To be fair, I can't really give my opinion of the "best" albums of 2012. After the first quarter, I kind of stepped away from listening to new music. My grandfather died as the spring semester wound down; this summer is a barely distinguishable haze. Then I disappeared to Singapore from August until December. Although I tried to keep tabs on release schedules, much of what happened in music after March has been lost on me. I did, however, get well acquainted with the back catalogs of both Big Star and Joy Division.
This top 5 isn't really a survey from January to December for the year's best albums. It's a more personal reflection on the songs and artists that made an impression on me through the dark times and the good that was 2012.
Before the countdown, here are my impressions of some other 2012 releases that I did hear but didn't make the cut.
The xx - Coexist
I liked this album. I also loved 2009's self titled from this British band. Their sophomore follow-up didn't stray too far from the original formula. When the formula's as solidly good as this one, maybe mining it once more before moving on isn't a bad idea.
Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't
Sounds like love letters to the one I fucked it up with ("the one that got away" disguises a blame that's fully mine) but somehow managed to still stay friendly with.
Grizzly Bear - Shields
When it was first available for streaming, I recall being particularly enamored with this album. A few months later, I couldn't even recall what a single song sounded like. Definitely plans to revisit it now that my turntable and I have been reunited.
Sufjan Stevens - Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, vols. 6-10
What can you say about a Sufjan Christmas collection? At moments alternately awe-ful and haunting. Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You from Christmases Past was instantly a holiday classic for me.
The Top 5 (in no particular order)
1. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
This one was released so early on (January 24) I almost forgot it was a 2012 release until I started perusing other best of lists. It's louder and darker than Dylan Baldi's previous outings. Screamer No Future/No Past and deceptively peppy Stay Useless accompanied me through some pretty bleak moods this year.
2. Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Follow-up to 2009's widely acclaimed Post-Nothing, Celebration Rock continued this Canadian duo's despairing glimpses at what lies beyond the party while continuing to rock twice as hard to put the inevitable off. Themes of aging and mortality sat well with me in the year I officially joined the mid-30s and family members continue to degenerate and shuffle off this mortal coil.
3. Twin Shadow - Confess
In 2009, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart totally rocked my shit with their eponymously titled debut LP. A year later, George Lewis, Jr., aka Twin Shadow did the same thing with Confess. It blended 80s elements of new wave and R&B but created a singular sound greater than the sum of its influences. Equal parts sleaze and saccharine innocence, George had at it again in 2012, refining and sharpening his formula, to create one of the most memorable albums of the year for me. It speaks to both my better nature and worst half.
4. Ringo Deathstarr - Mauve
An Austin band that wears their influences on their sleeve, Ringo Deathstarr is a shoe gaze slash noise pop trio the BBC dismissed as "shoegaze drone-noise from Texas, done well but done several times before." I saw them ring in the New Year at a little east side bar in Austin called The Frontier. They delivered. Loud, fuzzy guitars, and fun. Originality and experimentation are great, but never discount the value of having a good time. The atmospheric guitars often soundtracked my crowded subway commutes to SMU, lending the push through the daily sea of erratic human bodies a quaint disconnected unreality. The right album at the right time in my life.
5. Beach House - Bloom
Apparently this was the last album I listened to on Spotify before leaving the country as it and Donovan were affixed to my Facebook page for the fall and winter months. Ethereal and gravid with so many not quite fully formed, ambiguous feelings. Often the lullaby to soothe my complicated pains and longings in the wake of my grandfather's death and the great uncertainty facing me as graduation from law school draws near, I age, and romances bloom and wither.
To Listen, To Pick Up
Trailer Trash Tracys - Ester
Introduced to me by the rotation on local college radio station Album 88 in Atlanta. Heard a handful of tracks but need to pick up this debut LP from another British band.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Almost positively would have made my top 5 favorites of the year if I had actually heard it in 2012. Looking forward to finally peeling off the shrink wrap and giving this legendary Canadian act's 4th studio album, the first in a decade, a twirl. Half these tracks were performed in their recent spat of shows so I'm sure to recognize a few after seeing them 3 times in 2010. Prominent on many critics best of the year lists.
Tame Impala - Lonerism
Another shoe-in for a top 5 slot if only I'd heard it in 2012, these Ozzies with a penchant for loud, guitar-driven psychedelia and vulnerable, introspective lyrics are among my faves. Listening to 2010's Innerspeaker always puts me in a better mood. Also making regular appearances on many critics best of 2012 lists.
Kingdom of Suicide Lovers - Distant Waves
Another Austin band. The album was released on CD as of August but I'm (not so) patiently holding out for vinyl in the near future. Tracks on the EP sold me on this "darkwave garage rock post-punk psychedelic" trio.
Best Coast - The Only Place
More songs about smoking pot, cats, body image issues, etc. set to snazzy surf rock tunes? Yes, please.
Teen Daze - The Inner Mansions
Don't remember how they showed up on my radar. Introspective electronic music (says the album description) from another Canadian group.
Cat Power - Sun
Supposed to be one of her best to date.
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
Eternal Summers - Correct Behavior
Was really excited when I bought the vinyl but can't remember what animated it. Let's hope it doesn't disappoint.
Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo, Magellan
David Longstreth isn't so much the creative force behind Dirty Projectors or even the conductor of a rock and choral band as he is the engineer ensuring every piece of this well-oiled, well-honed machine is moving perfectly on its own and in sync with the other moving pieces. That's no mean feat when you have the guitar, bass, drums, horns and/or other strings, and 3 part vocals all happening at once. This one is supposed to be less technical but no less a masterpiece. Also on many best of 2012 lists.
New Year's resolution for 2013: listen to more music.