Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 20 Records of 2012

OK, it's a week or so early, but since there's nothing on my radar the next couple weeks, I figured I might as well go ahead and list my top 20 albums of the year.

(I included videos of songs from all the albums that didn't make my first half list.)


1. Lost in the Trees - A Church That Fits Our Needs

The tone of this album is just amazing, and the music is stunningly beautiful.  Written as a tribute to Lost In The Trees mastermind Ari Picker's mother, this album feels heavy but not depressed.  This is a band that deserves far more attention than it gets.

2. Punch Brothers - Who's Feeling Young Now?

When you write a groundbreaking album, what do you do next?  Most bands struggle with that challenge, because they basically try to do the same thing again (Mumford & Sons...cough).  Punch Brothers went in a completely different direction, and made an album far more accessible than the last, yet just as masterfully constructed.

3. Anathema - Weather Systems

This band used to be a doom metal band back in the 90s, but now there's really nothing about it.  It's more art rock than anything else, and there are some amazing stretches here.  The whole thing is solid, and includes some of the most memorable transitions of any album I've heard.  This thing just flows.

4. Brandi Carlile - Bear Creek

I used to think Brandi Carlile was OK.  I enjoyed listening to her stuff, but not to the point where this album was anywhere on my radar.  I went ahead and downloaded it, and I was knocked off my feet by this one.  Here we have Carlile and the Hanseroth twins attempting what is basically roots music, and they pull it off very well.

5. Rhett Miller - The Dreamer

Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller has released a few solo albums.  This one is very good.  It's a little more poppy and less raucous than his Old 97's material, and I think that's why I like it - there's a reason for him to have a solo project.  I like the Old 97's better probably, but this is a completely different style of Americana.

6. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Here

The Zeros' debut album was quite popular.  I thought it was decent, but not mindblowing.  This one is much better, with a strong revival feel throughout.  This one works much better as a folk/roots album.

7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

It's the first album of new material from the NY&CH configuration since Greendale ten years ago.  Some say it's the best since Ragged Glory.  Some even say it's the best since Rust Never Sleeps.  Either way, it's good.  And it might be the longest record Neil has made, as well.

8. Ben Sollee - Half Made Man

I saw Ben at Telluride Bluegrass in 2010, and I thought he was talented but boring.  Then a few weeks ago, I listened to Dear Companion, and for some reason, I was really, really digging it.  And then I heard his new record, and was actually a little disappointed that it wasn't as mellow.  But after repeated listens, I really like it.  There are some real gems here.

9. Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Bad Moon Ritual / The Magic Door

Yeah, I know this is two albums, but I'm putting them together because to me, they're both solid, but neither stands out.  It's like The Black Crowes became a jam band.

10. David Wax Museum - Knock Knock Get Up

This duo is so unknown that they have been self-releasing their records; this one was funded with Kickstarter.  But you know what?  It's really good.  This is just fun music, and David Wax has found a niche (indie folk with traditional Mexican influence) that really works.

11. Calexico - Algiers

This is definitely not the most well-received Calexico album, but I had the advantage of just discovering these guys from Tucson, so I didn't have any expectations whatsoever.  And on its own, it's a good album.

12. The Lumineers - The Lumineers

These guys seem to be this year's new folk sensation, and it's very fitting.  They're like a better The Head And The Heart.

13. Darrell Scott - Long Ride Home

Darrell Scott is one of my favorite songwriters.  This record is more country than his previous album, but it still has soul, which is something missing from mainstream country.

14. Gary Clark, Jr. - Blak and Blu

There is some really awesome blues guitar here.  There is also some pretty good R&B spread around.  He's like a much more talented, better singing, and more diverse Black Keys.

15. Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal

Another bit hit this year.  I like it, but it tends to get a little stale with prolonged listening.  All of the songs are enjoyable, though, but they could stand to be a little less derivative.  It will be interesting to see which direction they go with their sophomore record.

16. Patterson Hood - Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance

I haven't listened to Drive By Truckers much, but I checked this record by Truckers member Patterson Hood out on MOG, and it didn't strike me at first as being that great, but by the end, I was really feeling it.

17. Bela Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio - Across The Imaginary Divide

Being a jazz record, this one is hard to listen to when you're in the car, but the musicianship here is amazing.  And the banjo is certainly a novel instrument for a jazz quartet.

18. Justin Townes Earle - Nothing Is Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

Not as good as some of his previous work, but there are enough keepers here to make it worthwhile.  I like that he's trying a new musical style.

19. Farrar, Johnson, Parker, Yames - New Multitudes

Initially, this was one of my least favorite Jay Farrar projects.  It stands up well with time, however.  Not as good as Son Volt or the Ben Gibbard collaboration, but it's a solid tribute to Woody Guthrie.

20. Great Lake Swimmers - New Wild Everywhere

I initially had this much higher, but it gets a little boring after awhile.  There are still some really good songs, though.

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