2012 sure did deliver plenty of unforgettable moments — from ugly scandals to memorable movies, TV, and books; big sports stories to big storms; and even a presidential election. Music-wise, the year included some great debuts as well as the welcome return of some of my old favorites. It’s always hard to narrow down my top picks to a mere 20, but I hope you enjoy the final list below.
Happy listening and all the best in the new year.
I’ve removed the MP3 files but left the track listings below.
The debut of the year and a great track to kick things off. Simple, soulful and soothing. Reminds me of a male version of Tracy Chapman. Definitely a talent to keep my eyes (and ears) on.
2. “Lonely Boy” :: The Black Keys
This track first came out back in early January, but has stuck with me all year. That guitar riff sounds an awful lot like T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”. A great driving song.
3. “Splitter” :: Calexico
These guys have been around forever, but I’ve never really stopped to check out their trademark Tex-Mex sound til this year. Love the driving guitar and horns in this one.
4. “Lost in the Light” :: Bahamas
Bahamas is the stage name for Afie Jurvanen, a Canadian musician who released his 2nd album this year. This slow, brooding track has an unhurried, beautiful build that I love.
5. “Would That Not Be Nice” :: Divine Fits
Britt Daniel took time off from Spoon to put together his Divine Fits side project. While the album was a bit uneven for me, this track felt very Spoon-esque. Very nice!
6. “Change the Sheets” :: Kathleen Edwards
A welcome return for Ms. Edwards, who last appeared in my Best of 2005 collection. A cross between Shawn Colvin and Neko Case, the Canadian singer-songwriter sings her heart out on this one.
7. “Sweet Life” :: Frank Ocean
Just as he sings, “The best song wasn’t the single.” This is another album that I didn’t love, but I dug this track that reminded me a lot of vintage Stevie Wonder (especially the chorus).
8. “California” :: Delta Spirit
Another in the long list of songs about California, this super-poppy (and a bit cheesy) breakup song grabbed me immediately with its never-ending drumbeat and harmonies.
9. “Something to Believe In” :: Citizen Cope
A slow, majestic song from this dream pop duo’s fourth album. It sets a mood that’s a bit stark and sonically-rich – like spending some down time at a summer beach house 😉
12. “Ho Hey” :: The Lumineers
First heard in commercials for Microsoft and Bing, this catchy sing-a-long became a fast favorite. Off their debut album, looks like the Lumineers (out of Denver) have a bright future.
13. “Let Go” :: Everest
Another tune I came across in a TV commercial (for Corona beer). Technically, the album was released in 2010, but since I only first heard it this year, it makes the cut. House rules.
14. “Only Love” :: Ben Howard
One of my favorite groups of the late 90s/early 00s returned this year with another standout effort. Not sure what Aubben is, but glad Adam Levy and the guys from Minneapolis are back!
16. “Little Talks” :: Of Monsters and Men
A big hit in their native Iceland, Of Monsters and Men hit it big here too in 2012 with their debut and this peppy, horn-driven number. Lead singer reminds me of Bjork.
17. “No One Else but You” :: Brendan Benson
Brendan Benson, a power-pop guy who’s also played with The Raconteurs, released his 5th album this year with a track and a guitar lick that sounds like it was stolen from George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”.
18. “Proceed to Memory” :: Pinback
I had written these guys off for dead after last appearing on my Best of 2004 collection. But 2012 saw their return with another sonic, atmospheric goodie that hits all the right notes.
19. “Home” :: Phillip Phillips
You couldn’t miss this one from the TV coverage of the Summer Olympics. A Top 40 fave for most of the year, I didn’t want to like it, but finally gave in to its acoustic guitar charm.
20. “Home Again” :: Michael Kiwanuka
How to follow “Home”? How ‘bout “Home Again”, song #2 from Mr. Kiwanuka and a good way to wrap up this year’s collection.