This Year’s Best Albums
Mumford & Sons, Babel
Mumford & Sons and I go way back. Like, back to before college. I’ve been obsessed with these guys since the release of their debut album Sigh No More a little over three years ago. “I really f—ed it up this time” has never sounded as poetic as it did when sung by Mumford frontman Marcus Mumford in the guys’ smash hit “Little Lion Man.”
But with this September’s release of Babel, the little British band that could goes above and beyond and proves they’re more than just a one-hit wonder. I naturally default to praising “I Will Wait,” a track so frantic and beautifully desperate that you can’t help but cry, “I will wait for you too!” And here’s something I found out about way too late in life: the album’s deluxe edition includes a seriously folked-up cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1969 classic “The Boxer,” featuring Mr. Simon himself.
Another winner is the album’s title track, the hard-driving “Babel.” With emotive lyrics like, “I know perhaps my heart is a farce, but I’ll be born without a mask,” Mumford & Sons demonstrates their magnificent ability to get deep with metaphors, to tell a tragic yet exquisite story and to make banjo cool again.
Not even kidding.
— By Emelia Fredlick
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
I may not be able to wax poetic on the piece of art that is Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange as well as the illustrious Managing Editor Lane Billings has for Paste Magazine, but I decided I’d give it the old college try.
Channel Orange was easily one of the best albums of 2012 and quickly became the soundtrack to my summer. The album is an ode to youth and love, as Ocean sings about the formative experiences and people that make us who we are.
Ocean’s first single from the album, “Thinkin Bout You,” is a gold record, making millions and breaking barriers in R&B. On the surface, the song appears to be a regular run of the mill slow jam, but upon deeper examination, “Thinkin Bout You” is challenging the rigid boundaries of sexuality in R&B music. The song is written for Ocean’s first love, a man he had a relationship with as a teenager.
The need for deeper analysis is a trend on Channel Orange, as Ocean’s songs on the surface are incredible musical concoctions. From the steady base and piano-laden tempo of “Super Rich Kids” to the beat-keeping snaps found in “Pilot Jones” to John Mayer’s chilling guitar solo on “Pyramids,” Frank’s falsetto guides the listener into his world, giving and taking, rising and falling.
Still, further listening will reveal complex stories and fantasies, some about Ocean and some about other people — all of them relatable and beautiful.
— By Jordie Davies
Of Monsters and Men, My Head Is An Animal
Of Monsters and Men’s definitive debut My Head is an Animal and its hit single “Little Talks” easily made waves in their homeland of Iceland, but success at home and a burgeoning fan base here in the U.S. eventually made its way to the ears of Universal Music Group. Now the group is a fixture in the folksy, moderately-hipster division of music. “Little Talks” was the perfect debut single for the band, as co-vocalists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson (if someone finds out how to pronounce these names, please let me know) invite us into their conversation. The track is filled with soft, upbeat trumpets, and if you don’t find your foot tapping with the beat, you might not actually be conscious. It isn’t long before you realize that the ongoing conversation is strange and doesn’t match the campfire, hippie atmosphere of its instruments. Someone is seeing ghosts, “the screams all sound the same” and these people are clearly having communication issues. It doesn’t stop you from clapping your hands and singing along. Actually, you might even belt out the chorus.
Most of the numbers on the album follow a similar dichotomy: you feel like you’re in the Alps singing with your local Icelandic Baptist church choir (I’m not entirely sure those exist) all the while piping out a descent into madness — but what a catchy madness it is. As a whole, My Head is an Animal is a good album for the idealist at heart and the thoughtful hyperactive. The repetition in quality will turn some away and (admittedly) bore the living daylights out of others. The lyrics, however, are heartfelt and enchanting and the tunes are deceptively uplifting, so for some, it’ll be a refreshing change from the sugar pop of the Billboard Hot 100.
— By Aniqa Alam