This new ad campaign by Amnesty International is pretty surreal. It depicts the last meals of the innocent who were executed, only to be found innocent later. Very emotionally driven campaign.
A playlist of the Top 20 albums can be found on spotify, or in the below player:
20. Ambassadors “Litost”
Released: February 7, 2012
Recommended If You Like: All Get Out, Shiny Toy Guns, Lost Lander
Standout Track(s): “Litost”, “Bodybag”, “Weight/lightness”
“Indie rock from Brooklyn.” I hear that and it screams “hipster” to me. I had a hard time putting this disc on the list because it’s only 8 songs, but on the strength alone of their single “Litost” I had no choice. I was absolutely obsessed with that song for a few months. Still to this day, I have a hard time classifying this CD is strictly “indie rock”, because each of the tracks eight songs offer something unique. “Weight/lightness” is a true indie influenced sound in the vein of The Strokes or Bloc Party, “Falls” reminds me of a mid 90’s alternative song, “Litost” is an epic ballad with strings, heart tugging lyrics, and possibly the most emotional vocals of any song this year, “Lay Me Down” reminds me a ton of something Dave Navarro would have written for his 2001 Trust No One release, and “Bodybag” borrows moments of the current folk craze and fuzes it with the atmospheric guitar that makes Ambassadors who they are. One of the most unique discs of the year on the list, for sure.
19. The Dirty Heads “Cabin By The Sea”
Released: June 19, 2012
Label: Five Seven
Recommended If You Like: Sublime, Jack Johnson, 311
Standout Track(s): “Arrival”, “Cabin By The Sea”, “We Will Rise”
I was surprised by this CD. This genre, the surfer/ska genre isn’t one I really got into outside of hearing Sublime songs in my brothers car as a kid, and then the easy-listening styling of Jack Johnson, Donavon Frankenreiter and their beach anthems. When I first heard the title track by The Dirty Heads, I was hooked. I heard it in the beginning portions of a torturous Texas summer, so having beach music around me allowed me to escape from the ungodly 105 degree days, and as the year went on, this CD became one I could turn too when I needed a moment to relax, to chill, to be taken away from my current state and delivered to a beach-state-of-mind. It’s just one of those rare happy-go-lucky discs you discover, and it makes you feel warm every time you hear it. In other words, the ultimate feel-good record.
18. The Weeknd “Trilogy”
Released: November 9, 2012
Label: Def Jam
Recommended If You Like: Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino,Trey Songz
Standout Track(s): “The Zone”, “Initiation”, “Wicked Games”
2011 Frank Ocean scored the top album of the year on my list with Nostalgia, Ultra. Ultimately, it came down to Trilogy vs. channel ORANGE on which one made the list. While I loved channel, it can never match Nostalgia in my book, and if i’m being honest with myself, The Weeknd’s mixtapes (Echos, House, Thursday) which ultimately formed the compilationTrilogy, while released in 2011, really never made a mark on me until this year, in-between my craving for the old Frank Ocean disc and the new. And since Trilogy didn’t actually come out until 2012, it’s safe to add. I once had a conversation with a friend, who is very much in the know when it comes to rap/hip-hop, and I told him that The Weeknd is the closest thing i’ve heard to someone have that vibe that Michael Jackson had, and that was before realizing that “D.D.” was a MJ cover. The Weeknd is one of those talents that comes along once in a blue moon, and while he might just now be cracking the airwaves, I truly feel he is something special. I got to see him live in 2012, and he is a must see if you get the chance. Good triology, but had to factor into the ranking that, for me, this was more of a 2011 release.
17. Afterlife Parade “Death Rebirth”
Released: August 2, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Andrew Belle, MuteMath, The Fray
Standout Track(s): “Black Woods, White Beach”, “Nothing But Love Can Stay”, “Arrows Fly”
This is a band that came on my radar late. I knew about the EPs being released and the final disc being mastered by the bassist of The Fray and members of Nashville super-folk group Leagues and up-and-comers Canon Blue, but I didn’t really pay attention to this release until I heard the story behind it. The story goes that Quinn, the main man behind Afterlife Parade, had recently moved to Nashville and had come across a crossroads of loss in his life and in the lives of those around him. Needing an outlet to mourn, he began writing with the inspiration and thinking that death, ultimately, is a homecoming rather than a reason to grieve. So some of the CD is dealing with the notion of death and loss, and some of the CD is dealing with the rebirth of life and rehab of emotions. It’s a very triumphant and wise disc, and at times very epic and moving, but not without a touch of celebration. MuteMath is very loosely in the RIYL section, and if you are reading this you know my respect and love for MuteMath, so for me to hear undertones of that in this disc at times is about as high of praise as I can give.
16. Scars on 45 “Self-Titled”
Released: April 10, 2012
Label: Atlantic/Chop Shop
Recommended If You Like: Katie Herzig, Travis, Matt Nathanson
Standout Track(s): “Hearts on Fire”, “Change My Needs”, “Insecurity”
Brit Pop! You knew my love for British culture and British music was going to show up in the genre that breaded ten thousand Oasis and Coldplay lookalikes sooner or later. And while Scars on 45 are nowhere near the sound of Coldplay or Oasis, it’s easy to hear the influence, and to classify them more as a Travis or The Verve spawn. The band, who found success with their music appearing on television shows CSI: New York & Grey’s Anatomy, released their first full length this year, and it really is a fantastic listen. There really isn’t anything groundbreaking about their sound, but what they do offer is that what you’ve heard and liked before, they’ll do it just as good and you’ll be guaranteed to like it. Songs like “Burn The House Down” have that Matt Nathanson appeal, where songs like “Insecurity” are built on the foundation of split male/female vocals. There is really something for every fan of the Brit Pop genre, and this is a band to keep an eye on in the coming years as they grow and mature as a band even more.
15. Mumford & Sons “Babel”
Released: September 25, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Mumford?
Standout Track(s): “Lovers’ Eyes”, “Broken Crown”, “Holland Road”
In my eyes, nothing that Mumford puts out will ever top Sigh No More. That record, at its time, was so new and fresh, and was really my introduction to the “folk rock” genre of music. That record came along at the perfect time in my life, and I really needed it. Babel, while still an enjoyable listen, seemed to cookie cutter to me. Mumford basically took the same general formula as Sigh No More, and redid it. They didn’t grow, they didn’t step outside of the box, and that is something that I love to hear from bands. Maybe thats the music critic in me, i’m not sure, but I was hoping for a sound more mature, and to my ears I just don’t hear it. With that said, Babel is still a great folk rock spin, and its classic Mumford. This time around, though, I just wasn’t blown away.
14. Savannah “Luma Optica”
Released: January 16, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Augustana, The Fray, Parachute
Standout Track(s): “Luma Optica”, “Open The Door”, “Violent Red”
Much like Ambassadors, I struggled including this CD on my list because it’s only 7 songs. But the strength of those 7 songs is far superior to me than the 13-14-15 that are offered on some of the discs it surpassed. Good friends of mine, Savannah takes me back to my high school/early college years with a sound somewhere in between The Fray, Augustana, Lovedrug, and Green River Ordinance. Back when I was writing music, I actually helped pen a song with my friends about a girl, and from that moment, I believed in what Savannah was. It’s been a pleasure watching them grow, watching them form, and watching them take shape from the first EP to this release. The sound is infectious, it’s mainstream, and with another solid release the band can really start shopping their sound and getting some impressive opening slots I believe. It’s a very marketable sound, and it’s got enough difference to make them memorable without them being a complete shadow of Augustana or The Fray. So, if that genre is something you like, i’d encourage you to check out this 7 song record.
13. Family of The Year “Loma Vista”
Released: July 10, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, The Shins, Real Estate
Standout Track(s): “The Stairs”, “Hero”, “Everytime”
Indie pop really took a trip to the mainstream this year, with the likes of Fun. (yes, they actually were indie pop prior to their 2012 release, and still are — just mainstream darlings, too) hitting it huge, and Family of The Year are hoping to cash in on the mainstreams new found love of happy-go-lucky-feel-good-West-Coast indie. If Garden State made a 2012 version, i’m pretty positive “Diversity” or “Everytime” would take place of “New Slang” and “Caring Is Creepy”. I expect this CD to pick up pace in 2013, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if radio spins happened. “Hero” has already begun to be picked up and used in shows by MTV and in national commercials. Remember, Phoenix and Alex Clare both became mainstream popular first due to commercials. My bet is Family of the Year is next.
12. Imagine Dragons “Night Visions”
Released: September 4, 2012
Label: Interscope Records
Recommended If You Like: Of Monsters Of Men, The Killers, The Naked and Famous
Standout Track(s): “Radioactive”, “It’s Time”, “Every Night”
Another band that I completely missed on back in 2010. Their EP has literally been sitting in my iTunes for a year, and songs like “America” and “The River” got a few spins, but not nearly as much as it deserved. I’ll be honest, the first time I heard “It’s Time” at a bar or on the radio, I was underwhelmed. It wasn’t until Continued Silence - EP came out and I first layed ears on “Radioactive” that I realized how brilliant this was. Moments of indie rock, moments of hearing The Killers brand of rock, moments of folk rock, it’s all there. And while “Night Visions” is a great disc, I can’t help but feel like it was a bit of a letdown compared to the exceptions I had after Continued Silence. What that tells me, however, is just that Continued Silence is the moment that captured me and captured me hard. And with each spin, my expectations grew to unsurmountable heights. So while I was disappointed, I look at hindsight and realize that, if it was a band i’d never heard of prior to this release, i’d be absolutely blown away by what they put out.
11.Greg Laswell “Landline”
Released: May 8, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Andrew Belle, Snow Patrol, Mat Kearney
Standout Track(s): “Come Back Down”, “Landline”, “New Year’s Eve”
Since 2008 and my discovery of the How The Day Sounds - EP, Laswell has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters. I became obsessed with his back catalog, and in 2010 was let down a bit by Take A Bow. So when I first caught wind of Landline and the opening track, I knew the return to form was there. The piano was tuned up, and Greg was ready to deliver. And deliver he did. Imagine if Ben Rector decided to ever write songs that weren’t covered with bubblegum and glitter (for the record, I enjoy Ben Rector) and decided to write songs with more raw emotion. OK maybe that was a real poor example, but it’s hard to find another artists that utilizes the piano as much as those two who isn’t named Mat and has sick flow. If you ever get the chance to see one of Laswell’s live shows, I highly encourage you to do so. And do yourself a favor and ask him to play Landline the entire way through, because pretty much everything on it is top notch in his catalog.
10. Michael Kiwanuka “Home Again”
Released: July 17, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Bill Withers, Allen Stone, Ray LaMontagne
Standout Track(s): “I’m Getting Ready”, “Rest”, “Home Again”
My goodness, pure soul music is back. Otis Redding, Withers, Van Morrison must be so happy to hear this. 2011 brought about his first two EPs, which got me absolutely enthralled with this rediscovery of the late 60’s/early 70’s soul folk sound. The 24-year-old from England has a soothing quality to his sound that hasn’t been heard in decades, and this disc has gotten so much run from places like NPR, that Kiwanuka has been selling out shows all across the US and UK, and even made stops at SXSW and ACL. “I’m Getting Ready” and “Home Again”, along with “Tell Me a Tale” are soon-to-be staples on any soulful playlist you ever make, as well as any chill dinner party spotify playlist you make. Entertaining, retro, yet a freshness that is welcomed. Truly a gem of 2012, and the launch of a new career I am beyond excited to see what the future holds.
9. John Mayer “Born and Raised”
Released: May 22, 2012
Recommended If You Like: John Mayer
Standout Track(s): “Walt Grace…”, “A Face To Call Home”, “Speak For Me”
Mr. Mayer, can I call you that, sir? I don’t feel like I deserve to refer to you by your first name. You tend to amaze me. I went from despising your music in high school to finally understanding it and clicking with it in college, to becoming borderline obsessed with your music (and live shows). I think this is how people felt for The Beatles and The Wonders (yeah… I went there!) I understand your pain of having polyps all too well, but I want to personally thank you for 1) letting me get a sneak peek at this disc a few weeks before it’s release with a private listening session and 2) for making this. While i’ll probably grow old saying that “Edge of Desire” and “Covered In Rain” are my all time favorite Mayer songs, and Continuum is my favorite disc, I will also grow old saying that Born and Raised was your coming out party to show the world that no matter what genre you put out, you will make a good record. A lot of people were scared to hear the new “folky” you, but you blended traditional Mayer with new Mayer well. Oh, and you also wrote your “Eleanor Rigby” in the form of “Walt Grace”, which still makes me smile when I hear it. Congrats, and please come back in 2013.
8. Death and a Cure “Oceans, Lovers & Empires”
Released: May 7, 2012
Recommended If You Like: William Fitzsimmons, City & Colour, Passenger
Standout Track(s): “Oceans”, “Give Up Your Ghost”, “Blue Talk”
If there is a running theme this year, it’s discovery. A lot of what is seen on this list just kind of came out of the blue. I’d either known very little of the band, or hadn’t heard of the bands. There are a lot of “debuts” on this lists, a few familiar names. Death and a Cure happens to be one of those. From down under, Death and a Cure found its way to me mid-2012, and it was “Oceans” that caught my attention. A dual male/female folk song with beautiful harmonies and just all around beautiful musicianship. It borders the realms of folk influence and singer/songwriter, putting it somewhere between the melancholy tone of William Fitzsimmons, the folk prowess of The Civil Wars, and Dallas Green/City & Colour’s record Sometimes (“Oh To Be Patient” is strikingly similar to City & Colour, it’s actually kind of scary). It’s a very simple, stripped down CD, but it’s a great CD to relax with.
7. Milo Greene “Self-Titled”
Released: July 17, 2012
Label: Atlantic/Chop Shop
Recommended If You Like: Freelance Whales, The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men
Standout Track(s): “1957”, “Don’t You Give Up On Me”, “Son My Son”
Not a person, but rather a five-piece band from Northern California with an addicting folk-branded pop sound as if A Fine Frenzy combined forces with The Lumineers. Again, the folk/indie-influenced craze is at an all-time high (not that i’m complaining), and this is another band trying to reap the benefits of it and delivering a new (good) sound to airwaves and the late-night talkshow circuit (which they hit pretty hard late in 2012). While I love the disc, my biggest complaint is that the “interlude”-esq songs were not developed. “Wooden Antlers”, sitting at just under one minute and forty seconds, is an absolute gem, I’d love to hear it developed into a 3-4 minute song with vocals because the instrumentation is so beautiful and so vibrant. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess. Regardless, this is a stellar disc, one that I wasn’t sure if I was going to really enjoy after the first spin. But I kept coming back to “1957”, and through that, the disc blossomed.
6. Paper Route “The Peace of Wild Things”
Released: September 11, 2012
Label: Tree of Hearts
Recommended If You Like: MuteMath, Future of Forestry, Now, Now
Standout Track(s): “Better Life”, “Sugar”, “Calm My Soul”
In 2008 I was lucky enough to see this random obscure band from Tennessee open up for the famed Copeland in a small venue with only an EP for show. The absolutely killed the live show, blowing away not only me, but everyone in attendance. I’ve never seen a merch table fill up with wonder so fast after an opening act. A few years later, Absence was one of my favorite CDs of 2009, and through thick and thin, my love for Paper Route remained through the 3 year wait that almost saw the band split. The Peace of Wild Things was long waited and it didn’t disappoint. With a sound similar to MuteMath, it’s clear that I am drawn too it, but for me to compare a bands live show to MuteMath is just something I refuse to do. But with Paper Route, I must. Their live show, which I revisited earlier this month in Dallas, was electric. Such a unique sound to the band, it’s truly something that isn’t being done by anyone else. “You & I” has even picked up substantial airplay on XM, Sirius, and local radio, and songs like “Better Life”, “Letting You Let Go”, “Sugar”, and “Two Hearts” are about as radio-ready as you will find. Great CD from a great band and a even better group of guys.
5. Joshua Michael Robinson “Intentions”
Released: August 21, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Copeland, Daughter, James Vincent McMorrow
Standout Track(s): “Only I Know”, “Cherokee”, “Broken Sling”
JMR came on my radar in 2011 when he released his Live Sessions 5 song EP, containing 5 songs that would eventually become part of Intentions. He recorded Live on his own, but for his 2012 debut sought out the recording studio and production of famed 2000’s indie/emo rocker Aaron Marsh of Copeland fame. With Marsh, Intentions was born, and with a vibe mixing patented sounds that made Copeland famous and a styling similar to James Vincent McMorrow or Ben Howard. JMR, at the ripe age of 20, has set himself up to become a star in a few years time with some more molding and maturity, and the style and grace exhibited already puts him in a category of “someday soon this will be a household name, get in the know now”. Magazines and webizines are already buzzing over the young talent, going as far as calling him, “the perfect blend of Copeland and Iron and Wine.” Quite a compliment for someone just two years older than Bieber and writing far more complex songs and arrangements.
4. The Tower and the Fool “How Long”
Released: June 5, 2012
Label: Run For Cover
Recommended If You Like: Counting Crows, The New Frontiers, Ryan Adams
Standout Track(s): “Broken”, “Breach”, “Scoliosis”, “How Long”
Who. The. Hell. I had no idea about this band, about this label, anything. I still feel like it’s such an obscure disc because it’s not available on spotify, rdio, or any of the other social-music stream sites. This came across my mailbox the last week of May, and when I put it in, the first thing I noticed was the heartbreak. This CD is so heartbreaking. It combines a mixture of acoustic, of folk, of bluesy slide guitars and twang, of emo, and it does it so uniquely amidst some of the most honest and heartbreaking lyrics about losing love and faith, death and all of life’s little imperfections, that I was so drawn in by the mixture of the above and the gruff vocals of the lead singer that I had to listen, and I had to listen again and again and again. It was heavy then, and going back and listening to it again, its heavy now. I thought the genre of americana died with Tom Petty, then again with the Counting Crows, and for now i’m going to pencil in with The Tower and the Fool, because i’m not sure there will be anyone who can come along and change that. It’s a true return to the storyteller, and for anyone who has ever been through heartbreak of a broken relationship or hardship, your heartstrings will be tugged. Sadly this CD will probably go unnoticed to so many, and so many industry folk will overlook it as “non marketable”. Sometimes you just can’t market raw emotion when it comes to music. One thing is for sure, it takes the cake as the saddest album of the year in my book.
3. Morning Parade “Self-Titled”
Released: June 19, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Glasvegas, Civil Twilight, Kensington
Standout Track(s): “Running Down The Aisle”, “Us & Ourselves”, “Close Yo Your Heart”
2012 was a standout year for the Essex group. The release of their first full-length, success in their homeland, success abroad, and tours on tours on tours with acts such as Civil Twilight, Walk The Moon, The Smashing Pumpkins, Anberlin, and others. Oh, and they kind of played a huge Olympic event in London that would make any band jealous. The band themselves came on my radar late in 2011, and when the S/T was released, it didn’t leave loop for weeks. I was lucky enough to build a friendship and bond with Steve & co. over 2012, which only made me respect the band and the hard work more. After months and months of listening, I let the disc rest, and revisited it from time to time, only to get brought back into it. A telltale sign that you have a top 5 AOTY on your hands. If it wasn’t for the late surge of Macklemore, it’s a toss-up for the no.1 slot, but ultimately I had to go with my gut. Much love, though, for a great group of guys and good friends. Continued success and all the best in 2013.
2.Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “The Heist”
Released: October 9, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Blue Scholars, Mac Miller, Sage Francis
Standout Track(s): “Jimmy Iovine”, “Cowboy Boots”, “Starting Over”
[Hey Macklemore, can we have a top 10 record on a billion End of the Year lists?] 2012 was the year of the Macklemore takeover. After years of mixtapes and Seattle club shows, grinding his teeth to the stone, Macklemore hit pay-dirt with The Heist. Behind the single, “Thrift Shop”, Macklemore has become a household name in the rap game, even being a nice crossover success to Top 40 and alternative radio stations, who are spinning his tune with much success and acceptance. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis also walks away with the “Mark Kennedy Award For Best Diss Track Of The Year” with his beautiful words to record producer and Interscope big wig Jimmy Iovine, who is credited with connecting Eminem to Dre and is a very well known name in the business, who has the power to single-handedly launch a career. Macklemore had the balls to write it, to release The Heist independently, and to stick it to the man. It’s such a welcome change to hear good hip-hop with substance, with real stories, with real issues, and with heart. Easily one of the albums that will be tied with 2012 forever. I expect it to be a very influential album for years to come.
1. Walk The Moon “Self-Titled”
Released: June 19, 2012
Recommended If You Like: Young The Giant, Wolf Gang, Passion Pit
Standout Track(s): “Anna Sun”, “Tightrope”, “Shiver Shiver”
Biggest surprise act for me in 2012. Their disc, I Want! I Want!, found its way into my inbox in late 2011, but it literally sat unopened until mid 2012, a huge fail on my part. I first heard “Anna Sun” early in 2012 on the radio, which I rarely listen too, but happened to have it going on my quick 5 minute drive from my house in Dallas to a local supermarket. I thought it was a nice song, and was in the vein of what was starting to become popular on local radio: that indie rock infused alternative a la Grouplove and Young The Giant. Never really thought much of it after. Then, “Anna Sun” slowly began to creep into my rotation of music, and before too long, I was lucky enough to see them live literally a week or two prior to their first major label full-length release with my boys of Morning Parade. I was absolutely hooked. Catchy, infectious indie rock with hints of synth, indie pop, and nonstop moments of hooks and verses that you cannot get out of your head. As mentioned prior, I was able to see them live and it was easily one of my concert highlights of 2012. Great live show, great energy, and a true blessing to be able to say I saw them live before fame, in a room of about 100 other people and not in an arena or ballroom. The album became the soundtrack to my summer, and even when I made the move from Dallas to Chicago, the disc was my accompaniment as I learned new roads and a new life.
All samples that appear on this blog are from soundcloud and bandcamp. All work is the bands, legally.
Recently, design taxi featured a lego artist who has recreated some famous album arts with nothing but legos. Below are some of the works of art I found amusing: