The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2012


Nada Surf
The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
Barsuk Records [2012]

The combining of Nada Surf’s focus with their high spirits made The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy one of the most optimistic records the band has released to date. The same confidence that has been with band over the years felt even stronger here as the group seems to be at peace with their indie rock status. “When I Was Young” was a track that received lots of play around the office and the entire album was boosted by the added guitar of Doug Gillard (Cobra Verde, Guided By Voices). This gave The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy an extra depth to the record that only got better after every spin and landed it right at number 50.

Nada Surf: The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy [Fire Note Review 1/20/12]


John The Conqueror
John The Conqueror
Alive Natural Sound Records [2012]

Philadelphia’s John The Conqueror brought a very familiar sounding dirty blues rock right at you full throttle on their self-titled debut. The trio’s Black Keys vibe had some critics dismissing them for not bringing anything new to the table but I thought that was exactly the point – why change up a winning formula. John The Conqueror did not recreate the wheel here on their debut but instead made a record that was dependable, solid and timeless!

John The Conqueror: John The Conqueror [Fire Note Review 10/30/12]


Allo Darlin’
Slumberland Records [2012]

Allo Darlin’ are a London-based four piece that is fronted by the silky smooth pop vocals of Australian Elizabeth Morris. The sophistication of their album did not stop at its infectious singles as Europe is a record that when you hear it, you believe in everything track that comes at you. There was no over singing, no gimmicks, no pure sugar – just plain and simple solid indie pop with a purpose. It was easily one of the top releases in the genre and firmly lands at number 48 overall.

Allo Darlin’: Europe [Fire Note Review 5/2/12]


Heartless Bastards
Partisan Records [2012]

Erika Wennerstrom and her strong soulful vocals returned with the release of the Heartless Bastards fourth album Arrow. With memorable riffs around every corner Arrow raged, ebbed and flowed rock n roll. There were both T. Rex inspired tracks and more acoustic numbers that kept a diversity to Arrow in its 10 powerful songs over a whopping 52 minute running time. In many ways Arrow was a fresh start for the Heartless Bastards and it turned out to be the perfect starting point for anyone wanting to get onboard.

Heartless Bastards: Arrow [Fire Note Review 2/10/12]


Cat Power
Matador Records [2012]

Sun hailed the return of Chan Marshall and her moniker Cat Power as it had been six long years since she last released a record of original material. One big difference on Sun, compared to her previous work, was that she wrote, played, recorded and produced the entirety of the record by herself. This helped push Sun to the next level as Chan performed under her new instruments and arrangements with a new found confidence. Sun does not represent the Cat Power of the past but the here and now Chan Marshall, which freely shared her strength on each and every track making Sun one of the better releases this year!

Cat Power: Sun [Fire Note Review 9/4/12]


The Fresh & Onlys
Long Slow Dance
Mexican Summer Records [2012]

Right from the supporting rolling piano keys on album opener,”20 Days And 20 Nights”, The Fresh & Onlys once again shifted their ever evolving sound on Long Slow Dance. For this outing the band had an undertone of 80’s style college rock which had plenty of pep and gave Long Slow Dance a retro feel while still being completely 2012. All of the new angles here blended with The Fresh & Onlys past musical outings and made it easy for fans to connect the dots. Long Slow Dance is one of The Fresh & Onlys best records to date and there is no reason that the band will not just keep climbing up from here!

The Fresh & Onlys: Long Slow Dance [Fire Note Review 9/6/12]


Fiona Apple
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Epic Records [2012]

It has always been about the voice with the piano being a close second when it comes to Fiona Apple. Fast-forward 16 years and now Fiona Apple resurfaced again with just her fourth long player The Idler Wheel (insert crazy long title here). The beauty of this new album was that it all came back to the voice and piano again! It was a record that you instantly respected and just sat back in awe on how Apple can move so graceful but yet be so forceful. It was a true return to form on The Idler Wheel which quite possibly will become even stronger with age but definitely deserves its place on the Top 50.

Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel… [Fire Note Review 6/19/12]


The Men
Open Your Heart
Sacred Bones Records [2012]

The Men already proved to be one of the harder hitting post-punk groups out there after last year’s thrilling Leave Home record took everyone that listened by surprise. The Brooklyn band then came right back with Open Your Heart and it surpassed last year’s performance. Open Your Heart embraced all of the quartet’s musical influences and explored their own style of surf riffs, country twang, psychedelic, guitar solos and of course punk rock. The record had an un-assuming and un-cocky attitude which made Open Your Heart completely engaging. The Men were not afraid of taking some risks that worked and Open Your absolutely did not take long to get into but was impossible to put away!

The Men: Open Your Heart [Fire Note Review 3/6/12]


Lord Huron
Lonesome Dreams
IAMSOUND Records [2012]

Lord Huron’s first full-length album was a well-balanced work of beauty and humility, focused on both the simplest things and the grand view. Lonesome Dreams was both lush and energetic while successfully cherry-picking the essence of past and present folk-inflected rock groups. There was not a weak song on the album and a complete balance, focus and scope which made for a rewarding album that deserved its spot on the Top 50 and made Lord Huron an artist to watch in the coming years!

Lord Huron: Lonesome Dreams [Fire Note Review 10/8/12]


Thee Oh Sees
Putrifiers II
In The Red Records [2012]

Thee Oh Sees have released a significant amount of music over their time together, which is why Putrifiers II excited and delighted with each spin. One moment the record was a fire breathing fuzz wonderland, the next it was a slow pace think piece. Thee Oh Sees included their signature style here as well as introduced some nice, new touches from the best of sunshine psych, garage growls, and dreamy ballads. This enabled Putrifiers II a spot on the Top 50 and really helped separate Thee Oh Sees from the pack.

Thee Oh Sees: Putrifiers II [Fire Note Review 10/3/12]


Archie Powell & The Exports
Great Ideas In Action
Good Land Records [2012]

Sometimes it is best to not change a thing when you have a winning formula and that is exactly the way we felt about the sophomore outing from Chicago’s Archie Powell & The Exports titled Great Ideas In Action. Great Ideas In Action came at you with a batch of modern day Elvis Costello that was tighter and more focused than their debut. Archie Powell & The Exports perfected their verse chorus verse approach here and made for an entertaining listen front to back which is exactly why it landed in the Top 50!

Archie Powell & The Exports: Great Ideas In Action [Fire Note Review 5/29/12]


Twin Shadow
4AD Records [2012]

Confess is an album full of songs about Love, Lust, not being in Love, maybe hoping George Lewis aka Twin Shadow could find love, maybe hoping you could love him. He’s a mess, and he lays it all out for us to hear which is exactly why this record turned out to be one of the best albums of the year. Confess is full of sampled beats, synths, and more guitar than Twin Shadow had previously used which made for a very dense record sonically that grabbed hold of you. Ultimately this portrait of an artist going through an intense inner turmoil and laying it all out for listeners to share with him made for such a brutally honest record that it made it hard to turn off and an automatic for our Top 50.

Twin Shadow: Confess [Fire Note Review 7/12/12]


Kill For Love
Italians Do It Better Records [2012]

Right from the opening cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” you had a good idea that the new Chromatics album Kill For Love was going to challenge, reward and challenge your ear again right up to its conclusion. Kill For Love is a record that you needed time to inhale and just sit with. The Chromatics formed more than a decade ago and Kill For Love was five years in the making so this record was a true labor of love that could be heard on every song. The emerging retro-synth genre got a huge boost from the Chromatics as Kill For Love had plenty of highlights and is a solid listen all the way through!

Chromatics: Kill For Love [Fire Note Review 4/9/12]


Captured Tracks Records [2012]

Stockholm’s Holograms were not messing around and their post-punk self-titled debut was loud, punchy and downright addicting. It is the type of modern gritty album that gets under your skin in a good way, makes your blood pump quickly and instantly has you wanting more. With sure-fire sing-a-longs, guitar solos and up in your face vocals Holograms released a working man’s album. Every song here sounds like it might be the bands last and possesses an intensity that keeps the listener on the edge. Holograms never became dull or tiresome with their solid execution and their straightforward no-nonsense approach is exactly why they landed at #37.

Holograms: Holograms [Fire Note Review 7/13/12]


Bob Mould
Silver Age
Merge Records [2012]

I am not sure if there were any expectations for Bob Mould’s new full length, Silver Age, but I guarantee it still will surprise a lot of fans with its pedal to the floor rock attitude. The Sugar/Hüsker Dü founder has always went back n forth with his styles when it comes to his solo material, but I think that Silver Age’s turned up amps is one of his best. The record benefited from the addition of Bob’s live band in the recording studio as each track was rich and spontaneously full of energy. Silver Age is exactly the Bob Mould I wanted to hear and rightfully earned its place on our Top 50!

Bob Mould: Silver Age [Fire Note Review 8/31/12]


Titus Andronicus
Local Business
XL Recordings [2012]

Titus Andronicus delivered on their third record, Local Business, with older familiar themes while remaining fun and fresh the whole time. The album was not full of the most uplifting premise as most of the time Titus Andronicus discussed how everything is inherently worthless but with big bar stomping anthems, thundering slow building movements and over eight minute theatrics Local Business had plenty of replay value. Titus Andronicus’ Local Business was the most fun loathing record that we heard in 2012 and its strength easily retained the band’s strong indie cred and place in our best of the year.

Titus Andronicus: Local Business [Fire Note Review 10/25/12]


Sub Pop Records [2012]

Right from the opening pounding drums on first track “Headache” you just know that the Canadian outfit METZ is totally going to kick your ass! The noise rock band’s self-titled debut was some of the best 30 minutes of controlled chaos we heard in 2012 as their post-punk style is both ferocious and addicting. METZ are in fact a post-punk band to the core and this record was not for humming along to in the car, playing on date night or using to impress your jam band friends. Instead METZ provided a record that will shake every aggressive bone out of your body, get you in the mood for going out and is perfect for testing out your maximum speaker volume. It is not a record that you will play all of the time but its memorable timeless quality is solid and perfect at #34!

METZ: METZ [Fire Note Review 10/5/12]


Perfume Genius
Put Your Back N 2 It
Matador Records [2012]

I don’t believe that most people think of albums as sequels but that was exactly the way to categorize Perfume Genius’s sophomore record Put Your Back N 2 It. This album was not just a progression in lyric content but also in production as their debut’s lo-fi sound was replaced with a superior instrument clarity and memorable hush like vocal melodies that supplied the album with depth, warmth and an irresistible draw. Put Your Back N 2 It played even better upon repeat listens and truly became stronger every time you heard it. Perfume Genius created a record that is a mesmerizing listen and easily was placed on our Top 50 list!

Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It [Fire Note Review 2/28/12]


Merge Records [2012]

From start to finish, Dan Snaith—the lone ranger behind both Daphni and Caribou—delivered beat-heavy perfection on Jiaolong (pronounced JOW-long). It is an album that did not have any unnecessary tracks and there were no missteps. It’s sweaty, it’s pulsing, it’s moist and holds two conflicting ideas in mind with perfect equilibrium. Dan Snaith is a madman; Dan Snaith is a genius. And Dan Snaith may have found his ideal creative outlet in Daphni while releasing one of the best albums of the year.

Daphni: Jialong [Fire Note Review 10/23/12]


Audra Mae And The Almighty Sound
Audra Mae And The Almighty Sound
SideOneDummy Records [2012]

Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound was a fun roots romp all the way through its eleven tracks that successfully harnessed its talent right into the music. The self-titled sophomore record from Mae was an album that you picked up with little expectations and left with quite possibly one of your favorites this year! With Mae’s backing band, The Almighty Sound, added to the billing the temperature instantly shot through the roof. Mae took command of your ear and never let it go with a new found attitude and swagger that not only infected every song on the record but made the album one of the surprising releases in 2012!

Audra Mae And The Almighty Sound: Audra Mae And The Almighty Sound [Fire Note Review 2/14/12]


The Shins
Port Of Morrow
Columbia Records [2012]

Five years is a lifetime in the music scene but that is exactly how long it has been since the release of The Shins last record Wincing The Night Away [2007]. The band of course changed as The Shins are mostly James Mercer now but the music remained whole. With the help of talented guests Port Of Morrow moved into a more sonic and layered depth direction that still had a trademark jangle to it but also had a touch of classic rock vibe going on which gave the record a timeless appeal and a solid new found structure for The Shins. This new energy made for a great listen and a solid number 30 on our list for 2012.

The Shins: Port Of Morrow [Fire Note Review 3/23/12]


Grizzly Bear
Warp Records [2012]

Grizzly Bear’s last record, Veckatimest [2009], topped the chart and was number one in our 2009 Blazing Top 50 year end countdown so the pressure was on for Shields. From its intricate musical craftsmanship and memorable harmonies Shields had all the pieces but you could hear that Grizzly Bear took everything out a step farther. Upon first few listens Shields was not as easy to get into which was reflected in our review but it was after multiple spins and discussion that Grizzly Bear shot into the chart. Shields is full of grand ideas with an expansive canvas that did not take hold immediately but when it finally clicked; it rightfully slid into spot 29 on our Top 50 this year.

Grizzly Bear: Shields [Fire Note Review 9/19/12]


How To Dress Well
Total Loss
Acephale Records [2012]

Tom Krell’s How to Dress Well has one of those falsettos that are hard to get out of your head. On their sophomore album, Total Loss, the emotion just resonated from every track as its R&B flavored pieces made for a sophisticated mix. What we liked about Total Loss was that the listener didn’t feel a need to dive into the lyrics and extract their meaning – their meaning is evident in how the song is sung and produced. This alone made the album worth every minute and secured its position at #28.

How To Dress Well: Total Loss [Fire Note Review 9/20/12]


Sharon Van Etten
Jagjaguwar Records [2012]

If there is ever an artist that seems to be on the verge of breaking out I would say that Brooklyn singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten is close to the top of the list. Her confident siren vocals were the instant focal point on her new record Tramp but her lyrics that covered loneliness, cautiousness around others and an overall sense of uneasiness gave the record its depth, cohesiveness and staying power. All of this made for an excellent listen and even if Van Etten is not a household name yet, Tramp has a superb replay value and most certainly has everything moving her in the right direction for a bigger audience.

Sharon Van Etten: Tramp [Fire Note Review 2/9/12]


Redd Kross
Researching The Blues
Merge Records [2012]

It has been 15 years since Redd Kross last had a record on the shelves with Show World [1997] so it was really anybody’s guess for what this outing was going to bring. I am not even sure if the younger generation can appreciate a new Redd Kross record like Researching The Blues but for anyone that was around for the heyday of their 90’s material this album hit every power pop chord in your body – and that was a good thing. The power pop gem “Stay Away From Downtown” sticks in your head and with only a total album running time of 32 minutes there was absolutely no filler. Redd Kross brought their 70’s power chords back in all their glory throughout Researching The Blues while once again making their style of power pop very modern. This not only made for a fun listen but it made Researching The Blues one of the best records released this year!

Redd Kross: Researching The Blues [Fire Note Review 8/6/12]


Best Coast
The Only Place
Mexican Summer Records [2012]

The Only Place left Best Coast’s lo-fi output in the dust and came at its fans shooting for the moon with its much brighter and polished sound. We initially thought the missing lo-fi pop was a huge mistake but The Only Place won us over in exactly 2 minutes and 43 seconds, on the first single and opening title track. The record still featured Cosentino taking on all songwriting, vocal and rhythm guitar duties while Bobb Bruno is on lead guitar, bass and drums but now placed Cosentino’s vocals right out front and guess what – she really can sing! The album is a tidy 34 minutes and only gets more addictive with repeat spins. Not only did The Only Place turn out to be one of the catchier records we have heard this year but Cosentino will keep us coming back for more and we can’t wait to hear what she does next!

Best Coast: The Only Place [Fire Note Review 5/14/12]


Dirty Projectors
Swing Lo Magellan
Domino Records [2012]

Is it possible for a record to be both avant garde and accessible at the same time, to be both simple and complex? If the record is Swing Lo Magellan, the new album from Dirty Projectors, the answer is most definitely YES! Its success was simple: the music was not as dense and all over the map which seemed to open the band up to a new audience but it was still weird enough to please long-time fans. Swing Lo Magellan was loaded with multiple layers; from the production, to the songwriting, to the playing, and the singing. It was a remarkably rich listening experience that brought something new each time you played it and with that said certainly earned its spot in TFN Top 50!

Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan [Fire Note Review 7/27/12]


Information Retrieved
Temporary Residence LTD. [2012]

It has been 5 years since Pinback released their last studio album, Autumn of the Seraphs [2007], and you absolutely wouldn’t know it after taking in the sonic adventure that was their new outing Information Retrieved. The duo of vocalist/guitarist Rob Crow and bassist/vocalist Zach Smith once again came out of the gate with their trademarked layered harmonies, soaring melodies and quick shifting rhythms. Information Retrieved was not a return to form – it is Pinback’s form. The album never hit you in the face as it just slowly took you over with its little catchy nuances. For all of these little pieces working together and a strong return to form, Information Retrieved ranks up there with Pinback’s best and found its self properly placing at number 23.

Pinback: Information Retrieved [Fire Note Review 10/16/12]


King Tuff
King Tuff
Sub Pop Records [2012]

I think it goes without saying that sometimes we really like odd music. Not in the sense that it is crazy or freaky if you would hear it but just that you might scratch your head and think to yourself “I don’t get it”. King Tuff was one of those records that might fall into the above mentioned category but its carefree rock n roll had elements of lo-fi, punk and garage all wrapped into its satisfying 40 minute running time and clearly stood out from the album stacks immediately. King Tuff had a focused progression that could be in the form of a ballad, Southern rockabilly or just straight up punk. Everything from the album cover, the somewhat nasally delivery of leader Kyle Thomas to the furious two weeks of recording in Detroit, King Tuff screams caution but it only takes one listen to the bigger rock sound to hook you with its simple sincerity. It made for a great time each moment it hit our speakers and easily glided into our Top 50!

King Tuff: King Tuff [Fire Note Review 5/30/12]


Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Fat Possum Records [2012]

15 years is a long time to hit all the right keys but I feel the seventh long player from Spiritualized accomplished just that as Sweet Heart Sweet Light is Jason Pierce’s best record since his unforgettable Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space [1997]. This might come to some fans surprise as Sweet Heart took over eight months to just mix. All of the pieces here worked together and drove Sweet Heart Sweet Light to its spectacular listening point. The bottom line on Sweet Heart Sweet Light is that it was well worth the wait and once again placed Spiritualized up into the elite category of artists that consistently meets the high expectations!

Spiritualized: Sweet Heart Sweet Light [Fire Note Review 4/19/12]


Beach House
Sub Pop Records [2012]

Indie dream pop group Beach House once again created a record that stays in its lane of expectations but swells up and beyond any type of ceiling you may think exists. Bloom was the group’s fourth long player and it was another atmospheric pop journey. Bloom was very much from the same template as Beach House’s earlier efforts but it is filled with a brighter outlook collection of tracks that set it apart. This band continues to grow vocally, musically and lyrically and Bloom rightfully takes its place at #20.

Beach House: Bloom [Fire Note Review 5/11/12]


Trapper Schoepp & The Shades
Run, Engine, Run
SideOneDummy Records [2012]

Southern flavored music from a Milwaukee band on a typically punk label? That does not necessarily sound like a recipe for success but Trapper Schoepp & The Shades third album Run, Engine, Run is an excellent listen all the way through and they nailed all the components that create a solid slice of Americana rock. Kudos goes out to SideOneDummy for releasing this album as I do believe it was independently available in 2011 but was given the complete overhaul for its national September debut. Given this fact Trapper and band ranked in a bit lower but it does not change the details that Run, Engine, Run offers well written songs, excellent musicianship, memorable hooks and a full length that you just put on and drive! The exciting part is that Trapper Schoepp is very young and we can’t wait to hear what is next but given that this album always finds its way back to the Fire Note speakers makes it a no brainer for our 2012 Top 50.

Trapper Schoepp & The Shades: Run, Engine, Run [Fire Note Review 11/14/12]


Frankie Rose
Slumberland Records [2012]

Frankie Rose already has a superb indie resume as a member of the Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts plus an excellent solo debut released in 2010 so it was no surprise that Interstellar landed at number 18. At just a little over 30 minutes Interstellar moves by quickly, spikes different moods and sucks you into its swirling and warm song depths. It is a record that you may initially dismiss but after the opening track you will be hooked and then keep going back to as Frankie Rose is a true talent that only sounds like she is getting started here and I can’t wait to see where she goes from this excellent outing!

Frankie Rose: Interstellar [Fire Note Review 2/23/12]


The Avett Brothers
The Carpenter
American/Universal Records [2012]

Here is a record that changed position as we went back n forth, up and down and higher and lower. The Avett Brothers seventh album, The Carpenter, which once again reunited them with producer Rick Rubin and engineer Ryan Hewitt ended up here at number 17 as the group pushed their classic neo-folk sound forward and completely focused in on each and every component that makes their music so engaging. This fine tuning covered everything from songwriting to their memorable harmonies and at times created a warm 70’s vibe that is gorgeously timeless. The Carpenter shined because of small refinements and its personal nature that covered life, death and the personal accounts that surround those experiences. The Carpenter was a career changer in the sense for The Avett Brothers as they now seem to be on a musical path that has no limits.

The Avett Brothers: The Carpenter [Fire Note Review 9/7/12]


Captured Tracks Records [2012]

DIIV, the new band from Beach Fossils touring guitarist Zachary Cole Smith, released a mesmerizing debut in Oshin as each song had an effortless flow of focused and intense guitar work that in a split second pushed to the next level with its integrated lyrics that ever so slightly hovered above the instruments. The simplistic magic of DIIV is that they truly don’t try to win you over with crazy deep lyrics but still can make you think while their musical structure becomes addictive. Oshin is a record that you might hear once and sort of shrug your shoulders but another spin gets you moving along with its rhythm, a third listen brings the lyrics forward and by the fourth play the stars align and Oshin is one of the best records this year!

DIIV: Oshin [Fire Note Review 6/29/12]


Bend Beyond
Woodsist Records [2012]

A new Woods lp is quickly becoming a reason to celebrate each year. With Bend Beyond, you can add one more classic to their resume. Bend Beyond found Woods refining their sound and their songwriting process while subtracting the long instrumental jam pieces of their past outings. The result was a flawless record in Bend Beyond that is well played, well sung, well written and holds up well to repeated listens. I am not sure where Woods will go from here but one thing is for sure, wherever they go, we are following along!

Woods: Bend Beyond [Fire Note Review 10/2/12]


Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Constellation Records [2012]

Here’s the thing about instrumental post rock, you almost always know what you are going to get before you put the record on. What separates the elite bands from the rest of the post rock pack is that they have the ability to make the listener connect with the music on another level entirely. Legendary Montreal band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor did just that with Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! GYBE did not play by the rules of post rock with Allelujah, as you had an opening 20 minute track followed by a 6 minute song of drone and then they repeated the process. This was an easy record to fall in love with as it is expertly played, superbly sequenced, and thought provoking. This is more than just a comeback record, it’s is a landmark.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! [Fire Note Review 10/17/12]


Motel Beds
Dumb Gold
No More Fake Labels [2012]

It may have surprised some people when last year’s Motel Beds release, Tango Boys, made our Top 50 after only being out several days but with the release of their brand new full length, Dumb Gold, you will realize we were spot on. This record not only carries forward the same energy of Tango but made their tight song structures and execution even tighter. The Motel Beds blended style of British Invasion hi-fi meets Midwestern lo-fi works throughout Dumb Gold and not only made this record their best release to date but landed them on our year end list again – only this time for a solid number 13!

Motel Beds: Dumb Gold [Fire Note Review 11/2/12]


The Walkmen
Fat Possum Records [2012]

One could say that The Walkmen have hit their stride but we believe this top end streak started about 4 years ago and has never halted evidenced by the excellent You & Me [2008], Libson [2010] and now the six studio full length Heaven. It does not really feel like it but The Walkmen have been in existence for 10 years now but their veteran status has never felt stronger than on Heaven’s 47 minutes. There were plenty of tracks that represented their old style here with several upbeat foot tappers but Heaven showed a new side of singer Hamilton Leithauser as he hovered his vocals over guitar lines and showed off a new vulnerability to the band that has not necessarily been explored before. For this lasting combination Heaven soared up our list and secured its place near the top of 2012!

The Walkmen: Heaven [Fire Note Review 5/29/12]


Father John Misty
Fear Fun
Sub Pop Records [2012]

Father John Misty is the new band from ex-Fleet Foxes drummer and solo singer/songwriter Josh Tillman. Fear Fun was his debut record under this moniker but Tillman has around seven solo records under his belt so he is an indie veteran that took full advantage of this new direction. This is an album that was engaging from the beginning but just kept getting better every time we had it on. From the warm carefree musical approach to upbeat memorable numbers that stayed in your head Father John Misty had just the right amount of styling to grab your interest and enough special moments and 70’s folk pop influences to make Fear Fun unique and worth every minute you gave it!

Father John Misty: Fear Fun [Fire Note Review 5/3/12]


Red River Dialect
Self-Released [2012]

We told you back in August about this totally under the radar psych-folk record from Red River Dialect should easily land high on our Top 50 and I would say number 10 is nails it. The Cornwall, England based band debut full length “awellupontheway” is a stunning 8 song, 47 minute experience that has an exuberant amount of energy stored up within its song structures and like any skilled artist has the ability to inject these moments piece by piece into the listener with artistic precision. What made this record so great was how Red River Dialect was able to provide an experience that became more memorable with every spin. “awellupontheway” was both intense and reserved, fierce and gentle, and grandiose yet simple. This internal battle combined with the stellar vocals of lead singer David Morris not only put Red River Dialect on the radar but easily make it one of the best records we heard this year!

Red River Dialect: “awellupontheway” [Fire Note Review 8/2/12]


Cloud Nothings
Attack On Memory
Carpark Records [2012]

It is always cool to see a January released record hold the test of an almost full year and still land in the top 10. Cloud Nothings did just that as the band followed up a really good self-titled debut record released last January with the even better Attack On Memory. The once basement self-recorded project of Dylan Baldi progressed past just getting in the studio with a producer to making Cloud Nothings a full-fledged band and recording with Steve Albini in Chicago. The result was an engaging balance of rock with injected catchy and memorable harmonies. Attack On Memory will easily be the bar from which Cloud Nothings will now be measured as it is a rock thrill ride from beginning to end. It is a record that never lost steam at any time it was played all year and for that it has a well-deserved place at number 9.

Cloud Nothings: Attack On Memory [Fire Note Review 1/25/12]


Tame Impala
Modular Records [2012]

If Tame Impala’s first album Innerspeaker [2010] was like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band then Lonerism is their Dark Side of the Moon. The expectations were already high for this follow up and Tame Impala delivered with drum driven powerhouses, blossoming guitars and keys, crashing waves of wah and synth while floating the listener along with their stylistic hazy vocals. Lonerism’s psychedelic dream pop methodology is a fantastic view on how music should be made as nothing felt out of place, no note was over played, no trick over tried. Tame Impala once again created a timeless record that can be played both loud and soft with equal results which positively made Lonerism one of the best releases 2012 had to offer!

Tame Impala: Lonerism [Fire Note Review 10/15/12]


Murder By Death
Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
Bloodshot Records [2012]

We love it when an album takes hold from the very first track and never lets go. This is the experience that Murder By Death’s sixth full length Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon offered on the first key. Singer Adam Turla’s unique voice, which sounds like a combination of The National’s Matt Berninger and the legend Johnny Cash instantly draws you into Murder By Death’s world. The album found the band battling darkness and struggling to get out within its own lyrics which supplied Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon with an emotional punch that propelled it to the next level. Turla continually tries to convince the listener that he is not an eloquent man during the record but after the album concludes you just know he was totally lying as Murder By Death released one of their most articulate and powerful records to date!

Murder By Death: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon [Fire Note Review 9/26/12]


Jack White
Third Man/Columbia Records [2012]

Right from the opening Rhodes piano playing you just had a sense that one of the true sides of Jack White was just unleashed to the masses on his solo debut Blunderbuss. The album not only had one of the best rock tracks this year with “Sixteen Saltines” but used a dynamic combination of instruments that gave Blunderbuss its free spirit and likability. What made Blunderbuss a success was its expertise refinement because it would have been easy for White to give everyone a full rocked out record like the Stripes but here Jack made each track smolder with his confidence, instrument swagger and solid song structures. Blunderbuss is a record that maybe did not immediately awe fans but it had tremendous staying power. Jack White made an album that played well all year, will play well next year and the years after that which is exactly why this release is essential and firmly planting at number 6 on the 2012 Top 50!

Jack White: Blunderbuss [Fire Note Review 6/29/12]


Kishi Bashi
Joyful Noise Recordings [2012]

A soaring indie pop record primarily written on a violin might scare you a bit but that is exactly the creative process behind the debut, 151a, from Kishi Bashi. Of course, Kishi Bashi expanded on 151a and incorporated a full array of instruments that blended with the record’s Brian Wilson/ELO type harmonies. Kishi Bashi still had the ability to work his violin into the tracks but never dominated the overall sound as he used different tempos, effects and vocal interplay. 151a was an album that only got better with repeat listens and was one of those unique records that sneaks up on you and then turns out to be one of the most entertaining, artistic, quirky, memorable and down-right catchy albums that you have heard in 2012!

Kishi Bashi: 151a [Fire Note Review 4/11/12]


Lotus Plaza
Spooky Action At A Distance
Kranky Records [2012]

Lotus Plaza is the solo project of musician Lockett Pundt, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist of Atlanta-based indie group Deerhunter. Spooky Action At A Distance is his sophomore album and easily now his finest work. The album found Pundt stepping up front and center vocally as songs would crescendo into layered vocals and creatively combine with a consistent guitar base. Lotus Plaza has a laid back ability to create tracks that instantly soared again and again on Spooky Action At A Distance. Lotus Plaza not only released their best record to date but Spooky Action At A Distance rivals the best work from Deerhunter as it is a great indie album that is timeless, memorable and something you should not miss!

Lotus Plaza: Spooky Action At A Distance [Fire Note Review 4/5/12]


Guided By Voices
*Let’s Go Eat The Factory
*Class Clown Spots A UFO
*The Bears For Lunch
Guided By Voices Inc. [2012]

Guided By Voices made a triumphant return in 2012 with a trilogy of releases that featured the “classic line up”. This is the same group which was responsible for the highly praised Bee Thousand [1994] and Alien Lanes [1995] so after a 15 year absence the anticipation for greatness was quite high. Well GBV made up for lost time and delivered a consistent rock experience with each release that musically all had a different vibe but were 100% Guided By Voices. This description of course means different things to different people but for The Fire Note it meant big rock tracks, short memorable numbers, catchy indie pop melodies and plenty of replay value. Some critics complained that the band could have just made one focused record instead of three but they missed the point. All three records shined in the right places, relied on their selected track sequencing and gave the fans what they wanted. The return of Guided By Voices definitely boosted the 2012 indie music scene and rightfully so earned all three records a collective spot at number 3!

Guided By Voices: The Bears For Lunch [Fire Note Review 11/1/12]
Guided By Voices: Class Clown Spots A UFO [Fire Note Review 6/5/12]
Guided By Voices: Let’s Go Eat The Factory [Fire Note Review 12/9/11]


Ty Segall
Drag City Records [2012]

Ty Segall is walking in rarified air these days. There aren’t many artists who can put out three excellent albums in a year. Segall has already hit big this year with his collaborative album with Tim Presley of White Fence, entitled Hair, and his full band album, Slaughterhouse. Twins actually upped the ante and is not only Segall’s best album of the year, but it’s easily the finest, most fully realized album of his career to this point. The album is full of 12 great pop songs, disguised as garage rock and honestly if it was released 20 years ago, it could have been Nevermind. That’s how good Twins is. There isn’t a single song here that is less than excellent, each track is a highlight. For that reason alone Twins is an easy number 2 of the year and already has us excited for what Segall touches next!

Ty Segall: Twins [Fire Note Review 10/12/12]


Celebration Rock
Polyvinyl Records [2012]

Japnadroids sophomore record Celebration Rock couldn’t have hit the nail on the head any better with its title. I truly suggest you take a deep breath right before you put on this album because it is an excellent 35 minutes of indie rock that expands the groups songwriting and is better than their solid debut Post-Nothing [2009]. What made Celebration Rock so good is that the original winning formula from singer/guitar player Brian King and drummer David Prowse stays completely intact as each song here is loud, fast, fun and sonically crisp. Japandroids have succeeded in what every band wants in a sophomore record which is to avoid the slump, grow as songwriters, build your fan base and still be able to rock the hell out of your audience. Japandroids do it all here and at the same time have released the best record this year!

Japandroids: Celebration Rock [Fire Note Review 6/1/12]

Fire Note Staff

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