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The best albums and concerts of 2012
When the music business sales statistics for 2012 are released early in the new year, the winners will likely be Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, One Direction -- and the enduring Adle.
But as we know all too well, quantity doesn't always equal quality.
The past year will likely show an uptick in music purchases, particularly of digital singles, but there was still a robust showing on the album side in 2012, from all genres and from fresh-faced rookies to grizzled veterans. The long-form listen may be a tough sell in a short attention span marketplace, but there's no shortage of good work being done.
Picking the best, of course, remains a challenging and frustrating exercise, with more worthy choices than spots available -- unless you want it to look really silly. That said, here's a dozen -- in alphabetical order -- that set the standard during the calendar year and will likely still be titles we're still complimenting in coming years:
* Leonard Cohen, "Old Ideas" (Columbia): At 78, Cohen's unexpected late-career renaissance is going beyond his galvanizing live shows. His first album of all-new material in eight years finds the pop poet laureate still in fine form, ruminating -- as he does so well -- on the intertwining nature of God, love, sex and politics, both personal and external, amidst hushed and almost hymnal arrangements that sound profound but never pompous.
* Divine Fits, "A Thing Called Divine Fits" (Merge): "Supergroups" should always be approached gingerly, and skeptically, but this combination of Spoon's Britt Daniel, New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs is indeed more than the sum of its well-credentialed parts. Their debut is filled with edgy but hooky pop songs that range from the hypnotic "Like Ice Cream" to the dry, Velvet Underground-tempered "Shivers," the dreamy "Neopolitans" and the Kraut-rock flavored "Flaggin' a Ride" -- but nothing so contrived as to compromise the troupe's hipster cool.
* Kathleen Edwards, "Voyageur" (Zoe/Rounder): The Canadian singer-songwriter uses the personal drama between her second and third albums -- a divorce and a new relationship with Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver, which ended earlier this year) -- to craft a gripping and boldly personal journey that mixes confessional pathos with redemptive optimism. Vernon's influence brought new ambient touches to Edwards' sound, creating "A Soft Place to Land" sonically as well as emotionally.
* Calvin Harris, "18 Months" (Fly Eye/Columbia): This Scottish DJ and producer can certainly make beats with the best of 'em, but he's also a stronger songwriter than many of his EDM colleagues, which sets his third artist album decidedly apart. Rather than hooks, guest singers such as Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Florence Welch, Kelis and Ellie Goulding get to sink into fully realized tunes, some of which rank as the best of their individual careers.
* Heartless Bastards, "Arrow" (Partisan): The Austin, Texas group is still all about kicking butt on its fourth album, but it makes some effective changes as well, expanding from a trio to four pieces and incorporating more depth and texture to its sound and it explores different shades of rock. Crunchy anthems collide with noir laments and soulful pop, while the album-closing "Down in the Canyon" is a doomy epic of cinematic detail.
* Bruno Mars, "Unorthodox Jukebox" (Atlantic): Though he's a little more commercially concerned, Mars is our new Prince, defiantly ignoring genre limitations on his sophomore album as he jumps from kinetic New Wave to dubby reggae, strip club sleaze, street corner doo-wop and heartbreaking balladry. This late season entry will, like the Black Keys' "El Camino," likely make an even bigger imprint on 2013.
* JD McPherson, "Signs and Signifiers" (Rounder): The Oklahoma singer, songwriter and guitarist has his own, refreshingly original take on roots rock, one that pays homage to Buddy Holly, Little Richard and other originators but also takes into account the Pixies and Wu-Tang Clan. The generation-spanning approach never sounds contrived, however, and it never sounds like anything else out there, either.
* Van Morrison, "Born To Sing: No Plan B" (Blue Note): The veteran Irish singer never really makes a bad record, but sometimes -- like on his 35th studio album -- he means it more than others, and when he does it's time to stand up and take notice. Morrison produced the set himself, lacing it with exceptional vocal performances and also exorcising some socio-political burrs in his saddle, which only makes these 10 songs more potent.
* Frank Ocean, "Channel Orange" (Def Jam): As the featured vocalist for the rap group Odd Future Ocean quietly built a buzz, and his debut album clearly establishes him as perhaps the most unique and progressively minded presence in the R&B world. On "Channel Orange" he comes off as a modern Marvin Gaye, a fearlessly self-aware commentator who's "searching for a real love" but is keenly aware of the distractions and obstacles he faces. But it works even better because Ocean consigns his libido to secondary status amidst more weighty self-examination and social commentary.
* Bruce Springsteen, "Wrecking Ball" (Columbia): It's been awhile since we've had a Springsteen album we can really sink our teeth into, but this topical set, during a particularly charged and volatile election year, sets and agenda and puts current events into vivid perspective. His overall message remains a steadfast belief that "faith will be rewarded," but only if it fuels the kind of fight that feels timeless and eternal enough to keep these songs from ever sounding dated.
* Various Artists, "G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer" (Def Jam): Even before he became part of the Kardashian saga, Kanye West could turn a party into an event. That's certainly the case on this all-star effort, a musical maelstrom that envelopes the likes of Jay-Z, R. Kelly, Common, John Legend, members of Wu-Tang Clan, The-Dream, 2 Chainz and multiple appearances by Detroit's Big Sean into an epic musical celebration.
* Jack White, "Blunderbuss" (Third Man/XL): The Detroit native has long been a moving target, and his solo debut -- after tenures with the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather and plenty of one-off collaborative projects -- is dazzingly all over the map, drawing on those past exploits and weaving a stylistic thrill ride distinct from but certainly of a piece with anything else he's done to this point. White and his cohorts trip through roots, folk, rockabilly, pyschedelia, garage rock, blues and even a touch of jazz for a genuinely fresh and frenetic sonic collage.
2012's Second Dozen: Calexico, "Algiers" (Anti-); Gary Clark Jr., "Blak and Blu" (Warner Bros.); The Coup, "Sorry to Bother You" (Anti-); Dr. John, "Locked Down" (Nonesuch); Bob Dylan, "Tempest" (Columbia); fun., "Some Nights" (Fueled By Ramen); Joe Jackson, "The Duke" (Razor & Tie); Alicia Keys, "Girl On Fire" (RCA): Kenrick Lamar, "good kid, m.A.A.d. city" (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope); Mumford & Sons, "Babel" (Glassnote); Rodriguez, "Searching For Sugar Man: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (Light in the Attic/Legacy); Rush, "Clockwork Angels" (Anthem/Roadrunner)
LIVE AND (MOSTLY LOUD): THE DETROIT AREA'S 20 BEST CONCERTS OF 2012
* Glen Campbell, Jan. 28, 35th Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival, Hill Auditorium.
* Black Keys, March 3, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
* Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, April 12, The Palace of Auburn Hills.
* Mayer Hawthorne & the County, May 15 at the Majestic Theatre, Detroit
* Jack White, May 24, Scottish Rite Cathedral in the Masonic Temple, Detroit (evening show).
* Kid Rock and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, May 12, Fox Theatre, Detroit.
* Red Hot Chili Peppers, June 1, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
* Patti Smith with Jackson Smith and Jesse Smith, June 3, Sinbad's, Detroit.
* Roger Waters, June 5, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
* Miranda Lambert with the Pistol Annies and Kid Rock, June 10 at WYCD Downtown Hoedown, Comerica Park, Detroit.
* Radiohead, June 11, Palace of Auburn Hills.
* The Hives, June 27, Clutch Cargo's, Pontiac.
* Beach Boys, June 30, DTE Energy Music Theatre, Independence Township.
* Santana, July 15, DTE Energy Music Theatre, Independence Township.
* Coldplay, Aug. 1, Palace of Auburn Hills.
* Peter Gabriel, Sept. 26, The Palace of Auburn Hills
* Joe Jackson & the Bigger Band, Sept. 27, Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor.
* Afghan Whigs, Oct. 24, Saint Andrews Hall, Detroit.
* Leonard Cohen, Nov. 26, Fox Theatre, Detroit.
* Big Sean, Dec. 1, The Palace of Auburn Hills.
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