Beer and Pavement

Best Records of 2012

Posted in Records, Review by SM on December 30, 2012

Here are ten of the best records I heard this year, in no particular order[1]

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Man, I loved last year’s Wye Oak album and needed more this year. Luckily, Sharon Van Etten came through this year. Similarly to Wye Oak, Van Etten seemed to come from nowhere[2] to unleash a haunting rock record that grips you from start to finish. It didn’t hurt that half of Brooklyn collaborated it behind the scenes or in the margins to help Van Etten deliver a punch to the gut. Still, it’s defining moment for a musician I hope to hear more from in the coming years.

The Walkmen – Heaven
Nothing new here. The Walkmen release a record and I love it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their records are always this good. Somehow a band known for songs about going out and drinking have eventually written one of the best albums about adulthood, having children and all that. There’s a simplicity to The Walkmen formula that allows them to adjust to their current living conditions. These are just working stiffs trying to put some food on the table and clothes on the backs of their children. I can get behind that.

Titus Andronicus – Local Business
I’m not gonna lie. I really didn’t care for this record upon the first listen. I was having buyer’s remorse as I listened to it stream on Spotify, knowing that the new local record shop was holding a copy for me. Then, I gave it another try as the record popped up on several year-end lists. It’s really a fantastic record as Titus Andronicus does what every New Jersey band does eventually: they all turn into Bruce Springsteen. There’s nothing wrong with this of course. It’s just a fact.

Cat Power – Sun
Yes, this has been a shitty year for Chan Marshall. However, that may mean she’ll have to put out more records and tour whenever she can scrounge up the dough and good health to hit the road. Cat Power has evolved from record to record. Now, after some faux-bravado, one gets the sense that Marshall is becoming comfortable with her station in life, embracing her demons, health issues, and apparent financial stresses in making what is maybe her most honest record in years[3].

Believers – Believers EP
Someone will surely give me a hard time for praising Believers again, but the praise is legit. Although this EP feels somewhat incomplete[4], it brings with it the promise of great things to come. I fully suspect several of these tracks will reappear – possibly re-recorded/remastered – on an LP via some high-profile indie label.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Honestly, this would be my record of the year. It’s a bit more uneven than 2009’s Post-Nothing but it still contains that raw energy that only Japandroids can bring without an ounce of irony. This band makes me want to hit the bars and dance all night before the reality of my middle-class-mortgaged-parenthood comes crashing down on my fantasies. Still, it’s nice to dream/reminisce once in a while.

Best Coast – The Only Place
On one hand, I don’t know why I like this band. On the other, I don’t know why I ask the first question. Like Japandroids, Best Coast has found a recipe that works. Unlike the “live like there’s no tomorrow” message in a Japandroids’ song, Best Coast wears their California lovin’ on their collective sleeves. I appreciate this love for one’s home state. Like Jenny Lewis and The Eagles, Best Coast won’t let you forget where they’re from and they’ll make you want to live there as well.

Dinosaur Jr – I Bet on Sky
How is it that Dinosaur Jr. is writing and recording better music after they’ve reunited? Maybe it’s that Lou Barlow has been allowed to come into his own. Maybe it’s because J Mascis has mellowed his ego. Whatever it is, I hope they never stop making loud records.

Hospitality – Hospitality
Last year, it was Eleanor Friedberger. This year, it’s Hospitality. Last year’s Friedberger joint Last Summer had me longing for some straight girl pop rock from the City. Hospitality filled that void admirably. And when you close your eyes, you think it’s Belle and Sebastian.

Dirty Projectors –Swing Lo Magellan
I really expected a letdown from Dirty Projectors, but this record – more straightforward than previous efforts – did not disappoint. I knew this as soon as I dropped the needle to reveal the opening track.

Discovered too late to form a proper assessment, but they’re pretty great: Tame Impala, Diiv, Grizzly Bear, Metz

Overall, this year wasn’t nearly as inspiring as last year’s onslaught of great records. However, most of these would rank among last year’s best. So, take that for what it’s worth, which is basically nothing.

1Ranking art just seems to be so archaic, so overdone. So, I will refrain from it this year. Instead, I’ll just tell you about ten records I liked.
2Meaning that, like Wye Oak, she hadn’t released anything of note until this latest album which is great.
3In Cat Power years, that’s maybe two records a decade.
4Let’s face it, every EP feels imcomplete. They are akin to the 20-minute set. You get a taste of the very best, maybe with one stinker. Just when you’re into it, it’s over.

7 Responses

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  1. Seejae said, on December 30, 2012 at 10:44 am

    You could have included GBV thrice, but you failed to include them at all? Your slipping Early! Seriously though, both Factory and Class Clown are derserving.

    • Zac said, on December 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

      I actually didn’t like those albums. There are some great tracks on each, but the albums as a whole are mediocre.

  2. Mike said, on December 30, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I’m going to have to check some of these out. I’d steered clear of Titus Andronicus and Dirty Projectors. With Titus Andronicus, I steered clear because I said hi to the singer at a World Market right before the show and he seemed angry and possibly embarrassed to be seen at a World Market. And with Dirty Projectors, I had a friend who made their last album his post divorce nervous breakdown album, so I usually cringe when I hear the lead singer. But I think I’m ready to face my demons and give their new albums a spin.

    Do you have an biggest disappointment list? (Jens Lekman for me) Albums you loved at first but got tired of eventually? (for me, it’d be Sharon van Etten) Albums that grew on you? (Here We Go Magic) A list of albums that you like but other people seem to ignore or have way too low on their lists? (HWGM, Spiritualized, Beachwood Sparks)

    This is Mike from NM btw. I’m going to maybe try to get back into blogging next year, or maybe not, but either way I’m trying to get back into the WordPress habit of checking comments.

    • Zac said, on December 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      Those are fair points about Titus, DP, and Van Etten. I’d say they’re all worth another listen. As far as other lists, I don’t know that I’m inspired enough by the year’s output to even attempt something like this. Divine Fits was a bit of a disappointment. I’m not sure about an album I grew tired of. There might have been one, but I don’t know what it is.

      • Mike said, on December 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm

        Yeah, I don’t know what to make of Divine Fits. As an album it’s disappointing, but it’s not too bad for a one-off supergroup collaboration.

        Grizzly Bear is the album I need to spend more time with. The first song is named after the mountain I used to live under, so I have another mental block like with Dirty Projectors and Titus Andronicus. I can’t get past the first track without asking them if/where they stopped when they drove through town.

        And I’ll give Sharon Van Etten another chance. Her album is one of the prettiest of the year (Spiritualized’s softer moments and all of Beach House are in the running), but the songs don’t hold up for me after repeated listens. The songs started to feel a little too much like they’ve been ripped from a diary. But I’ll give it another shot.

      • Zac said, on December 30, 2012 at 1:38 pm

        I think that encapsulates Divine Fits perfectly. I go back and forth on it and love a few of the tracks now and again. It is what it is. I suspect if they do another, it will either be amazing or a stinking turd.

        I don’t know why I haven’t given the Grizzly Bear record more of a chance. It could be that the LP is really expensive or that their mopey-ness can be a turnoff. Either way, the record deserves a longer listen.

        It’s cool if you don’t like the Sharon Van Etten. I actually loved it upon the first listen, grew bored with it halfway through the year, and rediscovered it this fall. Maybe it’s a seasonal thing.

    • Zac said, on December 30, 2012 at 12:23 pm

      Also, I forgot to mention HWGM and Spiritualized as albums that need more exploration.

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