Much like last year, I am surprised at the continued narrowing of my musical consumption. Narrowing down my music to a Top-40 list a few years ago represented quite a project. Having listened to a continuous stream of music, I had no problem outlining an extensive list. Well, this year, I have added only 18 albums to my iTunes from 2012. As I said last year, this list no longer represents what I feel to be the absolute best music from 2012. I fully expect that I have missed some excellent music. Instead, this list represents a snapshot of my year. These albums sat in my car for months at a time. Most of them found their way to a review on the blog. These albums are me.
10. mewithoutYou — Ten Stories
After a long break, mewithoutYou returned with another poetic collection of songs. Singer, Aaron Weiss, owns a careful knack for eloquently stated lyrics. There’s no reinventing the wheel with Ten Stories, but there’s no need to do so when more-of-the-same sounds this good.
9. Lord Huron — Lonesome Dreams
Lord Huron’s debut is a well-crafted, sepia-toned, harmony-driven collection of songs. Yes, Lonesome Dreams sounds like a Fleet Foxes record, but sometimes imitation creates great music.
8. A.C. Newman — Shut Down The Streets
Shut Down the Streets sounds like a New Pornographers record. Isn’t it odd that a solo project either sounds exactly the same as the original band or drastically different? Is there ever anything in between? Anyway, I like The New Pornographers and I like A.C. Newman.
7. The Tallest Man on Earth — There’s No Leaving Now
Sparse instrumentation and poetic lyrics bolster There’s No Leaving Now. Swedesh singer, Kristian Matsson, pairs his intricate guitar work with beautiful stories to excellent effect.
6. Maps & Atlases — Beware & Be Grateful
Too often, quality musicianship appears on albums at the expense of catchy hooks and superior songwriting. Beware & Be Grateful offers a unique middle ground where technical musicianship is a defining quality but it doesn’t overpower the songs.
5. Sufjan Stevens — Silver & Gold
Christmas albums shouldn’t be this good. Once again, Sufjan Stevens uses music as a medium for a larger statement. With Silver & Gold, Sufjan targets Christmas with a critical eye, but still celebrates the holiday despite its many positive and negative facets.
4. Father John Misty — Fear Fun
J. Tillman, principal behind Father John Misty, is odd. You’ll never be able to tell where the performer ends and the real person begins. Fear Fun provides a beautiful example of good songwriting, blameless production, and a cohesive album.
3. Of Monsters and Men — My Head Is an Animal
It truly surprises me how much music flows out of Iceland. With half the population of Seattle, Iceland seems annually to add another influential artist to the world of music. Of Monsters and Men is the newest kid on the block. They offer a big-band indie style accessible enough for radio but artistic enough for a hipster.
2. Fiona Apple — The Idler Wheel…
It only takes reading the lyrics of one song to realize Fiona Apple is certifiably crazy. But her eccentricities and paranoia make for beautiful music. I’ve always been on the fence with Fiona Apple, but The Idler Wheel… won me over.
1. Macklemroe & Ryan Lewis — The Heist
I’m always a sucker for great local music. Lyricist Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) oozes Seattle pride with every line of every song. He has a keen instinct to balance biting social critique with joyful content. Where one song decries the pain same sex couples feel around the debate for marriage equality, Macklemore feels equally at home singing about wizards and castles. Even more, his stirring tribute to legendary Mariners announcer, Dave Niehaus, leaves tears in my eyes. The Heist was my best record of the year.