Although not as full of albums that knocked me off my feet as 2011, 2012 still held a lot of interesting musical memories. Personal favorites like Pet Shop Boys, Earlimart and Paul van Dyk returned with some of their best releases in years and my never ending quest to discover new music led me to the likes of Graph Rabbit, Steven A. Clark, Jamie Woon and Zulu Winter, just to name a few. The expected return of Prince was delayed a year, a new full length is definitely expected in 2013, but miraculously the Purple One was involved with a protege project worth your time. Andy Allo’s Superconductor is one of the finest Prince associated projects to see release since the 80’s, something I certainly wasn’t expecting this year. All the artists mentioned above are still getting plenty of play around my house, but these are the ten albums that stood out for me in 2012.
10. Yppah, Eighty One
There were plenty of solid electronic albums released this year, but Joe Corrales Jr., who records as Yppah, outdid them all. The former rock musician builds upon that base, mixing the live instrumentation that is the backbone of rock music with chilled out electronic and heavy beats. It’s hard to make a mostly instrumental album that captivates from start to finish but Yppah pulls it off magnificently.
9. Soulsavers, The Light The Dead See
Soulsavers, the production duo of Rich Machin and Ian Glover, teamed up with the legendary Dave Gahan for this stunningly gorgeous work. The Depeche Mode singer provides vocals for the entirety of The Light The Dead See and the mix of orchestral, downtempo electronic with Gahan’s singular voice makes for a must hear album. There are elements of rock, soul, blues and even gospel worked into the production, a truly unique listening experience.
8. Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur
The Canadian singer/songwriter’s fourth album was bolstered by her boyfriend Justin Vernon’s contributions and some of her long time fans seemed a bit disappointed with the ‘Bon Iver’ influence, but don’t let that deter you. From radio friendly, summery pop/rock to a return to Edwards’ folk roots, this is a standout in the singer/songwriter category. The dark “Going To Hell” is not to be missed and “A Soft Place To Land”, a duet with Vernon, belongs in any discussion of the loveliest ballads of 2012.
7. The Dandelion War, We Were Always Loyal To Lost Causes
This is one of two albums that forced their way onto my Top Ten at the last minute. Oakland’s The Dandelion War create beautifully melodic post-rock music, think Explosions In The Sky with vocals. Filled with swooning, rich harmonies and shimmering guitars, they manage to take all of their influences and carve out their own sound, something increasingly harder to do in the all too often sound-alike post-rock genre.
6. Bootstraps, Bootstraps
Here is the second last minute addition to my year-end list, an album that simply demanded a spot in my Top Ten. Conceived as a ‘road trip record’, Bootstraps is a flawless melding of folk, rock and country, awash in soaring melodies that can’t be forgotten. Jordan Beckett will certainly call to mind Ray LaMontagne when he sings, but since when was that a bad thing? If the majestic “OH CA” doesn’t hook you, the powerful “Guiltfree” surely will. It’s little surprise this band’s music is starting to find its way to movie and television soundtracks and deservedly so.
5. Sea Wolf, Old World Romance
Alex Brown Church records as Sea Wolf and his third album is by far his best. Old World Romance came along at the perfect time, right at the start of fall, filled with the kind of gorgeous melodies and harmonies that hook me every time. Rock and pop mixed with folk elements and drenched in lovely strings? Yes, please. The dreamy chorus of “Dear Fellow Traveler” and stunning album closer “Whirlpool” are just two highlights in a filler free 2012 highlight.
4. Dry The River, Shallow Bed
The UK continued to churn out great indie rock this year, and the debut from London based Dry The River was one of the best. Although their music is undeniably rooted in English folk/rock, mandolins, violins and horns are prevalent throughout, they are just as adept at making stadium ready anthemic rock. Peter Liddle’s emotional vocal work is a key driver, as is Will Harvey’s wonderful string arrangements. From infectious, sing-along tracks to gloomy but lovely ballads, Shallow Bed is fantastic from start to finish.
3. Jason Lytle, Dept. Of Disappearance
Grandaddy became my favorite band shortly after seeing them open for Coldplay back in 2000, but in studio Jason Lytle was essentially ‘the band’. This is Lytle’s second album since going solo, although the band did reunite for some live shows this year, and it is his best work since Grandaddy’s Sumday. All the reasons I fell in love with Grandaddy’s music are here and Lytle just reaffirms my belief he is one of the best songwriters we have today. Marriage hasn’t deprived him of his innate ability to write devastatingly sad, emotional lyrics, “Last Problem Of The Alps” and “Somewhere There’s A Someone” are crushingly beautiful takes on love gone bad. All of Lytle’s trademark production tricks return here, the fuzzed out guitars and odd electronic blips that somehow make sense in the mix. A masterful work.
2. The Maccabees, Given To The Wild
I first heard this album in early January when it was released in the UK. It eventually saw a U.S. release in April and stayed with me as the best rock album I heard all year. Comparable in sound to bands like Doves, Elbow and even UNKLE at times, The Maccabees produced their masterpiece in Given To The Wild. The soaring, cinematic music gave them their commercial break through in England, it’s just a shame this didn’t get more recognition in the States. Dramatic, orchestral rock at its finest.
1. Lost In The Trees, A Church That Fits Our Needs
Released in March, nothing was able to supplant A Church That Fits Our Needs as my choice for the Best Album of 2012. Lost In The Trees founder Ari Picker’s deeply personal record about his mother who took her life in 2009 is an absolute masterpiece. He turns incredibly difficult subject matter from mournful into uplifting and makes such a personal situation relatable to anyone that has lost someone close too soon, regardless of reason. The band’s orchestral folk music is showered in strings, lyrically and musically brilliant. Picker’s vulnerable performance on “Villain (I’ll Stick Around)” moved me like no other song this year as he describes seeing his mother’s spirit in the mirror of the room he wrote the majority of the album in. Do not let the subject matter detract you, I love mindless pop as much as anyone, but music is capable of so much more. When a deeply sad experience can be shared with the world in the form of something as beautiful as A Church That Fits Our Needs, I’m reminded all over again why no other art form can come close to touching me like music.