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!
7. The Lumineers: The Lumineers | Rollicking. Romp. Voice-centered. High highs, mellow lows, endearing middles. Everybody seems to love "Ho Hey," and why don't you? You should. It will win you over. But my heart belongs to "Slow It Down."
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.