Narrowing down the wealth of pop and rock albums from 2012 into a set of 10 favorites is an onerous chore that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It is a fate worse than death; a grueling salvo of nepotism and an inflammation of scrupulous noise that is akin to picking a preferred child out of hundreds of possible candidates – or so I imagine.
So when the normally good people at Something Else! Reviews put a pistol to my skull and forced me to taper my own dear kids down to 10 favorites, it took some doing (actually this was all my idea). There was a lot of good music in 2012 – and a lot of bad music.
Sifting through things required a process of elimination that involved pitching music I hadn’t reviewed or evaluated on a deeper level (sorry, Leonard Cohen and Frank Ocean) because, hey, you have to cut things off someway. And it meant narrowing things down to 21 or so, then thinning things out again and again and then having Lana Del Rey get into a knife fight with Anya Marina. It was rough.
So now, with blood on the floor and empty whiskey bottles everywhere and the cigar smoke finally having settled, here are my 10 favourite albums of 2012 in random order:
DAVID DANIELL AND DOUGLAS McCOMBS – VERSIONS: This amounts to seven hours of material that came out of the 2009 Sycamore recordings, only Tortoise member Ken Brown took a different angle with the music and put it together like a puzzle of sorts. This was a wholly new development out of older material, one of the freshest new albums of the year to come out of old bones.
MAYBESHEWILL – I WAS HERE FOR A MOMENT, THEN I’M GONE: From Leicestershire, Maybeshewill is a band in love with complete works of music. Their I Was Here For a Moment, Then I’m Gone proves it by providing a comprehensive experience like few others from this year. The quintet provides a sea of emotions but lands mostly on an optimistic tilt, veering through pieces with tremendous riffing and a profound sense of control.
CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS – LEAVING EDEN: Instruments like the four-string banjo, five-string banjo, fiddle, kazoo, tambourine, guitar, jug, harmonica, snare drum, and quills colour the lovely Leaving Eden with an organic sensibility managed by few bands. These cats play with full hearts and wily minds, providing traditional lust for pre-blues black music with a decidedly modern edge.
DOE PAORO – SLOW TO LOVE: This “ghost soul” record was one of the most unique sounds I came across in 2012. It captivates from the outset, with a deeply unsettling vibe flooding the record. Paoro’s study of Tibetan-style singing melts with a Portishead/Imogen Heap feeling to create a style all her own. Uncluttered arrangements feature cello, piano and voice, but Paoro’s soul reaches far beyond the ordinary.
THE SHEEPDOGS – THE SHEEPDOGS: A comment on my review of the Sheepdogs confirms it: these dudes are the real deal. The September 2012 release from the Saskatoon band is full of 70s-inspired songs, but there’s no clichés and no put-ons involved at all. Despite so many similar acts trying to pull off this brand of revival music, The Sheepdogs own the van and have the empty beer cans to prove their mettle.
LANA DEL REY – BORN TO DIE: This was one of the year’s most polarizing releases. Lana Del Rey piled up palms from horny bloggers who hadn’t even heard the disc yet, but the ensuing disclosure that she wasn’t just some sexually-charged kitty earned her some critical burns. Fuck that. This is one of the year’s most aching, troubling albums. She sings with disinterest, like a jaded housewife without true purpose.
LIANNE LA HAVAS – IS YOUR LOVE BIG ENOUGH?: While Lana Del Rey might be lounging poolside indifferently, the UK’s Lianne La Havas is cornering lovers in her studio apartment with adamant insistence. Her 2012 debut piled up accolades from the likes of the BBC and other taste-makers and she has the chops to back up the hype, moving effortlessly through soul, folk and pop. She knows what she deserves.
RICHARD HAWLEY – STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE: A spirited, burning, dramatic piece of work, Standing at the Sky’s Edge finds Hawley in tremendous form. His sixth studio album finds him at age 45 and talking about being in love and being in love with the melody. He isn’t as withdrawn as the past and he barrels through vigorous guitar-work that edifies as much as it rocks.
SHAWN COLVIN – ALL FALL DOWN: Featuring staggeringly personal pieces and incredible musicality, Shawn Colvin’s June of 2012 release came out on the same day as her memoir. Featuring friends like Alison Krauss and Bill Frissell, All Fall Down is as poignant an album about heartache and truth as you’re likely to hear anywhere. Its scope is accessible and devastating all at once.
NEIL YOUNG WITH CRAZY HORSE – PSYCHEDLIC PILL: Uncle Neil and Co. “go places” with this record, venturing back and forth all at once with guitar vigor that almost proves punishing. Featuring epic jams and sure classics like “Ramada Inn,” Psychedelic Pill is my favorite album of the year. It is the cap on what could easily be termed the Year of Young, what with a stellar book, two albums with the Horse and a devastating tour taking shape in 2012. Wow.