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With 2012 a rapidly fading memory, it’s time to reflect on the unsung heroes of independent and oft-overlooked music from the year the world was supposed to end. Come take a stroll down the Toms-beaten memory lane that is my list of the Top 12 albums of 2012.
12. Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal
Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men made it big in Canada in 2011 with the release of its exceptionally catchy, cutesy tune “Little Talks,” and proceeded to grip the country’s hipsters with the release of its first full-length album in April. This is the kind of record that’s popular for a reason — it’s catchy, polished, modern folk, with that cool-as-ice Nordic appeal.
11. Dum Dum Girls - End of Daze
Snarky, retro noise-pop quartet Dum Dum Girls followed up 2011’s Only in Dreams with End of Daze. The EP sees heartbreak through the bleary, eyeliner-rimmed peepers of singer Dee Dee, whose delightfully dark lyrics play on the band’s artsy apathy while toeing the line between bad rocker babes and tender crooners.
10. Tame Impala - Lonerism
The psychedelic second release from Australian band Tame Impala delves into pop melodies and progressively weirder synth-driven songs that, given the band’s long-haired fearlessness, result in one of the strangest and strongest experimental indie-pop records of the year. The band produces pop songs from the same school as weirdo darlings The Flaming Lips, and does it well.
9. Bloc Party - Four
Mixed reviews greeted the fourth release from British indie rock outfit Bloc Party, with some of the powerful guitar-driven tracks hearkening back to Silent Alarm days, and some of the slower jams heading hesitatingly into the future of this band. But it’s Bloc Party’s gutsy willingness to experiment that made them a smash in the first place, and this album’s exploration of the musical abyss has its payoffs.
8. Howler - America Give Up
Howler delivered snotty indie-rock reminiscent of old-school punk on its first release, to much critical acclaim in 2012. The young Minneapolis band’s teetering between arrogance and aloofness makes it one of the cool kids on last year’s indie scene.
7. Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls
Big buzz caught hold of this fuzzed-out bluesy foursome long before their first record, Boys and Girls, dropped in April, but boys and girls, it was worth the wait. Brittany Howard’s soulful voice alternately strains and plays in perfect southern garage-rock harmony. The passion behind this band is almost tangible, and it’s definitely audible.
6. Sea Wolf - Old World Romance
If consistency is a criterion for a list-worthy record, it’s epitomized by this L.A.-based band. Despite an ever-changing lineup, the third Sea Wolf release is filled with as much dark and stormy imagery and meticulously crafted indie pop as its first, and considering the warm critical reception of 2007’s Leaves in the River, continuity is nothing to sneeze at.
5. Metric - Synthetica
Canadian indie-rockstars Metric have taken their name from basement bars in Toronto to sold-out shows across the country on their latest arena tour, and the whole journey has been DIY for this band. Fantasies, the band’s 2009 release, launched them to stardom and Synthetica is keeping them firmly there. The record pays homage to the synth riffs of old and singer Emily Haines reaches heavenly highs with her signature pipes.
4. Tennis - Young & Old
Denver duo Tennis’ second album Young & Old taps into the well of surf-pop that seemingly sprung no end of fine music in 2012. Singer Alaina Moore’s crisp, wavering voice soars over the summery vibes of husband and guitarist Patrick Riley. The musical chemistry between this pair is adorable and addictive.
3. Islands - A Sleep & a Forgetting
Islands frontman Nick Thorburn comes to terms with love, loss, memory and forgetting on the band’s third release, and in true Islands form, A Sleep & a Forgetting is extraordinarily different from the band’s past records. Piano-driven ballads rule this album, and show off Thorburn’s diversity as a songwriter and the band’s adaptability to changing inspiration.
2. First Aid Kit - The Lion’s Roar
Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg burst onto the scene with a stunning cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song in 2008. Since then, the duo has perfected its (ironically) American-style brand of folk on its second full-length release, with hauntingly close harmonies and woodsy instrumentation.
1. Boxer the Horse - French Residency
This Charlottetown-based band pays tribute to lo-fi ’90s alternative and jangly, melodic ’60s influences on its second record, and pull off the would-be strange combo with impressive pizazz. Between the infectious guitar licks and more-often-than-not cheeky lyrics, this is one for the record collection.