Top 20 of 2012: 2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Japandroids - Celebration RockThe best thing about Japandroids isn’t their music. Don’t get me wrong, Brian King and David Prowse are incredible musicians, but what really got me about their debut Post-Nothing and still gets me on Celebration Rock is the feeling that comes with it.

Most albums have perfectly planned highs and lows, but Celebration Rock is all highs, and better for it. It’s an unrelenting tornado of youth, energy, sing-along shouts and distortion that borders on perfect. It’s heart-racing, fist-pumping rock that never stops and never wears out.

In his review of “The House That Heaven Built,” Pat Hosken of Astro Cannon said, “Anthem is too soft a word.” It definitely is, but I can’t think of a better one. Celebration Rock is an anthem. And it’s changing rock music entirely.

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Top 20 of 2012: 3. Tropical Punk – Ends of the World

3. Tropical Punk – Ends of the World

Tropical Punk - Ends of the WorldTropical Punk was by-far my most-played artist of 2012. No contest. The Nashville-via-Ithaca band put out a series of three 7″ EPs called Runaway American Kids and their debut full-length Ends of the World this year on their own Denim Records, and I can’t stop playing them.

The handmade Ends of the World CD lived in my car for months, where it became my go-to album. If I didn’t have a specific plan for something else, Ends of the World stayed in, and when it was over, I just let it cycle through again.

Usually, this is a great way to start hating your favorite bands, but for some reason, with each listen, Tropical Punk keeps getting better.

Ends of the World and all three Runaway American Kids 7″s are now available on vinyl via Tropical Punk’s Bandcamp. The rest of Denim Records is also worth checking out — including Music Band‘s Satan’s Grave and Kin Ship’s Where I Live, released yesterday.

Top 20 of 2012: 4. John K. Samson – Provincial

4. John K. Samson – Provincial

John K Samson - ProvincialThis list has featured a lot of music’s greatest songwriters. Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are legends, and John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats is certainly working his way there as well. But leave it to John K. Samson to fly in under the radar.

Samson has long been a master songwriter in my book. As the frontman for the Weakerthans, he makes it seem easy to write from the point of view of a cat or about explorers in Antarctica. And while his debut solo album is different, his brilliant character-driven fiction still shines through.

As its title might suggest, Provincial, is about Samson’s homeland of Canada. Some tracks, like “www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle/” — a literal petition to the Hockey Hall of Fame — are unmistakably Canadian, but most carry familiar themes like the small-town boredom of “Cruise Night” and the frustration of “When I Write My Master’s Thesis.”

That’s what makes Samson a great songwriter. His songs read like works of fiction, with creative characters and settings, but they always boil down to something universal and true.

Top 20 of 2012: 5. Flume – Flume

5. Flume – Flume

FlumeIt was a big year for Flume. At only 20, the Australian producer also known as Harley Straten toured with the xx, got over a million YouTube views and even has a gold record in his home country.

But even without all that, Flume’s self-titled debut album would still make this list. Streten creates fascinating electronic music full of rich textures and vibrancies. But it’s his rare talent of turning those sounds into great songs that puts him above most other electronic musicians.

Streten’s already got an even bigger 2013 lined up. In addition to headlining tours, he just signed to indie mega-label Mom + Pop — home of Andrew Bird, Metric and Tokyo Police Club, to name a few — for the U.S. release of Flume. Get ready to hear a lot more about Harley Streten.

Top 20 of 2012: 6. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

6. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

Frank Ocean - channel ORANGEFrank Ocean‘s excellent debut mixtape, nostalgia, ULTRA., caught the attention of Kanye West and Jay-Z, and honestly, he outshined them on his two Watch the Throne tracks.

So expectations were high for his debut studio album (and early singles “White,” “Pyramids” and “Sweet Life” raised them even higher), but Ocean unquestionably delivered. channel ORANGE featured guest spots from big names like André 3000, John Mayer, and fellow Odd Future members Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator, but Ocean’s presence — in both his songwriting and singing — is so strong that you barely notice them.

Now, with several Grammy nominations, Ocean is contemplating not making any more albums. Although he just said it in passing and it’s hopefully not true, channel ORANGE would be an incredible standalone legacy.

Top 20 of 2012: 7. Tame Impala – Lonerism

7. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Tame Impala - LonerismThere’s more to Tame Impala than the Beatles comparisons. Sure, Kevin Parker — who is Tame Impala in the studio — really does sound like John Lennon, but more importantly, his music captures the Beatles’ penchant for pop.

Parker takes that basic Beatle pop and skews it into something his own. His warped psychedelic effects on both Lonerism and its predecessor, Innerspeaker, sound more acid-soaked than when the Beatles actually were on acid. But the massive synths, blown-out riffs and reverb never wash away the pop at the heart of his music. And nobody writes pop like this anymore.

Top 20 of 2012: 8. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

8. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Fiona Apple - The Idler WheelFiona Apple’s last album Extraordinary Machine is a glaring example of label troubles. After two years of delays and leaked demos, Epic Records finally released it in 2005 — but hey, at least we got two versions of that excellent record. It looks like the label might’ve learned from their mistake, releasing her newest album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, pretty much right after they found out about it.

So if it wasn’t the label’s fault, why has it been seven years before she put out a new album? Apple actually recorded The Idler Wheel… in secret, without the label’s knowledge. She had no pressure in the studio and created the album she wanted to make — an album that might be her best.

The Idler Wheel… doesn’t have the grand arrangements of Extraordinary Machine, but the pared-down music is still her most adventurous. And her lyrics are as sharp as ever — conveying every bit of the incredible emotion held within.

Fiona Apple’s absences are easy to forgive, because her records are always so good.