2012 has been one hell of a year for the artistic medias. I have long lists of favorite movies, music and video games. Artists all over have been stretching and honing their mediums to new levels of quality, making list making all the more challenging and fun. My initial list of favorite albums of 2012 had over 60 albums on it. And I was conservative with that list. I decided to do a top 25 list because there were so many albums that were so worthy of mention, that a mere top 10 list would not adequately suffice. Each of these albums held its own not only in its genre, but in the wider world of music. I tried to be as open as possible, considering all forms of musical expression. I judged these based on a long list of things including, artistic value (whatever the hell that is), expression, invocation of feelings, songwriting, lyrical quality, musical quality, composition and also, just how much I liked it. Music is such an intensely complicated matter, so know that I did not take this lightly. Here are my top 25 albums of the year, which a short explanation of why they are on the list.
25. The American Dollar – Awake in the City
I love the American Dollar. The things this duo can accomplish in the world of textured ambient post rock is incredible. They are one of my all time favorite bands. That being said, this album, although incredible and worthy of the 25 spot on my list, is at the bottom because it did not hold up to their other releases. Don’t get me wrong, it is an incredible record, I was just left wanting more. Although not necessary, I would have loved to hear at least one sprawling, epic song like Starscapes on this release. With my apprehensions put aside, this album is still great and my #25 album of the year. The album flows beautifully from one track to the next. It incorporates a wonderful balance of post rock ambiance and chill electronic groove. I have always loved the way The American Dollar layers synths, guitar swells, and piano all over incredible drum tracks and this album is no exception. The builds conjure all sorts of feel good emotions with hair-raising crescendos and trance inducing beats. It is a fantastic album, I just wish it could have been higher on my list.
24. Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion
Take one part Porcupine Tree and one part Opeth and one would expect to get an album somewhat similar to Opeth’s Damnation. But, Steven Wilson has never been one to repeat himself. For that matter, he tends to throw curve balls at any chance he can, making people turn their heads and go, “huh?”. This album is no exception. Its slow, barely building, acoustic sludge ambiance is like nothing either of its members have done, and it is incredible incorporating Jazz, Sludge Metal, Acoustic, Ambient, Classic Rock, Doom Rock, Prog Rock and more in this genre defying, extremely rewarding album. This album is not for everyone, and is not even remotely accessible to the average listener with its sprawling, almost aimless form. But, if you allow yourself to be immersed in it, it will take you away. It is this, combined with expert songwriting and musicianship that makes this album my #24.
#23. MotorPsycho – The Death Defying Unicorn
The album is called The Death Defying Unicorn, does it really need any more explanation? I mean, even the simplified album art screams, “Fuck it, our album is called the Death Defying Unicorn. We don’t need art. Just put the title on and people will buy it.” But to talk about this album only on the merits of it’s totally kickass name would be doing it a huge disservice. For those that don’t know, Motorpsycho is a psychedelic progressive rock band from Norway. That would normally be enough to credit an albums awesomeness, but Motorpsycho wanted to go a step further. So, they recruited the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra to play on their “Fanciful and Fairly Far-Out Musical Fable”. That’s right. This is a prog rock concept double album, that prominently features A FUCKING JAZZ ORCHESTRA. Its like if you took TANK! from Cowboy Bebop and slammed it into a more jam based Dream Theater. Seriously, this album is one of a kind, and although the songs reach the 16 minute plus mark, it is absolutely worth it to check out this prog rock masterpiece. If I have not gotten your attention yet, you are honestly dead to me. MOVING ON.
#23. Hammock – Departure Songs
I love ambient music. I love the way so little can create so much. I feel that the mark of a great ambient album is the emotion it can create, using its minimalist techniques. Hammock have always been masters of the craft of ambient music, and this double album is no exception. My only fault with this album is that, at times, some songs seem arbitrary, only being included to pad the run time. I feel if you are going to go for a double album, you need to create the feeling that every song on this album was absolutely necessary. That slight nitpicking aside, this album does a great job of not only creating those hauntingly beautiful instrumental tracks, but of accomplishing the very challenging task of incorporating lyrics into the post rock/ambient genre successfully. It builds a bit more than previous works of theirs, and has moments of quiet brilliance, that only a band like Hammock can pull off with such powerful execution.
#21. Fun. – Some Nights
I loved The Format. I have all of their albums and I always thought they had such an incredible ability to combine fun, pop sensibility with deeper ideals and more earnest songwriting. It always shocked me that they did not get so popular. When they broke up, I was very saddened that I would not get to hear more of their unique and extremely fun music. So, when I heard that Nate Reuss was starting a new band, I got very excited. I loved their first album, which sounded a bit like a more orchestrated version of The Format. I continued to wonder why this band was not more popular. Then, they exploded with an album I would have never expected to catapult this band to the mainstream. I have to admit, at first I did not particularly enjoy Some Nights. I thought it was too much of a change from all of Nate’s previous work. But, with time, its kooky electronic drums, auto-tune, and 80’s electro-pop feel grew on me. As I fell more in love with it, I noticed that its singles started to get played more and more. I am very happy that this exploration into a new and honestly incredible sound was so well accepted. I feel all of their choices in timbre and tone were absolutely fitting. This album was huge inspiration for me as I finished working on my music, and is very deserving of the mainstream attention it has gained.