Why have end of year lists have grown in popularity over the past 10 years? What does it say about us as a species that we clamor for and around arbitrary lists created by people we don’t know? My own personal theory is that the popularity of end of year lists serves two functions:
1. Validation. Obviously we like having someone tell us that our opinions are the right ones, and seeing our favorite things on someone else’s end of year list does that. It’s comforting to know that we agree with others but it’s even more comforting when that other is a critic of stature like David Wild or Roger Ebert.
2. Facilitating our laziness. Why go out into the world looking for the best music, books, films, or art when someone in a black turtleneck can do all the heavy lifting for us? End of year lists distill a year’s worth of media into an easy to consume morsel. I’ve met people who base all their film watching on top critics end of year lists.
I’m guilty of both: I like looking at end of year lists to see my own personal tastes validated AND I like to use them to discover things I was too lazy to find on my own. I don’t think there’s anything evil or wrong about end of year lists, but they do tend to get out of hand this time of year. I think reading end of year lists are an okay use of your time…but I think making one of your own is a far better way to kill a few hours.
Why? Well, I think a great end of year list functions as a kind of yearbook. When I sat down to write my Top 10 Albums of 2012 list I started to simply list all the albums that really knocked my socks off this year. But then I started to consider things like “Am I still listening to these albums?” and “Do I see myself still thinking about/revisiting these albums in future years?” That made things a little more difficult, which I rather liked (I always do fancy a challenge).
So once I had my albums that moved me (or whatever) and then removed the ones I wasn’t still listening to, I found I had a much shorter list. I took that list and compared it to my blog for the past 12 months, chiefly–how many of these albums did I get around to writing about? What did I say? In the case of one album in particular, I found that I wrote about it A LOT. I factored that in when arranging my list from #10 to #1.
What was the most difficult part of making this list? Figuring out what actually came out in 2012 and what came out in 2011 that I only discovered this year. There were a TON of really great records that came out at the end of last year that I sadly only discovered this year—meaning they could not appear on my list. The record I most wanted to put on my list was Metronomy’s THE ENGLISH RIVIERA. That was probably the album I enjoyed the most this summer, but wouldn’t ya know it? It came out last year. I ran into a lot of that while making this list.
Please read this list, compare it to your own personal tastes (feel slightly validated) and then use it to lazily fill-in the parts of 2012 you overlooked or missed. Once you’ve done all that, jot down your own best of 2012 list, I think you’ll find it’s an interesting mental exercise and a fantastic way to reevaluated the music you’ve heard this year. Maybe even slip me copy of your list in the comments section below (I won’t judge).
With all that in mind, I present my Top 10 Albums of 2012:
10. HARMONICRAFT by Torche. Arguably the stupidest genre name of all-time is sludge metal. I don’t even know what that means. Torche’s album HARMONICRAFT is supposed to be sludge metal, but to me it just sounds like awesomely melodic hard rock. “Roaming” and “Kicking” are brilliant hard-rockers that sound like Jane’s Addiction meets The Cult. The album is dark and has a rough edge while still being catchy and fun. If you’re like me, you’re always looking for a hard rock that isn’t super-stoopid or endless banshee screaming: HARMONICRAFT strikes a nice balance between hard rock and pop. The guitar work is great, and so is that Brony-filled rainbow wonderland on the front of the album.
9. COBRA JUICY by Black Moth Super Rainbow. I’m not really into electronica, but every now and then an artist comes out that manages to combine the best of rock/pop and dance music. Experimental music is really hard to like and even hard to recommend, but Black Moth Super Rainbow really pull it off on COBRA JUICY. It’s a neon-rave-up that’s got rock soul. Songs like “Windshield Smasher” and “Hairspray Heart” are what the second Sleigh Bells album should have sounded like: aggressively noisy yet super-groovy. Worth noting, this one was waaay off my radar, but was pointed out to me by my super-cool friend over at TAKEN BY SOUND, which is a really cool indie-rock music blog.
8. WRECKING BALL by Bruce Springsteen. I know, I’m just as surprised as you are that Bruce Springsteen is on this list. I was listening to Little Steven’s Underground Garage and Little Steven (who is more than a little biased, being in the E-Street Band) talked up the record and played “Easy Money.” Before I could dismiss WRECKING BALL outright, I heard “Easy Money” and became instantly hooked. The whole album has a very electric-folk/Old-Timey feel to it. WRECKING BALL is Springsteen’s recession album, which while not much fun, does provide an excellent palette for a rough and tumble artist like The Boss. “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Death To My Hometown” are great, hardscrabble songs that could work for The Great Depression or the late 2010’s. Through it all, Springsteen remains a symbol of art nourishing us through the hardest of times. These are the times when a bard of his stature is most desperately needed. He didn’t disappoint.
7. SLOW DAZE by Blonde Summer. Technically these 5 songs are an EP and not an LP, but after listening to SLOW DAZE on virtual infinite repeat this summer: I’m promoting it to full LP status. Blonde Summer’s amazingly breezy, super-fun album reminded me what it feels like to be young and just enjoying the warmth of summer: and that was just the title track. The rest of SLOW DAZE is top-notch indie-rock that’s fun (“Robots on Command”) and heartfelt (“Walking in Space”). Minimal and echo-y, SLOW DAZE is like a short romp with an incredible lover—it doesn’t last very long, but the warm glow it gives you lasts and lasts. Hell, I’m still tingling from the noise-rock of “December,” and it’s actually December now. SLOW DAZE owned my summer and has made me super-eager to see what these guys do next. But for now, we’ll always have this summer.
6. LONERISM by Tame Impala. Pound for pound, LONERISM has more cosmic-freak-out-otherness than any other album on this list. If you’ve ever wanted to get high without drugs, grab a pair of headphones and take this album into a dark room. Close your eyes and prepare to go on adventure. Imagine Oasis and The Flaming Lips doing a shit ton of LSD and then merging into one band: that’s LONERISM. “Endors Toi” and “Elephant” shatter your mind and then blow away the pieces. I really liked BEARDS, WIVES, DENIM by Pond, which is essentially Tame Impala, but overall I think LONERISM is the stronger, more accessible record. But don’t take my word for it: go sit in the dark tonight with this album.
5. CLASS CLOWN SPOTS A UFO by Guided By Voices. One of my all-time favorite bands came back, and they came back in a big way this year. Not only did the original GBV line up return to tour, they released not one…not two…but three incredible records. When was the last time a band came back after disbanding and put out ONE good album? Exactly. Robert Pollard is a rock ‘n roll Jesus (sorry Kid Rock). Picking which of the three albums to put on this list was hard, but also kinda easy: of all their 2012 records, this is the one I rock out to the most. The title track is probably the greatest GBV “single” in a decade. “Keep It In Motion” and “Forever Until It Breaks” are icing on the cake. All GBV albums have short, micro-songs that many people dismiss, but CLASS CLOWN SPOTS A UFO has the best short Pollard nuggets I’ve heard in a long time (“Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head”). And don’t get me started on the awesome, Who-like “Billy Wire.” Okay, I’ll get started on it: “Billy Wire” fucking rocks my socks and makes me feel like I’m a badass Mod seeing a super young/virile Who tear up a small English nighclub. Long live GBV.
4. MAJOR by Fang Island. Fang Island does what Torche does in that, they offer up heavy riffs with strong melodies. The difference is that Fang Island is more indie rock than mosh pit. “Sisterly” is so hard-charging but at the same time sweet. I don’t mean “Dude that’s sweet,” I mean little kitten hanging on a clothesline sweet. Fang Island are so cool they don’t care what you think of their earnestness. These guys are serious musicians, too. Even if you don’t usually go for instrumental rock, you’ll dig their instrumental “Dooney Rock.” It’s an interesting, tasteful, non-wankfest that will win over even the most jaded music fan. Fang Island is equally heavy and gentle; it’s hard indie rock for sensitive hearts.
3. LOVE THIS GIANT by David Byrne & St. Vincent. Who knew that teaming up the dude from Talking Heads and that weird indie-chick St. Vincent would yield such a good harvest? The bombastic lead track “Who” is real stunner, but it’s the one-two-punch of two unlikely freaks getting together and letting their freak flags fly that elevates LOVE THIS GIANT beyond “Who.” This is Byrne’s strongest post-Talking Heads work, hands down. It wasn’t that I’d written him off so much as I just didn’t bother to really think too much about David Byrne at all. LOVE THIS GIANT re-establishes Byrne as a relevant artist with a lot more to say. I wasn’t super familiar with St. Vincent prior to LOVE THIS GIANT, but I’m learning. That she’s half his age and still manages to hold her own in the presence of such a legend is no small feat. I still get chills every time I hear “Optimist.” So, in summary: the triumphant return of one of rocks most unlikely superstars plus a rising indie-songstress plus crazy horns equals LOVE THIS GIANT. It’s a record that you put on and feel refreshed, challenged, and puzzled by.
2. A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH by Van Halen. Nobody thought that a new Van Halen album was going to be a dismal failure more than me. Go back and check the endless jaded, negative, anti-Wolfgang posts. I’m a big man, I can admit when I’m wrong. Sure, “Tattoo” fucking sucks. It’s the worst song on the album and it’s slightly embarrassing…but everything else on A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH works. Maybe the songs are recycled from decades long since past, but so what? They were still re-worked and recorded by the Van Halen of today, and they don’t disappoint. It’s like it’s 1984 all over again: big choruses, crazy solos, thumpin’ drums, super-bravdo, etc. Van Halen don’t reinvent the wheel so much as get it rolling again, and thank God…because rock was starting to get so dismally boring. “Blood and Fire” recalls the pure adrenaline of “Panama.” “You and Your Blues” is like an update of “Unchained.” Van Halen shouldn’t work in 2012, but somehow they do. My favorite track, the one that gets the most play at the gym is the stupidest: the frivolous “Stay Frosty.” Why does “Stay Frosty” continue to get played? Probably because it’s a straight up rocker that’s fun and funny. While I was busy being jaded, Van Halen was busy partying. At a certain point, it’s easier to just give-in and love them. So you win guys, A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH rules.
1. PSYCHEDELIC PILL by Neil Young & Crazy Horse. I am completely and utterly in awe of this album. Long, meandering, and epic, PSYCHEDELIC PILL was the one album this year that could have been released in 1968 or 1970 not no one would have blinked. Not because it sounds like it’s from that period in time, PSYCHEDELIC PILL is truly a record out of time: intensely personal and yet also very distant and spacy. This is a folk record. This is a jam-band record. This is a singer-songwriter album created by a full band. “Walk Like A Giant” is the work of an incredibly powerful wizard, hurling lightening bolts of rock. I had no idea Neil Young still had it in him to create such a potent work of pure genius. This doesn’t even sound like a comeback it sounds like he never left. Those who scoff at the albums longer cuts, of which there are a few, are missing the point. Like I said in my original review: “the album opens with “Drifting Back,” a 27 minute-long song that’s acts as a kind of sonic air lock, decompressing the listener into the album’s atmosphere. Or perhaps a better metaphor would be that’s a time machine. I like that better because PSYCHEDELIC PILL sounds like lost 1970’s record, with the lengthy “Drifting Back” serving as a trippy time tunnel to the past.” The free flowing extended jams are the destination, not the journey. PSYCHEDELIC PILL is an intricate album that I predict will endure as a kind of sonic evergreen, which will be studied and appreciated for decades to come. Do yourself a favor and check out this once-in-a-generation masterpiece.