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Pop ‘stache’s Favorite Albums of 2012

written by: on December 20, 2012

40. Cheap Girls – Giant Orange

Since the release of Cheap Girls’ debut, Find Me a Drink Home, the Lansing, MI-based trio has been flirting with greatness, and occasionally delivering. While it’s first two full-lengths were ’90s power-pop done right, there was just enough filler to keep them from really knocking it out of the park. It’s third LP, Giant Orange, is when the band finally nailed it. With improved production, stronger songwriting, and an album that flows seamlessly from top-to-bottom Cheap Girls have made a career-defining record with the promise of much, much more to come.  -David Anthony


39. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again:

While Michael Kiwanuka’s sound may not be the most original – often compared to Bill Withers, Terry Callier and Otis Redding – in today’s musical landscape, it’s a much needed reminder of what it sounds like to be earnest, warm and genuinely soulful. On Home Again, Kiwanuka’s signature blend of 70’s soul, jazz, folk and blues instantly fills the room or headphones with a sense of comfort and nostalgia – one that feels like, well, home. This sentiment is perfectly sung in “Tell Me a Tale,” the album’s opening track, “Tell me a tale that always was. Sing me a song that I’ll always be in. […] Give me a sound that I won’t refuse.” -Tom Crawford


38. John Talabot – ƒIN

The album title and the artist’s last name (despite “John” vs. “Jean”) had me assuming a late 90s Parisian house sound.  Barcelona’s John Talabot does incorporate elements of house in his debut, however it is far from sounding dated. Like some of his other successful contemporary electronic genre-benders in Sepalcure and Gang Gang Dance, Talabot blends deep house, world music, disco, funk, club and dub-step into one easy-to-swallow pill.  His genre shape-shifting is polished with his attention to tracking so that no song seems out of place.  There is a fluidity from the dark disco of “Depak Ine” to the medicated Toro Y Moi-ish “Destiny” to the slow, house of “El Oeste” and so on.  ƒIN may be the most inappropriate title for John Talabot’s debut, as it is about as strong a beginning as anyone could hope for. -Evan Brown


37. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) returned with his spacey, psychedelic ensemble, but Sweet Heart Sweet Light includes just enough grit and Velvets-inspired garage rock to make the songs compelling and keep them moving forward. While it’s a far more linear and direct record than Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space and their 1992 debut Lazer Guided Melodies, it is very much of a piece with those touchstones in the group’s discography. Fresh off of his latest hospitalization and most recent near-death experience, Pierce has received a wake-up call of sorts; there’s an urgency and an immediacy that has been lacking in his more recent output, and it’s a welcome return to form.  Lovers of Nuggets, space-rock and psychedelia would do well to give this one a spin, and it will most likely spin more than once. -Craig Bechtel


36. Dr. Dog – Be the Void

Admittedly, I jumped on the Dr. Dog train after the release of their 2012 album, but with good reason. Their breed of avant-garde pop is addictive. Be the Void is Dr. Dog’s breakout album, even though their first album was released over a decade ago. As the band’s second release on ANTI-, Dr. Dog found the perfect balance between off-kilter indie rock and pop tendencies to attract a wider fan base. The Philly group that captured the grit of low-fi recording in the psychedelic We All Belong, kept their music a little grimy throughout their career. It’s undeniable that Be the Void comes with a more modern appeal, but that same flair is apparent, especially in tracks like “Turning the Century” and “Get Away.” -Kim Manning


35. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

The debut album from indie supergroup Divine Fits, led by Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs’ Dan Boeckner, puts a psychedelic spin on garage rock that bodes well for one of the most fortuitous indie rock pairings in recent years. The electro-pop synths and handclaps of opener “My Love Is Real” recall the best of early ‘80s New Wave, while other songs rely on scuzzy and staccato post-punk elements to set their hooks. The spooky single “Would That Not Be Nice” is a clear standout, utilizing a killer bass line that nearly upstages Daniel’s reverb-heavy howl, while an effective cover of the Boy Next Doors’ goth classic “Shivers” also provides the requisite spinal chill. Daniel and Boeckner alternate lead vocals on the album’s eleven tracks, giving their already divine collaboration an extra punch of free-wheeling spontaneity and trippy verve. -Leah Pickett

34. Titus Andronicus – Local Business

Dialing back the pretense of 2010’s overblown The Monitor (no scratchy presidential speeches!), Local Business finds Titus Andronicus getting its hands dirty like a junior mechanic balancing the books. Songs like “Ecce Homo,” “Still Life…” and “Food Fight!” don’t need much more than a catchy phrase for fuel, while other tracks grapple with age and responsibility – “The smoke from the other room is seeping through,” Patrick Stickles bleats anxiously on “In a Big City,” as rousing and inspirational an anthem as anything Titus has ever done. Half of Local Business’ songs are more than five minutes long, but it’s hard to notice when the melodies hit the sweet spot between Billy Joel and the Buzzcocks. You get the feeling these aren’t the definitive versions of Titus’ newest songs – just what they sounded like the day the band walked into the studio. Still, to quote Stickles himself, these tunes are built to last. -Alex Bahler


33. Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit

The self-titled album is always an interesting move for a band. The audacity of naming an album after yourself is a concrete way of saying, “this is who we are.” Well, on its third LP, San Diego rockers Delta Spirit changed its identity. The group moved away from the folk-rock sound fans had become accustomed to, and the results are splendid.  On Delta Spirit, the group finds a slick, modern sound highlighted by an increase in production value and arena rock bombast.  Drummer Brandon Young’s propulsive beats and a double guitar attack by Matthew Vasquez and Will McLaren on songs like “Tear It Up” and “Tellin’ The Mind” give the album a decidedly fresh sound. Regardless of the shift in style, the earthy quality of Vasquez’s voice gives Delta Spirit an undeniably Americana feel, especially when the group strikes gold on the standout track and home state anthem “California.” -Alex Fiore


32. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Lightning doesn’t strike twice, and everytime an experimental artist has a crossover pop hit, it’s almost certain they won’t do it a second time (especially in a row). Dave Longstreth founded Dirty Projectors on wild creativity, so it’s no surprise that Swing Lo Magellan throws away the playbook that made Bitte Orca such a loveable record. While the lush vocals and angular guitar riffs that shape the group’s sound are strewn about, the songs don’t follow the streamlined sequence of its predecessor. In fact, the multifaceted songwriting harkens back to Longstreth’s first works under the moniker. But this time, he’s got his lovely ladies, experience and better production. The run from “About to Die” to “Just from Chevron” may be one of the strongest on any record this year and “The Socialites” still gives Amber Coffman her chance to shine, even if it doesn’t quite hit the impossibly high mark set by “Stillness Is the Move.” Much like their progressive pop brethren in Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors may not have made one of the best records of its time, but they made a thoroughly enjoyable record and still can’t be compared to anyone else. -Chris Favata


31. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

Pop critic Chuck Klosterman once wrote that what great rock bands are supposed to do is reinvent the blues with contemporary instincts. With its full-length debut, Boys & Girls, quartet Alabama Shakes has done just that.  The LP is relatively brief: 11 songs in only 36 minutes, but each track bursts through the speakers with a catchy blend of blues, pop rock, soul, and roots music. Most important than any single song on the album, Boys & Girls serves as a formal introduction to the forceful voice of lead singer Brittany Howard. Howard growls and screams her way through standout tracks like “You Ain’t Alone” “Hang Loose,” and the infectious and inescapable lead single “Hold On” with smoky falsetto and Grace Potter-like power. Our next rock diva may have just arrived. -Alex Fiore