Tensions ran high for the entire month of December here at Marmoset Headquarters — not due to the stress of holiday shopping or the threat of an approaching apocalypse, but because we all knew a different year-end tradition was rapidly approaching, one that has been known to make grown men cry and/or find themselves without any pants on by the end of the day. A hush came over the office last Thursday as we all filed into the Marmoset Deliberation Chamber, a room specially designed to withstand the blistering heat of debates brought on by the annual assembly of the Marmoset Top 20 Albums of the Year list.
I won’t speak of the things that I saw in the Deliberation Chamber that day, but I will say this: brave men and women sacrificed some of their strongest opinions as well as their entire afternoon to make this list, and we’re proud to present it to you today.
1. Cool Nightmare EP by Radiation City “In a world where everything can start to sound the same really quickly, Radiation City is making music unlike anything I’ve heard before. It's equal parts refreshing and inspiring.” commented Head Marmoset Ryan Wines on Rad City’s success. Seven of us at Marmoset had this 7-track EP on our Top 5 list and no one could deny how bright the future is for this band. Peep the latest video from Rad City for "Hide From The Night."
2. Lonerism by Tame Impala Layers upon layers of distortion, synth, and melody that somehow flow into a 12-track masterpiece, Lonerism was apparently a total bitch for Kevin Parker to produce, but we’re happy he did. Tame Impala achieves the incredibly difficult task of making psychedelic rock into catchy songs that don’t just turn into weird jam band runoff halfway through the album. Like Radiation City's EP, this record also landed in the top 5 for seven of us at Team Marmoset... Marmoset composer David Gulick ranked it as his #1 for 2012. Listen to their single "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards."
3. Kill For Love by Chromatics Little bit creepy, little bit funky, and completely on point. Kill For Love sets the bar high with a chilling Neil Young cover as the opening track, and the rest of the album delivers with songwriting that Neil himself would most likely approve of. Chromatics represent that good electronic music scene in the Pacific Northwest that can often be overshadowed by our ‘beards and banjos’ reputation — if you haven’t worked Kill For Love into your rotation yet, now is the time. And if you haven't worked their rendition of "Into the Black" into your day yet, do it right now. Marmoset composer Matthew Ellis ranked it as his #1 release for 2012 and several others put it in their top 5.
4. Fear Fun by Father John Misty This album was Marmoset's Brandon Day's top overall pick — and though we like to challenge some of Brandon's flavor or the weeks, no one can deny the brilliance of Josh Tillman's solo work. The record just feels awfully close to being some kind of perfection, when taken in as a complete work, beginning to end. With a track list that easily transitions from heavy to light-hearted and back again, the Fleet Foxes drummer's voice echoes over meticulously composed instrumentals, and (as always) he doesn't hold back on the tambourine shaking. Brandon says: listen to "Every Man Needs a Companion" now.
5. Maraqopa by Damien Jurado As usual, Damien Jurado doesn’t need much more than his guitar and an undeniably hypnotic falsetto to make a great album, and lowand behold, he's done it again..and then some. With incredibly simple, yet sugary sweet melodies, Jurado delivers the warm and fuzzies (and without the cheesies), securing Maraqopa a spot in our top five this. To hear our unanimous favorite from the record, click the link and shed a tear to "Museum of Flight." You'll be humming this one for days.
6. Be The Void by Dr. DogDr. Dog is on the road a lot, so it only seems to make sense that Be The Void makes you want to get into a vintage Econoline van and hit the open road with a couple of your best friends and a pizza. Being that this is Dr. Dog’s seventh full-length, we weren't sure what to expect with this one. But at the end of the day, it's Dr. Dog at their very best. With gritty instrumentals and charming melodies, Dr. Dog is still doin’ folk-rock right. Even if the van and the friends aren’t accessible to you, at least get some pizza and listen to our favorite track from the album.
7. Pure Bathing Culture EP Is “underwater dreamland enchantment-pop” a genre yet? So proud to say that Pure Bathing Culture calls our very own Portland home, and they really are putting out something special that's gotten some serious play time at Marmoset HQ this past year. Bonus: Marmoset has had these guys perform at both of our big parties in 2012. We just couldn't help ourselves. And band members Sarah, Dan, and Zach are seriously some of the sweetest people we’ve ever met. Love them, and love their song "Silver Shore's Lake."
8. Delta Spirit by Delta Spirit It’s kind of like Matt Vasquez rips his own heart right out of his chest, and he and the still-beating organ sit down and write an album together. Full disclosure, there's a couple longtime Delta Spirit fans on the Marmoset team...so that was our starting point. And with that said, Delta Spirit’s third full-length is another album full of emotional, inspiring indie-rock tracks that seem to build up and slow down all at once. It's definitely a departure from the bands past releases and has suffered a fair amount of criticism from their fan base for leaning too far into the mainstream pop realm on this one. True or not, we love it. Listen to the epic final track “Yamaha” here.
9. Shrines by Purity Ring In a world wide web full of synthy electronic bands with tiny-voiced female singers, Purity Ring stands out this year as the best. Shrines is one of those albums that kind of feels like one giant song, but in a good way. With uniformly heavy beats and choppy keyboard riffs on top of a soft but distinct voice coming from Megan James, each track flows perfectly into the next. One could not deny the buzz this band garnered in 2012 and even Marmoset's Phil Nelson and Shane Geiger both ranked it as their top record of the year. Slap “Lofticries” out of your laptop right now.
10. channel ORANGE by Frank Ocean It was absolutely necessary to have Frank in the top 10 for this masterpiece. Both the artist and his 2012 release have made some history this year, landing him SIX Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist, Album of the Year, and Record of the Year. And we agree - the lyrics are sexy and emotionally haunting, all set to an overarching sense of improvisation — channel ORANGE is long, it shifts gears often, and you’ll discover something new every time you listen to it. Honestly — if this album isn’t a part of your life, I feel bad for you. Stop whatever you're doing and listen to "Pink Matter" featuring Andre 3000.
11. Dive by Tycho Marmoset composer and friend Matthew Ellis put it best: “Where Boards of Canada left off, Tycho takes the torch to the next level of atmospheric synth music. Super rich in textures and rhythms, it’ll make the most folky acoustic musician want to pick up a synth and have a swing at it.” Listen to "A Walk" immediately.
12. Lux by Brian Eno Marmoset composer Ron Lewis waited a long time for this one, and turned up the heat in the Deliberation Chamber when he aggressively shouted that Brian Eno's new album was "a sublime return to form in the same textural and sonic headspace as Plateaux of Mirror." What are you really doing for the next 20 minutes? Listen to the album's opening track, "LUX 1. "
13. Beacon by Two Door Cinema Club Catchy and synthy indie-rock that isn’t afraid to get kind of disco, not to mention the killer base line that seems to be happening all of the time — Two Door Cinema Club’s sophomore album is their best yet. Nearly everyone at Marmoset HQ agreed that it's hands-down the best indie pop record of the year. Marmoset's Music Supervisor Ninja Eric Nordby and his epic head of curls regularly shimmy to this one, he recommends that you listen to "Handshake."
14. Melody’s Echo Chamber by Melody's Echo Chamber Sweet, sweet Melody. With some production help from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, French pop dreamgirl Melody Prochet put out a killer psychedelic dream pop record that balances soft and gritty sound with frequent kraut leanings. Marmoset composer (and Fruit Bats, Shins, Grand Archives, alum) Ron Lewis ranked this release in his top 3.. quickly bringing it onto the rest of our radars. Zone out to "Endless Shore" today.
15. Dept of Disappearance by Jason Lytle "Because it's awesome." — says Marmoset's man behind the curtain, Justin DeMers. Do you believe him? Listen to the title track.
16. Valtari by Sigur Ros “Thank God they returned to their roots with this ambient and melancholic addition to their catalogue. Heart wrenching productions with an ever incredible Jonsi vocal makes my heart throb. They dug deep on this one and pulled up an album I didn’t expect them to make,” commented Valtari-enthusiast and Marmoset composer Matthew Ellis, touching all of our hearts and therefore securing Sigur Ros a spot on the list this year. Senior Marmoset composer David Swensen ranked this as his top record of 2012. Throb your heart to the title track now.
17. Until The Quiet Comes by Flying Lotus Heavy and elaborately composed space-tronica, deeply rooted in jazz with organic transitions...it seemed nearly impossible for Flying Lotus to successfully follow an epic masterpiece like 2010’s Cosmogramma, but this album definitely brings back the magic. "Until The Coulours Come" will improve your day today. Our very own Phil Nelson ranked this one in his top 2.
18. Lucifer by Peaking Lights “Hypnotic, pulsing, grimy, dark, swirling reggae and dub as interpreted by four lo-fi trackers” — says all-around homeboy Ron Lewis on Peaking Lights. And we dare you to argue with that. This record is definitely one that didn't make it onto many radars this year... Do yourself a favor and listen to their single "Beautiful Son."
19. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar This album snagged the #1 spot on many reputable hip hop lists this year, and for good reason: it's not just a hip hop record, it's a story. Deep, dark, and stormy beats give way to Kendrick's relentless flow and catchy hooks that will have you ending every other sentence in "ya bish" – probably for the rest of your life, as that is most likely how long you'll be keeping this album in the rotation. MONEY TREES.
20. Kaleidoscope Dream by Miguel #20 on our list, but #1 in my heart (this is Maggie btw) — this Miguel album is one big, raunchy serenade. His smooth vocals dominate over funky beats and soulful guitar strumming that will take you to a R&B dreamland — a kaleidoscopic dreamland if you will. Miguel has received massive praise for the infectiously catchy opening track "Adorn," and he threw down a killer performance of his single "Do You..." on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Honorable mentions...Longtime Companion by Sonny & The Sunsets, Poor Moon by Poor Moon, Shields by Grizzly Bear, Both Lights by AU, Mirror Gazer by ONUINU, By Your Side by Breakbot, Silent/Gold Mine by Daniel Rossen, Soft Fall by Sun Airway, Heaven by The Walkmen, America by Dan Deacon, The Seer by Swans, A Wasteland Companion by M. Ward, The Battle by Boy Eats Drum Machine, and Vol 1. by Young Man.