A lot has happened this year! I rang in 2012 in a Brooklyn apartment with some of my closest friends and a lot of chocolate and wine. I’d been dumped just a few days before, and while I was in surprisingly OK spirits considering the circumstances, I certainly didn’t expect that by the end of January I’d meet the person who I now cannot imagine my life without. Moving on and moving up, indeed. I also moved to my third New York apartment, explored new parts of my favorite borough, watched a close friend get married, more or less gained a whole new family, I visited dozens of new restaurants, and I traveled to San Francisco, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and, of course, home to Michigan.
Of course there was also a whole lot of music that soundtracked all of this, and never in one year have so many songs Made Me Feel Things. I might have cried a couple times while listening to “Give Out” from Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp, “Tallulah” from Allo Darlin’s Europe, and “Lonely Universe” from Angel Olsen’s Half Way Home. But I’ve also hit serious highs, like standing next to the love of my life while Kathleen Edwards played “Sidecar” from her album Voyageur, and I’ll never forget staying out until 1:30 a.m. on a weeknight as Glen Hansard paraded friends from all ends of the music world onto the small stage at Le Poisson Rouge to play a series of Levon Helm covers.
I’ve said it a million times, but it bears repeating: I don’t like making best-of-the-year music lists, at least not when I have to rank them. The order I want to put the albums in changes every day, and certain songs might have been more important to me in March than in September. Of course there are also the thousands of records that never touched my ears, and the dozens I’ve given a few spins but still need to spend more time with — and I have no doubt that I’m forgetting something. But there are certainly a sizeable number of records that I loved and had some impact on me in 2012, and below (alphabetically) are a few of them (SURPRISE! They are almost all ladies). Also, you can download a mix of my favorite 2012 songs here.
Allo Darlin’, Europe (pictured above): The second album from UK indiepop band Allo Darlin’. I called it as my favorite record of 2012 back in April, and while I haven’t listened to it as often as I expected I would in the last few months, it’s still up there and it’s still the album that has punched me in the gut the hardest upon first listen (not just this year — ever). It’s about love and dreams and growing up and I wrote a super-long review of it for eMusic, which I hope does it even a little bit of justice. If I had to pick a No. 1 for 2012, this would be it.
Favorite tracks: “Tallulah,” “Some People Say,” “Neil Armstrong”
Recipe: Heartbeat Chili (based on a song from their first album, one of the first posts on this site!)
Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel…: A long-awaited album from a longtime favorite. This is everything I could have hoped it would be.
Favorite tracks: “Hot Knife,” “Valentine”
Recipe + more words: Savory apple pull-apart bread with horseradish butter
Cat Power, Sun: This record blew me away. It’s big and inspiring and the music itself sorta makes my head explode in ways I never expected from Cat Power. And I love the “Clapping Song” homage in “3,6,9.”
Favorite tracks: “Manhattan”
Recipe + more words: Sunny polenta squash pie
Cold Specks, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion: Oh, you haven’t heard this record? It flew a little bit under the radar, so if you haven’t, you should probably get on it sooner than later. Cold Specks is Al Spx (raised in a super-religious family who does not approve of her music career, this is not her real name), and she has an incredible voice that’s full and soulful, sort of in the same way as someone like Adele or Florence Welch, but…not. Seeing her live gave me chills.
Favorite tracks: “Winter Solstice,” “Blank Maps”
Kathleen Edwards, Voyageur: Kathleen Edwards is a hugely underrated songwriter with roots in folky Americana, though this year’s Voyageur has more production work and a poppier sound, in part thanks to her co-producer/boyfriend Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver). It’s about cleaning up the wounds from one relationship and getting into another, and it’s no coincidence that I’m celebrating my anniversary with this guy by going to see her (again) next month.
Favorite tracks: “Sidecar,” “Change the Sheets,” “Chameleon Comedian”
Recipe + more words: Citrus French toast with brandied peaches
Angel Olsen, Half Way Home: Hooooo boy. It took a few listens for this one to sink in, but when I finally paid closer attention to her lyrics I nearly started crying at my desk. I just reviewed this record, and I also have a related recipe running next week, so I’ll save most of my thoughts on this album for that.
Favorite tracks: “Lonely Universe,” “The Waiting,” “You Are Song”
Marina and the Diamonds, Electra Heart: By far, my favorite straight-up pop album of the year. The genius of this record is that Marina Diamandis actually spends most of it poking fun at her Top 40 peers: Her super-feminist protagonist calls out her dude for being a jerk, and makes it clear that she doesn’t belong to anyone and can make her own decisions. And while most would expect a song called “Sex Yeah” to be raunchy, she’s actually preaching an empowering message to girls who might be listening: “If history could set you free (from who you were supposed to be)/ If sex in our society (didn’t tell a girl who she would be)/ ‘Cause all my life I’ve tried to fight what history has given me.”
Favorite tracks: “The State of Dreaming,” “Teen Idle”
Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N 2 It: The second album from Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas) snuck up on me. It’s sparse and dark and at times incredibly depressing, but also extremely beautiful. His take-away show (below) is a must-watch.
Favorite tracks: “Hood,” “Normal Song”
Sharon Van Etten, Tramp: Oh, Sharon! I have been following this amazing woman’s career since right after I moved to Brooklyn in 2009, and it’s been incredible to see her go from opening for Megafaun at tiny, tiny Union Pool to headlining the 1,500-capacity Town Hall theater. Tramp is her biggest-sounding album, produced by Aaron Dessner from The National, and like her older stuff, of course there’s a lot of sadness in her songs, but also a lot of confidence. Every ounce of this gal’s success is so deserved.
Favorite tracks: “Give Out,” “Ask”
Some other favorites (I will add to this list as I remember things I absent-mindedly forgot about):
Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory
Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits
First Aid Kit, The Lion’s Roar
Glen Hansard, Rhythm and Repose
Hurray for the Riff Raff, Lookout Mama
Japandroids, Celebration Rock
Anais Mitchell, Young Man in America
Passion Pit, Gossamer
Purity Ring, Shrines
Shearwater, Animal Joy
Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Titus Andronicus, Small Business
Standard Fare, Out of Sight, Out of Town
Matthew E. White, Big Inner
The xx, Coexist
Yellow Ostrich, Strange Land