2012 has been quite a year for music. Alternative darlings broke out in a big way, taking over most of the radio. Giant albums from returning artists gave us critics something to lavish over throughout the year. 2012 was also the year that Youtube became a major player, helping push viral artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and Psy to the forefronts of the American subconcious. Without further ado, here is HST’s favorites of the year.
FYI: Below this post is a Spotify playlist of some of the songs and artists we mentioned in this post. So why not have a listen!
Album Of The Year: There was no other album this year that quite told a story like Kendrick Lamar’s hood epic good kid, m.A.A.d. city. A story that intertwines love, family, religion, and violence into a drama that parallels Boyz n the Hood all the way to the finish. Songs like “Backseat Freestyle” and “Poetic Justice” tell of a time when Kendrick was having fun with his friends and in love with his girlfriend Sherane. Then the story takes a bit of a 180, with Kendrick’s character drinking himself into depression with “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and having a main character get shot during “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst.” The album has been out for a couple of months, and has yet to get boring. Instead, good kid keeps its enthralling nature and fantastic storytelling on each playthrough. An absolute hip-hop classic of this generation.
My other favorites of the year include Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw, And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, and fun.’s Some Nights
Single Of The Year: When I reviewed fun.’s album Some Nights earlier this year, I said that “We Are Young” was a lead contender for Song of the Year. However, as it kept being played by more and more people, it lost its flavor for me. However, the title song “Some Nights” quickly took it’s place as being the best song of that album – and coincidentally the best song of the year. The marching beat and quirky lyrics made this song incredibly catchy and listenable. “Some Nights” helped set the mood for the album by delivering a song we all marched to this year, and will continue to march to into next year.
My other favorites of the year include Perfume Genius’ “Hood,” Frank Ocean’s “Thinking Bout You,” and P.O.S’ “Fuck Your Stuff.”
Favorite Discovery: There was really no excuse to miss Learning, Mike Hadreas’ first album under the moniker Perfume Genius, back in 2010. But alas, it slipped by me. This year, however, I made note to watch out for Perfume Genius’ sophomore effort Put Your Back N 2 It when it dropped earlier this year. And it’s safe to say I was blown away from his output. Hadreas knows how to write a beautiful song, putting every little bit of emotion into his voice backed by almost minimalistic instrumentation. Each son is a depressing delight to listen to, and a definite recommendation for anyone who wants to be lulled in a sonic sadness.
Other favorite discoveries include Now, Now and Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra.
Worst Of The Year: There’s no question here, Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die is my worst album of the year. The lyrics are garbage, her sentiment’s are contrite, and her energy dead. The only positive this album has is it’s production, but that doesn’t make up for the terrible everything else.
Some other terrible albums I must make note of include: WZRD’s self-titled album, The xx’s Coexist, and Tenacious D’s Rize of the Fenix
I quickly wanted to shout out a couple of albums that I skimmed by this year but came to love, including Ab-Soul’s Control System, Tame Impala’s Lonerism, Loma Prieta’s I.V., and Portico Quartet’s self titled album.
Album of the Year: Shields, Grizzly Bear – The moment I heard the first track ‘Sleeping Ute,’ I knew this album could be something special. The mix of rock and chamber melodies is akin to something we would hear from Led Zeppelin. ‘Sleeping Ute’ was recorded separately from the rest of the album, and it possesses a distinct style. While the first track is the strongest song on the album, the remaining tracks are deep and soulful, with a unique composition of sounds. The album’s progression of songs begs to be played in order as the songs flow together framed with fantastic bookends.
Grizzly Bear’s new approach was to collaborate more among the band members and to create a more ‘charged and concise’ sound. The result was a stunning and compelling breakthrough album.
Runner-Ups: Babel, Mumford & Sons / Heaven, The Walkmen
Song of the Year: Stubborn Love, The Lumineers – While ‘Ho Hey’ is the catchy mega hit from the album, ‘Stubborn Love’ has a depth and quality that I adore. It features well-crafted lyrics like:
It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all
The opposite of love’s indifference
The song advises us that things could get messy, but you should be passionate and find someone who brings color into your life. The song’s beautiful cello and acoustic guitar baseline is complemented with the slow build of vocals. Songs like this one demonstrate the extraordinary potential of these folk rockers.
Other folk rock artists also had a big year. The Avett Brothers are great, but my favorite songs of theirs are live performances. Their studio tracks fail to match the same enthusiasm. Successors of The Avett Brothers such as Mumford and Sons and now The Lumineers have had success in capturing the sprit of a live performance. The two bands have produced three fantastic albums in the past couple years. Will we see more bands of this vein emerge in the coming years? I sure hope so.
Runner-Up: The House That Heaven Built, Japandroids
Best New Artist of the Year: Kishi Bashi – The well traveled violinist toured with indie legends of Montreal, Regina Spektor, and others before setting out on his own. This year (with the help of kickstarter.com) he came out with a solo album ‘151a.’ The impressive album is part explosive and part sorrowful. He seems to have influence from of Montreal, but he has definitely found his own voice. Kishi Bashi did a great job recording multiple instruments, but I would still expect that a funding boost could only help this talented musician.
Most Disappointing Album of the Year: Rhythm and Repose, Glen Hansard – It appears that Hansard is heading in the wrong direction. 2007’s Once was great, 2009’s Strict Joy was solid, and now it seems Hansard has hit a low point. He is still a great musician and an entertaining performer, but the songwriting is in decline.
Favorite Album: Now, Now’s Threads – It’s rare these days that randomly hearing a song pushes me towards listening to a full album when it is so much easier just to grab the single from iTunes and then carry on, but there was something with “Threads” that catalyzed the need to hear more from Now, Now. With one play through of the album, I was hooked on the sound that seemed somewhat tailored to my preferences; the music never fully branches out into full blown, fast-paced pop, but instead always remains with a melodic feel because of the smooth vocals that have an air of simply being spoken and not belted. There is no weak spot in the album (which is a rare thing to say), with “School Friends” being the highlight among highlights.
Other favorite albums include Ingrid Michaelson’s Human Again, Of Monsters and Men’s My Head Is An Animal, Mumford and Sons’ Babel, and Taylor Swift’s Red.
Most Disappointing Album: Fun.’s Some Nights – With two of the most popular single’s of the year, Fun.’s album had a lot to live up to. Starting off incredibly strong with a song that seems to set up a stage production set in a Tim Burton circus (“Some Nights (intro)”), the album takes a dive for the worse after track 4 “Carry On,” (tracks 2 and 3 being “Some Nights” and “We Are Young”), with these grand scale songs being replaced with highly processed music and vocals that contrast greatly with the two songs that rocketed them to the top of the music charts this year. Repeat listens have raised it slightly in my eyes, but horribly annoying songs that won’t stop replaying in my mind, like “It Gets Better,” keep this album from being anything other than disappointing thanks to the high expectations I went into it with.
Favorite Soundtrack: The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 And Beyond – I generally prefer instrumental soundtracks to various artist compilations, but The Hunger Games manages to compile a group of artists (including some favorites of mine: The Civil Wars, The Decemberists, and Taylor Swift) capable of writing some truly beautiful songs inspired by one of the year’s big films. Even though they don’t actually play over the film, they invoke the feel of the movie perfectly, making it the perfect accompaniment to the film.
Runner Ups: Anna Karenina, Pitch Perfect, The Raid: Redemption
- Fun’s “Some Nights”
- Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive”
- Ingrid Michaelson’s “End Of The World”
- The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey”
- Meg Myers’ “Monster”
- Now, Now’s “School Friends”
- Regina Spektor’s “Ballad Of A Politician”
- Taylor Swift’s (Ft. Gary Lightbody) “The Last Time”
Favorite Cover: Wanderhouse “Lights” – No offense to Ellie Goulding because she has a beautiful voice, but there is just something about this popular song that makes it hard for me to decide whether I like it or not. Might be that whole thing about preferences leaning towards less high tempo pop music that I mentioned above with Now, Now. But now thanks to Wanderhouse I can finally make a decision on my feelings towards this song, and those feelings are great.
Runner Up: Yellowcard covering Coldplay’s “Fix You”
Favorite Lyric: “We hate the rain when it fills up our shoes, but how we love when it washes our cars.” Coming from one of my favorite songs off of Ingrid Michaelson’s album Human Again, “How We Love,” this lyric just speaks to a simple idea about an everyday occurrence when the weather isn’t quite so sunny that I’m sure we’ve all thought. In actuality it is actually talking about the dichotomy of love and how you can feel towards one person, but sometimes the face value is just as sweet.
Most Creative Lyric: “I can liken you to a werewolf” from Fiona Apple’s “Werewolf” – (off of this years The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw, And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do) I actually prefer to think of this as “I can lycan you to a werewolf” because it makes the nerd in me giggle to no end. Seriously! Lycan and werewolf are synonyms! The hilarity!
Favorite Album: Of Monsters and Men’s My Head is an Animal – You know those Russian Folk dances where they squat on the ground and shoot out their legs one at a time while people shout “hey hey hey hey” and clap in time? Well that is what this album reminds me of…but in a good way! This is the first album for the Iceland natives, and I have really high hopes for them in the future. You really can’t go wrong listening to any of their songs, but my favorites are “Sloom,” “Mountain Sound,” and their most popular song, “Little Talks.” Their songs are sure to put a spring in a step and a smile on your face.
- Mumford and Son’s Babel – Their follow up to Sigh No More was fantastic. And the great thing about Mumford is not matter who you are with, you can put their album on and everyone will like it. Now they just need to come back to St. Louis so I can see them play live!
- The Lumineers’ The Lumineers – Like Mumford and Of Monsters and Men, the Lumineer’s album is solid from start to finish. It is also great “good mood” music.
- A Fine Frenzy’s Pines – I wasn’t ever a really huge fan of A Fine Frenzy. I liked her music because I could put it on in the background while writing a paper and not get distracted by it. And although I enjoyed it, very few songs ever stood out. With this album, I became a huge fan. Although it is still my go to music whenever I’m working on my dissertation, I also put in on sometimes when I just want to calm down or relax, or even when driving on an overcast day. It has that soothing quality. Plus, given the fact that the whole album was inspired by pine trees (sounds boring I know) – it is one of the most cohesive albums I have heard in a long time.
- fun.’s Some Nights – I’ll be honest, the first couple times I listened to this album in its entirety, I was hoping they would cool it with the autotune already. But it grew on me very quickly. And what solidified them even more in my mind was seeing them play live last month. They put on a great show! I think this album is even stronger than their first, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!
Most Disappointing Album: Band of Horses’ Mirage Rock – I love Band of Horses, so when I heard they were coming out with a new album this year, I was pumped. But honestly, I still have not been able to listen to the whole thing in its entirety. Or if I do I tune it out and then later can’t remember any of it. I know I am going to have to eventually give it another honest listen, but it sounds so unlike them that I don’t know if I can stomach it.
- Glen Hansard’s Rhythm and Repose – Wow this album was completely… meh… I think he needs to team back up with Marketa Irglova, because that’s when he was at his strongest. Once was such a compelling album, and this one just sounded lazy, like he’d all but given up. The one saving grace for Rhythm and Repose was “Bird of Sorrow.” I actually hear the fight in him with this song. Otherwise the songs pretty much all bleed together.
- Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox – I am actually shocked that Bruno Mars could come from Doo-Wops and Hooligans to create this royal mess. The single that’s out now is ok, but other than that his lyrics are unimaginative, incredibly repetitive, and all seem to be about the same thing (sex, lots and lots of sex). What happened to that sweetie pie crooner from the last album? I want him back.
- John Mayer’s Born and Raised – While many complained that in this new album Mayer completely turned his back on his old style in favor of a new, folksy one, I don’t think that is necessarily the problem. I love folk, when done right. But something about this album just doesn’t sit right, and I feel Mayer has a bit more exploring to do before he gets his groove back. Usually his albums are awesome with multiple standouts, this one had only one for me (see below).
The 15 Best Songs of the Year (in no particular order):
- Mumford and Son “Broken Crown”
- Taylor Swift “Treacherous”
- Ben Fold Five “Erase Me”
- Alex Clare “Too Close”
- Jason Mraz “You Fckn Did It (Live)”
- Ingrid Michaelson “End of the World”
- Sara Barreilles “Sweet as Whole”
- The Avett Brothers “I Never Knew You”
- Imagine Dragons “It’s Time”
- John Mayer “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967”
- Of Monsters and Men “Sloom”
- Regina Spektor “Open”
- fun. “Carry On”
- Phillip Phillips “Home”
- Flo Rida “Good Feeling”
Worst Lyrics: Bruno Mars “Gorilla” – Sadly, this is one of the catchier songs on his new album, but I just can’t get past the lyrics.
“Cause what I got for you, I promise is a killer/ You’ll be banginging on my chest, bang bang, gorilla/ You and me baby making love like gorillas. You and me baby making love like gorillas.”
These lyrics are so horrible it is actually quite hilarious. The last thing I want to picture when I am listening to my music is gorillas having sex. I know its not meant to be taken literally, but once that picture enters my mind it just won’t leave. I am starting to think Bruno was high when he wrote every song. Or maybe his album is some sort of elaborate inside joke with himself on the rest of the world. Well I’m not laughing. Oh wait, I am, but its the same kind of laughing that happens when I watch Twilight (i.e., not the good kind).
My music intake is pretty low compared to some of our other writers here on HST…, but that isn’t going to stop me from chipping in my two cents. As you can see I had some fun with my header in picking PSY’s Gangnam Style which was not only an amazing video but a catchy as hell song. It is also a blast to play in dancing games so get the DLC already. The return of Ben Folds Five The Sound of the Life of the Mind was a welcome addition to my iPad, but I don’t know if I quite enjoyed it as much as Ben Folds recent solo releases. Andrew Bird released two albums, Break It Yourself and Hands of Glory, and I wasn’t complaining one bit. But it was Jack White’s Blunderbuss that was probably the album I listened to the most over the calendar year.
Unless you include film scores. As you know, I see a lot of movies and I love film scores and 2012 has actually been a pretty great year for them. I am going to use the majority of my Music contribution to talk about the year of music in film, so without further ado..
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson always assembles stellar soundtracks, but his second collaboration with Alexandre Desplat is just as much of a joy to listen to as Fantastic Mr. Fox. Desplat blends his score seamlessly with a number of appropriate classical pieces and, per usual, the soundtrack for a Wes Anderson film gets endless plays around my house.
Skyfall – Thomas Newman blends classic Bond themes with a wonderful mix of electric and traditional scoring techniques, Newman’s score was the best in a Bond film in my lifetime and one of the most replayable albums of the year.
Mass Effect 3 – A lot of composers contributed to the epic conclusion of BioWare’s trilogy both new and familiar to the series. Sam Hulick returns and continues to deliver some of the best video game music to date. Christopher Lennertz came in and delivered some excellent contributions as did Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan, but its Clint Mansell’s haunting Leaving Earth that set the tone for the game and might have been the most memorable track.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Howard Shore’s return to Middle Earth is just as great as his work in The Lord of the Rings and that is quite the accomplishment. He blends in familiar themes while also creating new ones and the Dwarves’ hero music is an instant classic for Jackson’s Middle Earth films.
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Behn Zeitlin makes an impressive directorial debut with this film, but his composing work with Dan Romer is almost equally impressive. The score is almost too good as it overwhelms the images and lifts the material to unfair levels that I feel like the emotional weight of the film never quite reached. Still, the score runs a gamut of emotions and can be haunting one moment and joyous the next.
The Master – Jonny Greenwood continues to be one of the best working composers and he only has a couple films to his credit. His work in PTA’s latest is as spellbinding as his work in There Will Be Blood and it feels like an essential piece to the puzzle that is The Master.
John Carter – Michael Giacchino continues to be the best working composer today and his sole contribution of the year to Andrew Stanton’s epic Martian adventure gets better every time I hear it. The score meets the film sweeping scope and really captures the fun and adventure of the unfairly maligned film.
Girl Walk // All Day – The music for this film is an established work, Girl Talk’s All Day, but no film uses music as wonderfully as this one this year. From Anne Marsen’s choreography to Jacob Krupnick’s direction and cinematography, it all fits perfectly with Girl Talk’s album. Fans of dance, music, or being happy should seek this film out ASAP. (Like Right Here)
Cloud Atlas – No film had its score also be an integral plot point in the film itself, but the work by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil lives up to the hype the film lays out for it. Beautiful and moving, the score also helps keep the film moving forward and making sure you never feel that three hour run time. One of the year’s best.
Best Musical Moment of the Year, period, Holy Motors Entracte: (Turn It Up)
As you can see, good music (as well as bad music) came in many forms this year, and I believe we did a good job in covering it all. If you’d like to listen to the music we loved this year, check out our Spotify playlist below (you must have Spotify to listen to it). Here’s to 2013 being one hell of another year in music!
Don’t forget that tomorrow will be the Best of 2012 Television!