Favorite Albums of 2012

And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead - Lost Songs: This is probably the TotD album I've enjoyed most in the past 4-5 years. Few bands bring the bombast and pretension as hard and as strong as this band, and this album suggests that they have every right to continue doing so.

Ben Folds Five - The Sound of the Life of the Mind: I don't understand how anyone who enjoyed BFF's previous stuff or his (in my mind superior) solo stuff could slag this record, as it is representative of the strengths of all his previous work but with the distinct polished sound that comes from a trio who's played together for years. A fun, fantastic album.

Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory: This is an album with zero filler, some of the most wonderfully angsty/angry yet sincere lyrics I've encountered in a long time, and fantastic riffing and progging. I have no idea if this has picked up any radio play, but in "my day" this would have had every 16 year in school starting their own band and/or sneaking out to see a show. The album is mature and immature in all the right ways, and probably one of my top three from the year.

Bob Dylan - Tempest: A masterful, sprawling album from arguably the greatest American musician to ever live. Some might dismiss this pick as a nostalgic nod that appreciates Dylan's willingness to still write decent stuff, but I assure you this is not the case for me: this album has relevance, musicianship, and sophistication that isn't present in at least half of Dylan's catalog and it easily surpasses his last several efforts. Unlike someone like Springsteen, who has become increasingly predictable and lazy (I thought this year's "Wrecking Ball" was very by-the-numbers), Dylan continues to compel you to pay attention and disregard your preconceptions.

The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends: This is more of a collection of various projects thrown together into an "album" than a cohesive vision, but it works really well and shows the always-strange Lips continuing to branch into some interesting, bizzare directions. The band is never afraid to throw the listener for a loop, to reward multiple listenings, or to make risky choices. To my mind, they continue to be one of the most interesting and relevant bands in rock.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- Live from Alabama: My favorite singer//songwriter type of the past decade puts out a stellar live album which includes a Neil Young cover. What's not to love? This isn't a great place to start with Isbell (most should go back to his Trucker's stuff before checking out his solo albums), but once you fall in love with his writing and sound, this album should strike you as a love letter to fans

Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid: M.A.A.D. City: my appreciation from this stems, in part, from a longtime love of Dr. Dre and most of what he's associated with. I tend to check out the most mainstream, hyped hip-hop of the year and that's about it. For me, this was hands down the best and most interesting of what I heard.

The Killers - Battle Born: I unabashedly love this album, which has so many amazing power ballads that it is dizzying. Think vintage-era Boss meets the best 80s hair ballads and you're getting close. What's shocking is that I generally don't like that kind of music very much, but this one really nails it in a way that transcends my aversion to mascara and animal print leotards.

Two Gallants - The Bloom and the Blight: Two Gallants is one of those bands that could probably put out almost anything that would make my top 10 in any given year. Something about their sound just appeals to me in a way that few other bands can, as if they were put together to appeal try and successfully blend my niche interests.

Honorable mentions:

Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill - Young put out two albums this year, but only this one is worth checking out. Your appreciation of it will be directly tied to how much you like 15-20 minute long grungy jam sessions colored by occasionally vague political lyrics.

The Swans - The Seer - I need to spend more time with this one before passing final judgement (thus its absence from the list above), but this is one of the more compelling, nuanced records of the year.

The Smashing Pumpkins - Oceania - this is the best effort in a long time by my fave band, but it still isn't as good as some of the stuff above...

Godspeed You Black Emperor - Alelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! - I suspect that most of the writing I do for the next year will be with this fantastic album on in the background.

Jack White - Blunderbuss - not as good as a White Stripes or Raconteurs album, but still a lot of fun.

Marilyn Manson - Born Villain - like with the Pumpkins new album, this is his best work in some time. it unfortunately still isn't as good as anything in the above list, though

The Shins - Port of Morrow - Another great album by a stellar (if reconfigured) band. This didn't have staying power for me this year, though.