Welcome to the fifth consecutive Best Albums of the Year countdown here at Hidden Track. Hopefully, you know by now that we pride ourselves on covering music that spans any genre, any age, any geography, and any instrumental makeup. To us, good music is good music. Period.
So, you can rest assured of the one thing that will always make our list a cut above the rest: we consider everything. Our submissions include all styles of music from bluegrass to jazz, jam to indie, electronica to rap, as well as everything in between. At the end of the day, we’re a diverse open-minded music blog. Our writers work here because they have great taste in music, and thus they are encouraged simply to write about what catches their interest. We have no motives, no editorial biases, and no strings attached. We hope that comes across in our picks.
We’ve hit the mid-point of our week-long countdown of the 25 best albums of 2012, let’s check out numbers 15 through 11…
Key Tracks: Take It Back, Happy Pills, Miriam
Sounds Like: A modern day film noir soundtrack, Norah Jones’ heart breaking
The Skinny: Forget what you think you know about Norah Jones. Little Broken Hearts isn’t one for the suburban Starbucks soccer moms. Teaming with IT-producer Danger Mouse, and armed with a stack of deeply personal songs about a recent break up with her longtime boyfriend, Jones walked away with an sparse, dark and moody album that is full of devastating heart break. As the old expression goes “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” These are songs that cut deep, Jones pulls no punches wondering on She’s 22 “She 22 and she’s loving you, and you’ll never know how it makes me blue/Does she make you happy?”, while on Little Broken Hearts, proclaiming “Little broken hearts of the night/Slowly picking up their knives/On the way to the fight/Tonight they want revenge.”
Sounds Like: Tamed math-rock.
Key Tracks: Old & Gray, Fever, Remote & Dark Years
The Skinny: Chicago’s Maps & Atlases did exactly what many hoped they would do for their second LP-release, keep the math-rock tendencies that made their debut Perch Patchwork so great but added a dose of tighter production and a few more earworm-worthy hooks. The subject matters seems a bit deeper on this sophomore effort as well which is noticeable right from the start with the poetic recanting of a failed relationship’s nostalgia in Old & Gray.
Sounds Like: Songs for a weirdo bike ride
Key Tracks: Bend Beyond, Cali In A Cup, Is It Honest?, Cascade
The Skinny: I love this album. Woods accomplishes a lot of really good things simultaneously on Bend Beyond in that the songs themselves are catchy and instantly entertaining, but meanwhile incorporate a psychedelic washy quality and manage to serve as jam vehicles when the urge to go off strikes (see Cascade or Find Them Empty). Woods deserves a lot of credit creating a comfort zone on their Woodsist label for modern bands who like to improvise, but prefer not to squander away their talents in fifth tier jamband purgatory. Other bands on the label like Real Estate and Wavves have gotten more attention to date, but Bend Beyond solidifies Woods as not just the creator of the scene, but the leader as well.
Key Tracks: How Long Must I Wait, Lonesome, Warrior Man
Sounds Like: Dr. Dog’s having a very mild and extremely entertaining identity crisis… with guitars and exquisite harmonies.
The Skinny: Seems like even before Dr. Dog was a band they were a “sound” – a lovable Beatles-vs-The-Beach-Boys harmony-driven rock and roll, proudly wearing their influences on their sleeves. In the ensuing years, that sound has done pretty good by them and no one would blame ‘em for sticking to it. But on Be the Void, more than in the past, Dr. Dog takes that basic premise and starts to build on it, subtly in some ways, more extravagantly in others. What makes the album so much fun is that each track takes the basic comfort-zone sound and twists it in a new direction, so that by the end they’ve spanned a dozen different genres without fully leaving the comfort of home. In the end, there’s no mistaking that this is a Dr. Dog album. It works for the same reason any great album works: the songs are terrific and they’re performed superlatively by a band that knows what it’s doing.
Key Tracks: Gun Has No Trigger, Swing Lo Magellan, Unto Caesar
Sounds Like: Sometimes Radiohead Lite, sometimes Canned Heat
The Skinny: Dirty Projectors’ big idea man, Dave Longstreth, brought his weirdness quotient down just enough for the occasional fan to follow along this time around. The lyrical content on Swing Lo Magellan remains heavy, but it’s lucid and the majority of the material incorporates infectious acoustic guitar patterns, enjoyable female vocal harmonies and even a bunch of hand claps. A percussive quality permeates the album in a way that keeps it chugging along despite some genre twists and tangents into psychedelia and while fans of Longstreth’s headier diversions might find this one too palatable to be cool, for the rest of us it’s the perfect recipe for the Dirty Projectors.