Listener’s picks: Our favorite music from 2012


North Atlantic Oscillation

Kscope Records

Glorious waterfall melodies and algebraic harmony arrangements, bug-zapper electronics and summer-mosquito drones, pastoral washes of symphonic sound - all surgically fused into a song cycle whose energy alternately pounds and soothes like the sound of winter waves.

- Rick Koster



Eagle Rock Entertainment

After the quasi-disappointment of their previous "Happiness is the Road," Marillion returns with an all-time classic, rivalling their masterwork "Marbles" and "Afraid of Sunlight" albums. Inventive song architecture and wondrous vocal hookage: a musical meadow where churning virtuosity and lullabaic passages lie together like wolves and lambs.

- Rick Koster


Lee Ranaldo

Matador Records

Eschewing the feedbacky excess of Sonic Youth, Ranaldo focused on the seemingly simple - except it's not - joy of writing catchy rock songs. With help from guitarist Nels Cline (home base: Mars) and SY producer John Agnello, Ranaldo hits a career high point with virtually no weak moments.

- Rick Koster


The Beach Boys

Capitol Records

All of the core - and surviving - members of the Beach Boys put aside decades of discord to tour and record on their 50th anniversary. The fear with this album was that they'd go for the easy out of cheese-marinated surf 'n' cars nostalgia. There IS some of that, but the cascading title track, "Think About the Days" and the album-ending suite of "From There to Back Again," "Pacific Coast Highway" and "Summer's Gone" stir the bewitching cauldron that recalls the greatness of "Pet Sounds" and "Beach Boys Today."

- Rick Koster


Storm Corrosion

Roadrunner Records

Trap Opeth's Mikael Mikael Åkerfeldt and Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson in a studio together with a vintner's stockpile of hearty red wine - and let's see what happens! Well, they weren't locked in, obviously, but this collaboration between two arch-geniuses of modern prog-and/or-metal came up with the aural equivalent of a molten lava stream meandering through a hidden library when Ingmar Bergman stored films never meant to be seen by humans. No matter what fans anticipated, this ain't it - and it's much, much better.

- Rick Koster


Autumn Chorus

The Record Office

As suggested by the band name, this British band has sculpted a breathtaking pastoral record that sounds like Druids singing pagan lullabies in a swirl of circus-colored October leaves. Or: it's as though Jónsi Birgisson and Arvo Pärt were hired to compose the soundtrack to John Keats' "Ode to Autumn."

- Rick Koster


Taylor Swift

Big Machine

Forget all the headline-making romances. Forget all the who-are-these-lyrics-about guessing games. The important thing is: Taylor Swift, at 22, is a killer songwriter. This release continues her run of superb pop albums. (Well, okay, we'll categorize it as pop with a touch of country.) And what range Swift shows, as the CD pings from the wistful "All Too Well" to the get-your-groove-on "22" to the humor-happy uber-hit "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together."

- Kristina Dorsey


Green Day


It's too bad that this rambunctious release was upstaged by Billie Joe Armstrong's onstage meltdown at a September music festival and subsequent trip to rehab. "Uno!" proves that the 40-year-old Armstrong can still rock like a punk kid. The tunes here are all riled up and rollicking, with Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool banging out some great music on this, the first of three albums they released this fall.

- Kristina Dorsey



Matador Records

Perfume Genius is really singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas, and his second album "Put Your Back N 2 It" is a sparse and icy collection of not so much songs but raw nerve endings. But the most accessible song on the album is the rolling piano ballad "Hood," which details the self-loathing that is sometimes the by-product of love. Hadreas writes, "You would never call me baby/If you knew me truly."

-Steve Chupaska




'Oblivion" the lead single off "Visions" from Grimes, the nom de rock belonging to 24-year-old Canadian singer Claire Boucher, was the most cavity inducing synth-pop track in what was a heady year for kids with keyboards and samplers. The fun here comes from the atmosphere created between the fat synth lines and Boucher's lighter than air vocals, especially when she tell us "She'll see you on a dark night"

-Steve Chupaska


"I'm Writing A Novel"

Sub Pop

Most of Father John Misty's (he's really Joshua Tillman, late of the Fleet Foxes) release "Fear Fun" is an equally sad and humorous mixture of freaky folk rock with the odd psychedelic flourish. But it's Tillman's talent as an observational wordsmith that solidified it as one the year's best albums. Just cue up the rocklicking travelouge, "I'm Writing A Novel," which includes winners such as "Now everywhere I go in West Hollywood/It's filled with people pretending they don't see the actress and the actress wishing that they could."

-Steve Chupaska


"All of Me"

True Panther Sounds

The Brooklyn duo's lead single off of "Mixed Emotions" is greatest number-one single from 1983 that unfortunately came out this year.

The melodic synth-lines and pop-tastic vocals maneuver with the best of anything OMD ever came up with. It's a pity that it's impossible for Tanlines to grace a John Hughes soundtrack, because it would be hard to forget about "All of Me."

-Steve Chupaska



One of the best expressions for someone who's gone a little mad is "That guy has snakes in his head." Well, the chorus to "Serpents," which repeats the line "Serpents in my mind/Trying to forgive your crimes," gets pretty close. Sharon Van Etten's lead single of her 2012 album "Tramp" happens in a fevered rush of clanging strummed guitars and yearning vocals that recall in spirit, if not sound, the introspective sexual danger of PJ Harvey.

-Steve Chupaska

Honorable mentions

Five songs also worth spending your stocking stuffer iTunes gift certificate on:

"Teardrop Windows" - Benjamin Gibbard

"Time To Run" - Lord Huron

"Thinking About You" - Frank Ocean

"We Take Care of Our Own" - Bruce Springsteen

"Werewolf" - Fiona Apple

-Steve Chupaska


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