Best Albums of 2012: #20 – 11
We lads and lassies at The Wounded Jukebox are getting older. But it should make you glad to know that as you get older, you become more certain of your tastes, your likes and dislikes. We become confident in what we think is great music. And so when the staff of TWJ sat down with 155 possible contenders for the Best Albums of 2012, we found the greats rose quickly to the surface.
We hope you see some of your year-long companions, and possibly discover some new gems. These are what we believe to be The Best Albums of 2012: #20-11!
20. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
(photo by Gareth Iwan Jones)
After any artist’s first record, critics and bloggers begin using the word “growth.” They (we) are rooting for the hero of the moment, wishing and waiting for improvement and the next great thing from the musician/band/singer. But when you talk about Sharon Van Etten and her 2012 album, Tramp, you can’t help but use the word. She’s gone from a quiet, suffering girl and “grown” into a bombastic, collaborating, and successful artist who calls out her past demons and puts them on a very public and humiliating trial. Etten is no longer ashamed of what plagued her, and in new songs like “Serpents,” “All I Can,” and “We Are Fine” we can hear her place a temporary label on the past, turning her focus on something we haven’t heard on her records before: the future. Tramp is an open and wonderful diary, full of invitations for your own story. But it’s something else too, something fans of Etten are beyond ecstatic about: it’s hopeful.
19. Port St. Willow – Holiday (Self-Released)
Nicholas Principe’s project of Port St. Willow has created a dreamy landscape and a complete album in Holiday. The album incorporates falsetto and simple layered instrumentation, building into crescendos that connect from song to song. Principe has done work with The Antlers, Peter Silberman, who is good company for creating complete, dreamy and well formed albums. The Brooklyn based project is one of those albums that you have to listen to as a whole, but if you can only check out a few songs “Orphan” and “Consumed” stand out.
18. Niki & The Dove – Instinct (Sub Pop/Mercury)
(photo by Eliot Hazel)
Instinct was one of the few albums I actually went looking for during 2012; the interest was based on only their singles that had been floating around the year before. The Swedish trio built a zealous, feather-adorned fan base and won all sorts of accolades and award nominations for best new sound in 2011. The promise of a full release from the Swedish trio was something people became ravenous for, and Instinct doesn’t disappoint. Malin Dahlström delivers her vocals like some Björk/Kate Bush super-soldier giving every song of their first album a fanatical wonder; each begging for an interpretive dance.
17. Anais Mitchell – Young Man In America (Wilderland)
Anais Mitchell makes folk music that is as ambitious as it is well-wrought and compelling. Young Man In America is flush with piano melodies and banjo picking and guitar strumming, all painstakingly balanced so as not to overwhelm the stories she tells. Mitchell’s uniquely alluring vocals are the string that binds together these tales – the farmer, the tailor, the doting husband, the generous father, the devoted wife – of hope set in seemingly hopeless times. One can’t help but feel like a journey has taken place when the final notes of Young Man In America fade away.
16. Lost In The Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs (Anti/Epitaph)
At its core, A Church That Fits Our Needs is a love letter. The album is a tribute to lead singer Ari Picker’s mother, who committed suicide roughly three years ago. The record is years in the making, and that gestation is evident in the ornate flourishes that populate each track on the record. No piece is out of place – even the brash and off-kilter moments here are precisely executed – and all are arranged carefully enough to prevent collapsing under the weight of all that raw emotion. Lost In The Trees transform the pain and finality of grief into something achingly beautiful and honest.
15. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar (Wichita)
I would not have suspected a duo of Swedish sisters, Johanna and Klara, to create one of the most old-timey and folky albums of the year, yet that’s what we get with The Lion’s Roar. I don’t really know too much about Sweden, but First Aid Kit sounds straight out of Texas or Tennessee. The dynamic harmonies and steel guitar, in songs like “Emmylou,” or the fact the entire album is just extremely nice to listen to, makes this one of the best albums of the year.
14. Kishi Bashi – 151a (Joyful Noise)
The composition and texture of 151a are truly remarkable. Kishi Bashi is a classically trained violinist, but his melding of digital effects and lush sonic landscapes with his stringed specialty gives the impression he approached this record as a sort of a digital symphony. The endless stream of comparisons I could make – Andrew Bird, Animal Collective, Of Montreal, M83 – aren’t to say Bashi’s sound isn’t unique, but rather to illustrate how impressive his range is. Only a handful of albums made me giddy in discovery this year, and 151a was on that short list.
13. Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion (Mute)
(photo by Autumn de Wilde)
What do you get when you cross soul and sad-guy music? You get Cold Specks, who has created her own genre with of “Doom Soul.” I Predict A Graceful Expulsion deftly blends soulful, smokey vocals, with folky songs about doom, death, and sometimes hope. Al Spx, The London based artist, uses songs like “Holland” and “Blank Maps” to express a depth of feeling that builds to a peak and wraps around anyone listening. This was a unique gem for albums of 2012.
[Listen To The Whole Album]
12. Tanlines – Mixed Emotions (True Panther Sounds)
(photo by Jenny Hueston)
Everyone and their mother like this album. Me and my mother included. The synth-pop duo has created an easy-to-groove-to album that is accessible and addicting. The measured percussions and airy melodies carry the songs, allowing vocalist Eric Emm’s in-tempo addition to accent. Tracks have simple and steady builds and repetitive lyrics that make this a very danceable collection of songs. By the second track “All of Me,” I’m fully invested. Tanline’s new wave vibe harkens those mainstay bands from the 80’s. This is especially evident in “Abby” with an opening that could have been borrowed from Toto. Don’t try to fight this album, it’s good.
11. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (ATO)
Critics fell in love with Alabama Shakes vocalist Brittany Howard as soon as they found her, and soon afterward the band began making waves at SXSW and their famously spiritual live shows. The Southern soul/rock sound that rattles in singles like “Hold On” and “I Found You” are enough to get your blood pumping. But that feeling only lasts through the first half of the band’s debut record Boys & Girls. The second half is a quieter, more thoughtful listen; the kind of music you could sip a beer and nod your head to (eyes closed). Howard’s vocals are incredible at any decibel, whatever the song’s mood, and it makes the entire record wonderful for any woe the day may bring you.