Thursday, December 27, 2012

20 Best Albums of 2012

I’m not interested in diversity, balance, hipness or range of genres.  Without apology, here are my top 20 albums of 2012:

20.  Craig Finn  –  Clear Heart Full Eyes

Finn’s first solo album isn’t as good as his work with the Hold Steady, but it’s good.  The song-writing, vulnerability and quirkiness are all there and the steel guitar is a nice touch.

19.  Kathleen Edwards  -  Voyageur

One of alt-country music's finest singer-songwriters, Edward’s delivers beautiful songs about…would you believe?…heartbreak.

18.   Maximo Park  – The National Health

If you enjoy the snarl and go-for-the-throat energy of some those other bands from Northern England (Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs etc.), you’ll find a lot to like in Maximo Park.   

17.   Graham Parker and the Rumour  –  Three Chords Good

Speaking of snarl, Graham Parker is back with the Rumour.   This is probably his best album in 20 years.

16.  Van Morrison  –  Born to Sing:  No Plan B

You’re not going to believe it.  This is probably his best album in 20 years.   

15.  The Raveonettes – The Observator

Girl-group pop harmonies, layers of hazy guitars and catchy songs about self-destruction.   Count me in.  

14.  The Walkmen  –  Heaven

The gloomy indie rockers from Brooklyn have put together a fine record. Singer Hamilton Leithauser has a beautiful, gut-wrenching, alcohol-soaked voice that recalls Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs.  Standout track:  “Hearbreaker.”  

13.  Bob Dylan  –  The Tempest

Yeah, I admit it.  Bob Dylan could put out an album of grunts and hisses and I’d probably include it in my top album lists.  Fortunately, The Tempest is considerably better than that.  While it’s not Blonde on Blonde, it’s timeless, interesting and uniquely Dylan.  

12.  The Mountain Goats –  Transcendental Youth

There's something beautifully captivating about John Darnielle's tortured poetry and evocative songs. 

11.   Heartless Bastards  –  Arrow

Earnest gut-bucket, roadhouse rock & roll and a vocalist (Erika Wennerstrom) who can really belt it out. 

10.  Green Day   -  ¡Uno!

No rock opera pretensions here.  Just a healthy dose of high octane melodic punk. 

9.  Beach House  -  Bloom

Some Indie bands that experiment with sound to create ethereal pop are completely overrated.  Not Beach House.  This duo delivers the goods.  

8.  Japanroids  –  Celebration Rock

A short and aptly titled album of infectious and exuberant punk anthems.  

7.  Allo Darlin’  –  Europe

Convincing bubble-gum pop from London-based group fronted by Aussie chanteuse, Elizabeth Morris.

6.  Alabama Shakes  –  Boys & Girls

There’s nothing subtle or original about the Shakes' devotion to old school soul and grit.  But when it’s good, who really cares?

5.  Jimmy Cliff  –  Rebirth

Yes, it’s Jimmy Cliff’s best album in at least 20 years, but Rebirth is more than that.  Cliff sounds amazing and with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong as producer, he’s made a reggae/rock gem, even covering songs by Rancid and The Clash.

4.  Alejandro Escovedo  –  Big Station

A rock and roots treasure, Escovedo is simply incapable of making a less-than-excellent album.  Standout track:  "Man of the World."

3.  M. Ward  –  A Wasteland Companion

There’s something very unique in M. Ward’s voice and guitar playing.  Even when drawing on simple pop  and folk melodies, his songs are beautiful and engaging.  

2.   Bruce Springsteen  –  Wrecking Ball

A much better album than some grouchy critics say, Wrecking Ball fuses Springsteen’s sense of social discontent, the Celtic folk marches of the Seeger Sessions and the anthemic power of the E Street Band.    

1.  The Menzingers  – On the Impossible Past

Scranton PA’s finest export since Dunder Mifflin.  I couldn't stop listening to this album.  It's got melody, urgency and fine story-telling - everything that is great about power-pop and punk.   

Happy New Year!  See you in 2013 (Take that Mayans). 

*UPDATE:  Man, this is embarrassing.  I completely forgot about The Gaslight Anthem's Handwritten, which belongs in the Top 10 at least.  Terrific album.  They seem like tough guys - hopefully they'll get over the snub.  

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