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The Top 25 Albums of 2012

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By Weeping Elvis on January 4, 2013

While lists are inherently subjective and not to be taken too seriously, they can still help us distill the thousands and thousands of records released in 2012 into a few meritorious of further attention. Weeping Elvis polled its editors, as well as its nationwide pool of critics, contributors, musicians and music geeks to pull together this list of the year’s best albums.


You’ll likely find some favorites, some surprises, and some unknown gems on this list. Rock, soul, Americana, hip-hop, indie, grunge, folk — it’s all here. As we prepare to unwrap the gift of the year ahead to see what the rock world has in store for us, we’d like to take the opportunity to recall the musical gifts that came our way in 2012. So remember, rock, and repeat…

Raveonettes 25. The RaveonettesObservator

How the hell does Sune Rose Wagner remain so prolific? If he’s ever suffered writer’s block, it must have been confined to sparse moments in time, as the incredibly voluminous Danish-born songwriter seems to churn out pop gems at an unparalleled rate. Beauty is not a small part of what the band does, with Wagner’s pleasingly simple and intuitive hooks supplemented by Sharin Foo’s steadily reassuring rhythm. These are moments where you lose yourself in wander and lust, moments where it appears that her loveliness is giving you those Beach Boys-styled excitations and vibrations. Theirs’ remains a warm and sunny sedation that transports listeners to California highways that lead to endless beaches perpetually preserved by Kodachrome, Polaroids, and now, Instagram filters.  The ever-present layer of cloudy dissonance — whether aural or lyrical — sets up a dichotomy between beauty and pain, one where polar opposites attract repeatedly and with varied results. –Behrnsie

Rush24. RushClockwork Angels

Since their five-year hiatus ended in the early 2000s, Rush fans had been longing for the band to return to the meandering prog-rock compositions of their early days. They haven’t. But they did do something this year that they’ve never done — release a concept album. Sure, the musicianship is great; by now that comes as little surprise. But what makes this probably their most satisfying effort in 20 years is the quality of the songs, as they follow a hero’s journey across a dystopian steampunk society (the story was novelized later in the year).  From the propulsive hard rock of “Seven Cities of Gold’ and “Headlong Flight” to the gorgeous atmospherics of the acoustic-based “Halo Effect” and “The Garden” this ranks among the most confident works from this supremely talented band. –Sir Duke

CloudNothings 23. Cloud NothingsAttack On Memory

Dylan Baldi might be the coolest cat to emerge from Cleveland since Paul Newman. His band, Cloud Nothings, took a sludgier tack with Attack On Memory, an album title that referenced their new approach. The result is evolutionary, as Baldi consciously sought to showcase each musician’s strengths rather than forming a game plan blind to these assets. Recorded with rock guru Steve Albini – Baldi callowly accused the prolific musician/recording engineer/producer of being pre-occupied with social Scrabble during recording – it retains elements of their low-fi sensibility but adds a grandiosity rarely associated with that term. After all, how many low-fi albums feature epic jams like that preoccupying “Wasted Days?” Plus, “Stay Useless” might be one of the year’s best songs. There’s a wonderfully youthful nihilism ever-present, hinting at the genius and horror of youth itself. What they may lack in perspective about the benefits of Albini’s laissez-faire approach, however, is balanced out with raw emotion and energetic passion. Put another way: Attack on Memory is rock and roll of a particularly memorable vintage. –Behrnsie

Soundgarden22. SoundgardenKing Animal

It’s like they never left us. One would never know that it’s been 15 years since we last had new tunes from Soundgarden. Everything we loved and love about them is in here: monster guitar riffs, a wall of rock sound that will smash you in the face even through ear buds and vocals from one of rock’s great singers that are just as fresh as when we first heard them. Is it a classic in the vein of Badmotorfinger and Superunknown? Well, maybe not but listening to it even back to back with these earlier efforts will prove extremely gratifying to those who have craved new material from one of the 90s more important bands. –CLEM

Grimes 21. GrimesVisions

Visions is a cohesive work of modernized and goth-inflected electronica that made many critics’ “Best of 2012″ lists, becoming one of those mid-level indie successes that spawns a passionate fan base. Claire Boucher‘s layered vocals emerge from a heavy use of reverb and delay and bring about an intoxicating, dreamlike state. Out-of-body experiences may be common, in which one watches themselves glide effortlessly through a futuristic roller skating rink shrouded by alternately opaque and translucent predawn fog. Or, maybe, dancing in a European discoteque where ecstasy and exotic women flit and float about rhythmically, languidly and purposefully.  Ms. Boucher’s earnest, wondrous and child-like ability to dart about emotionally, responding to whatever stimuli are in situ, makes for a tremendous listening experience.  Rather than embracing the tangible and immediate, it floats through a foggy dream of industrial-inflected beats and wispy pop vocals that are often cinematic and occasionally heavenly. –Behrnsie

TheShins20. The ShinsPort Of Morrow

After about five years off and the dismissal of every band member not named James Mercer, The Shins returned in 2012 with a new album. So, at this point, it can be said that Mercer pretty much is The Shins. Sometimes this “band” can seem a bit precious, but this time their trademark mix of jangle guitars, clever lyrics and harmonies evoked a more mature sensibility akin to The Kinks‘ “Well Respected Man” ethos (as opposed to following the indie rock rule book).  Perhaps that’s due in part to the evolution in the production with a brighter quality that compliments the songwriting and seems to fit where the band is at, this being their fourth album. The vocals are more forward in the mix, no doubt in part to producer Rich Costey (Modest Mouse, Franz Ferdinand, Apples in Stereo, Audioslave) who added the perfect polish to Mercer’s consummate melodies. –Pat Ferrise

TheWalkmen18. (Tie) The WalkmenHeaven

Heaven, The Walkmen’s sixth studio album of original material over their ten years together, finds the band taking a more lilting, contemplative approach than their hard-charging nature of their earlier material.  The youthful NYC /Philly swagger is gone, and lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice has a more solemn, mellow timbre than the throaty urgency of previous releases, and the carnival-like musical arrangements are more Kurt Weil than Kurt Vile. This is the sound of a band growing up, but not growing tired. –Huey

FatherJohnMisty18. (Tie) Father John MistyFear Fun

Fear Fun, the new release from indie rocker Josh Tillman under his new moniker Father John Misty, is a literate and hallucinogenic folk-infused trip through a gothic American dreamscape that seems at once familiar and foreign. Combining the wistful gloom country of vintage Mark Kozelek with the harmonic accessibility the Laurel Canyon sound (as well as a touch of Chris Isaak), this record will burrow its way into your subconscious with hummable melodies and incisive wit…with the added bonus of the most heinous album cover of all time. (Appropriately for their co-existence on our list, The Walkmen and Father John Misty are slated to tour together later this month). –Huey


17. Cat PowerSun

On her ninth studio album, songstress Chan Marshall explores densely layered electronica and pop soundscapes, with more upbeat rhythms than we’ve become accustomed to on her recent releases. At several points, it’s downright danceable. This is a record with thick textures and diverse influences — on the single “Ruin,” she even explores Latin syncopation and musical (not to mention lyrical) phrasing. She has clearly absorbed a range of influences, from hip-hop to EDM to world beats, and incorporated it into a lush, churning, urgent and mature departure point. –Huey

KendrickLamar16. Kendrick LamarGood Kid m.A.A.d. City

Dr. Dre‘s latest protege has unleashed a work that will certainly contribute to the evolution of  rap and hip-hop. A reasonably linear story line intersperses the wild ride Kendrick Lamar takes us on, and the (expected) exploration of urban life does not simply retrace the footsteps of his predecessors, but also searches for the meaning of it all within the chaos of the ‘hood. The beats and sounds are groundbreaking, with realistic dialogue interludes often turning comedic. If listeners take the complete ride through Lamar’s “city” there is even the chance to literally save one’s soul.  –CLEM

Click on over to our friends at Weeping Elvis for the rest of the Top 25 Albums of 2012, as selected by the editors …

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