TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2012: better late than never

Being that it’s already January and I’m about to start another semester at grad school, I had better pump this list out now. It was originally intended as a two-part deal with full reviews for each record…but now it’s going to be a list with some random words thrown in here and there.

Honorable mentions: Jessie Ware, St. Gregory Orange, Tigercats, Clock Opera, Sinkane, Shrag, The Maccabees, Maribel, Exlovers, Egyptian Hip Hop

And the top 20…

20. Lone Wolf / The Lovers

19. The Megaphonic Thrift / The Megaphonic Thrift

18. Django Django / Django Django

17. Cheers Elephant/ Like Wind Blows Fire

16. The Evens / The Odds

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TOP SONGS OF 2012: 30-21

I just got brutalized by the hardest exam I’ve ever taken in my life. Holy shit, it was a terrible, terrible experience.

Here’s the middle of the top 50. The list is starting to get really good.

If you missed the rest check them out here: 50-41 and 40-31.

30. Saint Etienne “Heading for the Fair”
From an album that’s both reflective and melancholy comes a song that’s both, and in classic Saint Etienne style, they’ve buried one of their better songs on the album. While many will say that they had their heyday in the ’90s, I’d argue that they’re in the midst of a late career renaissance. This is easily one of their best songs since Good Humor.

29. Niki & the Dove “The Drummer”
This year’s indie dancefloor filler. If someone did a 20-minute remix of this track, I probably wouldn’t complain all too much.

blood red shoes 4
28. Blood Red Shoes “Lost Kids”

This is the first of three songs from them on this list, and one of their most linear moments. But the thing to remember with this duo – even when ordinary, they’re still miles more interesting than almost any other band on the planet.

27. Lone Wolf “The Swan of Meander”
His new album – and this song in particular – has the influence of Wild Beasts all over it. It’s a brooding, dark, and expansive mess, but it’s also the lead single from Paul Marhsall’s best album yet.

Bloc Party, Berlin, June 2012
26. Bloc Party “Octopus”

A band that returns from a hiatus, even a short one, is almost always past its due date. Whether it’s money or whatever, their heart is usually not in, but Bloc Party bucked the trend. “Octopus” brought back the guitars, and more importantly, the life to the band. This is one of their best moments since Silent Alarm.

25. Runaround Kids “The Narcissist”

I was a little hesitant to put a cover on this list, but this song is too good not to include. Taken from a split tour EP with Irish group We Are Losers, this redo contains everything I love about these guys – the vocal acrobatics, the guitars that fall somewhere between post-hardcore and pop, and the manic energy.

24. Jessie Ware “Night Light”
Hype can be a huge turnoff. I bought into it with Katy B, but I was sorely disappointed. Many of the same folks were all over this record, but I’m glad I gave it a try. Tracks like “Night Light” are an absolute gem.

23. FOE “Mother May I?”

No exaggeration here, but I’ve probably listened to this record once a day this year since its release. Album track “Mother May I?” is one of the reasons why, a grunge-washed rocker that would have made band frontwoman Hannah Clark a star in ’90s.

22. The Cribs “Anna”
Perhaps the Cribs have seen their moment pass in America, but they remain massive in their home country, and for good reason. Each album is anchored by singles, and filled out with indie/garage rockers that are anything but filler. “Anna” may show a more sensitive side of the band, but it’s anything but restrained.

21. Johnny Foreigner “Maybe Daniel’s All the Push I Need”

Every end of year list I’ve made for the past seven years or whatever has featured these guys. And with good reason. They never stop releasing music – albums and singles and EPs and splits and cassettes. You’d think that they’d run out of ideas soon, but as evidenced by this latest single, they’re still going strong.


Almost a month ago I scribbled down a list of my albums of the year, or at least the contenders, and I posted it over here. I’m still not sure if that’s the entire pool I’m drawing from, as there are still a few titles I have yet to check out.

I still have a few weeks to formalize the list (and also do songs and new bands), but for now, here are some of the albums that will be near the top. This is completely out of order.

The Crookes / Hold Fast

FOE / Bad Dream Hotline

Blood Red Shoes / In Time To Voices

Saint Etienne / Words And Music By Saint Etienne

Bruce Springsteen / Wrecking Ball

Niki & the Dove / Instinct

Pulled Apart By Horses / Tough Love

Ellen & the Escapades / All the Crooked Scenes

The Megaphonic Thrift / The Megaphonic Thrift


Saint Etienne  (named after the French soccer team) have always seemed at sonic odds among my favorite artists. While bands like Sonic Youth, Manic Street Preachers, and Fugazi rely heavily on guitars to tell their story, Saint Etienne are veritable genre chameleons, with a heavy reliance on pop and electronica. What has always made their sound special is the understanding that pop music is not simply a disposable commodity. It’s something that can be fun, nostalgic, and get your mind working all at once. And twenty-plus years on their still making songs that you get you to move and think.

This year saw their first proper album release in seven years, and that album – titled Words and Music by Saint Etienne – is there best release in close to 15 years, and may even be as good as their seminal album Tiger Bay.

Speaking of Tiger Bay, it was that disc that clued me into the trio 18 years ago, and tracks like “He’s on the Phone” and “Like a Motorway” still make London seem mysterious and cool to me, although now I’ve been to the city enough to know the real story.

While the newest album didn’t hit me right away, over the time, the “getting older, but not growing old” theme started to manifest itself. Things like going to the shows and noticing the crowds getting younger every year, and thinking about bands (like this one, for example), that folks don’t seem to appreciate any longer. But I’ll save all of that stuff for my albums of the year list.

This Saturday in Los Angeles I see Saint Etienne for only the third time – the first times came on the same tour in 1999, in Philly (TLA) and DC (9:30 Club). A lot has changed since then. Now I can legally drink and I’m married, but luckily I’m not carrying around any extra weight.

The first two videos below are from the band’s latest album, and the other three are classics from earlier albums.

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There are some bands who are champions for their hometowns, and London has no better advocate than Saint Etienne. Over their 20+ year career, they’ve done a brilliant job espousing all that is good, bad, and undefinable about England’s capital and its inhabitants. When I was first exposed to the band in the ’90s, they were my gateway to a city and country I thought I’d never experience.

Although adult stuff – like kids and the tedium of touring when one is north of 40 – has rightly slowed the band down in the past few years, they have kept busy closer to home with a variety of other artistic pursuits.

This year saw the release of their first new album in seven years, Words and Music by Saint Etienne, which is also their best album in 14 years. Everything But the Girl and Stereolab may remain accurate touchstones, but the band is now a little older, a little wiser, and much more reflective. It’s an album that looks back without bending under the weight of nostalgia, acknowledging that being 25 is fucking awesome, but growing older isn’t too bad either.

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