For about a million reasons, I never make a best-of list for any year. They're so contentious. People get grumpy. People complain about overlooked genres, overlooked artists, songs, etc. Never mind how impossible the task of narrowing the music down and saying something pithy about it is a potentially doomed one from the start.
But, on a happier note, I wanted to share a list of 15 albums I've loved this year. No doomed tasks here, just wanting to share the love. (I initially had 25 but that was a bit unwieldy.)
In the hope of making my list pleasant and not all bitchy and snobby and contentious, some disclaimers:
-These are 15 of my favorite releases, which just means that there are 15 albums that I really like and you might enjoy. I didn't want to split hairs over which album, on this list or not, was "the best" from any sort of aesthetic or critical standpoint.
-I really wasn't trying to be comprehensive for its own sake. I could have listened to genres I know nothing about to include some of those songs out of a sense of completeness, but that felt tokenistic and dishonest.
-There are some surprising omissions. A lot of the albums that topped lists everywhere aren't here. It doesn't mean I don't love them, just that these have, to date, resonated with me more. But there will always be omissions, and trust me when I say that there were far too many runners-up to name!
This list was ultimately fun to make, and it surprised me. One thing that surprised me is that a few of my all-time favorite artists released albums this year, and those albums are not on this list. But that's fine; it makes room for some fresh new favorites. One blessing that I had this year was that I got to speak to some of these artists, so I linked to those interviews where they exist.
I hope you enjoy.
1.Lost in the Trees-A Church That Fits Our Needs
I don't remember how I discovered "Lost In the Tress." I just remembered being interested, even before I heard the music. Once I heard the music from this album, A Church to Fit Our Needs, though, I knew, as dramatic as this sounds, I'd forever be changed. This album both celebrates and mourns lead singer-songwriter Ari Picker's mother, Karen, after her suicide. It is glorious and painful at the same time, and it's quite sad that this album hasn't appeared on more year-end lists. (My Rumpus interview with Ari Picker.)
2.First Aid Kit-the Lion's Roar
I think many of us this year were blown away by the harmonies of these young Swedish sisters. This is my favorite song of theirs, so I'm delighted they made not just a video but such an enchanted one. To cut to the chase, I asked them loads about this video in our interview.
3.Sean Rowe-The Salesman and the Shark
Sean Rowe was a new find for me. I unabashedly love the Anti label, and I came across him simply because I was I saw he had an album forthcoming on Anti. And what an album it is! There's a string octet and his insane baritone and all that goes into him and his music, which is, well, a lot. In my interview with Sean Rowe, I quoted my favorite song from the album, "Signs." It's another one of those songs that is triumphant and destroying at the same time.
Ok, so I used to live in Boston/Cambridge/That Whole Mess, which is home to Passion Pit. And I read all the press that came with their first album but never felt like checking it out, perhaps because I was convinced it was overhyped. But this year, I listened to their 2012 release Gossamer and was more than happy with it. "Love Is Greed" is my very favorite from that record, but there isn't a video for that.
5.Hilary Hahn and Hauschka-Silfra
This was one of those collaborations that seemed to come out of nowhere, at least for me. I knew of, loved, and interviewed viruoso violinist Hilary Hahn. Long before I knew of her incredible body of work, I was fond of Hauschka (who I also chatted with), known for his impressive prepared piano work that spans several albums. But I had no idea that the two would ever come together and make an album. And it's just as great as you'd expect. If you don't like classical music, this is a good album to kind of ease you into things that would be considered more contemporary classical.
Ah, yes, Julia Holter. I fell in love with her when last year's Tragedy came out. Her impressive voice and all the things she did with it let me know she was a rare talent. On Ekstasis, she only upped her game. (I did a brief interview with her at the time of Tragedy and then reviewed Ekstasis for The Quietus.)
7.Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra-Theatre Is Evil
I began listening to the Dresden Dolls in 2003. Their singles hadn't really broken yet, but my then-boyfriend had a radio show, and they sent him cool stuff, plus he thought their first album looked intriguing. Since then, Amanda Palmer and I have had a long and storied history, especially given my time in Boston. While I admit that I have often felt ambivalence towards some of her projects and statements, I ultimately feel a lot of love and respect for Palmer. Perhaps more importantly, I felt that her crowd-sourced 2012 album, Theatre Is Evil (with the Grand Theft Orchestra) was excellent. This song/video is a definite highlight for me and has gotten me through some terrible days, but the song that usually moves me the most is the stunning "Trout Heart Replica." (Unfortunately, there is no longer online evidence of either of my interviews with Amanda Palmer, but I did include a concert review and some pictures I took at the show.)
8. Banga by Patti Smith
Patti Smith just doesn't stop delivering. The first track on this album gives me shivers.
9. Purity Ring-Shrines
I actually still don't know much about this band, but I always enjoy putting on this album and this song in particular.
10. Xiu Xiu-Always
I have no idea which Xiu Xiu album is my favorite--there are far too many. But I know I love Always for many reasons. "Hi" is a tremendous single, as is "Honeysuckle" (which is the first song bandmate Angela Seo ever wrote!). And "Smear the Queen" with Carla Bozulich. And "Chimneys Afire." It's just all good. I was some serious kinds of bummed when their drum machine broke and they couldn't play a traditional show in Madison.
11.Dead Can Dance-Anastasis
A surprising return by a band I didn't pay enough attention to the first time around. This thoughtful release deserves all the excellent press it got. I interviewed Lisa Gerrard about it as well.
12. The Sister by Marissa Nadler
Definitely one of the forgotten gems of 2012. A companion album to last year's self-titled release, The Sister is full of songs that mirror and interweave with songs from earlier releases in fascinating ways. One of the things I most love about Marissa Nadler is how she invents characters and carries on their stories across several albums sometimes. Marissa and I chatted at The Quietus this year.
13. Sharon van Etten-Tramp
Well, duh. My favorites are "Serpents" and "I'm Wrong."
14. Mountain Goats-Transcendental Youth
Hooray hooray! A new Mountain Goats record is always cause for celebration, and this one is particularly celebratory. (Hint: there are horns now!) I did an interview with John Darnielle, but it hasn't posted yet. Regardless, you should investigate him as a human being *and* a criminally good songwriter because he's so full of interesting chatter and does such good work for the abortion rights movement. (In our interview, just to bait you, he talks about why he prefers the term "abortion rights," so that wasn't just me re-politicizing the term.)
15. Mt. Eerie-Clear Moon/Ocean Roar
This is technically two albums, but they go together, were created at the same time by Mt. Eerie (aka Phil Elverum, who used to record as Microphones), and really illuminate each other. They played a little show here at a recital hall on campus and that shimmering wall of sound was gorgeous and perfectly overpowering. (Interview with the snazzy Elverum here.)