2012 has brought a lot of new music for me to discover and enjoy, from a multitude of genres and artists. This year marked a conscious shift in my tastes from typical teenage pop/rock to an expansion that included practically all genres, from folk and blues to hip-hop and R&B. There’s a whole lot of great music out there, and being open to all different types and artists has allowed me to discover many more gems than I have in previous years. This year alone, I listened to at least 100 new albums and EPs from veterans and beginners alike, finding many new artists to champion and new music to put on my ever-expanding playlists. Many of these new discoveries were rewarding, with some of my favorite releases of 2012 coming from artists who were completely unknown to me beforehand. This week, I’m sharing fifty of my favorite albums of the year, with the hope that you will find something new to discover and enjoy as well as the year comes to a close. The list kicks off today with albums #50 through #41.
50. The Temper Trap — The Temper Trap
Released June 5, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Rdio / Spotify
Though The Temper Trap first gained popularity in the United States with 2010 alternative hit “Sweet Disposition,” I was not introduced to the Australian indie-rock quintet until the early-spring release of “Need Your Love,” the lead single from their sophomore album. The loud proclamations of affection from lead vocalist Dougy Mandagi and the hook of the song’s chorus caught on quickly for me, and the pre-album release of the song “Trembling Hands” only furthered my interest in the group. The album, which follows their 2008 debut Conditions, features a range of themes that include longing, disappointment, and political matters carried with brooding guitar lines and the occasional falsetto vocal, which works best floating above the instrumental as on album standout “Miracle.” The Temper Trap takes a few listens to properly digest, but its melodies and thoughtful lyrics eventually worm their way into the mind.
49. Justin Bieber — Believe
Released June 19, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Rdio / Spotify
Believe me, I am just as surprised as you that a Justin Bieber album is making my year-end list. Much like Ke$ha, who has her own spot higher up on the chart, I was pleasantly surprised with this release from an artist whose material I have confidently disliked in the past. In the two years since the release of Bieber’s first studio album, My World 2.0, his music has matured along with his vocals, bringing more sonic and thematic diversity. In addition to whisper-rap lead single “Boyfriend” and dance-pop singles “As Long As You Love Me” and “Beauty and a Beat,” Believe dives into elements of R&B (“Right Here”) and more classic acoustics (album highlight “Catching Feelings”). Coupled with the guest vocals from the likes of Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Big Sean, the album ties together Bieber’s affinity with the R&B scene and the commercial accessibility of sugary pop. I’m far from contracting Bieber Fever, but Believe has piqued my interest, even despite his questionable fashion choices.
48. Chris Wallace — Push Rewind
Released September 4, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Spotify
Chris Wallace is one of a few artists whose albums I initially overlooked, eventually discovering them through word-of-mouth recommendations from friends. It’s a shame that such is the case for many listeners of Push Rewind, which has ended up being one of the more unjust commercial underperformances of the year. This solo debut from the former lead singer of The White Tie Affair is arguably one of 2012’s better pop albums. Led off by current top-thirty single “Remember When (Push Rewind),” Wallace’s album is packed with radio-ready hits, such as “Keep Me Crazy” (available as a free download from Amazon MP3 this month), “Hurricane,” and “Time Bomb (Walk Away).” Presuming the typical holiday radio freeze fails to kill off “Remember When” and it becomes a decent hit during the winter, look for Wallace to breakout next year with a well-stocked arsenal of singles, much like Andy Grammer, whom Wallace supported on tour, accomplished in the past year and a half.
47. ZZ Ward — Til The Casket Drops
Released October 16, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Rdio / Spotify
This year, I became a fan of several female artists with a soulful sound, many of whom have come out of the woodwork following Adele’s massive success last year. While most of them have kept closer to pop and folk genres, ZZ Ward infuses a bluesy sound that stood out among a competitive field. Til The Casket Drops is her debut offering via Hollywood Records, led by current single “Put The Gun Down.” The album is a good combination of her previous musical experiences: at the young age of twelve, she fronted her father’s blues band, and by sixteen she was singing with hip-hop artists. This melding of genres gives Ward the spit and swagger of a hip-hop artist and the sultry croon of a soul singer. As if her songs performed solo didn’t provide enough attitude and power, she pairs up with funk band The O’My’s and rappers Kendrick Lamar (whose own album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, just missed my chart) and Freddie Gibbs on album tracks to create a set that oozes a darker shade of romance.
46. Snow Patrol — Fallen Empires
Released January 10, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Rdio (preview)
As the year began, the sixth studio album from Snow Patrol was high on my list of anticipated releases following its UK opening in October. After casually enjoying a few of the band’s singles, this is the first full album I have purchased from the Scottish group. Compared to their earlier releases, Fallen Empires incorporates a slight electronic buzz on top of their traditional alt-rock sound. A personal highlight came with the featured vocals of Lissie, an American folk-rock artist who I grew to love last year, on several of the album’s tracks. While there’s no sixteen-minute epic on this record, several of the songs build to bombastic choruses and chants that could fill small arenas, much in the vein of Coldplay, with standout tracks like opener “I’ll Never Let Go,” “The Weight Of Love,” and “This Isn’t Everything You Are.”
45. P!nk — The Truth About Love
Released September 18, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Rdio / Spotify (+ commentary)
Much like Snow Patrol above, I’ve long enjoyed the occasional P!nk single, but had yet to try a full album before the September release of her sixth studio album, The Truth About Love. Lead single “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” displays the spunky kiss-off motif that she is known to utilize and a collaboration with Eminem lies on the heavy end of the pop/rock spectrum, but the album has its tender moments as well. Since her 2008 breakup album Funhouse was released, P!nk got back together with long-time partner Corey Hart, released a Greatest Hits album, and gave birth to daughter Willow in June 2011. This results in sentimental cuts like “Beam Me Up” and tell-all anthems like the title track; she also brings in popular artists like Lily Allen and fun.’s Nate Ruess for additional support. P!nk connects to her adult audience so well due in part to her realism in presenting the ups and downs of romance without focusing too heavily on the good times or sugar-coating the bad ones, which creates an album that accurately portrays what is really The Truth About Love for all too many couples.
44. Matchbox Twenty — North
Released September 4, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Rdio / Spotify
Nearly ten years after the release of More Than You Think You Are and with a two-disc compilation and two solo albums from Rob Thomas in between, Matchbox Twenty reformed this year with new album North. While I think my tastes are shifting slightly away from straightforward adult contemporary pop, several tracks from this album remain strong even without much evolution from the band’s earlier material. Tracks like party-ready “Put Your Hands Up” and brassy groover “Radio” skirt a little toward the radio-friendly tendencies toward which bands like Maroon 5 have more strongly shifted, but for the majority of the album, Thomas and co. prefer to stay closer to 2002 than 2012. While this means an uphill climb for commercial success, the material is solid on cuts like the addicted-to-love theme of “Like Sugar” and closing ballad “Sleeping At The Wheel.” North may not be an album era that produces as many hits as when the band was in the limelight last decade, but it’s sure to keep fans happy nevertheless.
43. The Script — #3
Released October 9, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Rdio / Spotify
Excluding Maroon 5’s full-on assault on Top 40 radio, 2012 seemed to be the year for hot adult contemporary mainstays to jump in a time machine and dial back to classic sounds of ’90s and ’00s adult contemporary. Sure enough, many of the songs on The Script‘s aptly-titled third album #3 trade synths for strings and pop production for pure pipes and instrumentals. The set’s lead single, the will.i.am-featuring “Hall of Fame,” seemed to suggest a focus on radio friendliness, but tracks like the single-worthy “Six Degrees Of Separation” and “If You Could See Me Now,” dedicated to the recently-passed father of lead singer Danny O’Donoghue and the mother of guitarist Mark Sheehan, showed the lasting importance of lyrical strength and real, recorded instruments. In addition, a wide array of influences appear in the ten-song collection, with hints of everything from U2 and OneRepublic to early Black Eyed Peas and the piano melody of “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range.
42. Miguel — Kaleidoscope Dream
Released October 2, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Rdio / Spotify
In the latter half of the year, I found myself enjoying more R&B than I had in years, thanks to critically-acclaimed performances and albums from artists like Frank Ocean (who appears later in my list) and Los Angeles performer Miguel. I first became aware of Miguel’s music due to overwhelmingly-positive praise of a live performance in New York by a large number of music writers and industry figures whom I follow on Twitter. Introductory radio single “Adorn” opened the door for me with its soulfully sweet groove and smooth falsetto shouts, leading me to discover Kaleidoscope Dream in full. Though most listeners had already been introduced to the majority of the album’s material from a trio of EPs independently released earlier in the year, I came into the full album with no previews and found myself pleasantly surprised by the amount of cool, dripping attractiveness portrayed throughout. If Kaleidoscope Dream is supposed to represent the facets of Miguel’s lifestyle, a large portion of them must involve romance. Instead of being overly sappy or raunchy, however, the album successfully balances out tracks of tender and joyful affection (“Adorn,” “The Thrill,” “Do You…”) with the dirtier cuts (“Arch & Point,” “Pussy Is Mine”).
41. Birds of Chicago — Birds of Chicago
Released October 9, 2012 | BUY: Amazon MP3 / iTunes | STREAM: Rdio / Spotify
One of a few virtually-unknown artists that have graced my playlists throughout the year, this duo comprised of musicians JT Nero and Allison Russell was born out of extensive collaborations between the various ensembles involving the two artists over the past several years. After releasing an album entitled Mountains/Forests last year under JT Nero’s name, the pair released their first album under the moniker Birds of Chicago in October. The self-titled, independent release pairs Nero’s country croon with the soulful voice of Allison Russell, trading melodies and harmonies with great results above a flock of background musicians. Fans of artists like The Civil Wars will enjoy folk ballad “Galaxy Ballroom” and groovy opener “Trampoline,” but the album also includes influences of Appalachian (“Sugar Dumplin'”) and even Cajun music (“Sans Souci”) that are sure to excite even the casual Americana fan like myself.
The list continues throughout the week with another ten albums for your recommended listening pleasure tomorrow, but for now, be sure to let me know your thoughts on these albums and what you hope appears next on the chart by commenting below or on Twitter!