We all knew it was coming. And now it’s here. The year has been amazing for music, with a wide variety of picks for best albums of the year coming in from a group of people whose musical tastes couldn’t be more in conflict. We compiled our staff votes, filtered and balanced and distilled the totals using secret sacred scientific methods, and now present the final results.
1. P.O.S: We Don’t Even Live Here
The Rhymesayers Entertainment wildcard has found a point of precise momentum to return and deliver a downright flabbergastingly fantastic album – a facegrind down the pissed and littered alleyways of America’s cannibal culture through a beast-bounce trip with molotov slingshot surprises blasting across an anarchist’s party playlist. Through killer couplet wordplay soaked in now culture, We Don’t Even Live Here reveals, in full color, an evolved & highly refined class-warfare antagonist amidst a storm of instrumentation and effects.
Key tracks: Fuck Your Stuff, Fire In The Hole/Arrow To The Action
2. Jack White: Blunderbuss
The demise of The White Stripes still lays heavy on the hearts of both fans and the man, even after all this time. But Jack White’s Blunderbuss finally puts a candy-cane bouquet on its gravestone and seals the tomb firmly – just by being what a Stripes record could never hope to be. The full-color character immersion present on the man’s debut solo LP, recorded at White’s Third Man Studios in Tennessee, establishes a tri-colored middleground amidst the bands with which we associate him – namely the White Stripes, the Dead Weather and The Raconteurs – and transcends them all with a razor-sharp singular vision and staggering versatility that defies any of his group designs.
Key tracks: Freedom At 21, Trash Tongue Talker
3. Deftones: Koi No Yokan
This is the point of arrival in a return to confidence that Diamond Eyes promised two years ago. Koi No Yokan conveys a band outrunning the shadow of their agonies, and – aided by returning producer Nick Raskulinecz – constructing a world of spectacular dynamics through peripheral textures and pendular intensity, in the most evolved musicianship of the Sacramento rockers’ careers.
With Koi No Yokan, Deftones have delivered a calculated and fragile devastation, a feather floating upward in the calming air of the eye of a hurricane. There are no disjointed moments, no breaks in flow; the album is a richly-layered jedi high-wire dance that makes one wonder where the 52 minutes went, a conveyance of truly impressive growth, while flexing the entirety of strengths the band is founded upon.
Key tracks: Romantic Dreams, Graphic Nature
4. Soundgarden: King Animal
Rather than cower in nostalgia or pander to the bandwagons, Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron have returned with a progressively demanding, wide-reaching power play of reestablishment. The framework is unfiltered and undeniably Soundgarden – moody, thick with riffs and vortexes of rhythm – but with the kind of evolution mandated by the progressive state of Rock today.
However shaky the peace, whatever the motivations, the reunion we first saw signs of backstage at a Pearl Jam show two years ago has come to full fruition, and the results are worth celebrating.
Key tracks: Rowing, By Crooked Steps
5. Baroness: Yellow & Green
Seventeen songs deep into the new Baroness double-album Yellow & Green, frontman John Baizley screams the lyric “walk the line between the righteous and the wicked.” This is exactly what he and his band mates are doing in 2012, as the group puts it all on the line with a new album that showcases the band’s evolution from their sludge metal roots into arguably one of the most innovative Rock n’ Roll bands on the planet today.
Divided into two separate records titled Yellow and Green respectively, Baroness has truly taken to heart their mission statement of keeping an open mind, confront challenges, avoid repetition and take the music to diverse audiences. Gone are the detuned palm muted riffs of Red Album and in its place are lush melodies, solid grooves and vocals rich in melody and emotion.
Key tracks: Eula, March To The Sea
6. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel
She’s still broken. She’s still a child. She’s still a hostage to her own fits of self-absorbed melodrama – and Jesus Fucking Christ, someone get that woman to eat a sandwich. Fiona Apple doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve – she claws at herself until it’s beating from her shredded chest in full view, drowning us in the most elegantly arcing showers of blood. And with ten new, lovely and jarring offerings, she’s back upon the altar, at it again. Better than ever.
Key tracks: Daredevil, Anything We Want
7. Witchcraft: Legend
We should have done a better job of bringing Witchcraft’s Legend to your attention, dear readers. Skwerl has supposedly been slacking / working on a review that could do it justice ever since its Nuclear Blast release in September, but its placement on this list should give you an idea of how we feel about it. These Swedes somehow manage to blend the spirits of Sabbath and Zeppelin together, with a touch of California desert rock influence perhaps, and yet it doesn’t feel “retro” or derivative. It’s metal enough for the hessians and groovy enough for the potheads, and it’s current enough for the rest of society that washes their hair. But most importantly, it’s original enough to fill a very specific niche in your record collection, one that we don’t recommend leaving empty.
Key tracks: Deconstruction, Democracy
8. The Hives: Lex Hives
The new Hives record Lex Hives, which roughly translates as “Hives’ Law,” is a blast of bombastic fantasticness that far eclipses their last offering The Black and White Album, a fine-tuning of their Ramones-meets-Stooges-on-speed formula and a trimming of the fat for a beautiful leap into the world of independent self-release. It’s worn proudly on the sleeve right alongside the goofy megalomania on 1000 Answers when Almqvist howls, “I’ve got a thousand answers / One’s gotta be right / Give me a thousand chances / then I’ll get it right“. The cadence, the attitude, the jet-fueled delivery, it’s all there. Join the party.
Key tracks: Come On, 1000 Answers
9. Mark Lanegan: Blues Funeral
Blues Funeral is Lanegan’s first solo output since 2004?s excellent Bubblegum, and was recorded with Queens of The Stone Age/Them Crooked Vultures/Eleven multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes at his 11AD studios in Hollywood, CA, Blues Funeral features appearances from numerous friends and collaborators including Jack Irons (Eleven, Pearl Jam), Greg Dulli (Gutter Twins), Josh Homme (Queens of The Stone Age) and, of course, the inimitable Johannes.
Lanegan’s quality consistency leads us confidently through a spectral variety of sound that few other artists can convincingly achieve. His haunted romance and midnight hymns have reached new heights on Blues Funeral, and we’re happily chasing the hearse down that old dirt road, once again.
Key tracks: Gray Goes Black, Harborview Hospital
10. Smashing Pumpkins: Oceania
The last fifteen years have been hard on Smashing Pumpkins fans. But at long last, it’s officially time to drop the pitchforks and stop complaining about Corgan keeping the band name – Oceania has made it clear that he still possesses the ability to write a Pumpkins’ album, and the new band is more than capable of joining him for the ride.
Key tracks: Quasar, Panopticon
11. Ultraísta: Ultraísta
12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
13. 8mm: Between The Devil And Two Black Hearts
14. Marilyn Manson: Born Villain
15. The Mars Volta: Noctourniquet
16. Scissor Sisters: Magic Hour
17. Metric: Synthetica
18. Dirty Ghosts: Metal Moon
19. Sleigh Bells: Reign Of Terror
20. Cat Power: Sun
21. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: The Lion, The Beast, The Beat
22. Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls
23. Local H: Hallelujah! I’m A Bum
24. Japandroids: Celebration Rock
25. Black Light Burns: The Moment You Realize You’re Going To Fall
Don’t like our picks? Think you can do better? Click here to let us know!