And here we have it, the fifth and final chapter of The Best of 2012, wherein I count down the top 5 albums that came out last year. Keep in mind that this list is entirely subjective. If you disagree with my choices, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. These were the best albums of the year, and that’s final.

Drumroll please……….

 

 

5. Ken Stringfellow – Danzig In The Moonlight
Watch: Superwise

If this list were Best Album Title of 2012 then it would be over by now. But aside from an amazing title, Danzig In The Moonlight has quite a bit going for it. Anyone who knows me knows that the Posies are my favorite band, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see Posie co-leader Stringfellow’s album on my list. What is a little surprising, given the incredible amount of variety on this album, is how cohesive and consistent it is. Whether he’s rocking out, playing with synths, crooning at the piano, or dueting with Charity Rose Thielen from folk-rock band The Head And The Heart, every song works. Not only do they all work, but they all sound distinctively like Ken Stringfellow songs, showing him to be a unique songwriter with a singular vision – intelligent lyrics, soaring melodies, and catchy choruses. Whether solo or with The Posies, there are few people who create better pop albums than this guy. And yeah, the title is cool too.

 

4. Menomena – Moms
Watch: Plumage

Trimmed to a duo with the departure of founding member Brent Knopf, Menomena turned introspective. These songs mainly deal with relationships, often specifically with the Moms of the title. This is their most streamlined and focused album yet, but streamlined doesn’t mean they’ve sold out to the mainstream. While they appear to rely less upon Deeler, the loop-based recording program created by Knopf, they remain very experimental when it comes to song structure and instrumentation. The epic “One Horse” has a more fluid feel to it than anything they’ve ever recorded, drifting and meandering through rise and fall after rise and fall. There’s a lot more saxophone this time out, along with more prominent pianos and heavier guitars. While they might sound almost normal enough to introduce to your non-hipster friends, they’ve somehow pushed their sound in new directions and kept things fresh. This combined with the increasingly personal and emotional nature of the lyrics makes this one of the strongest releases of their career.

 

3. Geographer – Myth
Watch: Lover’s Game

This band didn’t appear on my radar until towards the end of 2012, but Myth quickly climbed to the third spot on my list and has yet to leave my playlist. Critics are quick to take the lazy way out, comparing Geographer to any number of synth pop bands to come to prominence in the past decade or two. But it’s really the combination of various disparate elements – synths, live acoustic drums, the occasional loud guitar, and the omnipresent cello – that separate Geographer from their contemporaries. Stylistically these songs are equally diverse, ranging from upbeat dance songs to slow-burning space rock and all points in between. Amazing songwriting proves that the arrangements aren’t just window dressing, as intelligent lyrics float over catchy choruses and huge cathartic crescendos. Why the folks over at Pitchfork aren’t all over this album is beyond me – almost no one in the independent music scene is making better music than Geographer.

2. Maps & Atlases – Beware And Be Grateful
Watch: Remote & Dark Years

On their second official full-length, Chicago’s Maps & Atlases toned down the math-rock influences that were once their calling card to make some of the best music of their career. While older releases had a tendency to fall back on the “hey look” factor that comes with technically proficient music, on Beware And Be Grateful all the musical know-how is in service of the songs. While there’s still plenty of intelligent music going on here, this album is all about hooks, melody, and groove. The Afropop vibe that has popped up sporadically throughout their career is in full force for most of these songs. When combined with complex tapped guitar lines and deep bass grooves, the result is not unlike a cross between Minus The Bear and Vampire Weekend. The real treat for musicians is the drumming, as powerhouse Chris Hainey layers acoustic drums, drum machines, triggers, and all sorts of hand percussion to create complex polyrhythms that incite much booty shaking. But one doesn’t have to be a musician to appreciate this album – these songs are insanely catchy and, no matter how dark the subject matter, just plain fun. While older fans might miss the math rock of their early days, it’s hard not to love this collection of complex indie pop.

 

And the #1 album of 2012 is…..

 

1. Lost In The Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs
Watch: Red

Rising from the ashes of Chapel Hill’s The Never, Lost In The Trees have quietly been making amazing music since 2007. But with the release of A Church That Fits Our Needs, Ari Picker’s orchestral folk rock group found themselves climbing the Billboard Heatseekers chart, with everyone from Rolling Stone to NPR raving about them. As a North Carolina native, I’ve grown somewhat used to the new flavor of the month getting hyped to the point of annoyance, only to finally hear their music and be hugely let down. Luckily that wasn’t the case here, as Picker’s work in Lost In The Trees actually surpasses most of what he did with his previous band. These songs are stitched into a loose narrative about his mother’s suicide, with the sheer beauty of the music complimenting the mournful nature of the lyrics. Built around acoustic guitars, the arrangements brim with everything from violins and cellos to autoharp and subtle electronics. It all adds up to be the most powerful album I’ve heard in a long time – a collection of songs that somehow transcends that description and takes on a life of its own. If this music doesn’t move you, I’m not sure there’s any hope left.

 

And that’s it. Thanks to everyone who has been reading along, I hope you like what you see. And more importantly, go check out these bands and support them by seeing them in concert and/or buying their albums. This concludes another year of great music. The End.

 

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