20 December 2012
Best Music of 2012
Another year gone. My total reliance on Spotify means that I was both exposed to and purchased more music this year than I probably have in some time. This means that I either discovered more good music than ever before, or that this was just an exceptional year musically. I definitely feel like any of the first eleven albums could have theoretically been my number one in other years, which is ridiculous. Anyway, some of my favorite tracks are on a public playlist on Spotify for you, and if you think I missed anything, let me know in the comments. 1) Alt-J - An Awesome Wave: The winner of the Mercury Prize (or whatever they're calling it right now), this is the sort of weird hybrid alternative rock that gets me excited. I've been stuck on this album nonstop for a good six weeks with no sign of stopping. The sign of a great, long-lasting album for sure. Songs: "Breezeblocks," "Something Good," "Fitzpleasure." 2) Future of the Left - The Plot Against Common Sense: We now have three albums from the lead singer/songwriter of mclusky's newer band, and each album has been better than the one before. While I'm not sure Future of the Left has eclipsed mclusky for me, this album, which is ridiculous and abrasive and fun and crazy all at once, is the closest they've come yet. Songs: "Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop," "Goals in Slow Motion," "Beneath the Waves an Ocean." 3) Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur: Too often albums that get released early in the year get overlooked, and this seems to happen to Kathleen Edwards constantly. In an album where she hangs up the twang a bit in favor of a more straightforward singer/songwriter rock sound, it works really well. The individual songs in particular are some of her best, and the whole is as good as the pieces. Songs: "Change the Sheets," "Mint," "Sidecar." 4) Punch Brothers - Who's Feeling Young Now?: While I've gotten significantly addicted to roots and bluegrass music over the last year or so, the musician I keep going back to the most is Chris Thile, who continues to take traditional bluegrass sounds in really unique directions. The newest Punch Brothers album would fit right in on alt-rock radio were they not afraid of mandolins. Songs: "This Girl," "Patchwork Girlfriend," "Movement and Location." 5) David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant: I guess I like David Byrne - he's probably a little too artsy for my tastes, and Talking Heads weren't my favorite. St Vincent's first album was a revelation for me, but her more recent material has left me cold. Put the two of them together, though, and you get a weird, percussive, jazzy, worldly album that caught me by surprise. It's hard to pick individual songs out, merely because the whole is really the star. Songs: "Who?," "Weekend in the Dust." 6) Father John Misty - Fear Fun: Father John Misty is the name/group of a former drummer for Fleet Foxes. I expected breezy, atmospheric folk music and instead got some surprisingly fun rootsy performances instead. An overlooked gem. Songs: "Teepees 1-12," "Well, You Can Do It Without Me." 7) David Wax Museum - Knock Knock Get Up: My favorite mexicano-folk hybrid band for sure, their newest album has some of the best songs they've written so far, and is absolutely the best cohesive unit they've put together. So many of these songs should propel them to stardom if there was any justice in the world. Songs: "Leopard Girl," "Harder Before It Gets Easier," "The Rumors Are True." 8) Scars on 45 - Scars on 45: The worst band name I've heard in some time, and with a glossy sheen that would normally turn me off, instead I ended up with an album of what would probably be classified as adult alternative with some of the most addictive songs I heard this year. So polished, so excellent. Songs: "Warning Sign," "Burn the House Down," "Give Me Something." 9) Jenny Owen Youngs - An Unwavering Band of Light: Jenny Owen Youngs harkens back to the rocker chick era that I was really, really into for a while. She's a little sassy, a little angry, and her songs are super catchy. At the end of the day, that's all I'm looking for, and this album is the first one that she's put out that has truly come together as a whole for me. Songs: "Love for Long," "Pirates," "Born to Lose." 10) The Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth: John Darnielle is one of the more prolific writers in music today, and Transcendental Youth, after 20+ years of creating music, have put together what might be my favorite album. It's mature songwriting with some complex instrumentation to go along with the already-complex themes we're used to. An excellent album. Songs: "The Diaz Brothers," "Cry for Judas." 11) Paws - Cokefloat: This is an album I only decided to listen to because the album cover was so goofy. It turns out that this is a great, angsty, 1990s-alt-rock throwback, and is largely what I expected Yuck to be a few years ago. Songs: "Pony," "Get Bent." 12) Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror: While I take issue with Sleigh Bells polishing up the blown speaker aesthetic, the fact remains that Reign of Terror is the same loud wall of noise that got me interested in them to start. A worthy follow up to their debut. Songs: "Demons," "Comeback Kid." 13) Metric - Synthetica: This is the first album on the list that I hate is so low. The album is a great, cohesive unit with some of the best songs Metric has ever put out. Between this and their prior album, they're on quite a roll. Songs: "Synthetica," "Youth Without Youth," "Breathing Underwater," "Speed the Collapse," "Lost Kitten." 14) Earlimart - System Preferences: I apparently own a number of Earlimart albums. I say "apparently" because I cannot remember a thing from any of them, but when I fired System Preferences up, I was immediately caught up in the indie melodies and great songwriting. A surprising, rock-solid entry. Songs: "Shame," "Get Used to the Sound." 15) Grizzly Bear - Shields: Grizzly Bear, a band I liked more for their singles than their albums, got some notoriety this year with their New York Times interview stating, among other things, that their music was sounding "too vanilla," not accessible enough. I'd call Shields their most accessible piece yet. It's indie rock at its stereotypical best, but without being over the top. Songs: "Sleeping Ute." 16) The Belle Brigade - The Belle Brigade: I don't know what prompted me to pick this up, but if you're looking for anthemic adult alternative, I can't think of a lot of better options. Songs: "Belt of Orion," "Where Not To Look For Freedom." 17) Cat Power - Sun: Cat Power is another artist that I've liked intermittently. Sun is a change in tune for her a bit - a little more electronic, a little less folksy. For me, it absolutely worked. Songs: "3, 6, 9," "Ruin." 18) The Dandy Warhols - This Machine: One of my all time favorite bands put out an album I frankly didn't expect, given the oddities of the last few they've released. I won't say it's back to form for them, but it's pretty close. Songs: "Rest Your Head," "SETI vs. the WOW Signal." 19) Spirit Family Reunion - No Separation: I saw this folk band open for David Wax Museum last December and fell in love with them almost instantly. Their debut album is an old time folksy sing-a-long with a ton of heart behind it. Songs: "One Hundred Greenback Dollar Bills," "I Am Following the Sound." 20) Anya Marina - Felony Flats: I can't say that this is a normal album, as it has a lot of different influences throughout - rock, pop, electronic - but for someone who's singer-songwriter work was great, this was a welcome shift. Songs: "Believe Me I Believe," "Notice Me." Other highlights, in no particular order: Dinosaur Feathers - Whistle Tips ("Young Bucks") Muse - The 2nd Law ("The 2nd Law: Unsustainable," "Madness," "Panic Station") Sara Watkins - Sun Midnight Sun ("When It Pleases You") Two Man Gentleman Band - Two at a Time ("Prescription Drugs", "Tikka Masala") Ben Folds Five - The Sound of the Life of the Mind ("Draw a Crowd") The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter JJAMZ - Suicide Pact Brendan Benson - What Kind of World Carolina Chocolate Drops - Leaving Eden First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar M. Ward - A Wasteland Companion Garbage - Not Your Kind of People Memoryhouse - The Slideshow Effect Hospitality - Hospitality Kelly Hogan - I Like to Keep Myself in Pain Magnetic Fields - Love at the Bottom of the Sea Mumford & Sons - Babel Old Crow Medicine Show - Carry It Back The Shins - Port of Morrow Sofia Talvik - The Owls Are Not What They Seem The Vespers - The Fourth Wall Tift Merritt - Traveling Alone Other favorite songs: Wiyos - "Yellow Lines" Foxy Shazam - "Holy Touch" The Trillions - "Ctrl+X, Ctrl+V" Ting Tings - "Guggenheim" Schoolboy Q & A$AP Rocky - "Hands on the Wheel" Schoolboy Q & Ab-Soul - "Druggy Wit Hoes Again" Shonen Knife - "Pop Tune" Langhorne Slim - "Found My Heart" Madonna - "Give Me All Your Luvin'" Psy - "Gangnam Style" Civil Twilight - "River" Ben Gibbard - "Dream Song" Sarah Jaffe - "Talk" Sara Barielles - "Sweet As Whole" Regina Spektor - "Don't Leave Me" The Most Loyals - "Shrinking Violet" Mr Little Jeans - "Runaway" Of Monsters and Men - "Little Talks" Churchill - "Change" Cooly G - "Trouble" Azure Ray - "We Could Wake" Audra Mae - "Little Red Wagon" Fun - "We Are Young Great Lake Swimmers - "Easy Come Easy Go" How to Destroy Angels - "Ice Age" Jack White - "Love Interruption" John Cale - "Scotland Yard"