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The 25 Best Albums of 2012 | Feature | Slant Magazine


The 25 Best Albums of 2012
The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Ben Sollee, Half Made Man

Whether he’s singing about his relationship with his young son or the plight of laborers in eastern Kentucky whose livelihood has been threatened by mountaintop removal mining practices, Ben Sollee’s music speaks to his deep-seated sense of empathy. What makes Half Made Man such an inspiring album is that it isn’t just a bunch of bleeding-heart platitudes about how the world should be somehow better than it is, but about knuckling down and putting in the difficult work to make real changes happen on a personal level on a day-to-day basis. Sollee recognizes that we’re all works in progress, and he’s never been better than he is on Half Made ManKeefe

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Carina Round, Tigermending

“Pick up the phone, I’m pregnant with your baby” isn’t just the message Carina Round ostensibly leaves on some sorry sap’s voicemail; it’s also the salutation that greets us on the singer-songwriter’s fourth solo album, Tigermending. While “Pick Up the Phone” is lyrically theatrical, however, it’s otherwise unusually subdued for Round. Lead single “The Last Time,” the wonderfully wobbly upright bassline of which is exceeded only by a chilling breakdown that pairs Round’s supernatural voice with eerily yawning guitars and horns, and “You Will Be Loved,” the album’s gorgeous centerpiece, are better examples of her predilection for dynamic, dramatically shifting arrangements. But it’s the songs that break new sonic ground for the British songstress—like “The Secret of Drowning,” which features an ominous synth track composed by Brian Eno and Dave Stewart, and the lullaby-ish “Simplicity Hurts”—that make Tigermending more than just an extension of Round’s already-impressive catalogue.  Sal Cinquemani

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Dr. John, Locked Down

The trend of guitar-band demigods collaborating on winning albums by artists of a certain age has begun to feel like community service. (Think Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples, Jack White and Wanda Jackson, Jim James and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, et al.) But Dr. John’s Locked Down, produced by guitarist Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, offers something more than intergenerational revivalism. What may be the funkiest album of the year also represents a pleasing new sound from the Doctor, as spacey, guitar-driven uptempo numbers like “Ice Age” share time with Funkadelic breakdowns and the warped delight that is “Kingdom of Izzness” (rhymes with “witness,” somehow). Auerbach keeps the horns on speed dial while guitar, bass, drums, and a very Pink Floyd organ do most of the heavy lifting. The Black Keys have done two Danger Mouse-produced LPs to date, and Auerbach seems to have learned something from the DJ about experimentalism via minimalism. The result: a dreamy new configuration of the Doctor’s inimitable voodoo.  Scheinman

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Swans, The Seer

The beastly, dreadful strains of “Lunacy” open up The Seer like flaring beacons, warning listeners of the murderous, looping ride ahead. Indeed, resurrected by post-punk mastermind Michael Gira, the reborn Swans offer a menacing conglomeration of sounds: raw, Tom Waits-inspired vocalizations; the throbbing art-metal heaviness of Tool; sinister, Nine Inch Nails-style industrial loops; and even the dark, depressed grit of American Recordings-era Johnny Cash. What results is a larger-than-life rock opus that’s hellish and rustic. Indeed, possessing not one, but two tracks that pass the 20-minute mark and still manage to be ominously enthralling every second of the way, The Seer is positively operatic.  Liedel

The 25 Best Albums of 2012


Niki and the Dove, Instinct

Whether you consider Niki and the Dove’s striking similarities to both the Knife and Stevie Nicks (and, occasionally, Donna Lewis!) strengths or weaknesses, it’s impossible to deny the Swedish trio’s knack for deep-burrowing earworms. Songs like “Tomorrow,” the opening track on their debut album, Instinct, and the Prince-esque “The Drummer” percolate discreetly before cracking open like piñatas, the pop hooks showering down like confetti. The nods to other artists can be distracting (you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the Welsh Witch herself and not singer Malin Dahlström imploring on “The Beach,” “Now did you ever dream of the desert?/Did you ever dream of making a mess?”), but Niki and the Dove even manage to make pop archetypes like the DJ-as-savior trope of “DJ, Ease My Mind” sound impossibly fresh, if not entirely original.  Cinquemani