For me, year-end lists have always been about discovery. Phoenix, Interpol, Wilco, Dirty Projectors— just a few band I didn’t first listen to until I saw their respective albums hailed on December publication lists. Yes, that means I’m often late to the game, but I’m okay with it, better late than never, right? As 2012 comes to a close this is where I’m at; These are the albums from the past year that I’ve enjoyed listening to time and time again.
10. Purity Ring – Shrines
Talk about pre-debut buzz, Purity Ring closed out a night of the Pitchfork Music Festival without having a single album released yet. Benefiting from Pitchfork endorsements and “click for the sexy picture, stay for the music” fan marketing, Purity Ring spread like wildfire. However, the Canadian duo has the talent to back it up. Shrines is an impressive debut, showcasing infectious electro pop beyond the buzz-sparking “Lofticries” and “Ungirthed.”
9. The Killers – Battle Born
I have no shame. As far as present-day rock ‘n’ roll goes, I’d take a Killers hit over a Black Keys hit any day. Also, enough about Bruce Springsteen, let it go. The Killers have their own brand of American rock, and, after four albums, they’re still going strong. Start with “Battle Born,” “Miss Atomic Bomb” and ballad “Here With Me.” And don’t be so surprised if there’s something you like.
8. Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
It’s no secret; The Smashing Pumpkins did not have a great first ten years of the millennium. But here in 2012, Billy Corgan is back with a new Pumpkins lineup and a new album, and they’re both dangerously on point. Do you ever wish there was a new Smashing Pumpkins album very much in the same vein of your beloved 90’s SP albums? This is it.
7. Beach House – Bloom
Teen Dream made my short list in 2010, and here the dream-pop duo is again in 2012. Bloom is a fantastic follow-up and I regularly reach for it when I want to play an album straight through. It starts with the enchanting opener “Myth” and doesn’t let up from there. And for those who still write-off Beach House as too sleepy, play album closer “Irene,” play it LOUD.
6. Rah Rah – The Poet’s Dead
Maybe the most fun album I have on the list. Rah Rah is a hardworking Canadian indie rock band finally starting to make their mark in the States. The Poet’s Dead is their polished third album, and their best to date. There are a lot of folk rock bands popping up these days, but Rah Rah is from a different breed. A must listen!
5. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
Intense, emotional and raw. Her first album in seven years reminds us that no one does it quite like Fiona Apple. Her voice continues to command as minimal sounds beautifully compliment it. The Idler Wheel… isn’t going to find its way onto many party playlists, but in the right setting, listening to one track can easily turn into two or three full album spins.
4. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
On her third album, Sharon Van Etten presents her most accessible material yet. However, in doing so, she compromises none of the sincerity or vulnerability that has made her music so powerful and beautiful. New to Sharon Van Etten? Start with Tramp’s “Give Out,” “Serpents” or the ode to Leonard Cohen, “Leonard.” Stay for “All I Can,” Kevin’s” and so much more.
3. The Walkmen – Heaven
The first track of The Walkmen’s 2002 first album is “They’re Winning.” Heck, their first album is titled Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone. Now, here in 2012, the band’s seventh album is titled Heaven and its first track is “We Can’t Be Beat.” The perennial underdogs have shown there’s life beyond the volatility of twenty-something living. It seems the early album themes of jealously, anxiousness and uncertainty don’t last forever. In the ten years since their debut, The Walkmen’s sound has continued to grow and mature, and much like in life, it’s better for it.
2. The xx – Coexist
The young British trio is here to stay. Coexist might not have as many dance-friendly beats as the debut, but in exchange, it’s more personal and focused. The sophomore follow-up to a promising debut is always highly scrutinized; everyone wants it to be as excellent as the first, yet, by no means a duplicate of it. Not only does Coexist accomplish that, but in my opinion, it tops the 2009 debut.
1. Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts
If someone told me in January 2012 that my favorite album of the year was going to be a Norah Jones album, I wouldn’t have believed it, largely because I wasn’t a Norah Jones fan. 2009’s The Fall did spark my interest but I never was on board for any of her megahit albums of the 2000s. For Little Broken Hearts, Jones teamed up with producer Danger Mouse, and the result was a refreshingly beautiful and vulnerably honest album. And lyrically, it doesn’t get much better. Simple and understated, yet, exhaustively real: “Cause you never hurt/ Someone who wants to learn/ To be your slave.”