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2012 was a year filled with great albums. We were so glad to add music from newer artists like Air Traffic Controller, First Aid Kit, fun., and The Killers, up to classic names like Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, and David Byrne. The list of great albums, however, goes on far past what we get to play for our listeners on air. Here the WERS staff tells you a little bit about their favorite album from this year, from folk to electronic, pop to instrumental, hip-hop to indie rock. Let us know what you think — and be sure to vote for your favorite album for our Top 89 Countdown here!
As a child of the 60’s, I was drawn to Bob Dylan when “Like a Rolling Stone” was first played on Top 40 radio. During my college years, Bob became the unofficial poet laureate of the boomer generation. So, I always look forward to whatever the former Robert Zimmerman has going on, whether it’s a concert tour or a new CD like Tempest, which has become my new favorite. I like it for all the reasons I like Bob, namely that all his work shows growth of some kind. For someone’s who’s never been known for his singing ability, Bob does an admirable job pushing his aging vocal chords through songs like “Duquesne Whistle,” ostensibly a train song but which covers a variety of American imagery from a woman who his friends tell him has ‘gone to my head’ to ‘no good towns’ the train is passing through. Like Bob’s concert appearances, his voice continues to be an acquired taste, but Bob Dylan is (pardon the cliché) a uniquely American treasure… and as long as he is willing to push his poetry to new heights and his rusty old voice to new limits, I’ll be a fan.
When I first heard Visions by Grimes back in February, I had a feeling that the record would end up being my favorite of the year. Despite the fact that 2012 has been filled with tons of great albums (honorable mention shoutout to Fiona Apple, whaddup girl?), the final days of 2012 are just around the corner and Visions still sits at the top of my list. Every single song on this album is catchy and could work as a standalone single, yet the record also works extremely well when listened to in its entirety. I adore both the way Grimes mixes her girlish vocals with electronic beats as well as the string of enthralling music videos she released for tracks from the album (especially the video for “Oblivion”). My favorite tracks include “Oblivion” and “Genesis”, and I recommend Visions to music lovers everywhere!
My name is Kendall and I am addicted to Walk The Moon. But really, ask anyone—I’ve seen them three times in the last six months… So naturally, my favorite record from 2012 is the Cincinnati-based band’s self-titled major label debut, Walk The Moon. My first real exposure to them was when I saw them play at The Paradise the night before the album was released. I was already familiar with “Anna Sun”, the album’s smash hit that brought the four guys (Nick Petricca, Kevin Ray, Sean Waugaman, and Eli Maiman) to radio waves nation-wide. But I was blown away by other tracks off the album such as the solid dance pop tracks “Quesadilla” and “Shiver Shiver”. I jumped around with the rest of the crowd full of die-hard fans wearing face paint just as the band does, and I knew that I had to own the whole album. Other highlight tracks include, “Next In Line”, “Jenny”, and “I Can Lift A Car”, and if you’re looking to get emotional and cry a little then be sure to check out “Iscariot”.
When I tried to come up with the shortest short list possible for my favorite albums of 2012, I still ended up with 13. It was a good year. My eventual pick (after much hand-wringing) had the advantage of coming out early enough in the year (sorry, Neil Young) for all its nuances and general awesomeness to sink in. My favorite album of 2012 was Father John Misty’s Fear Fun. With Fear Fun former Fleet Foxes (whoa, alliteration) drummer Josh Tillman answers the question of what would happen if you let the drummer out from behind the kit. In this case, he becomes one of the best frontmen in all of music. Slightly unhinged on-stage persona aside, the real magic of Fear Fun comes in the lyrics. There’s simply else nothing like it that came out this year. I’m a sucker for sarcasm (“I’m writing a novel because it’s never been done before”) mixed with self-deprecation and a healthy dose of playfulness, and in that regard Fear Fun stands up well against the best that Warren Zevon ever wrote. That may sound effusive, but this album deserves it.
This year, Kendrick Lamar turned the whole rap game upside down with his major label debut album good kid, m.a.a.d city. This album sounded very different from any other rap album that was released this year. Kendrick has a very unique sound and people were worried that he would compromise his sound in order to sell a lot of records. This, however, was not the case. He stuck true to his sound and did things his way. The album is a sonically adventurous journey through a Compton childhood told through the eyes of a kind-hearted kid growing up in a crazy place. Standout tracks on this album are “Poetic Justice”, “Art of Peer Pressure”, “Swimming Pools”, and “m.a.a.d city”. Not only is the content diverse but the songs themselves are diverse. On many occasions, the song starts off with one beat but by the end it’s a completely different beat. The transitions are so well done that it adds another element for listeners. If you haven’t heard this yet, make sure you go check out good kid, m.a.a.d city today!
Menomena entered their fifth studio album one band member lighter after former member Brett Knopf left for side project Ramona Falls, and fans of the Portland band weren’t sure to expect with material Danny Seim and Justin Harris. As it turns out, it’s my favorite from them yet– this is Menomena’s first effort that has equal doses of heart and weird, and I haven’t stopped listening to it all autumn long. Also, did I mention they’re completely insane? Because that bears repeating.
Life Is Good by Nas is one one of my favorite albums of 2012. Nas is an excellent MC and this album proved he has still got it even in his 40s. He is an amazing lyricist and always paints pictures with his lyrics. Although a few criticized the album production-wise, to me it was great due to the concept. Just from the cover of his album he had his fans locked. He is sitting down with a white suit and is holding his ex-wife’s green wedding dress. He keeps it brutally honest with his fans and lets us into the real Nas — Nasir Jones. Throughout the album he talks about how he is in a good place in his life despite his everyday life struggles. He admits the wrongs that he has done and is moving forward to make the rest of his life better. In the album, he has Songs like “Bye Baby” which he talks about his rollercoaster of a relationship with ex-wife, singer, and his child’s mother, Kelis. He speaks about how he still loves her but is moving on and if given another chance he will make it better. He also has a song called ” Daughters” where he talks about fathering a daughter and how his old player ways are getting back at him. Also one of my favorites is the song ” Summer on Smash” produced by Swizz Beats. The song title alone proved why life is good for Nas because he definitely had the summer on smash with this hit-filled album. As I predicted from the first day listening to this album, it went to the number one spot on the billboard charts. I especially loved this album because I was at a good place in my life when this album came out!
When Canadian post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor stopped at the Orpheum Theater on October 1st – the first stop on a tour that only included fourteen USA dates – no one was expecting a new album to be quietly sitting behind their merchandise table. Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, their first new album in a decade, is dressed in faux effortlessness as it roams from complex to simple through a natural progression only they could create. The album clocks in at just under an hour, a relatively short listen considering their tracks frequently graze twenty minutes. GY!BE openly invite beauty and fear to rear their horns at the other in opening number “Mladic”, and later edge them back into the arena for “We Drift Like Worried Fire” where they gracefully work their way into a tangled, aggressive knot. Even its two drone tracks, both of which serve as pressurized breaths within the album, aren’t out of place (as it may seem in text). Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s new album holds many reminders: why they hold a pivotal role in instrumental music, how unnecessary intentional press is, and the scope of sound a thin circle of wax can capture. Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is undoubtedly my favorite album of 2012, and being a part of the album’s history only solidifies its place in my heart.
This was by far one of my favorite albums of 2012, and it really took me by surprise. WERS had been playing “Hold On” for sometime, but it took me seeing the Shakes live at the Newport Folk Festival to get hooked. After returning from the festival I immediately put the album, Girls and Boys, on my iPod. It’s one of those rare albums you can listen to from beginning to end, over and over and over again. Brittany Howard sings with such emotion and adds soulful quality to every song that sucks you and almost makes you want to bust out in song on the Orange Line… or is that just me?! If you don’t have a copy of this album, get one. Better yet — at the risk of getting hooked, don’t pass up an opportunity to see the Shakes live!
In a year that saw the release of vital new albums by sentimental favorites (Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, etc.), my favorite album of 2012 is an EP by Philadelphia native Amos Lee, As the Crow Flies, a short but worthy part two to Mission Bell (2011). Sounding like a cross between Bill Withers, Eric Andersen, and Cat Stevens, Amos Lee’s great strength as an artist is his singer-songwriter vibe mixed with a solid dose of soul. He could easily have been at home in the mid-1960’s Greenwich Village folk scene and at Stax Records alongside Otis Redding. But Amos Lee is a modern recording artist and that’s a good thing. While ballads like “Simple Things” are his specialty, Lee also sounds persuasive on the up-tempo country-folk tune “Say Goodbye”, which deals with unresolved disappointments and resentments that can happen at the end of a relationship. Amos Lee’s deceptively simple lyrics grab a listener’s attention (not many songwriters could convincingly rhyme “tenement” with “sentiment” as on “Here I Go Again”), but he also has plenty of vocal chops to put his songs across. As the Crow Flies is a notable addition to Amos Lee’s discography.
My pick for album of the year has to be WERS Presents Music for the Independent Mind Volume 7. Every song sounds great and it reminds me of how fantastic it is to work at a radio station. Throughout the past year we had amazing artists come into our studios and our listeners were able to hear some amazing songs produced by Emerson students. Some national artists are featured on the compilation such as James Mercer and The Head and The Heart, along with some up and coming new artists such as Will Dailey and Air Traffic Controller. To make this album even better is the fact that only WERS listeners are able to own the CD by donating to WERS and becoming a member. Being apart of a music community of music listeners is a beautiful thing!
While there have been some fantastic singles in the electronic music genre for 2012 including Express by Kink, We Are Now Connected by Mord Fustang, and Meu by Jets, I’m picking Jiaolong by Daphni for album of the year. Daphni is Dan Snaith from Caribou and we find him in his electronic guise channeling his inner DJ through house tendencies and a hand-built custom modular synth. He’s crafted an album that holds up to repeated listening and manages to present a variety of styles while working with a consistent palette of sound to make the tracks hang together. As a start-to-finish listen, Jiaolong holds the ear through influences ranging from house anthems (“Yes, I Know”) to future beats (“Springs”), while working in references to jazz fusion, funk, afro-beat and world music. Snaith demonstrates a sense of playfulness and fun that keeps the proceedings interesting and upbeat throughout. Here’s hoping for more Daphni output in 2013.
A lot of amazing music came out this year, but my favorite album of 2012 is definitely Information Retrieved by Pinback. It has mellow, it has dancey, and the whole album’s underlined with a sense of both lyrical and instrumental epiphany that moves me through each song. When an album keeps me hooked from the first track to the last without skipping around—that’s a special bond between music and listener that not every artist can offer, and Pinback pulls it off remarkably.
The release of American Idiot in 2004 sparked a brief era of a far more grown up, politically aware Green Day. American Idiot and 21st Century breakdown marked a huge change for the band in the attitude and message behind their music. ¡UNO!, released this past September, brought us back to Green Day’s roots. ¡UNO! Is what many of us had been waiting for from Green Day. Inspired by living in the moment, lust, and self-doubt, this album really reminds me of the sounds of Nimrod and Warning. Jason White, the band’s touring guitarist, was featured on the album as the new permanent member of the band offering beautifully weaved riffs in between the traditional three or four chord breakdown. White also offers a new vocal part allowing for four part harmonies. Any fan of old school Green Day will find relief and newfound joy for the band in ¡UNO!. For me, this was a long time coming.