Welcome, friends, to The Big List. Well, any list that’s part of Listmas is big, but only one deserves the title of Big List. The Top 50 Albums is the most coveted of all lists, and when ancient historians look back upon this period of music, it is these lists they will consult. Or human life will cease to exist. We’re dealing with an impending Mayan apocalypse, people! As you may be able to tell by the photo above, I am trying to make this year’s Listmas very “End of the World” themed, though honestly if we don’t survive you’ll never live to see what my Top 10 Albums of the year are. We’re doing this Top 50 list over the course of the entire week, and I’ll reveal 10 new albums a day until we hit #1. So strap yourselves in, turn off your TV or any other distracting items, and prepare to learn a lot more about some of my favorite albums of 2012. Let’s get this ball rolling!
50. alt-J – An Awesome Wave
alt-J are a talented band, and An Awesome Wave won the Mercury Prize this year to help validate that thought. Yet for all the love this band has gotten in 2012, they were also exposed to a lot of hate. The album has been called bland and unoriginal by some – a collection of sounds and styles that have been popular in indie music over the last couple years. I’ll openly admit it’s not a perfect record, but songs like “Fitzpleasure,” “Breezeblocks” and “Tessellate” are engaging, fun and well composed. This is one full length where I think that style wins over substance, and sometimes that’s okay.
49. The Walkmen – Heaven
The Walkmen have a reputation for being sad sacks. That much was evident across their records up until this point. Now much older and with families of their own, the boys appear to have discovered some rays of sunshine in their otherwise dreary lives. The way they let the light in on Heaven with more upbeat songs and lyrics brings out a new side to them and suggests that perhaps there’s a strong second act ahead because the first one was starting to get mighty thin.
48. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
Britt Daniel from Spoon. Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs. Sam Brown from New Bomb Turks. Putting them all together in a band sounds like it’d be a lot of fun and could yield some interesting results. So Divine Fits happened, and it was about what you’d expect – the Britt Daniel songs sound like Spoon, and the Dan Boeckner songs sound like Handsome Furs or Wolf Parade. As they work together more, hopefully that dynamic will lead to something even greater. For the time being, A Thing Called Divine Fits was a rather excellent start from some supremely talented individuals.
47. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Jack White is at the point in his career where he can write his own ticket. He pretty much does already, when you think about it. He puts a lot of time into his record label and works with a lot of random artists, but also does plenty of guest work and other appearances. We don’t know exactly how much work Meg White did on those White Stripes albums (probably very little), and he’s a side player in The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, but Blunderbuss was his first genuine solo record. It turned out remarkably well, if not a little disappointing compared to what we’ve heard from him in the past. While theatrics are a part of any performance, I think a lot of people would be happier if White would just shut up and play guitar solos for an hour. Maybe next time.
46. The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
There are people who will never, ever like anything Billy Corgan releases under The Smashing Pumpkins name from now until eternity because of what he “did” to people like D’Arcy Wretzky and James Iha. The “classic” Pumpkins can’t be topped, because that particular combination of people resulted in records like Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness that truly changed lives and influenced so much. Well I’ve got news for you. Good music is good music no matter who makes it, and this time around, Corgan and the skeleton crew of people he calls the Pumpkins actually delivered something very good. I’d argue it’s the best thing since Mellon Collie in fact, which is no small feat. Take away all the stigmas and listen closely without prejudice. I think you’ll find plenty to love.
45. Lower Dens – Nootropics
Lower Dens are not the easiest band to enjoy, mostly because they make quieter music that speaks to the darker recesses of the soul. You don’t listen to this band on a sunny afternoon when you’re hanging out on the couch, but instead a rather gloomy night where your mind conjures up images of serial killers and other dangerous people roaming the streets in back alleyways and unlit corners. Yet there’s also a strange beauty about a record like Nootropics, and Jana HUnter’s impassioned vocals have a lot to do with it. The addition of krautrock and electronic influences also gives the record more focus and drive than their previous work. Put it all together and you’ve got one of 2012’s most underrated (and understated) albums.
44. School of Seven Bells – Ghostory
In spite of all they’ve been through the last couple years with lineup changes and sonic shifts, School of Seven Bells have somehow found a way to make themselves stronger and better than ever before. They’ve always been meticulous in crafting their songs, but Ghostory is the first time that the duo of Benjamin Curtis and Alejandra Deheza have truly collaborated in the writing and composition of a record – something they used to do separately. The results are right there across 9 beautiful and darkly fun tracks that function best as a defining statement of what this band is all about. While I’ve always been partial to their shoegaze-heavy 2008 debut Alpinisms, this is an equally enticing yet entirely different effort that gives me hope for the future of SVIIB.
43. Sigur Ros – Valtari
There are great Sigur Ros records, and then there are minor ones. You’re always guaranteed gorgeous melodies and that incredible vocal work from Jonsi, but the approach has shifted over the years. After taking time off in the wake of their 2008 venture into more experimental pop territory via Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust, Valtari is a return to their primarily minimalist early days. Many criticized the band for backtracking while others called the record boring, but I hear it as a studied attempt to distill their best elements into its purest form. There are moments when it does drag and seem a little too inwardly focused, but the rest feels like classic and vintage Sigur Ros, which is to say emotionally satisfying to the max.
42. Hot Chip – In Our Heads
If you’re at all like me and strongly disliked the slower ballads that seemed to take over on Hot Chip’s 2010 album One Life Stand, the dance party that developed on In Our Heads was a welcome relief and a glorious return to form for these guys. It was also a rather eclectic and upbeat record focused on the love and relationships. Put all together you could say it’s another step forwards for the band as they keep maturing but keep making us move our feet to sounds like “Night & Day,” “Flutes” and “Motion Sickness.”
41. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Lost Songs
Trail of Dead are a cursed band. Most of the people familiar with them know they had a moment of “perfection” back in 2002 with their Source Tags and Codes album, and have been dealing with the pressures and utter failures that often go along with that. Now ten years removed from such a situation, not only has the memory grown distant, but they’ve managed to rediscover the elements that once made them great. This is one of the purest rock records of 2012 from a group of guys that sound like they’re really enjoying making music for the first time in awhile. More power to them, I say.
TOMORROW: THE TOP 50 ALBUMS LIST CONTINUES WITH #40-31!