TOP 25 RELEASES OF 2012
Click on the links for fun times.
25. Carly Rae Jepsen – Kiss
If you need further proof that “Call Me Maybe” was just the beginning, this is it. Jepsen puts her understated but expressive voice to good work on this nonstop ride, and not even ill-advised visits from Owl City and Justin Bieber can weigh the fun down too much.
24. Fun. – Some Nights
23. Phillip Phillips – The World From The Side Of The Moon
Where so many Idol winners before him have failed is where Phillips (times two) succeeds: he has a clear understanding of who he wants to be right off of the bat, and what his debut release lacks in ambition it more than makes up for in substance—and sincerity.
22. she – Electric Girl
Finnish producer Lain Trzaska, better known online as she, has been doing terrific under-the-rader work in the electronic/chiptune genre for a while now, but for the uninitiated, Electric Girl is a more-than-adequate primer: look no further than the title track, which mixes glitchy and vaguely seductive come-ons, the sonic ferocity of rock, and the thrusting rhythms of breakbeat—all under the pretenses of a throbbing club banger. Or “Heartbeats”, which buries a murky but surprisingly resilient vocal under the interplay of synths and piano before soaring in the chorus; it even has the balls to throw in a guitar solo just because it sounds really freaking good. For Trzaska, bleeps and bloops are just windows into other walks of music, and if his latest release is any indication, he’s not even close to finishing his exploration.
21. Linkin Park – Living Things
I don't think that Linkin Park will ever make a record that’s 100% gold (though damn it, last year’s A Thousand Suns made me want to believe so badly), but Living Things is yet another example of an old band adapting to its changing environment and coming up with new tricks yet again.
20. The Calm Blue Sea – Arrivals & Departures
19. The American Dollar – Awake In The City
18. Kris Allen – Thank You Camellia
White guys with guitars are hardly ripping the world of music a new asshole, but if there were more guys like Kris Allen making tunes this charming, bouncy, and invigorating, pop music would be way more awesome.
17. Delilah – From The Roots Up
One of the most atmospheric, brooding, and inviting releases of the year and the introduction of a talent I hope to hear far more of in the near future.
16. Fierce Creatures – Catacomb Party
15. Grizzly Bear – Shields
14. House Of Heroes – Cold Hard Want
If Suburba was House Of Heroes exploring the modern American lifestyle, Cold Hard Want is the band distilling what they’ve observed into a grand statement, one that has implications as personal as they are political.
13. Anathema – Weather Systems
12. Shnabubula – Fading Light (NOTE: This album is FREE)
He’ll be on this list twice, as you’ll soon find out...
11. Greg Laswell – Landline
10. Unbuttoned – Electric Kingdom
I had long ago dismissed R&B as a genre of little significance to me, but this release challenged that preconception every step of the way. Rather than just coasting on empty feelings, Unbuttoned makes sure that its soundscapes are packed with scenery: plinking piano notes, gorgeous harmonies, and soulful percussion. The lyrics reflect a matured perspective, telling stories of lost time and homes that relate to all of us in some way; the tone is one of vulnerability and pain, but an empowering one nonetheless, one that implores listeners to find home in the universality of the human experience. Electric Kingdom is a refreshingly sincere work from a band whose best attribute is their ability to take our petty, small struggles and make them matter again.
9. Athletics – Who You Are Is Not Enough (NOTE: This album is FREE)
8. Lymbyc Systym – Symbolyst
7. Marc M. Cogman – Anthems (NOTE: This album is FREE)
I’ll just state outright that it’s impossible for me to objectively assess Anthems at this point in my relationship with it. Sure, there are so many singer-songwriter folk in the music world that it becomes hard to make room for a release like this on the list of Great Important Things That You Must Also Enjoy, Lest You Fall Into Ignorance; that said, not all of them are capable of music this intimate, poignant and rich in detail. Anthems is a slow burn, but on each listen it continues to reveal more and more about its creator. And even after nine months, I still want to know more.
6. Yellowcard – Southern Air
TOP 5 RELEASES OF 2012
Now things get interesting.
5. Our Lost Infantry – The New Art History
In their debut release, Our Lost Infantry reaffirms the innovations of post-rock, blending the standards of the genre with stadium rock, opera, and folk. The result is a delightfully complex and emotional work, one channeling the anger of a disillusioned generation into the hopes of something better.
4. Accents – Growth & Squalor
For a band this subdued, Accents often thinks in very big terms, and the same can be said for its first release, Growth & Squalor. Its lyrics are contemplations on the nature of time and change. Its sound is similarly meditative, though at times it blooms into something a bit more majestic. It’s also personal, even painfully so, but never in spirits of passivity or empty sorrow. For all of the wounds that Growth & Squalor leaves fresh, though, it also offers strength in carrying on, and that attitude makes for a folk-rock session both refreshingly upbeat and reinvigorating.
3. Paper Route – The Peace Of Wild Things
The Peace Of Wild Things is pop for the emotionally troubled: underneath its shimmering, catchy electropop hide frank discussions of love and spirituality. But the band shows a stronger camaraderie than ever before, honing its compact but powerful style of songwriting and developing their instrumentation to match. It all builds to a remarkable statement with closer “Calm My Soul”, which just might be the most uplifting, cathartic experience I’ve had with music this year. “I’ve walked behind for too long, now I will lead the way,” frontman JT Daly declares in the song’s final moments; here’s hoping the band delivers on that promise.
2. Go Radio – Close The Distance
Lucky Street was Go Radio as fired-up as it’s ever been, and though Close The Distance may drastically dial down the band’s temperament, coming in as its most subdued to date, in many ways it feels like an evolution that the band needed to make. That said, even when it’s playing a more melancholy tune, its charms are no less immediate. Jason Lancaster’s songwriting remains as potent a force as ever, delivering honest, candid sentiments within well-crafted pop-rock anthems (and shining as always on obligatory ballad “What If You Don’t”). Go Radio also builds on its instrumentation, aiming for a more delicate sound than anything we’ve seen from it before. On the whole, Close The Distance is a transitory release for the band; it stands firmly at the crossroads of pop and rock, and deliver near-perfect results on both of those fronts, leaving only the question of where the band can go from here.
1. Shnabubula - Free Play (NOTE: This album is FREE)
Sometimes, maybe once or twice an year if you’re lucky, you stumble across an album that’s transcendent. You want to share it with everybody you come across. You want to blare it at strangers, at your mom, at the guy who drives the bus you take to school every day, in the hopes that it’ll catch on with freaking somebody. It makes you believe in music again.
This year, my go-to album to blast with a stranger was Free Play, the work of one Samuel Ascher-Weiss. Further research reveals that Mr. Ascher-Weiss is a pianist well versed in the jazz tradition of getting your funk on, though he taps into chiptune and video game music as well (the latter of which he made this tribute album of remixes). His diversity of disciplines comes across in his first release led solely by the piano: though his improvisations are at the beating heart of this album, the layers added in production bring those abstract sketches to life.
Free Play is, at its essence, playful. Some moments are resonant. Others are full of spunk. Some moments are jaw-droppingly nimble. Others are cinematic, sweeping, majestic (at times, I lie in bed and imagine what the film of this soundtrack would look like). It contains absolute multitudes of melody, atmosphere, and the magic word emotion, the last of which you’ll have to truly listen to find.
All of which begs this question. What am I doing here begging for one more listener? What are you doing, having read this far into my plea? What’s the purpose of all of this writing, this discussion, this sharing? Are we all just disconnected ciphers, shouting into the virtual void because it’s the only place we’re sure somebody must be listening? Or is there something more to all of this: a fleeting chance at something approaching perspective, maybe the opportunity to live somebody else’s experiences, redefine what we consider thrilling, what we consider compelling, what we consider beautiful?
Those questions remain unanswered, but I leave you with a proposal, a rabbit hole if you will. Jump into the void with me, and maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get to find out where we’ll fall.
Because 25 releases just aren't enough.
1. Namesake – Borders and Fences
This pop-rock confection isn’t a perfect debut, but it’s sold me on Namesake’s energy and talent; here’s hoping the band can channel those strengths into an even stronger sophomore release.
2. Motion City Soundtrack – Go
3. The Flashbulb – Opus At The End Of Everything
Though Benn Jordan’s latest release may not match the grandeur of his other marathon-length releases, it’s every bit as moving in all of the little places.
4. Ingrid Michaelson – Human Again
5. The Wanted – The Wanted (Special Edition)
ONE DIRECTION MORE LIKE TWO DIRECTION IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN HURRRR (I’ve also listened to some of these tracks more times than I care to admit here. Just...a lot of times.)
Song that made me want to dance and vomit in disgust at the same time: Rihanna feat. Chris Brown - "Nobody's Business" (there's so many icky facets to the writing, production, and promotion to this track. and yet...THAT SYNTHLINE.)
Most played song of the year (according to my crappy iTunes counter): Cher Lloyd - "Want U Back" (75 plays officially; I suspect the real number is somewhere around 150)
A close second: 2NE1 - "I Love You" (68 plays)
Most played song of the year from an album that actually made it onto my list: Go Radio - "I Won't Lie"/"Baltimore" (tie with 42 plays)
Adored album from 2011 that lost its luster in 2012: sleepmakeswaves - And So We Destroyed Everything
Adored album from 2011 that stayed just as awesome in 2012: Marianas Trench - Ever After.
Television show everybody should be watching: Enlightened on HBO. I got to this gem late, but it's a beautiful show. Season one begins as a story of one woman's quest to become a better person and ends as the story of all of us: what it means to live in a capitalist system and the often unspoken consequences of our complacency. It's cliche on paper but destroys cliche at every turn. Season two begins on January 13; I sincerely hope you'll give the show a shot before then.
Bands to look forward to in 2013: Typhoon and Farewell Fighter. The latter in particular. What on earth has that band been doing after releasing one of the best EPs I've ever heard (The Way We Learn) and then...releasing that Valentine's Day song? Until then, I'll be in my room, blasting "Golden" one more time.
In closing, I'd just like to thank the heavens I made it through what was a seriously tumultuous year for me, both academically and personally. I'd also like to thank all of the artists, musicians or otherwise, that not only got me through a lot of late-night study sessions but also opened my eyes to how freaking huge the world really is. I can't say that my list is one that'll line up with those of most of the music gurus out there; that probably has to do with the fact that I haven't listened to most of the best work from this year. That's all good, though. If you think there's something from this year that I missed, let me know. I'll probably learn something. And I hope you got something out of my list as well.
It's weird to start my tenure at MuzikDizcovery at the end of an year, but I'll make 2013 count for all of the days I missed in 2012.
I hope that your year was as eye-droppingly awesome as mine, and I hope that the year ahead will be even more badass.