Here it is… my long awaited (?) top 5 albums of 2012 list. Contain yourself. Here we go.
5. Rush — Clockwork Angels
It may not have made the biggest splash in the musical world, but for Rush fans this album was a long time coming… the band’s first true full concept album (no, really), their best music in decades (we really mean it this time), and it was followed by a tour featuring an 8-piece string ensemble (!) and their long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (!!). It also features what is arguably the most genuinely beautiful piece of music in the band’s career, the closing track “The Garden.”
In many ways, the concept of Clockwork Angels is a steampunk-inspired, 21st century reinterpretation of their 1976 classic 2112 (note the time on the clock on the album cover), with less Ayn Rand and more first-hand wisdom. It’s also a clever retrospective and reflection on the band’s career itself. I don’t know if Rush will ever record any more albums, but I think this would be a good place to stop.
4. Aimee Mann — Charmer
Charmer is full of infectious melodies and perfectly crafted pop, but much like the best work of Steely Dan, beneath this sonic veneer lies a dark core. These songs explore, with… not quite cynicism, but perhaps a tired resignation, the more deplorable aspects of human nature. Which doesn’t make the songs any less catchy.
I have to confess that up until now I haven’t been a huge Aimee Mann fan. It’s not that I had anything against her music; I just never really gave her much of a chance. I also have to confess that the main reason I changed my attitude about her was her outstanding deadpan performance on an episode of Portlandia where she, being a struggling musician, was found working as Fred and Carrie’s housekeeper. There wasn’t much of her music in the show, but she was so natural in her performance that it really got my attention. I’m glad it did, because her music is fantastic.
3. The Darcys — Aja
Speaking of Steely Dan, how would you like a dark, noisy, post-rock reinterpretation of their entire 1977 classic Aja? Toronto-based indie band The Darcys have achieved something amazing with their stark, haunting, brooding take on the yacht rock classic (and one of my favorite albums of all time). At turns ethereal and icy, then erupting with white-hot rage, this album manages to do with Steely Dan’s music what they could never do themselves — match the darkness of their lyrical content.
At first I found this album hard to listen to, but as I allowed it to unfold and reveal itself, it became one of my favorites of the year… and I may now even like it more than the original.
2. Air — Le voyage dans la lune
Hugo was my favorite movie of 2011. With its focus on the legendary, and nearly lost, works of silent filmmaker Georges Méliès, specifically Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), it was also a perfect set-up for this year’s release of Air’s new score for the 1902 film.
The album came with a video of the restored, hand-painted color version of the film with Air’s musical accompaniment. It was a great way to see the full film for the first time, and I think despite over a century’s distance, and playing in styles (and with instruments!) that wouldn’t yet be invented for decades when the film was made, it works perfectly. The album also stands well on its own apart from the film.
1. Com Truise — In Decay
It’s funky, it’s weird, it’s overflowing with ’80s synths and drum machines. In short, it’s pretty much exactly the album I wish I had recorded myself in 2012.
This is definitely not an album for everyone, but I find it manages to perfectly balance my own penchant for weird noises and unpredictable song structures with an approachability that doesn’t make me embarrassed to be caught listening to it. (Yes, this is a serious concern for me a lot of the time.) It’s not as “out there” as Boards of Canada, but it’s got a fair amount of that IDM vibe (if we must put such a pretentious label on it). It never lets experimentation get in the way of a good groove however, and — despite being entirely instrumental — captures a lot of the nostalgic ’80s synth pop sound people of my generation just can’t quite seem to let go of.
Would I say Com Truise (great name, by the way) has recorded “objectively” the best album of 2012? Despite the fact that there’s no objectivity in art, I would still probably say “no.” But it’s the one album of the year that I just couldn’t stop listening to. Besides my own, anyway.