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.
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!
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.
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.
Band of Horses “Mirage Rock”
God. No. I can’t even. I just…. No.
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.”
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.
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?