Like we always do at this time, today Ca Va Cool presents the 20 albums we collectively overplayed and played loud in 2012. The first half of our list includes some faithful R&B from the unlikely state of Colorado, past CVC favourites both noisey and subdued, psychedelic rock from the West coast of Australia, cinematic Neil Young covers, coming-of-age rap from the city of Compton, a new indie rock superduo of sorts, and turn of the century hipsters growing up. Don’t read too much into that last one, we’ll continue our list-making ways for years to come.

Photograph by Florian Reimann

20. How to Dress Well – Total Loss

It’s quite possible that 2012 will be remembered as the year that R&B re-entered the zeitgeist. It’s not only been an important year for the genre on a commercial level, but for the first time in decades we’ve been reminded of just how advancing it can be. Tom Krell, like his contemporaries Frank Ocean, Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd), Miguel, and Solange, is a vanguard, and Total Loss, his second LP, is a turning point, where R&B became less about a type of content and more about a type of sound, less rooted in the story of a race and more rooted in the story of a person. Krell is a white guy from Colorado who learned about R&B through a childhood affinity for Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. On Total Loss he not only creates a beautiful and wrenching exploration of chronic depression, he also manages to deliver the single best ode to Houston since her passing, on album standout ‘& It Was You’. — Sal Patel

Photograph by Vanessa Heins

19. PS I Love You – Death Dreams

On Death Dreams, PS I Love You’s Paul Saulnier regresses into his unconscious, bringing only his double-knecked guitar for protection during the nightmare ride. Insecurities are on full display: the brash, chiming guitar notes of ‘Don’t Go’ soothe obvious abandonment fears; the anxieties of adulthood that permeate ‘Future Dontcare’ are numbed by the frantic but steady beat of drummer Benjamin Nelson. After lengthy touring of their debut album Meet Me at the Muster Station, the Kingston, Ontario duo now share visions further from home, creating unlikely city-anthems in both the chaotic ‘Toronto’ and the softer, J Mascis-channeling ‘Saskatoon’, neither of which will ever be used in a tourism ad. Once awake and back home, the pair shred away their social problems at a party in ‘Princess Towers’, the tallest building in Kingston. You have to wonder what drives all this nighttime angst; even though Saulnier and Nelson are on their second album of lauded noise rock and are now touring other continents, they aren’t showing any sign of unwinding. — Daniel Hernandez

18. The xx – Coexist

After the Mercury Prize-winning, world-touring whirlwind of their self-titled debut, British trio the xx have allowed themselves some time to breathe before heading back the the studio. The result is a minimalist take on an already minimal sound, a short story whose author continues to scrape words and sentences out of a page-long draft. Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft’s boy-girl conversations are more suggestive and even more enigmatic than their binary rumors on the debut. Hollowness in instrumentation and melody create uncertainty, skepticism, menace; the true pleasure of this album is in the measurement of tension, through and between songs, created by that uncertainty. The band calls Coexist simply “a development of where we were before”, but it’s less of an evolution from xx and more of a reduction, in the culinary sense, with less substance but a stronger taste. — Josh Penslar

17. Tame Impala – Lonerism

When Australian psych-rockers Tame Impala released their debut Innerspeaker in 2010 it felt like a breath of fresh air despite the very obvious tendency to sound like some psychedelic offering of the past. The sound was old made fresh. Fast forward to 2012 and the follow-up Lonerism is not only more impressive, but even more heavily indebted to the past. Kevin Parker seems to wear his influences directly on his sleeve and yet the material never once sounds dated. I don’t think I’ve played a record as much this year. This album possesses layers upon layers of sound and can fill in any background void or be intently and intentionally listened to. Good sophomore releases are notoriously hard to produce, but Tame Impala really proved they were up for the challenge. And with the NME nod for album of the year, they have a lot of work cut out for themselves. — Christian Kraeker

16. Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance

If there was any doubt that Deerhunter is a band and not a Bradford Cox experiment, that doubt was put to rest in 2010 with Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest. Two of the the standout tracks, ‘Desire Lines’ and ‘Fountain Stairs’, were not from Cox’s pen, but written by and also sung by guitarist Lockett Pundt, also known as Lotus Plaza. This year Lockett released his second Lotus Plaza record, which continues in the same vein as his songs on Halcyon Digest featuring his signature spacey guitar. On ‘Strangers’ Pundt creates a sonic world where you will get lost in the echoing and droning guitars. Guitar is the driving force of this record, you could takeaway the words and the songs would be just as engaging with the guitar carrying you through each song. Not to take away anything from the songwriting though, ‘Monoliths’ is probably his strongest pop song yet, filled with a catchy sing-along chorus and great hooks at each bend. Pundt is revealing himself to be the George Harrison of Deerhunter. Spooky Action at a Distance may not yet be his All Things Must Pass, but it does mark a tremendous step forward for Lotus Plaza as a guitarist and songwriter. — Kyle Sikorski

Photograph by Gemma Harris

15. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

Attack on Memory isn’t reinventing the wheel. Dylan Baldi simply took a formula that worked and ran with it. For one, Cloud Nothings are now more than Baldi’s solo project as Attack on Memory is his first record to include his full-time band members who had (noticeably) been touring with Fucked Up throughout much of 2010. Second, the record rings with urgency and does away with any gimmicky over-production associated with power-pop. The minimal effects processing and rough-around-the-edges sound are thanks to their producer Steve Albini whose hands-off approach had him playing Scrabble and blogging throughout much of the recording process. That’s not to say Attack on Memory is loosely pieced together or lazy. The album sounds much like you’d imagine the band live – ragged, noisy, and crackling with energy. So, while Cloud Nothings aren’t breaking any mould, they’ve created an incredibly infectious half-hour parade of lo-fi noise. The blaring guitars, roomy drums, and strung-out vocals erupting with hooks all beg the question, why mess with what works? — Jan Kucic-Riker

14. Chromatics – Kill for Love

Chromatics member Johnny Jewel was the original choice to score Nicholas Winding Refn’s film Drive, and though only the previously released track ‘Tick of the Clock’ made it on the soundtrack, it gave a sense of Chromatics’ skill in evoking great atmosphere with minimal instrumentation. Chromatics’ Kill for Love establishes a cinematic mood from the outset, dark and sensual. Keeping within the movie soundtrack paradigm, Kill for Love is masterfully plotted and arranged, with instrumental tracks interspersed with Ruth Radelat’s haunting vocals. It begins audaciously with ‘Into the Black’, a Neil Young cover, though the band shows no signs of burning out or fading away. This quickly flows into the one-two punch of the title track and ‘Back from the Grave’, which offer Radelat’s finest moments on the album. Once it reaches the closing chords of ‘The River’, you’ve experienced the ebbs and flows of a feature length electronic masterpiece, left waiting for the eventual sequel, which hopefully won’t be too long in waiting. — Kevin Kania

Kendrick Lamar

13. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city

A lot of hip-hop artists, some old and some new, claimed to have had the greatest effect on their genre this past year, but that honour can only bestowed upon Kendrick Lamar and his personal, coming-of-age album good kid, mA.A.d city. In the city of Compton, Lamar takes the listener on the journey of a hormone-riddled seventeen year-old who matures into a young adult, wise beyond his years. Parents and curfews in sound clips and skits act as a guiding light as he avoids the temptations of South Central gang culture. ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ instructs the listener how to drink like Kendrick, while the self-indulgent ‘Backstreet Freestyle’ is a young street kid’s ode to the finer things in life. At the end of the album, we hear Dr. Dre pass the torch to Lamar on the Just Blaze-produced ‘Compton’ in a very sexy G-Funk resolution where Lamar reflects on his short but impressive career and asks us not to forget him when he’s gone. — Alec Ross

Photograph by Pamela Littky

12. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

If you imagined what a band consisting of Spoon’s Britt Daniel and ex-Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs front man Dan Boeckner would sound like you’d probably be right. It literally sounds like two guys with some of the strongest vocals around having the time of their lives. Both contribute equally to the record, and although there are the definite “Boeckner” tracks as well as the “Daniel” tracks, the album does come off as a true collaboration, and not merely a side project. The artwork, a stark but beautiful melting cherry on a bright yellow background, acts as the perfect metaphor for the music inside. This is stripped down classic indie rock at it’s finest, very reminiscent of a lot of Spoon’s catalogue, but underneath there is just a little hint of sorrow in the lyrics and in the styling added by Boeckner. Will this collaboration lead to the end of Spoon? Likely not. Does this album make me a little less sad about the demise of the Handsome Furs? Definitely yes. — Christian Kraeker

11. The Walkmen – Heaven

A decade ago, the Walkmen premiered their sardonically slick sound: frenetic guitars and a plinking upright piano with tongue-in-cheek detachment from the New York garage movement of the time. Today, with seven full records under their belt and families in tow, the band’s perspective of utopia has mellowed with the release of Heaven. The album’s sound is more polished and brighter than its predecessors, featuring some ethereal back-up by Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, but not without the trademark jangled guitar/piano work and dramatic flourishes. In their maturity, the post-punk revivalists have peeled away the ironic trappings of downtown hipsterism for an album centred on the sincerity of settling. Of scraping by, survival, patience, perseverance, bittersweet acceptance, abandoning lofty dreams, reminiscing, and embracing emotional frankness. Where previously singer Hamilton Leithauser issued angered yelps and defiant rumination, he now croons reflectively on the “wind and grind” of passing days on ‘Nightingales’ and echoing the memories of ”romantic tales of distant years” in the title track. Somehow these observations aren’t seeping with desperation, but with a shrug and a smile. “I don’t need perfection, I love the whole. Oh, give me a life that needs correction.” The imperfection once mocked by the mordant youth is now embraced as Heaven. — Sabrina Diemert

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— , December 18, 2012    1 Comment

nice list! thank you for putting so much thought into this. love this site.

— kat, December 27, 2012