Without further ado, here are my ten favorite albums of 2012!
1. Hammock – Departure Songs
Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson have now released 5 LPs under the name Hammock and this may be their best one yet. I was a huge fan of the band already, but this album still blew me away with the sheer magnitude and vastness of the sound. Clocking in at almost 2 hours, this double album never feels bloated. Instead, the ruminations on death, loss and what’s next wash over the listener in successive waves that make you feel the crushed and comforted. It’s an amazing album.
Key Tracks: Ten Thousand Years Won’t Save Your Life, Tape Recorder
2. Mumford & Sons – Babel
In 2009, this band burst onto the scene with an album of cathartic and chaotic songs of loss and recovery. The album became a huge success and many wondered if the band had another album like that in them. The answer arrived this year when the band re-emerged with “Babel”, another set of songs that capture the same exuberance and angst as their first album. Not tweaking their sound too much, the band took their time to write good songs and hone their craft. The result is a great set of well-written, spiritual songs with fantastic arrangements.
Key Tracks: I Will Wait, Below My Feet
3. Sigur Ros – Valtari
The story goes that, in 2009, Sigur Ros finished their 6th studio album, only to scrap the whole thing and go on hiatus. Rumors swirled that the band was through while lead singer Jonsi released a great solo album. However, the band reconvened in 2011 and released a live album and film. Then they got to work on a 6th album which turned out to be Valtari. This album is much more sedate than their previous couple LPs and lends itself to dark and quiet evenings rather than sunny summer days. It’s a worthy addition to their stellar catalog. And the new rumors have the band already crafting album #7!
Key Tracks: Ekki Mukk, Fjögur píanó
4. Poliça – Give You the Ghost
It was another great year for Minneapolis music, spearheaded by the debut album from the fantastic band Poliça. This five-piece act found national attention this year for their moody songs and dueling drummers, but mostly for the unique vocal work of band leader Channy Leaneagh. Processed vocals, throbbing bass, minor keys and aggressive drums are the calling cards here as Channy sings of broken hearts. This band is going places in a hurry.
Key Tracks: Dark Star, Lay Your Cards Out
5. Metric – Synthetica
Metric returned this year with another great album featuring their signature sound. Lead singer Emily Haines says this album is about “what is real vs what is artificial” and the lyrics bear that out quite well. Haines sings “I’m not synthetica, I’ll keep the life I’ve got”, defiantly proclaiming her independence. But on “Dreams So Real” she worries she’s becoming apathetic and thereby losing that control – “I’ll shut up and carry on, the scream becomes a yawn”. Complex ideas wrapped up in catchy music. What’s not to love about that?
Key Tracks: Youth Without Youth, Dreams So Real
6. The xx – Coexist
Like Mumford & Sons, The xx caught some lightning in a bottle with their perfect first album a couple of years ago. The sophomore slump looked inevitable for the band, but, just like Mumford, the band didn’t stray too far from their signature sound and delivered another great set of songs about love, separation andheartbreak. The gentle guitars and hushed vocals evoke images of lovers quietly singing to each other late at night so as not to wake the rest of the house. It’s gorgeous.
Key Tracks: Angels, Chained
7. Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune
For their sixth album, French electronic duo Air decided to write new music to the classic silent film “A Trip to the Moon”. The film inspired scores of sci-fi film makers and become a Hollywood touchstone. With their album, Air uses their signature style to evoke the imagery and oddity of the film. Off-kilter guitars, spacey synths and driving drums give the album the appropriate other-worldly quality. Even without the film as a backdrop, the album is great and is probably their best one since “Talkie Walkie”.
Key Tracks: Sonic Armada, Cosmic Trip
8. Grizzly Bear – Shields
It’s been 3 years since Grizzly Bear released their most fully realized album to date, “Veckatimest”. For the follow up, the band focused on making their music more of a collaboration between the members. After taking 6 months off to cleanse their palates, the band came back together for the production of “Shields” and their sound feels more organic and natural. The band said that they felt more free to monkey with each others ideas and concepts and the album bears that out I think. Definitely a surprise addition to my top ten.
Key Tracks: Speak in Rounds, Yet Again
9. The Shins – Port of Morrow
Remember when The Shins were going to be the next indie band to rock the mainstream because of the way they were featured in “Garden State”? Well the band took so many strange turns after that film that they never fully capitalized on that buzz. Now 8 years removed from that, James Mercer is the only original member, but it was his baby anyway and former members do appear on this release. Finally free from Sub-Pop and the weight of expectations, the Mercer is relaxed yet eager here and the production is slicker and tighter. Perhaps this new incarnation of The Shins will finally make the ascension, but I’m not convinced they want to. And that’s okay.
Key Tracks: Simple Song, No Way Down
10. Stars – The North
Ever since “Set Yourself on Fire”, I’ve been a big fan of this indie band out of Montreal. On their newest release, the band brings their signature sound back in full for a set of songs about wild love, heartbreak and nostalgia. Still, there’s plenty of room for experimentation too and the electronic touches give the album even more texture. The real draw for this band is often the interplay between the male and female vocals, and Torquil and Amy still wow in that department. Another great release for one of my favorite bands.
Key Tracks: The 400, Progress