn
2. Tame Impala – 11/7/12 – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn
3. Other Lives – 11/28/12 – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn
4. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – 8/25/12 – Webster Hall, NYC
5. Swans – 10/10/12 – Bowery Ballroom, NYC
6. Sigur Ros – 7/31/12 – Prospect Park, Brooklyn
7. Spiritualized – 5/7/12 – Terminal 5, NYC
8. The Vandelles/Jesus & Mary Chain – 9/13/12 – Irving Plaza, NYC
9. The Amazing – 11/7/12 – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn
10. Chelsea Wolfe – 8/18/12 – Highline Ballroom, NYC