411’s Top 25 Albums of 2012 (#25 – 21)
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, as well as #25 through #21.
Stone Sour – House of Gold and Bones Part 1
Green Day – ¡Uno!
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Shinedown – Amaryllis
Japandroids – Celebration Rock
|Billboard 200: #5
R&B/Hip-Hop Albums: #1
Rap Albums: #1
Bill Wannop: B.o.B. burst on to the scene in 2010, releasing his acclaimed The Adventures of Bobby Ray album, selling over 600,000 copies to date. The pressure was high for B.o.B. to match the success of that album with Strange Clouds and while the album does not have as much of the traditional B.o.B. sounds that most of his hardcore fans were found of, the album was able to mix a bunch of rap and hip hop styles and create one of the best albums of 2012.
While the album is somewhat more radio friendly, there are still some track that remind us that Bobby Ray is one of the top hip hop artists out today. Tracks like “Play For Keeps” and “Bombs Away” kept the hardcore fans happy, while tracks like “So Good” and “Both of Us” climbed up the radio charts. B.o.B. was able to mix the hardcore hip hop with the friendly radio sound, crafting one of the top albums of the year.
Sean Comer: Atlanta’s B.o.B. achieved something rare with his May 2012 second full-length album, Strange Clouds. On an album wherein he carries only six of the 15 total tracks solo – seriously, the “Bombs Away” jump-off track even features Morgan Freeman – and 10 noted collaborators, he never falls prey to coming across as a sideshow attraction on his own album.
Clearly, Bobby Ray “gets it.” Neither the likes of Taylor Swift, T.I., Trey Songz, Nicki Minaj nor even Lil Wayne steal the show, but merely accent B.o.B.’s immaculately measured flows and broad lyrics. “Ray Bands” presents a bottle-poppin’, “I’ve arrived” celebratory anthem of the high life. On the other hand, an appetizing, lilting acoustic guitar introduces “So Hard To Breathe” and his betrayed doubts about walking success’s tightrope. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift’s gentle chorus of “Both of Us” gives way to B.o.B.’s signature thudding beat and frenetic delivery of a hold-on-through-the-strain plea to ride out a relationship’s struggles with strength and faith. No two tracks ever sounded so alike as to let monotony secure a foothold. It’s equally rare that he ever succumbs to hip-hop cliché or even a single lazy moment. In 2012, the heir apparent to Outkast arrived and made it known that he could be here a while.
|Billboard 200: #3
Rock Albums: #1
Alternative Albums: #1
David Hayter: The Killers have been slowly drifting away from their urbane Anglophile indie roots as they’ve embraced the grit and pomp of American rock. Unfortunately, despite some dazzling highlights, The Killers have never quite managed to install that gleaming dance floor under the Nevada desert as they fumbled between enjoyable hit and miss LPs. Battle Born seemed to frustrate Killers fans raised on club anthems “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside” who struggled with an LP light on immediate anthems, but the album’s true depth was revealed live.
This is a big brazen record designed that only grew in potency with age. Battle Born relies on grandstanding vocals, crunching chords and OTT theatrics (and is all the better for it). This is music designed to fill arenas, that swells up in your guts rather than tapping at your toes. Brendan Flowers lyricism still leaves a lot to be desired. Favoring readymade clichés and postcard images he chooses phrases that already hold emotional resonance rather than creating tension and inducing emotion with his own storytelling. Still if Battle Born feels like an elaborate game of cliché bingo at times, Flowers makes up for it with a series of powerful vocal takes and flamboyant flourishes, which combine to offer a strangely believable, and distinctly Las Vegas, take on a stadium straddling LP.
Sean Comer: The Killers’ fourth album and the first full-fledged studio effort following a four-year hiatus found lead singer Brandon Flowers sounding triumphantly renewed. The Las Vegas synthpop quartet delivers every moment with a desperate exaltation at being properly together again. Their passion rarely wavers as it is – not entirely unlike the genuine fire of U2’s earliest days – but on Battle Born, they’re playing as though every note is a moment they’re desperate to never allow to end.
|Billboard 200: #31
Dance/Electronic Albums: #2
Gina Bortolussi: Electra Heart, the sophomore album from Marina and the Diamonds is the perfect mix of attitude, heartache and sarcasm. It’s an album that can be put on at any time of day, whether you want to dance, cry over the opposite sex, or feel empowered; it’s got something for everyone.
Marina plays many different rolls on this album, but it’s always nice to have a little variety. She channels the sass and spirit of a guarded lover on “Bubblegum Bitch,” a loveable, ambitious brat in “Primadonna” a hurt and angry ex-girlfriend on “Lies,” and a girl who had wished she’d been a little more bad-ass in her prime on “Teen Idle.” I’m all for a good break up or love song, but I’m glad that this album isn’t only that.
Every song on this album paints a picture for the listener and the imagery is clear and vivid, showing just how talented Marina is as a songwriter. The music itself is clean and fresh, with some of the tracks produced by Dr. Luke. This album is part dance record, but not auto-tuned or muddled with electronics, which is refreshing in an age dominated by the technology to do so. Electra Heart is a terrific album. Pick up a copy or download it on iTunes, just get your hands on it! You’ll be crying and dancing around your room in no time.
Jeremy Thomas: One of my favorite things about 2012 in music has been the encroachment of variation in pop music. For the past several years pop has ventured almost universally into the dance-pop era in an attempt to keep things bubbly and upbeat. There is room for a lot of discussion as to why, but the charts have found themselves increasingly dominated by electro-club beats. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does turn the airwaves into a sort of indistinguishable Auto-Tuned soup. Thus, as a pop music fan the rise of new and different twists on pop music into the charts has been quite welcome to me.
Marina & the Diamonds straddles that line between dance-pop and experimental pop quite nicely. There is undeniably a radio-friendly electro-pop aspect to her music, and to her credit she does that quite well. But on Electra Heart she ventures outside of the constraints of what top 40 radio considers its bread of butter just enough on each track to thoroughly distinguish herself. With her distinctive voice almost moaning her lyrics over the various melodic excesses, it forces you to stop and actually pay attention to her. On tracks like “Fear and Loathing” she tones back the musical production and lets her voice take front and center, making you realize that in fact she can actually sing quite well. It’s a surprisingly great album from an artist who has made great strides since 2010’s The Family Jewels.
|Billboard 200: #8
Rock Albums: #2
Folk Albums: #1
Jeff Modzelewski: The Lumineers certainly have benefitted from the folk resurgence. They certainly have similarities with Mumford and Sons, and, without Mumford’s success, this album may have never been on anyone’s radar. Instead, “Ho Hey” was a surprising radio hit, and their debut is an excellent example of what can be done in the modern folk scene. They use space and silence where other artists want to fill every inch of an album. They’re adding a unique flair and excitement to a musical formula that has worked for decades. While Mumford may have been the first recent folk band to go mainstream I can easily see The Lumineers ascending that ladder and potentially even passing Mumford by.
Jeremy Thomas: As a fan of folk-inspired rock, I have to admit that I’m ecstatic to see the rise of groups like the Lumineers into the mainstream music consciousness. The infusion of folk sensibility into the indie rock scene seems to have revitalized the genre and pushed aside most of the half-hearted attempts by major labels to copy the sound of Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, Animal Collective and the like, which is something I couldn’t be happier with. Folk rock was given a hefty dose of mainstream legitimacy from the likes of Mumford & Sons, but also from these guys who had perhaps one of the catchiest songs of the year that didn’t want to make you stab your eardrums out. “Ho Hey” stood out on the charts because of its authenticity and honest emotion. There seems to be a rather cynical sentiment that the words “earnest” is one you want to avoid having attached to you for whatever reason; it seems to imply a falseness, as if the only way to be earnest is to fake it. With The Lumineers, every song rings of honesty and that gives it an undeniable power. We of the Internet Music Community are trained to denigrate music almost on impulse; our instinct would be to write the Lumineers off as a poor man’s Mumford and Sons, who draw a fairly divisive reaction in their own right. However, something within the band’s sound rings true to us and try as we might, we can’t just write them off. That’s what gives the band’s debut album its strength, and makes me very interested in seeing what direction they take their music in.
|Billboard 200: #3|
Chad Nevett: I cannot get over Leonard Cohen’s voice on Old Ideas. It has always been one of his defining characteristics. That rough (yet smooth), throaty rasp that isn’t quite singing; it’s more of a rhythmic speaking. Not at all conventionally great, but more arresting and memorable and emotional than many conventionally great singers’ voices. It’s almost a whisper and it draws you in. Articulate and slow and clear, you can’t help but listen closely, strain a little to make sure you’re not missing anything. It’s relaxed and confident, like Cohen knows that he’s got you before he’s got you. The quiet, calm delivery in “Going Home” is so arresting, so aware that everything in the song revolves around it. Everything on Old Ideas revolves around the vocals, partly because of Cohen’s voice and partly because of the words that he’s giving voice to. And there’s a strong musicality to the songs on Old Ideas often. It’s restrained much of the time, supporting the vocals, like in “Amen” where there’s a trickle of music during the verses before swelling ever so slightly at the ‘punchline’ with the background vocals that, then, become a growing presence as the song progresses. Or, the catchy guitar hook of “Darkness” that propels the song forward as Cohen’s vocals seem to try to match the speed. And I can’t forget the piano in that song. That wonderful touch in the background! Cohen’s songs are filled with those small wonderful moments that linger with you. The lyrical content of Old Ideas matches the title of the album. It’s almost standard fare for Cohen, but that makes it no less striking. His wordplay and wit remains intact with lines like “I ain’t had much loving yet / But that’s always been your call” or “Have mercy on me, baby / After all, I did confess.” There’s a sense where you could almost dismiss Old Ideas as your ‘standard Leonard Cohen album,’ but that’s only a dismissal if you forget how talented Cohen is. Any year where we are lucky enough to get new Leonard Cohen music is a good one.
Jack Stevenson: In a world without Tom Waits (and what a fucking terrible world that would be,) Leonard Cohen would be my pick for the best musical artist of all time. A year in which Leonard Cohen releases an album is usually a year in which I choose a Leonard Cohen album as my favorite of the year; in 2012, thanks to a truly staggering piece of work from Frank Ocean, the choice isn’t as clear-cut. But Old Ideas is definitely in my personal top two. It isn’t Cohen’s best work album, but it is still a great, great album, filled with wit and wisdom and sung in a voice gloriously deep human kind will soon not be able to hear it. What a tragedy that will be.
Seriously, you don’t have to listen to the lyrics to get something out of this album. Just turns the light off, lie down quietly, and just focus on Cohen’s voice, his scarred, gruff, wonderful voice. Let it wash over you. Feel honored to even be allowed to listen it. Not that I am advocating ignoring Old Ideas‘ lyrics though; as you would expect, they’re brimming with poetic beauty, with so many different ideas and themes I felt intensely inadequate, like my mind could never ponder something with such detached genius. “I dreamed about you baby, you were wearing half a dress- I know you have to hate me, but could you hate me less?” he dryly asks an unidentified lady on ‘Anyhow.’ It’s such a simple little lyric, but one that, without wishing to sound like a teenager screaming about how their favorite emo-pop artist ‘gets them,’ resonated with me. And you will find that something, if not everything on this album strikes a chord with you. Cohen tackles the aging process, but without the intensity of a Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan; just dry humor and a little sadness. He talks about loves with a believable naivety, yet his advancing years lend him an authority and maturity as he laments. He philosophizes quietly, letting a subject as massive as religion wander pleasantly across his mind. All of this is set to appropriately stripped back, relaxed music; previous Cohen albums have suffered from going overboard with synthesizers but this simply isn’t a problem with Old Ideas. The synths playfully jostle for space with acoustic guitars and other instruments and it all sounds so wonderful.
Old Ideas is just an album that works on every single level. It is utterly charming from start to finish, contains everything that makes Leonard Cohen so wonderful, and once you have adjusted to his voice (it doesn’t take long) it also serves as a fantastic introduction to one of the greatest artists of our lifetimes. Frankly, 411 staffers have done him a disservice by letting him slip to this low in the list, and I have done him a disservice by forgetting to make a list at all. Despite being swept off my feet by Channel Orange, I still think this is my pick for 2012’s best album.
And there you have it! Come back tomorrow as we reveal #20 – 16!