As usual, I’ve compiled my list of top albums from the year. This is one of my favorite posts to make every year, so I hope you all really enjoy reading along. If you’re interested, here are the lists from the last few years:
Top 10 of 2009
Top 10 of 2010
Top 11 of 2011
It’s interesting to note that several of my top albums are self-released albums. Artists are definitely still making good records with or without the record labels, but those doing it without need your support.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
Bruno Mars – Unorthodox Jukebox
Favorite Tracks – “Young Girls” and “Locked Out of Heaven”
Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit
Favorite Tracks: “Empty House” and “Tellin’ The Mind”
Justin Bieber – Believe
Favorite Tracks: “As Long As You Love Me” and “The Beauty and the Beat”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
Favorite Tracks – “Can’t Hold Us” and “Same Love”
Phillip Phillips – The World From the Side of the Moon
Favorite Tracks – “Man on the Moon” and “Home”
Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal
The opening fingerpicking of “Dirty Paws” sets quite an ominous tone for the debut LP for Icelandic indie pop quintet Of Monsters And Men. The eerie male/female harmonies, the gang vocals, and spacey choruses are the blueprint to My Head Is An Animal, but you really wouldn’t want the album any other way. Nanna (female lead singer) and Raggi (male lead singer) have quite an impeccable way of meshing their vocals together, whether
in octaves or in perfect harmony. Their most notable single was “Little Talks,” which went Platinum in Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United States (strangely enough, not in Iceland.)
Paper Route – The Peace of Wild Things
To say that Paper Route’s last three years has been tumultuous would be an understatement. A lot happened between their major record label release Absence and their latest release, including the loss of guitarist and vocalist Andy Smith. In an interview with lead singer JT Daly, he speaks about the pain of losing a lot of really foundational pieces of the life they knew as Paper Route. Through this pain, Daly and company wrote their 2012 self-released The Peace of Wild Things. The familiar synth/pop feel is present, with strong influences from the likes of Peter Gabriel, ELO, and Genesis. Their single “You and I” has received lots of attention on the likes of Sirius XM Hits 1 despite the help of a big record label to help promote the song.
Imagine Dragons – Night Visions
In 2011, Imagine Dragons quietly self-released an EP titled It’s Time, but thankfully their music didn’t remain quiet for very long. In November 2011, Interscope Records signed the quartet and put them in the studio immediately to work on their first full length, Night Visions. The result was a very unique album, bringing in hints of electronic dance music, rock guitars, and even some rhythmic hand claps. Their hit song “It’s Time” will get stuck in your head in a matter of seconds with it’s catchy melody and mandolin line, the song “On Top Of The World” features a earmworm-worthy whistle melody that keeps you hanging until the big chorus hits. While the band certainly has a good amount of growing to do, it’s very encouraging to see major record labels still pulling in excellent talent and growing it.
Barcelona – Not Quite Yours
“Being told that your label doesn’t want to make a record with you at first felt like the rug was being pulled out from underneath us,” says Barcelona’s Brian Fennell. “Since we simply sold our first record to them, we were stoked to actually make a record with them. And that feeling of the floor falling out from underneath us was quickly replaced with hysterical laughter and going to get whisky.” While it’s hard to know all the details of what it took to make Not Quite Yours, it’s clear that fans were excited to hear what they had to offer.Barcelona created a Kickstarter to help raise funds for the album and within a month nearly doubled their goal. It was pretty clear that Barcelona was inspired by the response they received from their fans. With an acoustic guitar strumming lightly and a persistent floor tom pounding, Barcelona opens up their 2012 record with a subtle yet powerful song “Hanging in a Void.” Fennell’s vocals pierce through the music on every song, lyrics constantly in the forefront. While Fennell’s lyrics are usually about heartbreak, there’s always a small sense of hope that comes at the end of the album.
Andrew Osenga – Leonard, The Lonely Astronaut
In March of 2011, Andrew Osenga launched his Kickstarter announcing a bold plan: he wanted to write a concept album “to tell the story of a man named Leonard Belle. He lives 300 years from now and loses his wife in a sudden accident while their divorce is being finalized. In his rage and grief he takes a gig driving a long-distance space freighter for a year. (Due to relativity, by the time he returns to Earth everyone he knows will be old or dead.) He decides to bring along some antique instruments and recording equipment and will make a record.” Over $18,000 later, fans bought into the odd idea and waited patiently for the album to be released. The album was officially released September 18 2012, and it certainly did not disappoint. The musical stylings are all over the spectrum, ranging from acoustic guitar driven ballads like “Smoke Signals,” to synth heavy/screeching guitar solo weeping songs like “We Never Said Goodbye,” to catchy-bass-line rockers like “Tower of Babel.” While the genre may be hard to pinpoint, the lyrics follow the rise and fall of Leonard’s life and loss of a loved one he experiences through his time traveling. Although some may have initially seen this album as a comical/odd/unrealistic concept album, it is easy to fall deep into the story of poor Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut.
Mumford & Sons – Babel
There are some artists who musical stylings change drastically with the release of every album. Then there are some artists who know what works perfectly for them and stick to it. Mumford & Sons certainly fits into that last category. Their signature percussion style acoustic guitar, rolling banjo, and persistent kick drum make their presence known in nearly every song in some form. Marcus and company have taken their bluegrass tunes, alongside their gorgeous harmonies, and have brought a once forgotten genre into the forefront of Top 40 radio. The album peaked at 7 on the US Billboard Top 200 albums, number 3 on the US Digital Albums Chart, and number 1 on the US Folk Albums chart. While some critics may complain that it is far too similar to Sigh No More, many think that they have found their niche and know exactly how to write their style of music. Regardless of it all, these songs in their own right are a terrific collection of well-written tunes.
A Silent Film – Sand & Snow
When listening to A Silent Film, it’s easy to try and make comparisons to similar English piano-rock bands like Keane, Snow Patrol, and Coldplay. However, their new album Sand & Snow sets them apart mostly due in part to lead singer RobertStevenson’s strong vocals. Songs such as “Reaching the Potential,” “Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well,” and “Anastasia” lay a terrific foundation for the rich layers of vocals, synth and keyboards, and the rest of the instrumentation. Although the band is independent, having self-produced this album in Arizona, they have had a few songs receive some radio success on Sirius XM’s Alt Nation, as well as earning 200K downloads as iTunes’ Discovery Download.
Anberlin – Vital
Universal Republic Records
Fans of Anberlin are not afraid to tell you which album is their favorite and which album is their least favorite. Regardless of which era of Anberlin you prefer, it’s undeniable to see the progression in the right direction with their latest release, Vital. It’s perfect blend of rock guitars and drums, a more pronounced synth and keys presence, and their signature soaring falsetto vocals featuring Stephen Christian. When the first single “Someone Anyone” was released in late August, it was quite evident that there was a new energy that the band had never had before. When describing the new album, Christian describes it as “the record I want them screaming back at me every time we play live.” Anberlin should get exactly what they ask for with catchy tunes like “Self-Starter,” “Someone Anyone,” “Desires,” and “Orpheum.” And what Anberlin album would be complete without a final opus. With the help of Eisley’s Christie DuPree, “God, Drugs & Sex” ends on an epic note. The album had plenty of success on the charts as well, including reaching 16 on the Billboard 200, 3 on the Top Alternative Charts, 1 on US Christian Albums on Billboard.
Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now?
Since Nickel Creek’s breakup in 2006, Chris Thile has been quite a busy man. His side projects have included working with Michael Daves, Edgar Meyers, and most recently the Goat Rodeo Sessions. However, he spends the majority of his time working with the Punch Brothers. In February, Thile & Co. released Who’s Feeling Young Now? on Nonesuch Records, deciding not to over-complicate the music and make it a little more accessible than their previous work. Those facts, however, do not take away from the true bluegrass feel you get with this album: mandolin front and center, rolling banjo not far behind, guitar and violin shining through occasionally, and the bass laying the foundation and rhythm of each song. Even if you’re not a huge fan of bluegrass music, it’s hard to deny the catchiness of songs like “This Girl,” “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” and “Clara.” The only thing more entertaining than listening to Who’s Feeling Young Now? is watching the quintet play live. The Punch Brothers recorded a live set performed for Austin City Limits that aired live on November 3rd that included a number of songs from the latest album. The members’ shirts and ties certainly did not set a precedent for their behavior on stage; their excitement playing live shone through on each song.
Anchor & Braille – The Quiet Life
Tooth & Nail Records
In 2008, Stephen Christian started Anchor & Braille as a side project for Anberlin after the release of their major label debut New Surrender. The first release, Felt, was very laid back and significantly different from anything anyone had heard from Stephen Christian. The response was quite positive, but fans were unsure if the project would simply be a one-time-thing. Three years after the debut, Christian and new partner Micah Tawlks collaborated and essentially reinvented the sound of Anchor & Braille. Gone are light acoustic guitars and weeping pianos; they’ve been replaced with sampled drums and heavy synth to supplement his vocals. From the opening measures of “Goes Without Saying,” you know that something is very different. After adjusting a few songs in, the album becomes mesmerizing. The haunting chorus of “oohs” during “In With the New” draws you in, while the raspy guitar on “Kodachrome” jars you once again. Probably the most powerful song on the album is “Hymn for Her,” a song written for Tawlks’ soon to be born child. When listening to the song from such a perspective, it’s tough not to fall in love with it.
House of Heroes – Cold Hard Want
There were two foreseeable routes House of Heroes could have taken with their latest release: keep following the rock opera/concept album route that they did with The End Is Not The End as well as Suburba, or write a straight up rock album with killer songs. The band chose the latter, and it turned out to be a great decision. Each song on the album was loaded; hooks flying everywhere, harmonies galore, powerful lyrics. After spending years trying to make it big, they’ve said enough is enough and laid it all out there. “Out My Way” lays it out plain and simple: “It took a whole lot of blood and sweat to get what I got. It took a whole of cold hard want to get what I got.” Each song on the record is fantastic in its own right, whether it’s the Muse-esque “Remember The Empire,” the jangly acoustic driving “We Were Giants,” or the epic ballad “I Am A Symbol.” The boys pulled out all the stops on this record, and it certainly shows. The album peaked at 3 on the Top Christian Albums chart on Billboard.
Lovedrug – Wild Blood
There are many bands who claim to be known for their unique singer’s vocal style. Then there’s Lovedrug’s Michael Shepherd. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny the fantastic melodies Shepherd brings to life with his range and style of singing. After nearly 4 years without a proper LP, Lovedrug decided to self-release their latest, Wild Blood. Opening with the title track, Shepherd gets right to business singing out “We’re crying out honestly, this wild blood will set us all free.” The drums set the tone in nearly every song, heavily dictating the emotion of every song. During “Dinosaurs,” the bass and drums drive the melody to ring out. The four-on-the-floor kick drum with rolling snare in “Preminition” make the song one that’s just begging to be belted. Chorus after chorus comes, each one bringing a feeling stronger than the last. The acoustic guitar takes lead on “Girl,” a gorgeous love song about spending the rest of your life with the love of your life. The chorus belts out “Spent thirty years not knowing you. I can’t afford to waste more time running ’round the world, when all I know is you’re my girl.” The final song makes for the perfect finale to the album. The opening pad followed by the slow guitar solo provides a mood of near desperation. Shepherd cries out “I’ll be your drug if you need it, I’ll be the one who will chase you so hard. I will be there when you need it, I’ll be the love that you’re chasing so hard.” By the end of the song, you feel like you’re the one crying out for her to just stop looking for drugs and abuse and want her to come running into your arms. The lyrics are poignant, but hit exactly where he wants them to hit.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, hope you enjoyed my reviews and list. Stay tuned for more musical suggestions, recommendations, and reviews in 2013!