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411’s Top 25 Albums of 2012 (#10 – 6)

January 24, 2013 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

Welcome to 411’s Top 25 Albums of 2012! Are you burned out on year-end lists yet? Well, hopefully not as we have one more for you! 2012 saw the release of many great albums from a variety of genres, from pop and rap to rock, alternative, even folk and electronica/dance music. The field of popular music diversified greatly over the last twelve months; when it’s all said and done however, there were some albums that just rose to the top and deserved to be honored as the best of the year. We of the 411 music zone chose to honor those efforts.

To present this list, every 411 writer had the opportunity to share their top 25 albums that were released during 2012. After the staff provided their lists, the results were tabulated and compiled into one single top 25 list. Writers took several things into account, from chart performance and individual sounds to the personal tastes, the album’s progression (for good or ill) of the artist’s catalog and much more. Keep in mind when reading this list that it is one that spanned all genres, and every staff member of 411 has different tastes. Some value certain criteria more than others do. We don’t all agree on what albums deserved the top spots, but we all respect each other’s choices and hope you can do the same. We begin out list today with the five albums that just missed the cut, a recap of what’s come before and then #10 through #6.

Stone Sour – House of Gold and Bones Part 1
Green Day – ¡Uno!
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Shinedown – Amaryllis
Japandroids – Celebration Rock

The List So Far:
#25: B.o.B. – Strange Clouds
#24: The Killers – Battle Born
#23: Marina & The Diamonds – Electra Heart
#22: The Lumineers – The Lumineers
#21: Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
#20: Soundgarden – King Animal
#19: Testament – Dark Roots of Earth
#18: Muse – The 2nd Law
#17: G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
#16: Black Country Communion – Afterglow
#15: Bob Dylan – Tempest
#14: Lana Del Rey – Born to Die
#13: Taylor Swift – Red
#12: Slash – Apocalyptic Love
#11: Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls

#10: Halestorm – The Strange Case Of…

Billboard 200: #15
Rock Albums: #7
Hard Rock Albums: #1
    • “Love Bites (So Do I)”
    • “Here’s to Us”
    • “I Miss The Misery”

Joseph Lee: Somewhere along the way, rock and roll got really serious and bands forgot that this is supposed to be fun. Halestorm is bringing the fun back to rock music with their style of devil-may-care songs. The songs just rock, for lack of a better description. “Love Bites,” “Mz Hyde,” “Daughters of Darkness” and more just hit you with wave after wave of awesome. Even without the use of screaming, curse words or anything else that the more hardcore bands use, Halestorm shakes up today’s world of sterilized pop-rock like Nickelback, Sixx AM and Adelitas Way. Lzzy Hale is a rock queen and you should all bow before her.

Jeremy Thomas: I’ve certainly made no secret of my love for Halestorm’s second album over the past year. Lzzy Hale’s voice is quite probably my favorite in hard rock right now; the twenty-four year-old frontwoman has an incredibly powerful and versatile set of pipes that run the gamut on this LP. She draws favorable comparisons to the likes of Joan Jett, Lita Ford, the Wilson sisters and many more of rock’s greatest frontwomen. Halestorm is a young band but they’re already becoming a force to be reckoned with in the industry, touring with as many as 250 shows a year and delivering non-stop solid work. On The Strange Case Of…, the band takes on a heavier sound and while there are certainly some radio-friendly songs for a younger crowd such as “Here’s to Us” and “In Your Room,” much of the album is a full-on, all-out rock assault. Joe Hottinger, Josh Smith and Arejay Hale deliver strong instrumental work and the lyrical content is consistently good throughout. The key thing that comes to mind whenever I think about this album is “fun.” Halestorm appears to be trying to bring a sense of fun back to a genre that sometimes gets lost in trying to be too serious and hard. This was one of my most listened-to albums of 2012 and for good reason.

#9: Nas – Life is Good

Billboard 200: #1
R*B/Hip-Hop Albums: #1
Rap Albums: #1
    • “Nasty”
    • “The Don”
    • “Daughters”

Tony Acero: Nas is one of those rappers whose records speak for themselves. Nas has the unfortunate burden of being the creator of Illmatic, an album that some call the greatest ever. When someone creates a debut album that pretty much takes the world by storm, such as Nas did, people pay attention. Nas showed just how lyrically besting he was and how great a storyteller he was in one album, and although it’s such a positive thing, it’s almost an assurance that an album thereafter was going to have his detractors. In many ways, however, Life is Good is a callback to that very album while still being able to stand on its own. In a world where rap is turning into some sort of parody of itself, Nas settled in with his own style, didn’t alter it too much, and let us all know that he’s still here – and so is Hip Hop. It’s pretty introspective, and although there are themes we have seen and heard (gangsta’s lament, loving father, player’s remorse, etc.), it’s the stories that are told to get there that make this album all the better. Much love goes to the production of the album that sees No I.D. doing what he does best and that’s making hits that aren’t overbearing. I’ve never been to New York, but of all the stories that I’ve ever heard or read about in the city, Nas is one of the people that make it seem real. He is the epitome of a street poet, and this album is every bit as street as it is poetry.

Chad Webb: Rap is a divisive genre of music. You’ll have people that hate it and those who adore it. I fall somewhere in the middle. I love rap when the artist has something to say, but let’s face it, these days the game contains a lot of wannabes, posers and mediocrity. For me, Nas is not one of the most consistent rap artists, but THE most consistent. Is every album as groundbreaking as Illmatic? No, but they are almost all special and blazingly fantastic. Life is Good is another terrific piece from someone who constantly proves he is one of the best.

What is Nas’ 10th album about? Well, one need only look at the title to figure that out. Nas delves deep into the mistakes he’s made, and as a result this is a very mature release from a man whose previously album titles include God’s Son and Nastradamus. After all, he’s holding the wedding dress of his ex-wife on the cover. Rap is commonly focused on ego, and Nas has shown that as much as anyone over the years, but with Life is Good he is growing older and that has produced some of his most personal and even accessible material. It is saturated with memorable verses and hooks, such as tracks like “Daughters,” “The Don,” and “Cherry Wine” featuring the later Amy Winehouse.

Life is Good is an expressive and almost elegant album, with a story that remains cohesive until the last number. He doesn’t gamble too much on this offering. In many ways it is scaled back, a return to the simpler style that made his a recognizable name. It’s crazy to think about the fact that Nas has been hitting homeruns in rap for almost 20 years now. He has not lost any of his attitude with any of these words or beats, but he has become more sophisticated and earnest, which hints at what could be an exciting new phase to his oeuvre.

#8: Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre is Evil

Billboard 200: #10
Rock Albums: #8
Alternative Albums: #3
    • “Do It With a Rockstar”
    • “The Killing Type”
    • “Want It Back”

Sean Comer: This isn’t 2012’s best collection of songs. This is 2012’s best album. There is absolutely a difference. Bully for us all, Amanda Palmer understands the difference.

Theatre Is Evil is a flowing construct of compositions, Palmer’s characteristic sardonic lyricism wrapped in the warmest, biggest instrumentation she’s yet explored. Contrary to the grimmer, crescendo minimalism of, say, Evelyn Evelyn or the first full-length Dresden Dolls album, Theatre Is Evil drips with rich string, piano, synth and guitar textures that’s delightfully full.

Palmer’s overt cynicism is, as ever, as dryly witty and sardonically genuine as Tori Amos’ tends to be bare-nerve vulnerable and tender. It makes for enticing juxtaposition against the musically brighter tones of especially the album’s first five proper tracks, from “Smile (Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen)” through “Grown Man Cry.” With Theatre Is Evil, Palmer makes her most convincing case yet for being anointed her generation’s most exploratory, definitively talented singer-songwriter.

Jeremy Thomas: Those who may have read my two-part 8 Ball wherein I listed my personal top 16 albums of the year will know that I had Theatre is Evil at the top of my list for 2012. We Amanda Palmer fans are a passionate bunch regarding her music and artistry; this is evidence by the way that she managed to gain over $1 million in funding to release Theatre is Evil independently, without label support. But it clearly isn’t just us, as most of the people who donated did so enough that we got the album along with our donation. Even with Palmer giving those away as a reward tier for donations, she was still able to take that album—without the marketing support of a major label, mind—all the way to a top 10 Billboard debut. That makes the LP a triumph for independently-produced music, but it also set the bar very high for the album. I don’t exaggerate when I say that, in my (somewhat) humble estimation, it passed that bar. This is one of the most sophisticated pop albums in years; it is both challenging and rewarding on an emotional level. Palmer’s lyrics are both quirky and smart; they manage to be clever without losing any poignancy and the musical style crosses several boundaries without ever losing cohesion. I’ve turned a very critical eye onto this LP, trying to find fault in order to ensure that I wasn’t just overrating it and I cannot. It well deserves its position on this list.

#7: fun. – Some Nights

Billboard 200: #2
Rock Albums: #1
Alternative Albums: #1
    • “We Are Young”
    • Some Nights”
    • Carry On”

Bill Wannop: Fun. seemed to blast onto the scene this year with one of the best albums of the year from start to finish. In terms of overall quality, this album had everything. A great run away single in “We Are Young” as well as a follow up single that is currently climbing up the charts with “Some Nights”. I was pleasantly surprised when I first put this album on and have been listening to it frequently ever since.

After “We Are Young” was released, I thought this group had every aspect of becoming just another one hit wonder, however that is not the case at all. Pretty much every track on this disc could be a hit radio single. From the upbeat “All Alone” to the slower “All Alright” this album has every type of music and the group has efficiently been able to seamlessly blend across genres.

What was even more surprising about the group is that this is not their debut album. Their debut album Aim and Ignite was released in 2008 and, while not up to par with their current album, is not a bad album its own right, proving that Fun. has more than enough staying power to produce a long line of hits.

Jeremy Thomas: Like Bill, I was absolutely sure upon seeing the success of “We Are Young” that fun. was destined to become a one-hit wonder. Some breakout success songs just have that feel to them, and this certainly fit that mold. (Carly Rae Jepsen is another example of that, and she may well prove me right.) Thus, it was much to my surprise when the band became one of the biggest things in the music industry for 2012, and not just because of that one hit. The band is riding on top of the world thanks to Some Nights, an indie pop record that—like the best indie pop tends to do—takes elements from different genres and blends it into one musically fascinating mix. The band has been compared favorable to Queen and that’s not an unfair comparison; they blend everything from power pop and rock to a bit of folk and even some Afrobeat to create the sound of this LP. The lyrical content is surprisingly good; it is smart and witty while following a well-paced rise and fall of emotional content. There may still be some question as to whether the band can follow up on this success of Some Nights with their next album, but I would certainly not bet against them at this point.

#6: Mumford and Sons – Babel

Billboard 200: #1
Folk Albums: #1
Rock Albums: #1
    • “I Will Wait”
    • “Lover of the Light”

Jeff Modzelewski: After the stunning success of their debut album, Mumford and Sons finally released their follow up. Babel doesn’t dramatically change the formula that led to their success, but it does show some musical growth, and it puts to rest any thoughts that Mumford would be a one trick pony. They took their time to write and record the album, and the result is a well-written, well-produced and powerful sophomore effort. Mumford has opened the door for folk bands to find success in today’s musical landscape, and many artists have taken advantage of the opportunity. It’s clear, however, that Mumford intends to maintain their relevance and success, and Babel is a fitting follow up to their smash debut.

Jack Stevenson: I was surprised to see this album reach the dizzying heights of 6th place; I don’t know about over in the States, but here in the U.K the meteoric rise of Mumford & Sons has brought with it a loud backlash from fans and critics alike, annoyed by their occasionally clumsy song-writing, or their apparent status as fake Irish folk singers, or even because one or two of the band members are lucky enough to come from privileged backgrounds. And these critics have a point, to a degree. Sometimes you wish lead singer Marcus Mumford would take some lessons from his phenomenally talented ex-girlfriend Laura Marling, who is able to convey rage or sadness without screaming and swearing at the top of her voice. The Sons undeniably take influence from bands such as the Pogues, and undeniably are not as good as the Pogues. A couple of them do have families who could probably bankroll them through the leaner periods of a musician’s career, though quite how that affects their musical talents I’m not entirely sure. The point is, Mumford & Sons are a divisive band, and seeing them come in 6th place ahead of legends like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen is eyebrow raising to say the least.

But I really like Mumford & Sons, and I really, really like Babel. The waist-coated whippersnappers know full well that what made them such an international phenomenon was their distinct brand of adrenaline pumping, foot-stomping, barnyard folk rock, and instead of trying to re-invent themselves they’ve spent the three years between their debut and their second album perfecting their sound. As such, when the Sons hit their stride on Babel, the album soars. I Will Wait, the record’s third song and first single, is a shining example of this; it’s a rousing cacophony of noise, Marcus Mumford roaring joyfully over the sound of a triumphant trumpet, gleefully demanding that the lady of whom the song is addressed to paints his spirit gold and keeps his heart slow. Towards the album’s conclusion we get perhaps an even better version of this in Hopeless Wanderer, a sprawling epic of a song which brings back the trumpets of triumph and allows them to mingle with a furious acoustic guitar, while Mumford again bellows to be heard over the noise. What’s more, some of Babel’s slower moments aren’t at all bad either; ‘Ghosts that we Knew’ and ‘Lover’s Eyes’ are two mournful, more introspective songs sandwiching the bouncy ‘Lover of the Light,’ and are quietly effective in their roles, also managing to provide two catchy choruses in the process.

There are, however, some flaws. The title track is a decidedly middling start to the album, veering dangerously close to melodrama, while Broken Crown and Below my Feet both dive head-first into it; the former only seems to exist so Mumford can say the word ‘fuck,’ while the latter dabbles in some ill-advised experimentation with an electric guitar and sees our noble lead singer let his emotions run him rather ragged. The end result feels like a Coldplay song. In contrast, Reminder is a totally forgettable two minutes, and these missteps do harm the album.

So, is it the 6th best album of 2012? I can’t say it is. But it is a good album, far better than the Sons’ vocal detractors might have you believe. If you enjoyed Sigh No More, you will absolutely adore Babel.

And there you have it! Come back tomorrow as we reveal #5 – 1!


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Jeremy Thomas
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