As always, my goal here is more to try and introduce bands you may not have heard yet and less to actually treat the countdown as an authoritative list. So even though I thought The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Passion Pit, etc put out good/great albums in 2012, they don’t need MY help telling people how good their albums were. It could be argued that a few entries on my list don’t need any help for exposure, but it’s my list, and now we’re fighting.
I made a Mix CD for friends (and now you), and I intended to write a Top 30 to supplement the CD since I couldn’t fit everything I wanted on one CD. Instead, I only wrote a top 20. It’s Call of Duty Double XP weekend; I’m BUSY, geez. But to bring the list up to 30, here’s 10 honorable mention albums in no particular order. They’re not on the Mix CD and they’re not on the list, but they’re good, so check ’em out when YOU’RE not busy. Bang bang bang!
Mind Spiders – Meltdown
Zammuto – Zammuto
Spider Bags – Shake My Head
Wild Nothing – Nocturne
Laura Gibson – La Grande
Bowerbirds – The Clearing
Dr. Dog – Be The Void
Poolside – Pacific Standard Time
Tennis – Young And Old
Allo Darlin’ – Europe
20Twin Shadow – Confess
I don’t want to like Twin Shadow. I’m not the biggest fan of that 80s sound, and just look at his album cover. His songs are full of this bravado that paint him to be that guy who believes he can steal your girl if he wants to. But then you hang out with him, and hey! He’s a pretty cool dude after all! Maybe that macho front is just an act, maybe it’s not. You’re just misunderstood, Twin Shadow! Let’s be friends. 19King Tuff – King Tuff
Nasally vocals, guitars turned up to 11, simple songs. Some people might find this album nothing special. I on the otherhand enjoyed how it reminded me of T Rex and why rock and roll is fun. Whatever King Tuff is doing, they’re doing it well enough to take what could have been a run-of-the-mill guitar/garage/glam rock album, and make it something cool. I look forward to more. 18Shovels & Rope – O’ Be Joyful
I have KEXP to thank for pushing this duo so much. It’s a solid roots-rock stomper that has fun flirting with that line between country and punk, and Cary Ann Hearst’s voice is something to be joyful about. 17Paws – Cokefloat!
I’ve said before that a trend I’m fond of is new bands who grew up on 90s college rock playing songs that sound like 90s college rock. Last year there was Yuck, Mazes, Poison Control Center, and others. This year there was The Cribs, Paws…and I guess Guided by Voices who, in true GbV fashion managed to release THREE albums in 2012. ANYWAY, this is about Paws, whose album I thought was the most consistently solid throughout when it came to playing 90s indie rock, but in 2012. 16How To Dress Well – Total Loss
How To Dress Well is the solo project of producer Tom Krell, who enjoys singing almost exclusively in high falsetto on these dreamy, atmospheric, R&B tunes. Sometimes the vocals work great, and sometimes they get a little stale. This makes some of his songs a tad underwhelming, but when they hit, they hit that spot…you know that spot I’m talking about. I suppose if I were forced to declare, Miguel’s “Kaleidoscope Dream” is the better (best?) R&B album this year, but something about this album excited me a little more. 15Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
One of the things I admire about this album is how effortlessly Killer Mike can shift from an old school-sounding song like “JoJo’s Chillin” to a political song like “Reagan” to an action-packed-yet-personal song like “Don’t Die”. The final track shows Killer Mike to view rap as a religion, and you can hear that serious conviction in every song. Killer Mike is serious business, and this is a serious album, but at the same time completely catchy and easy to get into. 14Woods – Bend Beyond
Woods landed on my radar a few years ago and have stayed there since. I’m not sure how to describe them…folk jam? Psychedelic country? I like that I can’t nail them down, because each album they’ve put out since I hopped on board has been great, and I dare say this is their best, most accessible one. If you dig the video above, put them on your radar. 13Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
Hey you got your Spoon in my Handsome Furs! No you got your Handsome Furs in my Spoon! This supergroup is Britt Daniel, Dan Boeckner, and other dudes from other bands, but it’s the Spoon/Handsome Furs mix that’s important, because that’s exactly what this album sounds like. And if that mix sounds good to you, you’re in for a treat. It’s very easy for a “supergroup” to fail miserably, and kudos to Divine Fits for making an album that sounds like an actual good band instead of a gimmicky supergroup trying to cash in. 12The Babies – Our House on the Hill
When I listened to The Babies debut album last year something about them reminded me of The Replacements. The same goes for this album, which I believe is stronger than their debut, so good for them. They don’t sound like The Replacements per se, so I don’t know why I think that, but I do. It’s their spirit, or something. I don’t know, stop bothering me. 11Purity Ring – Shrines
I don’t know what to make of this album, but it’s burrowed into my brain more than probably any other album in 2012. Purity Ring is a male/female duo from Canada who are apparently very skilled at creating electronic music that doesn’t bore me to tears. It’s almost like a hardcore hip hop album but with pretty white girl vocals. I believe this genre is called PHAT CANADIAN BEATZ. 10The Walkmen – Heaven
This is The Walkmen’s 7th album, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re 7 for 7. Scientists should be employed around the clock to determine if it’s possible for The Walkmen to release a bad album. Think of the answers that research would give the world. “We Can’t Be Beat” was probably my Desperado of 2012. (I didn’t write one of these last year, but for the record Youth Lagoon’s “Montana” won my Desperado Award of 2011) 9Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions
Of the three “Black Hippy” albums I listened to this year (this, Ab-Soul, & Kendrick Lamar), Schoolboy Q’s album felt the most consistent to me. I won’t deny that Kendrick Lamar’s album is fantastic, but I think I enjoyed this album more. I also wouldn’t have been as excited for Kendrick Lamar’s album if I didn’t hear him first on Schoolboy Q’s “Blessed” track here. “Hands On The Wheel” is one of the best songs all year–summed up nicely by youtube commenter WTFBRITTNAY: “That song is hard as fuck.” 8Japandroids – Celebration Rock
It’s rare that an album cover tells you exactly what you’re going to get inside. Japandroids wear their love of guitar rock and sing-along choruses on their sleeve, and what makes this album special is they take that energy to not only pay homage to the celebration of rock, but to forge their own unique celebration. 7Gentleman Jesse – Leaving Atlanta
I don’t know if this guy is actually a gentleman, so I can’t speak to his character in that regard, but he is a good rock and roller who writes catchy little nuggets of guitar rock/power pop. Reminds me of early Nick Lowe with a dash of Exploding Hearts, and there’s not one real dud on the album. 6Swearin’ – Swearin’
Much like The Babies remind me of The Replacements without really sounding like The Replacements, Swearin’ reminds me of The Fastbacks without really sounding like The Fastbacks. Just real good catchy, fuzzy guitar rock with oodles of hooks. I think each year there’s a band who, when their song comes up on my shuffle, I do a double-take and have to look to see who it is because I like it so much. I think Swearin’ wins whatever that award is this year. 5Royal Headache – Royal Headache
Good garage rock bands are a dime a dozen, but when you add Royal Headaches’s soulful vocals to this Australian band’s already solid garage rock, it elevates it to something a bit more special. As if Gerry Roslie from The Sonics had more soul and less scream to his voice…or you know your favorite Guided By Voices song where Robert Pollard really wails? That’s what this dude does for almost the whole album. It’s like Roger Daltry’s “YEEEEEAHHHH!!!” from “Won’t Get Fooled Again” ALL THE TIME. By the way, the singer’s nickname is SHOGUN. 4Chiddy Bang – Breakfast
Do you like your rap and hip-hop to NOT be about smokin’ weed and fuckin’ hos? Then Chiddy Bang is for you! This Philadelphia duo put out what is easily one of the cathciest, bounciest albums of 2012. Bonus points for the Blues Brothers homage in the video above. 3First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
First Aid Kit are a couple of sisters from Sweeden who made a splash with a homemade video of them covering Fleet Foxes. Thier first album was so-so, their second album was promising, and this album knocks it out of the park. Beautiful, folksy harmonies with a dash of country. When it came to the 2012 Sweedish folk battle royale, I think First Aid Kit beat out The Tallest Man On Earth in a photo finish. 2The Men – Open Your Heart
Two guitars, bass, and drums. That’s all I need, and The Men deliver. It’s evident on this album that they love rock and roll as much as they love to play rock and roll. The word of the day is energy, and it’s impressive the energy The Men have attacking different genres while they rock. The album moves from punk to rock to blues to guitar jam to country to indie to classic rock almost effortlessly, creating an fantastic wave of rock, and making the album greater than the sum of its parts. This is American Rock and Roll. 1The Explorers Club – Grand Hotel
When I first heard The Explorers Club, I pictured a couple old producer/musicians holed up in some Los Angeles mansion, using the studio in their basement to recreate music from their golden days. That was a logical explanation for why it took 4 years between their first album, and this one. When I found out they’re a bunch of music nerds from South Carolina, I found them all the more exciting. It’s nothing new to try and recapture that “wall of sound” sound, but The Explorers Club do it so well. They can sound just like the Beach Boys or Neil Diamond, yet avoid that uncanny valley and sound fresh and new at the same time. No other album delighted me as much as Grand Hotel did in 2012.