Best of 2012: Top 5 Albums


As I mentioned before in my fifth 2012 top ten list, I haven’t enjoyed as much musical variety in 2012 as I would have thought I might at the beginning of the year. That’s as much a testament to life’s unpredictability as anything, to be sure (I mean, K-Pop? Where did that come from?), but it doesn’t mean I didn’t spin some awesome records in 2012. All five of the following albums are quality releases and they each now hold a special place in my heart. And no, I’m not just saying that; these albums are good.

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. You have been warned, fanboys.

5. Born to Die – Lana del Rey

One of the first major releases of the year, Born to Die rocketed chart debutant Lana del Rey to stardom with a powerful set of songs making more than decent use of her fantastically versatile vocal ability. From the opening note of the title track, a rollercoaster ride of emotions punctuated by the occasional goosebump is in store for the listener. Del Rey oozes ice-cold confidence like she’s been in the business for decades, which is particularly apparent on the smoky Million Dollar Man. Lyrically she moves from wistful (Video Games) to cocky (National Anthem) and back again, her voice always at the forefront of the sum of each track’s parts. Born to Die is enagaging from start to finish.

4. Living Things – Linkin Park

When it comes to my music playing habits, year after year, Linkin Park never seem to go away. They released an album in 2012 that started well enough and then grew on me, much like their previous concept album A Thousand Suns. The beauty of Living Things is that, after what seemed like ages of post-Meteora experimentation, it genuinely feels like Linkin Park have found a sound they can settle on; one that makes good use of each band member’s talents and doesn’t sound too samey or too high-concept. At this point it might be safe to say that their early sound will not be repeated on any album in the future in any extended or non-ironic capacity, but with tracks like Castle of Glass, Roads Untraveled and Powerless, that hardly matters. I have all the time in the world for whatever the guys bring out next.

3. Stereo Worxxx – Capsule

Earlier this year I reviewed a 2010 release by Japanese dance music duo Capsule, PLAYER, which had been my first foray into the world of Asian music. Their 2012 follow-up was released back in March and it improves greatly on some of the misteps made in 2011’s turbulent World of Fantasy. Evergreen pin-up Toshiko Koshijima and production genius Yasutaka Nakata churn out some real highlights, leading with the gorgeous reverberating chords and echoing guitar of Feeling Alright and exploring the sound of contemplation with the mesmerising In The Rain. In Step on the Floor, Nakata creates a pop song to rival any of his more well-known clients, and it is paired to great effect with the relentless Tapping Beats. The album has some low points, but Stereo Worxxx is the best I’ve heard from Capsule in a while.

2. North – Matchbox Twenty

Wait for it… This album went north of my expectations rather quickly when it was released. Waiting ten years for a release from a band that I once called my all-time favourite wasn’t all that much fun, but Rob Thomas and the boys delivered a fantastic record in 2012 that allayed many of my fears. Discounting the horrible misfiring attempt at “modernity” that is Put Your Hands Up, the album goes from highlight to highlight. Parade is a truly incredible opener with every classic Matchbox Twenty ingredient and more, Overjoyed represents the best of Thomas’ raw songwriting chops and Radio is a blockbusting jam, while English Town and The Way make shockingly good use of the band’s less well-known members. After a time of uncertainty that stretched just about my entire adolescence, Matchbox Twenty are definitely back in business.

1. Red – Taylor Swift

OK, I’m not going to try to pin down what finally made me take notice of Taylor Swift’s music, because it was probably a cocktail of factors, but wow. Her 2012 album Red infuses earnest variety with the country-inspired sound that made her famous in the first place. Disarmingly adept at the anthem as well as the ballad, Swift gets you on your feet without ever moving past what could be discribed as medium tempo. I think it’s safe to say that ukilele and dubstep have never combined so well on the same record. If anything, the album feels a bit long, even without the Deluxe Edition add-on tracks, and that can make the mid-album tracks feel like they’re bleeding into one another, but taken individually there are very few weak songs. The title track is power-packed, 22 captures fleeting euphoria with style, I Knew You Were Trouble makes a home in your head and doesn’t leave, Starlight echoes for days and the acoustic version of State of Grace is straight-up magic. Suffice to say I will be paying much closer attention to Swift’s career in the future.


Honorable Mentions

Port of Morrow – The Shins
The Temper Trap – The Temper Trap

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