Year In Letdowns: 2012’s Disappointing Albums

2012 was a spectacular year for music, though not in the way some may had initially expected. Last winter, the music outlook was bright with tons of heavy hitters set to release new records. But by the end of 2012, many of the year’s most talked about albums came from relatively new artists. While it’s hard to be disappointed with so many fantastic albums, there’s certainly a few anticipated releases that failed to meet expectations. For me, there were plenty of notable letdowns, many of which from artists that first eased my ears into indie music. And while I always had Frank Ocean to console me, there was a little hole in my heart that even the smoothest of voices couldn’t fill. Sigh.

More like Port of Sorrow, because I'm sad. Unrelated to the album.

More like Port of Sorrow, because I’m sad. Unrelated to the album.

The Shins “Port of Morrow”

When I first heard Simple Song, The Shin’s first new single in years, I jumped for joy. The fantastic track brought me back to the early 2000’s, a time when James Mercer was hammering out impeccable melodies like some sort of inhuman pop machine. I couldn’t have been more excited. How quickly that changed when I first heard Port of Morrow. As it slipped into its second half, Mercer’s unique style I had grown to love was replaced with nostalgic nods to eras past, doing away with nearly everything that defined the Shins perfect indie pop sound. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that Mercer did away with his entire band and hired a new one. Oh, inverted band!

Blunderbuss is RIGHT, am I right guys!?

Blunderbuss is RIGHT, am I right guys!?

Jack White “Blunderbuss”

Jack White’s debut solo record received a fair amount of acclaim across the board. While I’m too proud to admit that I’m wrong, I’m willing to blame my specific expectations here. When I heard “Jack White solo album,” all I could think of was his fantastic “Fly Farm Blues” performed in the otherwise ‘meh’ It Might Get Loud. I pictured a raw, man-on-guitar blues record with White shredding with a slide. Not quite. By comparison, Blunderbuss is actually a fairly tame album (aside from the rifftastic “Sixteen Saltines”). Well, maybe one day Jack White will grant my wishes. Until then, I’ll take my whites striped.

Fingers crossed for a return to Return to the Sea.

Fingers crossed for a return to Return to the Sea.

Islands “A Sleep & Forgetting”

When Islands released Arm’s Way, their incredibly underrated second album, critics branded it a sophomore slump. This seems to have terrified Nick Diamonds, as Islands’ following record entirely traded in rock for quieter pop. While Vapours did nothing for me, I still had hope that Diamonds and company would come back swinging. But it seems they had the opposite in mind, releasing an even quieter album filled with sleepy piano ballads. While there’s a few gems to be found, the one-tone nature of A Sleep & Forgetting makes the title into something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Speechless. Just speechless.

Speechless. Just speechless.

Band of Horses “Mirage Rock”

God. No. I can’t even. I just…. No.

Music from Ben Gibbard's former life, in which he's forgotten how to write melodies.

Music from Ben Gibbard’s former life, in which he’s forgotten how to write melodies.

Benjamin Gibbard “Former Lives”

Okay, I’ll own up to being a terrible person. When Ben Gibbard and Zooey Deschanel announced that they were getting divorced, one of my first thoughts was “Alright! Now Gibbard can go back to writing sad songs!” Gibbard’s best work with Death Cab For Cutie were his moodiest. Songs like “A Lack Of Color” can still nearly reduce me to man tears on a regular basis. So ‘Newly Divorced Ben Gibbard’ +  ‘Solo Album’ should theoretically = a perfectly lonely folk album. But no. Instead, the result was Former Lives, a collection of lifeless songs lacking any semblance of focus. I’d give the poor guy a free pass on this one, but he already used that up when he wrote “Stay Young, Go Dancing.”

Nice instagram, Stars.

Nice instagram, Stars.

Stars “The North”

Stars have had their ups and downs. But even their weakest albums contain moments of brilliance. While their last album, The Five Ghosts, received a generally lukewarm reception, songs like “Changes” or the completely infectious “We Don’t Want Your Body” made it worthwhile. But The North is barren territory populated by flat synth-pop songs. As I trekked through the 45-minutes of psuedo-dance tunes, I thought back to the days where I’d constantly replay in to the rich “Set Yourself On Fire.” Smiling at the mere thought of “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,” I collapsed to the ground, a generic synth line playing me out of existence.

If this is love, I'm out.

If this is love, I’m out.

The Magnetic Fields “Love At The Bottom Of The Sea”

Stephin Merritt is a funny guy. He recorded an album called “69 Love Songs.” That’s pretty funny. Once, he sang “I wish I had an evil twin / running ‘round doing people in.” I laughed. And when he dropped his new single, the chuckle-worthy “Andrew In Drag,” I remembered that he also can write a damn fine pop song. That is, if he wants to. With “Love At The Bottom Of The Sea,” Merritt seems much more concerned with launching his stand-up career than, you know, writing songs. “We can feel our connection growing / I’ll have magical powers / Only less scientific.” Badum tish?

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5 responses to “Year In Letdowns: 2012’s Disappointing Albums

  1. i was going to start reading your blog regularly, but you are so wrong about JACK WHITE that i just got physically ill. please let me know if you want a thesis paper about how this man is brilliant. you know where to find me.

    • I do think Jack White is absolutely brilliant. That’s where my disappointment comes from here. I just don’t think it’s a good showcase of his talents. But I also recognize that the album has been acclaimed across the board, and that I very well could be missing something in it. The article specifically has to do with albums that I had high expectations for, and why they didn’t quite meet them. The language in here comes off a bit strong, but I don’t think most of these albums are “bad” (Well, a few). Blunderbuss is certainly not bad in my eyes, just disappointing to my expectations.

      Hope this helps your stomach settle easy. Didn’t mean to scare you off from the blog; just trying to spark discussions. It’s all opinion; and I’d actually love to hear your arguments on Blunderbuss! (Not being sarcastic! This is what blogs are good for; discussion.)

  2. they’re also good for me to yell at you to stop using semi-colons. there is no reason for their existence. so just stop. (i have a thing about them. its called: they’re useless.)

    Blunderbuss is so excellent. The way the songs are arranged on the record is proof that progression matters. WHITE is so skilled on the piano that its disgusting. (Have you ever seen him play live? You’ll play for the other team….just for a little bit. That’s how sexy he is as a performer.) His lines like “i looked down and my legs were long/i looked down and my hands were long gone” echo a little bit of Lennon’s “feet way down below his knee.” (and if you listen to his interviews – I suggest the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron, it’s incredible. White IS funny as hell and very normal. Also, I bootlegged the interview he did with Jenny Eliscu on Sirius XMU from work, holla if you want a copy.) His guitar playing is so immaculate, that it’s strange anyone else tries to play the instrument. (Yes, “It Might Get Loud” was lame but that’s only because WHITE and Paige kicked The Edge’s ASSSSS in it. The Edge cannot play guitar, and he basically shows you how in that whole documentary. U2 is a sham. and they suck. I highly recommend “Under Great White Northern Lights,” but I hope you’ve seen it already. Any White Stripes fan must.)

    You wanted Blunderbuss to rock like a White Stripes record, but you don’t think it does? You’re wrong. It rocks in a better way because he’s not limiting himself to just a few instruments. He has an entire orchestra with him for Blunderbuss. Listen to guitar solos on tracks like “Take Me With You When You Go” and the piano track on “Trash Tongue Talker.” The magnitude of what he actually CAN do, he spells out in the title track, which yes, does get soft on us. But so what. At least he’s not doing the same thing over and over again. “Weep Themselves To Sleep” is such a great fucking song, I don’t even know where to begin on that one. Just listen to it. “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” is so electric. JUST GO LISTEN TO THIS RECORD AGAIN. “Missing Pieces,” “On and On and On,” and “Freedom at 21” all kick your ass.

    If you want to hear about it more, please visit my blog. I talk about him often.

    • I love semicolons; they effectively link two related thoughts together without breaking a thought’s flow! I’ll defend them to my grave.

      I didn’t expect or want Blunderbuss to be a White Stripes-esque rock record. I love Jack White’s traditional blues rock influences and how he combines them with his own unique sound to make it sound completely new. I figured Blunderbuss would expand that out further and give him more freedom to play with it. He does, but it feels subdued in some way, to my ears. I just hold him to high standards because, as you’ve noted, he is a indeed a musical genius.

      And I did get to see him play with the Raconteurs years ago, opening for Bob Dylan, and they were incredible. White is a force to be reckoned with live. And from what I’ve seen, it looks like that’s where songs from Blunderbuss really flourish. The live versions I’ve heard are excellent. I hope he releases some sort of live album this year.

  3. good. im glad that you aren’t hating all over white. or his record. but when you put it under a headline of “year in letdowns,” im gonna lash out.

    he did indeed. i splurged this year and now i belong to the third man records vault club – where we get records in the mail. the latest was a double live album of him with the two bands performing at TMR. they’re all really fun and country and rocking. i think i have a download for it…if so, i can send it your way!

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