First, I have some off-genre, for me, albums that I like and wanted to mention. Note: albums listed: band - album - good song to start with/my favorite song depending.
Alabama Shakes - Alabama Shakes - Hold On ... This band reminds me of one you might see, unexpectedly, in some out-of-the way small town bar and, to your shock, realize that you really like them. My favorite lyrics, Hold On, "Bless my heart, bless my soul. Didn't think I'd make it to 22 years old."
The Roots - undun - The OtherSide ... this is a hip hop group. Talented lyricists, great sound. I think I'll do a lot of listening to them on into 2012.
Trombone Shorty - For True - For True ... Jazz musician from New Orleans. His sound really pops and drives. It's very catchy for a jazz album.
And now for the count down. (Where I'm from no one has pinkies.)
8) Adele - 21 – Someone Like You … Diva. I hope everyone has heard this woman’s pipes by now. I think it’s important to mention that she doesn’t over sing her songs. She makes them big, she’s stunning, and she’s not ridiculous – no Super Bowl national anthem singer (but she’s a Brit, so I guess she wouldn’t be). One of my favorite things about her is how awful her speaking voice sounds. Terrible accent. A cackle for a laugh. And a singing voice to bring the house down.
7) Grouplove - Never Trust a Happy Song – Love Will Save Your Soul … This is a great pop record. Accessible, upbeat, youthful with a touch of rebellion. The Peter Pan of the music world.
6) Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues – Helplessness Blues … This band is part of the big switch that has happened for me since 2008. I wasn’t in love with their first album, couldn’t really get into it. On the other hand, Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago is one of my all-time favorites. This year, I’m into this album. Bon Iver’s … meh. I think the difference is that Fleet Foxes has brought a little heat, a little speed, and more cohesion to this album. And they’ve really figured out their harmony and their sound. Mitch and I got to see them at the Chicago theater, which was a highlight.
5) Big Deal - Lights Out – With the World at My Feet … The more I listen to this album, the more I like it. Musically, it’s really growing on me. I wrote a whole big thing on it, see here. It’s a very sexy album. Actually, when I was reading a review on it, I learned a new word: prurience – inordinately interested in matters of sex; lascivious. David Foster Wallace would be so proud.
4) Bright Eyes - The People’s Key – Shell Games … Bright Eyes is back. This album is great, comprehensive. Optimistic. Here’s a guy going from “death obsessed like a teenager. Sold my tortured youth pissing vinegar. I’m still angry with no reason to be” in Shell Games to “One for the breadlines. One for the billionaires. […] One for me. One for you” in the last song. And the wonky guy, whose voice runs through the whole thing talking about aliens and lizard people, comes on at the end saying “love, compassion, art, mercy.”
3) tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l – Bizness … This is a very strong third place. If it weren’t for my felt loyalty to the first and second, this one would rise to the top. Singer Merrill Garbus is a force: in music, confidence, feeling. Her songs are rhythmic and powerful, wrought with tension. I’ve heard her songs described as political, but it’s more of a personal politics. A white girl from Oakland trying to deal with what’s going on in her head and her surroundings – insecurities, incongruities, and stuff most of us don’t like to think or talk about. My favorite lyrics are in the song Killa, “I’m new kind of woman. I’m a new kind of woman. I’m a don’t take shit from you kind of woman.”
2) The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar – Cradle … This band goes big like the album name suggests. The first time I heard them, I knew they were good in a way that doesn’t wear out with the number of listens I give them. I’m confident in their staying power. The album boasts a full complex wall of sound, the kind I can get lost in. I’ve noticed that when I put their songs on a mixed CD, people tend to shut down a little. They’re not, maybe, for the faint of heart.
1) King Creosote and Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine – First Watch … This album is number one for me based on the strength of the first song. One of my favorite things is taking a nap or sitting in a room by myself and being able to hear the activity of people nearby – cooking, talking, washing dishes. That’s what this song sounds like, the voices of people you might love. The sounds of having them near you without actually having to interact with anyone. And then a slow and breathtaking piano melody plays on top of those sounds. The first couple of times I heard it, I felt like I could cry. It struck me as so beautiful. The rest of the brief album (only seven songs) is good too. Merry Christmas, everyone. I wish I could hear you close to me.