My Top Music of 2012

I didn't listen to nearly as much new music this year as I normally do.  Part of that was excessive periods of nostalgia where I would, for example, listen to nothing but the Pixies for weeks on end.  I also seemed to lose track of when albums came out, so both the latest Pinback and the latest Baroness failed to show up on any of my lists because I've yet to listen to them.

I'm going to do things a bit differently than last year.  Because I often buy albums that come out one year, but don't actually listen to them until the next (or fail to realize they even exist, as with the aforementioned Pinback and Baroness), I'm going to include them in my list.  After all, this is the top music that I listened to this year -- there are no other parameters.

I will, however, mark the albums that came out this year in blue.

I'm also only doing a Top 5 album list, but I'm going to throw in a list of best songs to round it out.

The Top 5 Albums I Listened to in 2012

Honorable Mention: Starfucker -- "Starfucker"

          I realize I'm late to the party on this band and this album.  And, yes, it was "Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second" which got my attention.  But the rest of this album is so damn catchy and just layered with pop goodness.  I don't even know if I'd consider the single to be in my top three from this record.  It's certainly not number 1.  That honor goes to the amazing "Isabella of Castile."

5. Nada Surf -- "The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy"

          I'll be honest, this one almost didn't make it this high up on the list.  It had no problem breaking the top 10, but does it belong in the top 5?  I'm sure part of this is sentimental, given that Nada Surf is probably my favorite band.  But it's also hard to look past songs like "Clear Eye Clouded Mind," "When I Was Young," and "The Future."  The problem is that it's another 10 track album and there are a couple of fairly average Nada Surf tracks to be found.  That said, an average Nada Surf track is still a few steps above songs by most bands.  In the end, the rather wonderful acoustic versions found on the deluxe edition put this album over the top and into the top 5.

4. Oceanographer -- "Spilling Blood"

         It's been a while since a new Oceanographer album came out, but, boy, was it worth the wait.  I'm constantly amazed that this band doesn't have a bigger following.  The opener, "Hardest Thing to Say" is both beautiful and incredibly catchy, with some of the best lyrics I've heard in a while.  Oceanographer have always produced lovely, atmospheric music, but there's a sense of urgency on this album, there's more drive.  They've also never been afraid of expand the variety of instruments they use, but they push the envelope even more this time around.

3. Thrice -- "Major/Minor"

         This is one of those albums that was released last year, but I just got around to listening to this year.  From what I've read online, this was Thrice's last album.  It's also quite possibly their best.
         Thrice started off as a pretty straight forward punk/hardcore band, morphed into the "screamo" genre, and then began dabbling in other sounds -- they even recorded a concept album (two, technically).  And while the sound on "Major/Minor" is in keeping with the album before this ("Beggars"), the overall quality is higher.  These songs rock, but they rock not because of blown speaker, drop D power chords, but because the riffs have power, the song structures are dynamic, and the vocals are urgent.  The entire record is great, but if you want a song that's emblematic, try "Anthology."
2. Grouplove -- "Never Trust a Happy Song"

          I'm just as surprised that this album is on this list -- not to mention at #2! -- as you are.  I would imagine your surprise stems from the fact that you are only really familiar with Grouplove because of their big hit, "Tongue Tied."  I was actually pretty confused by that song, because the first song by them I ever heard was "Cruel and Beautiful World," the second to last song ever played on Chuck, and it sounds nothing at all like "Tongue Tied."  In fact, both of those songs stand out on the album as being relative departures.
          What the songs on this album do have in common, though, are crazy catchy tunes, fantastic harmonies, and an abundance of energy.  The band has three singers, and while one handles the lead on the majority of the tracks, the other two hold their own on their respective songs.  It's something of an embarrassment of riches, as they could easily be lead singers in their own bands.  If I were you, I'd check out "Lovely Cup" and "Close Your Eyes and Count to Ten" for a good indication of what Grouplove can do.

1. Minus the Bear -- Infinity Overhead

          I could not be happier to name "Infinity Overhead" as the best album of 2012.  I didn't discover Minus the Bear until 2006, at which point they had a combined 5 EPs and albums out.  I couldn't get enough.  I loved everything they released, until they released something new.  "Planet of Ice" just didn't do it for me, and even the superior version of "Burying Luck" on "Acoustics" did little to quell my fears that Minus the Bear was losing their touch.  "Omni" wasn't much better, and perhaps even worse, as I was frustrated that a B-side on the "Into the Mirror" single was better than all the songs on the full album.  To say the least, I was unsure going into "Infinity Overhead."
          I could not have been happier with what I found.
          The songs are more focused this time around.  The duel guitars and keyboards have finally found the balance that has so often been missing.  "Steel and Blood" opens the album and it is darn near the perfect modern Minus the Bear song.  It's the perfect mix of choppy guitar riff, operatic keyboard parts, catchy vocals, and a driving rhythm section.  The angular sound from their earlier albums has been replaced with something approaching 70's anthem rock, but in a good way.  Now that I think about it, I'd kind of love to hear Minus the Bear cover a Styx song.
          "Lonely Gun" lays down a crazy groove that is begging for a club remix, but manages to avoid being cheesy.  Have fun trying to figure out the pattern and rhythm to the ending of "Empty Party Rooms" as it will haunt you until you're able to go over it in your head without hearing it.  "Cold Company" finishes the album with dramatic flare, going so far as to reference Sisyphus, and nothing says drama like Greek mythology.
          For all the albums I listened to this year, this was the most welcome.  Minus the Bear have returned to pedestal upon which I'd held them for so long.  I feel like they're just now hitting their stride, and I can't wait to hear what comes next.

The Best Song I Listened to in 2012
(in no particular order)

"Anthology" -- Thrice
"When I Was Young" -- Nada Surf
"Isabella of Castile" -- Starfucker
"Percussion Gun" -- White Rabbits
"The Void" -- Metric
"Ho Hey" -- Lumineers
"Blood and Steel" -- Minus the Bear
"Saccharine" -- Sunday's Best
"Chain Reaction" -- 31knots
"Hardest Thing to Say" -- Oceanographer

As much as I love all the songs on that list, Song of the Year has to go to the unbelievably delightful single from the Lumineers.

I'll say this much for the year in music: I've got an awful lot of stuff to catch up on.