My Favorite Albums of 2012 – Part 4

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

The list continues below. Check out Part 1 here if you’re just tuning in…

The Coup – “Sorry to Bother You”

If this album doesn’t convert you to a fan of The Coup, nothing will.  How on earth do you make a political rap album (socialist, no less) that’s as entertaining as any party rock album?  “Sorry to Bother You.”  That’s how.

There’s a lot of message in these party-shaking beats.  “The Magic Clap” and “Land of 7 Billion Dances” are fantastic, but nothing condenses the message and rocks the house more than “The Guillotine,” a manifesto of the proletariat you can dance to.  This is what LMFAO would sound like if it were started by Karl Marx.  Okay, maybe not…

The Cranberries – “Roses”

The first new album in eleven years may be the best The Cranberries have ever made.  David Spade immortalized how I felt about The Cranberries second album, “No Need To Argue” with his infamous “zombie lady is scary” segment on SNL.  The quiet, beautiful folk-rock of their debut “Everybody Else Is…” was replaced with those hyena-barking octaves “Zombie” made famous that permeated everything singer Dolores O’Riordan touched.

“Roses” is the album that finally, FINALLY gets back to what made The Cranberries great.  Good songs, solid performances, and O’Riordan’s natural voice complete with it’s brogue that sounds both sweet and sour at the same time.  Like cranberries.

It’s interesting that this album sat in some state of completion for years – nearly a decade – before being released.  That may account for how familiar it feels.  It doesn’t sound like a tired band reuniting and trying to start the fire again.  It sounds like they never left and finally put the “Zombie” days behind them.  “Tomorrow” sounds the most like “Dreams” and was the lead single, but for my money it’s all about the lead album track “Conduct.”  A mid-tempo song in 6/8 with a confident but not overstated vocal and it’s 1993 all over again – and I love The Cranberries.

The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth

It might surprise you to learn that “Transcendental Youth” is the fourteenth studio album by The Mountain Goats.  While leader John Darnielle has often carried the name all by his lonesome, his prolific nature and intellectual lyrics remind me a bit of the pair of “John’s” otherwise known as They Might Be Giants.

But while TMBG tends to get written off as a novelty act for kids, The Mountain Goats seem more likely to get written off as a poor man’s Flogging Molly or even Mumford and Sons.  The main difference, to me, is that The Mountain Goats make me think and want to hear the album again and again, while those other bands make me want to pour concrete into my ear holes.  Perhaps I’m being too harsh.  If so, go listen to “Little Lion Man” again and giggle when he drops the F-bomb.  Your life is complete.

There’s a lot of great little songs to think about here.  Nothing is confusing for the sake of being confusing – everything is to the point.  The songs are very brief, sparsely arranged and have the unmistakable sound of a man who can do the whole production himself but finally doesn’t have to.

The Shins – “Port of Morrow”

My favorite album of 2012 is the best Shins’ album yet.  I didn’t think so at first – after all, I’d been listening to “Wincing The Night Away” on repeat for the last 5 years and still consider “Australia” to be the most incredibly dense pop song I’ve ever heard.  (Seriously – put on headphones and look at the lyrics.  That song is insane.)

But “Port of Morrow” is something even more special.  Every song is crafted and produced to a sheen that stands up to many, many repeat plays.  At 0:55 in “Simple Song” a completely insane guitar part shows up and manages to blend perfectly.  I didn’t notice this until I saw them do it live and thought guitarist Jessica Dobson was either being silly or had straight-up lost her mind.  I put the song on in the car on the way home, and there it was.  The live mix brought it out more, but it was there all along.

Every song stands on it’s own here.  “Wincing…” had a couple of tracks that seemed half-done (or transitional) and had something of a mood change halfway through toward the morose.  There’s nothing nearly as heartbreaking as “A Comet Appears” here, but songs like “For A Fool” do a wonderful job of making light of a bad situation rather than abject despair.

It’s a rare album where you can listen to it several days in a row and have a new “favorite” song (or even a new favorite line or wacky sound) almost every day.  That electronic loop in “Bait and Switch” makes me smile every time.  It also doesn’t hurt that the music video for “Simple Song” is one of the best music videos I’ve seen in years.

The Twilight Sad – “No One Can Ever Know”

Don’t worry – this band has nothing to do with sparkly vampires.  They do have a moody, sometimes dismal air to their songs.  It’s not quite Scotland’s answer to The Cure, but one could see them on that path here and there.

The Twilight Sad has another one of those lead singers that will polarize the listener.  James Graham’s accent is so strong that nine songs and 44 minutes of it may be more than you can take.  I came across “Another Bed” while doing promotion for a local performance and was instantly smitten with them.  Sometimes you need an album that sounds like a rainy day – and “No One Can Ever Know” is that album.

It’s also fitting that I mention that their song “Kill It In The Morning” was on the very last Shankly Mixtape, probably ever.  Up until February 2012, a user named 1Shankly1 used to put up an EPIC monthly mixtape with a song from every album released that month.  They were regularly six or more CD’s worth of music and every track was from a different artist.  I really miss it and still haven’t found it’s equal for finding the best new music.  This blog post is my attempt to pass along some of my discoveries this year.  I hope you enjoy it!


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