411’s Top 25 Albums of 2012 (#15 – 11)
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 our list today with the five albums that just missed the cut, a recap of what’s come before and then #15 through #11.
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
|Billboard 200: #3
Folk Albums: #1
Chad Nevett: With every album you love, there’s a listening experience where you fall in love. It may happen on the first listen, it may happen on the one thousandth and first listen but it happens. That moment where everything comes together and it’s no longer an album you simply ‘don’t mind’ or like or even enjoy – it’s an album you love. It’s worked its way in and gained a little special place inside that it will forever hold. And, every time you hear that album, somewhere in your head, you will be reminded of that moment where you fell in love with it, where it won that special place inside you, where it is forever tied. Tempest gained that spot inside of me on September 29, mere weeks after it came out. I had listened to it maybe a dozen times before that day, that morning to be exact, and I liked it. There was a lively spirit to the album that was more tempered with a dark edge than Dylan’s previous album, Together through Life.
On the morning of September 29, I took an exam to gain certification for my job. It was the culmination of a year-long course and the exam was worth 80% of the course. Passing would mean advancement; failing would mean retaking it and suffering some embarrassment and humiliation. Walking out of the exam, I wasn’t sure how I did. I didn’t feel great and all I had with me, while waiting for the bus, was Tempest in my discman. At first, I only half-listened, while running questions from the exam through my head, second-guessing myself, berating myself, and trying to convince myself that I had done well, while doubting those reassuring attempts. Gradually, though, the music crept in and took hold of me. Dylan’s raspy, broken-sounding voice grabbed my attention and demanded that I listen. That I give him that attention. And I did. And I felt better. And I fell in love. For me, that’s why Tempest is one of the best albums of 2012. Because, those are the moments that matter in music. Those personal moments of salvation and joy where everything comes together so that a song, an album, can suddenly take on profound meaning, lift the spirit, and offer something more than a series of notes and words. It is something that Bob Dylan is exceptional at and continues to do.
Jeremy Thomas: Few artists are able to remain relevant for even five years after they hit the music scene. Bob Dylan has done so for fifty years and is still going strong. On Tempest, Dylan’s thirty-fifth studio album (yes, thirty-fifth), the folk rock icon presents to us what may well be his darkest album to date. Anyone who may possibly think that Dylan has lost his edge in the later parts of his career would do well to give this LP a spin; it’s full of dark humor and darker observations from the man who has taken aim at just about everything in his storied musical life. Vivid imagery haunts this album; on “Soon After Midnight” he sings about dragging a corpse through the mud while the title track, about the singing of the Titanic, is a fourteen-minute epic that describes dead bodies “already floating in the double bottom hull.” This is an unforgiving album but also a fascinating one, seeing Dylan delivering the kinds of intensely dense lyrics that we’ve become accustomed to while it takes unexpected musical turns. Dylan may not have the chart-topping success of artists who have been inspired by him these days, but in terms of quality there are not many who can even hope to be in his league.
|Billboard 200: #2
Rock Albums: #1
Alternative Albums: #1
Sean Comer: Not entirely unlike the late Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey paints her throwback to orchestral 60’s pop’s timeless artistry on an uncomplicated, somewhat austere canvas.
She takes a tone free from too many vocal acrobatics, but the layers quickly come together and tower high above the sum of their parts. She’s haunting as Nancy Sinatra’s take on Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” on lingering compositions like “Blue Jeans.” Her next effort will be telling of her lasting appeal – after all, Feist’s “1234” was a similarly refreshing throwback with little remarkable follow-through; however, Del Rey has the benefit of running with a pack of off-beat 2012 breakthroughs such as Fun. and Gotye that may push her through permanently to relevance as part of a more bare, uncomplicated movement of artistry. Here’s hoping, anyway.
Jeremy Thomas: Lana Del Rey is undoubtedly one of the more interesting stories to hit popular music in the past year. While people bemoan the cookie-cutter sound of acts like Katy Perry and Rihanna or scoff at the needlessly wacky/trashy looks invented by Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga and Ke$ha, Del Rey got called out for being manufactured in a different way, so as to appeal to the indie-pop sensibility that is increasingly finding its way into the marketplace as a response and rejection of the aforementioned acts. Del Rey’s past was scrutinized, including the fact that she apparently lived in a trailer park yet has a millionaire father who helped get her career going with a financial shot in the arm, and when she had the temerity to deliver a substandard performance on Saturday Night Live it was the exact sort of blood that the sharks were waiting to see hit the water.
No one denies that those performances weren’t great, but that doesn’t count against the album itself which is a surprisingly good affair. Maybe she’s not a great live singer, but I’m not rating the artist as a whole; just the album. From the title track that opens the LP though her songs “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games”–and frankly, the rest of the album–Del Rey (or Lizzy Grant or whatever you want to call her) provides exactly what fans have been clamoring for. It is pop music that has a very different sensibility to it and a level of depth and intellect to the lyrics that you won’t get out of the surface-scratching musical equivalents of an emoticon that many of the chart-toppers aim for. Del Rey may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s clearly a higher level of pop music and I found myself a fan despite reservations.
|Billboard 200: #1
Country Albums: #1
Tony Acero: There’s something very peculiar about Taylor Swift. On the surface, she seems like a cute little girl who is in love with the idea of love. Underneath, there may very well be a hint of disdain towards the opposite sex. Either way, if any of us have heard her albums then we know what to expect.
So why is it that Red seems to be a bit higher on the list than most other albums? Well, first off it seems just a tad bit more adult than her previous efforts. No, not groundbreaking and maturation to the umpteeth adult, but more adult than “Fifteen.” When people listen to Taylor Swift, they may very well be trying to plug in the male name of just who she is talking about, but when it’s you remove the artist known as Taylor and listen to the album on its own that you begin to see something inside of it urging to get out. There sixteen little tales in here that grow in age but never in spirit. What I mean is that every song of Taylor Swift has some semblance of relatability in it. There is no profundity in a Taylor Swift album, and there’s no deep talk. It’s very simple, really; a 22-year old female telling it like it is – according to her. Truly the best thing that this album has going for it is the ease in which it is to listen to. One can harp on how there is something powerful missing. There is no “White Horse” or “Enchanted” on this album, but Taylor shows a lot of experimentation. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but for the most part, she hits her stride and takes you along for the ride.
Jeremy Thomas: Before anyone throws a hissy fit over this, it must be noted that I did not place Red on my list of top twenty-five albums, so your anger is misdirected if it heads my way. That being said, I don’t think it is surprising that it ranked this high, even on a site where Swift is not the most respected artist out there. Whether we love her or hate her, we all have to acknowledge that the twenty-three year-old is a force to be reckoned with in the music industry, and it’s not just because she’s a pretty face with a clean-cut look that parents don’t have to worry about their kids listening to. That will only get you so far. Swift has been able to tap into a niche in the market that no one else manages to nab; while Ke$ha has the trash-pop genre locked down, Rihanna plays the Bad Girl Gone Worse card and Lady Gaga and Katy Perry alternate between sexy and sincere, Taylor Swift manages to connect to her fans via her ability to tell stories and maintain the sweet, innocent thing. Part of that is marketing of course, but marketing alone wouldn’t cover it if she couldn’t back it up in the music. Swift’s music is powerful in its simplicity. On Red, she took that simplicity and applied it to a more adult-slanted theme, throwing a bit more sass in and improving her skills as a songwriter. Musically, she continued to find her own identity as she moved further away from her country sound and more toward pop. Ultimately, Swift sounds honest and unfettered by slatherings of dance-pop production, making her something unique within the field. Do I personally think that it is one of the best albums of the year? Not particularly, but I absolutely understand why so many disagree with me and I can’t argue its placement.
|Billboard 200: #4
Rock Albums: #2
Shawn Lealos: As an unapologetic fan of everything Guns ‘N Roses, I have been waiting a long time for Slash to put out something like Apocalyptic Love. I thought Snake Pit was decent and his 2010 album with various singers was hit and miss. I enjoyed both Velvet Revolver albums, but haven’t found them very re-listenable. I don’t have that problem with Apocalyptic Love, which was my favorite album of 2012.
I feel that Myles Kennedy might be the best singer that Slash could pair up with now. His voice makes the entire album listenable, and from the first track to the last, there isn’t a song on this album I skip, which is rare for me. The biggest thing for me, however, is Slash’s guitar work on this album, which I think is the best work he has done since Use Your Illusion. This is the Slash I love to listen to and I can actually hear what I loved from his Guns ‘N Roses days playing through on this album.
I will admit that I love “You’re a Lie” a lot, which is also rare for me because the radio friendly songs are not always the ones I gravitate to. But, as I said, from start to finish, I love everything about this album and it is the best work Slash has done since leaving Guns ‘N Roses.
Jeremy Thomas: I was surprised that I enjoyed Slash’s Apocalyptic Love as much as I did. That the man is a modern-era guitar god pretty much goes without saying but I didn’t at all dig his first solo album, 2010’s Slash. There were good moments but it didn’t come together strongly and the appearance of pop stars like Adam Levine and Fergie seemed bizarrely out of left-field, no matter how much they tried to make the tracks work. However, with Apocalyptic Love the Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver guitarist put together a more cohesive album by ditching the myriad of guest vocalists and relying on one single band, fronted by Myles Kennedy. Kennedy is no Axl Rose but he’s a very capable rock singer and his voice is a good match for the thirteen tracks on the album. Slash is in great form and the rest of the band does well also, providing an album that shifts smoothly from rock anthems to sleazy-sounding guitar-heavy rockers and more melodic affairs. This is the first album from Slash, including Slash’s Snakepit, that makes me buy him as a viable artist outside of G n’ R or Revolver.
|Billboard 200: #8
Rock Albums: #3
Alternative Albums: #2
Sean Comer: The rock of Alabama Shakes wouldn’t be much more southern is served alongside biscuits, sausage gravy and chitlins with a tall sweet tea. Brittany Howard delivered vocals that were equal parts Janis-Joplin’s wrenched, anguished wail and Robert Johnson’s moaning lament. Heath Fogg’s guitar, reminiscent of Dickey Betts’ finest moments alongside The Allman Brothers, flavors and spices the howling Howard on the Grammy-nominated “Hold On” like a barbecue’s smoke on a fine Athens, AL, afternoon.
There’s just not a lackluster tune to be found here. It’s rock and roll as deeply felt, nitty-gritty, and richly soulful as it gets.
Jeff Modzelewski: Blues and roots rock have been making a resurgence over the past few years. While artists like Jack White and the Black Keys are at the top of the mountain at the moment, Alabama Shakes are ready to help usher in another round of great music. On their debut album, Boys and Girls, the band put together a solid collection of songs that highlights the unique vocals of Brittany Howard and the band’s tight sound and songwriting. Howard sings with tremendous emotion and power, and the band backs that up exceptionally well. This is a band that can appeal to a wide audience, and this is one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in a very long time.
And there you have it! Come back tomorrow as we reveal #10 – 6!