2011 was an interesting time for music. I swear that I spent more time rediscovering old stuff than trying anything new. When I did try something new, it was usually to get hooked on an awesome single only to be disappointed by the rest of the album (I'm looking at you, Grouplove!). This got really tiring after a while, but that's what happens when none of your favorite bands release an album that year! Still, there were some noticeable highlights on the album front, and I've got my top six right here...
#1 Torches by Foster The People.
It's odd when you've been following a band only to have them hit the big time. I remember heading to Seattle to see Mother Love Bone (which morphed into Pearl Jam) and Nirvana play before the whole "Grunge" scene exploded, and it was both wonderful and horrible at the same time. On one hand you're overjoyed that a band you like has found success... on the other hand, you have trouble finding tickets to see them perform! Foster the People kind of flew under the radar for a while, but I became a massive fan from the very first time I stumbled across them on the internet. And look where we are now. Sold out shows everywhere they go. In the end, I can't really blame people for loving the band, because the eclectic influences Mark Foster incorporates into his music makes everything sound so new and fresh. Their debut album incorporates the songs from their awesome EP and adds even more musical genius to make Torches my favorite album of 2012. Yeah, it's overplayed, but Pumped Up Kicks is such genius that it never gets old.
#2 Holy Ghost by Holy Ghost.
Holy Ghost hit my radar last year when they did a "Battle EP" vs. Friendly Fires. In my humble opinion, they won hands-down with their cover track Hold On despite my being a big fan of Friendly Fires. But who in the heck was "Holy Ghost?" I'd never even heard of them before. Then their self-titled debut was released and the only thing that mattered was that I know who they are now. This album is lethally infectious and jam-packed with catchy 80's-flavored pop singles that never leave your head. As if that weren't enough, they got Michael McDonald(!) to collaborate on one of the tracks! The only real criticism I have is that some of the songs have repetitive bits that can drive you crazy. Slow Motion is almost unlistenable it's so bad. Hold My Breath has fucking amazing music, but the ever-repeating "I took some money from the joint account" line is irritating as hell and makes little sense. But, that's Holy Ghost for you, for better or worse. Regardless, the minute I start up the album and hear that intro beat for Do It Again, I'm hooked all over again... which is why this is my #2 album for 2012.
#3 Wasting Light by The Foo Fighters.
My favorite FF album is their self-titled debut and I played the shit out of it back in 1995. Alan Wilder had just left my favorite band of all time (Depeche Mode) and it was the Foo Fighters who came to my rescue in a time of musical crisis. Seven albums later, along comes Wasting Light to remind everybody what a rock album sounds like. While not quite on the level as the more commercial tracks I love, it's nice to hear Grohl & Co. moving forward. Sure there's catchy favorites like Walk and Rope as you'd expect... but there's also raw, blistering tracks like White Limo to keep things interesting. I've come to assume consistently great work from the Foo Fighters, but it took something different to make me really appreciate them as a band all over again. In addition to amazing music, Foo Fighters have some of the best videos ever. The intro for Walk goes on a little too long, but I love it anyway because it sets up the song so wonderfully.
#4 Last Night on Earth by Noah & the Whale
I'll be straight with you, this album isn't going to set the world on fire. It's an acceptable blend of pop and folk that is a pleasant diversion from the standard radio fare, and that's about it. Except... some of the songs are so beautifully executed that I find myself playing Last Night on Earth far more than I normally would. When I was preparing this list I was plenty shocked at the play counts I'd racked up in iTunes. It's almost as if I play it non-stop, which I probably do when I'm working. Reason enough to have this as my #4 for 2011.
#5 Panic of Girls by Blondie
Their last album left me sick with disappointment, so I was reluctant to hop on the Blondie bandwagon again... but boy did they deliver with Panic of Girls! This is a terrific album and a decidedly more mature effort than their early works. I love that the sound for each track is subtly eclectic and interesting... but also so uniquely "Blondie" sounding. Nice to know that Deborah Harry can still belt out a song with the best of them... I'll take her over Adele any day of the week.
#6 Days by Real Estate
Bordering on "easy listening," this album filled with hazy dreamy drifting songs that sparkle just enough to keep you awake. That may sound like a bad thing, but there are times when I'm working or driving that this is exactly what I need in the background of my life.
And before I go...
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR!
The Murf by Rendezvous.
Though, quite honestly, this could very well be the best music video of the decade...
Amazing. Just amazing. I've watched it dozens of times and see something new each time. BOW DOWN BEFORE THE ALMIGHTY SQUID YOU WHALE-WORSHIPING BLASPHEMERS!
SINGLE OF THE YEAR!
Midnight City by M83.
This innovative musical dreamscape that combines a lot of distinctly different elements into a really sweet track had me really excited for the album it came from, Hurry Up We're Dreaming. Unfortunately, the other songs there didn't grab me enough for the album to make my list. Still, the video is pretty darn cool...
I could have just as easily dropped Tounge Tied by Grouplove here. Amazing single, not so amazing album.
And that about sums it up. I'd list my "Worst Albums of 2012," but I never really latched on to anything truly bad this year. I suppose I could ask "What happened to The Decemberists with their new album "The King is Dead?" What's with the twang? Have they gone country? Have they gone INSANE? A huge misstep that may have cost them a fan... but still, there were nice bits too, so it's not like I could even label it as one of the "worst" I had heard this year.
I guess Lady Gaga could get the honor since Born This Way was pretty shitty. It was supposed to be some kind of gay anthem, but she ended up mocking the people she professed to be helping by putting bones on her face and shoulders then giving birth to herself from a giant egg. Well, baby, nobody is fucking born THAT way. All you did was turn yourself into exactly the kind of freak that simple-minded morons already label the gays with, which means the people who could have been influenced by your music were turned away. If you truly wanted to make a difference, you should have put your "art" on the back burner and sang the songs in jeans and a T-shirt or something. But still, her heart was in the right place and I'm guessing she managed to touch those she intended to lift up with her music, so I guess it's not so terrible after all? I dunno.
Anyway... here's hoping that next year all my favorite bands are back with new material in 2012 so I'll have an easier time making my list next December.