Well, here it is folks, number 1. Genre-less earthy folk / indie / pop goodness. Every track is a winner. It was a hard decision for number 1, but not that hard. Spotify Link
Best of 2012
In December of 2012, I decided to listen to as many of that year's album releases as I could and rank them (including all of the albums I had already heard. This is what I found.
Bowerbirds- The Clearing
Titus Andronicus- Local Business
Stuck in my head for months now. The replacements minus the bullshit, springsteen with more punk. More stripped down and raw than their past albums, but no less captivating. So goddamn good. Spotify Link
Joe Pug- The Great Despiser
hopefully this guy will be a household name one day. until then, I'll keep repping him and enjoying listening to him get better and better. Spotify Link
The Mountain Goats- Transcendental Youth
No comment necessary, it's the Mountain Goats. Probably my favorite since The Sunset Tree? Spotify Link
Dr. Dog- Be The Void
This was the first album that I got into this year- the first that made me say "This could be my favorite album of the year." Seeing them live at Pickathon was a highlight, and I will always associate this album with the things that happened in 2012. Spotify Link
Strand of Oaks- Dark Shores
haunting and beautiful. this guy can sing, and play, and write. if you like this, listen to his previous albums. Spotify Link
Dan Deacon- America
Brilliant, noisy electronica with an orchestral back (especially the last 4 tracks). Love it. Spotify Link
Matthew E. White- Big Inner
Man, this album is really pleasant. I'm seeing him next Sunday, and I wouldn't be surprised if he moves up. Listen to this. Spotify Link
Tallest Man on Earth- There's No Leaving Now
I first heard of this guy this year, and maybe overplayed him, but that's not going to sour the quality of this album. Spotify Link
King Tuff- King Tuff
so much fun! snotty, classic rock and roll with hooks and heart. Spotify Link
Japandroids- Celebration Rock
This album makes me feel 16 again. Spotify Link
Sigur Ros- Valtari
This album is too good to be a letdown, but too ambient to be better than my favorite Sigur Ros albums. Still beautiful though. Spotify Link
First solo album from Nick Zammuto of the Books. One of my favorite shows of the year. Spotify Link
Langhorne Slim- The Way We Move
energetic, heartfelt, classic. hard to pin the genre down, not quite country, not quite rock and roll, but he's got a good thing going. Spotify Link
Poliça- Give You The Ghost
So groovy! In a year where a lot of people made the same kinds of music, this one feels pretty original. Spotify Link
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Kind of noisy, kind of classic. Wilco meets david bowie (heavier on the wilco), with maybe some of yo la tengo thrown in. Spotify Link
Godspeed You! Black Emperor- Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
They're back! Two crushing 20 minute tracks each w/ a 6 min recovery. After 10 years off, as good as ever. Spotify Link
B. Fleischmann- I'm Not Ready For The Grave Yet
I don't think this has the same majesty of his masterpiece (The Humbucking Coil), but he finds such a nice balance between electronic and organic. Spotify Link
Chromatics- Kill For Love
Spacey fuzzy shoegazey goodness Spotify Link
Father John Misty- Fear Fun
Psych-folk, etc. Fun, lyrically pretentious at times but he keeps it lively. Spotify Link
Woods- Bend Beyond
lo-fi fuzz with some nice melodies Spotify Link
Fiona Apple- The Idl....(etc)
I hope my judgements aren't too dependent on the last song of the album. When the Dan Deacon album was over, I said, "Yeah!" and promptly moved it to the top. This was a very good album, and the last song was very great. I think I'm judging fairly... Spotify Link
Tame Impala- Lonerism
Fun psychedelic rock. Reminds me of a less annoying Of Montreal. Spotify Link
John K. Samson- Provincial
After crafting some great albums with/as "The Weakerthans", Samson's (second?) solo album is as good as any of them. First two tracks are standout. Spotify Link
Andrew Bird- Break It Yourself / Hands of Glory
grouping these together because it might as well just be one long album. beautiful multi-instrumental stuff Spotify Link
Passion Pit- Gossamer
Single got a little overplayed, but this is a fun hyped up dancey electrojam Spotify Link
Aaron Freeman- Marvelous Clouds
This album has a long story and a lot of context behind it, but from the outsider point of view, it's mostly just some cheesy 70's folk. Spotify Link
Justin Townes Earle- Nothin's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
country songs about heartbreak and such. the horns in the back are always a nice touch. Spotify Link
Alabama Shakes- Boys and Girls
maybe got a little sick of the hype, but hype exists for a reason, and these guys are really good. Spotify Link
Pleasant but fun, well crafted dreamy pop. Surprisingly entertaining! Spotify Link
Dinosaur Jr.- I Bet On Sky
I'm too young to care / know about old Dinosaur Jr., but this is classic enough sounding that I get that they were probably worth knowing about. Timeless and 90's at the same time. Spotify Link
Dirty Projectors- Swing Lo Magellan
almost too off kilter to really grab me, but it works a little magic. About To Die is a standout track. Spotify Link
Ty Segall- Twins
This guy shreds, and is super prolific. Will see him on Thursday and see if this moves. (not on Spotify)
Zeus- Busting Visions
These guys weren't necessarily on my radar, but this is kind of different and good! Spotify Link
The xx- Coexist
This album was one of the higher-anticipated of the year for me, and is hurt only by not being better than the last one. In fact, I can't really tell the difference. Spotify Link
Kishi Bashi- 151a
If you blended up Animal Collective, Beirut, The Shins, Fleet Foxes, etc. First song is stellar, but doesn't keep the tempo. Spotify Link
This is a really nice rock and roll album with some pleasant songs that occasionally get heated. Like a lot of other albums, but slightly better. Spotify Link
Beach House- Bloom
more dreamy synth pop. is this what everyone is into nowadays? Spotify Link
Sharon Van Etten- Tramp
This is a beautiful record. A might too melancholy for what I'm usually looking for, but if you like that sort of thing (you know who you are) check this out. Spotify Link
David Byrne and St. Vincent- Love This Giant
This one turned me off the first time I heard it, but on this listen I can see the appeal. It's no David Byrne and Brian Eno, but has some merit. Spotify Link
Grizzly Bear- Shields
very solid, as good as their last one. Spotify Link
Saw them live and liked it ok. Liked this album slightly more than ok, but not a lot more. Spotify Link
Divine Fits- A Thing Called Divine Fits
side project with the guy from spoon singing some electronic / stuff that I liked ok. Spotify Link
Swans- The Seer
Swans is a band that I want to like. This album is great at what it is, and what it is is a pretty crushing / haunting 2hr dirge of experimental drones, drums, and rocknroll. I may not listen to it again. Spotify Link
Dustin Wong- Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads
Excited guitar loops with songs that don't know how to transition from one to another. Saw him open for the Mountain Goats- pretty captivating live, especially when he starts singing. Spotify Link
AC Newman- Shut Down The Streets
I'm still just learning the ins and outs of the New Pornographers, but this was pretty good. Pretty tootheless though. Spotify Link
Wild Nothing- Nocturne
Calm and dreamy / synthy. Like Destroyer but with less saxaphone and spacier vocals. Spotify Link
Kendrick Lamar- good kid, m.A.A.d. city
I can respect the craft of this album, but can't relate to most of what he's rapping about and that takes me out of it. Glad I heard it. Spotify Link
The Oh Sees- Putrifiers II
Not as noisy as I feared, nice melodies with a surf-garage feel. Drink and play pinball or something. Spotify Link
Memory Tapes- Grace/Confusion
More dreamy synth stuff. A lot of that this year! Spotify Link
Jens Lekman- I Know What Love Isn't
sounds like morrisey singing over some smooth stuff Spotify Link
Mac Demarco- 2
Pleasant twangy pop songs, but ultimately forgettable. Spotify Link
Brutal post-punk, pretty nuts and pretty good. Spotify Link
The Shins- Port of Morrow
I think I'm maybe just not really a Shins guy. This album was totally fine, sounded like the shins. Spotify Link
Four Tet- Pink
Marcus Says: Smooth and buttery. A little bounce. With a hint of noisy and repetitive. Spotify Link
Sleigh Bells- Reign of Terror
This is kind of an interesting thing- pumped up guitar licks and chantalongs with some light singing on top. I liked it ok. Spotify Link
JEFF the Brotherhood- Hypnotic Nights
Like a fresh weezer album? Like a fresh weezer album with a cover of "Changes" by Black Sabbath. Spotify Link
Animal Collective- Centipede Hz
Bleep Bloop Blort. Too busy for me, but better than I thought the first time I heard it. Spotify Link
Blake Swarzenbach is back. Spotify Link
Glen Hansard- Rhythm and Repose
I listened to Sleigh Bells and then Metz, and I got a headache. I listened to this and it went away. Prob not good for much else, but serves a purpose. Props to Hansard, but this isn't anything new from him. Spotify Link
Cloud Nothings- Attack on Memory
Kind of like a more experimental / alt Jawbreaker. mix of heavy and poppy, but in a pretty good way.
Punch Brothers- Who's Feeling Young Now?
consistent with previous albums. interesting bluegrass song structures, pleasant melodies. hooks don't always grab me, but great Kid A cover. Spotify Link
Santigold- Master of My Make-Believe
I think this is just a bad genre choice for me. A couple jams, but didn't hook me. Spotify Link
New project from Dan Snaith (Caribou / Manitoba). I like a lot of Caribou, this doesn't do a lot for me. Spotify Link
Laura Marling - Semper Femina
A compelling and pleasant release that fits well within her canon. I miss some of the rougher around the edges tracks from previous albums, but these songs all come from a place of maturity and I much prefer that she writes from where she is rather than trying to continuously recreate past magic that was born of a time and place.
Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors
With the separation of the two main elements of the Dirty Projectors (see Amber Coffman further ahead...), it's fascinating to be clearly able to see the influence various parties brought to the band. Kind of like hearing albums from Zammuto and Paul de Jong after the dissolution of The Books. Neither separately feel quite like a whole idea immediately. Dave Longstreth seems to have retained a lot of the characteristic Dirty Projectors sound, but it's clearly lacking some of the warmth of past records. He's always been all over the map, but I got lost a little bit more than usual in the lesser tracks. Still, this is an incredibly sonically ambitious album. Up in Hudson, as well as the contemplative closing track (shared below), will definitely be on playlists for years to come.
Perfume Genius - No Shape
Continuning the exellent precedent set by 2014's "Too Bright", this is a an alternatingly sensitive and explosive set of anthems with top-notch production and genuine mastery of message. More sunny than the last effort, but still aching.
Kacy & Clayton - The Siren's Song
A beautifly arranged set of songs well rooted in the sounds of 70's folk / country. Produced by Jeff Tweedy, these kids (I think early 20's?) have incredible chops and sound well beyond their years.
Justin Townes Earle - Kids in the Street
I'm always excited for a new record from JTE- they for the most part don't occupy my mind when I'm not listening to them, but they get a lot of plays in the background while cooking or hanging out in the backyard with friends. He's got a warm tone, an interesting delivery, and keeps it between the lines. What more can you ask for?
Teen Daze - Themes For Dying Earth
The first of two 2017 releases for Teen Daze (both excellent), this is a largely ambient, meditative adventure that stays sparse aside from a few collaborative tracks. If you're a fan of long, introspective songs with subtle changes, you can't do better than "Dream City", one of my most listened to songs this year.
Alvvays - Antisocialites
Beautiful, jangly dream pop with flawless execution. These guys are 2 for 2 now, but these songs are crisper and more interesting to me than the last one. Reminds me of that Hospitality album I was gaga over a few years ago, but a little less dour.
Hammock - Mysterium
This is beautiful, etherial, elagaic music. It might put you to sleep, but it might also wake you to a nice level you don't always get to access. I listened to this A LOT while working this year. It's moving in the way a sparse film soundtrack can be moving, but it holds its own as an artistic piece (no visuals needed). Let it wash over you.
Susanne Sundfor - Music For People In Trouble
This is a gorgeous, cinematic affair out of Sweden that isn't afraid to experiment a little. Largely piano based, but the hints of steel guitar that shine through in the background add an irresistible layer. "Reincarnation" one of my favorite songs of the year.
Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Bay Head
Occasionally atmospheric but pretty straightforward instrumental guitar and drum jams. Gets a little noisy at times, like the best things do, but keeps it's heart in the right place.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound
Since his solo breakthrough a few years ago, Jason Isbell has well established his place in the americana / alt-country scene as a master songwriter, capable of both heartstring pulling ballads and ripping boot stompers. There are both on this album, but what's most pleasing to me are are the mid-up tempo ones that come from a place of contentment (see the last two tracks on this album). As capable as he has been at capturing his darkness, we need more artists who can create moving art from a place of stability.
Chad VanGaalen - Light Information
This has a similar appeal to me as Unknown Mortal Orchestra II (although a little more rock and a little less soul). A little trippy in production and experimental in nature, but without sacrificing the core hook of any of the songs.
Tift Merritt - Stitch of the World
Classic sweet and soulful Americana, a voice for the ages reminiscent of Patty Griffin or Dolly but with a little less twang. Produced with Sam Beam (Iron and Wine) who is featured on a few tracks, this really shines bright when the tempo picks up.
The Weather Station - The Weather Station
This is an intricate album of vision and voice. The high points of her past albums (see "I Mined" off of 2015's "Loyalty") were simple, beautiful things that caught and entranced me immediately. The rewards of this one are a little harder earned, but this is clearly a big step forward from both a musical and songwriting standpoint. It forces you to engage with it in a way you don't always expect to with this type of music.
Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
This is a devastating, important piece of art that I never want to listen to again but was drawn to two or three times this year as an intentional effort to remind myself of how lucky I am and how fragile life is. Unlike Sufjan's death meditation of Carrie and Lowell, this is much more raw, immediate, and challenging. Listen on a strong day and marvel at our ability to persevere.
Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
A stirring new collection of indie rap gems loosely structured around stories of the Chicago housing project he grew up visiting. His smoothest and most earnest to date. Standout tracks: Hymnal, Legendary Iron Hood
The Mountain Goats - Goths
The Mountain Goats continue a streak of singular albums with their biggest departure yet - no guitars! I found their previous effort (Beat the Champ) seem to get lost in the concept in a way that prevented me from falling in love with the album. This, to me, risks that again but stays on the right side of the line. I welcome any and all further exploration from a band that gets a lifetime pass, and look forward to giving this album many more tries while the depth of it fully reveals itself.
Waxahatchee - Out In The Storm
I've really been enjoying Waxahatchee's progression over the last few albums of angsty introspective rock and roll, and I think this is her strongest to date. Her voice is totally engrossing and the backing band matches it so well, just a great thing that keeps giving.
Amber Coffman - City of No Reply
On her exit from the Dirty Projectors (and the relationship at the core of that band), Amber Coffman is alternatingly defiant and sorrowful, but always virbrant. She filters some of the best elements of that project through a lens that is distinctively more pop but still her own thing.
Four Tet - New Energy
Aptly named record from the elder statesman of glitchy indie electronica. This is among my favorite of his works, mostly due to the moments of energetic warmth amongst the chill and trance vibe you've come to expect from Four Tet. A reliable headphones listen.
Bonny Doon - Bonny Doon
This was a summer bbq staple - Detroit slacker vibe with a little twang, like the Donkeys crossed with Parquet Courts. Kind of all over the map genre-wise but it's a hell of a fun time either way.
Mogwai - Every Country's Sun
I feel like recent Mogwai efforts have been a little too detached and cold for me, but this album opens itself up beautifully and experiments with some warmer tones. I didn't think about it the first few listens, but after learning that Dave Fridmann produced it, I can't unhear his hand in the mix. This is the Flaming Lips album I've been wanting for a decade, without the stunts and distracting nonsense that has marred their last few for me. This is a stellar album of sonic intent that is one of the most headphones-worthy of the year.
The Wild Reeds - The World We Built
This trio has always had great harmonies and dynamic instrumentation- two things that don't always come hand in hand in the americana / indie folk scene, but this album has their strongest tracks to date. If you like it, they are every bit as dynamic live.
Asgeir - Afterglow
How do you follow up the bestselling record ever for your home country? Asgeir avoids the sophomore slump with a hook-laden Icelandic pop masterpiece. He ditches some of the more organic guitar sound on this one and focuses on some more piano / electronic impulses, but his monstrous falsetto remains and the result is every bit as captivating.
Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
On first listen, this album seems to eschew the lofty ambitions of To Pimp A Butterfly for something more raw and real. On further listens, the depth is still there and it's ultimately also more listenable in a casual session. Deserves every accolade it is bound to recieve, always looking forward to see what's next.
Bing & Ruth - No Home of the Mind
Stunning instrumental piano music that remains captivating and never abrasive or agressive. Welcomes intent listening or background listening, but definitely warrants listening in some capacity.
The National - Sleep Well Beast
Me and this album kind of sailed past each other, which mostly just means I wasn't in the right place / mood for it. It's every bit as good as their last one, which I loved, and I wouldn't be surprised if I settle into this quite a bit next February and March. It's amazing how something can be so moody and still have a warmth that can fill a whole room.
Strand of Oaks - Hard Love
While this is my least favorite Strand of Oaks record to date, it's a welcome presence and I think that it's still a bridge to wherever he's going that is really going to be something incredible. You never doubt for a second the reality of the songwriting or his intention- this is a visceral, moving album that just gets a little too fuzzed out for me at times to fully embrace.
Offa Rex - The Queen of Hearts
More and more I'm learning what a soft spot I have in my heart for sorrowful traditional folk, especially if it can occasionally find just a spark of chaos or energy backing it. I never got bit by the Decemberists bug, not sure if was Colin's voice or the too-clever-by-half lyrics, but by sharing the stage with English folk singer Olivia Chaney, they create something truly moving here. The musicianship is nice, but the ones where they step back and really just let her shine send chills down my spine.
Joey Bada$$ - All Amerikkkan Bada$$
A more mature and politically motivated side of Joey Bada$$ comes through here in a super conscious boom-bap manifesto. Not a lot of "fun" on this, but it was made for this moment in time, which is not easily described as "fun".