The Best Albums of 2012

This past year (well past by this point might I add) provided us with a slew of good to great music. There were new albums from Ben Gibbard, Muse, The Killers, and B.o.B. to name a few. They all made solid efforts in 2012, but they didn’t quite crack the top ten albums. Below is my list, long overdue.


01: Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal

From the opening of the first track you can almost sense that this is a special effort. There is a quiet intensity, a captivating beauty, that threads through every melody and harmony on this wonderful debut album from Iceland. By the time you get to the final track you’re only thought will be to press play again.

mp3 : Of Monsters and Men – Yellow Light


02: The Lumineers – The Lumineers

Another brilliant debut album on the list. Bursting with raw emotion and well written lyrical vignettes this album is filled with driving drumbeats and folk fueled romance. Although a few of their tracks are more aligned with radio friendly airtime it’s when they slow down that their true talent shines through.

mp3 : The Lumineers – Submarines


03: John Samson – Provincial

Many of the songs that appear on his debut solo effort closely mirror his top shelf work with The Weakerthans. While some reviewers this past year found this off-putting I find John Samson’s lyrical storytelling to be just as captivating with or without his regular band.

mp3 : John Samson – Heart of the Continent


04: Mumford and Sons – Babel

Not much needs to be written about this band or this album. They’ve grown up from an indie darling quartet to a full on success recognized the world over. This album is a worthy continuation of their career.

mp3 : Mumford and Sons – Where are You Now


05: Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold

I know; this is a Christmas album that’s actually a collection of five separate EP’s that were written over half a decade and they just happened to be released as a box set in 2012. I know all the reasons that this technically shouldn’t be on a list, but the entire collection is simply so good that it can’t be relegated to one month of listening every year. On top of that you can listen to each EP in chronological order and follow along with the evolution of his musical style.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Christmas in the Room


06: The Walkmen – Heaven

On this album The Walkmen continue their waffling between being effortlessly cool and trying really hard to channel Bob Dylan. The magic is when both of those efforts combine into a single glorious song. This is their best album since Bows + Arrows.

mp3 : The Walkmen – Line by Line


07: Beach House – Bloom

Although not quite as captivating as their previous effort (Teen Dream) their latest effort provides the same breathy vocals and building crescendos that have become their trademark.  This music would fit in almost any scenario.

mp3 : Beach House – Myth


08: Matt & Kim – Lightning

If you didn’t feel like dancing you will after a single listen to this album.  Or you might have a seizure.  It’s honestly a tossup.  Matt & Kim put out a solid album this time around and their one weakness (vocals on slower tracks) is kept to a minimum this time around.

mp3 : Matt & Kim – Now


09: fun. – Some Nights

It began for most people when their song We Are Young was featured prominently in a primetime commercial (possibly debuted during the Big Game?)  If you were daring enough to jump into the full album from that snippet you would find yourself treated to a modern day pop musical; complete with letters to moms, hanging out with friends, and pleas to find true love.

mp3 : fun. – All Alright


10: Jack White – Blunderbuss

I feel like I’m breaking an unwritten rule putting Jack’s first solo album this far down my list.  The problem is that for every brilliant track on the album, there is another track that reminds you how great Jack White is when he’s surrounded by other creative people.  This is a solid album, but it’s not his best effort.  I’ll go ahead and label it the Josh Ritter effect whereby an album starts off brilliantly and then veers into head scratching territory.

mp3 : Jack White – Freedom at 21

 

Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold – Gloria

Sufjan Stevens has quite simply done it again.  In 2007 he released a box set of Christmas (and winter, and seasonal, and etc.) songs that spanned multiple eras, references, and were all presented in the many various compositional styles preferred by Sufjan.  This time around he has dropped another 58 tracks filled with more of the same.  And more of the same is more of subtle genius we have come to expect from him.

The full box set is broken into five separate parts that collectively form Silver and Gold (bandcamp) (amazon) (itunes).  First on the list is the album Gloria which serves as a very effective jumping off point for those unfortunate few that are thus far uninitiated.  This first album has a healthy cross section of Sufjan Christmas.  There are original songs that would easily fit on his Michigan or Illinois albums interspersed with his take on classic tracks.  Below are my two favorite songs from the first album although I would encourage you all to listen to the entire album.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past
mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – The Midnight Clear

Other standout tracks on Gloria include the sprawling 7+ minute Baracola and Sufjan’s interpretation of Silent Night.  I’ll be back later this week with highlights from the remaining four albums in the box set.  For those of you in the USA have a great Thanksgiving week / weekend.  For those elsewhere, enjoy the music.

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Sufjan Stevens upcoming album Silver & Gold has a free single entitled Christmas Unicorn

Sufjan Stevens has a new Christmas/Holiday album coming out this November. It is called Silver & Gold and will have a total of fifty eight songs.  If you head over to his streaming page you can download the last track from the compilation for free in high quality digital format.  Appropriately it’s entitled Christmas Unicorn and it sprawls for a full 12+ minutes.  I would expect nothing less from Sufjan at this point.  Take a listen below and then head over to his page to preorder the digital version or the vinyl limited edition if you have money to spare.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Christmas Unicorn

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Cloud Cult

I attended a wedding a few weeks ago where I made a promise to write, once again, about one of the greatest bands that you’ve probably never listened to.  This band is Cloud Cult and they don’t get nearly the amount of attention, money, or acclaim that they deserve.  Part of this general malaise most likely stems from the fact that they self publish their albums on Earthology Records which was founded by lead singer Craig Minowa in 1997.  Although college radio stations and critics seem to find much to like about this group from Minneapolis more often than not people I have the privilege of meeting in person invariably have never heard of them.

My love for Cloud Cult began while I was living overseas and was mailed mix albums by an old college friend.  One such album contained the track Pretty Voice from their 2007 album The Meaning of 8 (amazon) (itunes).  Instantaneously I was hooked.  The layered vocals, the slow build, and the energy and narrative in this one song seemed to be tailor made to make me pay attention.  The Meaning of 8 has a haunting quality smothered in beauty, discovery, and joy that has proven to be timeless in appeal.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – Pretty Voice

From there I took a small step back in time and I found the rougher, raw gemstone that is their 2005 release Advice From The Happy Hippopotamus (amazon) (itunes).  Although this album doesn’t have the melodies and polish of their later efforts the songwriting and energy are just as apparent this effort as those that were still to come.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – Transistor Radio

At this point in my life it was still 2007 and I was already hooked deeply on anything I could find by Cloud Cult.  I was routinely putting them in compilations and featuring them on Best of the Year lists.  When their 2008 album was released, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea Partying Through Tornadoes) (amazon) (itunes) it seemed that their musical abilities had matured at the same pace as my musical taste.  This album is immaculate from start to finish and contains some wonderful lyrical vignettes.  I was also helped along during this time by being blessed with a live show that took place a mere 25 miles from my home at the time.  I was blown away during their set with the energy and personable nature with which the band took the stage.  And I was not prepared to watch two people paint, on stage, throughout the set.  If I could have afforded the post show auction for the artwork I most definitely would have walked home with a painting (the art auction profits helps finance their live tours).

mp3 : Cloud Cult – No One Said It Would Be Easy
mp3 : Cloud Cult – Journey of the Featherless

In 2010 the band released an EP entitled Running With the Wolves in which they proved that a group of modern musicians can take a masterful song from the likes of Bob Dylan and translate it enough that it becomes their own.  They still play this song live and it is wonderful to hear.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – Tamborine Man (Bob Dylan Cover)

Their most recent studio album was released in autumn of 2010 (although they will have a new album out later this year).  Again Cloud Cult did not disappoint.  With the album Light Chasers (amazon) (itunes) the band creates a single narrative piece that is woven throughout all sixteen tracks.  Although some artists would label this a gimmick “concept album” or some other classification I think this album transcends that identity.  Yes there is a meta story going on throughout the album, but each track both furthers that narrative while presenting its own individual identity.  In the end you’re left with a great album that encourages a listener to enjoy the full experience of listening to all of the tracks from start to finish (an increasingly rare attempt in the day of digital single song downloads).

mp3 : Cloud Cult – The Lessons – Exploding People
mp3 : Cloud Cult – The Arrival – There’s So Much Energy In Us

And just recently, as a bonus for those of us who check their website routinely (hoping they will play another show near our home) they posted a masterful cover of the Beatles.

mp3 : Cloud Cult – Help (Beatles Cover)

I still stand by my assertion that Cloud Cult is one of the greatest bands that you’ve never heard of.  They are under appreciated and undoubtedly underpaid.  It’s bands like this that inspire me to write again on this aging blog.  It’s bands like this that deserve to still be written about.

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Of Monsters and Men album My Head Is An Animal

If Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros teamed with Florence Welch and some of the boys from Mumford and Sons the outcome would probably sound a lot like My Head Is An Animal (amazon) (itunes).  Of Monsters and Men combine a lot of currently en vogue folk and indie musical stylings on their debut full length album and every single track is worth listening to.  They’re an eclectic group that somehow sounds very familiar (see above referenced bands + Arcade Fire and even 90’s Ska Revival).  I would go so far as to argue they’re the second best outfit coming out of Iceland.  Take a listen to a few tracks below and you’ll agree the entire album is worth a purchase.

mp3 : Of Monsters and Men – Dirty Paws
mp3 : Of Monsters and Men – Six Weeks

One of the most thoroughly entertaining debut albums I have heard in a long time.

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LCD Soundsystem track All My Friends

Awhile back I played this song during a road trip in mixed company.  In my opinion the song is an icon.  Much to my chagrin no one else in the vehicle had ever heard it before.  To add insult to injury none of my fellow travelers would admit to knowing who LCD Soundsystem was.  Either society in general has failed or I have failed my friends.  Complete and total failure.

mp3 : LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends

The song All My Friends hails from the second studio album from the band LCD Soundsystem.  The album is Sound of Silver (amazon) (itunes) and if you haven’t yet heard the entire album you need to rectify that immediately.  And if this is the first you’re listening to this great band I hate to break the bad news; they’ve already dissolved their band and played their final concert.

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Beach House album Bloom

It has been far too long since I last posted here.  Long story short; I bought a house, moved, and had knee surgery in the past six weeks.  Enough about me, time for the music.

The latest album from Beach House, Bloom (amazon) (itunes), picks up where Teen Dream left off.  Intoxicating, bordering on lackadaisical, lead vocals combine perfectly with well engineered melodies and hazy guitars and keyboards.  Although nothing this time around quite reaches the height of their brilliant track 10 Mile Stereo, the album as a whole is very well done.  If you’re looking for the perfect album on a drive to or from the beach (no pun intended) you need look no farther than Bloom.

mp3 : Beach House – Wild
mp3 : Beach House – Lazuli

I predict this album will make my best of list at the end of 2012 and it really deserves a full listen.  It’s simple, beautiful, layered music that is perfect for almost any occasion that involves hanging out.

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Zach Williams and the Bellow

If you have followed this blog over the past five years you have probably realized that I greatly enjoy the music created by Zach Williams.  You can see a collection of my posts about him here.  I remember that I randomly stumbled upon his music on myspace (yeah, remember that place?).  There was something captivating and honest about his voice.  Something earnest, honest, and at the risk of sounding cliche, something pure.

He’s gone through a lot in recent years.  He’s moved to New York.  He left his old band, found a new one.  And he successfully ran a kickstarter campaign to raise money for recording a new album.  The song below is ripped from a video update he provided for financial backers over on kickstarter.  Enjoy.  We all look forward to the album.

mp3 : Zach Williams and the Bellow – Teach Me To Know (Live)

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Gotye album Making Mirrors

Many of you have probably already listened to the latest album from Australian artist Gotye.  If you haven’t heard the entire album, Making Mirrors (amazon) (itunes), I encourage you to take a trip through each song.  Gotye is at his best when he’s creating new and unque sounds on tracks like Somebody That I Used To Know or Save Me.  Elsewhere on the album there are tracks, like I Feel Better or In Your Light, that feel like they’re paying homage to 80’s guitar pop or 60’s Motown.  He apes those sounds so well that if you close your eyes you could be convinced you’re listening to the jukebox at a throwback diner or the soundtrack to Three Men and a Baby.  Side note, Ted Danson is always great.

mp3 : Gotye – Eyes Wide Open
mp3 : Gotye – Save Me

The entire album is great and it spins effortlessly back and forth between various and obvious influences.  I can’t believe it took me this long to really review this considering it’s been on regular rotation in my car for the past few months.

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Streetlight Manifesto covers The Postal Service

This weekend I stumbled upon a great cover of the staple Such Great Heights.  Their take on the classic song from The Postal Service is skewed heavily toward the ska genre and the opening thirty seconds are brilliantly rendered by their horn section.  Honestly my only gripe is that the horns take such a back seat throughout the remainder of the song.  Enjoy.

mp3 : Streetlight Manifesto – Such Great Heights (The Postal Service Cover)

You seriously need to listen to this track.  At least the first thirty seconds or so.  It’s still amazing me after repeat listening.

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I don't listen to bad music, neither should you.