Wow, I am just doing so bad with these right now. But I’ve committed to writing a few of these out before publishing so you should be seeing them a little more often and hopefully we’ll be able to get through them all before the end of the year. So let’s see, 2012 is when I finished my little college detour of part time classes and enrolled full time in the third and final school of my college career. This was also the year that the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II was celebrated, the Higgs boson particle was discovered, and the Curiosity rover landed on Mars. It was also a big year for film with movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, and the first Hobbit being released. This was also one of the last years where I could dedicate some significant time to discovering and listening to new music, so the next few lists will be a bit shorter. With that being said, below are some albums from 2012 that were important to me at the time. I’ll also throw in a reminder that this retrospective is by no means me ranking or holding up these albums as the best of the past decade. This is a strictly personal series, but I think it offers a look into the foundations of my musical interests and tastes.
ANBERLIN – VITALS–In 2012, I hadn’t paid much attention to Anberlin for 5 years or more. Never Take Friendship Personal was a landmark album for my teenage years, and I did like Cities, but it didn’t make the same impact. After that, they signed to a major label and while New Surrender and Dark Is the Way.. are fine, nothing was quite creating that same excitement as their earlier releases. But then Vitals came out. I heard the singles, and while they didn’t necessarily sound like Friendship, there was something that reminded me of it. This album has a…. vitality (sorry) that made me feel like I was listening to the Anberlin that excited me all those years ago. Especially in songs like “Little Tyrants” and “Someone Anyone.” I still think this is a highlight of their catalog.
CHIDDY BANG – BREAKFAST–This was an important album for my growing appreciation of hip-hop music at the time. I had first heard of Chiddy Bang with their single “Opposite of Adults” that sampled “Kids” by MGMT. Then there was their subsequent EP that had other songs that sampled indie music, like “All Things Go” that sampled Sufjan Stevens. So basically, this rap duo liked the same music that I did, and that common ground was a good place for me to start. While I was already digging into older rap music and even enjoyed recent releases from legendary groups like the Beastie Boys, Chiddy Bang was the first contemporary artist that I actually bought an album from. Unfortunately the album hasn’t aged all that well, but it still holds a special place for me for nostalgic reasons if nothing else.
FLATFOOT 56 – TOIL–I imagine Celtic punk is a difficult genre to keep interesting for the long term. Of course, as I say this, there are bands like Dropkick Murphys that have 9 albums out. But what I mean is keeping things interesting from album to album. However, when Toil came out I was very impressed with the way Flatfoot 56 managed to still sound fresh 4 albums in. They’ve also always been the one Celtic punk band that I was more drawn to and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s the very American focus that they have, using the working class of Chicago as their inspiration. And maybe some of that heartland rock bleeds into their sound. They’re also one of the few bands (that I’m aware of) that actually incorporates bagpipes. Toil has some of my favorite songs from Flatfoot 56, including “Strong Man” and their version of the hymn “I’ll Fly Away.”
JAPANDROIDS – CELEBRATION ROCK–I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the very album that this blog takes its name from. Japandroids really refined their unique blend of post-punk, garage, and heartland rock on this album. The tracks on Celebration Rock almost glow with a positive and triumphant attitude. No doubt, Brian King’s guitar playing plays a key role in that, the fuzzy tone that lingers around the notes gives them almost a droning quality. But it’s all clear enough for the powerful hooks to punch through with the urgency of a punk basement show. And if you look at the final track, you will find the very song that inspired the name of this blog.
KENDRICK LAMAR – GOOD KID, M.A.A.D CITY–Okay, full disclosure, I didn’t listen to this album until a few years after it already came out. I had read an article about how faith was starting to pop up in prominent hip-hop releases from artists like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. Kendrick was also mentioned and this album specifically, because of it’s overarching theme of family and faith being the strong foundation that supported Lamar in his youth in Compton. The album immediately impressed me when I gave it a spin. I knew conscious hip-hop existed, but this was like something different. Gangsta and west coast beats and flows but with more conscious lyrics. And Kendrick’s lyricism is absolutely fantastic all over this, giving a very honest, semi-autobiographical account of what it’s like to grow up black in southern California.
THE LUMINEERS – self titled–If you judge this album solely on the single “Ho Hey,” then you are truly missing out. Yes, they lean a little hard into the gimmicks and yes, the songs are pretty simple. But I believe that simplicity matches the indeterminate era between the 1920s and 1940s that the Lumineers occupy in the narratives of their songs. And even though the songs mostly just tell stories, there’s still some sincerity there. Especially when they slow things down on tracks like “Slow It Down” and “Morning Song,” both easily among the best tracks on the whole album. Yes, this album is mostly popular because of “Ho Hey” and the fact that it came out in the middle of the indie folk craze, but it’s genuinely one of my favorites from that time. I feel like it’s unfairly overlooked because of it’s association with its hit single.
MICHAEL KIWANUKA – HOME AGAIN–I mentioned before in my review of Kiwanuka’s most recent release that I don’t really remember where or how I heard of his name, but somehow I heard the singles “Tell Me A Tale” and “I’ll Get Along” from this album and I was very intrigued. The incredibly convincing vintage soul sound was cool, but it was also still compelling rather than just being vintage for the sake of being vintage. I eventually bought the album and was surprised to find that the majority of the songs were much quieter and mostly acoustic. Some even had clear influence from songwriters like Nick Drake. But this wasn’t a bad thing. The album is nice, welcoming, and relaxing listen from start to finish.
TNGHT – self titled EP–Around the time that trap started getting big in the hip-hop world, it was also infiltrating the world of EDM. The resulting sounds were hard hitting beats with earth shaking bass. Electronic musicians Hudson Mohawke and Lunice came together to make some trap EDM and called themselves TNGHT. They put out this 5 song, 15 minute EP in 2012 and it’s some of the hardest (and sometimes weirdest) stuff to come out of the subgenre. The duo would release a standalone single in 2013, but then they’d disappear until reappearing again in 2019. So for the longest time, this is all we had. But it’s very good and I was happy to at least have it.