Time for my Best Albums of 2012 list. (Many of these are cheap right now. Many $5. Some even cheaper.) It's my seventh year doing a list like this, and it's a lot of fun for me to think harder about the music I enjoy. I like to make clear that I'm just one audiophile and I can't listen to everything out there. But I hope by offering my list you might discover some new music. Please let me know your favorite album(s) in the comments. Feel free to ask questions, even dispute my picks, but if you want to do so please be gracious.
Some words about this year's list. I've have tons of good albums from this year. There are a number of them that I've listened to and enjoyed and ended up outside my official list. So I'm adding a long list of honorable mentions because there are so many worth checking out. Don't discount them because they are only an honorable! I don't mention anything I don't like.
Also, encourage you to check out Metacritic's list of lists for 2012 music. It's always so helpful in music discovery.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (stuff I really like): Plants & Animals: The End of That | Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It | Miguel: Kaledoscope Dream | Diiv: Oshin | Clare & The Reasons: KR-51 | Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel... | Shearwater: Animal Joy | Benjamin Gibbard: Former Lives | The Followers: Wounded Healer | Father John Misty: Fear Fun | Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables | The Avett Brothers: The Carpenter | Dan Deacon: America | Beach House: Bloom | Spiritualized: Sweet Heart, Sweet Light | Passion Pit: Gossamer | Japandroids: Celebration Rock | Lower Dens: Nootropics | The Walkmen: Heaven | Jon Talabot: Fin | Shovels & Rope: O Be Joyful | Grimes: Visions | Hospitality: Hospitality
SPECIAL MENTION: Tnght: Tnght | Only 5 songs (normal song length), so not officially considered for my list. But it's well worth mentioning. I dig this a lot. Electronic, heavy bass, dark with moments of piercing light. A sonic feast. Thick.
35. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan | It doesn't get much more quirky & creative. This is some of the most unexplainable music in the world, and yet it's beloved by many.
34. Lilacs & Champagne: Lilacs & Champagne | It's a merger of, uh, things, and I like what emerged out of it.
33. American Gospel: Tall Tales Vol 1 | I found this back in May and blogged on it. I was intrigued by the name and then gripped by the music, though I hadn't read anything about the album until I stumbled upon it.
32. Daphni: Jiaolong | Head bopping. Bass thumping. Just go with it and have fun!
31. Pallbearer: Sorrow & Extinction | Slow, meticulous, dark metal. Doom. And wonderfully listenable. Well worth checking out even if metal isn't your genre.
30. Grizzly Bear: Shields | Tons of love for GB this year. Rightfully so. This is a great album. Just not as great as I thought it would be. Still shows up on my list as some of the best music around, but it doesn't demand my attention like several others.
29. Purity Ring: Shrines | A slow, grinding, synth heavy, danceable album. Wonderfully creepy.
28. Fort Atlantic: Fort Atlantic | One of the bands I think will appeal to many, yet I'm afraid it's been heard by too few. They tried to get your attention. It's very simple music for the most part. Folksy and mellow.
27. Fang Island: Major | This is anthemic rock goodness. We need fun albums that just fill our ears with heart-pounding beats and riffs. It can't be all serious all the time, though dreary and dark are components of some of my favorite music out there. With Major Fang Island tells us to crank it up and don't be afraid to fist-bump everyone you see.
26. Tame Impala: Lonerism | Getting tons of praise, and I really like it a lot. It's not anywhere near the best of the year for me, but it's full of wonder from beginning to end. I think I've said before, it sounds like something a young, end-stage-Beatles John Lennon would create, both vocally and musically, would he be alive today.
24. Vespers: The Fourth Wall | Few albums this year have been as enjoyable for the whole family. Listen, and you will be "Better Now." These guys can play and these girls can sing (and play). Decidedly Christian. Musically and vocally on par with the art of our day.
23. Sera Cahoone: Deer Creek Canyon | An alt-country style songstress, channeling the indie rock emotions of my #1 choice but in her own voice and style. An artist who is making great art.
22. The XX: Coexist | Understated. Quietly trippy. Understated. Mellow. Understated. Hushed. Understated. The sound of, uh, silence. Get it? Good.
21. Now, Now: Threads | Gloriously shoegazy. Probably the best trippy album of the year for me, though there are a few some might consider trippy ahead of this one. Very enjoyable.
20. Polica: Give You The Ghost | You can't escape the electronic thread that permeates this music and the vocals. Yet, it's compelling and rewarding. If you think auto-tune is only for hack artists who can't sing, Polica put the hand on the other shoe. It works and it's been a good listen for months now.
19. Brandi Carlile: Bear Creek | The most overlooked artist of our time. She's one of the great voices in music today. She's a great songwriter. Add the twins and Brandi's almost in a class of her own. This is music that should be everywhere and is gratifying both in the first listen and twentieth. (I dare you to not love this: "That Wasn't Me")
18. Bhi Bhiman: Bhiman | Haven't heard anything like Bhiman's voice. Few singers voices seem as necessary to the music, as the key instrument. "Guttersnipe" is so welcoming and wonderful, and yet it's sad.
17. J.D. McPherson: Signs & Signifiers | Throwback sound. Throwback style. Throwback fun. I challenge you to enjoy another song as much as "North Side Gal." Tap your foot already! Go ahead. Fill that empty pack of Lucky Strikes with gum and wrap it up in your white tshirt sleeve and grab a gal and head for the dance floor.
16. Mumford & Sons: Babel | Some are haters. Some are snobs. Some hear the same formula as before. I hear you. I felt the same when it came out. After joining the M&S bandwagon a few months before most Americans knew they existed, I prejudged this album as retread tired (get it?). But I kept listening, mostly because my wife couldn't stop listening. What I hear are songs that sound great blasting in our house and singing along. I've listened too many times to not have this in my list somewhere. One of the best songs and videos of the year: "Lover of the Light." M&S lack the genius of the albums before it, and some of the albums after it on this list, but what they do they do better than anyone doing it.
15. Damien Jurado: Maraqopa | From brilliant songwriting to his musical toolbox, this guy makes great music. Never has an album of Jurado's taken me on such an art-driven adventure. It feels aged and wise. One of the great male songwriters on this year's list.
14. Propaganda: Excellent | It's free, so you have no excuse. To support the artist buy it or give to Humble Beast. No song has provoked me as much as "Precious Puritans." But I'm probably not surprising anyone. But the whole album is a joy to listen to and enjoy, to be provoked by.
13. Wickerbird: The Crow Mother | This is far from a perfect recording (quality of recording). It's a little poppy and scratchy. But this lo-fi album is a treasure with its rich, dreamy acoustic songs. Indie lullabies. And it deserves recognition and reward. Beautiful.
12. The Menzingers: On The Impossible Past | A bit Green Day. A bit Titus Andronicus. A bit Flogging Molly. A bit The Hold Steady. A rocking, punky, anthemic, crank it up album. Yelling was never so compelling. And don't let the idea of "yelling" scare you away. Try it. I think you'll like it.
11. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! | Four songs. Two at around 6:30 long and two at about 20 minutes long. Oh dear. Oh my. It rocks. It growls. It swells. It made a hard push at the end for my top 10 and made it.
10. Andy Stott: Luxury Problems | Versatile. I can crank it up. I can slow down and be entranced by the layers and layers of sound. I can study to it. Often I can groove to it. An excellent, creative wonder that rewards the listener. And it may even just haunt you.
9. Woods: Bend Beyond | Elliott Smith-ish, which is to say it's really good. Inviting. Subtle. Melodic. A great mix of songwriting and creative instrumentation. Whenever I've started this album I've been thankful I did and I'm always sorry to turn it out. Can't say that about many albums, including some amazing ones.
8. Swans: The Seer | Well reviewed, and a wowzer of an album. It's the musical equivalent to grinding an axe and, to trying endlessly to pull deep roots from dry ground while feeling the dirt collect in the sweaty crevases on your skin, to scribbling illegibly with a knife sharpened carpenters pencil onto knotty wood. Stop reading already and get this album!
6. Richard Hawley: Standing at the Sky's Edge | I'm on a Harley cutting through thick fog in slow motion. I'm waking up in a log cabin and think I hear something ominous outside in the dark. I'm pulling apart a knife wound to see how deep it goes. Smooth vocals & heavy sounds. Moody.
5. Lost in the Trees: A Church That Fits Our Needs | Their 2010 album was #19 for me. Written in light of the suicide of his mother, frontman Ari Picker has put together a masterpiece. It's both ear-tingling good as well as thoughtful. It's moody. It's sometimes angelic and sweeping and swooping. Tragic. Hopeful. Considering the subject and substance, this is a gorgeous and rewarding album.
4. Jack White: Blunderbuss | This is the album that I think he cannot match. I don't think anything he will do won't seem like a disappointment. I REALLY hope I'm wrong, and I might be. But to have his body of work and then produce this masterpiece rock album? Wow. Crank it.
3. Anais Mitchell: Young Man In America | A favorite since its release in February, this album holds up as one of the best albums of the year. I even considered it for #1 just in the last week, and feel bad it isn't there. Wonderfully frontierish. It's American americana flavored with America. It's folksy, earthy music. True to its name. Anais' sweetheart of a voice is gorgeous. But she is also motherly, wise, above the story. And it's storytelling richness.
2. Alt-J: An Awesome Wave | Winner of the Mercury Prize (best British album), and deservedly so. Quirky, but not unapproachable. Almost surprisingly approachable. An audible spectacle. Creativity run amok and then harnessed (mostly). This was the biggest #1 contender, but just couldn't out Etten. This was difficult to put second.
1. Sharon Van Etten: Tramp | A brutal but beautiful album. Honest woundedness. Owning mistakes. A diary set to indie rock, harmonic moans of realness. Sonic emotional tension. Soaring sadness. Songwriting excellence. This album isn't easy. But it's great, great, great. If it sounds so sad, why listen? Because it's true.
WINNERS! We have our five winners.
Congrats guys! Email coming soon.
By the way, the total number of songs on my iTunes is 14,045. Closest, I believe, was WhyArtwork.com with 13,856. How's that for a free plug for your website! :)
One of the great joys I get as an audiophile with a blog is the opportunity to get some great albums before they release. Since it's better to give than receive, I especially LOVE the opportunity some artists give me to give away their albums.
It's already getting regular play in my house. Miller gives accessible music updates to several beloved hymns like "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," "I Surrender All," "How Deep the Father's Love For Us," and "Be Thou My Vision." He also offers his versions of "Behold the Throne of God Above" and "In Christ Alone." For good measure he adds "Kyrie, Eleison." There are a total of eleven songs. It's a solid offering to the growing list of young artists making good worship music. It's good for my soul and will be a blessing for my church.
Here's how you enter to win a FREE download...
1. Tweet (or post to Facebook if you aren't on Twitter, or do both!) without the quote marks: " Want to download Stephen Miller's album, Hymns, free? RT & comment at Reformissionary to enter: http://bit.ly/T3FNbJ "
2. Comment below (so I can confirm you did step 1) with your real name and real email (kept private) and For Fun guess the exactly number of songs iTunes says I have. It's more than 1 and less than 20,000.
*I'll use random.org to pick the 3 winners sometime after 5pm, and I'll announce the winners on the blog & send out emails. May the odds be ever in your favor!
The new album from The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter, is now streaming FREE in full at NPR Music First Listen. Go listen and let me know what you think. One of the best bands in the world right now, in my opinion. Both a personal and family favorite. I own everything they've done and will buy this one when it releases on September 11th.
Pick up Brandi Carlile's EP, Live At Bear Creek, for free below. Her album, Bear Creek, is out now and I'm loving it. Strongly encourage you to pick up her new stuff, as well as her previous albums which are some of our very favorites to play in our house: Brandi Carlile | The Story | Give Up The Ghost | Live At Benaroya Hall.
$5 albums this June are solid. Several are new, a couple are gems from the last couple years. Enjoy!
- Spiritualized: Sweet Heart Sweet Light
- The National: High Violet (my #2 of 2010)
- Damien Jurado: Maraqopa
- Regina Spektor: What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
- Buke and Gass: Riposte
- M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion
- First Aid Kit: The Lion's Roar
- Caribou: Swim (my #23 of 2010)
- Silversun Pickups: Carnavas
- Elliott Smith: Either/Or
- Jonathan Wilson: Gentle Spirit
- Swell Season: Strict Joy
- Great Lake Swimmers: New Wild Everywhere
- The Decemberists: Picaresque
- Mountain Goats: It's Frightening
- The Mountain Goats: All Eternals Deck
- Yeasayer: Odd Blood
- The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
- The Gaslight Anthem: American Slang
- The Best of Spandau Ballet: Gold | How could I NOT mention this? Don't buy it. I just wanted you to see it. I know, I know. You are welcome! :)
- See All 100 $5 Albums for June
CONCERT UPDATE 4.28: At the end of this post I embedded the entire live concert directed by Gary Oldman. (Set List)
UPDATE 4.27: Jack White plays a live concert tonight directed by Gary Oldman. Go here to watch a preview video including music, discussion with Gary Oldman about the concert and Jack's two bands, and real blood.
Wow. I'm really loving Jack White's first solo album, Blunderbuss (blunderbuss?). I don't often talk about albums outside of Music Mondays, but I felt compelled. Especially after watching some of the recent TV appearances, which had me giddy. You'll find some of them below.
This is a man who hasn't found his place of comfort, but his edge. If you've followed Jack for a while (White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, Third Man Records), this isn't exactly a guy without an edge. I've loved everything he's done to a point. But there was always a point where I was sorta over it. I was glad to have his albums around to revisit from time to time, but it was cataloged. And I know it's still early, but Blunderbuss feels like a classic. I think I have to agree that Jack is "the coolest, weirdest, savviest rock star of our time" and he just might have created the best album of 2012.
Just a side note for those who cant "get" Jack White: Listen for Robert Plant in his voice. He's there. And I think the quirk that pushes some people away from White might suddenly disappear, at least for a few. And that little tip may just open your mind to a great album. I'm hoping so.
Jack White with all guy band on Jools Holland with "Sixteen Saltines"...
Jack on Jools with all girl band playing "Freedom At 21"...
Jack interviewed by Stephen Colbert, including a very funny section on Jack's business model and why the music industry is dying. Awesome...
Here's the full concert from Friday night, as I mentioned at the top of this post...
It's time to give away some copies of The Poison Tree's self-titled debut album, which I named my best album of 2011. From my Best Albums of 2011 post...
Lovely & subtly massive. Cinematic. Baritone vocals. Literary. Charming. Moody. Introspective. Wistful. Barely wet city streets. Black and white. Hands-in-pockets. Collar pulled tight. Good penmanship, elegant words, antique fountain pen on an antique journal on an antique table in a sparsely decorated and lonely room. Life...experienced. Calmly dramatic. This album is almost completely and shamefully neglected. It's a rarely reviewed 2011 masterpiece. It's not #1 because it's neglected. It's #1 because it's gorgeous and brilliant.
You can download it for $4.99 today, and I very much encourage you to buy it. But I also want to give away a physcial CD to three of my readers (thanks to Steve Salett, The Poison Tree, for being so gracious as to provide copies to give away).
Here's how you enter to win (U.S. residents only)...
STEP 1: Copy & share the following without the quote marks on Twitter (if you aren't on Twitter, use Facebook, or do BOTH!): "Win @stevekmccoy's #1 2011 album, The Poison Tree. RT this & comment at Reformissionary to enter! http://bit.ly/zqn9TY "
STEP 2: Leave a comment below (so I can verify you did step 1). Include your full name and real email address (kept private) so I can contact the winners. In your comment, guess how many writing divices (pens, pencils, markers) & other utensils are in the two coffee mugs on my desk. It's a number between 1-100. I'll buy a free download of The Poison Tree to the first person to guess it exactly (if not a winner of a CD).
I will randomly choose 3 winners in the late afternoon/early evening on Friday (6th).
New live album from Brandi Carlile is out today: Brandi Carlile Live at Benaroya Hall. This is one of my favorite singer-songwriters in the business, probably my wife's favorite and most-played music, and we have seen her twice in concert. Go get it!
- Luciano Pavarotti: 75th Birthday Limited Edition ($2.99 | 100 songs)
- The 99 Most Essential Spring Classics ($1.99)
- The 99 Most Essential Choral Masterpieces ($1.99)
- The 99 Most Essential Saint-Saëns Masterpieces ($1.99)
- The 99 Most Essential Violin Masterpieces ($2.49)
- The 99 Most Essential Mendelssohn Masterpieces ($2.49)
- The 99 Darkest Pieces of Classical Music ($2.49)
- The 99 Most Essential Romantic Masterpieces ($1.99)
- Find $5.99-$6.99 deals here
Coram Deo Church has added it's name to the growing list of churches and artists who love the richness of older hymns and long to make them more accessible to our culture: Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Church, Page CXVI, Sojourn, and so on. This one is getting a lot of play for us and it should be a staple in your house and church. It's beautiful. From the website...
Our hope as we send this out is that the beauty of the music and the truths of the gospel, that are the lyrics of this album, might be a conduit of God’s grace resulting in worship of Him. This was the driving purpose behind the making of this album. Hymns are powerful for many reasons, two of which are: their theological depth resulting in rich gospel meditation, and their ability to unite people across all ages, demographics, denominations, and musical styles (this is especially true in the past 5 years). In light of this, we believe Doxology has the potential to have great influence for the gospel here in Omaha and God’s kingdom at large.
Doxology includes several of my absolute favorite hymns. Here's the track list...
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
- All Creatures
- I Boast No More
- Holy, Holy, Holy
- Great is Thy Faithfulness
- Be Thou My Vision
- It Is Well With My Soul
- How Great Thou Art
- Come Thou Fount
- <empty track, sorta>
- This Darkness
I very much enjoy the instrument and sound choices in these songs. "All Creatures" includes and autoharp and ends in a blast of power. You need to hear it. "Holy, Holy, Holy" starts simple and carefully climbs through organ, violins and a trumpet. Beautiful. "Great is Thy Faithfulness" has a growing ambient quality through vocals. "Doxology" is mostly arranged vocal harmony through some verses you may not have heard before. The use of drums and violin on "Be Thou My Vision" adds the Irish flavor to this ancient Irish poem. The djembe & guitar on "It Is Well With My Soul" offers a unique sound to this very traditional hymn. "How Great Thou Art"...well...you need to hear this one. The first half almost bare & solemn. The second half breaks out for the words "When Christ shall come..." with something of a hoedown. Ok, maybe not a hoedown. But Kendal Haug does play the harmonica. I'm not sure how they got away with not playing a banjo on this one!
The only original is "This Darkness," written by Bob Thune, Jared Strock and Kendal Haug. I'll just let the lyrics draw you in to a song for difficult times...
To you I cry for help
But you are silent still
You block my prayer, you shut me out
My soul is weary
How long this darkness
How long my grief
How long your anger
As with others with hymn updates, Coram Deo adds not only music/arrangement tweaks, but also a few lyrical ones like simple choruses and repeated lines. I'll not go into detail, but I'll say they keep them simple. These songs aren't radically different than what you know, but different enough to be like hearing it new again. It's a good mix of the tradition we treasure and creative arts we love.
I'm looking forward to where Coram Deo goes next. While this first offering may be mostly well-known worship staples, they are thoughtfully recreated and will be a great blessing for personal and gathered worship. We use this CD in our home and have been playing it before and after Sunday worship and we plan on using several of these arrangements in our worship time. Highly recommended.