Words: Jordan Catalana, Kathryn Freund, Bryant Kitching,
James Passarelli, Ryan Waring, James Wayne, & Will Yates
Art: Steph Holm
Three and a half years ago, a few wide-eyed college kids, having fled in separate ways to foreign lands for new discoveries, reckoned to found themselves a music publication as a way to share their journeys through song, both with each other and with anyone who cared. The Inflatable Ferret’s changed a bit since. It’s become a lot of things; it’s become nothing. But you always remember your first love. And it wouldn’t feel right without answering the question that kicked off this whole crazy experiment: What ‘s the best thing you’re listening to?
20. Tame Impala – Lonerism
To the extent that most music replicates and builds upon the past, there seem to be big holes in music history that recent creators won’t touch. Tame Impala are one of the few bands today interested in reviving late 60’s psychedelic pop, and the results could not be better. On Lonerism, you can find Pink Floyd’s drum breakdowns with plenty of studio phaser effects, John Lennon’s “Day in the Life” mourning, and the Zombies’ stressed synth noises. But this album is so much more than tribute; its philosophical lyrics, danceable melodies, and space-out moments prove that one can have all the benefits of pop without the banality, and mix it with the adventurous spirit of psychedelics. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” may be the best song of the year, and you could get people from almost any music camp to agree. - WY
19. The Shins – Port of Morrow
Broken Bells sure served nobly as a stand-in. But I’ve seen too many syrupy Coca Cola commercials to stave off a nostalgic thirst for the real thing for too long, so it’s refreshing that James Mercer finally revived the project that first and frequently arrested the indiesphere. Port of Morrow is The Shins’ first release in half a decade, but the only rust to be found resides in the gorgeous artwork within the album’s liner notes. Mercer supplements the group’s saccharine, stripped-down acoustic and soaring choruses with the spacey static and falsetto he’d explored aside Danger Mouse over the past few years. The fusion allows for some coolly strange anthems like “Simple Song” and “Fall of ‘82.” - RW
18. METZ – METZ
It’s hard to compare any grunge rock album this year to the gritty, cacophonous sound storm that is METZ’s Subpop debut. Each track on METZ feels electrifyingly live, as if you’ve been transported into a grimy pub hall with a hundred kids banging their heads to the beats of pounding drum kicks and cymbal smashes. (And those drum kicks are hard to miss, even for the hard-of-hearing.) If there’s one word that could sum up this album in its entirety, it would be: LOUD – in the best sense of the word. - KF
17. Breakbot – By Your Side
Remember how much people hated disco in the seventies and early eighties? Well, neither do I, but you get the point; music critics and others view the seventies’ disco era as pretty terrible. So why revive something that music critics don’t like? Ask that question to Thibaut Berland aka Breakbot and he would probably be too covered with sweat and tired from dancing to care.
By Your Side’s lead single “Baby I’m Yours” came out a full two years before the album, and through a successive release of several other singles including “Fantasy” and “Programme,” had us eagerly awaiting the release of the whole album. All the time paid off because the end result is a cohesive, piano dappled and brass injected dance record that is as fun as it is worthy of praise. With features from Michael Jackson sound-alike Ruckazoid and Ifrane, who turns every song to gold, Breakbot’s “Nu Disco” chocolate record is sweet, easy and funky. - JW
16. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
While 2012 may forever go down as the year of EDM, Athens, AL foursome Alabama Shakes still managed to stand out with their 1970s Muscle Shoals-inspired debut LP, Boys & Girls. Guided by powerhouse frontwoman Brittany Howard, the record brims with a soulful vitality rarely heard in music so indebted to the past. Howard embodies the inherent grief and remorse of the Blues when she howls, “Didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old/There must be someone up above sayin’, ‘Come on Brittany, you got to come on up/You got to hold on…’” on standout “Hold On.” Boys & Girls was one of the more hyped releases of 2012’s first half, but it never sounds rushed. It shows an intimate understanding of the genre’s bearded, whiskey-sipping forefathers, yet still plants it’s feet firmly in the moment. - BK
15. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
In a contest for best album title, Dirty Projectors is without equal, or anything close. Ditto for the “Most Mind-Blowingly Attractive Members” award. But since all is music, and music is all, Swing Lo Magellan rests comfortably at fifteen. To say the album lacks the innovation of 2009’s whalish plea does injustice to the band’s inevitable evolution in the past few years, even if it is true. Even the most periphery fan would recognize this as a Projectors album, but toned down songs, like the deceptively simple[/complex?] title track, set it apart from the band’s previous work. Longstreth, Coffman, and company have never sailed down the main stream; Swing Lo Magellan finds these bold explorers cruising down some of its most soothing tributaries, without having sacrificed an inch of the dynamism that’s made them both a crowd and critic favorite. - JP
14. DIIV – Oshin
Was 2012 the year of the supergroup? DIIV’s wildfire spread through the indie scene sure played the largest part in fueling that impression, and it’s no wonder why. The Brooklyn coalition dropped what should be the criterion handbook for future group mergers. Oshin amplifies Beach Fossils’ jangly, repetitive guitarmonies with Smith Westerns’ propensity for climactic payoffs to create something wholly of its own. Standouts like “Human”, “How Long Have You Known”, and “Doused” sound like real offspring as opposed to some clunky, Velvet Revolver-like, Morph Thing of a child. – RW
13. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Japandroids’ aptly-titled sophomore LP rages like that party from back in high school that you and your friends still talk about. Celebration Rock opens with the line, “Don’t we have anything to live for? Well, of course we do, but until it comes true, we’re drinking,” and doesn’t look back at any point during the next eight tracks. The album improves on the Toronto duo’s solid 2009 debut LP by trimming the fat while still embodying an earnest, wide-eyed youthfulness. Topics almost exclusively include drinking, smoking and partying, yet it’s all you can do not to hit ‘repeat’ as the sound of fireworks fade out after ferocious closing track “Continuous Thunder.” – BK
12. Amadou & Mariam – Folila
On the Malian couple’s sixth album, Amadou & Mariam come out of the gates sprinting, with many Western friends helping out. Whether their blues is appropriately matched with Santigold’s deep timbre or Theophilus London’s old skool rapping, it’s hugely enjoyable. Another American collaboration features Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, but hearing their plaintiff falsetto, usually set to melancholic, electric tunes, in a peppy chorus of Bambara is more jarring than the “pleasingly international” I think they were aiming for. But this is not to say the duo are trying to strike off into unknown territory. Beautiful jangling guitars, hand-drum percussion and Mariam’s soaring pipes are all there as on their previous successes. Moreover, none of their overseas friends crowd the songs. There’s still time for the couple to shine in their trademark way that could make any poo-pooer of “world music” smile.
11. Chuck Prophet – Temple Beautiful
If you don’t like Chuck Prophet, I don’t like you. No changing my mind. Forget the Omaha reference thirty seconds into the album, or that CP’s just a likeable guy. There are plenty of reasons to put Temple Beautiful on a year’s end list, not least of which is the fact that it’s a damn good album.
I haven’t stepped foot in San Francisco, but I’m guessing there are few better tour guides. Chuck’s now been at it for about two decades, and the maturity shows. But maturity for him isn’t about demure lyrics or “artfully sparse” accompaniment. It’s about unabashed, sing-along fun. Attend a gig and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. In the meantime, give his latest a spin. – JP
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