Fourteen members of LA Music Blog’s writing staff voted and 199 albums were nominated in the process of compiling our year-end “Best of” list, and like LA Music Blog itself, the list features an eclectic mix of genres from both firmly underground and well-known acts. The album that would go on to earn the #1 spot appeared on 10 of the 14 writers’ lists, and the only way to find out just which album was so universally beloved is to start reading. This is LA Music Blog’s Top 50 Albums of 2012.
#50: Muse – The 2nd Law
The 2nd Law can be described in one word: epic. Perhaps more so than any other band on the Billboard Top 100 chart, Muse produces dark rock anthems, and while the trio has long exhibited ephemeral hints of Queen — as with The 2nd Law’s opening track, “Supremacy” — it seems the band is grasping for a new sound on this, their sixth studio record.
Listening to the album is more like punching a jukebox than spinning a vinyl. Lead single “Madness” is reminiscent of U2’s Joshua Tree with “ma ma ma ma’s” from Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” The third track, “Panic Station,” sounds like David Bowie, and track #5, “Survival,” like Electric Light Orchestra.
Despite easy comparisons like these, Muse is able to maintain the integrity of their unique brand while looking toward the past for inspiration. As with J Lo’s “On the Floor” and its similarity to the “Lambada” (or more controversially, to Kaoma’s 1989 “Lambada”), songs that remind today’s listeners of a familiar favorite have a tendency to ascend the charts. We like what we know. And everyone who knows Muse’s The 2nd Law is bound to like it. That is why it kicks off LAmb’s Top 50 Albums of 2012 at #50. — John Flanagan
#49: Glen Hansard – Rhythm and Repose
Here’s a mood-specific record if ever there was one. Rhythm & Repose — Glen Hansard’s first solo joint away from either The Frames or The Swell Season — is not the album to soundtrack a road trip to Las Vegas. This is one for grey days when the rain beats down overhead and the world seems especially bleak. This is old sweater music, with Hansard’s warm, rough-hewn voice spinning tales of heartbreak and redemption, classic singer-songwriter tropes that the Once star sells through pure heart-on-sleeve conviction. Listeners are advised to check out the Deluxe Edition, which includes Hansard’s gorgeous, banjo-driven version of “Come Away to the Water,” a song covered by Maroon 5 and Rozzi Crane for the much-better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond soundtrack. — Ben Gill
Listen: “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting”
#48: Motion City Soundtrack – Go
I don’t know where Motion City Soundtrack finds the energy to create album after album of high-quality, hook-infused songs while touring almost nonstop, but that just makes their fifth studio album all the more impressive. As quickly as you’re lifted up by upbeat songs like “Circuits and Wires,” the band turns and makes you want to cry with tracks like the lush, dark “Happy Anniversary.” Vocalist and prime lyricist Justin Pierre bares his soul on every track with lyrics with such personal detail it seems they must have been lifted from his diary, particularly “Son of a Gun” and “Timelines.” Only MCS can make an upbeat, celebratory song called “Everyone Will Die,” but that positivity makes this album, and this band, a true favorite. — Mary Bonney
#47: The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
It’s difficult to describe the sound of a band as eclectic as The Mars Volta. The six albums they’ve put out over the course of ten years have incorporated a wide array of genres, including progressive rock, psychedelic rock, jazz, electronica, and hardcore, to name just a few. Noctourniquet is no exception. Riddled with nontraditional rhythms, intricate guitar sequences, and quirky electronic hooks, the album never fails to surprise, from the opening riff of “The Whip Hand” to the closing notes of “Zed And Two Naughts.” It’s hard to believe this experimental quintet won’t be coming out with any new music in the foreseeable future due to their indefinite hiatus. Still, Noctourniquet is a great note to potentially end on. — Lesley Park
Listen: “The Malkin Jewel”
#46: Soundgarden – King Animal
The album I have been waiting for for ten years: King Animal. When I was in middle school and high school, Soundgarden was it. You didn’t get any better, and you could only hope to be anywhere near as good. Rumors that the band would be getting back together hit me like I can only guess a Beatles reunion would have hit fans back in the day (when it was still a possibility). Now imagine my happiness when their new album was actually amazing!
King Animal is exactly what music needs right now. There are so many artsy-fartsy bands around at the moment that a hot flannel injection of riff-heavy grunge rock to mix things up is perfect. This album is not just a “cash in,” and it’s not a botched attempt at recreating one of the best bands of my generation. It is a thing of natural beauty, comparable to a meteor shower that only comes around once every 10 years. — Richie Valentine
Listen: “Bones of Birds”
#45: The xx – Coexist
Three years after gaining notoriety for their 2009 self-titled debut, the xx released their sophomore album, Coexist, this year, and fans quickly devoured the release, causing it to go Gold in both the UK and the US. The minimal use of instruments on the album puts the focus on the beautiful and haunting vocals, and this, combined with the album’s slower tempos, makes Coexist an effortless listen. But that’s not to say it’s lacking in soul or raw emotion. This mature follow-up album maintains the much-loved sound of the xx while also exploring a shift in depth and focus, revealing a band willing and able to grow from one release to the next. — Twila Grissom
#44: Calexico – Algiers
One of the most reliable bands working today, Calexico has been quietly releasing enrapturing albums of sparse, Tex-Mex-infused indie rock for well over a decade now. For newcomers to the band’s oeuvre, Algiers presents a perfect starting point, a relatively lush set of songs that was recorded in the New Orleans neighborhood from which the record takes its name.
Whilst the choice of location was a departure for the Tuscon-based band, tracks like the lush opener, “Epic,” radiate a sense of inspiration that it is tempting to attribute to the famously musical port city. Whatever the root cause, Algiers represents a career highlight for a band that has rarely put a foot wrong in all this time. — Ben Gill
#43: Menomena – Moms
Not going to lie, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Portland-based trio-turned-duo Menomena and their new record, Moms. The album features remaining members Danny Seim and Justin Harris unafraid to interlace fun, upbeat brass notes with dark themes of emotional struggle. Fans that have witnessed Menomena’s consistent growth and increased ability over the course of their last three albums got the chance to see them delve into somber tones with their consistently intricate harmonies and brazen themes of rejection, family strife, and unhappiness.
While Friend and Foe was heavy on the sax and Mines rich with piano, Moms is a balance of the two distinguished instruments. This musical marriage provides the background for brilliant lyrics that show the graduation of the band and bring light to the fact that Menomena can say anything I can say — they just say it better. — Angelica Corona
#42: Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
If you like acoustic music, psychedelics, and that old-school country vibe, then this album is perfect you for. With Break It Yourself, Andrew Bird has anchored his spot as not only one of the premier country/folk artists out today, but a force to be reckoned with in the world of experimental music.
This album deserves a place on every Album of the Year list simply for the fact that, in some small way, it is fighting the worst pop culture subgenre we have today — pop country — so for that alone, I salute you, Mr. Bird. This artist has given us a glimpse at what modern country/folk music can be, and guess what! It’s not hooky, and it’s not all lo-fi and artsy — it’s melodic and sways to the beat and sometimes includes whistle solos. — Richie Valentine
Listen: “Give It Away”
#41: El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
Back in May of this year, El-P took sole production credit on what sounded at the time like the year’s best hip-hop album, Killer Mike’s fantastic R.A.P. Music. As it turned out, Killer Mike had that award for exactly one week before El-P himself dropped his own beast, the knockout Cancer 4 Cure. Five years out of the game apparently hadn’t dulled El-P’s own killer instincts, and the artist’s work sounded bigger, angrier, and more focused than ever before.
Where previous albums had occasionally meandered as creative instincts were indulged, Cancer 4 Cure was defined by laser-guided precision and the sense that no space was wasted. “Tougher Colder Killer” brought El-P together with a few friends without ever feeling like a party for bros. Everything here had purpose, from the creepy slow jam of “Stay Down” to the disintegrating denouement of “Drones Over Bklyn.” With these twelve tracks, El-P cemented his status as an underground rap legend. — Jay Chirinos
Listen: “The Full Retard”