Top 20 Albums of 2012: 10-01

best albums of 2012
andrew bird, break it yourself10. Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself
Andrew Bird is a musician’s musician. Classically trained, his mastery of the spatial dynamics and musical topography lend themselves eerily well to the pop format. That’s not to say he’s a pop musician though, far from it. Break It Yourself is a counter weight to all the over indulgent, sickeningly obvious albums lining our shelves. We find far too often these days agendas and angles written across the tracks of the music we work so hard to bring you, dear reader. In an increasingly commercialized landscape its rare to find groups or individuals who concentrate on music as artform rather than music as platform. Mixing traditional arrangements against original compositions and incorporating themes normally associated with country, folk, and the experimental, Break It Yourself seems an album out of time, if not a timeless album. – Raymond E. Lee

Carrousel, 27 rue de Michelle9. Carrousel: 27 rue de Mi’chelle
Carrousel might be the least well known entity on our album countdown but I am not sure why. The Tallahassee-based dream pop band recorded one of the year’s most consistent efforts with 27 rue de Mi’chelle. Held together by instrumental interludes, the album plays like one solid dream sequence morphing between austere pop and acoustic folk, lush strings and beautiful harmonies. Who wouldn’t want that kind of dream? – Adam Morgan

Howler, America Give Up8. Howler: America Give Up
A look at recent events may make you question if the title of Howler’s debut record presaged the direction this year would take. But in contrast to all the dreary real-world-implications from the fiscal cliff or the brutal election year cycle, America Give Up was a fun and frenzied nihilistic ode appealing to the finer nature of every rock n roll snob. Howler’s inability to take themselves seriously combined with a nineties throwback ultra-irony worked its way into the hearts of Surviving the Golden Age’s staff as well as our year’s end best of list. While self destruction might be imminent for the band, their first off work with its catchy hooks, clever lyrics and hopeless flannel-in-the-garage styling means we’ll be spinning America Give Up for quite a while now. – Raymond E. Lee

Dinosaur Jr, I Bet on Sky7. Dinosaur Jr.: I Bet on Sky
Dinosaur Jr‘s golden age was between 1987 and 1991 when the band released three classic albums: You’re Living All Over Me, Bug, and Green Mind. Three albums into their reunion and it seems the band is in another golden age. In comparison to Farm or Beyond, I Bet On Sky seems the carefree cousin. The hallmarks of Dinosaur Jr are still there–the noisy guitar solos and J. Mascis’ lilty vocals–but this time they are places in mid-tempo ballads that can only be described as sunny. The change of pace works surprisingly well for the band, creating their best post-reunion album yet. – Adam Morgan

diiv, oshin6. DIIV: Oshin
DIIV‘s album, Oshin is the highest ranking debut album on our countdown. Perhaps that is because it is the least debut album like debut on the countdown. Zachary Cole Smith was already a seasoned indie guitarist–having played in the band Beach Fossils the past three years–and his compatriots in DIIV include members of blogosphere darlings Smith Westerns. Because of this pedigree, Oshin is a well conceptualized album. Creating atmospherics through heavily reverbed guitars and vocals, the album has a consistent tone throughout but what really makes it stand out is Cole Smith’s pop songwriting. – Adam Morgan

Cloud Nothings, Stay Useless5. Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory
For Cloud Nothings, 2012 meant a new album, a new formation, and a new sound. Formerly created as a music experiment, Dylan Baldi’s quick success as Cloud Nothings forced him to form an actual band. Their third album, Attack On Memory, is a radical attack on Cloud Nothing’s indie rock styling. No more are the days of lo-fi fuzz but now instead a post-hardcore, emo (think Rites of Spring) inspired masterpiece. It can be said that Cloud Nothings has redefined themselves as aggressive and noisy; proof that their is always room for a band to evolve. Attack On Memory is a step forward for Cloud Nothings, and one of the best albums of 2012. – John Naessig

Grizzly Bear, Shields4. Grizzly Bear: Shields
Shields is something of a change of pace for Grizzly Bear, foregoing the very palpable sense of effort and care that was found on previous records and instead going in a more rollicking, carefree direction. Even if it wasn’t the intention, the little wrinkles in each song, be it the intoxicating drum of “Half-Gate” or the synth of “Sun in Your Eyes,” still stand as the greatest victories of the record. The end product is a sweeping, wholly American musical journey from one of indie rock’s most consistent bands. – Mark Steinbach

Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, Maad City3. Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, Maad City
With all the accolades that Kendrick Lamar‘s Good Kid, Maad City has been accumulating, it feels like I should explain why it is not number one rather than explain why it deserves to be on the countdown at all. Although not as immediately ear-catching as Section.80, Good Kid, Maad City makes up the difference in concept. Following the story of a young Lamar growing up in Compton, we see him grow from the fairly ignorant “Backseat Freestyle” to more seasoned fare like the album standout “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” – Adam Morgan

Tame Impala, Lonerism2. Tame Impala: Lonerism
Lonerism manages to be greater than the sum of its parts, which is impressive considering its parts are fairly stellar. Having explored ‘60s psychedelia on their 2010 debut Innerspeaker, Lonerism finds Tame Impala having essentially mastered the psych-rock genre, with impeccable technique and truly memorable writing. Fit with a couple instant classics like “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “Apocalypse Dreams,” Tame Impala make almost no missteps en route to one of the most emphatic evasions of the sophomore slump in recent memory. – Mark Steinbach

Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan1. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan
I never understood the appeal of Dirty Projectors before this year. Their music always seemed admirable but not enjoyable, like reading a book you didn’t understand just to say you read it. But Swing Lo Magellan changed all that. From “About to Die”‘s poppy harmonies to the album’s best track “Gun Has No Trigger,” the album deftly mixes avant-garde indie rock with pop sensibility in a way that is both catchy and interesting. With nary a skippable track on the album, it truly feels like the best album of the year.