40. Ceremony – Zoo
The year’s weirdest punk album came from a band that have never released the same song twice, let alone the same record. After taking a more alternative turn on their previous LP, Rohnert Park, Ceremony embraced sounds from the furthest stretches imaginable. While many songs kept up a vitriolic spite and energy – the opening one-two of “Hysteria” and “Citizen” exemplifying this – Zoo would often take detours into shoegaze, college rock and even slabs of proto-punk freak-outs, a la the first Stooges album. Zoo is Ceremony’s best album to date – don’t be too cool to go with it.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Repeating the Circle, Hysteria, World Blue.
39. Anberlin – Vital
There may not have been a more apt album cover in 2012 – from the get-go, Vital feels like being hit by a tidal wave. Ten years since their inception, Anberlin went into their sixth studio album with a sense of purpose, a certain spring in the step and the kind of zest that has been missing from the bulk of their recorded material since Cities. Here, everything sounds truly mammoth – Stephen Christian sounds as though he’s recorded most of the choruses from atop Kilimajaro; while drummer Nathan Young might as well have done his takes in the centre of a football field – in the middle of a grand final. If Anberlin have lost you along the way, it’s Vital that will draw you back in to what made them so great to begin with.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Little Tyrants, Self-Starter, God, Drugs and Sex.
38. Hilltop Hoods – Drinking From the Sun
It’s a celebration, bitches. Nearly 10 years after the game-changer that was The Calling, Adelaide’s finest come the closest they ever have to topping that record. Drinking From the Sun presents itself as a matured, focused and engaging album that manages to keep the group’s sound as lively as ever – far more than its predecessor, State of the Art. It might have taken awhile away from music and touring for the Hoods to achieve this sound, but the end result was more than worth it. The bar in Oz hip-hop has been set once again – and it’s your round.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Rattling the Keys to the Kingdom, Now You’re Gone, Shredding the Balloon.
37. Keane – Strangeland
In 2004, Keane donned NME’s cover as Band of the Year, waving from the back of a convertible car in the midst of a ticker-tape parade. Although celebrations have long since ended, those who have stuck with the band have found themselves rewarded with more doses of delightful, glassy piano-pop. Strangeland comes four years after their last studio album, Perfect Symmetry, but the extended wait is almost instantly paid off within the first three tracks, which rank among the best the band have ever done. Detractors will find nothing to enjoy about Strangeland – but, then again, they were never going to.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Sovereign Light Cafe, Silenced by the Night, On the Road.
36. Norah Jones – …Little Broken Hearts
Danger Mouse producing? “Rock” instruments? Murder ballads? Who are you, and what have you done with Norah Jones? Ravi’s little girl has always been in possession of a delightful voice, which fills smoky bars as easily as it fills entertainment centres. The catcher is it’s been wasted on what’s been described as some of the most boring music of the 21st century. Under the guidance of Mr. Mouse, however, Jones has found herself a sultry, sizzling dark side that undeniably shines throughout this collection of heartbreak, woe, betrayal and jealousy. Naturally, it’s the one fucking Norah Jones record that nobody bought.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Miriam, Happy Pills, Say Goodbye.
35. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Much has been made of the fireworks heard in the distance as the the record starts, as well as when the record ends. While many may roll their eyes at even the notion of it, there really was no better way to tie Celebration Rock together. In the interim, listeners found eight songs specifically designed for turning up loud, downing your beverage of choice and roaring along to. There’s no deeper layer of meaning here. News flash: There doesn’t have to be. Stop over-thinking rock & roll, people. Take it for what it is, and sing along if you know the words.
THREE TOP TRACKS: The House That Heaven Built, Younger Us, The Night of Wine and Roses.
34. Alpine – A is for Alpine
It’s rare spark that lights a debut album in quite such a fashion, presenting a sound that’s as assured and as accomplished as this. Then again, Alpine always felt like a rare breed – imagine a bipolar, double-headed Bjork back in front of the Sugarcubes and we’re halfway there. On their all-important first album, the sextet breathe life into older tracks (“Villages,” “Too Safe”), lay down tried-and-tested live favourites (“Hands,” “Seeing Red”) and make inroads into all-new territory (“All for One,” “Multiplication”). So much to do, such little time. Absorb A is for Alpine whole, and let your mind do the rest of the work.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Softsides, Villages, Lovers 1 & 2.
33. Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind
It feels weird typing the name Ben Folds Five in 2012, let alone discussing them in the present tense. And yet, here we are. Over a decade since their demise, the Five is back – older, wiser, hairier and still able to work their guitar-free magic. Here, the band talk old friends, crazy exes and struggling musos. Although it’s never quite the “punk rock for sissies” from their early work, it’s still delivered with their wry humour and sharp dynamics. At times, it honestly feels like they never left. The Sound… just feels right.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Draw a Crowd, Michael Praytor, Five Years Later, Erase Me.
32. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – The Heist
So, let’s get this straight. The breakthrough hip-hop album of the year was released completely independently, glorified paying as little as possible for clothing and spoke out against homophobia. Not too long ago, this album would have barely made a Pitchfork list, let alone smashed both the singles and albums charts. Whatever it was, the team of dapper MC Macklemore and innovative producer Ryan Lewis locked onto a good thing very early on in the album’s proceedings and kept listeners enthralled, amazed and entertained for just over an hour. The Heist was the year’s coolest hip-hop record almost in spite of itself.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Same Love, Can’t Hold Us, Wing$.
31. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
Of the entire Odd Futre collective, it was Tyler, the Creator’s year in 2011; delivering the most talked-about hip-hop album of the year in the demented Goblin. 2012, however, was unquestionably Frank Ocean’s moment. Anyone who heard his outstanding mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA knew that true greatness lay ahead for the crooner. channel ORANGE confirmed this in excess, delivering a bright, high-concept rnb record that touches on everything from lusty obsession to the crushing pain of unrequited affections and struggling with one’s sexuality. The conversation is now all about Frank Ocean – just who he is, what he’s doing and what he’s capable of doing next.
THREE TOP TRACKS: Bad Religion, Lost, Pyramids.