December 17, 2012

John Seay's Top 20 Albums of 2012

Flagpole's year-end coverage continues.

I always preface these lists by stating that while I listen to a ton of new music, I clearly can’t listen to everything. Every record on this list, though, is a record I actually listened to and didn’t just pull from Pitchfork. I combined local and national releases into one list, rather than break them up into two lists. The local releases are mostly from bands from my home state of Alabama or my adopted and current state of Georgia, with an emphasis on Athens.

The entries aren’t ranked; instead, everything is in alphabetical order. If your favorite record isn’t on here, well, maybe I haven’t heard it. Or, maybe I think it sucked.

Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls In a span of a few weeks, this band went from a group of kids playing in front of small crowds in rural Alabama to one of the biggest new bands in the world. As might be expected, such a meteoric rise to near-fame has brought some haters out of the woodwork. In my opinion, though, Boys & Girls is a good record.

Bill Wright: Everything Look Good (Ain’t Good) I was excited when Bill Wright re-released a handful of his classic soul tracks from the ‘70s. Bill is talented, and wrote some great soul songs, but then fell on hard times, from which he is still trying to emerge. My favorite tracks are “Everything Look Good (Ain’t Good),” “You Can’t Let Your Left Hand Know What Your Right Hand Do" and “A Man In Love (Is Handicapped Some)."

Celeste: ft. Celeste Celeste is a young singer/songwriter from Alabama now living in New York. She has the image down, and her music is fantastic. She previously performed under the name Monarchs, but has recently rebranded as Celeste, based in part of the success of her mixtape, ft. Celeste, which you can download (for free) here.

Dead Fingers: Dead Fingers Featuring the husband-wife duo of Taylor Hollingsworth and Kate Taylor Hollingsworth, Dead Fingers is as a close to a supergroup as you’ll find in Alabama. Taylor is a solo artist (one of his albums is listed below) and guitarist for Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band, and Kate is the sister of Maria Taylor of Azure Ray—and a solo artist, too. When Taylor and Kate sing together, something great happens.

Delicate Cutters: Ring Delicate Cutters would fit right in place on a label like Merge Records (they are currently signed to Birmingham label Skybucket Records). Their music is beautifully layered pop.

Diamond Rugs: Diamond Rugs Great party record by a band featuring, among others, Ian Saint Pe from The Black Lips and Hardy Morris from Dead Confederate. “Blue Mountain” is simply an amazing song. Try listening to it and then not humming the melody.

The District Attorneys: Slowburner There’s a lot of hype surrounding this young band from Athens. The District Attorneys also released an EP, entitled Jr., on Dec. 4. Maybe they’re hedging their bets to make sure they make more “Best of 2012” lists?

Dum Dum Girls: End of Daze Dream-pop at its finest. This band is just now hitting its peak.

Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel I left off the rest of the title of this album because come on. The record though, is good. From “Every Single Night,” the first single, to my favorite track, “Anything We Want,” to the bizarre “Hot Knife,” this album is always entertaining and does not, as a whole, disappoint.

FisherGreen: Keep It Together Great funk-soul-rock band from Alabama. My favorite tracks are “The Spins,” “Tryin’ To Get Paid,” “Flicker,” “Free To Play” and “Sisters Brothers.”

Frank Ocean: Channel Orange This was a great summer record that featured some killer tracks. “Super Rich Kids” might be my favorite song of the year, and “Pyramids” is a classic, even though the video features John Mayer. I look forward to seeing what this guy has planned for the future, and I’m sure that at the very least it won’t be boring.

Grass Giraffes: Transportation EP Especially when factoring in the age of the band’s drummer, this group is young, and this is its first release. It’s a good one. “Better Alone” almost sounds like My Bloody Valentine. Look forward to seeing how these guys develop.

Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city This was a good year for smart, well-produced hip-hop music. In addition to this album, you had Killer Mike and El-P both releasing great albums (Killer Mike’s made this list, below). Kendrick Lamar’s album, though, is the best of the bunch. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” petty much sums up the way I feel about life generally.

Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music Killer Mike dropped off the scene for a minute there, but came back with a vengeance and a unique perspective on history. My favorite track is “JoJo’s Chillen,” which reminds me of the kind of hip-hop narrative that A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul would have written.

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires: There is a Bomb in Gilead This Alabama-born singer/songwriter is like a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Hinton. Live the guy is electric. He opened for Alabama Shakes at the Georgia Theatre earlier this year. Here is a live video of one of my favorite songs from the record.

Redd Kross: Researching the Blues Man, this album rocks. Redd Kross has been around since the ‘80s in one form or another, but only fairly recently has the group returned to the stage. Researching the Blues is the first album since 1997, and I think it’s one of the band's best.

Tame Impala: Lonerism OK, I know I said I wasn’t going to rank these albums, but I’d like to point out that if I were ranking them, then this album would be near the very top, if not at the top. The psychedelic overtones might not be for everyone, but I personally love them. Here is the video for my favorite song on the album, which is also the first “single,” “Elephant.”

Through the Sparks: Alamalibu This is a great EP from one of my favorite bands on the planet that you’ve probably never heard of. Through the Sparks have been releasing stellar material for years. Here is a video for “Preacher Pink."

Taylor Hollingsworth: Where To Go, How To Get There, And What You Should Know In Advance I love this record so much so that I’m not even sure if other people will like it. I can’t even see beyond my love of the songs to analyze them objectively. My favorite tracks are “Goose Mad,” “Lady Madonna” and (especially) “Sweepin’ Up His Ashes.”

White Violet: Hiding, Mingling Athenian Nate Nelson has an emotive voice, and his songs are beautiful and direct. Hiding, Mingling is perfect fall/winter music. Here is a live video for “Lays Around Lazy.” Tip him heavily if you buy a drink from him at the 40 Watt.