Since the end of the year is almost here and the new releases have slowed down dramatically it’s the perfect time for a Best of 2012 list. At the beginning of this year I created a playlist to put all of my favorite albums into as I wrote this column every week. It turns out cross-genre and multi-instrumentalists had a great year this year! But, if I do say so myself, 2012 was the year of the fantastic breakup album. The power, emotion, lyricism, heartache, redemption and honesty of this year’s recorded relationship problems will help see me through whatever next failed relationship comes my way. So thanks for that, Universe! Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
One of my biggest regrets of this year was getting lost and arriving at The Mynabirds concert too late to actually see them perform. Generals was one of the quickest post-first listen additions to my “Best of” playlist thanks to the bass-line bed of sex upon which the seductive vocals of frontwoman Laura Burhenn lay. There are more growls and baring of teeth on Generals than there are tears — which makes this a nice pallet cleanser for most of the albums on this list.
At this point I’m almost convinced Nona Marie Invie’s voice is like a remote control for my heartstrings. My obsession with Who Needs Who (and the single “How It Went Down” in particular) has reached epic proportions and I’m only slightly ashamed to admit to creating offline playlists for the album and the one song just so that no one would know how frequently I was putting them on repeat. The band does a better job of taking a minimalist approach than most while incorporating various instrumental setups to convey storylines and dramatic action as their songs play through. They’ve turned the listening experience into a highly emotional and cinematic one.
This dynamic duo crafted an album packed with so much energy, funk, soul and creativity that it’s easy to almost hear a different version of it every time you play it. I haven’t heard anything so complex that was also so easy to enjoy since Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below.
Lianne La Havas — Is Your Love Big Enough?
It’s probably a bit douchey to quote myself but in all honesty, I don’t think I can describe the greatness of this debut album any better than I already had when the album came out in August. Front to back, this album is solid and it’s because La Havas has allowed herself to be vulnerable. You can hear her smile through the microphone and you can also hear when she winces through a memory. Through it all her voice is pure, precise and reassuring. It’s as though no matter what life throws her way she’ll be able to make it unscathed. Word!
Sarah Jaffe — The Body Wins
It’s so easy to fall in love with an album then obsess over one song until you end up forgetting how much you adored the entire thing. “Glorified High” kept me company throughout the year and I’m pretty sure it’s because it’s the most upbeat song on this intensely gorgeous, but absolutely painful album. This is one of the few times when the phrase “It hurts so good,” is spot on.
Norah Jones — Little Broken Hearts
I can’t lie, this was a surprise contender for me. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate Jones and her talent as a vocalist in the past, I just didn’t expect her to put out an album so completely, heartbreakingly transparent as this one. Each song serves as its own stage of the grieving process and the album ends with the knowledge that Norah is about to get her groove back in ways Stella only wishes she could have.
Y La Bamba — Court The Storm
Y La Bamba’s take on music is so refreshing in a way that makes you feel as though you’re going back to your roots even if your roots aren’t even remotely planted in a South American village overlooking the ocean. There were a few really fantastic indie-folk albums released this year and Court The Storm can sit comfortably next to those from Patrick Watson and The Tallest Man on Earth.
For some reason whenever I think of Grimes I have the urge to say the name three times as though she might pop up for an impromtu private concert in the same manner Beetlejuice appeared when his name was called. Claire Boucher performs a fantastically odd mixture of electronic dance music and creepily angelic vocals sounding as if they are coming from a vintage baby doll you may have boxed up and put in the attic years ago. As much as the image I just described scares the shit out of me, this album is weird, wonderful and another reason to love Canadians.
There’s an old Minnie Riperton song that goes, “Loving you is easy because you’re beautiful,” and that’s basically how I feel about Sharon Van Etten and everything she does. Hell, I even love her in the patterned Hammer-pants she wore to Lollapalooza this year. I don’t know what it is about the combination of her voice and the words she is singing but when the two pour through my ears I am always hit by whatever waves of emotion she is expressing. “All I Can” still gives me goosebumps every time it hits the 2:22 mark. Tramp has elevated Van Etten’s rising star and shows her growth not only as an artist but as a person navigating life, making mistakes and seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m pretty sure this is the most Pop-friendly album on my list and it was released only a little over a week ago. What can I say, I have an intense love for disco-soul and ballads sung from the gut. From front to back, Fall to Grace is a hit parade.
Honorable Mentions: Saintsavior — Union; Ellie Goulding — Halcyon; Psalm One – Child Support; Emily Wells — Mama; Lower Dens — Nootropics; Royal Thunder — CVI; MNDR — Feed Me Diamonds; Fallulah — The Black Cat Neighbourhood; Maya Jane Coles — DJ-Kicks; Grace Potter & The Nocturnals —The Lion The Beast The Beat.
2012 has been a pretty stellar year for nu-disco and as someone who has the fever for the funk, I ain’t mad at it. “Baby’s Got It” has definitely got it.
Stream the Madeaux Remix of Beca’s “Born To Fly” from her recent EP release, Dreams.
I am loving this fierce Stereogamous jam, “Face Love Anew”, and going to do my best to follow their instructions.
Here’s another single from what is sounding like a hot debut LP from Misfit Mod.
Dan the Automator and Emily Wells are collaborating under the name Pillowfight and you can get your shit together and stream.
Chains of Love has a new album coming out next year and they’re sharing the first pop-rocking single, “Pretend”.
Check out the ethereal electronic remix of Prince Rama’s “So Destroyed.”
The Belle Game is new to me but I am really digging “Wait Up For You” and if you’re a fan of throwback soul-infused rock sounds you’ll dig this too.
We Have Band is an under-appreciated trio consistently delivering massive jams with highly unique arrangements. Get on this.
Well my dear music-loving friends, today is a bit bittersweet for me. I moved to New York to pursue my career and I start my new job today. I am totally psyched on getting my full-time employment on but, sadly, this means today will be my last of my weekly music columns. It’s been a great four years filled with lots of incredible music and I’m so happy I got to share it with you all. Feel free to keep up with me on Twitter, Facebook, my blog and Spotify. I wish you all a happy, healthy 2013 filled with love and lots of great music.