Our Favorite Albums of the Decade: 2012

Our Favorite Albums of 2012
Our Favorite Albums of 2012
fun. Lana del Rey Andy Shauf Taylor Swift Kendrick Lamar Bruce Springsteen The Menzingers Japandroids Lucy Rose Tame Impala Jessie Ware Beach House Trampled by Turtles alt-J Purity Ring Dirty Projectors Grizzly Bear Among Savages Enter Shikari The Killers Of Monsters and Men Everyone Everywhere Ellie Goulding Frank Ocean Two Door Cinema Club Fiona Apple

The 2010s are coming to a close, and with them ends an exciting era of musical innovation and societal transformation. The past ten years have seen the breakdown of genre, increased accessibility for content creators, and new modes of access for music consumers. Downloads bowed to streams in the West, and artists like Justin Bieber, Drake, and Taylor Swift rose to international superstardom – but this is just the tip of the iceberg of a busy, busy age; it seemed like the more connected we were, the more disconnected we felt. Music was a means of transcending distraction and hardship; a vessel of understanding that lent us stability for moments of stress and doubt.

How better to capture a decade in music than in the words of those who lived it and breathed it? Atwood Magazine is proud to present Our Favorite Albums of the Decade, in no particular order (you can jump directly to an artist by clicking their name above, and return to the top of the page by clicking any album art below). For ten weeks, our writers will be breaking down the music of the 2010s year by year. These are the records that shaped the people we are today: The music that carried us through pivotal milestones, the songs that together form the soundtracks to our lives. We have grown and changed, matured and evolved, but in this time of reflection, we can still feel the sense of wonder we felt as listeners pressing “play” for the very first time.

This week we celebrate the music of 2012 in all its dynamic, thrilling passion: From fun.’s glorious fever dream Some Nights and Kendrick Lamar’s effortless good kid, m.A.A.d City, to Lana del Rey’s glamorous Born to Die, Frank Ocean’s moody Channel Orange, Beach House’s dreamy Bloom, and so much more!

Mitch Mosk, Editor-in-Chief

— —

Our Favorite Albums of 2012

Our Favorite Albums of the Decade 

Our Favorite Albums of 2012

For all its pomp and circumstance, fun.’s sophomore album is a dark and stormy affair when you dive deeper into the lyrics. Nate Reuss and co. sugarcoated laments of nostalgia, loss, change, and the challenges of our present age with a bombastic explosion of glittering harmonies, horns, keyboards, and rollicking guitars. They held nothing back, critiquing the chaos and turmoil of the world at large while simultaneously struggling through inner despair and emotional fragility. A dazzling commentary on life’s unceasing turbulence, Some Nights is a thrilling, overwhelmingly vulnerable musical extravaganza, and that’s what makes it so much fun to love.

In point of fact, Some Nights carries itself like a Broadway musical. Melodic motifs and lyrical themes are established from the onset in “Some Nights (Intro),” Nate Reuss’ dramatic outpouring of brokenness: “Some nights, I live in horror of people on the radio: Tea parties and Twitter, I’ve never been so bitter,” he sings, rising from soft-spoken whispers to a gallant shout in a brooding two-minute reverie:

There are some nights I wait for someone to save us
But I never look inward, try not to look upward
And some nights I pray a sign is gonna come to me
But usually, I’m just trying to get some sleep

So begins the fun. show, an enthralling and methodically layered performance. The gorgeous “Some Nights” promised to take your breath away with its ambitious vocals and unapologetic extravagance; the dynamic hit single “We Are Young” tapped into a familiar collective and individual longing for easier, simpler days. “Tonight, we are young, so let’s set the world on fire!” You could should the words out loud whilst burying them in your soul. Beyond the radio singles were heartfelt outpourings like “Why Am I the One” and “Carry On,” where passionate drive met with fraught emotional reckonings as fun. explored but a few of rhetorical questions. In the middle of the record was the jarring “It Gets Better,” a frenetic number which to this day feels more ironic than anything else.

Released in the winter, Some Nights was despite everything a distinctly sunny soundtrack, and by the time June hit, I knew every chorus. I remember laying in my backyard, head in the grass, staring up at the sun as the title track’s rich layers overtook my senses. I remember loving the overture-like grandeur of closer “Stars.” Few bands could create such a dramatic production as Some Nights, and yet fun. somehow pulled it off perfectly.

More than anything else, fun. lived up to their name in crafting an album we could listen to again… and again… and again They invited us to dwell in moments of sorrow, pain, reckless abandon, and restless strife through vibrant, bright soundscapes full of effervescent energy. Some Nights gave its listeners the strength to believe in a better tomorrow, even if everything felt broken today. It inspired introspection, healing, and hope in the face of hopelessness.

In 2012, Some Nights was every night. – Mitch Mosk, New York

Let’s be honest, what not to say about Born to Die? The album ushered in a new way to be a pop star in the form of the broody, aloof, and ironically patriotic Lana del Rey. An updated take on a classic-sounding, glamorous vein of pop, del Rey’s vocals and stories are laid beautifully on a bed of strings and patient beats. It’s an album that takes its time, honouring every character and setting that exists within it – people wrongly accuse del Rey of being fake, an industry plant, but Born to Die sounds refreshingly lived in and genuine. Its polished sonics never clash with the grittier vignettes of a drug-addled, hopeless Carmen, a commentary on capitalism, or with the pain of heartbreak at the hands of an older man. Born to Die is an album that was made to be felt rather than heard. In it, del Rey gives herself away completely to the people and situations that populate her record, lamenting a friend who she could not help, surrendering her life to her lovers and demanding their reverence in return.

The album is also a patchwork of del Rey’s influences, with nods to Vladmir Nabokov’s Lolita, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rollin’ Stone”, old Hollywood, James Dean. It travels from New York City to Las Vegas and then to Los Angeles. It’s proudly American through and through, but not scared of exposing the not-so-pleasant underbelly of society: Born to Die is at the same time a love letter and a poignant critique of the place which allowed del Rey to become who she is. Lana del Rey is probably an artist whose influence, to its full extent, will only be truly comprehended in a few decades. With Born to Die, she became an unlikely popstar with chart-topping records whose music was everything but radio-ready and lifted the carpet to expose the dust that American society wasn’t ready to expose, let alone consume, in popular music. For too long we’ve taken del Rey for granted, but revisiting to Born to Die, especially after this year’s lauded Norman Fucking Rockwell! shows us she’s always been the skilled, uniquely talented artist people finally see her as today.  Born to Die is timeless, as is the woman behind the album.Nicole Almeida, Philadelphia

Andy Shauf’s The Bearer of Bad News is perfection. If I had it my way, I’d write an entire thesis on the way the emotive storytelling, somber melodies, and whispered, mumbled croons of Shauf all coalesce into a nonpareil listening experience that, to this day, aches me to the core in the most sincere and beautiful way imaginable. The album saw a second release in 2015, but a lucky Bandcamp search led me to its original 2012 release, and since then, it’s played a role in almost all of my life’s biggest moments: from relationships – the good and bad – career achievements, and deaths of those close to me. At this point, I can almost describe this album as the soundtrack to my life – for better or for worse.

The first time I heard “Hometown Hero,” I became a thrall to the acoustic melodies that circulated around my ears, enrapturing me with this tale of woe that is so visceral it practically projected itself from my own eyes. Mix that acoustic balladry with the clarinet and 2012 Adrian was completely and utterly gobsmacked at the fact that music could do so much to a person. This was also the first time I realized just how gorgeous the clarinet truly is. Piano and that very same clarinet surround the track “I’m Not Falling Asleep” that, despite the title, creates this dreamlike trance that is inescapable. Though, why anyone would want to leave this harmonious experience is beyond me. “The Man on Stage” then creates in break in pace with its upbeat tempo that has a swaying quality to it that could fit in any ballroom playlist. Shauf then sings us a tune of love and loss with “Lick Your Wounds,” bringing with it some of the best clarinet riffs ever created in music, dropping jaws as if it were its job.

The Bearer of Bad News was my first perfect album, a true 10/10 experience for me. No other album has reached that for me, but that’s okay. It might be lonely at the top, but it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with it. Adrian Vargas, Seattle

It’s hard to even begin when discussing the Red album. A defining era for Swift and an album whose life has expanded well beyond 2012. There are few rare albums out there that have a non-existent shelf-life. This is one of them. From the 4:55 opening of “State Of Grace” sweeping us into the kind of song she had never exposed us to before to the epic “All Too Well” that has since become a critically acclaimed and fan favorite song.

You call me up again just to break me like a promise.
So casually cruel in the name of being honest.
I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here
‘Cause I remember it all, all, all too well.

Red is a cohesively sounds collection of songs that has been attributed to an entire season; fall. It makes to feel like the leaves are changing and the page is turning. It’s thoughtful, masterful and it’s what many claim to be Swift’s greatest piece of work. Kelly McCafferty, New Orleans

Paint a vivid, honest portrait of Compton, California and lay it over killer beats, and you just might produce one of the signature rap albums of the decade. N.W.A. did it with Straight Outta Compton. So did Kendrick Lamar with good kid, m.A.A.d City. Only since South-Central Los Angeles was just a fraction as violent in 2012 as it had been in 1988, Lamar had to take a different approach from what his heroes had chosen almost 25 years earlier. It wasn’t the easiest task, but placed in the hands of the master storyteller the world now knows him to be, he prevailed.

For years, the notion of a “Compton rapper” had essentially brought to mind the image of Ice Cube in Boyz n the Hood — a scowling, scruffy black man donning an L.A. Raiders cap and clutching a Glock and a bottle of cheap malt liquor. good kid, m.A.A.d City updated that impression for 21st Century audiences, including by offering words of caution against Ice Cube’s beverage of choice in that movie. “If I take another one down, I’ma drown in some poison, abusin’ my limits,” Lamar rapped on the mesmerizing “Swimming Pools (Drank),” a reflection on the dangers of alcohol abuse. On “Money Trees,” he also pointed out that squeezing a trigger was really a more complicated decision than N.W.A. would have had you believe, given that it is in fact “the one in front of the gun [who] lives forever.” And whereas women had once been frightfully one-dimensional in the eyes and words of Compton’s lead rappers, the female subject of “Poetic Justice” was a hugely intriguing character and ultimately became Lamar’s most famous metaphor to date: A flower able to bloom in a dark room.

Lamar was effortlessly able to prove himself as one of hip-hop’s most lyrically-talented newcomers on the strength of tracks like these. It didn’t hurt that he also recruited some of the game’s top producers, with Pharrell, Just Blaze, Scoop deVille and plenty of others all turning in fine work on their client’s major-label debut. Lamar would expand his narrative scope even further on his later records, making room for more overtly political anthems like “Alright” and “XXX” on To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN. But before all of that, a candid tour of Compton by a born-and-raised native was all that was necessary for good kid, m.A.A.d City to emerge as the quintessential rap record of 2012. Once that much had been established, the record’s author was now positioned to become the defining rap artist of the 2010s over the remainder of the decade. Josh Weiner, Washington, DC

By the time most artists—regardless of stature and cultural relevance—reach their middle years, we all assume their contributions to the arts is simply their presence. Nothing they can release now can be good—they used up all their skills in their heyday. Music is a young person’s game after all.

Disregard Dylan’s The Tempest, despite it being both a reinvention and his best record in twenty years. The Rolling Stones’ Blue and Lonesome can’t have any relevance either, even though its four legends pay homage to their roots.

Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball was shamefully given the same treatment.

By truly embracing the country sound he’s always danced on the edge of, Springsteen took his working-class-rock in a different direction: It’s that classic Springsteen storytelling channeled through the sound of Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. 

There’s still the rock guitars, the working-class swagger you expect. However, there’s also a vocal drawl previously hidden, an acoustic leaning and hell, even the occasional slide guitar. While no-one wants him to abandon Americana-rock and become a country star, it’s refreshing to see old dogs try tricks. The fact he nailed it is just the icing on the cake. Oliver Crook, Halifax, Nova Scotia

While later Menzinger records would address loss, strained relationships, and alcohol abuse, On The Impossible Past captures a certain point in your early 20’s when you think “Well, shit, life is actually fucking hard.”  In “Gates,” vocalist Greg Barnett expresses this in almost a whisper: “Happiness is just a moment.”  Few records really express suburban depression, anxiety, and heartbreak as well as Impossible Past does.  Whether it’s the anthemic chorus of “The Obituaries” or the self-deprecating poetry of “Burn After Writing,” The Menzingers express the whirlwind of emotions that leave so many paralyzed throughout their 20’s.  They sum up the record’s meaning in the penultimate track: “I can’t seem to tell if it’s my head or the earth that’s spinning around.”

Throughout On the Impossible Past, Greg Barnett and Tom May flex lyrics that could fit just as easily on a Springsteen or a Dylan record that elevate suburban angst to American poetry with verses like,

I did what I did to get away from this
‘Cause everything that’s happened has left me a total wreck
And everything that I do now is meaningless
So I’m off to wander around the world for a little bit
Without one hundred channels with nothing on the TV
And the great pessimistic unknown

It’s been written that “dirtbag romanticism” runs throughout Menzos’ records, and while Impossible Past certainly paves the way for places that would go, it’s really a Fitzgeraldian ode to anxiety and realizing the American Dream can die in the diners you stop in at after a night of excessive drinking. Jimmy Crowley, New York

 – Kelly McCafferty, New Orleans

Throw a rock in a playlist and you’ll hit a good chunk of songs that ooze nostalgia, the yearning breaths of “remember when?” that sound way too earnest for how common they are. It almost feels trite then to use that word to describe Japandroids, though that’s essentially their bread and butter. Celebration Rock is eight tracks of rearview tourism. It’s the soundtrack to the home movies in your head, the film growing damaged and discolored with age. But to the Vancouver garage punk duo, it’s not simply enough to view them for the umpteenth time. It’s a matter of life and death. Brian King shouts into the ether over an impenetrable squall of guitar, and drummer David Prowse hammers his kit like a tattoo of fireworks bursting in the summer sky. Their songs grab you by the collar and give you a vigorous shake, spitting with wild-eyed urgency that those “Nights of Wine and Roses” aren’t gone so long as you still remember them.

At a rudimentary level, Japandroids sing about nothing new. Girls, drinking, and the endless possibilities of a road unspooled before them. But it’s not a party for party’s sake. Celebration Rock is a half hour of life lived in fast forward. It’s gone too soon but thrilling while it lasts. And that’s worth a toast, even as it zooms toward the horizon and out of sight.

One night to have and to hold
To let live, but never let go

They suggest that carpe diem is heightened when confronted with the impermanence of all things. “Younger Us” may be a futile reach back toward the moments when we were wild, free, and invincible, but its raucous energy counteracts that. We may not be the same as we once were, but we’re still here. In the penultimate hurrah of “The House That Heaven Built,” they declare:

It’s a lifeless life, with no fixed address to give
But your not mine to die for anymore
So I must live

Seven years on, this album is starting to approach the age of nostalgia itself. Rock’s heyday is a distant memory, and even new millennium bands are starting to seem like dated relics. But perhaps that makes Celebration Rock even more of a classic. You almost have to blow the dust off before setting it on the turntable. But once the record starts to spin, the cobwebs dissipate and the night sizzles with electricity. Yes, those days are gone, but thank god they happened. We were alive once, we’re alive now, and we’ll continue living. And isn’t that reason to f*cking celebrate? Anthony Kozlowski, Los Angeles

With her debut album, the magnificently talented Lucy Rose exquisitely laid the foundations for her varied career. Like I Used To‘s emotive songwriting, that often oozed with melancholic nostalgia, saw Rose understandably capture the hearts of fans worldwide. Standout track ‘Shiver’ still serves as a highlight of Lucy Rose’s live set, while tracks like ‘Bikes’ and ‘Red Face’ showcased a more energised side to her work.

Every individual song is an unquestionably poignant piece of art, and Rose’s ability to instantly absorb her listener within her song’s sentiments is unparalleled. Every single track on the album is delightfully distinctive, but collectively they serve to provide a stunning portrait of young romance. – Luke Pettican, London

It’s been five decades, but rock music still hasn’t really gotten over the 60s. The Summer of Love, and everyone understanding the magic of weed for the first time, still surrounds the music of youthful rebellion, and in the 2010s, perhaps no band embodied it quite like Tame Impala. Crunchy tube amps (well not actually, but they sound like them), echo-y drums, and Kevin Parker’s dreamlike hippy-dippy vocals swirl together among phaser effects for a sunny, psychedelic sound that hearkens back to rock and roll’s great adolescent decade. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” indeed.

But beyond the sun-baked nostalgia of Kevin Parker’s style, there is a relentlessly current sensibility, even before he traded in the guitars of Lonerism for the chillwave synths of Currents. It’s not just the impeccable production, allowing the wall of sound that pervades the music to turn on a dime and cut out or come back all of a sudden, or the swirly synth textures that absolutely were not available in 1968. There is an energy, a hopefulness to Lonerism, that makes it feel wholly propulsive, even if it brings with it the sounds of decades past.

Lonerism is the sound of the sunniest day, of blue sky and yellow sun glinting off of blue water. It is the sound that makes you want to move, and smile, and stand in awe of the beauty of the world. It’s an album pervaded by, as the title suggests, Paker’s own introversion, his anxiety, and his ambivalence, but when I listen to it, it’s the sound of outside, of excitement, and of enthusiasm. . – Jon Hecht

In the early 2000s from the heart of South London came Jessie Ware, a soulful, inspiring vocalist who’s spent the last decade using her incredible voice to make both the British pop and soul sounds something that she could call her own. In 2012, her debut studio, Devotion, introduced European audiences to the British music scene’s newest singer-songwriter-performer and her harmony between soft, moving ballads and brave, pop vocals. With songs perfect for dancing through the night to crying with a glass of wine in your hand, Devotion not only debuted at No. 5 in the UK but quickly became a fan favorite.

Wait on, the thunder sky
Wherever there’s smoke, there’ll soon be fire
And what could bring bad luck
I’ve been looking at you too much
From the outside, from the outside
Everyone must be wondering why we try
Why do we try?

Ware isn’t like any other voice you’ll hear on British radio, and perhaps that’s the greatest gift she could have given. Though she’s proven with her versatility to go from piano ballads to electronic tracks that she, just like any other artist, deserves a place at the forefront of the charts, Ware remains true and unique to both her sound and her artistry. After years of working as a backing vocalist, Ware had finally broken out. Devotion was the album that changed the course of Ware’s music career, and the album that served as inspiration for young aspiring artists that saw themselves in her. – Erica Garcia, New York

With layered instrumentals and dreamlike synth, Beach House have consistently mastered the rare ability to create soundscapes that transport the listener to untouched corners of the earth. The moments in these places, however, are fleeting. “Myth” lyrics, “What comes after this momentary bliss?”, laments the evanescence and nostalgia of moments we find solace in, coupled with the final refrain of the album on “Irene” (“It’s a strange paradise”). The hazy analog key patterns that build to cascading instrumental breaks paired with Victoria Legrand’s poignant vocals aptly reflect the album’s title, Bloom, with production that is both quintessential Beach House while meticulously progressing the sound they’ve established for themselves since their self-titled debut.

I hate it when bands change between records. That’s not the way we work”, guitarist Alex Scally conveys the duo’s lack of interest in straying far from that sound. The hypnotic dream pop aesthetics crafted on the preceding self-titled, Devotion, and Teen Dream albums that brought us “Master of None”, “Take Care”, and “Zebra”, are seemingly culminated to a point of perfection on Bloom, which was written with the vision of being appreciated in its entirety rather than a series of individual songs. This sense of intention only adds to the suspension of reality the album creates – whisking the listener through eras of idle youth set in slow motion on ten masterfully sequenced tracks. – Harper Beattie, Boston

There I was, beach chair positioned perfectly at the intersection between ocean and soused sand. Expertly poised, facing the sun yet turned just slightly, allowing the wind to brush my long hair away from my face, as I hunted for tunes to float my heart along.  And that’s when it happened… “Alone,” the latest release off MN sextet Trampled by Turtles’ album Satellites and Stars tickled my ears.

I was intrigued immediately. Even before I knew what was in store, the opening mandolin picking and gently sighing vocals sounded like the revving engine of a weathered yet trustworthy pick up truck. I was ready and willing to ride.

You come into this world alone
you go out of the world alone
but in between there’s you and me ohhhh…

It didn’t take long for the revving mandolins to make good on their promise to excite.

Summer breezes blow
so tall
Winter nights are cold
and so long
But in between there’s falling leaves

After a few verses of introspective lyrics and gentle musicality, the horses broke free from their restraints and started galloping towards the finish. Trampled by Turtles started masterfully shredding their traditionally more gentle footed acoustic instruments, and I was hooked and wanting more.

As I explored Trampled by Turtles, Stars and Satellites, It became clear that this balance between mellow bluegrass and up-tempo shredding was their calling card. Even their name alone, Trampled by Turtles, suggested their hard to soft range.

Balance in blending seemingly contradictory ideas is what Trampled by Turtles does best. From writing a song called “Alone” that turns into a harmony filled hollerin’ hootenanny to layering slow and sauntering tracks like the waltzing “Walt Whitman” with frenetic “Risk,” could only be done well with years of practice.

When I realized that Stars and Satellites was Trampled by Turtles sixth album, I was filled with excitement for the usually dismal drive home.  As I crossed the bridge back to mainland, I set my speakers to stun and smiled at the thought that I had been willingly, Trampled by Turtles. – Ilana Kalish, New York

In the cut “Bloodflood,” Newman depicts an intense rush of fear and anxiety as the tail of a whale smashing the water, as “A wave, an awesome wave that rushes skin and widens in flooded veins.” And the writer must admit to only two known substances that have instigated such an overwhelming (and amusingly meta) feeling of feeling: hallucinogens and music. In the case of Alt-J, they are the on a shortlist of bands that can claim to have made a record album not of the psychedelic rock genre (meandering instead betwixt progressive rock and folktronica and worldbeat) but as if fabricated entirely from the likes of lysergic acid diethylamide, incited by Newman’s kaleidoscopic imagery and punctuated by the band’s calculated moments of the sacred “holy fucking shit” followed closely by “did that just fucking happen” or “did you just fucking hear that?” so intimately intertwined in the makeup of An Awesome Wave’s DNA and then brought to life like a psychosomatic switch. It’s easy even, to place describe this record in their most recognizable and frappant cut, “Breezeblocks,” but the instances where the listener might have right to interrogate the air for how it just vibrated happens everywhere in this album. These seemingly uncanny coincidences are imbibed in the gated reverb of synthesizer line pocketed at the right headphone (“Intro”), embedded within a timbre-driven guitar discharge trembling the skull with tectonic force (“Fitzpleasure” and “Breezeblocks”), ripped from a most violent vocal-piano triplet stutter bwap (definitely “Breezeblocks”), ringing along the pitter-patter xylophonic percussion exotic (“Dissolve Me” and, yeah, “Breezeblocks”) or ghosting along the group’s album-wide choir vocals (“Interlude 1,” “Ms” and, uh… shit, yeah “Breezeblocks”).

“Triangles are my favourite shape, three points where two lines meet…”

– “Tesselate”

And while there is much to be said about An Awesome Wave containing the genome of repetitive sound, representing the Mu in music, Atlantean in origin. There’s also much to be said about such prose being bluster, hogwash and bullshit. What should be said is these dreams of Ur are what makes good music: it seems fundamentally alien yet undeniably grounded in our development as a culture. Xeno yet ethno. And whatever introspective and acid induced babble the writer could conjure pales to what was implanted in the writer’s mind while completely stone dead sober and resting on lunchbreak during a hot summer’s day with his best friend and fellow fraternity member. Cheshire was laying on his back, watching the stucco texture ceiling whence “Dissolve Me” began to play. It’s glorious, ritual Balian introduction reduced to a swooning vocal-led bridge, dissolved to a single refrain: “She makes the sound/ The sound the sea makes/ To calm me down.”

And then again: “She makes the sound/ The sound the sea makes/ To calm me down.”

This, followed by the cozy, oohing, choirboy coos coincided with Cheshire, fidgeting about with something uncomfortably; an idea perhaps? Then, an epiphany: “wait, is this the same song?”

All I could think as I smiled, yes, was that triangles were indeed my favourite shape. – Ben Niesen, Pacific Northwest

It’s rare for a debut album to propel a new band directly into the spotlight without heavy prior promotion. Yet, that’s what we saw happen with Purity Ring and Shrines in 2012. The icy electro pop sounds paired with distinct r&b influences created a whole new space within the electronic genre.

Purity Ring is the product of Corin Roddick and Megan James, previous members of indie rock project Gobble Gobble. The two decided to branch off with Purity Ring, and dropped their first single “Ungirthed” in early 2011 to solid acclaim. Shrines followed a year and a half later, created digitally by James and Roddick sending their parts back and forth via email.

The duo’s penchant for pounding bass and empty space contrasted by chilly synths and James’ stark, haunting vocals netted a captivating result. The heavy body imagery throughout the album is also hard to ignore.

Get a little closer, let fold
Cut open my sternum and pull
My little ribs around you
The rungs of me be under, under you

As a debut, Shrines is unique in its consistency across both themes and sound. It carries a single thread throughout it, held up by both James and Roddick’s confidence and skill in their respective elements. Lyrically and sonically, it’s a beautiful primary work that inspires feelings of fantasy, wonder, nostalgia and warmth. Alex Killian, San Francisco

I saw Dirty Projectors in the fall of 2012, a few months after this album came out. I remember shivering in a parking lot, looking up at the outdoor festival stage of Champain-Urbana’s annual Pygmalion Festival in wonder. Afterwards, I bought a blue t-shirt. Dirty Projectors were the first band I saw in college, the first experience of a certain sort of path you can take at the University of Illinois, that town in the middle of the cornfields. Dirty Projectors played “Offspring Are Blank,” and the strobe lights flashed over the crowd. David Longstreath’s warbling scratch sang out over the off-kilter guitar pattern. This was long before the Amber Coffman split, before Longstreath put out his long-suffering, self-pitying, self-titled Dirty Projectors album. Coffman and her fellow women onstage were magic, their harmonies shimmering into the late September air.

Though she didn’t feature quite so heavily on Swing Lo Magellan as she did on Bitte Orca, her presence was imperative to the album’s alluring quality. Her lead vocals sparkle on the folky “Just From Chevron.” Her backing vocals are the soothing pad for Longstreath’s emotional delivery on “Gun Has No Trigger.” From far away, there’s a strange sense of arrogance and self-indulgence on any record Longstreath makes – but up close, there’s only this swirling world of kaleidoscopic melodies and weird guitar lines. Their concert is still so vivid in my mind, and it’s evoked any time I hear Swing Lo Magellan. I think it will go down in history as one of the great indie albums of the 2010s. Mariel Fechik, Chicago

Grizzly Bear, a megalith of indie ingenuity throughout the genre’s increased popularity, are never ones to shy away from experimentation and intrigue. During their illustrious career, they have produced such tantalizing songs as “Knife,” “Ready, Able,” and of course, “Two Weeks.” Time and time again, they have continually proved their worth within their musical space, often coming out on top of it all. Their fourth studio album, Shields, further proves this notion.

Shields is a monumental record, filled with sweeping emotion and a grandiosity only found in Grizzly Bear. The record spares no feeling too great or too small, scathingly narrating emotional disconnects with palpable yearning whilst waning any interest. With songs like “Sleeping Ute,” “Speak in Rounds,” and “Yet Again,” Shields delineates brokenness and solemnity with casual ease, exhibiting its strengths through its biting lyricism and billowing instrumentation. As is common with Grizzly Bear, the record was created and curated democratically, with each band member contributing their own distinctive touches to the whole of the album.

The record observes a darkness that feels necessary to discuss openly, allowing for wounds to breathe and work toward healing, whether or not this healing is ultimately achieved by the album’s end. Shields elucidates the importance of opening a dialogue that could ultimately lead toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Grizzly Bear masterfully achieve a distinctive gravitas through Shields, making it an unmissable and unforgettable album nestled among their already-impressive and ever-expanding catalogue. – Maggie McHale, Philadelphia

There is nothing on this earth that makes me as sad as the lack of success and furthermore appreciation Among Savages has not garnered. His sound resonates as a mix of Iron and Wine meets The Head and the Heart; which of course is only a haphazard depiction of the artist’s capabilities. I remember being a junior in high school when my friend Janine had recommended I check out Wanderings of an Illustrative Mind. I agreed reluctantly, as I could never have predicted how enraptured I would be after only the first thirty seconds. Tracks like “Raging Sun” and “Faith in You” are emblematic of his melodic overture juxtaposed against an undercurrent of jaded sullenness. Lyrics like “Don’t disregard what must be regarded, Change is the face for the brokenhearted” and “I’m brave when you’re away, But that doesn’t mean that I do not feel alone” are enough to make me clutch my chest, and transport me back to a cold night driving through my tiny hometown. 

In addition, “Sucked the Life” with a chorus of children, incoherent electronic mumbling, and a keyboard solo all featured, is Among Savages most compositionally experimental song to date. Not to mention, a poignant and unique ballad about seeing the person you love in the strangest of places after they leave. As if not already multifaceted enough, Wanderings of an Illustrative Mindalso contains “New York City” which is not only Among Savages’ most popular song, but also one whose gorgeous melody, interwoven crowd ambience and horn section, makes the listener instantly feel like they’re connected to something greater. For “New York City” alone, Wanderings of an Illustrative Mind is an album for anyone who has ever needed to find themselves, or just someone who understands. – Jesse Herb, Los Angeles

Long before Greta Thunberg illuminated the green cause, Enter Shikari lit a candle to it. The (potential) inventors of dubstep—and definitely the first to popularize it – Enter Shikari came onto the scene in 2006 singing about barroom rejection and scratch ticket failures. Six years later, their cause was much different.

There was a house in a field on the side of a cliff
And the waves crashing below were just said to be a myth
So they ignore the warnings from the ships in the docks
Now the house on the cliff is the wreckage on the rocks
Nothing can fix the building’s flawed foundation
The scaffolding and stalks were the laws and legislation
This house was doomed, but they didn’t care
They’d invested in the system that was beyond repair

Musically, it’s classic Shikari; brash, loud and bombastic. Lyrically A Flash Flood of Colour serves as a manifesto for our generation—equal parts a scream for help and a roadmap for change. And it’s as forceful as the bass drops they made famous years before. This duality between panic and reason runs throughout the record as Enter Shikari attempt to shock you into action and then give you the cold logic to recruit others. Rou Reynolds’ almost conversational delivery, which quickly switches to screaming–or even the occasional pig squeal—symbolizes this.

It’s not just a singular-focus on the environment however. Reynold and co. are well aware of the systemic issues: They discuss our obsession with war and oil, our penchant for violence and its links to our ceaseless capitalist urges and the divisive nature of society and how it’s exploited. The result is a well-rounded approach to the world’s woes, leaving the listener reeling, informed and empowered. 

However, there’s hope. Enter Shikari know there’s still time to change if we “squad up” and pull in the same direction. The tear-jerking album closer, “Constellations” exemplifies the message of the whole record: change is possible, if we love and fight for those by our sides. Oliver Crook, Halifax, Nova Scotia

And then I realize that
We need to use our own
two feet to walk these tracks,
And we have to squad up and
we have to watch each others backs,
When forgiveness is our
torch and imagination our sword
Well I’ll tie the ropes of hate
and slash open the minds of the bored
And we’ll start a world so equal and free
Every inch of this earth is yours
all the land and all the sea
Imagine no restrictions
but the climate and the weather
Then we can explore space together

In 2012, The Killers released Battle Born – though not the most well-received album, following successful hits such as Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town, but a significant piece of what makes The Killers a quintessential, all-American band. Battle Born evokes a deep sense of nostalgia for a simpler time through stadium anthems and ballads like “The Way It Was” and “Here with Me,” where Flowers describes wanting his loved one in the flesh, not “on my cellphone.” The theme of reminiscing is also intertwined with an anthology of stories of the working class, down on their luck, relying on grit and reveries of the American dream to get through the day. As voiced through the title track Battle Born, which urgently implies that one must buck up and fight when life tries to tear us down, but that we were born ready for this war. At the same time, heartfelt narratives, as in Deadlines and Commitments, remind us that it’s our deep connections to others that keep us tethered and allow us to carry on, despite it all. These songs prompt us to deeply examine ourselves and remember everything we have and have had, especially when we’re feeling lost and without hope. – Jessica Staley, guest writer, New York

A beautiful oasis in a cool, dark world, My Head Is an Animal invited its listeners to take refuge from hardship through togetherness, connection, and self-reflection. For as ethereal a folk rock journey as it sounds, Of Monsters and Men’s debut album was (and remains) incredibly grounded: Hauntingly heartfelt lyrics combine with a rush of ambient electric guitars and pulsing drums to deliver an uplifting and cathartic exhale.

I cherished My Head Is an Animal upon its release, burrowing myself in the safety and security it offered. Whether it was the emotional depths of “Little Talks” or the enchanting metaphors of “Dirty Paws,” Of Monsters And Men wove a wondrous mystique into the fabric of their songs that made everything feel larger than life, no matter how soft they sang.

Intrinsic to the Icelandic band’s introduction was a sense of intimate integrity and earthen hope: The notion that vulnerability and being true to ourselves would not only heal us, but also might perhaps lead to some sort of enlightenment. Those messages of self-knowing and understanding continue to resonate, and if this album felt moving in 2012, its timelessness can now be confirmed. Of Monsters and Men transcended the moment to offer an enriching musical landscape full of crests and trophs, celebrations and upheavals. It’s a soundtrack for moments of solitude and kinship worth visiting not just to escape the every day, but also to check in with ourselves dwell in our own animals. Mitch Mosk, New York

In 2012, the rise of what would later become the “emo revival” was hitting itself at a much larger audience than kids in basements in Philly screaming about abandonment, divorce, aging, and a world so wroth with an abundance of life you do nothing. The sound, the twinkle daddies some would jokingly say, the fusion of punk, jazz, and emotional confessional expression started to round itself out. In 2012 the band Everyone Everywhere released the sophomore album, their second self-titled Everyone Everywhere.

The album feels like a homage to the 90’s bands so many in the scene looked up too. Guitar tones bright and bursting with long repetitious and intretic notes parallel the clean and booming voice. Occasionally switching between the upbeat punk cadence and slow melodical, the album functions as a means of looking one’s identity in relationship with itself, the surrounding people, and the surrounding would.

My favorite track is the closer, “Wild Life”. Here is the chorus:

I wanna go
I wanna know
and understand the basic concept of
human completeness
I wanna go
I wanna know
how to like everyone does
how to see like everyone else does

The album and band are very much “emo”, but “emo” in the sense where if you look and realize just how small you are in comparison to the closeness or every other breathing soul, and the wind, and the bright sun, why wouldn’t you scream about your daily existential crises in a basement in Philly. – Aaron Scobie, Omaha

Ellie Goulding’s highly anticipated album released one day after my 19th birthday. It was the sophomore year of my college career and as a present to myself I ordered the deluxe album and all associated goodies. The hefty package arrived on my birthday and I excitedly opened the regal gift. With its heavy beats, dark imagery, and quintessential Goulding vocal flurries, I adored Halcyon from the moment I let the vinyl spin.

The second album of an artist’s career can pose a serious challenge; one must craft a work that captures their sound but refresh it in a way that listeners can adore, wrestle with, and engage anew. Lightsexists in my mind a dazzling album full of electro pop charmers, light-hearted and fantastical lyricism, and youthful radiance. When Goulding returned to the studio for the second time, she had aged and with it came tighter production seen in “Anything Could Happen,” tidal wave emotionality as in “Explosions” and “I Know You Care,” and her signature upbeat ditties like “Figure 8” and “Only You.” Halcyon presents a uniquely balanced album in terms of sentiments and pace. Goulding approached each track with obvious care and intentionality in order for her to create a work undoubtedly worthy of the title as a favorite for the decade. From beginning to end, there’s not a moment of wasted space, and somehow we still leave searching for more. – Baylee Less, Memphis

When thinking about great albums, not just of 2012, but of the decade, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange immediately came to mind. The album had a unique way of cultivating fans of all different musical backgrounds, and it was impossible to visit any social website in those days and not see someone sharing a track or writing a longform essay on their undying love for Ocean.

Of course, the first track that still jumps out is “Thinking Bout You.” Heartbreaking and powerful, this track can be enjoyed in the car with friends after a long day, or while solitary in your room, trying not to think about the fact that the relationship with the person you love is experiencing its downfall. “Super Rich Kids” brought together an entire generation, the rich and the not rich, of kids and young adults dreaming of the good life. Could I relate to the song’s lyrical content in a literal context? No. But I did connect with the idea, having watched many teen dramas a la Gossip Girl and Beverly Hills 90210, where the rich friends are constantly selling each other out and undermining the other. But, didn’t we all want those problems? This idea just solidifies, to me, how powerful an artist Ocean is. Whether he is singing about experiences you’ve experienced yourself or not, it is hard not to feel a connection.

And of course, this album is so entrancing and relaxing – even when sad – so it was one that was always easy to have on in the background. Because of that, it is so easy for listeners to connect real, emotional memories to his music. I can’t hear “Forrest Gump” or “Lost” without feeling some old feeling that has now been processed and forgotten. When an album is done so well, it has the power of time travel, and for many, Channel Orange is that album. – Sara Santora, Tallahassee

If there is one band that’s synonymous with upbeat indie rock in the 2010s it’s the Irish trio, Two Door Cinema Club. Their unmistakable sound, rife with synths and jangling guitar, shine on their sophomore album that bursts with effervescent rhythms. Beacon is the band’s best album, because of all the many things it is not. It lacks newness and experimentation when compared with their first record,  serving as an extension rather than a companion. However, this is what why it shines. Every track is steeped in danceable beats, radiating ambition. A step above its predecessor, Beacon fizzes with melodies and sharper, wittier lyricism, and a fuller sound. It’s Two Door Cinema Club at their very best, with anthems as dark as they are glittering.

We, we only know what we see
‘Cause we’re always fast asleep
Is it so hard not to believe
That we’ll never know

Beacon streamlines all the anxiousness about coming of age, from smoking too much weed, to breakups that fizzle out. The band covers it all in sparkling disco-inflected fashion. The electro-pop would be saccharine if it wasn’t so playful and fun. It’s a record about letting go just as much as it is about looking ahead, and thanks to sleek production, it’s a bundle of bounce-y, poppy kinetic energy. – Natalie Harmsen, Ontario

Fiona Apple has continually been a creator whose unafraid to go against the things that can popularize and commodify an artist. During an age where overproduction seems inescapable, Apple stripped her music down to its barest form and opened herself up completely on The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. The production on the album is intentionally stark, leaving out her previously used studio bands and orchestral arrangements and exchanging them for a collaboration solely between her piano and Charley Drayton’s percussion. Between them, they create sporadic Jazz moments that complement Apple’s outpouring of visceral emotions laced in sharp, whip-smart metaphors. She pushes and pulls her love and pain into a single song, an adeptness that can be heard on “Valentine” as she expresses joy through light piano chords before crashing down on them like an impending doom. She drastically jumps from one feeling to the next within one minute, a maneuver that isn’t often heard in music as it can be jarring to the average ear. But, Apple’s music only shows how life is filled with imperfections and irregular, imbalanced reactions. During the seven years since releasing her previous album, Apple dug deep within herself and scattered her personal and distinguishable remains all over The Idler Wheel. – Shayna Chabrow, New York

Our Favorite Albums of the Decade 

— — — —

Atwood Magazine logo

Connect to Atwood on
Discover new music on Atwood Magazine

Our Favorite Albums of the Decade: 2011


Our Favorite Albums of the Decade: 2010


Atwood Magazine’s Best Albums of 2019… Part 1


More from Atwood Magazine Staff
Atwood Magazine’s Weekly Roundup: July 14, 2023
Atwood's staff share the music they've been listening to in the moment....
Read More