pop culture

2012 Year in Review: Listening

Music is a big part of my life, but I don’t write about it here very often.  Sure, I post the occasional song or video when I do my 5 things I’m into posts, but I don’t tend to go on and on about music unless there’s something I’m super obsessed with.  Partly, I believe music is very personal, and partly, I get so tired of people being judgmental little turds about what other people listen to.  If it makes you happy, go for it.  Listen to it.

My music tastes are wide-reaching and eclectic (a lot of people say this, but I actually believe it’s true when applied to me, and since it’s my blog, I get to do whatever I want).  Without further ado, here are the 10 albums that rocked my world this year.  IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

1. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

20-year-0ld Cloud Nothings frontman Dylan Baldi called this album’s title a description of what the album aimed to do: attack the memories of what many people believed the band sounded like, and create something new.  The result is exactly what Baldi hoped to accomplish, as this album replaces the band’s sugary pop-punk hooks from their previous album(s) with an aggressive new sound that’s got heavier musical accompaniments.  Not everyone could handle the change in Cloud Nothings’s sounds: I had a friend throw in the towel after one measly listen to this album, which was his loss.  This is an album that grows on the consumer with repeat listens, and Baldi’s willingness to grow and adapt his music as he gets older can only mean good things for him in the future.

2. Grimes – Visions

Say what you will about Claire Boucher’s proclivity for strangeness, but you have to admit that the woman put out a hell of an album this year.  Visions is Boucher’s best album to date, and it’s also the most accessible and most fun to listen to.  Present in her music are all sorts of contrasts and complications to sort out (and I’m not just talking about trying to figure out what, exactly, she’s saying at any given time).  Grimes uses pop hooks and weirdly atmospheric beats to create a unique sound that is all hers.  It helps that her high, almost childlike voice is haunting and beautiful all at once.  Whatever.  All I know is that I listened to “Oblivion” and “Genesis” on repeat this year, and I’m not even sick of them yet.

3. Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls

This seems to be an album that has transcended age groups and has widespread appeal among the young and old.  It probably has to do with the fact that Alabama Shakes–led by twenty-something Brittany Howard–grounds their music in sounds that sound straight out of the 70s.  Howard’s throaty voice and confessional lyrics help add a roughness to the album.

This is the record that has most often been on repeat at family dinners this year.  For a debut, this is a solid album well worth a couple of listens.

4. Beach House – Bloom

Beach House has slowly come into a sound all their own.  The Baltimore-based duo’s dream-pop isn’t for everyone, but I once heard it described as “make out music for indie kids,” and that feels pretty apropos.  With their most recent album Bloom, Beach House has strengthened their sound and sharpened their craft.  This is a fantastic album, full of subtle shifts and music that attempts to describe the indescribable.

5. Purity Ring – Shrines

Purity Ring was one of my later finds in 2012, but since I discovered them in October, I haven’t been able to stop listening to them.  A Canadian duo who were virtually unknown before a song called “Ungirthed” leaked onto the internet, Purity Ring has taken the indie circuit by storm.  Megan James’s vocals are largely what propels this album to greatness, as her high, clear voice conveys lyrics that are often creepy and beautiful.  The album’s focus on the body might not sit well with some listeners, but the entire album feels like one extended piece, and the fact that it fits together so beautifully and so memorably makes this a standout album of 2012.  I can’t wait to see what Purity Ring has to offer in 2013.

6. Jessie Ware – Devotion

An unlikely marriage between smoldering pop music and electronic beats, Jessie Ware’s album is definitely one that requires more than one listen.  There’s a lot of influences at work in Ware’s music, including 80’s pop (you can hear some Whitney) and 90’s diva-inspiration, but the sound remains uniquely Ware’s own.  Ware’s hypnotic voice pairs well with her haunting lyrics, and the inclusion of a variety of sounds, including dubstep beats and other electronic sounds makes this an album well worth your time.  If nothing else, Ware’s voice is worth a listen.

7. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

I’m not sure what there is to say about Frank Ocean’s album that hasn’t already been said already.  This is definitely one of the best albums of the year, and pretty much everyone would agree with that statement.  Ocean’s strengths lie in the melodic power of his voice but also in his absolutely brilliant words: Ocean’s lyrics can’t be rivaled by any other songwriter working today.  Ocean’s storytelling abilities are what make Channel Orange go from a great album to a fantastic one with staying power.  Every single song on the album tells a story, and each of those stories is absolutely worth hearing again and again.  (I particularly recommend “Super Rich Kids” and “Bad Religion.”)

8. Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City

There’s an autobiographical element to Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City that feels almost uncomfortably intimate.  But that’s also what makes the album work as well as it does.  While each song on Lamar’s album can stand on its own, it also works within a larger concept.  There’s a lot of heavy stuff at work here: Lamar deals with the powerful pull of gang life and how often the only thing keeping him from joining is his faith and his family (Lamar populates the album with snippets of actual voicemails from family members).  While all this could feel like too much, Lamar manages to pull it off because his lyrics are brilliant, his hooks are catchy, and the album as a whole is a fantastic study in how great hip hop can be.

9. The Men – Open Your Heart

I went through my punk phase in high school, but I certainly didn’t have anything like The Men to help me funnel my anger through music.  With this album, my sixteen-year-old punk self was reborn. Perhaps most interestingly, this album is both aggressive and welcoming.   It’s the kind of album that wants to knock you around a little bit and then knock a few back with you while you laugh about it all.  It’s a great album, with each song building on the last.  I’ll put it this way: it’s one of the only albums I burned in its entirety on a CD to listen to in the car this year.  That’s a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one.

10. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Dirty Projectors is a fairly isolating band.  People tend to either really like them or hate them (I’ve dated more than one person with a strong opinion on the band), but I’m going to come out and say that I like them.  Despite the band’s propensity for switching things up often (including who is in the band, exactly), there’s no doubt that this most recent album’s switch-up has made for the most accessible, addictive album from the band yet. Swing Lo Magellan marries catchy beats with the most straightforward lyrics Projectors has ever come out with (and…they’re still kind of hard to digest).

What did you listen to this past year that you absolutely loved?


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