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Top Albums of the Year

February 11, 2013
 

Chris’s 25 Favorite Albums of 2012

2012-Marathon

Hey, kids. As my first official post upon the realms of The Radio Cure, I figured I’d say “hello.” I’m excited to join the ranks, and hope you can enjoy a bit of my whimsy now and again. Here are my favorite albums of 2012. I tend to get wordy and very autobiographical, so I apologize in advance. Here goes…

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25. David Byrne & St Vincent | Love This Giant

Gotta admit, I’ve never been huge into St Vincent. I like her and all, just haven’t ever been able to fully get into her music for whatever reason. But this tag team with Sir Byrne is definitely a worthy listen. It’s horny. I like it.

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24. Baroness | Yellow & Green

 Starting to crave a little more of the hard rock sounds again. Baroness is among the best there is at it nowadays. A very 70’s feel to this crunching double-disc. Anyone itching for some decent heavy, check it.

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23. How To Dress Well | Total Loss

A few more memorable melodies would’ve made this one a little better, but who doesn’t enjoy a little minimalist white boy R&B soul? Not sure I want to be associated with such a person.

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22. Ultraísta | Ultraísta

This baby could’ve done with a couple more memorable hooks as well, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t go down smoove. That Nigel knows how to craft a solid groove worth jiving to. The whole thing has an understated cool about it.

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21. Tame Impala | Lonerism

Lotta noise about these guys this year. Still kind of soaking it in myself, but a band to be reckoned with for sure. Some great harmonies and big songs. I’ll be keeping track o’ these Aussies…

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20. Bat For Lashes | The Haunted Man

She’s adorable. I always liked that she had the same cream puff nose that I do. And she’s wearing nothing but a dude on the cover. Aside from that, another solid album from Natasha Kahn. This one is a little more intimate, and more emotional as a result. I still think her and Beck need to make an album together (that song they did on Eclipse was superb).

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19. Dan Deacon | America

This was my first full exposure to Dan Deacon. Some fuzztastic rocktronica going down here. ‘Nuff said. Can ya dig it?

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18. Japandroids | Celebration Rock

Somehow it took me a sec to catch the clever word jumble of their name. It kind of blew my mind when I thought about it as “Jap androids” instead of “Japan droids.” Not sure why. Anyway, their album blew my mind just a little bit too. Not any more than a lot of the punk stuff I listened to back in high school, but they put some much needed energy into an overwhelmingly slow paced indie scene.  JAPANdroids…JapANDROIDS. Ha!

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17. Chromatics | Kill For Love

Just thinking of this album makes me feel cool. Johnny Jewel converted me hardcore with his contributions to the Drive soundtrack, and this generous helping of goodness has only done more to glorify his name. The title track is like an electronic Jesus and Mary Chain. Sweet n’ sexy. Just the way I like it.

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16. Flying Lotus | Until the Quiet Comes

At first I was disappointed there weren’t more nuggets of bio-mechanical blip-hop resembling “Putty Boy Strut.” But this is a record to chill by. It may not be as gleefully galactic as 2010’s Cosmogramma was, but still very satisfying when that certain mood besets me. Steven Ellison is, without a doubt, one of the most gifted sound-smiths around town. He’s the mayor of Soundsville. The Master of Soundston Abbey.

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15. Grizzly Bear | Shields

Grizzly Bear have become one of my favorite bands since I first heard their dreamy 2006 album Yellow House and the worthy Friend EP that followed. They really are a talented buncha dudes. Bassist and producer extraordinaire Chris Taylor’s side project CANT was near the very top of my list last year. And Daniel Rossen’s own EP of solo tunes from this year was fantastic. Thus, when the band releases an album, I usually expect it to reign supreme with the power of a giant North American omnivore. They haven’t quite accomplished total dominance here, as I still find myself missing the subtleties of Yellow House. But, Shields is nonetheless a sprawling space-folk-chamber-rock goodie worthy of praise. Nobody sounds quite like them, and that’s a good thing. Keep ’em comin’, boys.

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14. Chairlift | Something

Another adorable female singer. They’re kind of sprouting up everywhere these days. This record is sufficiently 80’s in all the good ways. It’s pretty solid, but I kept forgetting how good it was throughout the year and had to keep reminding myself. It may have made it a tad higher if it stuck with me better. Certainly loved the Japanese version of “I Belong In Your Arms,” though, perhaps more than the original (what’s with the pits, though??).

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13. Rocket Juice & the Moon | Rocket Juice & the Moon

Oh, Damon. Can you do no wrong? This collection of world-y grooves is such a fun listen. There’s not a ton to it, but something about it makes me feel like I’m part of Ocean’s 11. It gets me up, and gets me down, and gets me all around. It makes me wanna throw a party and then rob a casino with all my best dressed buddies.

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12. Delta Spirit | Delta Spirit

If you haven’t seen these brosephs live, you are missing out. One of the better live shows you can see these days. This self-titled third effort is slightly less folky, and they’ve fused a few more contemporary influences with their brand of bluesy rock. Wanna hear some slightly shoegazed soul? Come on over to the Delta. Lead singer Matthew Vasquez throws his perfectly passionate howl over the top of these morsels with such ease. Whether he’s scratching his way through album highlight “Tear It Up” or bringing the waterworks with closer “Yamaha,” he works it like a front man should. A band that really does deserve more attention.

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11. Sigur Rós | Valtari

Oooh…Kinda painful for me to leave Sigur Ros out of the top ten. That’s never happened before. Still, it is Sigur Ros, and 11 isn’t exactly a shabby spot to land. I was left wanting a lot more with this album initially. Yeah, it’s beautiful and relaxing, but a lot of it kind of goes nowhere. It’s only slightly more song oriented than Jonsi’s exquisite side project Riceboy Sleeps, but if I’m comparing, I’ll take Riceboy over this any day. Once I got over the idea that it wasn’t the most amazing thing they’ve ever done, I was able to accept that it’s still pretty damn pleasant. Kind of like King of Limbs last year. An “ok” Sigur Ros album still floats my boat better than most.

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10. Animal Collective | Centipede Hz

I’ve never been entirely on the Animal Collective train. They make some amazing noises, and I usually appreciate their albums enough to warrant a spot around 10-15. But then I usually end up feeling guilty that I don’t like them more. I was used to siding with Team Overrated, but this time around it seems I’m in a similar minority by thinking the opposite. It didn’t get the praise they usually do, but something about Centipede Hz really made my teeth tingle. I do understand what people were missing, especially after Merriweather Post Pavillion. This one is a bit more restrained. But, I think that’s kind of what I like about it. It’s a little bit rock n’ roll by Animal Collective’s standards (not to mention Donny Osmond’s), and I found that to be quite appetizing. They’re still sitting in that “10-15” range I guess, but from now on I shall look forward to their offerings and just let-let-let-let-let-let-let-let-let go.

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9. Frank Ocean | channel ORANGE

What an odd beast channel ORANGE was to digest. It took me a while to decide what I thought about it. I was ecstatic upon hearing the Playstation start up into Street Fighter which casually led to “Thinkin Bout You,” one of my favorite songs of the year. But then “Sierra Leone” almost ruined it for me. Something about it sounded a little too typical. Cheesy, if you will. That is until the final minute of it kicked in revealing one of the most beautiful moments of music all year. The next track did something similar. “Hmm maybe I won’t like this after all..”.>SMACK!< “Nevermind, this is fantastic.” From that point on, there isn’t a weak moment on the thing. Some of the best are in the interludes. And dropping a Dragon Ball reference (in the fabulous “Pink Matter”) will always score points with me. “Pyramids” gets a tad winded, but there are so many good things crammed into it, and the mere fact that it exists is a testament to Frank’s bravery and innovation in an otherwise tired genre. What really sets this album apart is the honesty he portrays. He’s genuine, and it comes off in every aspect. He’s basically the Kanye of R&B, only his honesty doesn’t reveal that he’s actually a talented douche. It just makes you wanna give him a hug.

Frank Ocean – Bad Religion (Live TV Show) from RealMuzik on Vimeo.

Frank Ocean – Pink Matter from Woah Diva on Vimeo.

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8. Symmetry | Themes For An Imaginary Film

I think this technically came out in 2011, but it was like the last week of December, and this is too juicy to get lost in such a technicality. You know those moments when you find yourself humming your own tense theme song to get you through a tight spot? Whether it be a tough project at work, driving through a blizzard, or perhaps moonlighting as a getaway driver for some bank robbing buddies? Yeah, this one is perfect for those moments. I may be in a minority by putting Symmetry so much higher than Chromatics’ Kill For Love, but either way mastermind Johnny Jewel will have my undying respect henceforth. There was buzz that this contained elements of Jewel’s scratched score for the film Drive (one of my favorite films in a years), and many aspects of this collection, including the title, cover art and overall aesthetic, lend themselves to such rumors. Other sources deny the connection. True or not, there is a similar visceral tension and stylish cool that threads its way through the 36 tracks. It’s a solid two hours of goodness, whether you connect it to Drive or your own imaginary film.

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7. Smashing Pumpkins | Oceania

Alright, I’ll admit that this album received a gigantic boost from nostalgia. First of all, the fact that this album actually ended up being quite pleasant was a huge relief. When something ends up being much better than you expected, you can’t help but have a positive experience. Billy finally got back to writing pop songs after mis-stepping a bit with the overcooked radio rock of Zeitgeist. Second, it helps that Mr. Corgan has been feeding us with some incredible reissues as of late (good timing Billy >wink wink<), including the glorious five-disc box of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which happens to be one of my very favorite albums of all time. So, yeah… Pumpkins nostalgia is at an all-time high for me at the moment. I suppose I’ve really been craving that “heavy pop” of the mid ’90’s alternative scene in general lately. And lastly, just listen to those guitars! All things considered, I truly enjoyed the hell out of this album. If you had trouble with his voice before, it probably won’t convert you here. But, Oceania is without a doubt the best Billy Corgan material since ’98’s Adore. And that’s worth at least the seven spot to me.

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6. Floex | Zorya

I first heard Tomáš Dvorák’s music as the dreamy backdrop to the fantastic art game Machinarium. I was so mesmerized by the overall atmosphere of it, and the cybernetic New-Age of the score played a big part in that. I soon became aware that he released a new album of music under the moniker Floex, and naturally, I jumped all over it. Zorya is a seamless combination of live instrumentation and electronic blips, incorporating elements of jazz, classical, IDM, ambient, and world music. If that alone doesn’t entice a listen, you may not have a soul. Or at least not one with much taste. I’m not even sure what else I need to say about this thing. I will say, I would’ve thought Flying Lotus would be sitting in this spot, as far as instrumental electronic epics go. A unique surprise, indeed.

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5. Sleigh Bells | Reign of Terror

I was one of those “RAWK!” kids back in the day, but over the last decade or so I really haven’t had a strong taste for the axe. There have been a few bands here and there that got my head bangin’, but I had mostly put the devil horns away. Enter Sleigh Bells. These guys should get at least partial credit for the sudden resurgence of guitar in my diet. Treats had some thrilling riffs, too, but the highlights of that album were usually the nasty beats. This time around, guitar is the star. They waste no time making that statement with the thundering wail of opening track “True Shred Guitar,” and it don’t stop. (Speaking of devil horns, I threw them up for the first time in years at their live show, and when I did, Derek Miller pointed right at me and smacked me a five so wicked it left my palm throbbing.) There’s a brilliant cultural juxtaposition that exists in their music. It’s the coolness of the seemingly innocent church girl sporting a Metallica shirt in a statement of defiant irony. When executed well, it works wonders. Hell, Urban Outfitters has basically built their empire around this very concept. But it’s within Reign of Terror that I recognize the purist and most alluring fusion of this butt-rock-meets-bubble-gum phenomenon. I do worry that it’s so “of the moment” that producing a relevant follow up from here could prove difficult. We shall see. For now, I’m just enjoying the ride immensely. And is it just me, or does “Never Say Die” sound like some great Sonic the Hedgehog music?

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4. Wild Nothing | Nocturne

I’m a little surprised this one made it this far. It probably doesn’t really deserve to be this high, in reality. But as of this writing, I am madly in love with this album. I find myself craving the sound of it. It makes me happy. It makes me want to fall in love like a kid again, and at the same time reminds me I’m already married to the love of my life. It makes me want to listen to a John Hughes soundtrack, and then maybe some J-pop, and then maybe finally listen to their first album, Gemini. It makes me want to watch every movie with Michelle Williams in it. It makes me wish it was summer. It makes me want to write music, or at least write bass lines as lovely as those on “Paradise” and “Shadow.” It makes me want to draw. It makes me want to go back to Japan. It makes me want to cut my hair. It makes me want to name a daughter Rheya. It makes me think maybe it should actually be even higher on this list.

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3. Grimes | Visions

I tend to go on a bit of a rant whenever I discuss Grimes. How does she do it? Claire Boucher shouldn’t be this good at what she does. I mean, she’s pretty obnoxious, right? Listening to her, like, being, like, interviewed is, like, complete torture. I have a hard time noticing that she’s actually saying some interesting things, because she sounds too much like someone who thinks she’s talented, but isn’t at all in reality. I saw plenty just like her in art school: Those nerds in Japanese class who think Japanese is so cool because now they can finally attempt to understand their imported video games and manga (they don’t actually understand, they just like telling people they do). But the thing is…Claire actually IS that good. And it almost angers me how good she is. I hate hearing her talk, but I love hearing her sing. Her fashion is so terrible it becomes amazing. She’s a homely tomboy that somehow turns into a sexy feminine diva when thrown on a stage or in a photo shoot. But none of that would matter much if weren’t for the fact Visions is pure gold. One part old school Madonna, a few parts new school Asian pop, a dash of 90’s house and techno, then some killer production skills and a knack for seductive melody. I’m not sure how she does it. But she definitely is good at what she does. Obnoxious or not.

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2. Deftones | Koi No Yokan

Uh oh, get out the pitchforks and torches, kids. “How dare he put this filth so high, and above Frank Ocean at that! HERETIC! BLASPHEMER!”

Not that I need the approval of the hipster elite, but since this continuously seems to raise an eyebrow or two (and piss off my buddy Greg), allow me to “briefly” elaborate on my love of Deftones, if I may. (Note: This is an effort of explanation, not justification. I enjoy them whether I get crap for it or not.)

Since I first truly started indulging the world of popular music culture, my tastes have had a few dramatic shifts. The most significant was near the turn of the millennium with the arrival of Kid A, an album that almost single handedly changed how I viewed ALL art around me. Let it be known that at this time I could be found listening to bands like Korn, Papa Roach, Godsmack, etc. But from that point, everything was filtered through a new lens of scrutiny. Only a handful of bands made the cut…one being Deftones. This was in large part due to the release of White Pony only a few months prior, which if I’m being honest, helped pave the way for my acceptance of Kid A. I saw a band with a similar integrity to music as art, a band that had evolved their style beyond what the audience expected (despite the gnashing of teeth by many). Basically, I saw a metal Radiohead. By comparison, every other band from the “nu-metal” era suddenly sounded trite, immature, and just plain awful. The band has been a staple of my year-end lists ever since.

Despite seeing consistent critical praise over the years (Koi No Yokan is one of the highest rated albums of 2012 according to aggregator site Metacritic), Deftones have never truly seen the respect they deserve, mostly because of the company they kept in the 90’s. Even within the crowds that do enjoy them, very few dare put them on lists like this. Hardcore metal heads don’t dare, because they’re reminded of the nu-metal age and there are no drawn out solos or mythical creatures. The hipsters surely won’t give them a chance, because, well, they’re also reminded of the nu-metal age and, let’s face it, they’re just so “unfashionably heavy.” Call it nostalgia for the 90’s, call it a rising boredom with the lack of energy and grit in indie rock, or call it a delusion, but I personally consider Deftones to be one of the more interesting bands going right now and this album is a reason why. It’s a sexy, spacey headphones epic that delivers from the start of the stomping, melodic opener “Swerve City” down through the one-two punch of “Rosemary” and “Goon Squad” (the second best double whammy of the year after Bloom’s “Myth”/”Wild” combo). It could be their best album since White Pony, maybe their best period. I actually don’t even like calling it “metal.” Sure, they’ve been seen touring with Mastodon and Baroness, a couple of the more respected metal outfits around. But this is more like very aggressive dream-pop containing noticeable references to My Bloody Valentine, The Cure, and Depeche Mode as opposed to Korn or Limp Bizkit. Say Beach House or Wild Nothing were fed some nasty guitar riffs long past midnight. The gremlin that emerged would likely create this album (perhaps I should actually use Mogwai for this analogy, but… you get the picture). The Japanese phrase “koi no yokan” essentially translates to “love’s premonition.” Not love at first site, but the realization upon meeting someone that a future love is inevitable. If you enjoy the heavy side of things at all, I believe you’ll find the title to be perfectly fitting.

Sorry…moving on.

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1. Beach House | Bloom

I find myself contemplating what it is that makes me love Bloom so much. First of all, let’s get this out of the way; If I hear another person whine that this is nothing more than “Teen Dream 2,” and somehow worse off for of it, I swear I’ll punch a hole in the moon. For one thing, I fail to see how being a more refined, sophisticated and all around gorgeous sequel to an already incredible predecessor is a bad thing. Was Empire Strikes Back just “more of the same?” HELL NO. If Teen Dream was indeed “nearly flawless” (and I contest that it was), then Bloom has taken that formula and perfected the hell out of it. A casual listen might hear more of the same. But a careful ear will notice that this is the album where Yoda shows up, Han gets his carbonite on, and Vader drops the paternal bomb. This isn’t just my favorite album of the year, this is easily my favorite album of the passed 5 or 6 (since In Rainbows, incidentally). And it may eventually find its way among my very favorites of all time, not to mention being a high contender for album of the decade. To say it’s #1 and the next album is #2 is even a little misleading. It’s more like this is #1, and next is #5. Still, what exactly is it that has caused my soul to stir in such a way? Sonically, they always tend to hit that sweet spot in-between awake and asleep, igniting a hypnotic swirl of heightened emotion. Victoria’s voice is one of a kind, and has never sounded more glorious. Her lyrics have a poetic mysticism that lets you appreciate the natural ebb and flow of the entire experience. Each and every song is outstanding, with three of them making my top ten. But there is one experience that probably sets this one apart from the rest. My first full listen was, for lack of a better word, magical. I took to my parent’s trampoline on a cool spring evening with nothing but my headphones, a blanket, and the stars above me. The following hour was one of the best musical experiences I’ve had in ages. I wasn’t just hearing it, I was seeing it. For a brief moment, I achieved nirvana. (I’ll tell ya one thing, if I could get that feeling out of church more often, Sundays would be a bit more pleasant.) Every time I listen to it, whether it be a CD in my car, a file on my computer, or a vinyl on my (brother’s) record player, I recall that feeling. That’s what music is about. That’s what art is about. And that’s why Bloom is #1. The end.



About the Author

Chris