49 Other Great Albums I Heard This Year

Last updated 10:27 19/12/2012

Every year I have a go at putting down some kind of Best Albums list - and every year I'm told off for choosing Lil' Band O' Gold instead of Kanye West. Or something along those lines. This year people will point out that I should have mentioned Kendrick Lamar - and maybe some of you will notice that this is the only Best Albums of 2012 list to not feature Tame Impala.

The reason I've not included Lamar and Tame Impala's albums is because I have not heard them. I'll get there. I like what I have heard from good kid, m.A.A.d city and I loved the first Tame Impala album - but I haven't experienced these new albums this year; not in full. So they're not on my list. Also - it's no fun if we all have the same list. So those albums - and many others can be on your list. I'm even going to leave Michael Kiwanuka's Home Again off my list. But you might like to add it to your list.

Maybe we'll have some albums that we double-up on; that we share. It's possible. Isn't it? Maybe not...

I told you all just the other day that Paul Buchanan's Mid Air was head and shoulders above all others, my Album of the Year for 2012. So, there. That is that. It's only been a couple of days later but I've not changed my mind. I'm happy with that choice.

But it was a bumper year for great music - and I found it in all sorts of places, unlikely places. Sometimes it was obvious, from first listen. Other times it took a while to sink in. But there was a lot of music to consume this year and I did my best. A busy year for me. I think I found more music to love this year than any other year in recent times. It feels that way.

So here are the 49 others to make up my 50 Best Albums of 2012. No order though, these all follow Paul Buchanan's Mid Air and were jotted down here as I remembered them.

Please share your list at the end - doesn't have to be 50, just your five or 10 or 13 or 20 favourites of the year. Here are mine.

Lawrence Arabia, The Sparrow - if I had to give an award for the NZ album of the year I think this album would take it; it might even be head and shoulders above the others, in the same way that Buchanan's album stuck out for me above all others. I wrote a bit about the album here. And I've not stopped playing this all year. And can't see myself tiring of this album in 2013. A sharp, sophisticated set of pop songs from an artist that is improving, maturing with every album.

Mark Knopfler, Privateering - well, I had a go at explaining this album/justifying a love for it earlier in the year. I was mocked then. I'll be mocked now. That's fine. One of my favourites of the year and the best double album of 2012.

Matthew Dear, Beams - Matthew Dear was on my radar previously but his album Beams is the one that really speaks to me; nicely filling the void in my life now there's nothing new coming from LCD Soundsystem. (I wrote about Beams earlier in the year, here.)

SJD, Elastic Wasteland - I wrote about this recently. I love this album.

Dinosaur Jr, I Bet on Sky - the best of the "comeback" albums from Dino J, as I said here (and it got me going back through their catalogue too; such a great band).

Heavy Blanket, Heavy Blanket - hey and if you thought J Mascis was good on the Dinosaur Jr album above but felt that he was reined in just a little, then check out his blistering work here - he's like a kid locked in his room, left with his guitar for an hour. (Or something like that.)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill - worth it for the simultaneously brilliant/ridiculous 27-minute-long opener, Driftin' Back. It is in fact every Neil Young song in one stoned-over medley. (The second-best double-album of the year?) My review of Psychedelic Pill is here.

Paul Kelly, Spring and Fall - still getting to know this one, but it's lovely already, warm and inviting. And like any great Paul Kelly record it has the vital ingredients: songs. By Paul Kelly.

Kara Gordon & The Wreckage, Kara Gordon & The Wreckage - I enjoyed this album. A lot. I loved the reminder of some great 1980s metal and hard-rock, shameless lifts that were perfectly integrated into an original act - click here for my full review.

Bill Fay, Life Is People - something of a runner-up to the Paul Buchanan album for me. A reminder of Fay's talent and a welcome return. I wrote about the album here, and there's a bit more about Fay's earlier work also.

Max Richter, Recomposed: Vivaldi, Four Seasons - I knew about Max Richter already and had heard some of his great work but this has been a revelation, not least because it's opened my ears and eyes to a piece of music I was sick of; was sure I didn't need to hear again. Here I've heard it in a whole new way. Beautiful. And I'm off for more Richter as a result.

Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos - fairly new to this one too; but the Steely Dan man is back on form with possibly his finest solo record.

Scott Walker, Bish Bosch - I would argue, in fact I did right here, that this is more art-project/sound-installation than it is album. But it's the new Scott Walker release at any rate and he does a fine line in obliterating his past every time he releases a new album.

Brian Eno, LUX - a return to the ambient albums, albums I loved and still listen to. I found much to like here.

Various, Sassafras & Moonshine: The Songs of Laura Nyro - I think this might be the best tribute album/covers compilation I've heard in quite some time. I reviewed the album and just kept on playing it. I hope plenty of people got to hear this album and then go directly to the source to hear the originals.

Rival Sons, Head Down - I found this at the right time. The Black Keys had let me down and then I really got stuck into this album. The new Buffalo Killers album wasn't as good as I'd hoped too. This album made up for both of those things.

Menahan Street Band, The Crossing - though I feel dirty using this term, this has been my chillout album of the year. A very fine record.

Ry Cooder, Election Special - maybe I'm including this because I interviewed Ry Cooder. That's certainly the reason I got right inside this album, listening to it non-stop for a month or so before release (it's not often you get a pre-release copy these days). Cooder's having a good run lately. And the first two songs on this album make it worth the price of admission, I reckon.

Craig Terris, Bleat Your Heart Out - click here to read my interview with Craig Terris about this album and his future plans. Talented guy. And I like this album a whole heap.

Public Service Broadcasting, The War Room - okay, so it's actually an EP and as I said here that's probably the correct amount of time/space for this sort of sound. But I've really fallen for Public Service Broadcasting; a very talented duo.

Graveyard, Lights Out - so the new Soundgarden album turned out to be a bit average; at least there was this to enjoy. A more rewarding listen.

Advance Base, A Shut-In's Prayer - you may remember him as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. What I liked most about this rebrand was the songs seemed more sincere (my full review here).

Dead Can Dance, Anastasis - wrote about this album here and here. And went from thinking that it might just be the band tracing around its old sound to welcoming this album as one of the group's best; a stunning return.

The Impending Adorations, Gestalt - this is the new project by Paul McLaney. Fans of his sound will love this, I think. I certainly do.

John Frusciante, PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone - interesting to hear a Frusciante solo album given he's quit that band (again). One of my first reviews for my Off The Tracks site.

Bob Mould, Silver Age - in a year where I fell back in love with Sugar thanks to the killer reissues and carried on a love affair with Husker Du (thanks to my turntable) it was timely to have Mould carve out another gem.

Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes - I know a lot of people see this as one of the weaker offerings from Flying Lotus. I don't. Quite the opposite. I'm pretty sure this is his best release to date.

Dr John, Locked Down - I talked about this album a lot this year. And I played it a heap. I was won over instantly. It sent me back to so many other great albums from the good Dr; to his autobiography as well and - as I said here - I received a very nice surprise in the form of this album on vinyl; a gift from some very good (very kind) friends. Magic. I'm already looking forward to spending the summer with this album as a big part of the soundtrack.

Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan - I had a good go at explaining why I love this album; my favourite from Dirty Projectors. Roll on the shows, I say; last time was good - but it didn't quite take. I think that'll be different in 2013 with this set of strong songs for the group to cherry-pick from.

James Rhodes, Jimmy: James Rhodes Live in Brighton - earlier in the year I wrote about James Rhodes' Piano Man show. The record company saw that post and offered the new album. Good stuff. It's the perfect introduction to Rhodes' exquisite playing and his unique approach. James Rhodes saw my post too and sent me a message. That was kinda cool. He said that he hopes to one day make it down to New Zealand to play. That would be a very special thing.

Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas - about as good as a Leonard Cohen album in 2012 could be. And better than his last effort; that alone gives this reason to exist.

Sharon Van Etten, Tramp - a great new find for me this year.

The Eversons, Summer Feeling - I would say this is the only thing challenging Mr Arabia for the best Kiwi release of 2012 and of course I wrote about the band and the album right here earlier in the year.

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange - I wasn't expecting to dig this album all that much. But it really is great - and though he's probably not anywhere near as clever as people are wanting to suggest (I hear no revelation, just some decent/not embarrassing R'n'B) sometimes just good is good enough.

Azealia Banks, 1991 - I got plenty of grief for choosing 2011's 212 as Song of the Year for 2012. It was apparently irrelevant that I had justified my reason for selecting a song that was released at the tail end of 2011 - that being that it really had impact on into 2012. Well this EP (again, an EP rather than an album) was released in 2012. And it's on the list. Because of that song.

Grizzly Bear, Shields - I wrote about this already. I don't love the band but I like them. And I think this album is strong. I've played it heaps this year; it has a handful of standout songs and no duds. And the recent gig was very good.

Swans, The Seer - I love the audaciousness of it. Disc 2 is better than Disc 1. But Disc 1 is not at all bad. And please don't take this the wrong way but I feel like, sometimes, this is the album that Lulu wanted to be.

Various, Rework: Philip Glass Remixed - worth it for the Beck remix alone. But there's more besides that. Much more.

Van Halen, A Different Kind of Truth - about as good as a Van Halen album in 2012 could be; helped, of course, by the fact that this album is made up of songs that go back many years.

The Puddle, Secret Holiday/Victory Blues - part of a superb run in recent years from The Puddle. There'll be more. I hope.

Xiu Xiu, Always - probably the album I played the most in the first half of the year. Well, second only to Dr John perhaps. And strange bedfellows they were. I reckon its Xiu Xiu's best too.

Upper Hutt Posse, Declaration of Resistance - I wrote a gushing four-star review of this for the Dominion Post. I'd like to think it's a very important album but I'm not sure anywhere near enough people will (bother to) hear it.

Gaz Coombes, Here Come the Bombs - I always felt sorry for Supergrass. A far more consistent band than Oasis (and possibly as great as Pulp and Blur but just missing the same push). Gaz probably should have released this a few years earlier; probably should have broken up the band earlier too. But there's enough here to suggest he's still got it and that there's more to come too. Fingers crossed, eh.

Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts - Norah Jones now makes very good records. And of course they sell in minute quantities compared with her big-selling bore-fests of a decade ago...

Steve Vai, The Story of Light - I never imagined myself listing a Steve Vai album on my best of the year post. The only other time it could have happened was when Passion & Warfare was released. And we didn't have blogs then. This album really is as good as Vai's only other great album. Well, very nearly anyway.

Lionel Richie, Tuskegee - just because an album is awful, that's no reason not to include it on your best of the year list, is it? Well, usually, yeah. But sometimes - only sometimes, mind - a spectacularly horrific album can enthral on some bizarre (almost cryptic) level. This has been that album for me this year. I wrote about that phenomenon earlier in the year, mentioning this album from Lionel and the one above from Vai. The British Lion record didn't end up in the same boat. That was just comically awful. But there's enough happening on Tuskegee to get it over the line for me. I'm convinced Lionel Richie is a great songwriter and I like the way he dressed these songs up for a second outing. Sick? Oh, absolutely!

Lee Ranaldo, Between the Tides and the Times - sleeper hit of the year for me. Who knew that "the George Harrison of Sonic Youth" would end up, in the wake of the band breaking up, making the most interesting, accessible, melodic album that anyone involved with that group has ever offered. It's better than the last several Sonic Youth records. Better than Thurston Moore's last solo record too. And given the rest of Ranaldo's solo offerings include strange nocturnal scrapings, free-improv/free-noise dissonance and dark, twisted, rubbery guitar pungency Tides and Times was a very nice surprise.

Dirty Three, Toward the Low Sun - well I ended up writing about Warren Zevon as a result of one of the songs on this album. But I kept playing Toward the Low Sun, and Jim White's splatter-paint percussion still rewards. On every listen. Another welcome return from a great band.

ZZ Top, La Futura - after prefacing this with my Paul Buchanan post the other day I had to mention this album. But I really do think it's a cracker, a return to 1970s ZZ Top, Billy's voice and guitar sounding so good. Check out I Gotsta Get Paid.

So, there you go - counting the Mid Air album too that's my 50 favourites from 2012. I'll have left something out, no doubt. What do you think I've left out? Anything you liked too in my list? And what are your favourites from this year?

Also, a good year for music this year? Or not at all? What do you think?

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