This has been an amazing year for music, so deciding on a top 10 albums list has been verging on the impossible. My first short-list consisted of 48 albums, and this was then short-listed down to 23 before deciding on the final 10.
With each one I’ll briefly describe the album, my reasons for choosing it, and will also include clips of my favourite songs. Enjoy!
Gypsy & The Cat are a duo from Melbourne, Australia, who debuted in 2010 with a synth-pop album of sorts titled Gilgamesh, which proved a hit both with the alternative and popular crowds. This second offering, while retaining the general dreamy feel of their first album, is much more psychedelic in sound and influence, and includes less synth, more real instrumentation, and a lot more experimentation. As far as I’m concerned though, they pulled it off quite well, and I think this album absolutely deserves to be on this list.
I’ll admit it – I really like Paul McCartney’s music, and I think some of the best material of his career has appeared in the last decade or so. With this album, he covers some of his favourite songs from his childhood, mostly from the first half of last century, and many of these songs aren’t necessarily well known songs but ones which have a special meaning for McCartney himself. The album is a beautiful easy listening album, this ex-Beatle asserting himself as a successful crooner. It also features two original songs, including My Valentine, which was released as a single.
Chairlift are another indie band with that electro-pop feel to them. This is their first album since one of their founding members left, but to my ears this album sounds much sharper and focused than their earlier work, being both catchy but also quite layered and clever, and I listened to this a lot at the start of this year. If you listen to the song below that I’ve included, make sure you listen to the whole song – one of my favourite moments on the whole album is towards the end of this song (about three or four minutes in if I remember correctly).
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are among several bands who were part of the big band and swing revival of the 90s, and they have managed to remain successful, innovative and relevant ever since. This, their latest offering, is one of their most energetic albums to date, with a mixture of covers from prohibition era America through various swing sounds to relatively modern ground, as well as half a dozen songs penned by talented frontman Scotty Morris. Even if you don’t listen to this style of music, you’ll struggle not to tap your toes to this brilliant album that shows a unique band at their creative peak.
After spending a decade or so playing around with prog rock, The Pineapple Thief have more recently started to branch out toward different sounds which has resulted in increased success for the band in both album sales and touring. Their latest album retains the intelligent song writing from their earlier career, while cutting a fine balance between hard hitting heavy rock songs and beautifully layered alternative rock. This album shows a band who is growing, and is clearly destined for greater things – a band to watch, in other words.
Psychedelic rock has been making a comeback in recent years, owing in particular to the success of Tame Impala, a band who shares several members with Pond. This album, Pond’s fourth, is by far one of the best and most fun psychedelic rock albums in years. While many bands aiming for this sound write slow, trippy songs, this album is utterly bursting with energy, with songs taking influences from 60s and 70s rock, but still retaining an appealing modern sound and a great sense of humour (typical Aussies). If you want a rock album to actually rock out to, go no further than this!
Something For Kate are a three piece alternative rock band from Melbourne, Australia, and have had quite a large following in Australia for the last decade and a half. After taking a break while frontman Paul Dempsey released his stunning solo album Everything Is True, they have returned with this, their sixth album, with a new energy and approach. The album is daring and varied in musical direction, being hard to pin down to any one style, the lyrics are poetic and philosophical though also humorous, and the song writing is absolutely first class. This album was a reminder of why Something For Kate has been a favourite band of mine for so many years.
Glen Hansard is no newcomer to the music world, having been frontman for much loved Irish band The Frames, star of award winning film Once, and one half of the duo The Swell Season. However, on this, his first solo album, we hear a very different Hansard. This is the quietest material he has ever written, and while some critics have viewed this negatively, I think they are simply disappointed that it isn’t as loud as his older music. But for me, the intimate intensity of his singing, the restrained and gentle guitar playing, and the haunting melancholy that lingers throughout the record all contributes to what is quite a good album. Don’t judge this on your first listen, it takes several plays before you can fully appreciate the subtle brilliance at work here.
After the melancholy and intimate sound of Rufus Wainwright’s previous album (which featured only vocals and piano), he wanted to return to a more upbeat pop music sound on this, his seventh album. And that is exactly what he does, but not without keeping that incredible song writing, big instrumentation and simply huge voice of his. Though the pop styled songs that fill most of the album are fun, my favourite three songs are the last three, and are probably the most serious too, but these last three songs are among the most beautiful Wainwright has ever written. This album ranks among the best work of a man who has already established himself as a musical genius.
I think when I first finished listening to this album the whole way through, halfway through the year, I knew there and then that this was my favourite album of the year. A collaboration between English prog rock genius Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, a solo artist, and various other bands), and Swedish prog metal artist Mikael Åkerfeldt from the band Opeth, this album interestingly sounds like nothing either have done before. It’s progressive alright, but it’s so quiet it barely contains drums for the majority of the six track album. But the songs are ambient, orchestral, haunting, even disturbing in places, yet also beautiful and intense. It is hard to describe this album, but it is one of the most ambitious and brilliant albums I have heard in a long time, and I have no hesitation in declaring it my favourite album of 2012.
This was truly a tough Top 10 to decide, and what astounds me are the artists I cut, as many are among my favourites – Martha Wainwright, Ben Folds Five, Dave Matthews Band, Regina Spektor, Band of Horses, Metric, Serj Tankian…there were so many who just didn’t quite make the final group. But it is what it is, and for me I feel I have chosen ten albums that left the biggest mark on me this year.
What were your favourite albums of 2012? Do you think it was a good year for music as well?