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Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Top 50 Albums of 2012 (16-30)

Today is the second installment of my favorite albums of the year. If you missed part one, you can find it here. And I should mention that if you're looking to buy some new music, now is a great time to do it. Quite a few of these albums (and plenty of others) are currently $5.00 to download on Amazon. Back to the countdown now though.

30) Family of the Year - Loma Vista

I'm currently back in Minnesota on winter break from school. My car radio has been constantly tuned to The Current since I've been back, which has reminded me just how amazing it is to have good local radio. One of the rewards has been the discovery of California based indie folk group Family Of The Year. Their whole album is good, but the track "Hero" was the first one I heard, and it is still by far my favorite. I'm excited to spend more time listening to that song and this album now.

29) Purity Ring - Shrines

Purity Ring is an electronic dream pop duo from Canada. Megan James' vocals combine with Corin Roddick's electronic backing into something pretty fantastic. "Shrines" was the band's debut album, and they've set the bar high for themselves now. "Fineshrine" is my favorite song of the bunch, but there are a few gems in there.

28) Meursault - Something For The Weakened

Meursault is the second Scottish indie rock group to make this list (although they have a more lo-fi sound that toes the line between indie folk than Admiral Fallow). This is Meursault's third album, and in my opinion their strongest and most consistent output. They've had songs I've enjoyed in the past, but this is the first album that hooked me the whole way through. "Dull Spark" is one of only a handful of songs that I felt compelled to obsessively listen to for a period of time this year. "Flittin'" and "Lament For A Teenage Millionaire" are other highlights. The band also gets bonus points from me for naming themselves after the main character in Albert Camus' "The Stranger" and for what is one of my favorite album titles of the year.

27) Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

As the son of Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle has music in his blood (and in his middle name, which was named for Townes Van Zandt). He seems to churn out music at a pretty good rate, but the quality of it doesn't suffer from this fact. "Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now" is yet another solid Americana output from Earle in a career with several of them. Unfortunately, he lost out to Fiona Apple for the award of longest album title in 2012. The title track and "Memphis in the Rain" are two of my favorite songs. 

26) Polica - Give You The Ghost

I would love this Polica album even if the band wasn't from Minneapolis, but it makes me happy that they are. The band released their album on Valentine's Day, and they seem to have garnered a good deal of attention since then. I saw them perform on a side stage at Sasquatch this summer, and even out in Washington state they had a pretty good sized crowd. The music is electronic indie rock with R&B elements, but the highlight is definitely lead singer Channy Leaneagh's vocals. Like Purity Ring, this is a really strong debut, and I'm excited to see what Polica does in the future. The lead track "Amongster" is my favorite track.

25) The xx - Coexist

The xx already had their strong debut album back in 2009, which left them with the task of trying to follow it up this year. "Coexist" showed that the British band's debut wasn't a fluke. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, they have just further nailed the sparse indie pop sound that we previously heard. They are evidence that a little sound can go a long way.

24) Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't

"I Know What Love Isn't" is Jens Lekman's first album in five years. I had sort of lost track of him as an artist over that time, but this album put the Swedish singer-songwriter back on my radar and then some. He has always had a way with words, and this album is no different. This album contains lines like "You don't learn to get over a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully" from "The World Moves On" and "Jennifer called, told me about her latest admirer / I said, Someone should make a pamphlet called / So You Think You're In Love With Jennifer?" from "Become Someone Else's". I recommend just sitting down and listening to the album repeatedly to pick it all up. Few artists can bring a smile to my face with a turn of phrase quite like him. This album has rekindle of my love of Jens Lekman's music and has me going back to old albums as well. I guess the five years was worth the wait.

23) The Lumineers - The Lumineers

The Lumineers took the music world by storm with their folk. Their debut album earned them Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Americana Album. Usually I don't see eye to eye with the Grammy voters, but they nailed it with this one. What makes their success even more inspiring is that they did it on the indie record label Dualtone. Instead of a major label forcing the music down people's throats, their success was earned through good old fashioned word of mouth. Whether you know it or not, you've probably heard the song "Ho Hey" somewhere. "Flowers In Your Hair" is a great sub-2:00 song if you're just really stretched for time.

22) Joe Pug - The Great Despiser

I've written about Joe Pug multiple times before on this blog, but that's because he's one of the best folk artists around today. One day he'll get the recognition he deserves. I was fortunate to be able to see him live a few months ago, and he puts on a great live show too. He (or more accurately the venue) had been having issues with the monitors most of the night, so when he came back for an encore, he performed a really great unplugged song. He has relied on word of mouth to spread his music, originally by giving away a five song CD for free, and now by doing the same with a download. I've posted it at the bottom of this post if you're interested. If you're checking out the new album, I recommend "Deep Dark Wells" and "The Great Despiser."

21) Good Old War - Come Back As Rain

This album came out in March and was one of my most played albums this Spring. Maybe it's because of this, but it feels like a perfect Spring album to me. The songs are so full of energy and what feels like optimism (without listening to the lyrics too much). The band derived their name from the last name's of the three members GOODwin, arnOLD, and schWARtz. I love the creative naming. While I haven't listened to this album as much lately, maybe I will more once the sun comes out a bit. "Calling Me Names" and "Better Weather" are both great songs.

20) Hospitality - Hospitality

This is the debut album for Hospitality, a New York band signed to Merge Records. The only reason I initially listened to the album was that Merge has such a fantastic track record of putting out great music. You can get the label's Spring sampler here, which includes a track by Hospitality. If you're curious to learn more about the best (in my opinion) label in the country, this book by John Cook was a really good read. I'm starting to realize that there are quite a few debut albums in this group. There's lots to look forward to in the future from these bands. "Betty Wang" and "Friends of Friends" (which features a music video with Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development) are my two favorite tracks from the album.

19) Stars - The North

Stars is an indie pop group from Canada who has been making music for almost a dozen years. I listened to this band A TON back when I was in undergrad (along with Death Cab For Cutie). I haven't listened to them much in the last few years, but "The North" may bring me back to their music. "Set Yourself On Fire" remains one of my favorite albums of all-time, so it's hard to imagine anything matching that, but this album is plenty good on its own. Few bands can work with two lead singers as well as Stars does with Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Check out the track "Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It."

18) Lord Huron - Lonesome Dreams

We're really getting into the excellent albums at this point. "Lonesome Dreams" is an album I find myself returning to pretty often. The California band plays indie folk music but with some more atmospheric and dreamlike qualities. There are a lot of layered elements that all come together to make something that just sticks itself in my mind long after I'm done listening. If you're looking for a couple tracks to check out, "Time To Run" and "She Lit A Fire" are a good place to start. Lord Huron seems to be still relatively unknown, but I hoping that changes once enough people hear this album.

17) The Tallest Man On Earth - There's No Leaving Now

The last two Tallest Man On Earth albums finished third and first on my end of year lists. That is mostly an indication of just how high the Swedish folk singer-songwriter, Kristian Matsson set the bar. This album wasn't quite up to that standard for me, but it is still excellent. I've come to the conclusion over the years that The Tallest Man On Earth is the only artist I know who is incapable of writing a bad song. Some songs are better than others, but I'm not sure he's released a single song that just makes me shrug and I don't enjoy. That is quite a feat to span over three full length albums and two EPs. I mentioned that Joe Pug is one of the best folk artists around, and I think that he and The Tallest Man On Earth (and M. Ward) headline that group. "Little Brother" with its heartbreaking lyrics and "1904" are my favorite tracks from the album.

16) Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur

Kathleen Edwards released her first album in 2003. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to checking her music out until this year when I heard she had been dating Justin Vernon of Bon Iver who helped produce this record. I suppose it's better to stumble upon her music now than never. This album is fantastic. The Canadian singer-songwriter has a great voice, excellent lyrics, and songs that match that quality. The lyrics focus a lot on her divorce and are immensely personal because of that. On the opening track she sings "I'm moving to America... it's an empty threat" and on "Change The Sheets" she announces "I want to lie in the cracks of this lonely road / I can fill in the blanks every time you don't phone / here is the truth, I swear it used to be fun / go ahead run, run, run, run, run, run." I imagine I'll return to this album quite a bit in the future, and I'm already having second thoughts about not ranking it higher.

Like yesterday, here's a sampling of some of my favorite songs from these albums followed by the free Joe Pug download I promised above.


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