The Best Albums of 2012

2012, for me, was not a great year for music. It also wasn’t a great year of listening to music. I think I may have listened to the least music this year than any year since my teens. It’s still probably more than a lot of people, but it the year kind of got away from me.

Still, no huge revelations this year. No new sounds, and very few new artists. What got me through the year was mainly old songs. It’s happened before. 2002 in particular. Maybe there’s something about a decade finding her feet.
What else has gotten me through is film. I’ve watched a couple of hundred films this year. Perhaps it’s technology, and it’s nicer to look at a screen than out a train window.

Is it a break from music? Or a break up? I don’t know. I look at 2013 and no albums make me that excited. But maybe a break is good. There will be more to discover one day.

There were still at least ten records I loved this year. Here they are.

1. Joel Plaskett – Scrappy Happiness

I’ve been listening to Joel Plaskett since the 90s, when he was in a fine rock band called Thrush Hermit. I’ve enjoyed every album to some degree, but something happened on this record. First, his last was a TRIPLE album. As great as it was, this single album is a breath of fresh air. Second, it sounds like a classic rock record, no fancy stuff.

The album it really reminds me of is Electric Warrior. Bluesy, muscular rock n roll, and a handful of beautiful ballads. Lyrically there’s a whole lot of nonsense, but it’s that kind of nonsense that makes sense in a song. Short, sharp, fun. It’s my album of the year, and clutching to the blatant escapism in this record says a lot about my year.

2. The Shins – Port Of Morrow

Three perfect records so far, this album has a lot to live up to. Luckily those expectations were met. That pop sound, those lyrics, that voice – maybe it will just always get to me.

It’s been over 10 years now that James Mercer has soundtracked life. Something about his music is well shaped to place memories into, and this new one is no exception. Some say its samey, but I’d be pretty happy to get variations of this record for another decade or two.

3. Toby Martin – Love’s Shadow

The former(?) lead man in Youth Group went solo this year and it definitely doesn’t sound like a band. Mainly piano or guitar and a bit of strings, with a couple of louder exceptions. But it’s intimate and hidden away, but that’s perfect for an album of songs about loneliness, loss, missing people and keeping secrets.

I guess I love Toby best because he writes about Sydney, but not in a cheap, easy reference way. He squeezes out some romance to this city, but doesn’t fetishise it. In fact, there’s plenty of looking beyond it. This is a fragile, beautiful little album, that I kept returning to.

4. Jack White – Blunderbuss

We’ve been wondering for years what a Jack White solo album might sound like. Aren’t we glad it was actually wonderful? I thought the Raconteurs and Dead Weather was patchy. But he’s returned to something a lot simpler here. It’s not the primitivism of the White Stripes, but it’s close.

No one rocks like White, and no one knows how to craft a bizarre lyric like him too. It interests me how such a student of rock history is so great at avoiding cliché. He makes power chords sound fresh. This album made plenty of best of lists, and I’m definitely in the camp that’s good to have him back.

5. Ben Folds Five – The Sound Of the Life Of the Mind

I’ve loved every album Folds has ever made. I loved his wild ‘punk rock for sissies’ days of Ben Folds as a teenager, and I loved his more mature, understated work on his solo albums. ‘The Sound Of The Life Of the Mind’ is a bit of all of that – funny songs, ballads and even a Hornby collaboration. The kind of album that is probably really difficult to make, yet sounds like fun all the way.

6. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

Dan Boeckner of Handsome Furs and Britt Daniel of Spoon get together to bring a bit more of a raw, punk rock sense to Spoon’s groove. There’s not much to this album – it’s a bunch of great riffs, songs and sounds.

7. Hot Chip – In Our Heads

I love this band – but I occasionally have problems with some of their albums. They are too long, and this one is no exception. But they know how to craft a good pop single and they have 6 or 7 of them here. They’ve continued down their love song route. It’s like 65-era Beatles, but electro pop. It wasn’t a terribly exciting year for electronic music for me, but Hot Chip keep the flame alive for me.

8. Beth Orton – Sugaring Season

It’s good to have Beth Orton back, no matter how sporadic. We thought maybe she had left us, but maybe now she can just turn into one of those folkies who just makes albums in her own time.

This album isn’t really like her other albums. There’s a sweetness and prettiness on show that hasn’t been there before. She sounds happy, and here’s something nice to hear that, having followed her voice for a decade, through some incredibly low lows.

9. Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy

A straight ahead, fun, rock ‘n’ roll record. I kind of miss the more tender moments they are so good at, but mixing it up 7 albums in is fine. It’s a really exciting record, and the pace doesn’t really let up. ‘No Snow On the Mountain’ and ‘Teenage Dreams’ are two of the best. They aren’t just boring rockers either. Another solid rock album, in year where they were few and far between.

10. fun. – Some Nights

Something strangely fascinating about this album. This band seems like assholes. The songs have been A&R’d within an inch of their lives. The film clips are annoying. But something about the songs that work. Something fascinating about someone trying to write a song that connects with millions of people. These wide reaching, open armed songs that can’t have too much complexity but enough to fascinate.

Its like those big 70s albums, where they knew they would be selling 20 million and unite an audience. It’s like watching big blockbuster films. The singles sound great. They will probably go down as a one album wonder, but this year, I enjoyed the bombass of it all.