Time again for my annual best-of music review! Okay, past time; sue me. Here’s the introductory explanation from last year’s post, copied & pasted for your convenience:

A couple years ago, I started doing my own personal “best of the year” selections in iTunes. It’s easy to make an iTunes smart playlist that includes all the tracks added during the calendar year. Just set “Date Added”, “is in the range”, and pick the dates (I also add rules to exclude some tracks, like audiobooks, podcasts, etc.).

I use “date added” rather than “year”, so my selections are based on music that I bought during the year, regardless of when it was originally released. If I discover an old artist or pick up an old album years later, then so be it. Also, I buy full albums only; I never buy just single tracks. And so that’s what I pick 10 favorites of: albums.

Here are my 2012 selections, in alphabetical order by artist. The links are to Wikipedia, and a playlist of these albums is here on Spotify.

  • Born To Die, Lana Del Rey – Leaving aside the controversy between whether this is Art or lowbrow misogynist trash, and just going along for the ride with her surreal and honestly kind of dorky persona, this album has a dark, smoothly consistent feel that I just found myself listening to over & over.
  • Hospitality, Hospitality – I saw this band do a free SXSW set at Waterloo Records (and got an autographed CD), and they were solid. So indie that there’s not even a Wikipedia page for their album, and a little twee, but I listened to this album a lot this year. Good stuff.
  • The Big Roar, The Joy Formidable – This album is just a solid rocker from start to finish, another with hardly a bad song on it. Volume dials don’t really go high enough for music like this. (No, not even Spinal Tap’s volume dials.)
  • Synthetica, Metric – Another band that’s been around for a long time that I hadn’t been into very much. This album, especially the track “Youth Without Youth” (with its fantastic video), plus a great set at ACLFest, converted me.
  • Bring It On Home, Joan Osborne – The singer who you think of as a 90s one-hit wonder has been putting out good albums ever since then. What a voice. This compilation of cover songs doesn’t have a bad track on it.
  • Theatre Is Evil, Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – I’d heard a little Amanda Palmer here & there, and I’d seen her gigantic Kickstarter campaign to record this album, but never really been hooked. But between a couple of seriously intense videos (The Killing Type & Do It With a Rockstar, both more or less NSFW), and the ability to download this album for free (I’ve since paid for the “deluxe” version), I’m hooked now. It’s a little uneven, but overall pretty amazing.
  • Reign of Terror, Sleigh Bells – Sleigh Bells’ debut album made my best-of-year list in 2010, and they’re back, kicking as much ass as ever. If iTunes let me, I’d rate the track “Demons” six stars.
  • Close-Up, Vol. 3 – States of Being, Suzanne Vega – Is it bizarre to have an album of acoustic reissues by 53-year-old poet & guitar strummer Suzanne Vega on the list right after raving about noise-pop band Sleigh Bells? I’m a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and I love her voice as much as I did in 1985. Vega made four of these reissue albums, rerecording her own stripped-down (and copyrighted in her name) versions, and they’re all good, but this one is my favorite. Really good versions of really good songs.
  • Blunderbuss, Jack White – This album, like his set at ACLFest, and his hour on Austin City Limits are Jack White at his Jack-Whitest. There are a few tracks that aren’t my favorites, and I really wish he hadn’t said “noivous” on “I’m Shakin'” (that cost that song a star, Jack), but a rocker nonetheless.
  • Conatus, Zola Jesus – Laid back in more of a heavy shoe-gaze way, this is one of those that doesn’t have especially stand-out singles, but isn’t at all too monotonous to listen to all the way through. Over and over and over. Another ACLFest act; she performed early in the day, so I only caught the last couple songs of her set, but at least I got close enough to get a decent picture.

So those are my ten favorite “new” albums of 2012.

There are good albums among the rest of what I picked up in 2012, and good tracks even on the not-so-good albums. To keep them from getting lost in the iTunes library, I also made a playlist (ordered in mixtape order, not best-to-worst) of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut. This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify (minus the Giant Drag track).

  1. GO! — Santigold (Master of My Make-Believe)
  2. Gold On The Ceiling — The Black Keys (El Camino)
  3. Wanderluster — Band of Skulls (Sweet Sour)
  4. Lafaye — School of Seven Bells (Ghostory)
  5. Nothing To Remember — Neko Case (The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 & Beyond)
  6. Mouthful of Diamonds — Phantogram (Eyelid Movies)
  7. Who’s That Boy — Demi Lovato (Unbroken)
  8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together — Taylor Swift (Red)
  9. Want U Back — Cher Lloyd (Sticks & Stones)
  10. Major — The Asteroids Galaxy Tour (Out of Frequency)
  11. Guggenheim — The Ting Tings (Sounds From Nowheresville)
  12. I Am Not A Robot — Marina & The Diamonds (The Family Jewels)
  13. Suicide Pact — JJAMZ (Suicide Pact)
  14. Widow’s Walk — Suzanne Vega (Close-Up, Vol. 4 – Songs of Family)
  15. I Got Nothing — Dum Dum Girls (End of Daze)
  16. Call Me the Breeze — Beth Orton (Sugaring Season)
  17. Bird Song — Florence + The Machine (Lungs: The B-Sides)
  18. I Hate Love — Garbage (Not Your Kind Of People)
  19. Firestorm — Giant Drag (single)
  20. Teen Idle — Marina & the Diamonds (Electra Heart)
  21. Call Me Maybe — Carly Rae Jepsen (Kiss)
  22. What Makes You Beautiful — One Direction (Up All Night)
  23. Malo — Bebe (Pafuera Telarañas)
  24. My Country — Tune-Yards (W H O K I L L)
  25. Neskowin — The Corin Tucker Band (Kill My Blues)
  26. Babelonia — School Of Seven Bells (Disconnect From Desire)
  27. Rhapsody — Siouxsie & The Banshees (Peepshow)
  28. Ride — Lana Del Rey (Paradise)
  29. Emmylou — First Aid Kit (The Lion’s Roar)
  30. Tighten Up — The Black Keys (Brothers)
  31. Can You Believe It? — Martha Wainwright (Come Home to Mama)

A note about the teeny-bopper tracks on the list above: they’re in my iTunes library because my teenage daughter bought those albums on our iTunes Store account. And I listened to them. They’re mostly… not that good, in my opinion, and I haven’t listened to most of them more than once. But – there are singles that are good, and super catchy (as they were engineered to be), and sometimes even funny. Also, part of my purpose in making these lists is to have a time capsule of each year’s music. And whether the cool kids like it or not, Carly Rae Jepsen, One Direction, and Taylor Swift were all part of this year’s music. But I’m not apologizing. If I didn’t like these songs I wouldn’t have put them in the list. Haters gonna hate; I’ll be over here letting myself enjoy these occasional pop confections.

Anyway – enjoy!