While the past few years have seen pop, hip-hop and even country stealing the sonic spotlight, 2012 was the year rock made a triumphant comeback with a slew of essential full-length releases, including an epic number of 2013 GRAMMY nominations.
Even as rampant illegal downloading has been drastically tempered by the rapid rise of online streaming services, an impressively diverse cadre of artists produced full-length efforts worthy of adding to any self-respecting rock-collector.
A handful of the year’s best and most influential albums were actually released in late 2011, but had a big enough impact to remain vital throughout 2012, such as the latest long-players from Ohio blue-rock merchants the Black Keys, the breakout dream-pop of French bliss-wavers M83 and stalwart UK anthem-makers Coldplay.
In addition to the year’s must-have albums, we’ve collected 16 more download-worthy new releases, which run the gamut from modern rock favorites like Green Day, Soundgarden and No Doubt to emerging upstarts Japandroids, Tama Impala and Walk The Moon.
With no further ado, here are the year’s 10 must-have full-length albums, listed in alphabetical order.
Black Keys, El Camino (Dec. 2011) Blasting straight out of Ohio, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach have been simmering on the edge of the mainstream for years, thanks in no small part to the production guidance of Danger Mouse. The duo rocketed towards the upper echelon of rock’s biggest bands with the release of El Camino, thanks to hits like “Lonely Boy” and “Gold on the Ceiling.” The band’s sound was popular enough for companies like Pizza Hut and Home Depot to imitate their blues-rock for TV ads, resulting in lawsuit settlements. El Camino is nominated for Album of the Year at the 2013 GRAMMY Awards.
Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto (Oct. 2011) Following up the critical and commercial success of 2008 release Viva la Vida and All His Friends, UK stadium rockers Coldplay went extra ambitious for their fifth studio album, going conceptual for the tongue-twistingly-titled Mylo Xyloto. Containing monster hit “Paradise” and a duet with pop superstar Rihanna (“Princess of China”), the album’s Technicolor vision was fully realized on the rapturously received fan-interactive tour that followed its release.
Deftones, Koi No Yokan – While this Sacramento band of hardcore pioneers seem destined to forever live under the shadow of their 2000 breakout release, White Pony, Chino Moreno and the gang followed well-received 2010 LP Diamond Eyes with this incendiary slab of brutal riffs coupled with moody atmospherics, personified on stand-out tracks like “Leathers” and “Swerve City.” As a majority of the band’s late-‘90s “nu-metal” contemporaries have faded away, Deftones remain as vital to the rock world as ever.
fun., Some Nights – This tuneful NYC trio put “indie pop” on the map with this well-produced collection of memorable melodies and massive sing-along choruses like monster hits “We Are Young” and the album’s title cut, combing songwriting chops reminiscent of classic Elton John alongside the bombast and emotion of Queen. The band is poised to walk away with multiple GRAMMY awards, with nominations in such top categories as Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist.
Imagine Dragons, Night Visions – The latest band to break out of Las Vegas did so in impressive fashion this year, as Imagine Dragons injected big arena rock with indie sensibility to stellar songs like “Radioactive” and “It’s Time” on their long-playing debut. Working with UK hip-hop producer Alex Da Kid, Imagine Dragons have set the bar sky-high for their next album with this resounding achievement. The band’s dynamic live show pays off in droves of new fans with each passing performance.
The Lumineers, The Lumineers – This band of earnest folk-rockers broke out of Denver, CO, in a big way with their very first single, “Hey Ho.” After high-profile spins on popular teen TV shows Hart of Dixie and The Vampire Diaries, the feel-good campfire song hit exploded into one 2012’s biggest hit songs. The band’s self-titled debut is rife with similarly acoustic-powered foot-stomping jams, such as the album’s second single, “Stubborn Love.”
M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Oct. 2011) – After spending years cultivating a cult audience with nostalgic new wave tones and emotional teenage memories, France’s Anthony Gonzalez’s band M83 broke out in a big way with their sixth full-length album. Boasting hits like the sax-powered single “Midnight City,” “Reunion” and “Steve McQueen,” the recorded played like a long-lost John Hughes soundtrack from the ‘80s given a modern digital remix.
Mumford and Sons, Babel – No one lead the charge of folky and acoustic campfire songs like these British lads, who spent 2012 blowing up into one of the biggest bands of the year, selling more than 600,000 copies of Babel in the album’s first week of release alone. Led by monster hit single “I Will Wait,” the second album from band leader Marcus Mumford and his merry band of music-makers p is ample evidence that quiet was indeed the new loud in 2012.
Muse, The 2nd Law – Augmenting their big, prog-rock bombast with touches of indie, funk, EDM and even dubstep, Muse’s over-the-top approach to stadium rock have made this futuristic British power trio the UK’s most ambitious band since Queen. Packed with a dizzyingly diverse array of songs, the band’s sixth studio album veers from the minimal electro pop of hit single “Madness” to the outsized Olympic majesty of “Survival,” playing like a post-modern mixtape for the playlist generation.
Jack White, Blunderbuss – After blazing an Americana-saturated trail from garage rock to blues revivalist as part of the White Stripes, Dead Weather and the Raconteurs, Jack White struck out on his own for the first time with Blunderbuss. Bathing the LP in a myriad of blue tones, White’s meticulously constructed break-up album resulted in explosive songs like “Sixteen Saltines” next to more nuanced numbers like “Love Interruption,” with the blazing guitarist building two bands (one male, one female) to fully realize the record’s vision.
15 More Full-Length Albums Worth (Legally) Downloading
Gaslight Anthem, Handrwitten
Green Day, Uno!/Dos!/Tre!
Grouplove, Never Trust a Happy Song (Sept. 2011)
Japandroids, Celebration Rock
The Killers, Battle Born
Linkin Park, Living Things
Of Monsters And Men, My Head Is an Animal (Sept. 2011)
Passion Pit, Gossamer
Slightly Stoopid, Top of the World
The Smashing Pumpkins, Oceania
Soundgarden, King Animal
Tame Impala, Lonerism
Walk The Moon, s/t
The xx, Coexist
-Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local