So, anyway, it’s been a while since we talked about music. At least a couple years. I’ve been thinking about that. Wondering what good stuff you may have found, thinking about all the good stuff I’ve had tucked away. And, man, did I sift through a lot of other stuff to find it. It’s worth it to me, I’m still listening to most of it. Hopefully you’ll find a few new nuggets in there, too.
Looking this over is making me remember just how good this stuff really is, but I guess you’ll have to judge for yourself. It’s a couple years old, many of these folks have new albums out already. But hey, if it’s new to you and you dig it, who gives a shit, am I right?
More than most years, you could probably order this list in any sequence and it would work for me. Fair warning to those unfamiliar with my tastes: you’ll find no shortage of alt country in the pile of tunes below. You’ll also notice similar names from past lists; some of my favorite artist released lesser efforts, but efforts far better than most of what came out in 2012.
Highly, highly recommend putting the playlist on shuffle. I didn’t work too hard trying to make it flow. In short, it does not. Flow, I mean.
Oh, and if you’ve got better ways to share the playlist, I’d love to hear it.
As ever, tell me what you like, tell me what I missed. Then rinse and repeat with the other two annual lists I’ve been sitting on . . . .
>> Best of ’12 on Spotify
1. Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables by Todd Snider
Songs: In the Beginning, West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown, In Between Jobs
Truth be told, I never heard of Todd Snider before hearing a short, mid-day feature on NPR sometime in 2012. This one is not for everyone, and I can’t say it’s the *best* album of 2012, but it’s the one that stayed in my rotation the longest and makes me smile the most. Snider is a storyteller of the highest order, with a wry wit that’s apparent from the very first line of the very first song. He sings of the everyman, both good and bad, with humor or emotion or both. His backlog isn’t quite at this level, so who knows where this came from. New producer, maybe? Here’s hoping it continues.
2. Shields by Grizzly Bear
Songs: Sleeping Ute, Yet Again
You’re not going to find many hooks in this one, but you will find the most consistently excellent Grizzly Bear record to date. As ever, the songs are gorgeously complex, highly composed, rich productions, but more seamlessly stitched together that on past records. And that’s saying something.
3. Lonerism by Tame Impala
Songs: Apocalypse Dream, Mind Mischief, Keep on Lying
I missed their debut in 2010, glad I caught this one. With all the praise it received, it was sort of hard not to. Lonerism is wave after wave of sophisticated, body moving psyche-pop music. There’s a familiar sound here, Kevin Parker pulls just a little from that St. Pepper-era sound so many bands are borrowing from these days. But with him it’s more an accent than feature and only adds to these highly pleasurable songs.
4. Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Songs: Drifting Back, Psychedelic Pill
The best Neil Young album in decades. I’ve appreciated his work over the past few years, he’s still making real music, and I wouldn’t expect anything as remarkable as his early releases at his current age. But, hey, I’m happy to say I was wrong about think that. Psychedelic Pill is odd in that it’s a double album comprised of four and five songs respectively, and leads with a 27 minute sprawling jam. But, Christ, is it good. Most of what’s here are patented Neil jams, but they are as rich, focused, and forceful as anything he’s ever done. Absolutely stunning that he’s still making such amazing original music, even more incredible is the energy he brings here.
5. Fear Fun by Father John Misty
Songs: Funtimes in Babylon, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Songs, I’m Writing a Novel
Joshua Tillman left Fleet Foxes to venture out on his own, and judging by this debut and the last FF album, he took a lot of creativity with him. Like Snider above, Tillman is a storyteller, too, but his characters are generally fun-loving, youthful scamps, casually indulging in nihilism and debauchery. Really fine debut.
6. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
Songs: Desperation Breeds . . ., Give It Away
Bird is a force with a sound all his own, but you wonder if he’s traded off quality for quantity in recent years. He’s churned out some great songs over the past seven or eight years, intricate pieces of interwoven string sounds and delightfully cryptic lyrics, but in most cases inconsistent albums after a chain of masterpieces. I don’t know that this rivals records like Weather Systems or The Mysterious Production of Eggs, but it does better to compliment them than anything you’ve heard in a while.
7. Hundred Dollar Valentine by Chris Smither
Songs: Hundred Dollar Valentine, On the Edge, Make Room for Me
Hat tip to Heather Moore Niver on this find. Smither has apparently been around for ever, not that I had any idea. Coming across gems like him make this all worth while. Talk to enough people, dig through enough piles, and you’ll get rewarded with a folksy, bluesy master songwriter you’ve never heard of. These songs are finely crafted, and he carries them off with such ease and wit you’ll be pulled right in.
8. O’ Be Joyful by Shovels & Rope
Songs: Birmingham, O’ Be Joyful, Cavalier
Debut album for a husband and wife team, this Southern gothic rocker announces their presence with authority. Fantastic mix of blues, bluegrass, folk, and indie rock, with some seriously intense, fiery harmonies. This album is fierce, rebellious, with of just enough of that old time religion.
9. Home Again by Michael Kiwanuka
Songs: I’m Getting Ready, Home Again, Bones
Another debut artist, and another singer-songwriter. The trend of wholesale replicating sounds form the late 60s and 70s is annoying, but Kiwanuka’s take is so thoroughly genuine you will not only forgive, you’ll consume with vigor. He’d fit right in next to Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield as their emotive, soulful little brother. His longing voice backed is by a subtle array of various strings, wood, percussion, and chorus, setting a coffeehouse vibe that really resonates. Hat-tip to the estimable Mr. Reeves for introducing me to this record.
10. Maraqopa by Damien Jurado
Songs: Nothing is News, Working Titles, Museum of Flight
Like Bird, Jurado has at times been his own victim of quantity over quality, but that all changed after pairing with producer Richard Swift on Saint Bartlett a couple years back. Maraqopa isn’t on the same level of that seminal album, but it’s damn good, and likely signals a new direction for Jurado. The bulk of his past work is of a true “sad bastard” folk variety (to coin a phrase from Crystal Combs), a variety I happily revel in. His music is still very much guitar-driven and his lyrics are just as imaginative and powerful as ever, but now features prominent psychedelic overtones, lending a haunting, ethereal quality throughout the record. It’s a clear departure, and a welcome one.
IN THE ARGUMENT
- Silver Age by Bob Mould
- American Weekend by Waxahatchee
- A Wasteland Companion by M. Ward
- An Awesome Wave by Alt-J
- Big Station by Alejandro Escovedo
- Come Home to Mama by Martha Wainwright
- Algiers by Calexico
- Channel Orange by Frank Ocean