10. Reign of Terror by Sleigh Bells – This album is ranked too high. I know it is. There is an album every year that I like disproportionate to how good it actually is. I think we can all agree that last year’s no. 1, Circuital by My Morning Jacket, fits that description (N.B. But it still kicks ass) as does Brothers by The Black Keys the year prior. In all reality, Reign of Terror should be ranked at least 12th (maybe lower). I know for a fact it’s not as good as Fiona Apple, and it’s certainly not as creative as Daughn Gibson. But I just like it more, thus exposing the tension between my personal tastes and what is becoming a more discerning (N.B. read snobby) ear for music. Ranking Reign of Terror no. 10 was my mulligan for 2012. So, anyway, I haven’t yet listened to Reign of Terror of headphones. Those expensive headphones everyone rants about, but I want to. I want to immerse myself in this album and let it punish me with the beats, and the guitars, and the synths, and her breathless voice when it gears up to a scream. I saw them live this year, and for a few songs they were everything I wanted rock and roll to be. Loud, boisterous, and indulgent. And I guess Reign of Terror is too, so I’ll take my mulligan with pride.
Highlights: Demons, Comeback Kid, and Road to Hell
9. A Thing Called Divine Fits by Divine Fits – I’ve read this album called “greater than the sum of its parts.” I disagree. It’s a perfect meld of its parts Spoon and Wolf Parade. But while maybe not a combination of the best parts of both of those terrific bands, it is the most recognizable parts. They created a perfect synergy and the single most listen-to-able (just made that word up) album of the year. Every song works. Daniel and Boeckner play off of each other with almost a “call and response” energy. None of the songs are too long or too short or too loud or two weird or not weird enough…The whole thing just works, like these two have been in a band together their entire lives, and they’re so good at cranking out extremely listenable albums that they do it without either indulgent divergences or filler. I know that Daughn Gibson will be the album from 2012 I try to get people to listen to that will have lowest % of you who actually do it, but Divine Fits may be second. And that’s a shame, ’cause you’ll be missing out.
Highlights: Flaggin’ a Ride, Would that Not Be Nice, and Like Ice Cream
8. Bloom by Beach House – Every year there seems to be an album from which I couldn’t name a single song, but yet somehow seems vital to the year’s music. 2011 – Bon Iver; 2010 – Ten by Jason Moran. For 2012, it’s this gem. Once I started listening to it at the right speed… I found there to be something deep and Beach Boys-y in it, the Pet Sounds Beach Boys (N.B. Clearly given their band names, this is more than a little apropos), a wall of sound that floods you with musical wonder (N.B. This is actually the album that needs to be listened to on headphones….maybe I should get some.), and makes you feel correct. As if this is how music is supposed to sound, and more, Bloom is how I want the world to sound. From the opening dings of the first track (Myth) to the expanse of the hidden track, (Wherever You Go) (N.B. Which, let me tell you, a hidden track after 5+ minutes of dead space at the end of the penultimate song is somehow cooler on vinyl because everything is still spinning, but no noise is coming out.) everything about it feels right. How Bloom can be an almost perfect album without a distinctly memorable track, I haven’t figured out. But Beach House did, and I’m thankful.
Highlights: Side A, Side B, Side C, and Side D
7. The Carpenter by The Avett Brothers – There’s a chance I may have been wrong about this album. I thought it was morose, and maybe it is. Maybe melancholy…no, wistful. But it’s also bitingly astute (N.B. Maybe even genius) in the feelings and metaphors and harmonies it marries. I listened to it on the way home tonight, and I even circled around my neighborhood once to finish a song (A Father’s First Spring), and I’ll be damned if it didn’t hit me. I don’t know. Here’s what I decided, a very high percentage of me is 34 years old, and The Carpenter represents how that percentage wants his music to sound, and what he wants his music to say. But those last few percents are stubborn bastards, and will never fully relinquish control.
Highlights: Once and Future Carpenter, Down with the Shine, and Paul Newman v. The Demons
6. The Lion’s Roar by First Aid Kid –
The honey these girls– (N.B. and that sounded a little too sexual. Let’s dial it back.) About a month ago, as I was listening to a The Lion’s Roar I realized why First Aid Kit was the perfect name for the music these two girls make. It won’t motivate you, inspire you, give you goosebumps, or make you think about the world in a different way (N.B. You might see No. 7 for that). What it does is soothe you. First Aid Kit is apropos, because after the longest of long days, sitting with a drink in your hand and listening to these perfect harmonies is triage for your life. Emergency care, a First Aid Kit. Surely these girls aren’t worldly enough to have intended this, and I guess that’s why it works.
Highlights: The Lion’s Roar, Emmylou, and King of the World