Full disclaimer: This Top 10 will without a doubt change between now and next September when I make my official Music Bummys Best Music of 2012 list. I am writing this list now only as a favor to my good friend Scott Bedgood who wanted some pointers on how to make a list of this ilk, since apparently they don’t teach a class on top 10 lists in journalism school (the nerve!). I’ll consume countless numbers of 2012 albums over the next 9 months and release a more accurate top 10 list of my favorite albums from this great year in music. I just want to make sure all you Bummys completists out there are satisfied. Don’t worry your pretty little heads, I’m not selling my esteemed opinion short by writing this list too early. This is strictly for fun.
In fact, this will probably not be a very serious list. Oh, the albums themselves are serious- I loved every album on this list, and will most likely continue to love them and listen to them voraciously in my car on my morning commute. But as Scott released his list this morning (and, as I understand it, has already written the rest of his list) and I’m only writing mine now, I have to play catchup, and, frankly, I don’t have time to write intricately on each and every album’s strengths and weaknesses. So, instead, I’ll have a little fun with it. Scott’s list is the Frontier City version of a Top 10 of 2012 list- mine is the Six Flags over Texas. Prepare yourself.
10.Leaving Eden, Carolina Chocolate Drops: Listen, I’m aware that this is 2012 and a bluegrass record should hardly be on a top 10 list. But consider this my requisite EDM pick for the year; I just replaced it with a better genre that actually sounds like music. Beyond the fact that CCD has a name that (IS AWESOME) sounds like a delicious southern candy, CCD is downright committed to their sound. They truly sound of another time, a time when Africans were slaves or maybe indentured servants, which requires certain panache to pull off without being offensive. They sell it though; I love their mission to show the impact of African-American music on American music as a whole. They play their instruments extraordinarily well, from the fife to the banjo, and lead female singer Rhiannon Giddens has a voice that sounds equally at home on the brassy barnburner “Country Girl” and on the lilting lullaby “Pretty Bird.” Best Song: “Pretty Bird”
9. The Fourth Wall, The Vespers: You’ve never heard of this band, but that’s okay, because you hadn’t heard of Carolina Chocolate Drops, and they were awesome when you listened to their entire album immediately after reading my blurb above, weren’t they? Yeah, so you can bet The Vespers is one top 10 spot more awesome, since they’re one top 10 spot above them on this list. The Vespers is a brother-sister quartet that is entirely younger than me- the girls are 19 and 21, the boys are 20 and 22. I’m 23. But none of them are about to graduate with a Masters in Speech-Language Pathology, I can guarantee you that. They can keep their incredible, youthful talent and word-of-mouth fanbase. I’ll take my (future) paycheck and nagging sense that I should’ve been a movie critic anyday. But really, The Vespers are sensationally talented. And the folk gems they created on their April album The Fourth Wall display a consistently creative bent that doesn’t rely on the sometimes boring tropes of folk. The Fourth Wall is an album from a group without limits, which is rare in folk music. Best Song: “Instrument for You”
8. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do, Fiona Apple: Okay, so Fiona Apple is weeeird. And I tend to go for music that leans more towards the melodic than the freaky (Animal Collective notwithstanding), but Apple has made it so I don’t have to choose. She marries the wacky and the gorgeous so well on her June album that it defies explanation, much like the album’s ridiculously long name. But even that long title adds to the album’s charm. The Idler Wheel, etc. is decidedly unsettling but at the same time addictive and empowering. Apple sings in disturbing imagery, but she still captures not the feeling of heartache but that potent feeling after heartache of being really pissed off at your ex-significant other. And not only that feeling, but the feeling of trying to find meaning once being angry loses its appeal. So while her album is a dead-on, indie hit, Apple herself is more like this. If she were an NBA highlight reel. Best Song: “Every Single Night”
7.channel ORANGE, Frank Ocean: With the July release of channel ORANGE, Frank Ocean became one of the best R&B artists with a name that I wish was his real name. He joins the ranks of Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and D’Angelo.* I, for one, prefer to live in a world where those are all their real names, and where the stars aligned in such a way that parents birthed children and were prescient enough to give them stage names years ahead of their pending fame. The fact that Frank Ocean’s real name is Christopher Breaux is a real buzzkill when listening to his album, seeing as how he doesn’t fit the frat style that a last name of Breaux would befit (just imagine what a musician named Christopher Bro would be like- something like this, I’d wager). That being said, in all seriousness, when I listen to Frank Ocean, I almost forget about everything else surrounding Frank Ocean (his stage name, his association with the uber-annoying and –offensive Odd Future, his recent admittance that he’s gay/bisexual), because Ocean effortlessly croons at us one masterpiece after another. It took me a while to warm up to this album, but eventually I learned to stop worrying and love it. You’ll hear this over and over again at the end of 2012, but it needs to be said by as many people as possible: Frank Ocean is a genius at making music that is as easy to listen to as it is rewarding upon multiple listens. Don’t let the hype turn you away; give him a chance. Best Song: “Bad Religion”
6. Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes: Brittany Howard, the lead singer of the little blues-rock band from Alabama, seems poised to do more for music than any other artist out there. Adele’s 21 was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of album, but I worry that Adele will get swallowed by the pop music machine. Howard’s on the outside of it, thank goodness, and if she and her band (the Big Brother & the Holding Company to her Janis Joplin) don’t get caught up in their own hype, they’ll have everything going for them. They’ve got one hell of a singer, they’re young and not at their peak yet, and they already write songs that are both exciting and poignant (listen to the one about an unrequited love passing away, “On Your Way,” and ask yourself how many 23-year-olds can write something that mature). So Frank Ocean will deservedly win the Best New Artist Grammy, but since the only people who believe in the Grammys anymore are nobody anywhere, I proclaim that Alabama Shakes is the Best New Artist. I expect a phone call anytime now from Brittany thanking me for this honor. Anytime now. Annnytime. Yep. Anytime. Best Song: “You Ain’t Alone”
5. Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys]), David Crowder Band: I’m not one for hyperbole, but- who am I kidding, I love hyperbole! I live for hyperbole. I’ll hyperb all freaking day. I never met a superlative I didn’t like. So if I say David Crowder Band is the greatest Christian rock band of all time, you’ll have to forgive me, it’s just in my nature. But let’s look at the facts: David Crowder, along with Chris Tomlin (and just maybe the surging Phil Wickham), has written about 80% of the Christian worship staples of the past 10 years; their past four albums have reached the top of the Christian music charts; and they never won a Grammy, which is almost a guarantee of quality. Regardless of whatever evidence I’m able to look up on the Internet (Wikipedia) and regardless of what I’ve left out, David Crowder Band as an entity has shaped Christian music for a decade. They pretty much do whatever the heck they want, which explains the two double albums in their discography, including this 34-track, 100-minute opus that came out in January. That may sound daunting, but no music could be more joyful or as easy to listen to. There were albums that I loved more this year, but seeing as David Crowder Band is no more (they split after their tour to support this album), no discussion of the best albums of 2012 would be complete without Give Us Rest, not only one of the greatest records of the year, but one of the best of DCB’s career. Best Song: “Let Me Feel You Shine”
4. Celebration Rock, Japandroids: What is this rock music you speak of? You don’t hear much of it now. It doesn’t get much better than Japandroids in this day and age, and not just because there’s not much quality rock music left in the world. Their June album features songs that would feel at home with any of the classics, and yet they still feel of the moment, true punk music. The problem with music nowadays is- well, one of the problems, at least, is that all the music seems to know that it’s trivial. There’s nothing at stake in a Katy Perry song or most of Lady Gaga’s songs. Taylor Swift’s newer songs don’t resonate, because the relationships are proving to be less and less important to her. But Japandroids- shoot, lives hang in the balance of a breakup. A meeting in the middle of the night has ramifications for years afterwards. Cities have souls, and houses are made of living light. This music is too good for the radio; this is rock and roll. Best Song: “The House That Heaven Built”
3. Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen: The Boss has never made a bad album, but who makes one of his best records at the age of 63? I’ll be lucky if I can even hear when I’m 63. That’s one year removed from renting a cottage in the Isle of Wight, scrimping and saving, with grandchildren on my knee. Springsteen doesn’t have to scrimp and save; he’s not only making music, putting out albums, but he’s fully expressing himself, as well as he ever did, same as it ever was, but he’s on fire for his nation, for his people in this album. Regardless of which side of the political fence you come down on, Bruce Springsteen’s passion for the people resonates. If you’ve ever read an interview with him, you can see an intelligent man; but that intelligence would mean nothing if he didn’t care. Listening to a song like “Land of Hope and Dreams,” you see he cares. You can hear the mercy in his voice. We need more artists with a good grasp on that kind of mercy. Best Song: “Land of Hope and Dreams”
2. Gravity, Lecrae / The Good Life, Trip Lee: Yep, I’m cheating. 2 in 1. Who gon stop me, huh? It’s really a testament to the quality of the music this year that I couldn’t choose between two Christian rap albums for the number 2 spot on my list. Can we pause for a second and appreciate how far Christian rap has come? Hip-hop of the evangelical persuasion has been around since the 1980s, but please listen to this song by Stephen Wiley from 1985 and join me in cringing. No doubt the artists making songs like that were well-meaning, but Run-D.M.C. they were not. Even an influential band in the 1990s like dc Talk wasn’t above making bad hip-hop. It seems like the Christian hip-hop culture is finally catching up to mainstream rap in terms of artistic integrity. Lecrae has been leading the way in this mission for some time now, but Christian rap has genuinely reached its peak with this pair of albums from the two best in the genre. I can’t choose a favorite, honestly. Lecrae is the more solid musically, and he’s the better rapper, but Trip’s album features more focused and specific songs, rather than Lecrae’s broad themes on his album, which gives Trip’s a more potent emotional punch. Maybe given time, I’ll be able to parse out which one is better, but for not, I’m totally down for enjoying them as two delicious pieces from the same pie. Best Songs: “Mayday (feat. Big K.R.I.T.)” / “One Sixteen (feat. KB & Andy Mineo)”
1. Light for the Lost Boy, Andrew Peterson: I’m getting married in exactly 6 months and 11 days. I graduate in less than 5 months. I’m about to start applying for jobs. It’s scary and sobering, but also stimulating and exciting. I’m not going to pretend that there’s an automatic maturation that comes with these milestones. I can’t claim maturity quite yet. I also can’t describe my musical taste as mature yet either; maybe in a few years I’ll be able to look at my own preferences with a more objective eye, but not now. I’m still too caught up in what others think of me. But I can look back and notice change. For instance, I used to be really into Snow Patrol, Coldplay, and Maroon 5. I still like those bands (well, I like old Maroon 5 at least), but I would no longer point to their songs as my favorites, and I hardly listen to them anymore, though I own several of their CDs each. I seek out very different music now. I don’t know if that qualifies me as a fuddy-duddy yet, but I’m terrified that it does.
Nowadays, there are three artists that I would pay anything to see if they come to Norman or Oklahoma City or Dallas, or even Tulsa or Austin. One of them came to Norman this fall, and I made the questionable (though, ultimately, the right) decision to forgo seeing her to accompany a group of my friends to see Lecrae and Trip Lee with a host of other great Christian rappers in Oklahoma City that same night. That artist was Patty Griffin. The other two I would shill out anything for are Bruce Springsteen and Andrew Peterson. This willingness to put their art over my checkbook comes not from my perception of the quality of their live shows, but from a deep connection I feel with their music. Maybe it’s because my taste in music has changed or, if you want, matured, but I’m drawn to their music because I’ve learned so much from each of them.
Andrew Peterson is the newest of my favorites. I loved his last album from 2010, Counting Stars, and I’ve been making my way through his discography this past year. But with the release of Light for the Lost Boy in August, my appreciation of Peterson has solidified. His sound grew between Counting Stars and Lost Boy, but to me, it felt like it was growing with me. Counting Stars is the album of someone with a reckless abandonment to God; Light for the Lost Boy is the album of someone who’s been beaten down and needs reassuring, restoration of his soul. Peterson surveys his childhood to find hope for the future; he looks to the old man to better understand the new man he’s becoming in Christ. I won’t claim that I’m mature yet. But I can look to albums like Light for the Lost Boy as checkpoints for times of serious growth. This is an album that will remain with me forever. Best Songs: “The Cornerstone” “Day by Day” “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone”
Honorable Mentions: Fable, Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra; Weight & Glory, KB; good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar; Shields, Grizzly Bear; Babel, Mumford & Sons
*Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, James Brown, and Sam Cooke don’t count, since those are their real names, give or take an added “e” here or there.
Thanks for following me through this list. It’ll likely change in 9 months or so. Don’t fret though, I’ll be sure to let you know when it happens. My friend, Scott Bedgood, posted his top 2 today too- here’s his blog!