You know that thing I keep saying about getting to bed at a decent time? Yeah, that never happens. But what does appear to be happening is the Top 10 of 2012

10. Shannon Whitworth and Barrett Smith – Bring It On Home
For those of you outside of Western North Carolina, Shannon Whitworth is a singer/songwriter who works primarily under the umbrella of what could be called folk or roots music. She’s known for her sultry voice, ridiculous banjo skills, and for being really tall. Barrett Smith is the lead guitarist in her backing band. Evidently he’s also quite the vocalist, and the two have become known for playing duets of cover songs here and there. Last year they decided to record an album of these, and the results were fantastic. They cover a lot of ground, from the Sam Cooke-penned title cut to Paul Simon to Antonio Carlos Jobim. The instrumentation is much more varied than anything either has done before, with drums, electric guitars, keyboards, strings, and horns adding color to these renditions. But the real treat here is the way they harmonize together, their voices blending seamlessly. The second this disc ends you immediately find yourself hitting play again. It’s refreshing to see a local artist making something of this quality.

 

9. Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal
I’ve seen this Icelandic band described as folk, pop, and rock, but none of those really seem to hit the mark. The best point of reference is probably Arcade Fire. They share a love of acoustic instrumentation, but also feature huge buildups and fist-pumping arena-ready choruses. The name of the band (and album) gives somewhat of an insight into the lyrical content – many songs talk about larger-than-life animals and mythical creatures. This might be a bit off-putting to some if the songs themselves didn’t deliver, but oh, they do. Nearly every song could be a hit, packed full with memorable melodies and huge hooks that easily get stuck in your head. In spite of all the grandeur, Of Monsters And Men somehow retain a certain intimacy and tenderness that many of their contemporaries lack. It’s this marriage of the large and the small, of monsters and men, if you will, that makes this a legitimate top 10 album.

 

8. Tame Impala – Lonerism
There are literally thousands of bands who have copied the sounds and styles of The Beatles. What made Tame Impala’s 2010 debut Innerspeaker stand out from the crowd was their specific focus. That album played like The Beatles circa Magical Mystery Tour, rarely moving too far away from the basic downtempo psychedelic rock blueprint. With their second album, the focus has been broadened considerably, with a newfound fascination with keyboards taking center stage. The songs are just as sharp as on Innerspeaker, but somehow the vibe is even spacier, with catchier hooks and melodies. Far from a sophomore slump, Lonerism is a significant improvement over Tame Impala’s debut in just about every way.

 

7. A Place To Bury Strangers – Worship
The “loudest band in New York” has returned with quite possibly their best album yet. Worship successfully combines the walls of noise and feedback of the band’s self-titled debut with the more dreamy soundscapes of 2009’s Exploding Head. They even take things in a few new directions, with several songs having an industrial bent, and a few featuring jammy instrumental breaks. The arrangements are more complex, the guitars and electronics are more intense, the melodies are smoother, and the hooks are more likely to become permanently lodged inside your brain. Building upon an already impressive body of work, Worship takes things to a new level.

 

6. Ben Folds Five – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
I’ve been a fan of Ben Folds since the beginning, so naturally I was bummed out to hear he was breaking up the Five. After thirteen years, they’ve finally gotten back together and released a new album. While definitely not their best, it was worth the wait. My biggest fear was that rather than sounding like a true BFF album, this would end up being just another Ben Folds solo album, but with a familiar backing band. Luckily this wasn’t the case, and it proves what I’ve suspected all along – some people just need to collaborate with others to be at the top of their game. Not that Ben Folds’ solo work isn’t good, it just never quite reaches the heights of even a lesser BFF album. This one takes a little time to grow on you, but once it does you can fully appreciate the craftmanship that went into things. Little details reveal themselves at different times. Songs that previously didn’t seem like anything special become your favorite track. And then one day you step back and realize you can’t even pick a favorite. If that isn’t the hallmark of a Ben Folds Five album then I don’t know what is.

 

Stay tuned, tomorrow I’ll post the Top 5 of 2012, along with some videos. Yay!

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