2012 Album Roundup: The Best of the Year

Review: Our incoming entertainment lead recounts her favorite music of 2012.

Favorite releases of the year:

David Byrne and St. Vincent, Love This Giant

         This collaboration between Talking Heads’ David Byrne and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark is a delightfully delicious cocktail of pop, funk and big brassy horns. Clark’s one of indie rock’s best rhythm guitarists, and her partnership with the multi-faceted Byrne was a pleasantly surprising display of the pair’s joint songwriting chops and musical acumen.

Sharon Van Etten, Tramp

         I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t discover Sharon Van Etten until this third release, and I had no idea what I was missing. Though this hauntingly beautiful, sentimental album features guest appearances from members of The National, Beirut’s Zach Condon and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Van Etten’s voice is its true star. The music is subtle but powerful, and somehow manages to hit you all at once.

Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself

         Even after nearly 25 releases in various shapes and sizes, the ever-talented multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird rarely disappoints, and Break It Yourself is no exception. His songwriting has aged gracefully, each album richer and more insightful than the last. Break It Yourself is the musical illustration of the dynamic sounds that Bird is capable of, and tracks ranging from under a minute to over eight are worth as many listens as listeners are willing to give.

First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar

         Comprised of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, Swedish folk pop duo First Aid Kit is irresistible. Gaining momentum after releasing a cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” the sisters have been surrounded by a notable buzz in the indie music blogosphere. Their second LP The Lion’s Roar is charming, peppered with catchy choruses and an uncanny combination of instruments. Plus, the album’s last song features Bright Eyes’ frontman Conor Oberst—what’s not to like?

Bad Books, II

         The union between Brooklyn singer-songwriter Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull continues on Bad Books’ sophomore album II, a decidedly more distinctive release than their first effort. More upbeat songs like “No Sides” (Devine’s lyrics) transition seamlessly into quieter acoustic fare like “Pyotr” (Hull’s), conveying the pair’s growth as songwriters, and their ability to create a work absolutely more cohesive than their last record.

Delta Spirit, Delta Spirit:

         California rock outfit Delta Spirit’s self-titled release is honest and punchy, full of twangy rock guitar riffs and thumping drum beats. The band’s third full length delivers 11 well-produced tunes and an evolution that separates them from their Americana roots.

Right Away, Great Captain! The Church of the Good Thief

         On the final album in the Right Away, Great Captain! trilogy (after 2007’s The Bitter End and 2008’s The Eventually Home), Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull wraps up his solo project somberly. Telling the story of a 17th century sailor who catches his wife cheating with his brother, the narrative’s conclusion is dark and conflicted, ultimately ending in a funeral at sea. Hull’s at his best stripped down to a piano and acoustic guitar like he is on Church, which allows his lyrical capabilities to shine.

Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan

         I haven’t listened to Dirty Projectors other material much, but Swing Lo Magellan floored me. It’s chaotic and grungy in a way that’s reminiscent of Jack White, and just the right shade of pretentious. It’s wide-ranging but manages to stay fun, and laden with musical surprises. 

mewithoutYou, Ten Stories:

         Philadelphia natives mewithoutYou have a flair for telling stories, with their latest release exploring the experiences of circus animals after a train crash. The post-hardcore, indie rock band’s Ten Stories is a logical progression in their discography, staying true to songs on the teetering brink of being encumbered by too many words and frontman Aaron Weiss’ spoken-singing. Plus it’s got lyrical allusions to the French Revolution. I’m sold.

Honorable mentions: Band of Horses’ Mirage Rock, The Mountain Goats’ Transcendental Youth and Yeasayer’s Fragrant World


Favorite individual songs:

Lana del Rey, “Blue Jeans” off Born To Die: I listen to this album unironically because I’m secretly a Lana lover, and “Blue Jeans” succinctly depicts the album’s vintage-obsessed sound.

M. Ward, “Sweetheart” feat. Zooey Deschanel off A Wasteland Companion: I’m generally not a fan of M. Ward, and especially not She & Him, but this latest release has a few songs that I can get behind.

Santigold, “Disparate Youth” off Master of My Make-Believe: Purely Santigold’s zany brand of electro-dance music, “Disparate Youth” is rebellious but simultaneously catchy.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Oh Susannah” off Americana: Young’s cover infuses grungy rock n’ roll into this American classic, as does the rest of his cover album.


2012’s biggest disappointments:

Mumford & Sons, Babel

The Shins, Port of Morrow

The xx, Coexist

These three albums were the victims of too much hype: Mumford & Sons got too big too quickly; The Shins have been on a downward slope since their proliferation after Garden State in 2004; and The xx’s Coexist is a little too minimalist for my liking.



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