“OK, I think by now we’ve established that everything is inherently worthless/And there’s nothing in the universe with any kind of objective purpose” — Titus Andronicus
Thanks for summing up the year in music, Titus!
We kid, we kid.
The Dilemma: 2012 hasn’t been a terrible year for music, but it hasn’t been notable for much of anything either. I found it easier to cull my list of good albums down to ten than I ever have before. I think the problem is mostly with quantity, not quality, this year. There just weren’t a whole lot of albums that rose above the level of “decent enough to listen to for a couple months, but ultimately forgettable.” However, the albums that did make my top ten (and a handful more) add up to a pretty decent haul of good music. The best stuff was front-loaded, so the bulk of the best albums came out in the first half of the year.
Top Ten Albums of the Year
10. Screaming Females/Ugly
Marissa Paternoster’s shredding guitar and fiery wail lead this batch of catchy, pounding, unforgiving songs.
9. Titus Andronicus/Local Business
Man, do I hate the production on this album. It’s no The Monitor, but it’s filled with great songs and benefits from losing some of the weightiness of its predecessor. But the production is reedy and thin, with Patrick Stickles’ vocals too loud in the mix and not the right timbre. Songs that should blow you away (and do live) like “In a Big City” and “Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter” fall a bit flat.
8. Frank Ocean/Channel Orange
There are too many songs on this album for them all to be good, but the best ones are really amazing. “Sierra Leone,” “Sweet Life,” “Super Rich Kids,” and “Lost” show off Ocean’s voice and charisma. He was also the most compelling musical guest on Saturday Night Live this year (with apologies to Lana Del Rey).
7. Sharon Van Etten/Tramp
Van Etten’s third album is a major leap forward. Since 2010’s Epic, she’s developed a knack for subtle hooks while continuing to write sharp lyrics that strike the right balance between poetic and sensible.
6. Bruce Springsteen/Wrecking Ball
Hey, it’s already our third Jersey album of the countdown! Just starting to pave the way for Chris Christie ’16, y’all. As with state-mates Titus, Springsteen’s latest suffers from poor production. Like every Springsteen album since The Ghost of Tom Joad, Wrecking Ball is overproduced and sterile. This guy needs Rick Rubin in the worst way. But I stand by my initial opinion that this is the best Springsteen album since Born in the USA. There are only two real missteps — the lyrics of “Easy Money” (“you take out the dog/I’ll take out the cat”) and the abhorrent “You’ve Got It.” Those are vastly outweighed by the raucous “Death to My Hometown” and the slow-build epic reach of “We Are Alive.”
5. Bob Mould/Silver Age
It only took 20 years for Bob Mould to make another album (almost) as good as Copper Blue. Yes, I think it’s better than File Under Easy Listening. There’s not a dud in here. It’s as if Mould decided to show the world that he can do this whenever he wants.
4. The Walkmen/Heaven
I wrote about this album already, and it’s grown on me even more over time.
3. Cloud Nothings/Attack on Memory
“I thought I would be more than this! I thought I would be more than this! I thought I would be moooore than thiiiiis!”
2. The Men/Open Your Heart
The band I most regret not seeing live in 2012. Open Your Heart boasts impressive stylistic breadth while still featuring some of the year’s best driving rock songs.
1. Japandroids/Celebration Rock
At only eight songs, Celebration Rock flies by before you’ve even processed what just hit you. Unquestionably the album of the year, it’s one of those rarest of creatures — an album without a weak song. This was the year of Japandroids, and let’s just hope that it’s not the last year of Japandroids we ever get, as the band sounded unquestionably exhausted at a December Chicago show.
Kendrick Lamar/good kid m.A.A.d. city
The Babies/Our House on the Hill
Gentleman Jesse/Leaving Atlanta
Top Five Covers of the Year
Afghan Whigs – “Lovecrimes” (Frank Ocean)
Titus Andronicus – “Brown Sugar” (Rolling Stones)
JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound – “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” (Wilco)
Sharon Van Etten & Shearwater – “Stopp Draggin’ My Heart Around” (Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty)
Kelly Clarkson – “We Found Love” (Rihanna)
Top Five Shows I Saw This Year (no surprises here)
5. JEFF the Brotherhood @ Subterranean
4. Titus Andronicus @ Metro
3. Japandroids @ Metro
2. Fucked Up @ Lincoln Hall
1. Bruce Springsteen @ Wrigley Field
Top Five Music Videos of the Year
5. Real Estate/Easy
4. David Byrne & St. Vincent/Who
3. The Vaccines/Teenage Icon
2. Japandroids/House that Heaven Built
1. Aimee Mann/Labrador
What 2012 in Music Was Really About
David Simon Cowell: JEFF The Brotherhood at Subterranean over Jane’s Addiction at the Aragon? I was at both, and all I have to say is yeah, right.
I agree with you that 2012 was middle-of-the-road for music, with no real reason to get worked up either way. It was notable for a number of my and P.C.H.A.’s favorite current acts (Titus Andronicus, Heartless Bastards, Jack White, etc.) coming out with albums that weren’t bad, but also won’t often win out over previous efforts when I feel like listening to them. And if you had told me a year ago that neither Craig Finn or Gaslight Anthem would make your year-end list, I wouldn’t have believed it.
I don’t really disagree with any of your choices, and there’s no reason to argue over seeding. So here’s my Top Five Albums Not Mentioned By The Dilemma:
Bob Dylan – Tempest
Dylan continues the most prolonged period of late-career greatness ever seen in rock history. Maybe not his best late period album, but anytime he wants to do a collection of countryish growlers, I’m in.
The Vaccines – Come Of Age
The one that I’m shocked didn’t make your list. Nothing original about this band, but I find their punk-poppiness far more compelling than The Japandroids’. (The Dilemma notes: I like the Vaccines’ album, but I’d put it in the same category you proposed for Titus and Jack White — a significant step down from their last album, and one I’m not nearly as likely to listen to in the future.)
The Raveonettes – Observator
Even after a decade, these are some Great Danes. HAHAHAHAHAHA… whew.
Passion Pit – Gossamer
Yes, I’m a 15-year-old girl. So fuck you.
Aimee Mann – Charmer
Yes, I’m a 40-year-old woman. So fuck you.
But, grandpa, we all know that 2012 wasn’t about albums… who has time for that shit? So, here’s my Top Ten Songs of 2012:
The Vaccines – Teenage Idol
Number one and it’s not really close.
No Way Down – The Shins
The only part of the glorified James Mercer solo album that fits in with their best work.
Cold (formerly Theraflu) – Kanye West
A love song to Kim Kardashian that’s good. Really.
Hold On – Alabama Shakes
They were the most overhyped band of the year, sure, but that’s not really their fault.
Hey Jane – Spiritualized
Yeah, I didn’t know they were still a band either. But their 2012 album is actually really solid.
Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst – Kendrick Lamar
Dr. Dre adds to his unprecedented streak of introducing exciting new rappers.
Hot Knife – Fiona Apple
I refused to type her typically long and douchey album title in my list, but Apple remains interesting even after all these years.
Rented Room – Craig Finn
Not an auspicious solo debut, but it has its moments.
Wrecking Ball – Bruce Springsteeen
I would say it’s his best song since… except it has to be in the discussion of his best song.
Thinkin’ Bout You – Frank Ocean
The best song from one of the year’s most interesting debuts.
Funniest (If Completely Predictable) Entries On Rolling Stone’s Top 50 Songs of 2012:
30.) The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio
23.) Randy Newman – I’m Dreaming
21.) Donald Fagan – Weather In My Head
20.) Leonard Cohen – Going Home
18.) The Rolling Stones – Doom and Gloom
16.) Van Halen – Stay Frosty
Song I’d Add To The Covers List – Return Of The Grievous Angel/ Counting Crows
Musical Fad I’m Most Happy To Have Missed In South America – Gangnam Style. Duh.
Weirdest Use Of Music Culture In A Movie: Pitch Perfect. In this overrated comedy (pretty much Bring It On comes to a cappella), Anna Kendrick’s “indie girl” joins the group after she’s overheard in the shower singing Titanium and another girl joins in. “You know David Guetta?'” she asks breathlessly, in the same way that Winona Ryder would have talked about The Replacements in the ’80s. Which is weird, since David Guetta isn’t exactly an underground artist… can’t every 20-year-old sing Titanium?
Douchiest Use Of The Full Name That Undoubtedly Warmed The Dilemma’s Heart: Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives.