For what it's worth, three artists this year see their streaks of two consecutive releases in my top ten come to an end: Sigur Rós, Band of Horses and A.C. Newman; the latter of whom being the only one of the three to make the 2012 list at all.
5. Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself
The album that turned me on to Bird was 2005's The Mysterious Production of Eggs. This is probably his best effort since that one, and it's his third record overall that lands in my top ten, with 2007's Armchair Apocrypha coming in between.
4. Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker and Yim Yames - New Multitudes
I didn't count this as one of the six artists new to my top ten, as three of these four guys have made multiple appearances: Farrar as solo artist, with Son Volt (twice), and on his collaboration with Ben Gibbard; Parker as solo artist and with Varnaline (thrice); and Yames (aka Jim James) with My Morning Jacket and Monsters of Folk (with whom Johnson also played).
3. Saint Etienne - Words and Music by Saint Etienne
When I first heard 2006's Tales from Turnpike House, I thought it was Saint Etienne's debut. Needless to say, I was surprised to find out this English band had been crafting their very own brand of danceable indie-pop—or "...the disco-llision of '60s pop, '70s dance, and '90s club," according to one reviewer—since the early '90s. So, they're actually about the same age as I am, and apparently just as nostalgic, particularly on album-opener "Over the Border," as lead singer Sarah Cracknell reminisces about falling in love with, and because of, music in her younger days and wonders aloud, "...and when I was married, and when I had kids, would Marc Bolan still be so important?"
2. The Walkmen - Heaven
2012's highest ranking American artist is no stranger to my year-end list, but this is just their second time in the top ten, and the first since 2004's Bows & Arrows. I can't really say for certain these two albums have been that much better than the three that came between, just that they've resonated with me more. Although this one is a much happier affair than any of their previous output, I still find myself most drawn to the album-closing song of yearning, "Dreamboat."
1. Mumford & Sons - Babel
I don't know how many times I've said or written this before, but it's all too often I overlook an artist's commercial breakthrough only to jump on their bandwagon an album later. I dismissed 2009's Sigh No More after just a few listens, but was drawn in when their appearance at the 2011 Grammys made me wonder if that was a mistake.
My last two #1 albums have been records that meant a lot to me lyrically, in addition to being fantastic musically. That's kind of a funny coincidence, I suppose, or maybe meaningful songs added just enough to albums like Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues to make me think it was better than The Decemberists' The King is Dead.
Babel is a great album in its own right, but I honestly had to read reviews to realize the themes surrounding these songs are so spiritual. In hindsight, I suppose that should've been pretty obvious, not that it would have made a difference anyway. It's just that Mumford & Sons' particular brand of rowdy folk-rock is what made a huge impression on me, and it wasn't aided by anything their lyrics were saying to me.
That's both a testament to how good this album is and how mildly disappointing the year in music was for me. Either that or I'm beginning to learn my own answer to Sarah Cracknell's question.
Whether this is your first time here, or your thousand-and-first...Happy New Year and thanks for reading.
From the Archives: Cup of Coffee—Cliff Lee
2 days ago