This year has been a very interesting for me musically. I listen to a ton of music and this year was no exception. Yet, I found myself very out of touch with what everyone else seemed to love this year. That becomes all the more apparent as people begin posting their year-end lists. I see everyone loving albums I feel like I “should have liked” but just didn’t. I really liked Frank Ocean’s Orange album, but since this list is my actual favorites (which means albums that I listened to a lot and became part of my world), it’s not on the list.
Biggest Disappointment Of The Year:
Let me start with the obvious. There is one album that lots of people will expect to be here that just isn’t. My second favorite album of 2009 was Mumford and Sons’ Sigh No More. I loved it. I played it a lot. But after a couple of hundred listens, it started to seem a bit repetitive. Though they clearly had a set pattern (slow plaintive vocals, gradual build, climactic build and end), they did it well. And then Babel was released and I just couldn’t do another whole album of the same pattern. I like plenty of bands that have set patterns. I even like lots of music with lots of repetition, it just seemed far too predictable and formulaic for me. Before you send me notes about how wrong or how right I am, please remember that I specifically say that my lists are “favorite” albums. It is subjective. This is my blog. This is my opinion. I understand if you disagree, but it’s a subjective disagreement, not an objective one.
So, with that out of the way, here are my personal favorite albums of 2012:
12) Cat Power: Sun
10) Of Monsters And Men: My Head Is An Animal
This is the music Ra Ra Riot and Edward Sharpe should have been making. Makes one with that Arcade Fire had another album coming soon. Fun, engaging and anthemic.
09) Avett Brothers: The Carpenter
An emotional journey exploring many of the parameters of death and what it’s like to be on either side of it. Though it did take me a while to grow in to this album, once I did, I really did.
08) American Gospel: Tall Tales, Vol. 1
The term “side project” can sometimes mean “not really a fully developed project.” However, Gregg Andrew DellaRocca of Republic of Wolves delivers a fully realized, fully engaging album here.
07) Daniel Bachman: Seven Pines
I am a huge fan of “American Primitive” solo guitar music. John Fahey, Basho, Kottke, Jack Rose and others have accompanied me well over the years. Add Daniel Bachman to that list. I really like this album.
06) Diiv: Oshin
I probably like this album disproportionately to what it actually is: a throwback to melody-driven, guitar-heavy shoegaze. But I have a soft-spot for exactly such things, so I found myself returning to this album a lot.
05) Godspeed You! Black Emperor: ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
After a decade, Godspeed You! Black Emperor returns with an album of new material. Though the formula hasn’t changed (slowly building orchestral post-rock), that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Their vision of the apocalyptic fits well with turbulent times, no matter how much time passes in between albums. This new album reminds us that a band with a clear vision isn’t tied to release/tour schedules. And I’m thankful for that.
04) Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls
Though it’s largely an extension of 2011′s EP, Boys & Girls is a good extension. The problem with a band like Alabama Shakes is that you’re never quite sure if they can extend a good thing to a full LP-length. Thankfully, they prove that they can and they do not disappoint. Lots of good soul/blues/rock that delivers.
03) The Lumineers: The Lumineers
So take just about everything I said about Alabama Shakes and apply it here to the Lumineers as well. Their 2011 EP was stellar and then followed up by their self-titled 2012 full-length. I admit that I was quite hesitant going in to this one because I just wasn’t sure that they could carry it off over a full-length, but they more than delivered. This one just keeps getting richer with each listen.
02) Justin Townes Earle: Nothing’s Going To Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
This album was what you might call a “slow burner” for me. I really liked it the first couple of times, but as I kept with it, the more it grew on me. The combination of Memphis soul and country with honest lyrics of love lost interwoven with family ties kept me coming back. Something about the raw honesty of the lyrics really resonated with me. It certainly helped that Justin Townes Earle was by far my favorite concert this year.
01) Matthew E. White: Big Inner
I have to thank Jason Woodbury of the Phoenix New Times for the tip on this one. He was on a local radio station talking about how much he liked this album so I decided to check it out. Once I did I was hooked. After the first couple of listens, my wife said it was too mellow but there is just too much soulful depth here to say that it’s just plain “mellow.” No, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine. With the Spacebomb orchestra, White blows away the notion of being a “Beginner” (Big Inner) with a soulful assurance that explores the ideas of love and spirituality with a maturity that many can only hope for. If this is his “beginner” release, I can’t wait to hear what’s next. Just like anything worthwhile, this one is definitely worth the work of really hearing.