Best Albums of 2012

By BRADEN LAMMERS

1. The Shins, “Port of Morrow”

A five-year hiatus and an entirely new lineup –except for James Mercer—has done little to slow down indie music stalwarts The Shins. The band’s March release was their best since The Shins second full-length album in 2003, “Chutes Too Narrow.”

Layers of rhythm and harmonies, accompanied with Mercer’s beautifully crafted lyrics make this album my runaway favorite for 2012.

The lyrics reflect Mercer’s growth through the years and remain smart and insightful. It is what audiences have come to expect from him. Best of all, the Shins continue to can blend musical styles into a genuine, distinct and unforced sound. And they can replicate it without becoming stale. They are a rarity.

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My favorite tracks: “It’s Only Life” and “Simple Song.”

2. Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, “Rot Gut, Domestic”

Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s have reached that perfect balance. The Indianapolis-based band’s fourth full-length album marries the grit and grime of an alternative garage band with genuine harmonies.

There is just enough of everything.

Lead Singer Richard Edwards takes the audience right to the edge of uncomfortable anguish. And when coupled with the sweetness of Emily Watkins vocals, their harmonies shine.

Toss in the bizarre –a track devoted to former NBA center “Arvydas Sabonis”— that’s fun and energetic with the next few tracks evoking darkness, longing and desperation.

Enough crunch, enough distortion, enough energy, enough humor, enough filth. Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s toe the line beautifully and land in the second spot on my best of the year list.

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My favorite tracks: “Disease Tobacco Free” and “The Devil.”

3. The Walkmen, “Heaven”

The indie rock five-piece returned to form in its seventh full-length album.

“Heaven” is more refined than any of the band’s previous albums and it is their best effort since at least 2006, when they released “A Hundred Miles Off.”

Genuine song structure, better balance, catchy rhythms and more optimistic lyrics highlight the growth of the band through the decade.

Their decision to work with producer Phil Ek, of Fleet Foxes fame, has paid off. The Walkmen have shown glimpses of being capable of producing tremendous music, they just needed to focus their sound. They did it in “Heaven” without losing their identity.

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My favorite tracks: “Heartbreaker” and “The Love You Love.”

4. Heartless Bastards, “Arrow”

Cincinnati transplants the Heartless Bastards have taken on the soul of their Austin, Texas home picking up a tinge of an alt-country sound. But the bands roots are deeply sunken in the blues.

Mellow, deep, soulful, the Heartless Bastards put out a solid album that delivers track after track. There’s also enough rock to keep listeners engaged, snapping them back from falling into a hypnotic trance.

“Arrow” is a little more stripped down and straightforward than previous releases. Sometimes less is more, especially when it’s paired with Erika Wennerstrom deep soulful voice.

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My favorite tracks: “Parted Ways” and “Only for You.”

5. Alabama Shakes, “Boys & Girls”

Another big voice fronting a blues-rock band rounds out my top five list.

The Alabama Shakes burst onto the scene in 2012 garnering immediate success and critical acclaim for their debut album “Boys and Girls.”

The album likely connected with so many audiences because it is a trip back in time.

The soul in lead singer Brittany Howard’s voice is unmistakable and unforgettable.

She offers the passion that is rare for an artist and draws immediate parallels to Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin.

Backed by simple blues rhythms The Alabama Shakes let their strengths shine, Howard’s voice and energy.

Boys & Girls was an excellent debut album that will carry heady expectations for their next release.

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My favorite tracks: “Hold On” and “On Your Way.”

 

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About hoosierhits
The music blog of the News and Tribune, Jeffersonville & New Albany, Ind.

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