My Favorite Albums of 2012

There were so many great records this year, I couldn’t resist but to make a dreaded end-of-year summation of my thoughts about them. There are so many more than these, but these are the ones I listened to for weeks on end, particularly the top 5 or so.

I linked to the tracks on Spotify — which, if you don’t use, you should, because it rules so hard — for easy listening, should you be so inclined. Would love to hear your thoughts on your favorite records in the comments or on ye ol’ Twitter. Happy holidays!

1. Local H – Hallelujah! I’m a Bum

One of my favorite bands in the studio and on stage, the loud-as-balls two-piece gets better with every single record they put out. Hallelujah! I’m a Bum is no exception. Taking the concept album flirtation of past offerings like Pack Up the Cats and 12 Angry Months, they blow it out into a full-on concept record — without any “story” to speak of, just a remarkably potent theme — that harps on the aimless direction of our country, pissing on both sides of the political landscape. The tracks flow seamlessly into one another and perfectly represent the hopeless, cold winter that we all feel like we’ve been wading through with apathy. No coincidence that this came out during one of the most vitriolic election years ever.

No hope for anything but seriously great rock and roll music.

Favorite track: “Another February”

Other standouts: “Night Flight to Paris”, “They Saved Reagan’s Brain”, “Sad History”

2. Deftones – Koi No Yokan

I haven’t loved a Deftones record since White Pony, but Koi No Yokan absolutely floored me. It’s emotionally powerful with great riffs and the methodical plodding rhythms that no band does like the Deftones. Lyrically, it’s a step forward, and I would argue that it’s far more melodic than any record they’ve ever done. I’m in love with this record, which was a total surprise to me.

Favorite track: “Tempest”

Other standouts: “Swerve City”, “Rosemary”, “Goon Squad”

3. Diana Krall – Glad Rag Doll

If Diana Krall’s deep croons and regretful musings don’t give you the feels, you might be dead on the inside. Her renditions of some well-traversed songs on other records have never fallen short, but opting to go with some lesser known tunes gives Glad Rag Doll the chance to stand out as something different in her discography. It’s sexy and sad, with stellar arrangements and a hopelessly romantic disposition.

Favorite track: “Here Lies Love”

Other standouts: “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”, “Glad Rag Doll”, “Lonely Avenue” 

4. Screaming Females – Ugly

Screaming Females is the kind of band that I thought disappeared a long time ago.Vocalist/guitarist Marissa Paternoster has the riot grrrl aesthetics but with far more melodic tendencies and good lord, finely tuned guitar playing. The riffs on this record are memorable and sharp, and the groovy basslines that populate nearly every song are a great complement. This record is an amalgam of their influences without becoming them. Plus, the engineering of In Utero’s Steve Albini gives this the record the raw-but-crisp sound the band deserves.

Favorite track: “Expire”

Other standouts: “Rotten Apple”, “Leave It All Up to Me”, “Something Ugly”

5. Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral

Remember what I said about Diana Krall? Same goes for Mark Lanegan. I can’t imagine anyone not being turned on by those deep baritone vocals. It’s always been a staple of Lanegan’s work in any musical endeavor from Screaming Trees to QOTSA to his solo work. Mark Lanegan Band takes a more cacophonous approach in their debut record, with a mix that’s more assaulting without being overbearing. Still melodic and soulful, Lanegan has scored another hit.

Favorite track: “St. Louis Elegy”

Other standouts: “The Gravedigger’s Song”, “Leviathan”, “Tiny Grain of Truth”

6. Scott Lucas and the Married Men – Blood Half Moon

I’m always a bit leery of side/solo projects from my favorite bands, because so often the sound results in very little difference from their main output, resulting in the “Why isn’t this just the next [insert band here] record?” question. Thankfully, Scott Lucas (of Local H, see entry #1) has surpassed those worries with The Married Men, who have offered drastically different records from his two-piece, particularly so in their 2012 record. This is a country-infused classic rock record with organs, violins, the works. The melodies are softer but more complex than Local H, and you will never, ever see a violinist rock harder. Their cover of the gospel standard “There Ain’t No Grave” is fantastic.

Favorite track: “There Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)”

Other standouts: “Blood Half Moons”, “Out Of The Boat”, “Heavy Liddled Love”

7. Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man

I’ve never been a huge Bat For Lashes fan, though I’ve enjoyed her past work on somewhat of an elementary level. The Haunted Man is the first of her records that’s really penetrated, thanks mostly to the rather stripped down nature of the songs, focusing less on complexity and more on her incredible vocals and unfiltered passion. It’s an emotional record, and, as the title suggests, haunting. I wouldn’t say it’s daring, but The Haunted Man is definitely Bat For Lashes’ strongest effort yet.

Favorite track: “Laura”

Other standouts: “All Your Gold”, “The Haunted Man”, “Marilyn”

8. How to Destroy Angels – An Omen EP

Admittedly, it took me a while to really warm up to this EP. The first How to Destroy Angels was instantly absorbed, but this one took multiple listens to fully appreciate. It’s still not as strong as the other EP, but it’s far more melodic (particularly “Ice Age”, I mean, holy crap!) and I think manages to differentiate HTDA from Nine Inch Nails with an increased focused on vocal harmonies, and beautiful ones at that. The methodical build of “The Loop Closes” is just fantastic. Watch it over the trailer for Looper and it’s gold.

Favorite track: “Ice Age”

Other standouts: “On the Wing”, “The Loop Closes”

9. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

A new Fiona Apple record is, inevitably, an event in music. The Idler Wheel… (full name The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do) manages to live up to the hype by essentially defying it. Idler Wheel is an intense musical progression for Apple, her songs getting more diverse without sacrificing everything that made her a hit in the first place. I hate the term “maturation” but that’s very much what this is. It’s stripped down and challenging with some of Apple’s best vocal work to date. See “Hot Knife” below.

Favorite track: “Hot Knife”

Other standouts: “Every Single Night”, “Regret”, “Anything We Want”

10. Cat Power – Sun

2012 seems to be a year of many artists really pushing the envelope of what we’ve come to expect from their sound — Local H, Fiona Apple, Bat For Lashes, and now Cat Power have all challenged themselves and their listeners. Sun is a pretty diverse record that makes it one of Cat Power’s most eclectic in her catalog, moving far beyond the guitar backbone of most of her work. Still, though, you can’t always beat what works — my favorite is one of the most basic on the record, “Peace and Love”.

Favorite track: “Peace and Love”

Other standouts: “Cherokee”, “Ruin”, “3, 6, 9″

11. Bob Mould – Silver Age

Bob Mould is a beast. Consistently great records for decades. Silver Age is another fine addition, if a little one note at times, but the massive guitars and great melodies make this a standout record of the year for me. This is one of those records that you know you dig as soon as the opening riff hits on the first track.

Favorite track: “Steam of Hercules”

Other standouts: “Star Machine”“Silver Age”“Keep Believing”

So that’s it. Yeah, I did 11 and not 10. Deal with it, I can do what I want! There are other records I enjoyed to varying degrees, obviously, but these are my tops. What’re yours?

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