Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 2012

As Ralph Ellison once put it, “Eclecticism is the word.” So after several years of  Belle & Sebastian/Camera Obscura/Divine Comedy indie pop consistency, my tastes throw me a curveball in 2012: hip-hop, glitch-hop, throwback prog, piano rock, and anthemic indie rock. None of it’s really out of left field, except for possibly the glitch-hop (but that’s only if you aren’t aware of my intense love of video game music); mostly it just amuses me to see all of these things on the same list.

5. THICK AS A BRICK 2 (Ian Anderson)

Thick as a Brick 2

Most classic rockers play maybe three or four new songs on every tour, limiting the rest of their two-plus-hour setlists to the hits. But on his most recent tour, Ian Anderson got to play his latest album, in its entirety, by the clever gambit of prefacing it with the original Thick of a Brick, in its entirety. Now, an aging classic rocker writing an explicit sequel to a legendary album sounds like a recipe for disaster, or at least major-league disappointment. But Anderson beats the odds with his best work since Heavy Horses.

4. THE SOUND OF THE LIFE OF THE MIND (Ben Folds Five)

The Sound of the Life of the Mind

It’s billed as Ben Folds Five, but in many ways The Sound of the Life of the Mind feels more like Songs for Silverman than Whatever & Ever Amen. 31-year-old Ben Folds would’ve been much more comfortable singing a goof-fest like “Draw a Crowd” than a heartbreaker like “Away When You Were Here.” And if his writing a song like “Erase Me” after 46 years and four marriages calls into question Ben’s emotional maturity, it’s a testament to his huge creative capabilities that he makes it all work beautifully.

3. ALCHEMIST (Savant)

Alchemist

Norwegian glitch-hop auteur Aleksander Vinter is a beast: three full-length albums, each of them over an hour (in Alchemist’s case almost two), plus two EP’s in 2012 alone. He repeated the feat in 2013 – no wonder he goes by “Savant.” Make no mistake: Vinter’s glitchy, gonzo blend of video game music, dubstep, house, and, bizarrely, Baroque instrumental textures is not for everyone. But if soaring synth leads set your heart aflame, then seek no further than “Face Off.”

2. SOME NIGHTS (fun.)

Some Nights

Some Nights takes the bouncy pop/rock of Aim & Ignite and blows it up to arena-filling proportions, complete with thunderous processed drums and fist-pumping choruses. “We Are Young” conquered the world, but “Some Nights” (both the “Intro” and the song proper), “Stars,” and “Carry On” reveal Nate Ruess as Freddie Mercury’s heir apparent. Just don’t let him and Matthew Bellamy (Muse) in the same room or we might have a falsetto-blasting game of thrones on our hands.

1. THE HEIST (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis)

The Heist

They say, ‘It’s so refreshing to hear somebody on records
No guns, no drugs, no sex, just truth’…
These interviews are obnoxious
Saying that ‘It’s poetry, you’re so well spoken,’ stop it

With these words from “A-Wake,” Macklemore perfectly captures the tricky situation in which he finds himself: a middle class, White, heterosexual, American male working in a Black medium and rapping about White privilege and homosexuality. On the one hand, colorblind racists find him more approachable and less threatening than Kendrick or Kanye; on the other, why is it the public will only buy a record about gay rights by a straight White dude? But here’s the thing: Macklemore is everything the tumblr social justice set says they want a middle class, White, heterosexual, American male to be. And he’s a damn good rapper, paired with a truly mighty producer in Mr. Ryan Lewis. Seriously, “Same Love” breaks me:

No law’s gonna change us, we have to change us
Whatever God we believe in, we come from the same one
Strip away the fear, underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up

Amen.

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