After listening to more than a hundred records this year, a small group stood out above the rest. Below, my five favorite albums are presented in order with brief notes and three song recommendations. I've also included a list of fifteen albums, alphabetically, that I enjoyed and are worth noting.
I would love to read your comments on this list. What did I miss? What did I get right? If you've written your own Favorite Albums of 2012, I'd love to read that, as well -- tag me or post a link in the comments.
Anberlin - Vital
Benjamin Gibbard - Former Lives
Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
Circa Survive - Violent Waves
Coheed and Cambria - The Aftermath: Ascension
Cursive - I am Gemini
Every Time I Die - Ex Lives
Green Day - Uno Dos Tres
Miniature Tigers - Mia Pharaoh
Minus the Bear - Infinity Overhead
River City Extension - Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger
Such Gold - Misadventures
The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
Yellowcard - Southern Air
We Were Skeletons - Blame and Aging
5) Motion City Soundtrack – Go
It's darker, slower, and more inaccessible than any of their previous records, and, honestly, it works against the five Minnesota natives. Somehow, though, frontman Justin Pierre stitches it all together and delivers one of his finest performances, vocally and lyrically, to date. This is no small feat. Pierre autobiographically ponders, "It's not a matter of time, it's just a matter of timing; do you ever wonder how you got to here?", effortlessly drawing you into his idiosyncratic world. Of course, the rest of the band augments his poetry with clever synths, peculiar hooks, and rock-solid drumming. It is, after all, still, to quote Pierre, "the" Motion City Soundtrack. Even if they've grown up. Essential songs: "Circuits and Wires", "Timelines", "Boxelder"
4) The Chariot– One Wing
Thinking man's hardcore. One Wing is everything that "chug-chug metalcore" is not. For thirty minutes, the Georgia four-piece never settle, wrapping their heavy-as-fuck sound around a wide variety of genres and styles, such as Wild Western and Gospel; the closing track even uses Charlie Chaplin's iconic 1940 The Great Dictator speech to great effect. Essential songs: "Forget", "First", "Tongues"
3) Silverstein – Short Songs
With eleven original songs in just over eleven minutes, Silverstein pays appropriate tribute to their influences and pioneers of hardcore. The love for the genre doesn't stop there, though: the band tacks on eleven covers, too, ranging from Gorilla Biscuits to The Promise Ring to Orchid. The whole violent affair clocks in under twenty minutes, delivering a quick, but satisfying, dose of Silverstein's unique take on post-hardcore. The Canadian quintet has never sounded so focused, fierce, or sincere. Essential songs: "Sick as Your Secrets", "La Marseillaise", "See Ya Bill"
2) mewithoutYou – Ten Stories
When a circus train crashes in Montana, spilling its contents (living animals) about the wintery landscape, mewithoutYou picks up the pieces and begins Ten Stories about the surviving, personified critters. The narrative, told by Aaron Weiss with occasional help from a few guests such as Paramore's Hayley Williams, is presented like a play, with various animals, such as "Bear", telling stories of how the crash happened (spoiler alert, it was orchestrated by "Elephant" so that the animals could finally be free), the escape, and what happens to them ("Rabbit fled, best guess, toward home", croons Weiss). Everything that dumbed-down, radio-ready rock is in 2012 -- this album is the opposite. Essential songs: "February, 1878", "Cardiff Giant", "Fox's Dream of the Log Flume"
1) Kevin Devine – Matter of Time
On this masterpiece, our generation's best songwriter takes fifteen cuts from across his career and reworks them via a live, studio experience. Lyrically, Kevin Devine has never sounded more poignant, insisting that "they want you to whistle while you work -- whistle while you work your life away". Reworked lyrics, melodies, and riffs somehow transform perfect songs into something even better. Perhaps it's the urgency in his delivery, or the undeniable benefit that a decade of touring bestows on a New York kid with his guitar. The longer that he's out there, the better he sounds. Essential songs: "Noose Dressed Like a Necklace", "Carnival", "Another Bag of Bones"
After listening to about two hundred records this year, a small group stood out above the rest. Below, my fifteen favorite albums are presented in order with brief notes and three song recommendations.
I would love to read your comments on this list. What did I miss? What did I get right?
15) Rise Against – Endgame
On their sixth album, Rise Against presents their most radio-friendly take on melodic punk to date. The riffs are focused; the drums are perfectly executed. It’s not as powerful as the band’s output from 2003-2006, but it still works. With a chance to be heard in large venues across America, frontman Tim McIlrath should be commended for using his time in the spotlight to take issues like homophobia (“Make it Stop”) right to the masses. Recommended: “Architects”, “Help is on the Way”, “Survivor Guilt”
14) Thrice – Major/Minor Major/Minor is the farewell record from the California quartet, and, unfortunately, it breaks no new ground for a band that seems to pride themselves on constant evolution and boundary-pushing. Thankfully, though, frontman Dustin Kensrue is as poignant as ever. On “Anthology”, he collects lines from across the band’s discography and retools them as one brand new, heart-wrenching song. Recommended: “Yellow Belly”, “Blur”, “Anthology”
13) MC Lars – Lars Attacks!
It’s far from perfect, but on Lars Attacks! the California rapper collects some of his best tracks to date. Guest appearances from KRS-One, Weerd Science, Sage Francis, and Mac Lethal keep things interesting, but it’s MC Lars’s tight production (including a Tegan and Sara sample) and astute lyrics that make the album worth listening to. Recommended: “Lars Attacks!”, “Summer Camp Love”, “Annabel Lee RIP”
12) Saves the Day – Daybreak
Chris Conley’s seventh full-length with (as?) Saves the Day is his best since 2001’s Stay What You Are. At ten minutes, the album’s opener (and title track) seems a bit ambitious; it’s actually five songs in one, though, and it flows superbly. It's not the fast-paced, punk-influenced record that many fans wanted, but there are golden Saves the Day bits strewn across the forty-minute record, including some trademark boyish vulnerability on the album’s closer, “Undress Me”. Recommended: “Let It All Go”, “1984”, “Living Without Love”
11) Foster the People – Torches
Catchy, bright, and fun in all the right places, this record is quickly-accessible and a refreshing dose of well-written pop music. The vision of frontman and multi-instrumentalist Matt Foster, Torches effectively collects ten of the catchiest gimmick-free tunes of 2011. Recommended: “Pumped Up Kicks”, “Call It What You Want”, “Houdini”
10) Jack’s Mannequin – People and Things
Even at his worst, songwriter Andrew McMahon is still leaps and bounds above most others dancing at the piano-rock party. On their third full-length record, Jack’s Mannequin gets help from Relient K’s Matt Thiessen, but it’s the pure-McMahon tracks that truly shine. Still, even this album’s strongest moments don’t begin to approach the beauty of the gems on Everything in Transit or The Glass Passenger. Recommended: “My Racing Thoughts”, “Release Me”, “Hey Hey Hey”
9) Aficionado – Aficionado
The self-titled debut by Aficionado might be Cursive’s The Ugly Organ’s little brother, high praise to a blossoming young band. Nick Warchol and Laura Carrozza trade vocals, the former carrying lead duties while the latter adds beautiful complements. If you can escape the catchiness of the duo’s vocal hooks, good luck getting the crashing organ or flirting flute out of your head. Recommended: “The Things You Like”, “Stir Like Hell”, “Honesty”
8) La Dispute – Wildlife Wildlife is a meta-journey into the life of a writer who uncontrollably twists his own characters into his life and the world around him. Writes wordsmith Jordan Dreyer on the song’s aptly titled opening track, “A Departure”: “It’s all there in the pages ahead of here; it’s there waiting for you, or for me, I’m not sure”. Wildlife demands a close attention to detail; those willing to invest in the adventure will reap the efforts they sow. Recommended: “Harder Harmonies”, “King Park”, “You and I in Unison”
7) The Hotel Year – It Never Goes Out
Fans of Piebald, rejoice; Massachusetts has delivered another honest, intelligent punk-pop band. Clearly raised on the brilliant songwriting of Chris Conley, Jesse Lacey, and, as the title suggests, Morrissey, the quartet offers a smart take on an otherwise stale genre. Frontman Christian Holden demands not only your attention across nine well-paced cuts but also your action: “Start dealing with your privileges: smash your TV, read a book, or see the world instead; enjoy the simple things in life because you can, like your family, friends, community, and local bands.” Recommended: “Our Lives Would Make a Sad, Boring Movie”, “Holiday”, “Title-track”
6) Moving Mountains – Waves
With so many great, aging post-hardcore bands moving in softer, slower directions, it’s nice to see Moving Mountains picking up the torch left behind by bands like Thrice, The Receiving End of Sirens, and Thursday. Sharp songwriting, unrelenting rhythms, and well-delivered vocals are augmented by a Dustin Kensrue-worthy scream, driving a great record from one of the best up-and-coming bands. Recommended: “My Life Is Like a Chase Dream”, “Where Two Bodies Lie”, “The Cascade”
5) Kevin Devine – Between the Concrete and Clouds
Brooklyn boy Kevin Devine returns with his sixth full-length record, this time backed entirely by The Goddamned Band. Devine’s sound has never been more accessible, but his lyrics and approach to songwriting remains uncompromised. Questions about religion, spirituality, and self-importance are some primary topics on this cunning, biting, and all-around interesting record that proves that sometimes catchy music should make you think. Recommended: “The First Hit”, “Between the Concrete and Clouds”, “I Used to be Someone”
4) Thursday – No Devolucion
Bigger, longer, and uncut. Thursday takes their genre-pioneering sound to new heights, cultivating a luscious sonic landscape that paves the way for some of frontman Geoff Rickly’s most personal lyrics to date. Uncompromising in their values, the band’s farewell record should prove to be the blueprint for another generation of underground music (see previously: Full Collapse). If No Devolucion is the blueprint, closing track “Stay True” is the mission statement. Recommended: “Fast to the End”, “Past and Future Ruins”, “Turnpike Divides”
3) Touche Amore – Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me
Fast, heavy, and extremely personal, Touche Amore succeed with their sophomore full-length in every conceivable manner with thirteen barely-over-a-minute anthems for the hardcore-punk community. Sings frontman Jeremy Bolm on the album’s first track: “If actions speak louder than words, I’m the most deafening noise you’ve heard; I’ll be that ringing in your ears that will stick around for years”. He’s right. Recommended: “~”, “Pathfinder”, “Condolences”
2) Bayside –Killing Time
With every release, Bayside gets sharper, smarter, and more refined. It’s been three years (a long time for a band that put out one record per year from 2004-2008), but the formula holds as true as always. On Killing Time, the band has never sounded better, and frontman Anthony Raneri’s tales of heartbreak and struggle have never been more potent. The sequencing is flawless, too. Recommended: “Already Gone”, “Sick, Sick, Sick”, “Mona Lisa”
1) Crucial Dudes – 61 Penn
The best band that you haven’t heard of. In just twenty minutes, South Jersey’s finest punk-pop outfit displays a peerless vision of concise songwriting. The album’s ten songs flow together seamlessly (fans of Set Your Goals’s Mutiny! should get ready to fall in love) and showcase the power of a genre that hasn’t sounded this good in at least a decade. This debut is anything but a dumbed-down pop music masquerade. Recommended: “Doubt”, “Boom, Roasted”, “Small, Bent, and Ugly”
Live review including setlists and photos of Dashboard Confessional's The Swiss Army Romance anniversary tour with support from River City Extension, Cory Branan, and John Lefler at Webster Hall in New York City on December 7, 2010.