My Favorite Music of 2012

Well well fair blog readers, it is time once again for my year-end favorite music list.  Unlike in years past, this will be the only year-end list here on Notes From the Fire, as I simply haven’t been paying enough attention to anything else to make a decent list.

If you’d like to go back in time, here are links to previous years’ lists:




There were two years of lists before these, but they were on my MySpace blog, which has mysteriously disappeared.  As usual, a mix disc representative of this blog has been made and will be automatically sent to those of you on my “mailing list”; if you aren’t and you want to be, contact me!

All music on this list was released in calendar year 2012.  The list itself is limited to only full-length albums, but there are some runners-up after the list by artists that either didn’t release full-length albums, or whose album sucked, but since this is literally a list of my “favorite music” released this year, it seemed silly to continue limiting it to only full albums.  Now: the list!

10.  Benjamin Gibbard, “Former Lives”

BGFL_5X5-01Death Cab for Cutie frontman Gibbard unleashed his first solo effort this year, and of course, it sounds and feels a lot like Death Cab, but lyrically, the album sticks solely to relationships (mostly romantic, but occasionally musing on friendship, too) and never veers onto some of the larger topics Death Cab albums often deal with.  A highlight is Gibbard’s duet with Aimee Mann on “Bigger Than Love“.

9.  Delta Spirit, “Delta Spirit”

The California indie rocker’s, on their second album, grow and evolve from the raw, straight-ahead power they used on 2010’s “History From Below” into a band with more textured, layered sublety, while still retaining their ability to outright gut-punch their listeners.

8.  Alabama Shakes, “Boys and Girls”


The Shakes have spearheaded a new movement of indie Americana, and nobody is going to do it better than they do. They’re not writing songs for the radio.  There are no enormous, sweeping, soundtrack-ready singalong choruses (hello there, annoying second chapter of the Mumford and Sons story), just genuine feeling and the ache of living and working in an America that doesn’t notice you.

7.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse, “Psychedelic Pill”

Young and Crazy Horse had quite a year this year, putting out an album of covers, as well as this album, their first new original music together in many, many years.  And it did not disappoint.  A double-disc album, it only has eight songs on it, as these crunchy blasts of feedback perfection keep stretching over the 20 minute mark.  Not to be missed if you’ve ever been a fan of what Young and Crazy Horse do together.

6.  El Ten Eleven, “Transitions”

Practitioners of the dark art of Post-Rock, this duo uses live looping to replicate their large sound in the live setting.  This year’s album, “Transitions”, found them reaching even further toward the epic, big-idea tomes their genre-mates usually turn out, although they still often give their songs goofy titles, like “Thanks Bill“.

5.  Public Enemy, “The Evil Empire of Everything”

Public_Enemy-The_Evil_Empire_of_EverythingI know what you’re saying!  “Rap?!”  Well, yes.  Way back in the day when I was solely into rap (ie, high school) Public Enemy was one of my favorite acts.  Chuck D is an amazing lyricist and they are very hard-hitting musically.  A review in a magazine prompted me to check out this new album, and I was instantly smitten.  Their music is, in fact, closer to “rock” than most hip hop acts, and Chuck’s radical social conscious speaks to my ever-more-liberal than last year ideals.  But warning: this dude is more liberal than you are (whoever you are), and if you have a problem with a black dude still accusing the white establishment of fucking with black folks (which definitely still happens, black president or not) then you should stay away from Public Enemy (and enjoy your Kenny Chesney concert).

4.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse, “Americana”

The first album Young and Crazy Horse put out this year, “Americana” is a collection of classic American folk songs, re-written in gritty, in-your-face grunge style that goes great lengths of changing (or in some cases, re-enforcing) how we view these songs we’ve all heard hundreds of times.  Read more about it and stream the entire album here.

3.  Emily Wells, “Mama”


Emily Wells, a solo artist who utilizes live looping much like El Ten Eleven, writes haunting, unconventional visions of angst and longing, but on this year’s “Mama” she took things a step further by writing flat-out stunning poetry for lyrics.  On previous albums she had always witten very effective, affecting songs, but on “Mama” she gets subtle, roundabout, and mysterious while keeping things just within reach of accesibility.  If she continues to evolve at this rate her next album will cement her status as a cult hero.

2.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!”


Aside from perhaps classical and some jazz, there is absolutely nothing more serious in the world of music than Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  Do not approach this band if you are not capable of listening to music to ponder your absolute and complete reason for existence.  And to explore where the line between perfect joy and utter despiar lies.  The godfathers (and godmothers) of post-rock, Godspeed hadn’t released an album in 10 years, and speculation had asserted they probably were not going to.  So when “‘Allelujah” was announced, it sent shockwaves through the post-rock community, with most people assuming no album they could release would possibly be able to live up to expectations.  But they proved everyone wrong.  The album came out to almost universal acclaim.  Most people are actually somewhat baffled by the post-rock perfection that goes on here, and how, after 5 of their own albums and countless (truly, countless) copycat bands, Godspeed is somehow still able to surprise us and find new, truly incredible ways to make this kind of music.  Also, having purchased the album on vinyl, I have a code for a free download of this album that I will pass along to the first person who asks for it.

1.  Band of Horses, “Mirage Rock”


Over the course of the last few years, Band of Horses have come to the forefront of my music-listening life (although I hesitate to crown them my “favorite band”, as other bands might be more at the forefront if they’d been on the same album release and tour schedule as Band of Horses).  The band’s sound, the lyrical content and the overall subject matter of the songs, and even all the albums’ packaging (every album so far has come with a packet of photographs that don’t say anything on them and are just assumed to be a visual accompaniment to the music) steers me to this band.  This year’s “Mirage Rock” only ramped up this enjoyment all the more.  Songs like “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” seem to not only be about my own feelings, but practically a plot-specific memoir of my life.  For the last six months, “Mirage Rock” has been a steady and constant companion, the true soundtrack to my life, and as such, it gets this year’s number one spot!

Runner-up songs:
Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive”
Bruce Springsteen, “We Take Care of Our Own”
Gary Clark Jr., “When My Train Pulls In”
GROUPLOVE, “Itchin’ on a Photograph”
Silversun Pickups, “Skin Graph”
Grizzly Bear, “Yet Again”
Kaiser Chiefs, “Little Shocks”
Mogwai, “San Pedro”
Hey Rosetta!, “New Year Song”

2 Responses to “My Favorite Music of 2012”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    I wish I had something to say here. I know the pain of working diligently on a list and having no comments at all. It’s like, “You all should be clamoring to read my thoughts on (insert list subject here)!!! If you didn’t know these things before, you should be buying them right now!!! This is MY LIST!!!”.

    I’m sad there won’t be a year end movie list. I know music is a lot easier to keep up with in a hectic schedule, but it’s not too difficult to fit movies in the same way. Instead of plugging in headphones to an mp3 player simply bring your television and DVD player with you on your train. Take in an entire movie while you walk from the station to your work. You can do it with music, why the hell not with movies?!

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