best of: top 25 albums of 2012

chatham county line electric holiday show @ haw river ballroom

I hate making these lists. Everything was good! If it was bad, I didn’t keep it, thus, all the albums in my iTunes from 2012 are excellent! Agggh. But anyway: I contributed to the Speakers In Code list, of course, but this one is mine and ended up getting a hefty end-of-the-list tweak from my SiC list.

  1. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten: This is probably too mainstream for music bloggers and too weird for normal people, but this album made me have more feelings, both joy and heartbreak, than anything else this year. Brian Fallon, leave your wife for meeeeeee.
  2. Micah Schnabel – I’m Dead, Serious: Micah’s songwriting always moves me, and I think this is his best yet – it’s one of the few albums in my iTunes, along with Handwritten, that is composed of entirely five-star songs.
  3. The Lumineers – The Lumineers: perfect roots-pop songwriting; “Ho Hey” got the most press, but “Classy Girls” makes me happy every time I hear it.
  4. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa: unbearably heartbreaking and intimate; “Working Titles” is my favorite song of the year.
  5. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Going To Change The Way You Feel About Me Now: a perfect fusion of Memphis soul and JTE’s standard country songs; Justin was already an amazing songwriter, and this record pushes his musical boundaries in a fantastic way.
  6. Gross Ghost – Brer Rabbit: The best pop record in the Triangle, and maybe the country, this year. You probably haven’t heard it, and that’s a shame.
  7. Spider Bags – Shake My Head: This is a disgustingly close second for Triangle record of the year, all shake and shimmy and guitars and hooky choruses.
  8. Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes: Not everyone loved this one, but I think it’s among Finn’s finest songwriting and sharpest observations about fucked up people just trying to live their lives; it was gorgeous live.
  9. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar: “Emmylou” was one of the greatest songs of the year, one of the best love songs I’ve ever heard, and the rest of the album does that song justice in setting.
  10. Tift Merritt – Traveling Alone: probably wouldn’t have made my list, except for how it hits me right in the chest when it’s played live, and I got three sets to discover that punch of emotion and heartbreak this fall.
  11. The Orwells – Remember When: like the Smith Westerns a few years ago, this record is a bunch of Chicago teenagers leaning back to roots that are older than them and making a kickass retro record, except these guys are better than the Smith Westerns.
  12. Admiral Fallow – Tree Bursts In Snow: spend two days with these guys, learning the intimacies of their lyrics and their accents and their laughs, and this record will move your heart in wide open sky ways.
  13. Bob Mould – Silver Age: Bob called it a “big dumb rock” record, but if anybody gets to make a genius big dumb rock record, it’s Bob Mould, and this one is genius.
  14. Delicate Cutters – Ring: the best band from the South that you’ve never heard of; this record is creepy and gothic and gorgeous, and you will fall in love if you hear it, but I bet you haven’t heard it.
  15. The District Attorneys – Slowburner: smart, hooky, guitar-driven Southern rock – one of the best high-energy live shows I saw this year, and while the album really is more like its title, it’s well-worth it.
  16. Archie Powell & the Exports – Great Ideas In Actionperfect retro pop songwriting, some of my favorite guys to follow on Twitter, exactly amazing for a late night one person dance party, the best band from Chicago that you’ve never heard of. Listened to this one in the car like whoa.
  17. Heartless Bastards – Arrow: a slow burner for me, this one didn’t really take hold until I saw HBs play on Halloween, when I realized fully realized the morose and epic power of the songwriting and Erika Wennerstrom’s haunting, terrifying, gorgeous voice.
  18. Corb Lund – Cabin Fever: this is filthy in the same way that Black Keys records are filthy, country like only Alberta can be, and funny like you never expect your brilliant songwriters to be. “Cows Around” was one of my most-listened 2012 tracks.
  19. Dr. Dog – Be The Void: this spent, cumulatively in total, about six weeks of this year, 24/7, in my car stereo. I listened to “That Old Black Hole” 173 times. They were one of my favorite shows of the year.
  20. Corin Tucker Band – Kill My Blues: because fuck you, that’s why.
  21. Cory Branan – Mutt: Branan’s first Bloodshot Records release, and first full length LP in many years, this was a roots rock gem that really got overlooked in the glut of releases this year; Branan is a sharp, funny, irreverant, and moving songwriter, and the clean production doesn’t polish off the rough edges that make him a charming performer.
  22. Will Johnson – Scorpion: Will is one of the most talented songwriters and composers out there today, and Scorpion isn’t my favorite of his releases, but it’s delicate and sad and a lovely introduction to Will Johnson’s epic catalog, if you haven’t discovered him already.
  23. Japandroids – Celebration Rock: this is not the best rock album released this year, Stephen Thompson, but it was a good one; I have spent a concentrated amount of time with it in the last few weeks after it started turning up on lists, and it is solid and rocking and unique from start to finish. (Spider Bags made the best rock record of 2012.)
  24. Kelly Hogan – I Like To Keep Myself In Pain: this should probably be higher, but I just didn’t spend enough time with it; Hogan’s voice is unmatched, her own songwriting is great, and when you can line up a list of friends to write songs for you like Kelly Hogan can, it’s an amazing one from the start.
  25. Passion Pit – Gossamer: listen to this late one night, in the dark, on your headphones, when you’re feeling really sad; then go out and see Michael Angelakos and his masterful band absolutely control a crowd. The sold out show at Disco Rodeo this year, and my lovely Clea’s joy in them, sold me on the power and talent behind this album.

Honorable mentions go to The Menzingers; Wintersleep; Waxahatchee; the Avetts; and Black Prairie, whose records might have made the list if I’d spent more time with their records. (The lack of time I spent with The Carpenter is ridiculous.) Rayland Baxter’s Feathers & Fishhooks was the last one off, like Virginia Tech at tournament time only way way better than any of Seth Greenberg’s teams.

The Speakers in Code list is here, and contains our multitudinous opinions.

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