For indie music, 2012 marked the return of many great acts, and their latest albums did not disappoint. Plenty of bands were trying to prove something or just wanted to revel in joy. The top 20 indie albums are not in order but offer a glimpse of the year in indie rock.
Bands such as the Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear and Beach House were coming off career-defining albums that propelled them into the mainstream spotlight. After the excitement of hearing the announcements of "Shields" by Grizzly Bear, "Swing Lo Magellan" by Dirty Projectors and "Bloom" by Beach House, the next question was, could these albums live up to the promise of "Veckatimest," "Bitte Orca" and "Teen Dream," respectively?
On "Shields," Grizzly Bear produced a rock album that was a lot looser than "Veckatimest." Instead of pristine "Pet Sounds" production, Grizzly Bear used their harmonies, production skills and musical prowess to create an engaging indie rock album.
Dirty Projectors' "Swing Lo Magellan" was more accessible than "Bitte Orca," giving listeners the opportunity to discover David Longstreth's production skills and lyrical sense of humor. Songs like “Unto Caesar” or “Irresponsible Tune” display his impressive range.
Beach House further refined their musical formula. Instead of expanding, Beach House went inward for "Bloom," an album that's minimal in theory but truly bursting with life.
Other acts also had to live up to expectations set by previous albums. Sharon Van Etten, Ariel Pink, Tame Impala, Japandroids, The Men, Cloud Nothings and Sleigh Bells had to meet the hype their own breakthrough albums created for their follow-up releases.
Van Etten's “Tramp” is a worthy successor to “Epic,” even broader in scope than her previous albums, thanks to Aaron Dessner from The National. Sleigh Bells' “Reign of Terror” proved that the band was more than just hype and noise; it's even louder than their debut but offers plenty of pop charm. The Men further refined their sound in “Open Your Heart,” staking a claim in the crowded indie rock world. Cloud Nothings' “Attack on Memory” was a noisy, concussive blast of rock, reminiscent of “Bleach”-era Nirvana.
Ariel Pink's "Haunted Graffiti" moved from the lo-fi shadows, embracing good production values and letting the AM pop influences shine in “Mature Themes.” Another venerable indie act, Thee Oh Sees, also released an album in “Putrifiers II” that broadened their musical palate and hinted at great things to come for the band.
For Tame Impala, while “Innerspeaker” was a strong debut and was met with plenty of critical acclaim, “Lonerism” took the band to rich new heights. On perhaps the most listenable indie rock album of 2012, Kevin Parker's rich production and musicality shine, and “Lonerism” is a fun album with garage rock and psychedelic gems. Japandroids' “Celebration Rock” is just that, a fun rock album about being young, with each song crammed with as much energy as the duo can muster.
While Chromatics' “Kill For Love” may feel like a debut, it's been five years since the release of “Night Drive,” and the band has used those years wisely and created one of the best albums of 2012. There were also plenty of debut albums that shined in 2012.
Alabama Shakes and Royal Headache made a lasting impression with “Boys and Girls” and “Royal Headache,” respectively. While Alabama Shakes are just that, formed and rooted in music from the South with a touch of soul, Royal Headache are from Australia and incorporate their own brand of soulful rock.
The year in indie rock did not just belong to newcomers. Many rock veterans returned with albums that were more than just a retread of past glory. Swans, Spiritualized, David Byrne, Divine Fits and Jack White all produced some of the best albums of 2012.
Swans delivered a sprawling two-hour album in “The Seer” that covers a range of musical genres and emotions. Spiritualized continue to reach for the heavens on “Sweet Heart Sweet Light” with great sweeping choruses and choir arrangements.
David Byrne and Divine Fits were chameleon-like in their releases. David Byrne joined up with indie darling St. Vincent to create a fun pop album in “Love This Giant,” and the unlikely duo had plenty of synergy that was even better in concert. Divine Fits, made up of members from Spoon, Wolf Parade and New Bomb Turk, also created an album that can be stuck on repeat with songs like “Like Ice Cream” and a cover of “Shivers.”
What more can be said of Jack White? The man is basically a brand at this point and works in nearly all facets of the music business. From discovering new acts, reviving rock legends and establishing Third Man Records, White still had time to release “Blunderbuss,” his first solo album. “Blunderbuss” is exactly what you expect from White, an eclectic blend of music genres distilled and refined to create a sound only White could make.
The full list of albums is below. You can stream a playlist of songs below or here.
- Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
- Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
- Beach House – Bloom
- Chromatics – Kill For Love
- Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
- David Byrne and St. Vincent – Love This Giant
- Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
- Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
- Grizzly Bear – Shields
- Jack White – Blunderbuss
- Japandroids – Celebration Rock
- The Men – Open Your Heart
- Royal Headache – Royal Headache
- Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
- Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
- Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light
- Swans – The Seer
- Tame Impala – Lonerism
- Thee Oh See – Putrifiers II