The Top Ten Albums of 2012

Oberhofer Heads a Pack That Includes Japandroids, Matt And Kim, More 

2012 was the year indie rock became fun again. It was the year that indie rock ROCKED again. While many blogs continued to fawn over mopey bands like Beach House, Deerhunter and Bon Iver, others bands like Japandroids and Sleigh Bells blew them out of the water with their loud, distorted guitars.

Looking through the lens of Sonic Cereal’s homebase of Chicago, we’ve seen quite the spectrum of rock ‘n’ roll this year. From destination festivals like Pitchfork and Lollapalooza to Riot Fest, this town just may be the best music town in the country. And I’m not being hyperbolic.

I know there is no hip-hop or pop on this list. This is a list of personal favorites that get the Sonic Cereal stamp of approval.


1. Oberhofer – Time Capsules II



The glockenspiel – similar in sound to a xylophone – is the glue that holds this album together. Paired with indie rock guitars, it contributes a distinct sound that begets the strongest debut we have seen in years.

While the band sounds nothing like U2, the glockenspiel used here generates a sound with the intensity and feel of U2’s “City of Blinding Lights.” The vibe of the album can only be described as thrilling.

There are subtleties you don’t even notice at first listen – like the hint of violin here and there or the occasional quiet keyboards. A smattering of piano rounds out the orchestra-like quality of the record. Plus – this is 10 songs – every one great. No filler.

There is plenty of whistling, la-la-las, ooh-ooh-oohs and whoa-oh-ohs. Whoa, this is the best album of 2012. Sublime.



2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock



This is the only album on this list where you must crank it up to a zillion. There is no other way to listen to “Celebration Rock” than at absolute full volume. There’s a reason why this record is on every critic’s Top Ten list this year – it fuckin’ rocks! While the Pitchfork sheep swooned over the bland and boring Beach House and the pretentious, droning sound of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Japandroids tore it up! A spine-tingling masterpiece.



3. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre Is Evil



On “Theater Is Evil,” Amanda Palmer evolved from her punk-cabaret schtick that defined her former band Dresden Dolls. It’s a magnum opus of noise so thick it melts your eardrums. And with its peaks and valleys, “Do It With a Rockstar” takes the prize for best single of the year.

Amanda got in trouble earlier this year for using Kickstarter to raise money to finance her ambitious Grand Theft Orchestra project. She raised $1.2 million, well over the $100,000 goal. She spent $300,000 recording of the album. The rest was spent on videos and tour production. I’d like to note that I believe this is EXTREMELY unethical. I am judging this on the art alone.



4. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss is a Joan Jett for our generation, prowling all over the stage singing and screaming her way to the top of the indie rock pile. “Reign of Terror” is only the 2nd album from this Brooklyn-based duo. It definitely improves on the thick, fuzz-drenched sound of their first record “Treats.” An even better treat.



5. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten


“Handwritten” is punk rock all-grown-up. New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem put forth an exceedingly strong fourth album that echoes with a tinge of punk rock with Springsteen-like vocals. Plus, they’re great live – churning out standout performances at both Lollapalooza and Riot Fest.


6. Matt And Kim – Lightning


Don’t believe the naysayers. Lightning got mixed reviews and although it isn’t quite as good as the duo’s 2009 breakout second album Grand, it still bursts with happiness unlike any other album out this year. The band’s simple concept of keyboards and drums is minimalist, but their sound is BIG. Plus, they are fantastic, entertaining and fun live performers, among the best in the business.



7. DIIV – Oshin


Soothing and sophisticated, DIIV’s “Oshin” was my go-to chillout album this year. Eardrums shattered from a Japandroids show? Listen to this and come down. Need something non-jazz or non-classical for a nice home-cooked meal at home? DIIV’s got you covered.



8. Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth


Low on the list because it is nowhere near John Darnielle’s greatest effort, but even a lackluster Mountain Goats record is better than most albums overall. And sometimes his albums take a couple years to germinate in your ears – see 2005’s “Sunset Tree.”



9. PAWS – Cokefloat


Too many bands endorsed by Pitchfork are either sob-fests, total downers or dreadfully boring. PAWS’ “Cokefloat” was a refreshing dose of indie rock realness. A simple guitar-bass-drums record that rocks. My go-to record this year for when I can’t decide what to listen to.



10. Of Montreal – Daughter of Cloud



This album goes down in history as the weirdest record of the year, but in a good way. It sounds like Beck’s Midnite Vultures mixed with Prince’s 1999.

And the lyrics are wild as hell. Example from “Steppin’ Out”: “Somebody just date raped me to get to me know me. Speech impediment like let’s make macaroni art. Heart in a furnace, got your learner’s permit. Now you’re preggo wondering if you should full term it. Should you get extensions or maybe just perm it.” Kooky. Good. 



What did I miss? What are your favorite albums of the year?

10 Responses

  1. Dave Gugliotta says:

    I can’t say that I’ve listened to most of these albums, but I have heard Matt and Kim, the Gaslight Anthem and Sleigh Bells. I will rank GA 1st, SB 2nd and M&K 3rd on my personal Like-o-Meter.

  2. Liz L. says:

    Not familiar with DIIV or PAWS; looking forward to checking them out!

  3. conortv says:

    Two bands that couldn’t be more different. DIIV was supposed to open for Japandroids at their recent show at the Metro. But the band had a scheduling conflict and were doing a taping for Letterman instead. I hope they come soon. Best chillout music of the year. PAWS is just pure fun.

  4. Looking good, Conor! You’re too hip for me, but that’s a good thing :)

  5. Kate says:

    Agree with you on Beach House and Godspeed. Zzzzz

  6. conortv says:

    Beach House were sooooo dreadfully boring at Pitchfork. I took a nap under a tree. And don’t get me started on Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Is this music?

  7. Hal says:

    I agree with you regarding Japandroids; one of 2012’s top albums. I hope to catch ’em live in 2013. My other 2012 heavy rotations include the recent ones from Beach House, Cold Cave, Converge, Goat, Maserati, Metz, The Raveonettes, Swans, Steve Moore, and Thee Oh Sees.

  8. Hal says:

    And don’t forget Black Breath!

  9. Dave says:

    Can’t say that I’ve heard of any of these albums, but I’ll check them out.

  10. Justin says:

    Great list. Glad you didn’t put Swans on there. It seems to be on everyone else’s. So overrated.



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