Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Every year seems to bring a band that is both FM radio-friendly, playable side by side with the likes of Nicki Minaj and Beyonce, but is also just damn good music. In the past, this band was Mumford and Sons or fun. The Lumineers, a folk rock band from Denver, became that band later on this year. With the hit song about unrequited love “Ho Hey,” the band combines emotional and strong lyrics with beautiful acoustic guitar, paired with infectious Heys! and Hos! “Stubborn Love” is another well-done track. This is just the beginning for this band, and they will surely become a staple in the pop-folk rock scene.
The members of the Walkmen have all reached a point of stability that they haven’t really ever had before, after upwards of a decade trying to make it in the Brooklyn music scene. Past albums have been brilliant, but also angry and frustrated. They were free, and the music reflected that. But this album is the album of married, happy men. You know those “Dove for Men” commercials that tell you to “Be comfortable in your own skin?” That’s what this album is like. With standout tracks like “Heartbreaker” and “The Love You Love,” we hear classic Walkmen, being spurred on by driving guitars from the collected Paul Maroon and mad drums from the drummer who looks like he’s on cocaine, with Leitshauer keeping up vocally and answering the call. However, the best song on the album is the title track. It is soft and sentimental, as well as reflective, but is also epic and loud. Leitshauer screams out in the chorus, “Remember, remember! All we fight for!” This line encapsulates what this album is all about: knowing what is important to you as you continue to grow and mature. The Walkmen have released a stunningly beautiful album different than anything they’ve ever released.
Woods, who have consistently released solid and sound folk rock albums for nearly a decade, have potentially given us their most complete and cohesive album with Bend Beyond. While there is really no standout track (though, if there were one, it would be “Size Meets the Sound”), this album is incredible when taken as a whole. While past Woods albums have been very stripped down and bare with minimal instrumentals (think “The Number” or the album “Songs of Shame”), on “Bend Beyond,” the band has at each song’s core a bare skeleton and builds on it with electric guitars and synthesizers. “Size Meets the Sounds,” with its sprawling guitar hook, sounds unlike anything Woods has ever made. The song is more fitting to play in an arena than in a smaller venue that Woods are used to playing in. “Bend Beyond” is an album put out by a mature band that is comfortable with who they are. However, perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this album is that it continues Woods’ string of good albums.
Being a Cleveland boy, I have to support the best band to come out of Cleveland in a long time. The critically-acclaimed band came up with a loud, punk, dark album that is part of a group albums that came out in 2012 that Pitchfork says were necessary for the indie rock scene (along with Japandroids, The Men, etc.). They said that it was good that bands like Cloud Nothings added some “piss and vinegar” back into the indie rock scene, instead of the progressive indie music that has dominated the scene as of late.
Cloud Nothings start out the album with “No Future/No Past,” a song with an anti-rhythm that just sort of goes along and picks up steam, as Baldi starts off by softly singing “Give up, come to, no hope, we’re through.” Eventually he is screaming these phrases, and the song comes to a dramatic climax, signaling that this album is nothing like the pop-rock he put forth on his last album. The catchiest song on the album is “Stay Useless,” which is a great song to mosh to at a concert. With other great tracks like “Cut You,” and “Wasted Days,” Cloud Nothings have released a strong album that is by far their most complete and catapults them to the frontlines of punk rock. The best part is that Baldi is still not old enough to drink legally… there is so much more to come from this young man from the greatest city on earth.
Passion Pit mastermind Michael Angelakos’s depression comes through in this melancholy album, despite the façade of fluffy synths and Angelakos’ high voice. Two particularly depressing tracks are “Take a Walk,” about a man with a family trying to make ends meet during the great depression, and “Constant Conversations,” about having to give up a lover. But at the same time, “Take a Walk” is a lovable track that is very danceable. The stampeding synthesizers that play during its opening and chorus make up one of the best moments in music in 2012. During these sections, it feels like you’re flying through the atmosphere. It is blissful.
Now, if “Take a Walk” is bliss, “Constant Conversations” gives off the feeling you get when you know you are doing something you like that is not good for you, and you know you have to give it up. His emotional vulnerability is on full display when, during this catchy song, Angelakos says “I love you and I need you but someday you’re gonna need to find some other kind of place to go.”
Gossamer is an overflow of emotion and pain. The depressing lyrics paired with the cheerful harmonies and instrumentals makes an interesting dynamic that sounds wonderful. At points, flowery synths paint a picture of happiness, but Angelakos sings about depression. The album doesn’t seem to make sense in this way, but it definitely works.
Beach House, besides being a band sampled by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and the Weeknd, is a dream pop duo from Baltimore. Beach House has been steadily honing their craft for a little under a decade. Fronted by keyboardist and vocalist Victoria Legrand, whose voice is both wondrous and haunting, and creative guitarist Alex Scally, Beach House hit their stride with 2010’s Teen Dream, which catapulted them to the forefronts of indie rock. Poised to release a strong follow-up, Beach House shifted from more intimate songs to ambitious epics made for the big stage. This is still the same Beach House on Bloom, with dream pop still being their primary genre, just with a little more swagger.
On Bloom, Beach House go big and swing for the fences, going in the direction of tracks like “10 Mile Stereo” from Teen Dream. With “Myth,” they put forth a track that comes at you like a tidal wave. Scally’s guitar is the main player in this song, as Legrand drifts in and out as Scally’s guitar marches on. With a memorable chorus in which Legrand sings “Let you know you’re not the only one!” and a final guitar solo by Scally, “Myth” cements itself as one of the best songs of 2012.
Another great track is “Wild,” which has been the song they have been using to open concerts lately. Legrand’s keyboards come in slowly and then take over. Scally enters in and the guitar and keyboard feed off of each other, creating a wondrous vortex of musical delight. Other highlights include the beautifully crafted “Lazuli,” “Wishes,” and the epic 8 minute closing song, “Irene.” Beach House, with their ambitious “Bloom,” have nowhere to go but up and have made one of the best albums of the year.
Born in the dorms of Virginia Tech by Jack Tatum a few years back, Wild Nothing have quickly rose to prominence with their unique brand of shoegaze dream pop. They are, if one thing, ethereal. Their songs sound so airy and light that they don’t seem to be made of matter. They are also very well thought out with brilliantly sewn together synths and guitars, with Tatum’s beautiful voice and strong lyrics.
Nocturne, the follow-up to 2010’s Gemini, sees the band release an album with too many good tracks to tab a single song as the “one.” One could say it is “Shadow,” the catchy opener with an infectious repeating guitar hook. An argument could be made for “Only Heather,” where heavenly synths provide the canvass for Tatum to paint stunning guitar riffs on, keeping the song moving at a high pace. It could be “Paradise,” “Disappear Always,” or “This Chain Won’t Break.” But it doesn’t matter which one is best: All of these brilliant similar but distinct songs come together to form what is the best dream pop album of 2012.
Like Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings, Jack Tatum is very young and this is only the beginning. Tatum sings on “This Chain Won’t Break,” “I don’t know, just what I got myself in to.” This is the most striking lyric of the album. Clearly something big is happening with Tatum and Wild Nothing on this brilliant album. Give it a listen and try to discover for yourself.
Put simply, this is potentially the best rap album to come out since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy back in 2010. It also represents the best album put out by a Compton rapper in a while. Kendrick represents a shining hope for Compton rappers, who used to be at the forefront of the rap scene. That is why legendary Compton rapper/producer Dr. Dre has really taken Kendrick under his wing. He produced this album and stars on a couple of tracks.
This album is about Lamar growing up in Compton, and tells a very interesting story, with audio recordings of people who are taken to be Kendrick’s family members engaging in dialogue. Kendrick goes on later to deliver what might be the most complete rap song of the year in “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” a song about Kendrick having to be alone and “do him.” “Money Trees” samples “Silver Soul” by Beach House very well and says “ya bish,” about a million times. But it’s great. “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is another great track, with a deeper than deep voice carrying the chorus.
However, the most absurd and memorable chorus of “Good Kid” has to be that of “Backseat Freestyle.” Kendrick spits, “All my life I want money and power, respect my mind or die from lead showers. [here’s the kicker] I prey my d**k get big as the Eiffel Tower, so I can f**k the world for seventy-two hours.” Yeah. He went there. Good Kid is a truly complete and deep album, and is the best of its kind to come out in 2012. Kendrick Lamar is carrying the torch for Compton rap.
Kevin Parker is a beautiful individual and is currently the face of self-made genre, as his website says, “psychedelic hypno-groove melodic rock music.” In terms of capturing a feeling while creating incredible music, no band did better in 2012. That feeling of social anxiety. Of not fitting in. Of being on the outside while everybody is having fun on the inside. That’s what this album is about. Despite the feelings of insecurity in the album, the music is so confident. Tame Impala know exactly what they are doing. Drums are perfectly timed. Synthesizer loops come in at seemingly random but precisely planned moments. Parker manipulates his voice with machines at various points to create a dramatic effect. Effect pedals distort his guitar. With other standout tracks like “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “Apocalypse Dreams,” this album awed everyone in 2012.
Was it really a question?
Channel Orange was less a musical album than it was a story. It was clearly the most profound work of art released musically in the past year. Each song is a like a short vignette on some aspect of our culture that Ocean has observed. And who better to tell these stories than Frank Ocean, who has one of the best and most versatile voices in modern R&B, rivaled only by Abel Tesfaye of The Weeknd?
“Thinkin Bout You” is just one of his songs about unrequited love. It has a beautiful instrumental for Frank Ocean to sing his half R & B, half rap verses before going into his falsetto for singing the chorus.
“Bad Religion” is probably Ocean’s most well documented song. Yet again centered on unrequited love, “Bad Religion” tells Ocean’s tale of falling in love with another man, who he assumes not to be gay. The instrumentals on this song are minimalistic, paving the way for Ocean to have some very memorable moments alone with the mic, most notably when he sings, “I could never make him love me!”
“Super Rich Kids” sees Ocean dive into the psyche of the children of the 1%, singing “Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce.” Of course, it’s cool that he would even think to sing about this topic in the first place, but what makes Ocean amazing is his songwriting ability. That line is so brilliant and is an interesting way of describing the culture he is singing about. “Pyramids” is his epic, and arguably his best song.
All in all, this album was a beautiful musical story, and I don’t think Frank Ocean can top it. But who knows. Hell, as Frank Ocean says, it might not even be music that is his next pursuit. He might just write a novel.