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2012 IN REVIEW | Top Twenty Albums of 2012

Posted on December 31, 2012 AT 11:43am

2012 has come and gone. There may have been no Mayan apocalypse, but with so many musicians pulling out their A-game this year they sure acted like it was going to happen. After listening to a bountiful of new albums this year I had the hard task of narrowing down my list to the twenty that you will be reading below:

20. deadmau5 – > album title goes here <

Is it Mr. Zimmerman’s strongest album? Not quite, but > album title goes here < has many shining moments thanks to a plethora of great guest musicians that range from Cypress Hill, Gerard Way, Imogen Heap, and Chris James. The latter, whom deadmau5 found through Twitter, brings out the album’s shiniest moment with “The Veldt,” a track based on the classic Ray Bradbury tale. It’s an album that plays with the creative mind, from one of the biggest creative men in the EDM scene.

19. Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral


When Mark sings, darkness reigns supreme, and it’s no different here in Blues Funeral. From its bass-slapping opener “The Gravedigger’s Song” and the chase-inducing “Gray Goes Black” to the heartbroken “Phantasmagoria Blues” and the drowning guitars of “Quiver Syndrome” Mark and his not-so-merrymen make sure that the journey to Hell is both comfortable and trippy. The album’s real highlight: “Riot In My House,” featuring the guitar works of Joshua Homme.

18. Hunter Valentine – Collide and Conquer

Who says Canadian women can’t be badass? After taking the airwaves in The Real L Word the now-quartet went back to what they do best: making one hell of a rock album. The espionage opener “Liar Liar” may entice listeners to conduct some secret missions, while “The Pulse” showcases how much love is a drug. “Priscilla,” on the other hand, is one of the best hooker ditties since Sting first crooned over “Roxanne.” You can try hiding your girlfriends and daughters, but Hunter Valentine will still find a way to hypnotize them with Collide and Conquer.

17. Molice – Neugravity

Rinko and the rest of her bandmates have crafted one of the most playfully evil albums of the year. Whether it’s paying tribute to Blade Runner with “Please Please Pris” or letting loose its “Active Imagination” Molice have taken its 60s-inspired surf rock style and gave it the futuristic jolt the genre’s greatly needed. Neugravity is a musical romp straight out of a grindhouse double-feature, with the personality of a Bond villain to give it an extra dose of wickedness; just don’t stare directly into its eyes.

16. Busdriver – Beaus $ Eros

The Brooklyn native continues to outsmart and out-groove every other rapper in the game in his latest tongue-twister of beats and rhymes. In “Kiss Me Back To Life” he plants his heart on a plate and serves it to the girl of his dreams, while “Feelings” takes those love sensations and twists them into a jazz-funk fusion that tickles the eardrums. He lets it all loose in “Here’s to Us,” which he claims is the 2012 rap anthem, and with the way he flows with nonsensical vibes he may very well be right. Listen to Beaus $ Eros to improve your vernacular, and you may just survive a rap battle against the man they call Busdriver.

15. Monobright – Shinzou Live-Rations

For their fifth album, instead of simply entering a recording studio for a few months, Monobright did the complete opposite: recorded an album in two days with a live audience found at almost every step of the way. The result: a return to their glory days, and a recharged sense of musical wonderment. A pumped-up crowd adds to the energy in such tracks as “E.Z.O.” and “Heart Beat,” while some friends from bloodthirsty butchers lend a helping hand in “Walk Walk Walk” and “Social,” the latter being one of monobright’s best songs in years. After two years of missteps, Monobright has rediscovered their magic in Shinzou Live-Rations.

14. Shing02 & Chimp Beams – ASDR

Another one of the best rappers in the game, this time teaming up with the three-piece electronica group to create the most eclectic hip hop album of the year. Its opener “The Coda” mixes old-school vibes with African tribal beats, while “Darjeeling” crawls out of a jazz club and caresses the head of the rap game to create one of this year’s coolest tracks. The sounds of the world collide in “Masala,” only for Shing02 to get semi-autobiographical in the humorous yet soulful “Sunday AM.” ASDR plays to his strengths as a lyricist, while Chimp Beams wraps them all around in a blanket of tight and relaxing beats. A perfect album for a late-night after-party.

13. Shovels and Rope – O’ Be Joyful

The husband-and-wife duo from the Carolinas takes many cues from the likes of Loretta Lynn, Dylan, and even Jack White (whom they recently toured with late this year), and created one of the most spiritually-gifted albums of 2012. O’ Be Joyful calls to the spirits of classic folk and Americana, and in return rock out harder than most four or five-pieced bands this year. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst take turns singing off one another with great chemistry, with tracks like “Keeper,” “Hail Hail,” and “Tickin’ Bomb” filling your speakers with the sort of southern comfort you can’t simply bottle for future keepings. O’ Be Joyful is meant to be shared by all, to all, as fast and swiftly as possible.

12. Ben Folds Five – The Sounds Of The Life of the Mind

After a decade-long hiatus Ben Folds has his band back, taking their skills and humorous lyrics to a higher level. “Erase Me” is the hilarious portrait of a broken frail man, while the title track is the most harmonious track you’ll find on the album. “Draw A Crowd” is wonderfully funny (especially with its chorus), and the addictive “Do It Anyway” is the song of the year that should’ve been. It’s Ben Folds Five back at their A-game, with an album with smiling irony found around every corner.

11. Shonen Knife – Pop Tune

After three decades of activity, the Japanese all-girl trio proves that there are no stops to be found in their eighteenth album. Wonderfully simplistic and full of Ramones spirit, Pop Tune welcomes listeners with open arms and the happiest mosh pit you can ever take part in. The songs range from smile-inducing (“All You Can Eat,” “Mr. J”) to the psychedelic (“Paper Clip,” “Sunshine”), all with the pop punk style that has made Shonen Knife the lover of critics and bands across the world.

10. Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band – Disco Dischordia

We all need to go bonkers once in awhile. When we do, the latest from this massive steampunk vaudeville act is the perfect soundtrack to do so. One moment you’ll be shaking your hips to “Crzi Voi,” and in a flash you’ll be going Cowboy Bebop on some bounty hunters on “Disco Balls (Hot Pants).” Be sure to keep your clothes on in public when “I Forget” hits the speakers; in the privacy of your own home, though, let those panties fly!

9. TsuShiMaMiRe – Shocking

The third year in a row they’ve appeared on my top twenty list, and for good reason. Their punk concept album about aliens invading a world without rock and roll is more Ziggy Stardust than David Comes To Life, but it knows how to take their three favorite subjects (sex, death, and food) and twist it into B-movie gold. It can get silly at times, but Shocking knows when it’s the right time to stop tickling and start smashing. In a world where dumbed-down pop triumphs over artistic integrity, TsuShiMaMiRe have come to plant their flag into the eyeball of the music scene. Let’s hope they can translate it onto the big screen in some shape or form.

8. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre Is Evil

What do you do when your fans help pay to create your next musical work? You make the best damn album you possibly can, that’s what! Ms. Palmer (or Mrs. Neil Gaiman, if you want to get technical) takes her usual cabaret punk motif and pumps some rock ‘n’ roll swagger into her mad piano skills. Whether you’re “The Killing Type” or you simply want to “Do It With A Rockstar” Theatre Is Evil is sheer proof that the native of Lexingtion, MA can easily outshine any of the Adeles and Lady Gagas of the world. Amanda Palmer has always been a musical genius, but here she finally achieves rock god status. If you don’t believe me, ask her fanbase, whose size puts even a Chinese Army to shame!

7. Flobots – The Circle In The Square

One of the most politically-charged albums of 2012, with the Denver group playing with rage and fists high above their heads. The anger from Johnny 5 and Brer Rabbit’s vocals flows beautifully in the title track and in “On Loss And Having,” speaking in volumes last seen in Occupy movements and Egyptian protests. Flobots still know how to have some fun, as evident in “One Last Show” and “The Rose And The Thistle,” but it’s when the band make their minds heard when the album shows its muscle. The Circle In The Square isn’t just the best alt-rap albums of the year, it’s also one of the year’s most vocally-spoken pieces of art to come out in 2012.

6. m-flo – Square One

When m-flo releases an album, it’s an invitation for the world to party. Their first non-Loves album since Expo Expo the trip-hop duo goes back to its roots, bringing the current EDM trends with them and adding a shot of originality into them. From the dubstep sounds of “Sure Shot Ricky” and “So Mama I’d Love to Catch Up, OK?” to the European techno beats of “Alive” and “Perfect Place” m-flo have made the ultimate dance mix that everyone can lose themselves in with ease. Keep Square One on repeat if you don’t want the festivities to end anytime soon.

5. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

Out of all his different emotions, angry Boss showcases his strongest work both musically and lyrically. Whether it’s the hand-lending opener “We Take Care Of Our Own,” the New Orleans-vibed “Shackled And Drawn,” or a heart-strong confession of a need for support in “This Depression” (featuring Tom Morello strumming somberly) Bruce Springsteen has a song for every part of the nation. When he sings, the world listens, and because of that our outlook of how the world works is better for it. Obama may be our President, but The Boss is our spokesperson, and Wrecking Ball has plenty to say about the state our planet is in.

4. The Hives – Lex Hives

The Swedish rock quintet aims a cannon at its listeners and fires off an explosion of insane guitar riffs and wild rumpuses. The excesses of rock are in full force in both “Go Right Ahead” and “I Want More,” with “1000 Answers” in-between to give reason for their rapscallion ways. Howling Pele loves being Howling Pele, and who can blame him? If you had as much swagger “Take Back The Toys” showcases, you’d simply explode if you tried to hold in that sort of enthusiasm. The Hives are one of the most exciting bands on the planet, and Lex Hives continues their conquest for the rock and roll greatness they certainly deserve.

3. Mumford & Sons – Babel

Is it ironic for a British group to make the most Americana album of the year? Perhaps, but it perfectly captures a sound once thought to be lost after the first electric guitar was plugged in. Babel is filled with the tall green grasses of the south, warm April sunshines, and the spirit of a hardworking farming family who takes joy in their occupation. “I Will Wait” chases after this generation once lost by big industry, while “Hopeless Wanderer” captures a sort of wonderment that lifts the spirit over dark times and reaches upwards to brighter periods. Marcus Mumford sings from the heart at every inch of the album, but he has never sounded so sincere and so coy in love in “Lovers’ Eyes.” Sigh No More may have opened our eyes to Mumford & Sons, but it’s Babel that will keep ourselves from blinking when they’re in the vicinity.

2. Jack White – Blunderbuss

If there’s one artist who stuck his finger in many musical pies with plenty of success, it’s Jack White. No longer a White Stripe, a Raconteur, or a factor of The Dead Weather, Jack cranks it past eleven and lets loose in his most rocking album since he first strummed “Seven Nation Army.” When love isn’t murdering his mother (“Love Interruption”) or walking on salt with wounded feet (“Freedom at 21″) the multitalented guitarist/vocalist has it all hanging out when getting either his funk (“Missing Pieces”) or folk on (“I Guess I Should Go To Sleep”). He even covers Little John Willie with “I’m Shakin’” and makes it his own, thanks to some earth-shattering female vocalists and slick guitar solos. Blunderbuss shows that Jack White can, will, and already has made it on his own.

1. Mono – For My Parents

Bad news other post-rock bands: Mono has taken the pedestal they’ve been standing on since 2006′s You Are There, and raised it a few miles higher. With the Wordless Music Orchestra backing them, Mono have crafted the most emotional, heart-wrenching, and — above all — epic music of the year. It’s the type of album you play when on an amazing journey, or on the verge of conquering a massive world. Only this Japanese quartet can make it look so easy to make an instrumental album and have it say so much. For My Parents doesn’t cement them as just the best instrumental band in the world, but one of the best groups period. A hundred years from now, it’ll be their music playing in symphony halls across the world.

The views and opinions here are those only of Mr. Bourgault, and not those of ElectricSistaHood, Boston Bastard Brigade, and EGMNOW.com. If you wish to share your favorites, feel free to comment below!

An accomplished music, anime, and video game critic, Evan Bourgault has been a Contributing Editor and Podcast host with ElectricSistaHood since 2008. His passion for discovering new bands, developers, and Japanese pop culture began in his college radio days and continues on today. Follow Evan on Twitter at twitter.com/King_Baby_Duck

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