I didn’t think I wanted to do a “Best Albums of 2012!” – I’m simply not invested enough in music these days to make a ten-best list that’s remotely comprehensive. I can’t listen to much music while editing video, I’ve got a short commute, and most of my “workout playlist” is mostly episodes of Doug Loves Movies or Grantland’s The Hollywood Prospectus (get psyched! get pumped!). Excuses aside, I simply don’t consume music with that voracious appetite that I did in college, where having knowing about whatever new album being referenced was paramount to my social experience.
Instead, I’ll do “The 12 Albums I Listened To The Most In 2012”, with the hope that one or two ends up being a new discovery for you as well if you like a few of the same sort of things I do. But first, I’ll hit a couple “bonus” categories concerning things I listened to this year that didn’t make the top 12.
Albums I Meant To Get Into Earlier But Didn’t Until This Year
John Mark McMillan The Medicine (2010)
Recommended: The slow, anthemic build of “Reckoning Day” and the driving “Skeleton Bones.”
The Civil Wars Barton Hollow (2011)
Recommended: The bereft “Falling” and resigned “Poison & Wine”
I’d always liked both these artists, and had been duly impressed when I saw each of them live. But this was the first year I really dug into either album. This folk-based raw singer-songwriter thing is giving us a lot of really interesting acts.
Holdover Albums from 2011
Ben Rector Something Like This
Recommended: Bright, New Orleans-horn live jam, “Let The Good Times Roll,” gentle pop dreamer “You And Me,” and the whistling-infused whimsy of “Falling In Love.”
Jay-Z and Kanye West Watch The Throne
Recommended: Frank Ocean’s vocal solo takes “No Church In The Wild” to a new level, and “New Day” gives us a surprisingly open Jay-Z, while “Why I Love You” gives the two rappers their best back-and-forth moments.
Jakob Dylan Women + Country
Recommended: The train-wheel rhythm of “Nothing But The Whole Wide World” and chain-gang stroll of “Holy Rollers For Love.”
Derek Webb Feedback
Recommended: Pounding piano and extensive sampling supports a xylophone melody line on “Your Kingdom Come.”
No influx of new music managed to stop me from listening to these albums a fair amount this year. If I’d bothered to do a list like this last year, these albums would have been atop it. Rector manages to mesh his bright, cheerful piano-pop sound with plain-spoken, honest songwriting, and there’s not a dud track on the album. That’s the not the case on Watch The Throne, whose 16 tracks include a little padding. Still, Jay-Z and West (or, as they must be referred to in any article trying to prove ones bona fides, “Hova and ‘Ye” – or, if one’s really looking for obscurity “Iceberg Slim and The Louis Vitton Don”) pairing together proved to be a best-of-both-worlds scenario, expanding Jigga’s often narrow perspective but still keeping Yeezy’s* proclivity for obscurity in check.
The other two albums are more specific: Dylan’s record, full of dusty old-America metaphors, is a top-notch empty-highway road trip album, while Webb’s concept album on the Lord’s Prayer is excellent writing music.
*Nickname credibility! Y’know, sometimes these Watch The Throne articles end up sounding like Russian novels, these guys have so many extra nicknames.
Albums It Abruptly Became Uncool To Like At Some Point But Are Pretty Good Anyway
Mumford & Sons Babel
Recommended: “Not With Haste” is a slow tidal-wave of a folk ballad.
The Lumineers The Lumineers
Recommended: “Submarines” is a vaguely White Stripes-ish, surprisingly poppy piano-led jam.
Imagine Dragons Continued Silence EP
Recommended: An out-of-nowhere eighties drum loop makes “Round and Round” stand out, though it’s available only on the EP and not their studio release.
Mumford & Sons have the misfortune of simply being extremely successful while looking like the sort of band a “hipster” would like, while also being the sort of band that actual hipsters view as too popular to be any good. The other two bands discovered the downside of having music catchy enough to be in ubiquitous ad campaigns. Commercial use is the death of coolness, usually, though at some point we need to talk about how The Black Keys have sold out by every measure imaginable without affecting their indie cred. They’re the Snoop Dogg of rock music.
Christmas Music I Listened To Nonstop For A Month
Ben Rector Jingles And Bells
Recommended: A mournful piano version of “Auld Lang Syne.”
Sleeping at Last Christmas Collection
Recommended: The very sad “Snow,” plus a ukulele-led cover of Love Actually’s “Christmas Is All Around Us.”
Andrew Ripp Light of Mine
Recommended: Solo piano ballad “Spark.”
David Dunn This Is Christmas
Recommended: The contemplative original, “This Is Christmas.”
Zach Hendricks Celebration
Recommended: The very cheerful “Snow.”
Branches Songs For Christmas
Recommended: An appropriately minimalistic “Silent Night,” featuring only vocals and bells.
Robbie Seay Band December Vol. 2
Recommended: A sedate, longing version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” featuring an earworm of a banjo line from Matt Kidd.
I upsold all these albums on Twitter at some point over the course of last month, but I do have to mention how glad I am that it’s become fashionable the past few years for indie artists to make Christmas EPs. I don’t know if it’s just that online album sales finally made such ventures worthwhile or if everyone was just finally willing to admit how much they loved Christmas music, but I don’t care. Having so many of my favorite artists sit down and write original Christmas music is a boon, and I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Albums I Really Meant To Get To This Year But Just Never Did
Jack White’s Blunderbuss, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Andy Davis’ Heartbreak Yellow, Vacationer’s Gone, Walk The Moon’s Walk The Moon, Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel Is Wiser…, and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.
Maybe this year.