The Best Albums of 2012

This past year (well past by this point might I add) provided us with a slew of good to great music. There were new albums from Ben Gibbard, Muse, The Killers, and B.o.B. to name a few. They all made solid efforts in 2012, but they didn’t quite crack the top ten albums. Below is my list, long overdue.

01: Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal

From the opening of the first track you can almost sense that this is a special effort. There is a quiet intensity, a captivating beauty, that threads through every melody and harmony on this wonderful debut album from Iceland. By the time you get to the final track you’re only thought will be to press play again.

mp3 : Of Monsters and Men – Yellow Light

02: The Lumineers – The Lumineers

Another brilliant debut album on the list. Bursting with raw emotion and well written lyrical vignettes this album is filled with driving drumbeats and folk fueled romance. Although a few of their tracks are more aligned with radio friendly airtime it’s when they slow down that their true talent shines through.

mp3 : The Lumineers – Submarines

03: John Samson – Provincial

Many of the songs that appear on his debut solo effort closely mirror his top shelf work with The Weakerthans. While some reviewers this past year found this off-putting I find John Samson’s lyrical storytelling to be just as captivating with or without his regular band.

mp3 : John Samson – Heart of the Continent

04: Mumford and Sons – Babel

Not much needs to be written about this band or this album. They’ve grown up from an indie darling quartet to a full on success recognized the world over. This album is a worthy continuation of their career.

mp3 : Mumford and Sons – Where are You Now

05: Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold

I know; this is a Christmas album that’s actually a collection of five separate EP’s that were written over half a decade and they just happened to be released as a box set in 2012. I know all the reasons that this technically shouldn’t be on a list, but the entire collection is simply so good that it can’t be relegated to one month of listening every year. On top of that you can listen to each EP in chronological order and follow along with the evolution of his musical style.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Christmas in the Room

06: The Walkmen – Heaven

On this album The Walkmen continue their waffling between being effortlessly cool and trying really hard to channel Bob Dylan. The magic is when both of those efforts combine into a single glorious song. This is their best album since Bows + Arrows.

mp3 : The Walkmen – Line by Line

07: Beach House – Bloom

Although not quite as captivating as their previous effort (Teen Dream) their latest effort provides the same breathy vocals and building crescendos that have become their trademark.  This music would fit in almost any scenario.

mp3 : Beach House – Myth

08: Matt & Kim – Lightning

If you didn’t feel like dancing you will after a single listen to this album.  Or you might have a seizure.  It’s honestly a tossup.  Matt & Kim put out a solid album this time around and their one weakness (vocals on slower tracks) is kept to a minimum this time around.

mp3 : Matt & Kim – Now

09: fun. – Some Nights

It began for most people when their song We Are Young was featured prominently in a primetime commercial (possibly debuted during the Big Game?)  If you were daring enough to jump into the full album from that snippet you would find yourself treated to a modern day pop musical; complete with letters to moms, hanging out with friends, and pleas to find true love.

mp3 : fun. – All Alright

10: Jack White – Blunderbuss

I feel like I’m breaking an unwritten rule putting Jack’s first solo album this far down my list.  The problem is that for every brilliant track on the album, there is another track that reminds you how great Jack White is when he’s surrounded by other creative people.  This is a solid album, but it’s not his best effort.  I’ll go ahead and label it the Josh Ritter effect whereby an album starts off brilliantly and then veers into head scratching territory.

mp3 : Jack White – Freedom at 21


John Samson album Provincial

John Samson is arguably the best lyricist currently working in music.  He possesses a unique talent of turning even the mundane and melancholic minutiae of modern life into beautiful universal narratives.  Over his past three albums, as the front man for the Canadian group The Weakerthans, he has proven he is a poetic lyrical genius and on Provincial (amazon) (itunes), his first proper solo album, he continues to impress.  Although the music loses some of the raucousness his bandmates bring to his music it is still evident that he is the driving force behind the lyrics.

mp3 : John Samson – Heart of the Continent
mp3 : John Samson – Grace General

Provincial opens with a dirge of sorts; a rather abstract tribute to Highway 1 East where he talks about getting lost while following another car.  The GPS fails him and he pines for the car in front to wait for him.  And all of this explanation feels dull and rather boring, but John Samson creates a scene that is worth listening to over and over again.

Oh, wait for me, I fell behind
three signs for services ago

Some sarcastic satellite says I’m not anywhere
Spent every cent of your good will
On fossil fuels and magazines
So let this field of flax foreclose on everything I owe
And scratch Saskatchewan away
Make Manitoba paper dolls
Lift up a line from Highway One to tie Ontario
Oh, wait for me

From that short interlude (the opening track is just under 90 seconds) the album opens up with Heart of the Continent which sees John focus on Winnipeg.  When working with The Weakerthans he recorded the song One Great City where the chorus repeats “I hate Winnipeg.”  On Heart of the Continent both the melody, the instrumentation, and the lyrics serve as a sister song to the original much in the same way two previous songs about Virtute the cat opened and closed a story spread across multiple albums.

The remainder of this debut full length is filled with sparse songs about great Canadian hockey players (a sister song to Elegy for Gump Worsley which appeared on the last Weakerthans album), video games, the crossroads through Canada and other various subject matter that would all seem hollow and bored without the poetry of John Samson to serve as our lens.  For instance on When I Write My Masters Thesis he starts with a short tribute to Grand Theft Auto which segues into a tribute to loneliness.  I challenge you to find another song writer who can combine such disparate subject matter into a single track.

I could probably write a single post about each track on this album but I won’t drag you farther (or is it further) into my lyrically obsessive rabbit hole.  Plan on getting this album, opening your browser to, and enjoying the imagery woven through each song.  And for those who choose not to purchase albums you can stream it here.

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