Updated Wed, Dec 26, 2012 6:30 am
Jack White, Blunderbuss: From quirky old-timey ballads to flat-out rockers, this is Jack White's best record--and that’s saying something. Blunderbuss will certainly become known as a true classic in years to come.
Dirty Projectors, Swing Low Megellan: I’m not entirely sure how to describe this album. These guys are certainly influenced by a wide variety of music, and it shows. It’s got stripped-down soul, weird time signatures, wonderful harmonies and backup vocals, cool melodies and really interesting guitar playing. As a whole, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, but at the same time you can look at the individual parts and spot its influences. It’s just rare to see musicians who can really make something their own, and that’s exactly what Dirty Projectors have done here.
Rumer, Seasons of My Soul: Recorded and released in the U.K. in late 2010, this debut album was released in the U.S. earlier this year. A former indie-rocker from England, Rumer heard the sound of late '60s/early '70s light rock (i.e. Burt Bacharach, The Carpenters) and reimagined her music into melodic sunshine pop. These songs are mind-blowingly great if you like this sort of thing. Every song on this record is incredibly memorable, and after two or three listens, will be stuck in your mind for a lifetime. Probably the best "traditional" songwriting by anybody this year.
Nick Waterhouse, Time's All Gone: This is basically white guy retro-soul with a lot of attitude and edge. He manages to give us something a bit different while still paying homage to 1950s and '60s R&B. Rumor has it that he puts on an unbelievable live show.
Rodriguez, Searching For Sugarman: Interesting story: Rodriguez put out two records in the early 1970s that sounded a bit garage-rock and a bit like folky Dylan. They didn’t sell at the time and he left the music business all together. Over the years, his music became more and more popular until he had a rather large cult following by 2010. Work began on a documentary called Searching For Sugarman, which tells his whole story. As you listen to the soundtrack, you can tell why his music has found a brand new audience with today’s indie-rock kids. Hopefully, he’ll record a follow up to those two original records, which were both rereleased a few years ago.
Father John Mistry, Fear Fun: Fleet Foxes drummer makes a weird, quirky "freak" folk-pop record which is much more interesting than the Fleet Foxes' last record. One of the reasons for this is that he takes a lot more chances with the song structures and refuses to play it safe, both musically and lyrically. He has a knack for writing lyrics that will make you snicker throughout but also bring you to a contemplative place at the same time.
Sharon Van Etten, Tramp: One of the best singer-songwriters out there today. Introspective, haunting and just flat-out great, this album tackles familiar topics in a fresh way that leaves you wanting to put the record right back on and start from the beginning. She has said that her songwriting is a healing and personal growing process for her; thankfully her listeners benefit from the process.
Beach House, Bloom: This is their best record to date. It’s not so much a departure from their last one but a fulfillment of what the last one could have been--and I like the last one quite a bit. Very dreamy and stream-of-consciousness-sounding; a near perfect "chill out" record.
Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio: Very laid back piano-driven modern soul/jazz for stoners--although you don’t have to be stoned to enjoy this, unlike some other artists in that genre. There really isn't an upbeat song in this whole collection. Very textured and subtle most of the time, it's such a unique-sounding record that it takes a few listens for it to really start to connect, but the pay off is big. They do an amazing cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that is one of the best covers I’ve ever heard.
Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light: Although less hard-edged than their '90s and '00s stuff, this is still just as intense, but in a quieter fashion. Achingly transparent as a lyricist, Jason Pierce has created one of the best gospel records of the last few years. But you don’t have to be a believer to relate; in fact, I’m not sure that Pierce is himself.
Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball: This is Springsteen's best record since The Ghost of Tom Joad and maybe his best record with the E Street Band since Born In The USA. Not every song is a winner but most of them are great. Just a few listens to "We Are Alive," "Rocky Ground," and "Death To My Home Town" will send shivers down your spine, you’ll start pulling out the rest of his collection like I did and embark on yet another Springsteen revival. A true American icon and one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. BRUUUUUUUCE!
Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls: I really like this record a lot but I’m even more excited about the follow-up. This sounds like the vocal stylings of Aretha Franklin matched with the sludgy, southern soul sound of Muscle Shoals. Nothing really sounds quite like this anymore so it’s really nice to have a band writing this kind of stuff today. Think Janis Joplin, Sticky Fingers/Exile-era Stones and a myriad of '70s blues-based bands, crossed with today's indie-rock and you get the idea. Despite how good this record is, I can’t help feeling they have the potential to be absolutely mind-blowing next time around, based on how good their live shows are.
I also really liked these other 2012 releases (in no particular order): Michael Kiwanuka, Home Again; Justin Townes Earl, Nothing's Going To Change The Way I feel About You Now; Ty Seagull, Twins; Rufus Wainwright, Out of The Game; Tame Implala, Lonerism; Nick Lowe, The Old Magic, Frank Ocean, Channel Orange (sorry Tim Peacock, you're wrong); The dB's, Falling Off The Sky; Grizzly Bear, Shields; Jessie Ware, Devotion; Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream; Sun Kil Moon, Among The Leaves; Passion Pit, Gossamer; and Valtari by Sigur Ros.
Chris Pyle is owner of Donkey Coffee, The White Album & Mr. Kite Enterprises and co-owns 3 Elliott Studio in Athens, Ohio. He loves music so much that he feels guilty about it sometimes.