Top 5 Albums of 2012: The Contenders

It’s that time of year again. Looking back through my library, I am reaffirming what I observed when I checked out The Current’s Top 89 of 2012 polling the other day: I really have not been following new music this year.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been much more wrapped up in my business, too busy making my own music (currently working on my third full-length album of the year), or just disinterested in what I’m hearing on the airwaves, but the numbers don’t lie: in 2011 I bought about 50 new albums. This year the number is around 20.

In the past I have eschewed self-published albums here, but as the quality of self-published music increases, and the barriers to self-publication fall with new Internet tools, the idea of signed acts being of inherently higher quality than indie stuff is more ludicrous than ever (and, truly, it always was). I’m still considering the vanity factor and leaving my own albums out of the running, but there’s some other great indie stuff I need to put on equal footing with the kinds of music you can buy on CD at Target or Best Buy. I’m also eliminating my previous restrictions against EPs and live albums, if for no other reason than to pad out this list just a bit.

So, here’s the list. The top 5 itself will be selected from this esteemed group of artists and albums:

  • Absinthe & The Dirty Floors: Side 2
  • Aimee Mann: Charmer
  • Air: Le voyage dans la lune
  • Andre LaFosse: Do the Math
  • Andre LaFosse: The Hard Bargain
  • another cultural landslide: last days last days
  • The Beach Boys: That’s Why God Made the Radio
  • Ben Folds Five: The Sound of the Life of the Mind
  • Coheed and Cambria: The Afterman: Ascension
  • Com Truise: In Decay
  • The Darcys: AJA
  • Donald Fagen: Sunken Condos
  • Field Music: Plumb
  • Grizzly Bear: Shields
  • Muse: The 2nd Law
  • Pinback: Information Retrieved
  • Return to Forever: The Mothership Returns (Live)
  • Rush: Clockwork Angels
  • The Shins: Port of Morrow
  • The Shiny Lights: Morocco

OK, I can be honest and knock a few contenders out right now: there is no way That’s Why God Made the Radio or The Sound of the Life of the Mind will make the list.

This new effort from the Beach Boys is surprising mainly in that it doesn’t completely suck like I expected it to. No, the main reason it’s surprising is that Brian Wilson and Mike Love managed tolerate each other long enough to finish the album (but not the tour). But that shock aside, there are a couple of outstanding tracks, along with a couple of truly appalling ones. (All of which were written by Brian Wilson; the rest are merely mediocre and pointless.)

The Ben Folds Five album is certainly my biggest disappointment of the year though. I’m not sure why, though I suspect it’s mainly just that in the decade-plus since the band’s previous album, my musical interests and those of Mr. Folds have gone in exact opposite directions. Either that or he’s just become a humorless middle-aged hack musical competition judge. Or both. (Full disclosure: I haven’t even listened to the entire album yet. Much like with the last two Phish studio albums, I just can’t do it.)

I’m also going to eliminate the Muse and Coheed and Cambria albums. I just haven’t listened to them enough to be able to judge them properly, but I suppose my lack of enthusiasm for them says enough anyway.