1. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
I tried to avoid Sharon Van Etten for a very long time. A friend had described her as a “sad lady playing guitar and singing” and after three years as a moody middle school girl, I didn’t think I needed any more sad ladies in my life. However, thanks to my internship at WXPN this summer I was able to get some tickets to her show in Philadelphia. She started her set with “All I Can” and I was hooked. Her album captures all the emotion of her live shows and features one of my favorite songs of 2012, Serpents.
2. Dan Deacon - America
I’ve always loved Dan Deacon’s live shows but I never could make it through listening to an entire album. However, America is a beautifully crafted album that is extremely listenable. The first half of the album consists of classic jams - danceable singalongs. The second half of the album shows off Dan Deacon’s classical composition chops. I got to listen to this while flying over the desert on the way to San Diego and it was a beautiful moment when music fit perfectly with scenery.
3. Lower Dens - Nootropics
Nootropics was a perfect continuation from Twin-Hand Movement, the awesome first release by Lower Dens. Though the album is very mechanical (the drums on Brains and Stem are so precise and robotic), there are touches of glam-rock to it. On Lion In Winter Part 2, lead singer Jana Hunter sounds like an alien singing over a futuristic dancey beat and tons of synth. This album is a lot darker than Twin-Hand Movement, lacking a “cutesy” track like I Get Nervous. Each track transitions beautifully into the next to create one of the best albums of 2012.
4. Chelsea Wolfe - Unknown Rooms
I hopped on the Chelsea Wolfe train really late, so placing Unknown Rooms on this list is my way of noting that she was one of my favorite artists of the year. Chelsea Wolfe plays doom-folk-goth-art-drone and her albums and live performances are slightly terrifying but at the same time extremely beautiful. She has attracted a lot of attention from black metal fans, opening up for Russian Circles this year. This acoustic album reaches heavily into her folk roots while also touching on Renaissance-sounding choral elements. She sounds both completely vulnerable and vicious at the same time - something I still don’t understand.
5. Grizzly Bear - Shields
Shields seemed to both get too much attention and not enough attention at the same time. What Grizzly Bear had developed in the past was simply amplified on this album. “A Simple Answer” was Grizzly Bear’s first successful attempt at a non-cheesy happy song, a nice change from “Knife” and “Two Weeks”. Ed Droste doesn’t play any instruments on this album but his vocals are calm, mature, and straight-up beautiful. Chris Bear amplifies his drums and Chris Taylor’s guitar parts fills in every gap, making Shields an extremely layered album where each part is important . Grizzly Bear is an extremely collaborative band and Shields shows how teamwork can be used to create a cohesive and beautiful album.
6. Colleen Green - Milo Goes To Compton
Colleen Green really isn’t innovative. Her first song on the album is a Descendants Cover, the second song is a pseudo-Ramones cover. On most tracks it’s just Colleen’s layered vocals, fuzzy chords, and a drum machine. But man, this album sure is catchy. I’m not usually a fan of the lazy California lady rocker, (see: Best Coast), but her lyrics are more complex, her guitar parts are more distorted, and her songs so danceable that this album is just great. It’s short, fun, and makes me wanna be friends with Colleen Green, so I think it’s a success!
7. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
I left my teenage years this past year and felt a really strong desire to get my fist-pumping teen angst out. This album had all the elements of a party-rock album: singalong lyrics, loud guitars, and precise drumming. The House that Heaven Built sounds like a Bruce Springsteen song if Bruce had a lot more anger and a lot more alcohol. The singalong “OH-OH-OH-OH-OH-OH-OH-OH” and lyrics of “if they try to slow you down tell ‘em all to go to hell” on that song are great emotional release - we all need something to shout-sing during times of frustration. Celebration Rock was the loud rock album I needed this year.
8. The Bird Calls - Church of the Bird Calls
The Bird Calls is Sam Sodomsky of Syracuse, NY by way of Wyomissing, PA (home of Taylor Swift!). Church of the Bird Calls is his longest album so far, and most definitely his most complex. Sam has a way of singing with conviction even if he hasn’t experienced what he’s singing so far. In “Real Sacrifice” his sacrifice appears to be passing around a bottle - not something we would consider a real sacrifice on the scale of human experiences. However, the song, and entire album, show The Bird Calls’s gospel-like belief in the subject matter. Sam’s been making music for years and Church of the Bird Calls functions as a confirmation of his accomplishments so far.
9. Wild Nothing - Nocturne
10. DIIV - Oshin
11. Julia Holter - Ekstasis
12. Liars - WIXIW
13. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
14. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It
15. Eternal Summers - Correct Behavior
16. Angel Olsen - Half Way Home
17. Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse
18. Grimes - Visions
19. Wolf//Goat - In Watermelon Sugar
20. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory