Frank Ocean

The conclusion of Ca Va Cool’s best albums of 2012 picks up where the first half left off, featuring old favourites and brave new sounds side by side: indie pop sits next to a “post-internet” patchwork sound; thematically-advancing hip-hop sidles up to our beloved indie rock. Without further ado, here are our writers’ ten favourite albums of the past year.

Photograph by Kristin Lidell

10. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t

How could anybody break up with Jens Lekman? Unfathomable as it may be, the Swedish songwriter is no stranger to frank relationship-ending songs; ‘I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You’ from his 2007 orchestral pop magnum opus Night Falls Over Kortedala could be seen as a prequel to this year’s ‘She Just Don’t Want to Be with You Anymore’. On the former, he seemed to be trying his hand at a long tradition of breakup pop songs (from ‘Breaking Up Is Hard to Do’ to ‘A Case of You’; from ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ to ‘Ms. Jackson’), whereas now you can tell he has experienced heartbreak firsthand. I Know What Love Isn’t never wavers from its main theme as the stages of recovery play in chronological order: the difficulty in forgetting on ‘Every Little Hair Knows Your Name’, the sadness of imagining his lover with another on ‘Become Someone Else’s’, and after some time, a joyous moving on during the title track. This sad bastard music doesn’t sound like a particularly fun way to spend 38 minutes, but with the sincerity, warmth, and goofball humour that have always characterized Lekman’s music, he delivers an album that’s insightful, upliftingly melodic, and ironically, hilarious at points. In the end, he may have learned what love isn’t, but he hasn’t given up on love, because, well, he’s Jens Lekman. — Daniel Hernandez

09. Tennis – Young & Old

If I remember 2012 for anything, it’ll be the summer music. Three of our top ten albums of the year (counting Beach House’s Bloom and Hospitality’s self-titled debut, below at #3 and #2, respectively) are summer records to their core, thoughtful and loose in a way that sounds best from a tinny speaker in a car or cottage. In Young & Old, this seasonal sensation comes our way through surf-rock tones and warm waves of torch song, 1950s character markers that are woven together with overdriven vocals and a touch of 1990s modernism. The most obvious thing about Young & Old is the most important: it sounds pretty much the same from head to tail. No song is much faster or slower than another, and chordal harmonies change very slowly, reluctantly. Maybe it makes sense that a band led by a happily married couple should be able to forge a charming, romantic sound from equilibrium rather than drama. Like a lakeside afternoon, this is an album that, in the best sense, doesn’t really go anywhere. — Josh Penslar

Photograph by Julia Mard

08. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

It’s hard to mistake the music of Kristian Matsson, whose hyper-plucked guitar styling and unique voice have been providing us with some of the most consistent and beautiful albums of the indie folk genre. However, something is now different on There’s No Leaving Now. This offering is fuller, more produced, and to be honest took awhile to grow on me. Interestingly, despite my initial ambivalence towards the album, I found myself regularly and compulsively turning to it. Maybe there was something in starkness of the previous records that I missed? The thing is that it’s still there, but not revealed at first. We’ve been teased with the Tallest Man on Earth as a piano man a few times before, but the title track ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ certainly solidifies his true gift as a multi-instrumentalist. His voice and that piano anchor the record. — Christian Kraeker

07. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Dirty Projectors aren’t as complex of a band as people make them out to be. What they are is always trying to do something new with basic melody, harmony and instrumentation. This time around Dirty Projectors decided to take the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus approach for most of the record and this simplified structure of arrangements makes them more powerful than ever. Our first glimpse of the record was ‘Gun Has No Trigger’, which had the lyrics rise above everything else with only drum and bass as backing. The songs paints a stunning visual story that we may have not been paying attention to from their past records, but like the song says, if we had only looked. Lead singer David Longstreth has written some of his most heartfelt lyrics and this time they are made to be heard above all else. Over production has at times wrecked what should be classic and beautiful songs (see Bon Iver’s ‘Beth/Rest’ from last year). Dirty Projectors have learned to let the songs be what they are meant to be, and in doing so they shaped a classic record that will stand the test of time, no matter what the current production trend is. — Kyle Sikorski

06. Grimes – Visions

An adage for Generation Y: “Give a Millennial a computer, they’ll watch cat videos for a day. Teach a Millennial to mix music on a computer, she’ll lock herself in a dark basement and, fuelled by amphetamines and isolation, produce one of the most haunting, beautiful, danceable and indefinable albums of the year.” In that vein, 24 year old Vancouverite-turned-Montrealer Claire Boucher channeled a DIY inventiveness into her alter ego Grimes, a simultaneously poppy sweet vocalist and against-the-grain experimental artist. Her third album Visions is a beat driven Napster-youth pastiche, with influences ranging from industrial and R&B to K-pop and Pokémon themes. Hypnotic songs are buoyed by airy falsettos and dreamy whispers but grounded by concrete dance-worthy rhythms. The nebulous nature of Grimes’ mirage is matched by ambiguous lyrics of longing: dark, fearful, wistful and yet surprisingly tactile, with cravings of touch and connection. Earlier this year Boucher offhandedly coined the genre of “post-internet”, and Visions may become the benchmark of this new, patchwork sound. — Sabrina Diemert

Photograph by Barbara Anastacio

05. Grizzly Bear – Shields

What gets me about Grizzly Bear is their ability to expand on past motifs without sounding formulaic. Ed Droste’s longing vocals, Christopher Bear’s expressive drumming, Chris Taylor’s ghostly effects, and Daniel Rossen’s knack for creating textural sounds are all still present in spades on Shields. Yes, Shields still sounds like a record that’s had every note manicured and manoeuvred into position by a group of clever American indie musicians. Where Yellow House found a specific sound and ran in through the wash – with songs such as ‘Knife’ – Shields creates complex compositions that demand attention and patience. The dreamy vocalizing and accessibility (as far as one can consider Grizzly Bear accessible) of Veckatimest have been traded in for a clearer and louder aesthetic on Shields. Perhaps the most obvious break from past tendencies on Shields is the songwriting. Where songs like ‘Colorado’ essentially repeated ten words over and over again for five minutes, Shields feels as if it has a cohesive narrative, one that broaches subjects of isolation, conflicting emotions, and disillusionment. Shields is endlessly rewarding when given the time it needs to progress. — Jan Kucic-Riker

04. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

Whether the last year of Frank Ocean’s life has been a truthful introspective journey or a meticulously calculated and executed publicity stunt, one thing can be certain; it was beautiful. Ocean turned the hip-hop world outside down in July when he took to Tumblr to describe his ill-fated relationship with another man, but the entire concept of channel ORANGE – an aura-channelling observation of a the sun-bleached youth of Los Angeles, both privileged and doomed (or both) – was an honest, poignant, and also funkadelic album. channel ORANGE explores Ocean’s insecurities in a world often focused on daydreams and television; a soulful, mournful, intergalactic compilation of drugs, sex, and mistakes all with incredible staying power. Even without the Tumblr message linked to ‘Bad Religion’, the song continues to send shivers down my back. Arguments are welcome, but more than R. Kelly, or even How to Dress Well, Frank Ocean made us aware of R&B in 2012. — Alec Ross

Beach House

03. Beach House – Bloom

A little while ago I was in a mid-workday procrastinatory Facebook thread where the idea was to analogize between albums and people you might date. Quoting a friend about The Thrills’ So Much for the City: “I’d definitely have Sunday brunch and then spend a pleasant afternoon doing something charming and low key with this album.” Mother Mother, The Sticks: “We talked awkwardly for like half an hour and it kept making unfunny dirty jokes while I waited for my rescue text.” For Bloom, I’ll stand by my date-review: “A passionate summer fling that only ended when we each had to go home with our families in the fall, and though there was a time when we dared to believe in running away together, the world got the better of us, and we had to content ourselves with handwritten letters that got shorter and shorter as the school year went on; and decades from now, when we are both married with grown children and respectable careers, every once in a while, usually in line at the supermarket, we will dawdle over fantasies of running across the field, past the kiosks and cheap hotels, behind the wall of rocks at the Spit hiding you from the dark indifferent mass of the lake—meeting at the firepit one last time, for one last fire and one last kiss.” It’s also great driving music. — Josh Penslar

Hospitality

02. Hospitality

Bolstered with a video for lead single ‘Friends of Friends’ featuring Alia Shawkat, Arrested Development’s Maeby Fünke herself, Hospitality’s self-titled debut arrived relatively early this year, to the delight of indie pop fans everywhere. Influenced by the likes of Belle & Sebastian, Elvis Costello and Kate Bush, the band possesses a distinct voice. Most notably this refers to Amber Papini’s slightly idiosyncratic vocals and to Brian Betancourt’s understated but remarkably memorable basslines. In another pleasant surprise, the album features ten songs unique in that anyone could stand alone as a strong single. That songs like ‘Eighth Avenue’ and ‘Betty Wang’ seem so bouncy, carefree, and breezy belies the fact that there is a lot of musicianship going into each song. Yes, what we have here is a band that can actually play their instruments. With that strong pop sensibility, Hospitality evokes the best of AM radio from yesteryear while adding a modern twist. — Kevin Kania

01. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Album art, sonic palette and general mood notwithstanding, something fundamental did in fact change between bandmates Brian King and David Prowse’s debut album Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock. Post-Nothing is the album they made for them and Celebration Rock is the album they made for us. This intent is what catapulted the Canadian duo from the trappings of years of sweaty and cavernous North American dive bar shows to big time slots at international festivals where their post-punk songs could suddenly become celebratory rock anthems. Seeing them at one such festival – served with a side of screaming teenagers, stupid amounts of alcohol consumption, and best friends hugging and high-fiving constantly – their intent had me not longing for youth, but living it instead. Looking back at some of my posts from Ca Va Cool’s early days, an unabashed excitement and love of music fills each one. It’s this kind of boundless excitement that led to this site’s very creation. Years, albums, reviews and shows later, Celebration Rock has recaptured it. We’re all kids tonight and we can all love with the legendary fire. — Sal Patel

Celebration Rock

Ca Va Cool’s Best Albums of 2012

20. How to Dress Well – Total Loss
19. PS I Love You – Death Dreams
18. The xx – Coexist
17. Tame Impala – Lonerism
16. Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance
15. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
14. Chromatics – Kill for Love
13. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
12. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
11. The Walkmen – Heaven
10. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
09. Tennis – Young & Old
08. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
07. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
06. Grimes – Visions
05. Grizzly Bear – Shields
04. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
03. Beach House – Bloom
02. Hospitality
01. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Tags: Beach House, Dirty Projectors, Frank Ocean, Grimes, Grizzly Bear, Hospitality, Japandroids, Jens Lekman, Tennis, The Tallest Man on Earth

— , December 31, 2012    3 Comments
Comments:

#weareallkidstonight
happy NYE y’all

— urbanhautebourgeois, December 31, 2012

FRANK IS REAL ALEC!!!

— urbanhautebourgeois, December 31, 2012

Good call on Hospitality…what a great album!!

— Brian, January 2, 2013
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