The Best Albums of 2012
by Tastemakers Magazine, published December 25th 2012
by Mackenzie Nichols (Journalism)
Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel... marks the diva’s triumphant return to the music business after her notorious onstage meltdown and the following decade-long hiatus. The album is a folk-rock depiction of the artist’s dark, romantic mind, and fittingly, each track seems to have a mind of its own. Each piano riff is angrier than the last, and as Apple croons over the jazzy drum lapses it becomes apparent that her confidence has blossomed over her long departure from songwriting. Although the sounds of children screaming behind Apple’s angry and frustrated lyrics may suggest otherwise, The Idler Wheel… mostly provides a joyful and pleasant atmosphere. Apple effectively employs vocal motifs on the majority of her tracks, wedging a sonic snippet into the listener’s mind, which is immediately recognizable and impactful. The Idler Wheel… shows that Apple’s still got it after all these years, and that she’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
by Brian Cantrell (Graphic Design)
Of Monsters and Men craft wonderful, mythical stories with sorrowful undercurrents on My Head Is An Animal. Fronted by singers/guitarists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, the Icelandic group has exploded since the US release of their debut album, and for good reason. The album has an infectious mix of fast and slow, and before you know it, you are calling out every “hey!” alongside them. But far more carefully crafted than a few catchy hooks, Of Monsters and Men’s dichotomous stylings actually make the album whole. The male / female vocal duo share responsibilites and balance the album as steady builds give a texture and personality to the record. With a debut effort like My Head Is An Animal, it’s no wonder Of Monsters and Men’s first show in Boston was still packed after being upgraded from Brighton Music Hall to the House of Blues.
by Dave Tchiegg (Graphic Design)
Much like modern music, the works of Steven Ellison (AKA Flying Lotus) have evolved into something entirely amorphous. Ellison’s fourth studio album, Until the Quiet Comes, shifts back and forth between variant worldly influences, strung together with jazzy bass hooks from Thundercat and typical FlyLo beat structures. To label this album as fitting within the confines of a single genre would be impossible; the influences upon which Ellison draws range from jazz fusion and physcedellic rock to 8-bit videogame soundtracks and post-dub, yet Ellison combines these influences to coherently showcase the complexities of sound, both quiet and loud. Where this album diverges from 2010′s Cosmogramma, and previous works, is in its constant undulation of these sounds and textures. The myriad of production minutiae Ellison uses to craft each song leads a blind, ethereal journey, jumping between differing thoughts and feelings with dreamlike dexterity. Guest appearances include vocals from Nicki Randa (a standout on this album), Erykah Badu, Thom Yorke, Laura Darlington, and Thundercat. Make sure to also check out videos for “Pretty Boy Strut,” “Tiny Tortures” and the beautiful short “Until the Quiet Comes.”
by Siena Faughnan (Criminal Justice)
Grimes is truly a product of the X Generation. Claire Boucher, the young Québécois behind Grimes, utilizes a collage of inspirations, a do-it-yourself attitude, and a competency in GarageBand, in the creation of music that sounds entirely otherworldly. With influences ranging from K-Pop to industrial, her eclectic style is a reflection of an environment of information overload, immersed in the transient, the synthetic, and the global. But Visions emerges from this clutter as an album of surprising clarity. On her third studio album, Grimes demonstrates that she has mastered the art of songwriting in the modern age. Combining danceable beats with New Age-y synth-work, the album is weird yet undeniably catchy. Grimes’ signature girlish falsetto, like a space-age Lolita, is strangely alluring yet distinctly distant and creates a sound that’s unique and thoroughly unshakeable. Visions is haunting, it’s absorbing, and it‘s not an album soon to be forgotten.
by Caitlin Kullberg (Marketing)
Celebration Rock drips with confidence throughout its eight tracks, but as the gang vocals kick in at the very beginning, you’re hooked with heart rate and expectations soaring. Using only a guitar and drum kit, Japandroids’ addictive minimalism lays the perfect foundation for lyrics that are just asking to be sung along to; Celebration Rock is built on adrenaline, reckless abandonment, and, as the title suggests, celebration. Japandroids urgently pursue perfection, and they readily share the process of finding and proving themselves. And due to the nature of the music, this pursuit unfolds with the listener just as invested as King and Prowse, Japandroids’ sole members. With an album equally simple and convicted, Japandroids deliver a sophomore slam-dunk that promises to please, regardless of taste.
by Cara McGrath (Graphic Design)
It is always impressive when a band is able to make a name for itself on the strength of its debut album alone. When seven out of the eleven tracks earn spots on the US rock chart, however, it is downright remarkable. With The Lumineers’ self-titled debut, the trio did more than just make a well-accepted entrance into the music world. They took many completely by surprise, quickly joining Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers as a contemporary folk powerhouse. What’s next for the band will be crucial in determining if the fast rise to fame has been well deserved. But since The Lumineers was such a strong and refreshing release, more exceptional albums are all to be expected.
by Nathan Goldman (Sociology)
Purity Ring’s debut album, Shrines, is a fascinating listen with a clear and consistent sense of purpose, even when initial descriptions can make it sound like a dubious idea. Originally formed as a side project of experimental dancepop group GOBBLE GOBBLE (now called Born Gold), Purity Ring’s music initially seems to be a simple pastiche of trendy flavor-of-the-month genres like chillwave and witch house. For their part, the band simply calls their music “future pop”. That pop sensibility, which produces catchy melodies and avoids making their songs too off-putting or gimmicky, is one crucial part of the equation. However, what gives the band its staying power and makes Shrines great is the way their songs explore emotions manifested through the corporeal, with lyrics that pull apart the body into the constituent parts and substances from which it is made, invoking acts done upon them as ways of expressing everything from anger to desire, such as in “Fineshrine,” essentially a straightforward love song, that expresses that feeling through a desire to “cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you”, an image simultaneously romantic and horrifying. These acts begin to sound like strange rituals: “drill little holes into my eyelids that I might see you when I sleep,” “cover the hills with their sweet flesh and soft nails,” “stake rare toothpicks in my dirt-filled heart”; the sum total is a strangely spiritual experience.
by Erica Moser (Journalism)
When Frank Ocean released Channel Orange in July, listeners assigned him a number of labels. He was the breakthrough R&B artist of the year; he was the singer with one of the best falsettos since Freddie Mercury; he was the rare African-American musician of prominence to express sentiments of same-sex love. While these are all true, a few listens to Channel Orange reveals that such labels only scratch the surface. In a society consisting of musicians constantly trying to outdo one another, Frank Ocean does indeed pull away from his peers without resorting to gaudiness or gimmicks. While the themes of love, money and drugs are commonplace, Orange touches on them in a way that is brilliant in its grounded simplicity. His voice – which produces notes so extended they sound as though they could grow wings and fly away – sits atop elements of soul, jazz and electronica. The lyrics, vocal quality and instruments come together with impeccable balance to create a portrait of a man who is simply living, being and reflecting.
by Kyle Risley (Marketing)
Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore effort and major labor debut, Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City, came as one of 2012’s most satisfying surprises. Hyped as next in the line of Dr. Dre’s acclaimed mentees, Lamar delivered a remarkably consistent listening experience over twelve tracks. Building upon the socially conscious tone of the independently-released Section.80, Good Kid displays a compelling coming-of-age narrative. Relentlessly street smart, the concept of the album (or “short film,” as the cover art calls it) joins teenage bravado with happy-go-lucky naivety, devastating loss, and Lamar’s give and take relationship with Compton. Painfully aware of his surroundings, Lamar is most poignant when he reflects on the moral gap that stretches between himself and his hometown. This is when Compton becomes more than an indifferent setting for Lamar’s stories; it’s a participant just as active as the friends he robs houses with or his main squeeze from across town, Sherane. Ultimately, Good Kid resonates for the same reason as any other album: searing honesty. Lamar is as candid as he is clever, providing a new perspective on a city often portrayed as glorifying the gangster lifestyle and its associated excesses. Good Kid yanks back the curtain, revealing a struggle that enthrals in a way dirty money, chronic smoke, and hydraulics could not.
by Joey Dussault (Journalism)
If Tame Impala ever calls it quits, frontman Kevin Parker might have a promising career as a producer. Not only did Parker write or co-write every track on Lonerism, Parker produced the album, too. Given its tonal nuances, its artful layering of noise and its expanded palette of instrumentation, it is easy to wonder if Lonerism is an album or an experiment in synesthesia. Tame Impala’s latest is worthy of this list on the merit of its production alone. However, it is Parker’s and Jay Watson’s songwriting that pushes this album from notable to positively exceptional. Unlike its predecessor, InnerSpeaker, Lonerism has no agenda; it doesn’t try to be spacey or profound just for the sake of doing so. It was written with a decided purposelessness, and the result is truly honest and personal songwriting. Narrative shines through even Lonerism‘s dreamiest and most reverb-saturated tracks, making this album as much an emotional experience as it is an intellectual one.