Say what you will about this year in music, but I enjoyed it. While there were many “artists” whose hype I could never get with, I discovered new bands, reconnected with some old faves and danced like an idiot in my car to a couple of pop hits. PAY ATTENTION: These are my favorite albums of the year. Not saying that any of these the best of the year, just ones that I genuinely enjoyed and I hope you check them out if you haven’t already.
Garbage, ‘Not Your Kind of People’ Released May 14. After a six year hiatus, Garbage returned with a solid but nowhere near as perfect as their self-titled debut album. It took me a couple of listens to really get into it, and while the music is definitely there, the lyrics are pretty uninspired. Still, I enjoyed it and I didn’t really expect Shirley Manson to be singing about depressing downpours at 46. Best Songs: “Automatic Systematic Habit,” “Felt,” “Man On A Wire” and “The One” from the deluxe version.
Ty Segall Band ‘Slaughterhouse’ released June 26 and Ty Segall ‘Twins’ Released October 8. San Francisco rocker Ty Segall has released many a solo project, but ‘Slaughterhouse‘ was the first to feature his touring band. His 60s surfer and psychedelic influences are especially evident on ‘Twins‘ but both albums produce enough fuzzy, low-fi goodness to make you think Ty was born in the wrong decade. I first discovered his music back in late 2010 and have been enjoying it ever since, and I look forward to another 2 or 3 albums he could release in 2013. Also check out his collaboration with White Fence. Best Songs: From ‘Slaugterhouse’ “The Tongue,” “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart” and “Wave Goodbye.” From ‘Twins‘ “You’re The Doctor,” “You’re The Doctor” and “Love Fuzz.”
Deftones ‘Koi No Yokan’ Released November 12. In case you were wondering, ‘Koi No Yokan’ is Japanese for “Premonition Of Love.” This quickly became one of my favorite Deftones albums and made me revisit their three previous ones and reignited my love of the band. Singer Chino Moreno‘s dark, romantic lyrics are prevalent throughout with lines like Tonight the stage is yours/I’m hypnotized by your name/I wish this night would never end. It’s the perfect album to try to get over that person you hate to love. Best Songs: “Swerve City,” “Romantic Dreams,” “Leathers” and “Goon Squad.”
The Hives ‘Lex Hives’ Released June 4. These Swedish dandies returned with a new look, tuxedos and top hats, and an amazingly rocking album. They survived that early 2000s garage rock revival to be one of the most fun and in your face bands out there. This was one of those albums that I decided I only liked a couple of songs, but later came back to give it another chance, and i’m really glad I did. Best Songs: “Wait A Minute,” “Take Back The Toys” and “My Time Is Coming.”
Ladyhawke ‘Anxiety’ Released May 25. I almost passed on listening to this because the name Ladyhawke didn’t instantly register with me, even though Phillipa Brown has been at this since the early 2000s. What happens on ‘Anxiety’ isn’t complicated, it’s just a well produced, thanks to some help from Pascal Gabriel, piece of electronic pop rock. Lyrically it feels like a little something is missing, but the songs are good enough to lose yourself in and definitely get stuck in your head. Best Songs: “Girl Like Me,” “Sunday Drive” and “Vaccine.”
Blood Red Shoes ‘In Time To Voices’ Released March 26. Blood Red Shoes have really progressed as a group, so much so that i’m convinced they have a secret bass player somewhere. The much harder sound of ‘In Time To Voices’, and upcoming EP, could draw comparisons to another boy/girl duo The White Stripes, and that isn’t a bad thing. Laura-Mary Carter said the band’s approach to this ones that they “wanted to make a really ambitious record” and I think they succeeded. Best Songs: “Cold,” “Lost Kids” and “Down Here In The Dark.”
Alpine ‘A Is For Alpine’ Released August 10. I still don’t know much about Australian band Alpine, except that it’s two lead singers Phoebe Baker and Lou James have incredible, harmonious voices that lend an almost ethereal feel to their songs. They’ve been compared to bands like The XX, so if you like them then you should give ‘A Is For Alpine’ a listen. Best Songs: “Hands,” “Soft Sides” and “Gasoline.”
Diamond Rugs ‘Diamond Rugs’ Released Diamond Rugs is an indie super group of sorts, made up of John McCauley from Deer Tick and members of Los Lobos, Dead Confederate and the Black Lips. I won’t tell you how I discovered them, but I can best describe this as dirty alt-country that conjures up images of over the hill strippers and long drives down dark, back roads in a beat up truck that is almost out of gas. Best Songs: “Blue Mountains, “ “Big God” and “Gimme A Beer.”
The Ting Tings ‘Sounds From Nowheresville’ Released February 24. I almost forgot about this one because it came out so early in the year, but for me it was a long awaited follow up to their hit debut ‘We Started Nothing.’ It doesn’t feel as fun and carefree as that, and I agree with some critics that it seems too short, but the beats are easy to dance to even if it is a little overproduced. Best Songs: “Hands,” “Hang It Up” and “Soul Killing.”
Sleigh Bells ‘Reign Of Terror’ Released February 21. ‘Reign of Terror’ also came out early in the year, but left a bigger bruise. I know a lot of people were excited about this one, and while I don’t think it lived up to their 2010 debut ‘Treats,’ it is more polished and the guitar riffs are just as noisy but more listenable. I didn’t feel like I was going to bust an ear drum listening to this one. Gone are the musings of a high school rebel with boy problems, it’s more of a reflection on how too real life can be. Best Songs: “Demons,” “Comeback Kid” and “Born To Lose.”
Bloc Pary ‘Four’ Released August 20. After lead singer Kele Okereke went solo, there were rumors that the band could continue on without him. It just isn’t Bloc Party without him, and luckily we got what is one of the best albums of the year. This is heavier, and even a bit political, than their previous offerings, and they do return to confessional like lyrics that made me love them in the first place. Russell Lissack‘s amazing guitar skills are also on display here. It’s just one of those albums that i’m glad exists. Best Songs: The whole damn thing.
Marina & The Diamonds ‘Electra Heart’ Released On April 27. When Marina Diamandis released her first, ‘The Family Jewels,’ it was passed to me by our friend Michael from PopBytes, but I wrote it off and even perhaps called it “terrible.” Well I was wrong, and with the hype surrounding ‘Electra Heart’ I made the wise decision to give Marina another chance. Like many a pop chanteuse, she adopted a persona for this one, which was kind of unnecessary but I guess it drove home the concept of the whole thing. It was one of the most complete feeling pop albums of the year, and one that i’m sure others will try to top. Best Songs: “Primadonna,” “Bubblegum Bitch” and “Homewrecker.”
No Doubt ‘Push and Shove’ Released September 25. I reviewed the album here, and as you can tell I was a little nervous about it. It’s certainly not a perfect album, and I didn’t know whether to put this in the Rock or Pop category, which may be people’s biggest issue with it. No Doubt did used to really “rock,” but that was a different era. Gwen still struggles with “having it all,” but it’s mostly sand filled dreams and reminiscing about the good old days on this one. Best Songs: “Looking Hot,” “Sparkle” and “Heaven.”
Dragonette ‘Bodyparts‘ Released September 22. I also reviewed ‘Bodyparts,’ a step in a different direction for Dragonette. They were doing the whole electro-pop dance stuff before it became big, but I was disappointed that their new stuff sounded too much like what is going on with pop now, but they didn’t delve too far into dubstep territory. I guess a missed some of the low-key tawdriness of their previous albums, but it’s fun to put on while you get ready for a night out on the town. Best Songs: “Live In This City,” “Let It Go” and “Rocket Ship.”
Nelly Furtado ‘The Spirit Indestructible’ Released September 14. Nelly returned to her roots, but also kept the sexy playfulness she brought out for ‘Loose’ back in 2006. The album failed to make as strong of an impact as that did, but I think it was a solid effort, just maybe a bit ill timed. A couple of beats from her old friend Timbaland wouldn’t have hurt either. Best Songs: “Big Hoops,” “Parking Lot” and “Something.”
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour ‘Out Of Frequency’ Released January 31. The AGT are a Danish band fronted by enigmatic singer Mette Lindberg, whose very high voice perfectly goes with swinging 60s horns and grooves the band produces. You’ve probably heard them in a number of commercials, here you can get a full taste of their sunny pop-funk. Best Songs: “Dollars In The Night,” “Major” and “Cloak & Dagger.”
Noisettes ‘Contact’ Released August 26. The Noisettes are another very funky overseas act fronted by an amazing singer, Shingai Shoniwa. It melds the indie-soul they’ve become known with more acoustic and somewhat Country fare that showcases Shingai and Dan Smith‘s vocal abilities. It is strikingly different than their first two albums, and maybe it’ll take a couple of listens to really get into but it’s wroth the effort. Best Songs: “That Girl,” “Winner” and “I Want You Back.”
MNDR ‘Feed Me Diamonds’ Released August 14. MNDR is technically a duo, but the face and voice of it is Amanda Warner, a very unlikely popstar. I’ve followed her, or their, music since they released their EP in 2010 and have enjoyed Warner’s collabos with super producer Mark Ronson. This is their first full length album, featuring pulsating beats and lyrics paying tribute to Patty Hearst and artist Marina Abramovic. This might not sound any different than the electronic driven music of late, but I much prefer this which is like Bjork meets The Jungle Brothers. Best Songs: “Faster Horses,” “Blue Jean Youth” and “Fall In Love With The Enemy.”
Ellie Goulding ‘Halcyon’ Released October 5. Can I just say that I feel strangely proud of Ellie? She had been on many a “up and coming” and new artist spotlight lists but I feel like she finally made it. Thanks in large part to ‘Halcyon’ which shows off her soft but aggressive voice and shifting her into a more edgier mix of songs. Definitely more commercial, and I think she has a ways to go before she’s really at the top of game, but this is a huge step in the right direction for someone who has seemingly been out forever but is still quite new. Best Songs: “Anything Could Happen,” “Only You” and “Don’t Say A Word.”
HIP-HOP and R&B
Santigold ‘Master of My Make-Believe’ Released May 1. Santi hit up some familiar friends for this one, including Diplo, two thirds of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Dave Sitek. This earned her some top spots on the Billboard charts and maybe some new fans that missed her the first time around. While I love her, her music is an acquired taste, straddling the lines between rap, new wave, punk and dub. MoMM-B is a perfect blend of all four as Santigold continues to be the master putting her luscious monotone over sleek production. Best Songs: “Disparate Youth,” “Fame” and “Look At These Hoes.”
Elle Varner ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ Released August 7. I first heard of Elle on her mixtape ‘Conversational Lush’ and she continues the theme of “just needing a drink after a hard day” on her official debut. Varner waxes poetic about hangovers and missed connections on this sultry and honest album. Her voice isn’t the best, it cracks and her notes are never carried away the out but that’s why I like it and it makes her not all that serious lyrics even more relatable, and easy to sing along to. Best Songs: “Refill,” “Sound Proof Room” and “Oh What A Night.”
Lianne La Havas ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ Released July 9. Another ingenue making waves this year is Brit Lianne La Havas. This isn’t traditional r&b, but more folk-soul with a very sweet twist. Lianne’s voice is sensual and soft, adding a cool, sleepy quality to her songs. She reminds me a bit of Sade Adu on this, and I know the words “folk music” scare a lot of people but you won’t be disappointed by this album. Best Songs: “Is Your Love Big Enough?.” “Au Cinema” and “No Room For Doubt.”
Kendrick Lamar ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ Released October 22. If you haven’t heard, Kendrick is rap’s newest savior, a title i’m sure he doesn’t mind because he sort of lives up to it. People got really excited about this guy, and for good reason, but it took me a minute to get into him because I have to discover things on my own. So did Kendrick put out one of the best rap albums of the year? Yes, yes he did. He was thrown under the wing of Dr. Dre and worked with Just Blaze and Pharrell Williams. Even without the magic touch of Dre and all the fancy production, Kendrick would have presented one of the most real efforts from a rapper in a while. Best Songs: “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “The Recipe” and “Backseat Freestyle.”
Bruno Mars ‘Unorthodox Jukebox‘ Released December 6. Bruno quickly established himself as this generation’s soul man, taking stage after stage on awards shows with his amazing band delivering performances that frankly, other artists are just too lazy to do. This album isn’t as poppy and doesn’t have any tailored made radio singles, which is good, but there is an odd mix of raw sex and undying love. But well, what r&b album doesn’t have that? He addresses past issues upfront, all while giving a Prince-like swagger to his “not giving a f***ness.” It is a slightly more grown up Bruno, and I appreciate that. Best Songs: “Locked Out Of Heaven,” “Young Girls” and “Gorilla.”
Big Boi ‘Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors’ Released December 11. I went from thinking I would maybe just be pleasantly surprised by this to absolutely loving it. I know people think Andre is the more “creative” half of Outkast but Big Boi presents something not only ambitious but different and incredibly inspired. I don’t feel like he worked with indie blog faves like Little Dragon and Wavves because it would get him attention with Brooklyn dwelling musicphiles, it’s because he really likes these artists and perfectly used them, even if some songs do just sound like experiments. Best Songs: “Objectum Sexuality,” “Mama Told Me,” “In the A” and “Shoes For Running.”
2 Chainz ‘Based on a T.R.U. Story’ Released August 14. I think 2 Chainz’s many guest appearances on other people’s singles might have overshadowed his solo work some, and he has many on his debut. Look, you can go on and on about how “ratchet” you think 2 Chainz’s music and videos are, but damn it if he isn’t fun. He’s not the best lyricist, but his personality makes up for that for me. I can’t think of the last time I really liked a rapper, so I welcome 2 Chainz and elbow dancing. Best Songs: “I’m Different,” “Birthday Song” and “No Lie.”
Rye Rye ‘Go! Pop! Bang!’ Released May 15. Another artist who is just fun, but also quite skilled when she wants to be, Rye Rye finally released her debut after some label issues and a pregnancy. Not letting diaper duty stop her, she presents an energetic trip through clubs and parties, never breaking her b-girl stance along the way. She’s joined by M.I.A. and Robyn, who add their signature touches to a couple of cuts. Overall, it’s as colorful as Rye Rye’s hair and the album cover.
Some honorable mentions:
Christina Aguilera ‘Lotus,’ La Sera ‘Sees The Light,’ Magic Wands ‘Aloha Moon,’ Usher ‘Looking 4 Myself’ Melanie Fiona ‘The MF Life,’ Sarah Jaffe ‘The Body Wins’ and Keyshia Cole ‘Woman to Woman.’
Give us your list of favorite albums of 2012 !!