The Top 50 Albums of 2012

After listening to 102 new albums this year, I have come up with my list of the Top 50 Albums of 2012. A lot of great, established artists came out with some fantastic albums this year, and some up-and-comers really hit the mark early in their careers. Remember: These are just my personal preferences, but each one holds a place of greatness and helped make 2012 a great year for music. 

50. Shovels & Rope, O’ Be Joyful (Dualtone)
Simple country-folk with amazing vocals, this album is one that takes a saturated genre and truly gives it something great. Lovers of folk will find delight in this stripped-down, out-of-nowhere gem.

49. Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Double Six)
This band comes back into the spotlight with this wonderful beast of an album, covering a lot of their career with some great experimentation that shows that they are going to be around for years to come.

48. Dr. John, Locked Down (Nonesuch)
A wonderful combination of soul and funk, this album will make you want to keep moving. Intricate guitars and soft horns make for a smooth, slick sound.

47. Father John Misty, Fear Fun (Sub Pop)
A fantastic combination of folk and garage rock. The lyrics in this album really hold it all together, along with the complex instrumentation.

46. Exitmusic, Passage (Secretly Canadian)
Lovers of dreampop will find this album soothing yet invigorating; modern yet classic; haunting yet relaxing. The soft voices and percussion leave the listener thinking more clearly.

45. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (CONSTELLATION)
Last year, Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky overtook the post-rock market. This year, GY!BE have made it all their own with their usual droning guitars, ambient effects, and pounding drum and bass lines.

44. The Shins, Point of Morrow (Columbia)
It’s quite wonderful to hear these guys toned-down while still maintaining the catchiness that made me like them. This is one case where experimentation pays off greatly for a well-established artist.

43. The Crookes, Hold Fast (PID)
A wonderful resurgence of semi-jangly garage rock, this album reminds me of Best Coast with a little more substance. The musicianship and voices are truly incredible, and the songs are catchy as all hell.

42. Sarah Jaffe, The Body Wins (Kirtland Records)
I’ll take this over Adele any day. This album has soul, intricate electronic pieces, and amazing percussion, as well as Jaffe’s undeniably sultry voice.

41. Tennis, Young and Old (Fat Possum Records)
A wonderful combination of jangle-pop and light electronic. This album is so damn catchy and the songs will stay with you all day.

40. Of Monsters and Men, My Head is an Animal (Universal Republic)
Poppy-folk with a sort of Irish twang, you can’t go wrong with the dual, coed lead singers. I imagine this sort stuff playing during an empowerment montage in a girly flick (and that’s not a bad thing).

39. Mount Eerie, Clear Moon (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
Probably the most noise-based album on the list, Mount Eerie takes an almost pop-ish approach to ambient noise. The way the sounds all swirl together makes one think of Bjork.

38. Damien Jurado, Maraqopa (Secretly Canadian)
Soothing, Latin-infused folk that sounds so utterly North American that you can’t tell what side of the border your own. A hint of ambience thrown in the mix makes this album resonate for hours after you’ve shut it off.

37. METZ, METZ (Sub Pop)
A fusion of punk, garage, and noise-rock, this album will beat the shit out of you in the best possible way. Pounding drums and frantic guitars provide the perfect platform for gravely, almost-screamed vocals.

36. Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE (Def Jam)
Frank Ocean’s smooth beats, clever lyrics, and versatile voice really hold this album together. This is, to be frank, slow-jam baby-making music, so light some candles, pour some wine, and get to it.

35. The Lumineers, The Lumineers (Dualtone Records)
A little indie, a little folk, and a little pop, this album has a wide range of sounds that keep the listener guessing. The songwriting is simply yet complex; dazzling yet down-to-earth.

34. Bowerbirds, The Clearing (Dead Oceans)
With so many great folk albums out this year, this one stood out to me because of the complexity of the non-folk elements—echo effects, various percussion, and electric guitars really make this album down-home yet modern.

33. Howler, America Give Up (Rough Trade)
If Ariel Pink put out a surf-pop album, this would be it. A wonderful mixture of garage and dreampop, I still find hidden elements in this album as I listen to it over and over again.

32. Stars, The North (ATO Records)
Maybe I’m just too big of a Cocteau Twins fan, but this album really made me think of that style of music while still creating a style of its own. The mixture of pace, vocals, and beat in this album sets it apart from other ambient albums released this year.

31. Reptar, Body Faucet (Vagrant Records)
The latest sons of the Athens scene, these guys make jangle-pop in a haunted manner, which gives the Athens sound a great twist. The songwriting is amazing, and the way all of the elements blend together creates a new sound all together.

30. Vacationer, Gone (Downtown Records)
Funnily enough, this album did not get a lot of good reviews this year. But I take it as I hear it, and what I hear is some fantastic electronic musicianship with great percussion and some wonderful, droning vocals. This album is a total mood swing. 

29. Buxton, Nothing Here Seems Strange (New West Records)
Riding on the (apparent) resurgence of garage rock in this country, Buxton fuses simplicity with effects that keep the album fresh and new with every track. A change in tones and rhythm is not uncommon in this alternative smorgasbord.

28. Chromatics, Kill for Love (Italians Do It Better)
If you want to relax after a hard day, put on this album, lie back, and let the worries of the day float away. This album is so incredibly soothing that you often forget that you’re listening to music, until it picks up and starts to kick your ass.

27. JEFF the Brotherhood, Hypnotic Nights (Warner Brothers)
The 90s are definitely coming back, and this album is proof. The three-to-four chord guitar progressions and almost whiney lyrics take me back to when I was a kid and heard this kind of stuff on the radio—the 90s are back and (hopefully) here to stay.

26. Cat Power, Sun (Matador)
It’s so strange to hear synth-and-keyboard driven Cat Power, but it works so well with her brilliant songwriting and iconic voice. This album is both light and dark as it shakes it up with every single track.

25. Plants and Animals, The End of That (Secret City Records)
I would say this is probably the most genuine rock record on my list. I love it because it sounds like it could, in fact, be a fantastic 90s alternative album, emulating everything from Pearl Jam to Semisonic.

24. Lana Del Rey, Born to Die (Interscope)
What is there left to say that hasn’t already been said about this album? This is Brooklyn in album form; this is Sleigh Bells with balls.

23. The Mynabirds, Generals (Saddle Creek Records)
One minute, this album is berating you with pounding drum beats. The next, you feel like you’re stuck in an NES game. But it all somehow comes together with the help of the glorious vocals that fill up all of the empty space.

22. Hospitality, Hospitality (Merge)
Indie simplicity with a hint of complex riffs, all bound together by the rich vocals and catchy rhythms. This is a surprise feel-good album, like The Strokes ten years ago, only with a lot more substance.

21. The Men, Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones Records)
I have a soft spot in my heart for punk, and this album made my teenage self very happy. Simple, loud, and well put-together, this album screams of nostalgia for the early 80s punk scene.

20. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (Carpark Records)
More garage-y rock, but the genre has never been this complex and this truly fast-paced. This album brings a new spin to the lo-fi movement (take a good, hard listen to the percussion) and creates something more than just something easy.

19. Japanoids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
There is not much else to say about this album, other than it is probably the best indie rock album in recent memory. This album is stripped-down but there is so much emotion in the lyrics that it goes beyond a measly indie-rock album.

18. The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter (Universal Republic)
The Avett Brothers have really stumbled upon something new and gritty in their usually intricate and soothing songwriting. They really take their usual folk-y sound and give it multiple dimensions that go beyond anything they’ve ever done before.

17. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Clean Slate)
Classic Fiona Apple—what else can we say? She experiments with new concepts in this album, but, at its core, it’s a soulful, beautifully written album with a lot of attitude, just a Fiona Album album should be.

16. First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar (Redeye)
If Beach House and Fleet Foxes ever collaborated, this is what would come of it. Dear God, this album is just so beautiful with its vocal harmonies and soft guitars. The songwriting is gorgeous, as well.

15. DIIV, Oshin (Captured Tracks)
Indie and electronic combine in this upbeat-yet-relaxing effort from Brooklyn. This album takes the sometimes overuse of dreampop droning and turn it on its head with something new and exciting. Dreampop is alive and well, and this album proves it.

14. Blue Foundation, In My Mind I Am Free (Dead People’s Choice)
Finding this speciality in ambient music, Blue Foundation takes this album and adds different elements from different genres. This is ambient as all hell, but it really packs a punch at certain points, keeping you on your toes with every listen.

13. Sharon Van Etten, Tramp (Jagjaguwar)
Beautiful songwriting combined with Van Etten’s usual sultry voice and lyrics, this album is a dream to anyone who appreciates powerful females in music. This album lulls you minute and wakes you up the next.

12. Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls (ATO)
Rock and roll mixed with country and soul—that is what you get with this album. You almost feel like you’re listening to three or four different bands layered over one another, but the way it all comes together is so smooth and wonderful that it makes for a fantastic experience.

11. Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself (Bella Union)
This album is probably one of the most underrated of the year. Bird experiments a lot with this album while still holding on to his signature sound. You cannot deny this man’s creativity when you get your first listen.

10. Grizzly Bear, Shields (Warp)
Probably the best thing about Grizzly Bear is that every album is almost a different sound, but every album is genius. This is a throwback to Yellow House, but it still maintains its own glorious drones and unique instrumental complexities.

9. The Walkmen, Heaven (Fat Possum Records)
This is a definite getting-back-to-roots for The Walkmen, and I personally welcome it with open arms. All of the instruments do their own thing while still complementing each other and the old-school vocals and simplistic lyrics.

8. Chairlift, Something (Columbia)
This is another one of those albums that keeps throwing change-ups and keeps you guessing with every track. Held together with echoing vocals and frantic rhythms, this album has a wide range of sounds that will leave almost everyone satisfied.

7. John K. Samson, Provincial (ANTI-)
A truly complete album in the sense that it takes the listener through a wide range of emotions, Samson put his best foot forward with this mixture of indie, electronic, folk, and alternative that is one of this albums that almost anyone can listen to and feel like they’ve listened to a truly good album.

6. Frankie Rose, Interstellar (Slumberland)
Frankie Rose is one of those artists you listen to when you need to forget about your troubles. This album transports you to a completely different realm with its soft vocals and electronic components.

5. Yellow Ostrich, Strange Land (Barsuk)
This is one of the most complex indie albums I’ve ever heard. Yellow Ostrich really create a unique sound with this album that can’t compete with other indie rock records this year. Creative concepts, wonderful lyrics, and a great powerful sound makes this album the quintessential indie rock album of 2012.

4. the Mountain Goats, Transcendental Youth (Merge)
This band still has it after more than twenty years of creating fantastic, simple, acoustic rock. Unlike last year’s release, All Eternals Deck, this one is a lot more of their classic sound, which is a classic sound for one simple reason: It works well almost every single time. This album is by no means an exception.

3. Jack White, Blunderbuss (Third Man Records)
I am not shy about my obsession with Jack White. To me, this album is everything he did with The White Stripes rolled into one package that only he could create. The album is soft, dark, and contains an utter complexity that he could never accomplish with Meg. This is Jack White unleashed, and it is perfection.

2. Punch Brothers, Who’s Feeling Young Now? (Nonesuch)
This album is pure, well-constructed bluegrass with some fantastic songwriting and wonderful lyrics thrown in. The sheer audacity of the musicianship alone makes this album worth a listen, and the wailing vocals and mixture of subject matters makes it a great listen, even if you’re not into bluegrass. This album is Americana straight from Brooklyn, which shows that we Yankees know our way around a banjo better than any good-ol' boy.

1. Beach House, Bloom (Sub Pop)
Beach House is the dreampop band of the 21st century, and this album is just further proof of that fact. Beach House has done more in three albums than most bands do in a ten-year career, and this album is a prime example as to why. The droning vocals, echoing guitar, and smooth beats will make fans of shoegaze, dreampop, hip-hop, indie rock, and other genres realize the true genius of this duo.