Best of 2012: The Albums

the staff looks at their favorite records from the past year …

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Who doesn’t love lists?

We here at Pop-Break were raised on lists. We love them like we love bears, cookies and all things pop culture.

So as we do every year, we present to you our personal favorites in film, music (albums and songs) and television.

This year we’re also debuting a new category: Pop-Break Live, our live performance we were a part of.

And this year we’re excited by the fact we’ve added a whole new slew of writers plus we’ll have two special contributors: Maria Mar of 95.9 WRAT’s Jersey Rock and Popblerd! Editor-in-Chief Mike Heyliger.

Here’s Who is Contributing to this Year’s List:

Bill Bodkin – Editor-in-Chief, Trailer Tuesday Columnist, Singles Party Columnist
Sue-Ann Bodkin – Contributor
Brent Johnson – Managing Editor, Lost Songs Columnist, Singles Party Columnist
Jonathan Elliott – Marketing Coordinator, Staff Writer
Jason Kundrath – Senior Editor, Indie Music Editor, Singles Party Columnist
Joe Zorzi – Senior Editor, Music Content Coordinator, Singles Party Columnist
Maxwell Barna – Senior Editor, Photography Editor
Logan J. Fowler – Senior Editor, Trailer Tuesday Columnist, Link to the Past Columnist
Jason Stives – Senior Editor, Music & Film Content Coordinator, Dr. Who Columnist
Lauren Stern – Assignment Editor, Senior Writer, Singles Party Columnist
Daniel Cohen – Film Editor
Ann Hale – Staff Writer, Horror Editor, Film Content Coordinator
Michael Dworkis – Staff Writer, Wrestling Columnist
Lisa Pikaard – Staff Writer, Music Content Coordinator
Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs – Staff Writer, Featured Columnist
Luke Kalamar – Staff Writer, Walking Dead Columnist
Kelly Gonsalves – Staff Writer, Singles Party Columnist
Erica Batchelor – Staff Writer
Brendan Williams – Contributor
Nick Porcaro – Contributor, Web Designer
Joel Wosk – Contributor
Brendan Hourican – Contributor
John Lawrence – Contributor, UFC Columnist

Lauren Stern

1. The Shins, Port Of Morrow
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While other Shins fans sat around complaining that this album doesn’t have the same feel as any of its predecessors, I sat around listening to it whenever and wherever music deemed fitting. That being said, I vehemently disagree with a lot of these disappointed Shins enthusiasts to the point where I frequently question whether or not any of them actually took a real listen to this album. I mean, how you could not fall in love with any of these songs upon first listen, especially after years of waiting, is beyond me. Regardless, Mercer and his new band did an extraordinary job with this and I can’t wait to hear more from them again.
Favorite Tracks: “No Way Down,” “Fall of 82,” “40 Mark Strasse”

2. (tie) Anthony Green, Beautiful Things and Circa Survive, Violent Waves
It should come as no surprise that these albums are on my list or that they are tied for second. Green had a phenomenal year of music, both solo and with Circa Survive, and I’m actually quite taken back that nobody will recognize it. Both albums did extraordinarily well on iTunes -– is that not enough? Not only that but this is the first time ever where Circa released a great record independently. I know a lot of bands do that these days, but it still deserves major props.
Favorite Tracks: “The Lottery” (Violent Waves), “Only Love (featuring Nate Ruess of fun.),” “Can’t Have it All at Once” (Beautiful Things)

3. Minus the Bear, Infinity Overhead
Minus the Bear is one of my favorite bands of all time and I was blown away by their August release. It was definitely some of the best work the band has ever done. Yet again, another great release that is not getting the proper “end of the year” recognition it deserves.
Favorite Tracks: “Lonely Gun,” “Lies and Eyes,” “Listing”

4. fun., Some Nights
Originally, I was going to put this on my honorable mentions list because there is some songs on here where I was just like “Why?” I get that Nate Ruess used autotune as an experiment but as a long time fan of him and The Format, I was initially upset by it. However, I put that aside, opened my mind, and this album wound up growing on me throughout the year. Plus, I could never hate fun., no matter how famous they get.
Favorite Tracks: “Why Am I The One,” “All Alone,” “One Foot”

5. Gotye, Making Mirrors
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Okay, so this album didn’t technically come out in 2012, but it came out in December 2011, so I’d say that’s pretty damn close, right? Plus, I listened to it in 2012, so it counts. Anyway, I came into this year not knowing a goddamn thing about “Somebody That I Used To Know” until JUNE (seriously) to ending the year as a Gotye enthusiast. This is because I actually sat down, listened to this album in full on Youtube (and other songs), and fell in love. Then I saw it live and was blown away. Seriously, if anyone listened to this album and didn’t call him or herself a Gotye fan afterwards, you’re a big fat liar.
Favorite Tracks: “State Of The Art,” “Save Me,” “Eyes Wide Open,” “Somebody That I Used To Know” (featuring Kimbra)

Maxwell Barna
1. Joey Bada$$, 1999 (Mixtape)
The name is stupid, but this 17-year-old kid is the real deal and will be a king in two years. I’m callin’ it.
2. Teenage Bottle Rocket, Freak Out!
3. NOFX, Self Entitled
THEY STILL GOT IT!
4. Childish Gambino, Royalty (Mixtape)
5. The Menzingers, On the Impossible Past

Erica Batchelor
1. Muse, The 2nd Law; 2. Anthony Green, Beautiful Things, 3. Pierce The Veil, Collide With The Sky; 4. Circa Survive, Violent Waves; 5. Deftones, Koi No Yokan

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Bill Bodkin
1. River City Extension, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger; 2. Various Artists, The Man With The Iron Fists Soundtrack; 3. The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten; 4. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball; 5. The Easy Star All-Stars, Thrillah

Kelly Gonsalves
1. Frank Ocean , Channel Orange; 2. Mumford & Sons, Babel; 3. NAS, Life Is Good; 4. The Rocket Summer, Life Will Write the Words; 5. Ke$ha, Warrior

Ann Hale
1. Circa Survive, Violent Waves; 2. Kimbra, Vows; 3. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel …; 4. Beach House, Bloom; 5. Lana Del Rey, Born To Die

Mike Heyliger
1. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange; 2. John Mayer, Born & Raised; 3. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel …; 4. Jamie Woon, Mirrorwriting; 5. Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox

Brendan Hourican
1. Taylor Swift, Red; 2. fun., Some Nights; 3. Ed Sheeran, +-; 4. John Mayer, Born & Raised; 5. Siberia, Siberia

Brent Johnson

1. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel
Ms. Apple doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the most daring, entertaining artists of her generation. What this album lacks in instantly memorable melodies makes up for with offbeat experiments and cutting wordplay.
Favorite Tracks: The pleasantly disorienting “Every Single Night,” the gorgeous music-box love song “Joshua”

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2. The Wallflowers, Glad All Over
The ’90s hitsmiths spent their last few albums retreading the same sound with lackluster results. They stick largely to their tuneful alt-rock formula here, too, but Jakob Dylan’s songs are better — as in, the catchiest he’s written in years. And that makes all the difference.
Favorite Tracks: The infectious and dancey “Misfits And Lovers,” the haunting “The Devil’s Waltz”

3. Jack White, Blunderbuss
A decade into his career, the man is still a never-ending stream of kinetic energy and ear-catching riffs.
Favorite Tracks: The riff-and-falsetto showcase “Sixteen Saltines,” the sublime rocker “Freedom At 21”

4. Bob Dylan, Tempest
We are all lucky that the world’s most revered songwriter is making thoughtful, meaningful music into his later years.
Favorite Tracks: The epic title track, about the sinking of the Titanic; the touching “Roll On John,” Mr. Dylan’s peon to another rock legend, Mr. Lennon

5. Dave Matthews Band, Away From The World
Music’s most misunderstood band returned to the studio with the man who made their trio of great ’90s albums shine: producer Steve Lillywhite. The result isn’t as exciting as some hoped, but fans should be happy Matthews & Co. are making much better records than they were just a few years ago.
Favorite Tracks: The pensive, urgent “Gaucho,” the brooding, then explosive, then lilting mini-suite “Drunken Soldier”

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Luke Kalamar
1. The Shins, Port Of Morrow; 2. Metric, Synthetica; 3. Two Door Cinema Club, Beacon; 4. Of Monsters And Men, My Head Is An Animal, 5. Ben Folds Five, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind

John Lawrence
1. Mumford & Sons, Babel; 2. Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas; 3. fun., Some Nights; 4. The Lumineers, The Lumineers; 5. La Coka Nostra, Masters Of The Dark Arts

Maria Mar
1. The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten; 2. Young Guns, Bones‘ 3. Breathing Blue, Inner Animal; 4. Imagine Dragons, Night Visions; 5. Foxy Shazam, The Church Of Rock N Roll

Lisa Pikaard
1. Hinder, Welcome To The Freakshow; 2. Weaving The Fate, WTF EP; 3. Halestorm, The Strange Case Of …; 4. Tremonti, All I Was; 5. Various Artists, Pitch Perfect Soundtrack

Nick Porcaro
1. Punch Brothers, Who’s Feeling Young Now?; 2. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city; 3. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball; 4. Enter Shikari, A Flash Flood Of Colour; 5. Passion Pit, Gossamer

Jason Stives
1. Japandroids, Celebration Rock; 2. fun., Some Nights; 3. The Walkmen, Heaven; 4. Titus Andronicus, Local Business; 5. Jake Bugg, Jake Bugg

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Brendan Williams
1. The Lumineers, The Lumineers; 2. Jack White, Blunderbuss; 3. Freelance Whales, Diluvia; 4. The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten; 5. Metric, Synthetica

Joel Wosk
1. JEFF The Brotherhood, Hypnotic Nights; 2. Deftones, Koi No Yokan; 3. O. Children, Apnea; 4. Memory Tapes, Grace/Confusion; 5. A Place to Bury Strangers, Onwards To The Wall (EP)

Joe Zorzi
1. Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City; 2. Further Seems Forever, Penny Black; 3. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange; 4. Neon Trees, Picture Show; 5. Taylor Swift, Red

Jason Kundrath

1. Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur
For the second year in a row, a Canadian songstress tops my list. And although Edwards’ arrangements are more straightforward than Feist’s, her music is no less affecting. These songs are crafted with tones of Americana, rock, folk and country, but the album as a whole is saturated in some beautiful sadness. Edward’s voice – at once strong and gentle – delivers tales of heartache, heartbreak and other uneasy feelings with an unflinching commitment, and lifts them to the sky.

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2. Beach House, Bloom
After 2010’s Teen Dream, I thought Beach House might have reached its pinnacle. I was wrong. Indeed, Bloom sticks to the established formula: deep, dark, distinctively dreamy pop with guitars and organs. But this time they take their vision a little bit further, and the result is soaring, hypnotic and exquisite. 

3. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
From the moment I heard the strange and striking “Thinkin Bout You” earlier this year, I knew Frank Ocean was going to drop something masterful. Channel Orange fits the bill, showcasing Ocean’s effortless and unique approach to rhythm, melody and storytelling, and reshaping our perspective on what R&B could and should be. Though he recently was quoted saying he may not make another album (and try his hand at writing a novel instead), I hope we hear a lot more from this pioneer.

4. Nada Surf, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
One of my favorite bands of all time released yet another album of power-pop gems, achieving an unprecedented six-album streak of classics. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Matthew Cawes proves himself an bottomless well of sticky melodies and brilliant lyrics. “When I Was Young” and “Jules and Jim” rank among his best songs.  This time around, they brought on second guitarist Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices, Cobra Verde) and added a new dimension to their already exuberant sound.

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5. Grizzly Bear, Shields
Edward Droste brings such a unique and compelling voice to the indie rock landscape. Seeming influenced by ’60s folk and psychedelia, he — along with the rest of Grizzly Bear — developed a sound that is both epic and odd. Even when the arrangements break down to a quiet, twinkling piano and percussion, the vibe is heavy. And while this album may not be quite as airtight as 2009’s Vekatimest, Shields is still a fascinating trip into Droste’s world.

6. The Shins, Port OF Morrow
So sometime after 2007’s Wincing The Night Away, Shins mastermind James Mercer essentially fired the whole band. At the time, this seemed pretty arrogant and wrongheaded to me. They had just released three beloved albums with that very band. How could you just throw away that chemistry? Then I saw the Shins at the Wellmont Theater with some new players and I was very disappointed with the stiff, uneven performance. My fears were confirmed. The Shins were dead. Mercer then teamed up with Danger Mouse for the Broken Bells album, proving Mercer still was a force to be reckoned with.  But alas, the Shins could never return. Or could they? When I heard “Simple Song” in advance of this year’s Port Of Morrow, to my surprise, I liked it a lot. Then I got the album, and it was love once again for me and the Shins.  Port of Morrow rules. And while it’s still the Shins, it’s a different Shins: tighter, more dynamic, more muscular. I guess Mercer did what he had to do. The end.

7. Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits
What can I say?  Spoon’s Britt Daniel is cool as fuck. His brand of sexy, classic pop/rock has been doing it for me and legions of other fans for 15 years. So when I heard he started another band with Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, I was all ears. Confession: I’ve never listened to Wolf Parade. But I probably will soon. Because this band has got it going on. And it sounds a lot like Spoon. In fact, I like this record better than Transference, the last proper Spoon record.

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8. Chilly Gonzales, Solo Piano II
This guy is a genius. He’s a producer and arranger (and occasional rapper), but first and foremost Chilly Gonzales is an amazing pianist. This album is just gorgeous from beginning to end, with pieces that sing with melody and a natural lyric quality. Your record collection needs this.

9. Father John Misty, Fear Fun
J. Tillman (aka Father John Misty) used to be a member of Fleet Foxes. And his dreamy, warm sounds are not too far off on the spectrum from his former bandmates. But where the Foxes aim for some ethereal, poetic zenith, Tillman hits similar heights, while keeping himself planted on the ground, in the streets, and occasionally at the bottom of a glass. It’s a little more human, and a little more relatable, and thusly more electrifying. 

10. Pilot to Gunner, Guilty Guilty
Several years after their dissolution, 2012 finally sees the release of Pilot To Gunner’s long-awaited third album. Guilty Guilty, produced by the unmistakable J. Robbins (who also produced their prior record Get Saved), positively explodes with the band’s visceral take on post-hardcore. Dynamic, rhythmic, and heavy as hell, the band really finds their stride here, combining the raw power of Games at High Speeds with the composition quality they hinted at on Get Saved. And thankfully, it seems the release of this record has led one of the very best live bands I’ve ever seen back to the stage for a few performances here and there.

Honorable Mention:  Holy City Zoo, Nobody Sells For Less
It’s only four songs long. But Holy City Zoo packs these four tracks so heavily with howling exhilaration, breakneck speeds, and melodic hooks it borders on insanity. And it’s insanely good. Can’t wait for another release.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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