10. Lana Del Rey – Born to Die (Spotify)
I’ve read various articles online trying to get a grasp on why exactly Lana Del Rey has taken so much heat. What I have pieced together is that people hate her because she’s “inauthentic,” that she is fake and crass, a creation meant solely to take your money. I would not disagree. She might be all those things. But in a certain way, that’s the essence of America. So I’m just going to take her music as it is, and in doing so, this album takes the ten-spot.
9. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (Spotify)
Currently a resident of NYC’s East Village, Justin Townes Earle recorded this album back down south, closer to his birthplace. Recorded in a converted church in Asheville, NC, this album is genre-bending, a driving fusion of country, soul, and R&B. This album seems looser than Harlem River Blues, but JTE’s songwriting has broken through to a greater level of artistry. Stripped-down and honest, these tracks are as haunting as they are enjoyable.
8. Strand of Oaks – Dark Shores (Spotify)
One of the saddest albums I have ever heard – but I love it all the same. Fully accepting the fact that life can be lonely even when it’s at its most beautiful, Strand of Oaks has captured emotions here that are rare to render perfectly in art. Pinnacle of the album is “Maureen’s.”
7. The Shins – Port of Morrow (Spotify)
An excellent album through and through, spearheaded by the giant, sweeping sonic force of “Simple Song.” If you can’t tell by reading my other Audio Muffin posts, I love thoughtful, well-wrought lyrics. Pleasing chord progressions and fitting tempos are nice to have, and they are certainly present here, but words are the most direct way of reaching a listener. These being my opined criteria, Port of Morrow comes in seventh.
6. The Ting Tings – Sounds from Nowheresville (Spotify)
Sounds from Nowheresville is an outstanding blend of hip-hop beats and indie rock attitude. For me, The Ting Tings are a key piece of the dance-punk genre (if one has to resort to generalized categorizations). Favorite track is “Guggenheim – Got It Right Mix,” a song about finding oneself as a result of undergoing emotional turbulence.
5. Stars – The North (Spotify)
This album was my introduction to Stars, a band that’s been making music for over a decade, and it was a pleasant introduction to say the least. The synth on this record gives it a nice ‘80s feel, while the lyrics are rooted in the present. Deep and fun at the same time, these songs should stand the test of time.
4. alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Spotify)
Frank has this album in the top spot for the year, and with good reason. The sounds on this record are unique and enchanting. The percussion gets funky, paired up with legato bass tones and affecting lyrics – although I have to admit I was referencing lyrics sites quite often in attempts to decipher much of what was being stated. My listening comprehension issues aside, the album is phenomenal. Check out the chilling video for “Breezeblocks.”
2. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (Spotify)
This album is quarter-life-crisis aggression captured in a bottle. The guitar is gritty, the beats are explosive, and the lyrics could not be more honest. Channeling the uncertainty and disillusionment that accompanies one’s 20-something years, this record is never boring and fully displays the dirtier sides of the human heart and psyche, both.
1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Spotify)
Admittedly not a regular listener to hip hop, I love this album. Thanks to Train, who made the introduction, I have come to appreciate this album not only for its lyrical genius but moreover its narrative arc and depth of feeling – which is to say nothing of the variety and tasteful skill with which each track is written and produced. Maybe not a surprise #1 given Kendrick Lamar’s well-documented meteoric rise this year, but truly tops of 2012, hands down.