Some years, it’s all obvious by the end of it all what my top albums will be. This wasn’t one of those years. With as many great LPs that floated through, it became a challenge to decide which were the most important. And that’s what I based these on. The list below was the soundtrack to my year, both professionally, but more times, personally. When great events are happening around us, it’s that song that we connect to next that stick with us forever.
1.Jason Isbell – Here We Rest
I don’t think an Americana record has ever topped my list before, but Isbell’s latest was one great song after another. A flawless collection that I’d be happy to take to the desert island.
2. Eastern Conference Champions – Speak-Ahh
The one that wouldn’t go away. Speak-Ahh had come through in a big stack of mail with with no notes or added pressure to play it first, so it sat around for a bit, unlistened. But every few days over the course of two or three weeks, I would see it’s cover staring right at me. Speeeeeeeak Ahhhhhhhhh. When I finally put it in, I quickly discovered that I was listening to one of the best rock albums of the year, and come to find out that it was from a band that, by and large, were doing the whole deal on their own. Word of mouth is slowly spreading on this group, and if you haven’t yet found the time yourself, make sure this is the first buy of 2012.
3. The Decemberists – The King is Dead
This one seem to resonate with just about everyone this year, and why not? The King is Dead is The Decemberists at their most accessible, sing-songy selves, while still carrying the ability to interject the most profound poetry in modern music. This one is a classic.
4. Foster the People – Torches
We knew this one would be big when we started playing Pumped Up Kicks in 2010 when it was just a lonesome track kicking around on the internet. The band went to get signed by Columbia, completed Torches and released what was the best pop album of the year. Need to feel good? Put this on, add water, and an instant dance party appears.
5. Brett Dennen – Loverboy
First off, he called the album Loverboy and posted a big ol’ face shot right on the cover. That’s awesome. Second, Brett wrote the album of his career (so far) by letting loose and giving into the pop sensibilities that were hiding underneath all along. Pick a song, any song. They all work.
6. My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind
Shara has always been one of the more interesting artists out there, but with All Things, she took it to a level reserved only for the greats. Combining pop, opera, Disney, and a few other sub generes, what you get is a full length that allows itself to be played fully without intermission. Pay attention and you’ll find a great puzzle. Put it on while you’re doing the dishes and you get a whimsical soundtrack to a sunny day.
7. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
Admittedly, my first few listens were rewarded with not much more than a “yeah, this is ok.” Where was the boogie? Where was the rock? Why did Ryan only seem to have one speed – first. This is where a shuffle on an iPod really earns its keep. I uploaded it and throughout the next couple weeks found myself being able to listen to the songs individually for what they were. And they were perfect little stories; stories about love and hurt, all smoldering in Ashes and Fire.
8. Mike Doughty – Yes and Also Yes
It’s beyond me why Mike’s solo career isn’t much bigger than it is. The man can lay a groove, preach his brand of lyrical uniqueness, and all in three minutes or less. Yes and Also Yes is hands down his best solo effort ever. Now go tell your friends.
9. Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender
From a band I had never spent much time with, but have since devoured their entire catalog. The Long Surrender is amazing. It is the soundtrack to my winter, last and current. An Lp that could have easily had been my number one, five, or ten, if that makes sense.
10. Death Cab For Cutie – Codes & Keys
Stella got her groove back. I thought Narrow Stairs was a misstep for whatever reason, so when hearing that Codes & Keys was the band back on track, I rarely took it off of the turntable. Plus, the remix EP that they followed it with was a perfect companion. Double the pleasure.
* Barely missing the cut, but definitely worth mentioning is Abigail Washburn‘s City of Refuge, Dawes‘ Nothing Is Wrong and Noah & The Whale‘s Last Night On Earth. We’ll call them all tied for number 11. or all tied for number 1.