2012 was a great year for music by almost any standard, but it wasn’t without a few upsets. This list showcases some of the biggest disappointments of the year in music – now, keep in mind that these are not necessarily bad albums, just disappointing ones. Likewise, you won’t see a bad Maroon 5’s Overexposed on this list, because how could it disappoint with expectations so low to begin with? In fact, I just thought of something. Two albums this year have the most appropriate title ever: Japandroids’ Celebration Rock and Maroon 5’s Overexposed. I want to reiterate, I like all of these albums and the bands/artists behind them, but these release let me down in some way or another. Here’s the list in alphabetical order:
Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
Sometimes, an album is only disappointing because of its predecessor – case in point: Centipede Hz. Animal Collective released the phenomenal Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2008, and followed it up nicely with the atmospheric Fall Be Kind EP. 2012’s Centipede Hz isn’t a bad album (even though it seems to have already bagged the title of “Worst Album Art of the Millennium” already), but it is disappointing entry into the band’s discography. The album is packed with jitter synthesizers, harmonies, percussion, samples, loops, and on. The fact that it’s so packed with noise makes it an exhausting listen. There are a few highs (“Today’s Supernatural” and “Moonjock”), but more often, the music bogs itself down. Case in point: the slow and painful “New Town Burnout.”
Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
With two albums, Band of Horses was a band poised to break into the mainstream consciousness. I mean, have you heard “The Funeral?” It probably ranks among my favorite tracks of all time, of any genre, by any band. With Infinite Arms, the band polished their sound and gained the attention of a much, much larger audience. Singer / chief songwriter Ben Bridwell capitalized on the band’s fame with Mirage Rock, an album that is nostalgic (like the band’s past work) but not forward-thinking. After a few radio-ready tracks (“Knock Knock” or “How to Live”), the album limps by, and it proves fans’ worst fears that the band that recorded “The Funeral” is dead and gone. Case in point: “Dumpster World” is a song that even Neil Young would scoff at for being too sentimental; Bridwell swings and misses so wide, it feels like a parody.
Dandy Warhols – This Machine
I’ve probably reached the point where I would consider myself a Dandy Warhols’ apologist. After releasing three terrific albums (Come Down, 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia, and Welcome to the Monkey House), things got weird. In what seemed like a ploy to be released from their contract, the band released Odditorium, or Warlords of Mars, an album that has terrific high points and ghastly lows. The followed this with Earth to the Dandy Warhols, a slicker, more polished approach. While the Dandy Warhols might attempt to be psychedelic, they never let it interfere with a good melody. Unfortunately, 2012’s This Machine doesn’t have enough psychedelia or melody to stand up to anything the band has done before. The album sounds like a band defeated. The songs on this record that are good seem to be good in spite of themselves: “SETI Vs the Wow! Signal” has some of the worst lyrics this side of, well, you be the judge: “It’s like a rocket to a caveman / talking on a cell phone, staring into space, man.” Case in point: the self-indulgent and unsatisfying “Don’t Shoot She Cried.”
Mike Patton – Laborintus II
I love Mike Patton and pretty much everything he’s ever recorded (except for the detestable Adult Themes for Voice, but seriously, who likes that?). Luciano Berio’s “Laborintus II” is a poem originally commissioned by France. Its purpose was to celebrate the life of Dante Alighieri: 1965, after all, celebrated the 700 anniversary of his author’s birth. Berio’s poem was created for three female voices, eight actors, a variety of instruments, and one speaker. The role of speaker is filled by Mike Patton; there’s not much singing or crooning going on here. While I’ve liked some of Patton’s most experimental recordings, this goes overboard, and what was intentioned as an audio/visual dramatic spectacle comes across as a muddy, cluttered recording. There are a few moments of interesting electric jazz at play in “Part Two,” but these points come sparingly. This might be the least essential Patton recording since Adult Themes for Voice. Case in point: the “where am I, and how did I get here?” feeling you’ll get in “Part One.”
Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts
I’ve liked pretty much everything Norah Jones has done; from the jazzy feel-good Come Away With Me to the angsty Never Too Late, she’s done no wrong. The idea of her collaborating with Dangermouse (Brian Burton, of Broken Bells and Gnarls Barkley) seems on the face of it like a good idea. Dangermouse has a way of making the production of an album sound clean, clear, and irrepressibly cool, but there are times when the producer/instrumentalist has been less than stellar. Beck’s Modern Guilt felt ordinary (an absolute crime for Beck’s music) as did the Black Keys’ Attack & Release. Norah Jones’ collaboration with Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom project was an absolute winner, so I had high hopes. The first two tracks on this album raise hopes for the best (“Good Morning” is such a beautiful song). Unfortunately, her new Little Broken Hearts and its bass/rhythm heavy production never quite proves itself effective. Aside from a few inspired songs (“Happy Pills” and “Say Goodbye”), the collaboration never quite meshes. Case in point: the dragging, pseudo-jazzy “4 Broken Hearts” feels like a smoke-filled by-the-number songwriting routine.
The Offspring – Days Go By
If you told me at the beginning of the year that the Offspring was releasing an album, I would have told you how low my expectations were. It’s been years since the band has released a solid and consistently good album, so how does Days Go By end up in a list like this? It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an album with such fantastic highs and such bizarre and awful lows. The album begins with some of the most aggressive music the band has released since Americana – “The Future is Now” and “Secrets From the Underground” are terrific. The closing track, “Slim Pickens…” is just as concise and engaging as anything that the band has ever recorded. How is it then, that the band could both be at the top of their game and at their all-time low? “Cruising California” and “OC Guns” are so stunningly awful that I can’t imagine who let the band record them. There had to be people around in the studio, right? How could these people not speak up? The band even covers (or, um, “remasters”) their early fan-favorite “Dirty Magic,” but at this point, it feels like putting salt in the wound coming off the heels of “OC Guns.” Case in point: the band seems to be in on the joke with “Cruising California,” but at what point does a band to profit off of “satire” like “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” and “Original Gangster” before simply selling out with a wink and smile?
The Shins – Port of Morrow
Last year, if you asked any Shins fan which of their three albums was their favorite, it’s quite possible that you would get an equal distribution of answers. Oh Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow, and Wincing the Night Away are terrific indie-pop records. Singer/songwriter James Mercer released remarkably consistent melody-driven guitar-centric pop songs. After Wincing the Night Away, Mercer started up Broken Bells with producer Dangermouse – their collaboration was darker and more electronic than anything Mercer had really done before. When he decided to (essentially) reform the Shins in 2012, it came as a surprise. Hopes were high that Mercer would deliver as he did on his past 3 records, but Port of Morrow strangely feels soulless. Fans excited with the lead single “Simple Song” soon discovered that it was far-and-away the best track of the bunch. Too often does Port of Morrow feel like a rote by-the-numbers album – where was the wit? Where was the ear-hook melodies? While the album certainly isn’t bad, it’s definitely a disappointment. Case in point: “It’s Only Life,” for a writer known for his sharp pen, the lyrics to this song feel absolutely mailed in.
Temper Trap – Temper Trap
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
Lana Del Rey — Paradise
Walkmen — Heaven
Yeasayer — Fragrant World