My rules for picking my favorite albums for 2012 are that I had to have bought it and spent some time with it during the year. It could not be something that was landing on everyone else’s “best of” list that I then went to seek out. There is one of my selections that bends my rules a little bit, but I am going to let that one slide.
All in all, I think it was a great year for music. Here is what I liked best:
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
The album opens with Hold On that gets your head boppin’ immediately, and then moves into I Found You – crazy strong opening! Brittany Howard has a voice that magnetizes each track, and the band members surround her voice with rock, blues, folk – whatever is called for. I want to sit in a roadhouse and listen to this band while drinking a bucket of beer.
Ani Difranco – Which Side Are You On
One of my best concert memories is seeing Ani Difranco with Sam at the Uptown Theater. We were in the first row of the balcony section and Ani put on a great show and was goofily charming. Her western New York roots also endear her to me. This album was released early in the year and has a lot of Occupy protest spirit to it. I think she is a compelling songwriter who writes about what she cares about and marries the lyrics to good folk accompaniment. And I adore her voice! This album got attention for its title taken from a classic protest song – Which Side Are You On? – which she covers and brings in Pete Seeger and New Orleans brass to come in and play with her. It’s solid, but I like what she is doing with her own songs better. Albacore is one sweet love song from the Righteous Babe.
Best Coast – The Only Place
This album reminds me of Kansas. This summer when I was driving by myself to Colorado this was one of my selections for those times when I got sleepy. It is just an exuberant, summery popfest. When I hear it, it just makes me happy. The opening track, The Only Place sets the tone for the whole album.
We were born with sun in our teeth and in our hair
When we get bored we like to sit around, sit around and stare
At the mountains, at the birds, at the ocean, at the trees
We have fun, we have fun, we have fun when we please
Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Yea, I can’t remember the name of this album. I am lucky if I remember its nickname, The Idler Wheel. Despite its challenging name, however, I am a big fan of this album and very much liked listening to it this year. There is Fiona’s distinctive voice that when I hear it, makes me want to go listen to her early albums again. This girl can write songs that lay open her person. She can turn a phrase like no one’s business:
I made it to a dinner date
My tear drops seasoned every plate
I tried to dance but lost my nerve
I cramped up in the learning curve
Frank Ocean – Orange
Frank Ocean, to me, combines Stevie Wonder and Prince. He is masterfully soulful and funky. This is an album that has savory goodness and achey reality. Super Rich Kids starts out like Bennie and the Jets, but turns into this:
We end our day up on the roof
I say I’ll jump, I never do
But when I’m drunk I act a fool
Talking ’bout, do they sew wings on tailored suits
I’m on that ledge, she grabs my arm
She slaps my head
It’s good times, yeah
Sleeve rips off, I slip, I fall
The market’s down like 60 stories
And some don’t end the way they should
My silver spoon has fed me good
A million one, a million cash
Close my eyes and feel the crash
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
I didn’t know Sharon Van Etten before this year when this album got lots of NPR love. This is another one of those albums with some great rocking guitar work, drumming and vocals, but then she can go all acoustic and makes me think Judy Collins and Joan Baez.
Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game
Rufus gets my love. He has a voice that you have to get used to. He has quirkiness that can get out of control, but the boy has good music genes that I think came out in aces in this new album. He hit mourning, growing up, becoming a dad, and snarkiness equally well.
Kishi Bashi – 151A
One of Kishi Bashi’s songs ended up on a commercial this year. I felt kind of cool that I knew who it was when it came on, but I also wondered if my liking it made me lame. Doesn’t matter. I do like this album. I think it is fun, innovative and has some really beautiful sounds.
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden
Fiddles, banjos, foot stomping. Yep, I like this one a lot.
Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
I am going to add this to my list even though it doesn’t really qualify because I didn’t enjoy listening to it very much in 2012. I bought it at some point, but I don’t think I ever listened to it. When I pulled up all of my 2012 albums I saw this one, listened to it, and really liked it. It might not turn out to be one of my 2012 favorites, but for this week it has been a great new music gift given to me. This one has some rocking guitars and organ, it has some dreamy vocals; it has a song with a children’s chorus. I can’t pin this one down yet, but I think it deserves a spot on my list.