Every year has a soundtrack. This was my soundtrack of 2012, the songs and albums that found themselves playing on repeat in my ears.
10. Grizzly Bear - Shields. A complex and layered follow-up to their previous masterpiece, Vecktatimest, Shields required multiple listens from different speakers--car, headphones, etc.--to catch all the nuance and subtlety. It's excellent musicianship that requires a bit of effort to appreciate.
9. Alabama Shakes - Alabama Shakes. A bluesy raucous medley of classic rock. With twangy guitars and fantastic drum fills, its one of the better debut albums in recent years. Kind of like The Black Keys, but with a female lead singer and more American South attitude.
8. Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits. A maraschino cheery on a bright yellow background makes the cover for this meta-group. It's an apt symbol for this music on the album--syrupy, sweet, bright, and fun. The guys from Spoon and Wolf Parade made a band together, which birthed a better album than either band has put out in years. Electronic beats, driving drum rhythms, and hypnotic lyrics all come together in this indie-pop experiment.
7. Ramona Falls - Prophet. The second album from former Menomena frontman Brent Knopf, Prophet has plenty of the quirky percussive drive, eclectic guitar sounds, and melodic piano ambiance of the first Ramona Falls album, Intuit, only with a fuller sound and a bit more diversity, as well as some spiritually-themed lyrics.
6. The xx - Coexist. Hazy and subtle, The xx is a textbook example of simplicity on the far side of complexity. Ambient guitars and barely-whispered lyrics create an atmospheric sound that feels at once intimate and opaque. The xx walks the line between lazy and relaxed, and their best moments lean towards the latter. Oh, and there are steel drums on the track, "Reunion." I like steel drums. Just saying.
5. Imagine Dragons - Night Visions. I remember hearing the single "It's Time" somewhere, like an online radio or a TV commercial. It was instantly singable, with a pounding percussive backbeat that drove the entire song. The rest of the album is just as catchy and charming, with an eclectic sound that ranges from jubilant handclaps on "On Top of the World" to the grungy synth of "Radioactive."
4. Beach House - Bloom. The two primary meanings of the word "bloom" mean both the process of flowering, and the arrival at the state of one's greatest beauty. Both seem appropriate for Beach House's fourth album, as each song builds, grows, and blossoms with airily poetic vocals. "What comes after this momentary bliss?" is the question from "Myth," the opening track. The answer: nine other tracks of momentary bliss.
3. Passion Pit - Gossamer. Synths, keyboards, samples, and the falsetto yawp of lead singer Michael Angelakos come together again to make 47 minutes of euphoria. Even when this band is singing about loss--lost love, lost family, lost wealth, etc.--there is a sense of joy that goes beyond a typical party atmosphere. Passion Pit makes me think of fireworks and confetti on a warm summer night, nodding one's head in rhythm with the music.
2. The Lumineers - The Lumineers. Simple and heartfelt lyrics about life and love characterize this debut from the Colorado folk band. And I do mean simple. The chords, the drum beats, all of it is simple without being simplistic. There is a depth here, a joyous spring of celebration and story that tells of earlier times. Listening to The Lumineers is like sitting down in a comfortable old wooden rocking chair, rustic, basic, and with a story behind each of its rhythms.
1. Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal. Apparently, all my favorite bands are from Iceland. What is with that country? They don't have any money and a misnomer of a title (. Maybe it's all the hotsprings and geysers. Anyway, Of Monsters and Men is like an amalgamation of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros with Mumford and Sons, sprinkled with a bit of The National. Which is a really good thing. Catchy songs mixed with emotional pathos and compelling harmonies, My Head is an Animal is the album that was often playing while I wrote a book and moved to Canada, the music that became my primary soundtrack for 2012.
Honourable Mentions and Awards:
Most Likely to Sound Exactly Like Their Previous Album: Mumford and Sons - Babel
Most Likely to Be Owned by a Hipster (tie): The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter; The Shins - Port of Morrow
Best Fleet Foxes Impression: Wayfarer - The River
Best George Michael Impression: Gotye - Making Mirrors
Most Fun: fun. - Some Nights
Most Whimsical: Regina Spektor - What We Saw from the Cheap Seats
Most Wasted Potential from an Amazing Band: Sigur Ros - Valtari
Best Christmas Album Involving Unicorns: Sufjan Stevens - Silver and Gold
What was your soundtrack for 2012? Share your favorite albums and songs in the comments!