Despite the seemingly contradictory implications, indie music, like anything else in this world, has its incoming and outgoing trends. For me, and for the indie community at large, 2012 was the year of folk. Whether it’s the gravely vocals of Mumford types that tickles your fancy, the sweetly plucked acoustics of the Lumineer variety, or the nasally Dylan vibes of the Tallest Man on Earth that you dig, it’s all good and it was all in vast supply over the past twelve months. While my end of the years list (which is, admittedly, a bit late) contains its fair share of the genre, I attempted to mix things up a bit for the sake of variety. Hopefully these ten albums either already, or soon will, have a huge impact on your life. Below are my top ten albums of the year 2012 along with a short blurb about each and a few honorable mentions tossed in for good measure towards the end.
If I had to make a list of things I love in this world, whistling and violin music would definitely be somewhere near the top. Unfortunately, I have only have somewhat passable proficiency of the former and my attempts at the latter would result in the worst musical experience this side of a Taylor Swift concert for anyone unfortunate enough to hear it. Lucky for me, Andrew Bird continuously rises to the occasion, providing pleasant folk-tunes filled with frantic fiddling and truly awe-inspiring whistles.
On their newest effort, Mewithoutyou don’t delve too deeply into their post-hardcore roots, but they also don’t venture much further into their recently adopted folk sound. Instead, the group sits somewhere in the middle, combining poetic lyricism with deep instrumentals and topping it off with the always-interesting vocal work of front man Aaron Weiss.
If I dared you to find a better band with a worse name, you’d be hard-pressed to do so. The indie-pop / rock band seemed to materialize overnight with their chart-blasting single, “It’s Time.” Not a band to let their singles define them, Imagine Dragons have crafted an album as diverse as it is fun, going from explosive, chorus-driven numbers like “Demons,” to the synth-heavy, dance opener “radioactive,” all the way down to mellow, but hard-hitting closer “Nothing Left to Say,” this band proves they can solid indie-pop effort that is both diverse and deep.
On their third album, Philadelphia natives Good Old War do the unthinkable for a band in the indie-folk genre, they stick to their guns all the while managing to create something fresh and enjoyable. Whether it’s the perfect three-way vocal harmony, the subtly danceable folk-guitar, or lyrical depth, something about Good Old War will have you mesmerized from start to finish. This album absolutely bursts with perfect early-evening jams, created to while away as the sun goes down on another sticky-sweet summer day. For those of us unfortunately trapped beneath the frost of winter at the moment, this album offers refuge from the biting, transporting listeners to those zen-like nights spend on the back porch, soaking in the sounds and the feelings of day as it slowly lays down.
There are albums that affect your mood, that alter or enhance it; Then there are albums that create your, demand you feel a certain way, bringing you up or down as they wander listlessly in and out of your life. The duo Tigers on Trains have created the latter, an album that begs stilled complacency, relaxation and harmony, gentle lyric work with soft folk instrumentation. Some make the claim that the album sits around, that it never changes pace, or it blends and, while I cannot refute these claims, I will add to them by saying those three things are exactly what makes it so great. The songs may come and go in a matter of minutes, but their lasting impression, their mood-altering power will have you beckoning for another moment of blissful serenity that can only be delivered through music.
Don't call it a come back, call it a return to form. On their latest album, Anberlin prove to their recently wary fan base that they still have what it takes to deliver the goods, albeit at decibels capable of shattering even the strongest of foundations. With grinding guitars, power chords churning at every turn, and the glorious return of synth backing, the bands collective members step forward to showoff their chops and prove lead vocalist Stephen Christian isn't the only one of them who can show off if need be. Come for the rock n' roll revival, stick around for the absolutely beautiful and breathtaking closer. Seriously.
On her sixth full-lenth album, the most surprising thing the Russian pop singer has done is to close her album on a simple acoustic guitar-driven love song. While this doesn't sound surprising, or maybe even interesting, it should be pointed at that Spektor has never been one to be defined by the word conventional. Sure, armed with absolutely splendid vocal abilities, she is capable of producing the most jaw-dropping piano ballads, but her antics usually begin when she seems to grow tired of simply singing. This album, for example, has Spektor faux-rapping, grooving, mimicking cannon fire, making trumpet sounds, and seemingly ad-libbing a large majority of lyrics. It's weird, it's fun, I might even call it quirky, but it's definitely beautiful and it definitely deserves attention.
“Shields” was, by and large, the most complicated album I listened to this past year, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. I don’t mean that the music is unapproachable or hard to get, but that it contains such lushness and depth that with each listen, you discover something entirely new. Whether it’s the numerous layers of instruments, the haunting vocals, or simply the structured way it all fits together, Shields is a massive album that just works.
If you’ve ever listened to a country record (God bless your soul) and thought, this could use a little more tangibility, then the Tower and the Fool have created something special just for you. Laying the framework with a solid country-blues foundation, the album is built upon twanging guitars and southern accents supplemented by gruff vocals and atypical vocal delivery. All this is offset by a punkish sense of urgency coupled with sincere and passionate lyrics regarding love, loss, and what comes after.
With their first full-length release, “Manners,” Passion Pit proved that they were capable of creating epically danceable power pop bursting from the seams with impossibly falsetto vocals. On their sophomore album, “Gossamer,” they redefine themselves while managing to cling tightly to what made them so great in the first place. The band hides poignantly grim lyrical content underneath coatings of sugary sweet electro bliss and coat the whole thing with the newfound diversity of Michael Agelakos’ vocals. The high frequency squeals and otherworldly wails are still around, but they are supplemented with richer mid-range, or even lower, timbre delivery. Simply put, Gossamer is candy for the ears.
The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten : What a Tom Petty album would sound like if he decided to write garage punk
Make Do and Mend - Everything You Ever Loved : The grunginess of the Foo Fighers but with actually complexity and interesting song diversity
Every Time I Die - Ex Lives : An album for those who just want to shred so hard their skulls explodes through their face, or melts off, or turns to ash, or all of those things
Walk the Moon - Walk the Moon : Your certifiably guilt-free guilty pleasure pop album
Fun. - Some Nights - Nowhere near the greatness of Aim & Ignite, but a solid listen (the bonus track "Out on the Town" is easily one of the best pop songs of the year)
The Lumineers - The Lumineers : In case you needed just one more indie - folk record this year