Top 12 albums of ’12

(Contributed by music writer Eric Funderburk)

A year’s end “Best of List” has been a very personal and enduring process that has expanded nearly two decades in my life. It’s been an annual extravaganza since 1993 (except for 1999 for some reason), all documented to some extent.

The countdown itself is like a photo album documenting my personal musical phases of listening and discovery—favorite alternative radio hits, more genre defined eras, and more pigeon-holed defined tastes.

The timeline of this countdown was born to a tape deck with a microphone where I’d introduce favorite bands and transfer songs from CD to cassette tape. It evolved to annual college radio shows (either 5-7 PM playing oh-so-softly in the dining hall or 9-11 PM on Thursday nights), polling campus students on overrated acts and underplayed artists all the way.

Seven years ago, we (yes, “we”, there’s a story behind that) ripped our favorites on a blank CD, simply labeled “2005”—no track listing)—just music for the listener to figure out who was who. There was a “year of the shuffle” where we shuffled the top songs.

A few years ago, there was a countdown that included bands, all of whom never made the countdown over the years. Over the past 10 years, my wife and I have gotten in the habit of sharing our countdown list and continue to share the mix tape tradition.

Since 2003, we’ve combined our favorites into a technically complicated mathematical equation that fairly allows us to give personal input to the best of list.

Most of these still cover our personal (and perhaps unshared) favorites (Deftones, Sade, Tahiti 80, Alkaline Trio, Coheed and Cambria, Luna and others) and really tap in our shared favorites over the years (Snow Patrol, Elliott Smith, Phoenix, Morrissey, Tapes n’ Tapes, Dears). Sometimes “tiebreakers” go to artists we’ve seen the most live.

Other times, we have to look at iTunes plays to see who has the edge. In recent years, our best of list has to consist on our personal must haves, consisting of albums we wholly own, born in that year.

That’s it—five, six or seven albums that no doubt have to be on the year-end countdown. This defines the quality of the list even more, reflecting the personal tastes of two individuals rather than one.

The best way to see the evolution is to look at the # 1 songs of my days from a 17-year old radio-listening teenager to a 30 something year old father. My tastes have definitely seen phases of all sorts.

1993 – Nirvana “Rape Me”
1994 – Live “Lightning Crashes”
1995 – Alanis Morrisette “You Oughtta Know”
1996 – Goldfinger “Here in Your Bedroom”
1997 – Pennywise “Bro Hymn Tribute”
1998 – Mxpx “Chick Magnet”
1999 – Likely would have been NOFX “The Decline”
2000 – New Found Glory “Better Off Dead”
2001 – Jimmy Eat World “The Middle”
2002 – Flaming Lips – “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. I”
2003 – Longwave “I know it’s Coming Someday”
2004 – Franz Ferdinand “Come on Home”
2005 – Jamiroquai “Don’t Give Hate A Chance”
2006 – Tapes n’ Tapes “Insistor”
2007 – Band of Horses “Is There a Ghost”
2008 – Bon Iver “re: Stacks”
2009 – Doves “Kingdom of Rust”
2010 – MGMT “I Found a Whistle”
2011 – The Dears “5 Chords”
2012 – Patrick Watson “Lighthouse”

Here’s this year’s count down – definitely more stripped down, unplugged, rooted in 70’s acoustics, chamber pop, songwriting, retro pop, catchy, non-mainstream but fluffy pop-filled lattes for true music fans. Remember, the countdown is more about the album, not the song, although a track has to be chosen to be included on the year end compilation. The top 2 albums get two cuts. This year’s list:

Artist: Young Oceans
Song 1: I Will Be Still
Song 2: We Sing as One
Album: Young Oceans

Young Oceans – I Will Be Still

Young Oceans are a young praise and worship band with solid tunes that pretty much taps into sounds of indie bands like the Standard and Shearwater l.

Artist: Mirel Wagner
Song 1: No Hands
Song 2: No Death
Album: Mirel Wagner

Sort of like a black comedy minus the comedy. With lyrics that range from “your true love will go away/leave let me be/let the devil take me” to “despair came riding on the crest of a big black wave/ then as a scream and shouting out my name”, you’ve got to have thick skin to survive this album.

Artist: Shearwater
Song 1: You as You Were
Song 2: Animal Life
Album: Animal Joy

From those who brought you Okkervil River – been around almost as long with an extensive discography of 4 or 5 albums.

Artist: The Tallest Man on Earth
Song 1: Criminals
Song 2: 1904
Album: There’s No Leaving Now

Sweeden’s sweetest, most prolific and complex songwriter. Compare him to Dylan if you will, but he’s got a sharper tongue and catchier licks on the guitar.

Artist: Jamiroquai
Song 1: White Knuckle Ride
Song 2: Hey Floyd
Album: Rock Dust Light Star

The godfathers of power disco funk continue doing what they’ve done so well in the past. Take a breath and dance.

Artist: Bright Moments
Song 1: Travelers
Song 2: Tourists
Album: Natives

Very similar to Beirut (and not just because of its accordion), Bright Moments opened a very solid billing w/ headliners Savoir Adore and Jukebox the Ghost – three decent, mid-level acts with very different sounds.

Artist: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
Song 1: Man On Fire
Song 2: That’s What’s Up
Album: Here

Call it what you will – neo-gospel, folk, psychedelic rock with many bells and whistles…Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes (or ESATMZ for short) has enough diverse nooks in their sound to make you wonder if you’re hearing the same band from cut to cut. This particular song takes the cake for the sing-along gospel refrain that somehow makes you want to clap along during the last minute of the song.

Artist: Keane
Song 1: Silenced by the Night
Song 2: Watch How You Go
Album: Strangeland

UK’s staple 3 piece– this may be their 4th time on our countdown list and for good reasons. A piano based band with no bass is always interesting.

Artist: Band of Horses
Song 1: A Little Biblical
Song 2: Dumpster World
Album: Mirage Rock

More southern rock than past albums, but just as good with real riffs that force you to feel what they’re doing with the jangle pop sound. Third time on the annual countdown.

Artist: The Lumineers
Song 1: Stubborn Love
Song 2: Flowers in Your Ear
Album: The Lumineers

Yes. It’s in commercial. Yes, the other song is #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song has such a good hook. Sorry for the barrage of banjo influenced acts as of late. I’m sure I’ll outgrow it next year.

Artist: Branches
Song 1: Helicoptor
Song 2: Going Home
Album: Thou Art the Dream

Branches – Going Home

Speaking of banjos, this band came out of nowhere (and actually still is nowhere success-wise). Regardless, they have so many great catchy songs on Thou Art the Dream.

Artist: Patrick Watson
Song 1: Adventures in Your Own Backyard
Song 2: Lighthouse
Album: Adventures in Your Own Backyard

The landscape and sounds on this album, the song “Lighthouse” in particular, are mesmerizing and required listening on a surround sound system. This band’s tight sound is even furtherreinforced live with so many creative methods to make a basic acoustic five piece sound so much bigger and grand. Jeff Buckley would definitely be pleased that creative talents such as Watson are still out there playing, touring, including the piano in a set and wailing beautifully.


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