As I stated in my Best Songs collection, 2012 was an amazing year for music. There were so many great albums released, which made it more difficult than ever to narrow down my list. Below are my 10 favorites with a few honorable mentions at the bottom. In the end, the theme was simple, genuine music. As always, my favorites were the ones that made me feel the most, no matter what the emotion was.
10. Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal
This Icelandic six-piece has wowed fans in the States with an earthy sound and stunning female-male harmonies. My Head is an Animal is a complete collection of tunes without a dud among the group. Perfect for something uplifting and consistent.
Best tracks: “Little Talks”, “Dirty Paws”
9. fun. – Some Nights
I know I’ll be outcast of several indie circles for including this album, but when I first heard it (and subsequently listened to it about 20 times in a month), it was apparent that Nate, Jack, and Andrew put together one of the best albums of the year. I predicted a Best New Artist Grammy, which they are nominated for, and for good reason. Some Nights is an album we can all relate to. There were times in early 2012 when I’d be in a sad mood, kicking back and listening to some of fun.’s uplifting tracks, like “It Gets Better” or “Stars”. The lyrics are hopeful, but also a big smug, which can be a good thing when it feels like the world is attacking and you can rely solely on yourself for backup.
Best tracks: “Some Nights”, “Stars”
8. Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams
One of the most pleasant surprises of the year, Lord Huron burst onto the indie scene in 2012 thanks to press on NPR’s First Listen. This quintet from, you guessed it, Lake Huron (Michigan) emerged from Ben Schneider’s songs communing with nature. This album of borderline-ambient melodies has sung me to sweet dreams many times since its summertime release. Lonesome Dreams quickly became an indie sensation thanks to its feeling of traveling the Michigan wilderness. Lord Huron is further evidence of the mystery of this beautiful state.
Best tracks: “She Lit a Fire”, “The Ghost on the Shore”
7. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
As stated in my favorite songs blog, there are few guarantees in life and one of them is that Kristian Matsson will continue to create stunningly beautiful music. The Tallest Man on Earth (not very tall, actually) is one of the most endearing musicians I’ve seen; especially as a solo artist. This Swede’s mastery of the English language crushes most American’s, which is proven further in There’s No Leaving Now. The Tallest Man is simply one of those artists who can make you feel.
Best tracks: “Wind and Walls”, “Leading Me Now”
6. Two Gallants – The Bloom and the Blight
There’s a crossroads of indie, folk, and rock music inhabited by a handful of artists, including Two Gallants. Progressing from a folk background, this twosome emerged back onto the scene with The Bloom and Blight, which transcends their Bay Area roots with a certain Southern grit. The album ebbs and flows as Stephens and Vogel tread water within a ven diagram of genres, emerging with a collection of tunes that sound almost written specifically for a person with my exact taste.
Best tracks: “Halcyon Days”, “Broken Eyes”
5. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
What else can be said about the Lumineers that has not already been said? These blokes make simple, beautiful, genuine tunes trying to find their way. What twentysomething can’t relate to that? Simple lamentations of “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart” shot this band into our hearts and onto our radio dials with Head and the Heart-esque lovability. The melancholy roots of these tunes emerged when Jeremiah Fraites lost his brother to a drug overdose. From tragedy was borne emotional music of the simplest form. From this desperation the Lumineers provide hope.
Best tracks: “Ho Hey”, “Dead Sea”
4. Dinosaur Feathers – Whistle Tips
Dinosaur Feathers were the most pleasant surprise of 2012 for me. I first encountered these Brooklyn boys on tour with Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos; a show which was certainly in my top 3 of 2012. DF bring tons of energy live and it can be found in abundance on the record as well. Whistle Tips is a jaunt through changing time signatures, random staccatos, and simply a random collection of everything good about music. You can’t help but get moving or at least tapping your foot. I couldn’t stop listening to Whistle Tips, which is why it’s on this list. I can’t wait for another chance to see these boys.
Best tracks: “Certain Times”, “SURPRISE!”
3. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bias for the Avett Brothers. They are my favorite band and for good reason. The absolutely genuine nature of their lyrics combined with the country and gospel background of their music shines through in different ways on every track they create. The Carpenter provided more of the same expectations for the Brothers in 2012 and they delivered, as usual. While the heavy hitters exist on this album (“Live and Die”, “The Once and Future Carpenter”, “Down With the Shine”), it’s the in-betweeners that make it a complete album. Tunes like “A Father’s First Spring” and “February Seven” hit with the absolute depth that the Avett Brothers have come to be known for. All that to say, give the full album a few listens and you’ll find some serious gems.
Best tracks: “The Once and Future Carpenter”, “February Seven”
2. Milo Greene – Milo Greene
Milo Greene are the cream of the crop of multi-voice bands, in my opinion. Riding the wave created by a tour with the Civil Wars, Milo Greene (a band, not a person) have built up a fan base with their four-part vocals, trading of instruments, and earthy tunes. The pure, organic emotion seen on stage creates a memorable atmosphere while their self-titled debut album provides a calming mood. “1957” has put them on the map thanks to late show appearances, but the collection of tunes and talent is what provides the expectation to see Milo Greene on lists like these again in the future.
Best tracks: “Don’t You Give Up On Me”, “1957”
1. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
I’m not usually on board with the consensus picks for top album, but Japandroids were undeniable with Celebration Rock. Simply put, this was the most listened-to album in my collection. The absolute rawness of this Canadian twosome might make the hair stand up on the back of some music snobs’ necks, but the music is full of emotion, angst, and an I-don’t-give-a-what backbone.
What separates Japandroids from other noise-rock bands are the quality of the lyrics. Songs like “Younger Us” provide lyrics that the average twentysomething may have even lamented to themselves (“remember saying things like ‘we’ll sleep when we’re dead? / and thinking this feeling was never gonna end”). “Adrenaline Nightshift” sings of those late night binges on life that we all remember experiencing (and probably don’t experience as much anymore). Japandroids have a mix of simplicity and depth that is a delicate balance, but it’s such a natural balance that it doesn’t even sound like they’re trying (not too hard, at least).
Best tracks: “The House That Heaven Built”, “Fire’s Highway”
Honorable Mentions: Mumford and Sons – Babel, Metric – Synthetica, Langhorne Slim – The Way We Move, Ben Howard – Every Kingdom, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, Bahamas – Barchords