The Top 12 Album of 2012!

This list causes me agony. Yes, it’s my choice to do it. And yes, I actually love doing it. But it absolutely causes me excruciating agony. I usually know pretty quickly what my top three to five albums are going to be. Then I end up with about ten to 15 albums that could easily fill out the remaining seven or so spots. Agony. But the tension of that dichotomy can be an exciting place to be.  It forces me to give honest thought to which albums, over the course of 2012, really meant the most to me. Not just albums that had two or three really good songs, but albums that I enjoyed repeatedly in their entirety.

So I’ve got my list ready! And it looks a little different from when I rough drafted it a few days ago.  And it may change when I think about it again tomorrow.  So let’s get to it before I talk myself out of something. By the way, I’ve always done a top 12 instead of ten, fifteen, twenty, etc.  There are reasons, but you don’t need to worry about that right now.  Let’s do this!  Moving backwards…

12. Beach House – Bloom

Mmmmmm, dreamy.  Such a nice way to start this list.  It’s overcasty and cozy, like a winter day along the northern California coast.  Lilting synths and guitars wash warmly over me with each listen.  I can practically hear the waves crashing as the disc plays!  Oh, wait – those actually are waves crashing.  They’ve added ocean sounds in between a few of the tracks.  Well, I would’ve heard the waves in my head  even without the assistance!  I listened to this a lot while waiting for my son’s O.T. appointments to be over.  Not sure if that helps, but there ya go.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “Myth”, “Wild”, “Other People”, “Wishes”

11.  King Charles – Loveblood

This british pop/ska/reggae/rock/folk blend just makes me happy.  Especially “Bam Bam”, which remained in heavy rotation in our Morris Family Morning Mix throughout the year.  “King” Charles Costa is an endearing, quirky romantic.  I love the how he compares the object of his desire to “the fastest of the fish, you’re the prickliest pear” in “Ivory Road”.  I also feel his desperate infatuation for “Mississippi Isabel”, about whom he sings “I rode her on my bicycle, all the way in the rain.  She kissed me once, I took her out for lunch, and she never kissed me again”).  The songs on Loveblood are sometimes silly, sometimes deeply thoughtful, but always infectious.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “Bam Bam”, “Mississippi Isabel”, “The Brightest Lights”, “Wilde Love”

10.  Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes

The Hold Steady frontman steps out on his own and creates a brilliantly understated, southwestern desert,  Americana version of his regular group’s power hook drenched, big city sounding, rock and roll road show.  Make no mistake – these songs still sound like Craig Finn and there are some familiar characters in the lyrics.  But they touch me in a softer, more personal place.  Or something like that.  Whatever the case, I know this album is much more affecting than the previous effort from The Hold Steady, who I treasure deeply.  This gets me excited for what’s going to come next from the Brooklyn boys.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “When No One’s Watching”, “New Friend Jesus”, “Jackson”, “Balcony”

9.  Bob Dylan – Tempest

I get the legend of Bob Dylan, but he is always hit or miss for me.  This was a solid hit.  Truly an album, in that the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  Not a lot of “singles” here.  But it all weaves together to showcase Dylan, the masterful storyteller, considering things like death, resurrection, past lovers, his friend John Lennon, and even the fate of the Titanic passengers.  He is deeply engaging, like a colorful grandfather recounting improbable stories from his youth at a family gathering.  Once he starts, you can’t turn him off.  Nor do you want to.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “Duquesne Whistle”, “Soon After Midnight”, “Pay In Blood”, “Tempest”

8.  Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

I came in a little late to the Alabama Shakes party.  I heard the hype months ago, but just heard the music a few weeks ago.  I’m so glad I did.  The problem with discovering something great right at the end of the year is, I can’t yet figure out if I’m ranking this to high or too low.  This is soul music, raw and desperate, from a rock and roll band that seems to owe as much to Otis Redding as it does to The White Stripes.  Brittany Howard’s vocals have drawn comparison to Janis Joplin, but she is no retro novelty singer.  I’d rather put her alongside modern contemporaries like Adele and Florence Welch.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “Hold On”, “I Found You”, “Rise To The Sun”, “On Your Way”

7.  Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal

Of Monsters And Men fits squarely in the middle of the recently popular alternafolk genre that ranges from the cacauphonous pinball machine of Arcade Fire, down to the stripped folk/country gospel of The Lumineers.  It’s a genre that I love, and My Head Is An Animal was my favorite thing to come out of it in 2012.  What really makes this album soar for me is the play between vocalists Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar Polhallson (ah, Icelandic names – I didn’t even know what the first character of Ragnar’s last name was so I just made it a P).  They use the male/female device as a constant rather than an occasional gimmick.  And it works wonderfully.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “Little Talks”, “Mountain Sound”, “Love, Love, Love”, “Your Bones”

6.  Jack White – Blunderbuss

I’m not a “Jack White Guy”.  I’ve always found his projects to be more miss than hit for me.  But I love this album.  White strikes a Zeppelin/Stones chord (ironically, two more bands that I’ve never fallen in love with) that just works for me, here.  Admittedly, I’m more drawn to the quieter moments, like with the brilliant title track.  But even face melters like “Freedom at 21”, “Sixteen Saltines”, and the retro blues stomp “I’m Shakin'” make me take notice.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “I’m Shakin'”, “Blunderbuss”, “Hypocritical Kiss”, “On and On and On”

5.  The Corner Laughers – Poppy Seeds

This San Francisco Bay Area band burrowed itself deep into my heart this year.  Listening to this album is like listening to the happiness that sunshine brings.  If you like smiling and feeling good, look no further than Poppy Seeds.  You’ll be hooked right from the first sing-songy verse of “Grasshopper Clock”.  The Corner Laughers were a summer staple on my playlist.  Karla Kane sings sweetly over jingly-jangly rhythms that hook themselves pleasantly to your ears and stay with you throughout the day.  And Buster Posey references will get you everywhere with me.    BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “I’d Rather Count Cormorants With You”, “Laughing Stars”, “The Perfect Weather”, “8:18”

4.  Bill Fay – Life Is People

So, Bill Fay recorded a couple of forgotten before they were remembered albums in 1970 and 1971, then quietly went away.  BUT – Josh Henry loved listening to his Dad’s record collection, including the obscure, trippy-hippy spiritual musings by Fay.  Henry found Fay and, forty years later, convinced him to record again.  Thank God he did.  Life Is People is a triumph of depth in simplicity.  Fay’s vocals are more strained than sung, but powerful in spite (maybe because?) of it.  And it’s a blessing to hear Fay’s spiritual journey and observations layed out both lyrically and musically as he approaches the end of his years.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “Never Ending Happening”, “This World”, “Cosmic Concerto (Life Is People)”, “The Coast No Man Can Tell”

3.  Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again

This was my ultimate back deck chill album of 2012.  Soulful and folky, Kiwanuka manages to bring me immediately to a quiet place, no matter how much chaos and noise swirls around me.  This is a terrific debut for the british singer-songwriter who has garnered a lot of critical acclaim in his home country, but is still largely unknown in the states.  Let’s change that, yes?  Every song is amazing, but BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “I’ll Get Along”, “Rest”, “Tell Me A Tale”, “Home Again”

2.  Passion Pit – Gossamer

I loved their debut two years ago.  This almost makes me forget it ever existed.  I think the biggest difference is that while 2010’s  Manners was a wonderful collection of synth-pop anthems, Gossamer sounds and flows like a more fully realized album.  Michael Angelakos continues to write about the challenges of life, love, family, and spirituality, but there is a clear growth and maturity in his writing.  And of course, the dude knows how to cast a mean pop hook.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “Take A Walk”, “Hideaway”,  “Where We Belong”, “I’ll Be Alright”

1.  Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

Yes, I’m a Boss honk.  But I will defend this pick by saying that I have rarely made Springsteen number one in the years he has released albums.  But this is a tremendous collection that speaks directly to some of our nation’s current economic struggles and social divides.  And he makes it individually relatable, which has always been one of his greatest strengths as an artist.  Oh, and did I mention that this album rocks? “We Take Care of Our Own” is his greatest anthem since “The Rising” ten years earlier (and maybe better).  “Death To My Hometown” sounds musically inspired by The Dropkick Murphys, whom Springsteen has collaborated with in recent years.  The ballads “This Depression” and “Jack of All Trades” are heartbreaking and beautiful.  But despite the seemingly heavy tone of the lyrics on Wrecking Ball, Springsteen manages to lift and inspire us.  Especially in the rock & gospel anthem “Land of Hope and Dreams”.  At 63, The Boss continues to show the kind creative relevance that few of his contemporaries are able to match.  BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:  “We Take Care of Our Own”, “Land of Hope and Dreams”, “Death To My Hometown”, “Rocky Ground”

So there’s the top 12.  I will now offer up a collection of bonus albums that didn’t make the cut, alphabetically by artist, starting with….


The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter   Fantastic part of the alternafolkpop genre mentioned earlier.  Everything they do is great.  CHECK OUT:  “Live and Die”, “The Once and Future Carpenter”, Winter In My Heart”

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Here   I thought for sure this would make the cut.  This strange little hippy-cult-folk outfit continues to delight me.  CHECK OUT:  “Man on Fire”, “That’s What’s Up”, “Fiya Wata”

Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire   I think this came along too late for me to give it enough proper thought, but it’s really great.  CHECK OUT:  “Brand New Me”, “101”, “When It’s Over”

The Lumineers – The Lumineers   Another one I didn’t get to until the end of the year.  Even as I listen to it now, it feels like it should be top twelve.  CHECK OUT:  “Ho Hey”, “Flowers In Your Hair”, “Charley Boy”


The Killers – Battle Born   I love The Killers and really looked forward to this album.  But, while it’s grown on me some, there is still nothing that feels memorable about it.  CHECK OUT:  “runaways”, “Miss Atomic Bomb”

Mumford & Sons – Babel   To me, this just sounds like a replay of their first album.  Great songs, but I’ve heard it before.  CHECK OUT:  “Lover of the Light”, “I Will Wait”

Sixpence None The Richer – Lost In Transition   I actually think this is a really great album, but I had to be honest with myself that it didn’t fit in the top 12.  Still, worth your attention.  CHECK OUT:  “Go Your Way”, “Failure”


Bruno Mars – unorthodox Jukebox   CHECK OUT:  “Locked Out of Heaven”, “When I Was Your Man”

The Chevin – Borderland   CHECK OUT:  “Blue Eyes”, “Dirty Little Secret”

Emily West – I Hate You, I Love You   CHECK OUT:  “I Hate You, I Love You”, “Supergirl” (this was a six song ep that, were it a full album, would have definitely made my top 12)

Fun. – Some Nights   CHECK OUT:  “We Are Young”, “All Alone”

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten   CHECK OUT:  “Handwritten”, “Here Comes My Man”

Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t    CHECK OUT:  “Become Someone Else’s”, “Erica America”

Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now    CHECK OUT:  “Am I That Lonely Tonight?”, “Baby’s Got A Bad Idea”

Keane – Strangeland    CHECK OUT:  “Silenced By The Night”, “On The Road”

Kimbra – Vows    CHECK OUT:  “Cameo Lover”, “Settle Down”

Lisa Marie Presley – Storm & Grace   CHECK OUT:  “So Long”, “How Do You Fly This Plane?”

The Little Willies – For The Good Times    CHECK OUT:  “Permanently Lonely”, “Fist City”

M. Ward – A Wasteland Companion   CHECK OUT:  “Primitive Girl”, “The First Time I Ran Away”

Phillip Phillips – The World From The Side of the Moon CHECK OUT:  “Home”, “Can’t Go Wrong”

The Shins – Port of Morrow   CHECK OUT:  “Simple Song”, “The Rifle’s Spiral”

Snow Patrol – Fallen Empires   CHECK OUT:  “Called Out In the Dark”, “Lifening”


~ by themattmorrisshow on December 31, 2012.

One Response to “The Top 12 Album of 2012!”

  1. Good review, Matt. I hope you have a great New Years!

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