1. FREELANCE WHALES: "DILUVIA"
For those of you not familiar with Freelance Whales, they are a band based out of New York, started by Judah Dadone, who, after collecting a wide array of instruments from various sources, including Craigslist, he set out to find people to play said instruments the way any smart person would do.... via CRAIGSLIST!
On DILUVIA, Mr. Dadone and company have elaborated on what they started on their debut, "WEATHERVANES". Filled with all sorts of eclectic instrumentation, this album is even more lush and complete than its predecessor. Top it off with some of the catchiest melodies to grace the music stores in 2012, and it earns the top spot on my list.
It should be added that, after being a 13 year fan of the literary work of John Sandford, my dream of owning a Freelance Whales t-shirt, like Sandford character, Virgil Flowers, was finally realized. Thank you, Freelance Whales... not only for a great album... but for coming to visit us in Salt Lake.
2. DEAD CAN DANCE: "ANASTASIS"
2012 not only saw the realization of my dream of owning a Freelance Whales t-shirt, like Minnesota BCA Agent, Virgil Flowers, but it saw the realization of my 16 year dream of seeing Dead Can Dance.
In 1996, a few friends and I had 2nd row balcony tickets to see Dead Can Dance at Kingsbury Hall, located on the University of Utah campus. It was my birthday... a scorching hot August day. We were all so full of anticipation for what was bound to be one of the best concerts of my life. At 4:00 in the afternoon, the devastating news hit the X-96 radio airwaves.... Dead Can Dance was cancelled, due to member Lisa Gerrard suffering from a bout of the flu. No postponement... no rescheduling... simply cancelled. And, as if that wasn't bad enough, members Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard went their separate ways, only a few months later.
It wasn't until well into the new century that Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard began to tour together, only playing random dates around the globe. In 2011, they announced that they were reuniting to write and record a new album. I was so excited... and ready to travel, if need be, to see them. My dream was fulfilled when they were announced as part of the Red Butte Gardens Concert Series, held each summer in the beautiful garden spot located on the east bench of Salt Lake City. What better venue for a band like Dead Can Dance? Well... after the fact, Abravanel Hall would have been nice. But that's me.
Enough about the show, however. This album was everything I had hoped. Rather than continuing on in the vein of "SPIRITCHASER", their album prior to breaking up in 1996, which was an extremely percussive album, the new album, "ANASTASIS" sounded along the lines of the recent Brendan Perry solo album, "ARK", featured in my Top 20 of 2010. Divided almost equally between both songwriters/vocalists, this album was the perfect return to Dead Can Dance.... and, it features my favorite song of the year, "HEROIN".
3. OF MONSTERS AND MEN: "MY HEAD IS AN ANIMAL"
These cats are from Iceland. Need I say more? Yeah? Well... just give it a listen. And, if the infectious melodies, harmonies, instrumentation and overall good cheer don't get you, why don't you turn the album into a drinking game. I'm not a drinker... thank heavens... because IF I was, this album would be too tempting to NOT turn into a drinking game. Because, IF I (or anyone else) were to take a drink every time you hear the word, "HEY!", you'd be in a coma by the end of the album.
That said... one of my favorite albums of the year... one of my favorite live shows of the year. Iceland does NOT disappoint.
4. ROSIE THOMAS: "WITH LOVE"
As if 2012 hadn't already been the year of having dreams fulfilled, it was the year I finally got to see Rosie Thomas. I first stumbled upon the work of Rosie Thomas several years ago, after checking one of her discs out of the library. Truth be told, I probably did that based upon the fact that that particular album was on Sub Pop Records. That is all the incentive I need. I was immediately smitten by the beautiful melancholy sounds that Rosie produces, something that would become one of the most ironic aspects of my experiences with music. You see, Rosie sings some of the saddest songs... well, with the exception of THIS album, which is all about love... yet, seeing her live, or listening to her cheerful banter, it is hard to NOT have a smile on your face. In all honesty, people, she is one of the most endearing people you will ever meet.
My dear friend, Mary, and I have both been big fans for over two years. During that time, Rosie had been mostly silent. It probably had to do with the fact that she fell in love and got married. So, we were both elated when we found out that Rosie had a new album coming out, and even MORE excited when we found out she was coming to our favorite Salt Lake concert venue, The State Room. And, if THAT wasn't already the coolest news up to that point (May), her comedic alter-ego, Sheila Saputo, was ALSO going to appear. Daggum, if that wasn't the coolest thing ever.
No... what was, in fact, the coolest thing ever, was when we got to meet Rosie, following the show. The first thing Rosie did, after talking to the doting fans in front of us, was run up to Mary and give her a hug like they were old 'Nam buddies who hadn't seen each other since the war. The reality being that they had never met, but that Rosie T. is one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever encountered. Full of love, life and positivity, she brings light to the world around her.
As does this album.
5. SIGUR ROS: "VALTARI"
What was it I said back on album number three? That comment about Iceland? Swell, score another for the artistic, pasty, beautiful people of that remote island country. Sigur Ros has been blessing the world with their artistic form of Art Pop since 1994. There is nothing shy of eclectic with this band, and this record is no different. Their predecessor, with the name that I won't even attempt to write (it's Icelandic and my keyboard would simply implode), was the closest they came to a mainstream sound. And it's far from mainstream. This album delves into a darker, quieter corner, creating some of the most mesmerizing sounds of 2012. It's peaceful. It's stirring. It's thought provoking. It's Sigur Ros.
The following video contains NUDITY. You have been warned.
6. THE AVETT BROTHERS: "THE CARPENTER"
Holy fetch!! I almost forgot these fine fellas from North Carolina! You'll see what I mean, when you get to the review for the latest Mumford & Sons. Sheesh. Anyhooooo...
This, the latest release from the North Carolina natives is the second to be produced by Rick Rubin, following the success of their previous album, "I AND LOVE AND YOU". While I have heard some say that they don't care for this album as much as "I AND LOVE AND YOU", I honestly got to say that I like it a little more. It's taken a more mellow approach, which may be what some folks criticize. I've been listening to the Avetts for 7 or so years, and I am happy to see them evolving. I love the early, boisterous row... I love the new kinder, gentler Avett Brothers. Thanks, Seth. Thanks, Scott. And thank you, Rick Rubin.
7. STEVE HOGARTH & RICHARD BARBIERI: "NOT THE WEAPON, BUT THE HAND"
I'll admit it. I didn't even own this album until a couple weeks ago. I knew about it, but because it was primarily released on the UK based K-Scope Records, and since most record stores would never bother carrying music by two names that don't seem familiar, although many people have heard the two men in one incarnation or another.
Steve Hogarth began his musical career as a keyboardist/vocalist for the early 80's New Wave band, THE EUROPEANS. They had a minimal hit with "THE ANIMAL SONG". You may be scratching your head at both the band name and the song title, but YouTube it. You've heard it. Less than a decade after his stint with The Europeans, he landed the lead vocalist spot in the Scottish/British Neo-Prog band, MARILLION, replacing Fish, who had left to pursue a solo career.
Richard Barbieri first hit the international music scene as keyboardist for the late 70's/early 80's band Japan, a band that was part Glam Rock, part New Romantic. To this day, I stand by the fact that Duran Duran would have never forged their image if it weren't for Japan. He went on to do other projects, some with other Japan alumni (The Dolphin Brothers, with Steve Jansen, as well as "Jansen-Barbieri", also... and obviously... with Steve Jansen), as well as some of the leading figures in the Art Pop community. Eventually, Richard Barbieri landed a full time spot in Porcupine Tree, the Steven Wilson project that has garnered critical praise and an army of rabid fans all across the globe... myself included.
This collaboration was intriguing from its initial announcement, and was not a disappointment. With the exception of one upbeat song, this album was nearly flawless.... albeit very somber.
8. GLEN HANSARD: "RHYTHM AND REPOSE"
Another figure that you may not know by name, but most probably will by sound. Best known as the male half of THE SWELL SEASON, or possibly as the vocalist of the Irish band, THE FRAMES, many have discovered the work of Mr. Hansard via his part in the hit Indie film, ONCE. This album is mainly a solo album, although Swell Season partner, Marketa Irglova, appears on a few tracks. It's another album full of melancholy... but you probably gathered that, after looking at the cover. This is one of my "warm blanket" albums of the year... something to soothe me when I'm feeling down. Perhaps, I should give it a listen.
9. BEACH HOUSE: "BLOOM"
I could sum this up by just saying SUB POP, but I won't. Labeled as "Dream Pop", you would be hard pressed to find a more fitting title. Consisting of French vocalist, Victoria Legrand, and Baltimore native, Alex Scally, this band has been pleasing critics and fans alike, for the past several years. "Bloom", their fourth release, is a beautiful addition to an already stellar catalog. Consisting mainly of keyboards and guitar, this project has a most artistic sound, while maintaining Pop music accessibility.
10. DAVID BYRNE & ST. VINCENT: "LOVE THIS GIANT"
Who's that handsome gray-haired man with the unnaturally chiseled features? Why, it's David Byrne! For those of you outside of the loop, Mr. Byrne was the frontman (and wearer of the abnormally big suit) of iconic 80's band, THE TALKING HEADS. David has continued on with a solo career that has delved into many genres of music, from World to ethereal, and has garnered critical praise wherever he ventures.
A few years ago he set out to do a 2 CD set... a Rock Opera, if you will... chronicling the life of former Philippines First Lady, Imelda Marcos.... the lady best known for her shoes. On this album, David utilized the help of many guest vocalists, primarily female, including St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark). It was undoubtedly this collaboration... plus the critically acclaimed career of Ms. Clark... that led to this union. This album is full of all things quirky... including plenty of tuba. Quirkiness.....it's what St. Vincent and David Byrne do best.
11. SEA WOLF: "OLD WORLD ROMANCE"
This album, the latest by SEA WOLF, is primarily a solo project by leader Alex Brown Church, an LA native. This album has brought the group to a much more lush sound than on earlier works, rounding out the usual Sea Wolf sound with strings and more elaborate production. I like the earlier work of Sea Wolf. I LOVE this album.
12. A SILENT FILM: "SAND & SNOW"
Before Halloween 2012, I had never heard of this band. When I walked into The Depot, a Salt Lake concert venue, I was treated to their delicious sounds. Before the end of their set, I had their CD in hand. This band hails from England and are similar to their fellow countrymen, Keane (who will also be featured on this list). The only difference is more guitar will be found here. This album reeks of melody from start to finish and is beautifully produced. I have nothing bad to say about it. It'd probably be higher on the list if it weren't so accessible.
13. TIFT MERRITT: "TRAVELING ALONE"
I first discovered Tift Merritt about 10 years ago. I want to say it was 1994... the album was Tambourine. She opened up for Mindy Smith at a Park City area nightclub. I was immediately taken by the passion in her voice. There is nothing normal about the way she sings.... part Southern Belle... part Janis Joplin. In all fairness, probably closer to the former, rather than the latter. Either way, she has a set of pipes. Add one of the most beautiful, melancholy albums... full of "moody steel guitar" (one of my great musical loves)... and you have one of the tastiest albums of the last year.
14. FATHER JOHN MISTY: "FEAR FUN"
The only reason why this album probably isn't higher is because I probably didn't give it the fair shake that I should have. I really enjoy the music on this record. I don't know why I didn't find it on more frequent rotation on my turntable. Father John Misty, a.k.a. Joshua Tillman, the drummer of seminal Indie band, FLEET FOXES, has taken a new name (Father John Misty) after recording several albums under the moniker, "J. Tillman". In reality, although most credited for being a member of Fleet Foxes, Tillman states that his role was very overstated... that he wasn't that integral to the band. He no longer performs with them and is focusing on his own career. That said, I would say that his involvement with Fleet Foxes helped add to his harmonic sensibilities that are rampant on this album.
15. KEANE: "STRANGELAND"
Some call them "Piano Pop", I call them good. No... I call them great. Especially after seeing them perform live. These lads from the UK have been making waves stateside for years, mostly winning over the "Adult Alternative" market. This album seems to be the strongest I recall... at least since "HOPES AND FEARS". This is another one of those albums that immediately feels familiar upon first listen. That isn't always a good thing, but it seems to work with these boys.
16. MUMFORD & SONS: "BABEL"
This album would probably be higher on the list if it weren't for the fact that it was so bleedin' much like the first album. It varies a tad, and in some of the better moments. I really enjoy these blokes, although not as much as my fellow Americans. While they have seemingly latched on to the Mumfords, I keep my loyalties with The Avett Brothers.... who I've apparently forgotten to put on this list! SHEEEEEEEOOOOT!! Of course, by time you read this, that will have been rectified.
The best part of this album? The vinyl release came with an mp3 digital download that was taken from... a vinyl source. It's nice to hear the warmth and usual vinyl anomalies while listening to the album on my iPod. Thanks, fellas!
17. KATHLEEN EDWARDS: "VOYAGEUR""VOYAGEUR", the latest release by Canadian singer/songwriter, marks, in my opinion, her best release to date. This album, yet another "divorce album", rings very close to home for me. Possibly because I am 2 years, 3 months separated... soon to be divorced myself. This album was produced by her (then, and possibly current) boyfriend, Justin Vernon. That's Bon Iver, yo. Between the heartfelt lyrics and Justin's production, this album is all sorts of magic. Well... #17 magic, anyhow.
18. ANDREW BIRD: "BREAK IT YOURSELF/HANDS OF GLORY"
Call me a cheater, because I put BOTH Andrew Bird albums here. Go ahead, I dare you. The reality is that I have heard the latest release, the not-quite-a-full-length-LP "Hands of Glory", is a "companion piece" to "Break It Yourself". It's an addendum, if you will. And, for the record, I will.
Yet another album(s) that should be a little higher on the list, but I didn't give them the consistent attention they probably deserved. That said, whenever I do, I do sincerely enjoy them. Whether it's Andrew's uncanny ability to whistle... or play a beautiful violin solo... this is some good, eclectic music. And you should pay attention. Yeah, I said it.... you SHOULD pay attention. If you haven't started already.
19. ANBERLIN: "VITAL"
Some may ask themselves, "Why, Mr. Zeke? Why?", and to you I say, "BECAUSE!" I've been smitten with the music of Anberlin, ever since I was first exposed to them while browsing the CD selection at Wal-Mart. That was a) when I used to shop at Wal-Mart... and b) when Wal-Mart actually stocked more than 100 CDs. I found CITIES and listened to it on one of their old listening stations and was blown away by the energy, the melody, the passion. Every subsequent album (and it's predecessors) have been the same. This album is no exception. And, if that isn't enough, they have expanded their sound with keyboards and other sounds not native to earlier Anberlin recordings. Kudos, boys.... your positive, upbeat music is still as good as it was all those years ago.
20. MUSE: "THE 2ND LAW"
We are into the second decade of the illustrious career of these lads from England, and they have yet to slow down. They seem to continuously strive to take things to an entirely new level... a more grandiose level... and it usually works, but not always.
When I initially picked up this CD at a local music store, the clerks were rather pessimistic about the sound. As a matter of fact, the manager ended up giving me a promo copy with two stipulations... first, that I not tell anyone (this doesn't count)... and second, that I purchase something else. I picked up the vinyl of the latest from BAND OF HORSES. That album probably "should" be on this list, but since I have only listened to it two or three times, I believe I would be best served on leaving it off. It's good... don't get me wrong... but, I should be talking about Muse, so I had better.
So, I took the CD home and listened through. I not only liked what I heard, but I loved a big chunk of it. Their sound is becoming more and more diverse, but it is still uniquely Muse.
Now, to just sit back and wait for a concert date to be announced. THAT is a show not to miss.
21. ALABAMA SHAKES: "BOYS & GIRLS"
So... I cheated again. I have 21 albums listed on my Top 20. That's because I a) left off the Avett Brothers initially, and b) because the artwork was already here.
This album has eaten at me while I have done this list. I have continually told myself that it should be higher on the list, if not just for the passion in singer Brittany Howard's voice. That girl can SING. The reality is that I just don't turn to it often enough, as I have the albums listed higher on the list. It's a great listen... with a great sound... but I need to be in the mood for it. Hence it's place.
So, for all y'all out there wagging your fingers at me, AT LEAST IT'S ON THE LIST! Thank you and you're welcome.