2012. Another great year for music. I was introduced to some bands that I believe I will love as long as they make music and a few old faithfuls released records that did not disappoint. Some EPs were released (this one, this one and this one specifically) that would have certainly made the list had they been full albums, and only a handful of albums didn’t quite live up to the hype in my mind. I added 184 albums from 2012 to my collection and 67 albums were good enough to be considered for this list. As always, it took me quite a while to narrow it down to 25 but here you go, the Music is Golden top 25 of 2012.
25. Cold Specks – I Predict a Graceful Expulsion
Cold Specks had me hooked the very first time I heard “Blank Maps.” This is a wonderful CD that got a lot of play from me earlier this year. It’s held up over the course of the year, as I still give it a spin every now and then.
24. John Mayer – Born and Raised
Maybe I’m alone on this island, but I do not hate John Mayer. Personally, I think he’s a strong songwriter and when he’s on his game, I think he’s one of the 5 best storytellers we have right now. Born and Raised has a few of those moments, namely Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.
Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967
23. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
Brian Fallon is a huge Springsteen guy. It’s pretty obvious at first listen and this album is no exception. It feels like Fallon’s voice is always about to break, and I’m not sure he has a setting other than “intense,” but I’ve always been a fan. This is their most complete album, with a few rock heavy tunes and some of the more intimate sounds displayed on Elsie. I’m excited to see what happens next.
22. David Ramirez – Apologies
The first time I heard Ramirez, I was hooked. Someone sent me an EP with a song called “Shoeboxes,” and I was absolutely floored. My wife and I were able to see him in Boston this year with about 8 other people and I just couldn’t believe how good he was. You know the music industry is tough when guys like this aren’t rich.
21. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
Could have been one of my five favorite albums of the year if it wasn’t so hyped. Unfortunately, I didn’t give it a chance until some of the noise died down, and now I find myself really liking it.
You Ain’t Alone
20. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Love Interruption is a bad ass song. Anyone who says otherwise can not be trusted and if you listen and hate it, please don’t tell me. I will judge you. I’m not some huge White Stripes fan, but this is an album that I love. It rocks when it needs to rock, it throws down the blues when it needs to and it basically always seems to be exactly what you need it to be.
19. Passenger – All the Little Lights
Imagine Ben Howard if he was a little happier. Or maybe David Gray if he earned his living playing in subway stations. It’s not often that an album can make you laugh out loud in one song, and force you to listen to another on repeat because it’s so damned sweet.
Let Her Go
18. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg may come from Sweden, but their style and influences are steeped in Americana. There’s a song about Johnny Cash, June Carter, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris and one of today’s heavy hitters in the folk genre, Conor Oberst, joins them on another song. The two have extraordinarily rich and steady vocals for kids born while I was in high school and their vocals and lyrics are the strongest parts of The Lion’s Roar. Definitely a folk duo to keep an eye on.
17. Field Report – Field Report
Chris Porterfield has had an interesting ride so far. He was in a band (DeYarmond Edison) with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and since the split, created Field Report. I can’t say I am the biggest fan of Justin Vernon’s voice, and Field Report feels a lot like the “Bon Iver style” without Vernon’s vocals. Porterfield’s voice is relatively standard, not really doing much to separate him vocally from his counterparts, but lyrically, this album stands above most released this year.
16. Maps & Atlases – Be Aware and Be Grateful
Maps & Atlases reminds me of a band I fell in love with on a vacation to London a few years ago, The Magic Numbers. It’s not really something I can listen to everyday, as it’s a little more electronic/experimental than my usual favorites, but this is definitely an album that I appreciate.
Old & Gray
15. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
Holy shit at the voice on this kid. Home Again is one of those albums that actually makes you feel guilty that you’re listening on your iPod. Simply put, Kiwanuka has crafted an album so nostalgic that it begs to be played on vinyl. This album has it all: flutes, violins and a wide array of instruments back Kiwanuka’s superb vocals and it’s a wonderful “chill” album.
I’m Getting Ready
13. Walk the Moon – Walk the Moon
Walk the Moon‘s Unplugged is one of my favorite episodes of the show in years. “Anna Sun” was the first song I heard, and while it’s a bit poppy for my tastes, I found myself humming it…a lot. It’s an album full of earworms, that’s for sure.
12. Passion Pit – Gossamer
If Gossamer were candy, it’d be sour patch kids. Stripped of the vocals, everything you hear is sugar coated and poppy. Stripped of the instruments, it’s a very dark lyrical journey. Add to that the fact that Gossamer has the best song written from a recent immigrant’s point of view and you have a top 25 album.
Take A Walk
11. Tyler Lyle – The Golden Age and the Silver Girl
The thing I love most about music is that it lives on its own. I’d say the most powerful sense of all is sight, and great music doesn’t need that, as the listener’s imagination suffices. One listen to this album and I was begging for illustrations to these songs though. My imagination just doesn’t work well enough to grasp what Lyle is singing about in some of these songs. I love this album more and more with each listen and I think you will too.
When I Say That I Love You
I’ll Sing You a Song
10. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
“Yeah we know that come tomorrow, none of this will be here. So hold tight on your anger and don’t fall to your fear.” – Wrecking Ball
Springsteen comes through. Again. Will it ever get old? This album cements the fact that The Boss isn’t hanging it up anytime soon. After 17 studio albums, you’d think Springsteen might start to sound stale. Not. Even. Close. Side note: it’s so nice to hear Clemons on the sax, even if it’s only a couple of tracks.
We Take Care Of Our Own
9. The Oh Hellos – Through the Deep Dark Valley
“And the sun it does not cause us to grow. It’s the rain that will strengthen your soul, it will make you whole.” – I Have Made Mistakes
Concept albums are tough for me to get into. Personally, I can only think of ten (or less) that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed (Schaeffer’s Something Worth Fighting For being my favorite) and while I was excited for this full release, I was a little disappointed in hearing that it’d be somewhat of a concept album. I was wrong to worry. While it’s a bit biblical for my taste at times, Through the Deep, Dark Valley is a beautiful record.
I Have Made Mistakes
8. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
“I guess it’s kinda funny how, I loved you so way back when. You say I wouldn’t know you now,
Well I didn’t even know you then.” – I Never Knew You
I won’t hide my love for The Avett Brothers. In fact, I once hired a guy when this conversation took place:
Guy: So where did you grow up?
Me: Just outside of Charlotte. I went to East Carolina for my undergrad.
Guy: Just outside of Charlotte AND East Carolina? You must be an Avett Brothers fan too.
Me: You’re hired.
That’s basically exactly how that went down. Anyway, The Carpenter took some time to grow on me, but ultimately, I learned to love it. I do still prefer more of the “Appalachia” sound from the brothers, but this new, more polished, cleaned up version seems to be suiting them as well.
Live And Die
7. Dave Matthews Band – Away From the World
“Love is not a whisper or a weakness. No, love is strong. ” - Mercy
I’ve grown up with Dave Matthews. Maybe that’s why I love them so much. DMB was basically my soundtrack in finishing High School and all through college, and I’ve never looked back. Though they’ve changed a bit over the years, it feels like their fans have changed with them. The live shows are different than they were 15 years ago, but still somehow I leave thinking it’s one the best shows I’ve ever been to.
Belly Belly Nice
6. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
“It’s a long road to wisdom but it’s a short one to being ignored.” – Flowers in Your Hair
The Lumineers have had a damned good year. They’ve gone from playing house shows to Saturday Night Live, basically in a 15 month time span. It’s unbelievable how fast bands get big in some cases, while others work their asses off to get a bit of recognition. I’ve been on The Lumineers bandwagon for a while, and this album solidified that for me.
The Dead Sea
5. Fun. – Some Nights
“May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground.” – Carry On
Nate Ruess can virtually do no wrong in my book. I nearly shut down when word came that The Format was parting ways, but once fun. came around, I was whole again. I mentioned in my 2009 favorites that their first album was gaining steam with me, and I’ll still say that I love it. I knew Some Nights would make them big, but THIS big? It’s outrageous.
We Owned The Night
4. Matthew Mayfield – A Banquet for Ghosts
“Did someone let you down with truth? The echo of my whispers, meaningless to you” - Beautiful
Matthew Mayfield is pumping out albums like crazy. And they’re all really, really good. For 2013, I heard three more might be on the way. This guy is getting in to Ryan Adams territory with the sheer amount of writing he’s doing at this point. Mayfield is one of those voices that you just can’t get sick of. Keep pumping out albums my man.
Heart in Wire
Safe & Sound
3. Mumford & Sons – Babel
“I will not tell the thoughts of hell that carried me home.” - Holland Road
Mumford and Sons had a 2010 similar to the year The Lumineers had in 2012. Let’s hope The Lumineers follow up is as good as Babel though. It’s more of the same, as no one really wants to fix what isn’t broken at this point. Eventually, they’ll need to evolve a bit but for now, this is just fine.
Whispers in the Dark
2. The Dirty Guv’nahs – Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies
“Don’t leave your dreams up in the sky. Oh, you got an astronaut’s mind and honey I do too.” – Goodnight Chicago
In 2010, The Dirty Guvs released one of my 3 favorite albums of the year. In 2012, they’ve done one better. The Dirty Guvs have seemingly found their sweet spot. The Black Crowes on one side, Blackberry Smoke on the other, and The Guvs nestled right between the two. It’s a good place to be. SBTSS has all the southern-rock bases covered. Big guitar riffs, soulful vocals, some tongue in cheek lyrics and some straight forward rock and roll can all be found here. It’s a very good album, and if you’ve yet to hear of The Dirty Guv’nahs, this will serve as a fantastic introduction.
Good Luck Charm
1. Spirit Family Reunion – No Separation
“We went to the well, the well had run dry. So we rolled cigarettes and looked at the sky. You were on my mind.” – On My Mind
The aforementioned guy that I hired because he liked The Avetts has turned into quite the resource when looking for new music. In the winter of 2011, he walked into my office and mentioned that he’d heard one song by a band called Spirit Family Reunion and that I simply had to give it a listen. 30 minutes and 9 listens later, I was scouring the internet for ANY clues as to who these people were and how I could hear more songs. I literally emailed the band, sent them some loot via paypal and a few short days later, a burned CD in a homemade sleeve made it’s way to my mailbox.
That was their first album, a great little EP that you can’t find on iTunes but is well worth going to the depths of the internet for. Then this year, they released No Separation. Before the album’s release, the folks from Music Savage hosted SFR for a Brunch Session. The session was held in a South Boston apartment, and I’ve never had as much fun sharing beer and breakfast with an apartment full of strangers. Ultimately, SFR had the room dancing and stomping throughout the apartment and I’m sure it will be one of the experiences I’ll remember forever.
For those of you who also read Fuel/Friends (if you don’t, you should), you’ll quickly realize that SFR would be perfect for a Chapel Session. The album is full of banjos, fiddles and voices that alone aren’t nearly as great as they are together. It’s a New York band with an Appalachian sound and if bluegrass/kinda country/kinda southern gospel is in your wheelhouse, No Separation is an absolute must-own.
Put The Backseat Down
Green Rocky Road