I originally wrote this list up as part of my recap of favorites from 2012 a few days ago, but I decided to split it off into its own post before I got into a personal recap for the year. I’m a huge hound for music; I tend to get into this stuff pretty heavily. My iTunes library is full of custom playlists I make for different projects I’m working on, just to get me into an ideal mood and rhythm, and I love sharing music recommendations with friends.
As I wrote this, it basically ballooned into this joyous sharing of music I loved, so the following is a big custom playlist, essentially (apologies if loading is a bit slow; there’s lots of YouTube videos). I’d love to hear what people think about these albums and songs, and if anyone’s got any suggestions of their own from the year, I’m all ears!
Lots of great tunes this year overall. There’s some albums I still want to listen to all the way through, like Django Django’s debut, Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch, and The Chromatics’ Kill For Love. For the most part, though, I came out of this year with a lot of albums in heavy rotation.
In Our Heads by Hot Chip: If I ever threw a big party, I’d want these guys to deejay. Great album packed with quality jams from beginning to end. Catchy as hell. Also, they have the best, loopiest music videos.
Lonerism by Tame Impala: Psychedelic rock with a lonely pop heart. My favorite song is actually “Elephant,” which has a great blues rock stomp to it, but this is more indicative of the overall feel of the album.
Shrines by Purity Ring: This album grew on me throughout the year. It has a really strong electronic element to the production, to the point that it reminds me of a contemporary variation of trip hop. The lyrics are occasionally grotesque and surreal, with a heavy fantasy element (although it’s likely just heavily metaphorical).
The Haunted Man by Bat For Lashes: My personal pick for best album of the year. Great alternative pop in the tradition of Kate Bush, albeit filtered through Natasha Khan’s individual aesthetic and experiences. Lots of great individual songs, but when taken from start to finish, it’s a work of catharsis, sometimes stark, often melancholy, but always beautiful.
Bloom by Beach House: Ethereal dream pop that transports me to another place every time I listen to it. The opening three-song salvo of “Myth,” “Wild,” and “Lazuli” is great.
Nocturne by Wild Nothing: More dream pop. I feel like there’s a lot of really good bands coming about recently that are informed by the dream pop/shoegaze aesthetics developed in the 80s. Which is great for me, because that’s one of my favorite musical periods ever.
The Seer by Swans: Grim, stark, dynamic, epic, exhausting. A big album that whispers and thunders in equal measure. It’s one of those albums you have to devote your total attention to when you listen to it, simply because it demands it.
Rispah by The Invisible: “Protection” is a strong contender for my favorite song from 2012. It feels like something alive. It shifts, twists, and mutates over the course of its full seven-minute length, never wearing out its welcome. That goes for the rest of the album it comes from, Rispah. It’s a slow burn, but once it catches fire it doesn’t go out.
The Something Rain by Tindersticks: “Show Me Everything” is another top contender for my favorite song of the year. Its deliberate pace and somber, assured tone remind me of a storyteller who is well familiar with the tale he’s telling, milking it for maximum dramatic potential whenever necessary. I’d actually never heard of Tindersticks until this song and the album it comes from. Because of both, I’m steadily becoming a fan.
Trilogy by The Weeknd: I’ve followed The Weeknd ever since the release of his first mixtape in 2011, House of Balloons. He released two other mixtapes, Thursday and Echoes of Silence, before the end of that year, and all three of those were collected in Trilogy this year. The lyrics wear a little thin at moments, as they can be a bit one-note about the debauchery and Machiavellian attitude of the singer’s persona, but the actual vocals and production are stunning.
Ghostory by School of Seven Bells: I haven’t seen this album mentioned that much on year’s end music lists, which saddens me because it’s easily one of my favorite albums of the year (might just be because of my dream pop/shoegaze sweet spot). The album as a whole has this haunted, ethereal feel to it.
Neck of the Woods by Silversun Pickups: If I was writing a horror story, I’d listen to this album on repeat. The lyrics circle around private, personal horrors that come back and bite people, oftentimes when they return to their source. The synth hook of the opening song, “Skin Graph,” is basically a scare chord. My favorite moment of the album, though, is the opening minute of “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings).” Just let the sound and texture wash over you.
Gossamer by Passion Pit: This album is a deceptively poppy affair, full of boppy, catchy synth hooks and singalong choruses. Once you take the time to parse the lyrics for some of those choruses, though, you realize they’re not so happy-go-lucky. The album as a whole is the story of a nervous breakdown; the lyrics reveal that story and the music tries to cover it up. The most bleakly honest song of the album, “Constant Conversations,” happens to be my favorite.
Instinct by Niki and the Dove: Simply stated, this is pop music for people who read fairy tales. Try listening to “The Fox” and not thinking of those woodblock engravings from certain Grimm Brothers compendiums. They’re not afraid to get a little sci-fi either, as shown by the video for “Tomorrow.”
Drive Soundtrack by Cliff Martinez et al.: I didn’t like Drive when I first saw it. The pacing threw me quite a bit. What made me return to the movie was the performances of the principal actors and the realization that everyone involved in the movie was attempting something different from the typical noir setup. The first thing that drew me back, though, was the soundtrack. Apparently, 80s synth-pop also resides very snugly in my musical sweet-spot. Either way, I sometimes listen to the soundtrack when I’m driving and pretend I’m Ryan Gosling.
“Hit the Ground (Superman)” by The Big Pink: I was a fan of the Big Pink’s previous album, A Brief History of Love, which I would consider flawed by nonetheless inspired and catchy as hell. Their latest album, Future This? Not so good. I wound up liking this song quite a bit, however.
“Five Seconds” by Twin Shadow: So, apparently in addition to writing albums, the man behind Twin Shadow, George Lewis Jr., writes novels about motorcycle gangs in the future (not bad, George!). Hence, the video for this song. It is pretty cool, so I’m not complaining.
“Shoreless Kid” by Young Galaxy: Great song, and it’s responsible for a passage of lyrics that called to mind whenever things got rough for me this year: “Nothing’s as simple/as knowing you’re safe/in your home/at the end of the night”
“Undertow” by Warpaint: Another one of those bands that lands pretty squarely in my dream pop/shoegaze sweet spot, although in this case it’s a notably darker, gloomier corner. I’ve heard more of their songs since this one, but it’s still my favorite.
“How Deep Is Your Love?” by The Rapture: One of the most euphoric songs I’ve heard. I’m not normally a fan of The Rapture, but this song is outstanding.
“The Stable Song” by Gregory Alan Isakov: I’ve never heard anything else from Isakov, but I heard this song when it was referred to me by one of my new friends from this year, Sarah Fletcher. Makes my heart tighten up a little every time I listen to it.
“Inhaler” by Foals: This one came out in December and quickly became a sort of personal anthem for me. May very well be my favorite song of the year, in a year full of fantastic songs. It was the first song I pulled up to listen to in 2013, in fact.