This was an AMAZING year for music, so when I was compiling the list of my top album picks of the year, it was tougher than you’d think! Choosing 20 seemed like it was too much, and narrowing it down to 12 was stressing me out, so I went with 16 since it’s right in the middle and because I’m OCD and can’t handle numbers that aren’t multiples of four.
Top 16 Albums of 2012
I’m not a die hard Justin Bieber fan, but this album grew on me a bit. Mostly because his fans remind me of the way I was when N*SYNC (who were totally the best ever!!) and the Backstreet Boys were huge. I’ve always enjoyed Justin Bieber’s catchy tunes, but when “Boyfriend” was released as a single off his latest album, I was hooked and realized that Justin isn’t the wide-eyed 14-year-old anymore, which is apparent in his lyrics this time around. Granted the Buzz Lightyear reference usually gets a laugh out of those of us who were 8-years-old when the original Toy Story came out (Justin was a year old by the way), but I appreciate the analogy and let’s just admit that the kid is talented and puts on a heck of a show. While Believe is still a pop-music album, the Biebs mixed in a lot of electro-type beats with tracks like “All Around The World” and “As Long As You Love Me.” Looks like mentor Usher really rubbed off on him because there’s also a fair share of R&B and hip-hop tracks, which I tend to favor more than anything else. Bottom line: It’s hard not to like Justin, but if you have any doubts about it, he has more than 81 million social media followers who can attest to his greatness. Want a valuable piece of advice? Bring earplugs!
I wrote a review on this album when it first came out, and since then it’s still been in steady rotation on my playlist. I’ve been a fan of Anberlin since I was in high school, so anytime they come out with a new album I play the crap out of it. My favorite albums are always the one with lyrics that resonate with me, and there’s just something about lead singer Stephen Christian’s pen that seems to hit the nail on the head every time. Vital not only contains raw and heartfelt lyrics, but musically Anberlin is at the top of their game. I love how this band continuously matures, but still stays true to themselves as artists. Aside from that, they put on a great live show that is packed full of energy from start to finish. This is definitely an album worth checking out for any alternative rock fan.
This list wouldn’t be complete without including Yellowcard. Yes I’m biased because they’re from my hometown, but I haven’t met anyone who didn’t have great things to say about Southern Air. This is another band I was a huge fan of in high school, so the youthful enthusiasm of this album is both nostalgic and irresistible much like their hit album Ocean Avenue. “Here I Am Alive” is one of the best tracks with lyrics anyone going through the changes of getting older can relate to: “They say you don’t grow up/You just grow old/It’s safe to say I haven’t done both/I’ve made mistakes I know.” The title track “Southern Air” is an admirable tribute and paints a great picture of the beach life in Jacksonville that singer Ryan Key is so fond of. Even though it’s winter, pick up this album and hang on to it for Spring because you’ll be playing it over and over again to get yourself in the mood for some fun in the sun—can’t go wrong with that!
They’re baaaaaack. Train may seem like a random appearance on this list, but after seeing them in concert back in September I became a bigger fan of theirs. Pat Monahan has one of the most incredible voices and his stage presence is unmatched. The thing that I love about this album is that it’s an album I can listen to with my girlfriends on our way to the beach, or in my parents’ living room. Just when you think the hit-single “Soul Sister” off their last album Save Me, San Francisco was as catchy as it could get, they release “Drive By” and “50 Ways to Say Goodbye,” adding yet another few “earworms” to their repertoire of hits. What’s an earworm? Well, you know that song that gets stuck in your head and you swear you can hear it even though nothing is playing? THAT’S an earworm.
There’s been such a huge wave of indie artists breaking into mainstream this year, and Best New Artist Grammy nominee, The Lumineers, are definitely a part of that elite group. There’s no doubt that “Ho Hey” is a smash-hit and one of the best songs of the year, but their entire album is actually pretty fantastic. They’re often related to Mumford & Sons, and although that’s a pretty great group to be compared to, The Lumineers are definitely making a name for themselves. Their folk music style isn’t for everyone, but if you’re open to it and can appreciate simplicity then you may surprise yourself and take it them. One reason I chose this album is because I love the acoustic feel to their music and Wesley Schultz’s voice, which fits their emotionally narrative lyrics. There are no fancy bells and whistles or overproduced sounds I hear people complain about in today’s music—it’s just them.
Linkin Park released Hybrid Theory when I was still in middle school, so I feel like I’ve grown up with the band throughout the rough stages of my life as a teenager. I will never get sick of that album, and Living Things will follow the same suit. I’ve always been a fan of Mike Shinoda’s rap skills, and even though I HATE the word “swag,” that’s really a great adjective to describe it because his talent is unmatched. “Burn It Down” is one of their best singles yet, and fails to disappoint. It takes me back to those Hybrid Theory days, and we can never go wrong with that. The rhymes paired with Chester Bennington’s voice when he sings those haunting hooks couldn’t be more perfect for this genre of music.
Imagine Dragons came up on my radar at the beginning of the summer, and I think they’re definitely is one of the biggest breakout bands of the year. Their recently certified platinum single “It’s Time” dominated the alternative rock charts this year, and it’s really hard to pick the best song off their major debut album Night Visions because every song is fantastic. One of the best decisions they made was partnering up with producer Alex da Kid to work on this album, and although you may not be familiar with who that is, you definitely know his work with artists like B.O.B., Eminem, and Nicki Minaj. Night Visions is a solid mix of heavy beats with a contemporary rock sound that is beautifully complimented with strong vocals. Imagine Dragons is definitely on my concert bucket list now.
Overexposed is a far cry from the Maroon 5 we all came to love back in 2002 with their debut album Songs About Jane, but I can’t say that I’m mad about it. Maroon 5 was EVERYWHERE this year, and with front man Adam Levine’s stint on NBC’s hit show The Voice, I think the title of this album is actually pretty appropriate, but not necessarily in a bad way. If you’re hoping this album is like the old Maroon 5 we were introduced to 10 years ago, you’ll be disappointed. However, I love seeing bands evolve from their original sound, and it’s safe to say they definitely changed when you compare songs like “She Will Be Loved” off their first album to “One More Night” off this one.
This was one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and for good reason. Bruno Mars is an incredible entertainer and Unorthodox Jukebox is a perfect testament to his talent. I always knew he had a great voice, but I’ll admit that I underestimated just how powerful it is. This album has an interesting mix of funk, pop, and even a reggae track called “Show Me.” Yes, I did mean to say reggae. The buzz about this album was spot on, and it comes HIGHLY recommended for people who are not only fans of Bruno Mars, but also anyone who can appreciate albums with songs that are very different from each other.
I’ve been a HUGE fan of The Fray since 2005 when I stumbled across their first single “Over My Head (Cable Car),” and I swear by everything they release. The title of this album alone was enough to spark overwhelming enthusiasm over its release because I had a feeling the lyrics would be more emotional than ever, and I was right. I had the great pleasure of sitting down for an interview with Isaac Slade in May to talk about Scars & Stories and the inspiration behind the first single “Heartbeat,” which was inspired by Isaac’s trip to Rwanda. It was an emotional experience for him to see the struggles of women who lived through the genocides, and the lyrics speak volumes to that experience. My favorite track on the album is “Rainy Zurich,” and Isaac wasted no time teasing me about that considering it is the only song on the album guitarist Joe King takes the reins on for lead vocals, but I won’t get into that again. Fans of The Fray who were turned on to the band because of songs like “All At Once” and “Syndicate” might raise a bit of an eyebrow when they’re listening to Scars & Stories because it really isn’t like anything else they’ve put out considering it’s much less pop/piano rock and more alternative this time around, but nonetheless it’s still a great album.
Taylor Swift delivered exactly what was expected of her with this album. After her songs like “You Belong With Me” and “Back to December,” there’s no doubt she’s a great songwriter, which is why this album is full of those darn “ear worms” people can’t seem to get out of their head. Every song on this album is relatable, but I hate how they are often overshadowed by which ex-boyfriend posed as the inspirational muse for each track, but I will admit that is part of the fun. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” are smash hits, but tracks like “All Too Well” and “Everything Has Changed,” which is a duet with Ed Sheeran who has also had an incredible year, resonate with me a bit more. Let’s face it though, Taylor really can do no wrong.
I’m usually not a huge fan of reggae-type music unless I’m listening to a live band at a beachside restaurant, but a friend of mine gave Rebelution’s latest album to me and it wasn’t long before it became the most played album of the summer—I even had to go buy another copy of it because I played it so much! Any music that puts people in a good mood with the beat and positive lyrics is fine by me. My favorite song on this album is “Sky is The Limit.” As if the title wasn’t enough of a motivator to have a great day, the chorus will give you that extra push:
No time for the wicked
If you’re in my line, I’ll go around the side, and still bring it
Sky is the limit
So out of my way
YOU CAN’T GET ME DOWN
Aside from an incredible album, these guys also put on a heck of a show. Lead vocalist Eric Rachmany sounds the same live as he does on the album, which is always a HUGE bonus considering a good number of concerts these days are watered down heavily with backtracks and, brace yourself…. LIP SYNCING! I also love this album because I’ve bonded with a lot of people after listening to it together. I’ve always said that if I can turn someone on to a new band or genre of music, my job is done. I have such a diverse group of friends, and when someone who plays in a heavy rock band can groove to Rebelution with me and ask for it to be repeated, I know I’ve done well and made a good choice
After a three-year hiatus, I really didn’t know what to expect from Alicia Keys this year. However, I don’t even know where to begin with this album because all I could say was, “Wow.” It starts out with a classical piano intro, which wasn’t at all surprising to me because it’s hard to forget how fantastic of a pianist Alicia Keys is. Soulful lyrics and catchy beats are strung throughout making this one of the undisputed best R&B albums of the year. It couldn’t have come at a better time. The title-track “Girl On Fire” caught my attention after it was featured in a Discover card commercial. Granted it was just a sample of the song, but hearing her hit that bone-chilling note at the beginning of the chorus had me begging for more, and it’s definitely become an anthem of sorts for any woman who is taking control of her life and making dreams come true. One remix of the song features Nicki Minaj, and although I’m always a bit skeptical when her name pops up on a track, this one is tastefully done, but the song would still be phenomenal either way. Bottom line: I can’t get enough of Alicia Keys and if you’re looking for classic R&B this is definitely an album worth checking out.
Alright so technically this album came out in 2011, BUT I had never heard of Ed Sheeran until a few months ago, and if there’s any album that deserves to be an exception, + is it. I’ve been raving about Ed more than any other artist this season, and for good reason. The guy is so incredibly talented that the word “talented” seems like an understatement to describe him. His single “The A Team” is all over the radio right now, but if you’re trying to judge him off that one track, it doesn’t even scratch the surface. This album has so many musical elements to it, which I’m thankful for because it’s such a far cry from many of the generic pop albums we heard this year. Ed writes his songs beautifully and literally paints a picture with each track. Fellas, if you want to make your girl say “Awww,” you NEED to add some of these songs to whatever playlist you listen to together. Ladies, I’m a hopeless romantic and it’s so heartwarming to hear some of these lyrics, but enough of the mushy talk. I interviewed Ed a few weeks ago and admitted to him I was shocked hearing the album because frankly I misjudged him, but hearing his rap skills made me respect him so much more as an artist. I love it when people try to put musicians in one particular genre then are totally floored when they hear something totally unexpected. He’s touring with Taylor Swift in 2013, so you know he has to be pretty legit because Taylor wouldn’t put her stamp of approval on just anybody. I’m really trying not to give away too much because I genuinely want people to give this guy a chance and be open-minded. You’re welcome
Not many bands can do something totally different than what people would expect and be successful, but fortunately The Script pulled it off, and I wasn’t afraid to tell them so when I sat down with them back in November. The live show was high energy from the second the lights came over the crowd, and it was apparent The Script was hungry for the energy from the audience, who in turn gladly obliged and were on their feet singing along with every word for the entire show. The Script fit right in as veterans within the European invasion that took America by storm this year, and I welcomed them with open arms. “Hall of Fame” is the first single off the album and features Will.i.Am of the Black Eyed Peas. The track joins the ranks as one of the songs released in 2012 that serves as an anthem of empowerment for young people who are chasing their dreams. However, “Good Ol’ Days” is my favorite track because of two very simple lines: “Oh, we’ll remember this night when we’re old and gray/Cause in the future these will be the good ol’ days.” What better way to close out the year than with the great memories you’ll make with the people who matter most—friends and family.
I had to do it, and you shouldn’t be surprised! Anytime you put MJ in a category, he’s going to dominate and this list of top albums is no exception. This year marked the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest albums of all time, and if you doubt that then you’re living under a rock. I don’t know of one person who listens to Michael Jackson without singing along or imitating one of his signature dance moves. This specially released album includes bonus tracks that didn’t make the original in 1987, and of course all the classics like the title track, “Man in the Mirror,” and my personal favorite “The Way You Make Me Feel.” There isn’t a night that goes by when I’m out with my friends that Michael Jackson doesn’t come up on someone’s playlist, and some of my earliest childhood memories with my Dad include dancing around our living room listening to “Smooth Criminal.” It’s a classic album and without a doubt will be passed down from generation to generation. Music is about bringing people together, and no one does that quite like the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.