With the year coming to an end, everyone from Rolling Stone to Spin is out with their obligatory lists of the best albums of 2012.
But here at Seattle Sounds, the crack staff (Seattle Weekly music editor Chris Kornelis, author and journalist Marc Baumgarten and me) decided it’s just too hard and arbitrary to try and rank the diverse musical offerings we heard in 2012. Instead, we’ve opted to highlight a few of those albums that stuck out for us and kept us listening. While we have plenty of local picks, our list is far from provincial.
Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman quit the band, disappeared for a while, freaked out, moved to LA and reemerged as Father John Misty with a folky, psychedelic transformation that showcased his exceptional songwriting and voice.
Brandi Carlile – Bear Creek
We’ve sung the praises of local girl done good Brandi Carlile plenty of times. But somehow we keep coming back to her latest release Bear Creek, a beautiful collection of rock, pop and country showcases her voice and songwriting skills along with the amazing growth of collaborators Tim and Phil Hanseroth.
We loved the range she shows and the feelings she conveys, from the rollicking “Raise Hell” to the beautiful ballad “That Wasn’t Me.” For some reason it just really resonated from beginning to end.
Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
Longtime Seattle singer/songwriter Damien Jurado told us earlier this year that Maraqopa is the first album he made that he actually liked from beginning to end.
It’s understandable. Beautiful, haunting, emotional, it evokes a feeling and a sound that keeps unveiling deeper meaning and enjoyment upon every listen. Jurado takes us on a trip we don’t want to end.
Hunger Games Soundtrack – Various Artists
Although many of the songs don’t actually appear in the movie, Producer T-Bone Burnett pulled together an exceptional collection of music that conveys the spirit of the film, and more importantly, showcases some of the best songs of the year. Chris and I both thought it was fantastic playlist for 2012 with a wonderful diversity of artists including Neko Case, Arcade Fire, Taylor Swift, The Decemberists and even Maroon 5.
Deep Sea Diver – History Speaks
There’s something fun about discovering something completely unexpected, and that was the joy of stumbling upon Deep Sea Diver’s History Speaks. Originally a solo project, Seattle-based guitarist Jessica Dobson delivered a tour de force of that ranges from reverb-drenched power pop to moving, atmospheric ballads that grab you from the get go. There’s a lot of buzz behind the former Shins guitarist and this album shows why.
Neil Young – Psychedelic Pill
Yes, we like to rock as much as the next person here at Seattle Sounds. And nothing brought a smile to our faces (and a stomp to our feet) more than Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s latest offering. It’s a direct descendant of Rust Never Sleeps, with a raucous return to the Americana garage of decades past. The album is everything you’d expect from the band: dirty, sloppy, dreamy and rocking.
Jack White – Blunderbuss
There’s nothing groundbreaking here. Just another blues infused throwback with his unique vocal and guitar stylings. And that’s what we liked so much about Jack White’s latest. The debut solo album from the former White Stripes leader evokes the classic rock of bands like Led Zeppelin and the Stones, yet somehow makes it feel fresh. His lyrics are as engaging as his guitar work, delivering one of the best pure play rock and roll albums of the year.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – The Heist
I have to admit I’m not much of a fan of hip hop. But Seattle’s Macklemore and Ryan Lewis crafted an inspiring, contagious collection of songs that combined his powerful, intelligent and clever lyrics with compelling music and beats that somehow transcended the genre (as evidenced by the fact my 11-year-old daughter and I both like to listen and sing along.) The moving “Same Love”, which became an anthem for the same-sex marriage movement, is as beautiful and emotional a song as came out all year.
Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It
One of the goals of our show is discovering music you (and us) wouldn’t normally listen to on our own. That was the case with this album from Seattle singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas that Marc brought to our attention. The collection of dark, somber, simple songs, mostly performed solely on the keyboard, can be challenging but tremendously rewarding. As Marc puts it, “it’s emotional without being confessional close to the line of melodrama but never crosses it.”
Mount Eerie – Clear Moon
Another less than conventional pick from Marc, this one made our list for its sonic adventurousness. Phil Elvrum built his identity sitting in a room creating lo-fi sound experiments, and expands his audio architecture with a unique sound collage that’s challenging, interesting, discordant but shot through with great melodies. If you’re looking for something completely different, this one is just the ticket.
Obviously, there are hundreds of others we could have included, but hopefully our suggestions help you discover some music you might not have otherwise given a shot. Happy New Year from the Seattle Sounds crew.