Not satisfied with just providing you with our own opinions around the best albums of 2012 we have once again put the call out to some of our favourite artists to find out what they’ve been listening to this year. And the response to this call has been simply astounding – over 90 artists sent us their number one album of 2012, along with a couple of sentences as to why it’s their number one, almost tripling the amount of submissions from last year and demonstrating once again just how personal and diverse everyone’s relationship to music can be.
Once again a big thank you has to go out to all the artists who contributed along with the dedicated managers, publicity people and record labels we pestered to get this piece across the line – you’re all amazing, dedicated, wonderful people who keep this great national (and international) beast that is the music industry alive.
And now it’s time for the blogger to pass his keyboard over to the blogged as we present to you Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2012:
Mike McCarthy – The Lion’s Share
Mike has a beautiful way with words and melodies, he can stir up feelings of love, loss, mystery and hope all in one album. Sometimes in one song! There’s a gentleness in this record, I can hear more love in his voice than ever before.
Roland Kay-Smith (Roland K Smith and the Sinners)
Felice Brothers – God Bless You Amigo
After the brave, but often confusing album that was Celebration Florida, The Felice Brothers return to more familiar territory with God Bless You Amigo. “Her Eyes Dart Around” is a tear-jerkingly beautiful ballad, the off-kilter harmonies in “Lincoln Continental” blow my mind every time I hear them, and “Dream On” is a fantastically melancholic retelling of the Stagger Lee story. At 20 tracks it’s overlong, but the porch-strumming charm of the album makes each song a joy to listen to, and I should know, I’ve listen to this album plenty.
Seamus Cater & Viljam Nybacka – The Anecdotes
English Dutch duo based in Amsterdam who have written this chronicle of biographic songs based around cultural figures and steeped in folklore and alternative experimental theatre sound art. They have created this soundworld that is both sepia toned in 70s fender rhodes and melodic drum work and captures the sounds of revival and the monologues of obscure historical figures. A work of touching depth and simplicity.
Chris Stone (The String Contingent)
Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now?
Outrageously virtuosic instrumentalists, with super strong musical vision, brilliant execution, and a work ethic like no other … they are the tightest, most polished band around, and given the technical and musical complexity of there music, is both depressing and inspirational.
Ben and James Daley (Bellyache Ben and the Steamgrass Boys, The Daley Brothers)
Old Crow Medicine Show – Carry Me Back
This album has all the Old Crow trademarks: hard hitting blues, fast pickin bluegrass, honest singing and lyrics, great harmonies, and most importantly brilliant songwriting. The title track and “Levi” are both contenders for song of the year. This album (and Old Crow’s ever growing and ever impressive body of work) confirms them as one of the great modern American bands. I dare say when they are done they will be remembered as one of the great all time American bands.
Soundgarden – King Animal
This is easy for me: Soundgarden, King Animal, quiet simply my favourite singer of all time. I’ve been waiting for this release for ever, some classic dirty guitar and pure rock the world’s been missing.
Todd Sibbin (Todd Sibbin and the Opposite Ends, Traveller and Fortune)
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Besides the blatantly obvious reasons (fantastic singing, fantastic songwriting), Mike Mogis (of Bright Eyes fame) has nailed the “atmospheric moodiness” vibe in his production techniques. It’s got that unmistakeable old school Bright Eyes sound, with slightly more polish
Archie Roach – Into the Bloodstream
I was never a hooked Archie fan but this new collection of very personal and aspirational songs really grabbed me emotionally. Archie has seen a lot of shit in his life including the loss of his partner Ruby Hunter and, over the past couple of years, some shocker medical hurdles yet he writes and sings in such an uplifting manner you feel the joy. It is also a craftily assembled album with a great choir, really tasty musicianship and some vocal acrobatics from Archie that I just wasn’t expecting. At one stage he produces a growl befitting the blues and soul and then his voice soars to the rafters. This is a really fine album
Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson
Jeff Lang – Carried in Mind
This album of 2012 is one of those albums that more than manages to carry you away into another time and world. That’s what I love about a great album, it switches off the mind and lets the imagination take over and it does that completely. One song in particular is track 3, “Fisherman’s Farewell”, co written with his wife Alison Ferrier, a truly exquisite piece of writing.
Dana Falconberry – Leelanau
It’s rare when an album is as fully realized as this. It has everything I want in music: great lyrics and melodies, strange harmonies, beautiful arrangements, unexpected rhythms, a specific sense of place, an air of mystery, and just some kind of undefinable magic. Perfect from start to finish.
Paul Buchanan – Mid Air
Paul Buchanan is the lead singer of one of the world’s most important and underrated bands, The Blue Nile. The lead singer’s first solo offering is a quiet masterpiece. Comprised almost completely of subdued piano, and smoky, hushed vocals; this is one of the most transformative, beautiful records I’ve ever heard. Buchanan, now in his late 50′s, croons like a more poetic and mournful Sinatra – reminiscing, regretting and reconciling through some of the most poignant and intimate songs ever recorded.
John Mayer – Born and Raised
Truthfully I’ve only listened to it a few times, but it was the first album that came into my head when asked about my favourite album of the year – and for good reason! Mr Mayer always surprises with the twist and turns he has taken when recording his albums. He’s playing with more of a country vibe in this one. In the second single “Queen of California”, there’s a lyric that says “Looking for the sun that Neil Young hung/After the gold rush of 1971″. There’s definitely a Neil Young-esque vibe throughout the album. I love it! It will be my soundtrack for hungover weekend’s in the sun!
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Here
A perfect way to follow up their first album Up From Below, they have captured the large group sound that they have live while still leaving enough space for Alexander Ebert’s genius song-writing and lyrics to shine through. This record always makes a loud appearance on our touring mix tape.
Daniel Martin Moore & Joan Shelley – Farthest Field
Farthest Field sounds like an album recorded in a hall, live, with four beautiful microphones between two great songwriters. Sparse and incredibly beautiful is how I would describe it.
Alex Lloyd, The Pigram Brothers, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson – Mad Bastards: Music From the Motion Picture
I found this late in 2011 and haven’t stopped listening to it. Great colours, great artists and oh so Australian. It’s fresh and it’s interesting and I really enjoyed the collaborations between Alex Lloyd and The Pigram Brothers. The movie is incredibly compelling too. A must see for people wanting an insight into the challenges of Australians living on the fringe.
Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun – Death
I’ve known Jim for a while and loved his work, but I always suspected he had a record in him that would take what he did from being good to being truly great. It was with great satisfaction, then, that I listened to this one for the first time. It’s everything I was hoping for, a perfect blend of country, rock, folk and something heavier and darker. Brilliant.
Callum Adamson (ahab)
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
I’ve chosen First Aid Kit’s record for a few reasons.
1. The record is nothing more than great country songs beautifully produced
2. They are one of the few bands that are just as good live as on record
3. One of my “goosebumps” moments of this year was when I first heard “Emmylou” – I really really wish I’d written it.
Emily and the Woods
Keaton Henson – Dear
Keaton’s voice and lyrics cut through whatever is happening, wherever I am. There is an immediacy and strength to his words and his delivery is so full of emotion that it makes me want to cry with him. I believe in his heartache; it feels raw. This album truly reminded me how powerful it is when you tell it how you feel it. That’s my favourite kind of songwriting, and it feels exemplified in the way he phrases and sings some lines. My favourite song on the album is the closing track, “Party Song”; which is unashamedly bleak.
The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats
Trampled By Turtles – Stars and Satellites
We were waiting for this album to be released and it didn’t disappoint. Got a good mix of slower songs and and the usual kick ass ones. Ear f*$#ingly good!
Nick Keeling (Mustered Courage)
Balsam Range – Trains I Missed
Balsam Range deliver straight up modern driving bluegrass at its best. They are world class pickers, songwriters and boy can they sing. The harmonies are super tight and I love how the vocals are mixed. It gives you that baseball bat of three part harmony hit, straight in the face.
Rodriguez – Searching for Sugar Man Soundtrack
Okay, so maybe all these songs were originally released in 1970-71, but considering most all of us (at least over here in the States) had never heard of Rodriguez before this film, and the fact that these songs are absolutely BRILLIANT and beautiful, makes this my must listen to album of the year! (I should also include the original two albums that these songs come from)
Nadine Budge (The Stetson Family)
Liz Stringer – Warm in the Darkness
From the multitude of reasons why this is my favourite album this year, the overarching one is that Liz Stringer is authentic – the real deal. This album serves up some of the melting beauty of Liz’s slower songs that she has shown herself to be a master of – then whacks it for a six when she pulls out some big guns and rocks it out! It’s the triple threat of great songwriting, sublime vocals and kick-arse musicianship.
Louise O’Reilly (Laneway)
Lower Plenty – Hard Rubbish
It’s stony dreamy domestic. We found it driving from Melbourne to Adelaide on our tour and it took us all the way home.
Desert Rat Shorty (The Lurkers)
Jess and Richard Arrowsmith – Off We Go
This year I have a toddler, and as a consequence, I’ve spent most of the year listening to my favourite kids CD. It’s real music for kids. No autotune, no synthesisers and no politically correct rewriting for kids (the pirates in the songs still drink rum!). The songs are all old English nursery rhymes played on traditional instruments. And our one-and-a-half-year-old loves it.
Weary Hobo and Rocky Mountain Slim (The Lurkers)
Black Vat Trio – Black Vat Trio
They are a Sydney-based trio with Rishin (trombone), Rascal (violin) and Bones (piano accordion plus drums) who play Klezma and Romani inspired originals and Eastern European Classics. Songs and tunes they perform from other traditions they acknowledge openly unlike some Australian bands in the same scene. What Black Vat Trio create themselves are soundtracks to my dirty old Sydney town. Songs like “Rapscallions” are reminiscent of Waiting for Guinness and the genuine, straightforward production of the album brings it out on top of the new releases of the year for me. This album keeps toddlers of all ages laughing and dancing!
Jeremiah Fraites (The Lumineers)
Y La Bamba – Court the Storm
It’s a terrific album. Is it folk, is it world, is it singer-songwriter? I don’t know. And personally, I don’t care. Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Just listen to the damn thing.
Nardi Simpson (Stiff Gins)
Xavier Rudd – Spirit Bird
I first heard Xavier Rudd perform over twelve years ago. I knew nothing about him but watched as he played and stomped and sang the young audience into waves of inspired frenzy. He was on the way up, he sounded great, the kids loved him and he had his own unique sound. He also played the yidaki or didjeridoo. Now as blackfullas we regularly walk around festivals and see masses of people dancing and trancing out to the sound of yidaki – but most times it is not being played by a black musician. And so we carry this with us a little bit, well I do anyway. I sat there and listened to Rudd and looked at the crowd and thought of all the brothers I knew who would never get the same chance or attention if they did. Ten years later an ‘Indig’ stage was funded at Bluesfest. We had got a gig and walked around starry eyed, shyly watching legends from the wings and spinning out on the greenroom facilities. We walked past dressing room doors…Blind Boys of Alabama, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Jason Mraz, Angelique Kidjo, and as we came up to Xavier Rudd’s room out popped his head: “Brother, come and be part of this smoking ceremony”, he asked my partner. I can only guess he didn’t see or recognise me. So in he went, into this stranger/stars dressing room and did ceremony. Four months ago I saw Xavier Rudd had a new album out. I assembled together all the little pieces of him I knew and I bought it. I wanted to understand something more of the man. I listened to his songs and let them soak into me and it was at that point that our worlds collided. Where first I was a young musician, starting to sing of my world and my special place in it – and compete with all those who were doing the same, now I was a searcher of stories and of deep, and meaningful connections. I had come to the place that perhaps Rudd was at all those years ago- creating narratives to forge and maintain relationships with people, place and country. As a musician Rudd has consistently taken steps towards the place that I too now wish to explore. To show others how beautiful it is when country sings back. I still haven’t met Xavier Rudd, I doubt whether I will but I think I am a little closer to understanding him and his music. And so I see this album Spirit Bird as more than a collection of songs, it’s a story about a man on a journey. And as he walks, so do we.
Jack White – Blunderbuss
Following the epic legacy of his other bands, there is no doubt the pressure was on, whether Jack admitted it to himself or not. All the publicity said this album was kinda throwaway, recorded when another artist cancelled his session at Third Man Records. Yet, when you tune in to the opening riff of the album’s opener “Missing Pieces”, you immediately realise this album is about to deliver in spades to all those curious ears pointed towards it. It sounds so smooth, rockin’ and analogue … and seems it would have been a blast to put together. Its sense of spontaneity and creative freedom translates through to the listener. A bluesy, garage masterpiece, gloriously thrown together.
Hannah Acfield (Dan and Hannah Acfield)
Lydia Cole – Me & Moon
As I suspected, iTunes confirmed this was my most played album of 2012! I met Lydia at the APRA Song Summit earlier in the year and she was so lovely it prompted me to buy her album. Me & Moon is a stunning collection of songs, the production is delicate and raw, yet so beautiful and clever. In this case, less is certainly more. Lydia has an exquisite voice that captured me straight away. The songs are well written, am honest tale of heartbreak and loss. I had an immediate connection with this album and have not stopped playing it. Beautiful.
Dave “Christo” Christensen (Charlie Mayfair)
Jack White – Blunderbuss
By far the most soulful and energetic album of the year from a man that understands the effect that the women in his life have had on his personality and the insecurities it hides. Through big speakers this album is louder than anything else out this year.
Anaïs Mitchell – Young Man in America
I love the mood she creates straight from the outset; pensive and alluring. Lyrically I think it’s phenomenal – it has a stream of consciousness element and repetition of themes: childhood; parenthood; growing up in America; stories we inherit. Instrumentally it’s killer too – I love the combination of woodwind instruments, mandolin, guitars, layered vocals, such rich textures always serving the songs. I get more and more from it every time I listen to it – there is so much depth in this record.
Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
It’s great to see a modern day artist maintain the quality of songwriting up to his fourth release. He has also manage to arrange and produce the music that keeps the listener interested and shows growth from previous albums.
Heidi Waddell (Cordial Factory)
Ben Howard – The Burgh Island EP
All I want to do is sit in a cool, dark room with my eyes closed and breathe in the sounds of this EP. Since I heard Ben Howard’s song “Depth Over Distance” last year, I had been waiting and hoping that his new EP would be much the same and it is. I love that he’s not afraid of combining stillness and passion. He’s created something really unique; it’s deep and full and haunting.
Ketch Secor (Old Crow Medicine Show)
Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys – Back at the Quonset Hut
About 20 years ago, while Nashville was perfecting it’s recipe for the blandest batch of country music yet, a band called BR-549 was serving it up raw seven nights a week on the freaky streets of Lower Broad. This year Chuck Mead, BR’s longtime frontman, released Back At The Quonset Hut – 12 classic cuts backed by Nashville’s A-Team of sessions players, the color guard of pickers, the very men who made country music what the world knows it to be – true. It still is, and Chuck Mead proves it.
John Spiers (Bellowhead, Spiers and Boden)
Lau – Race the Loser
It’s got everything going for it. It’s hugely complex and experimental with some superb playing yet it bears up to repeated listening incredibly well. For me, the ability to listen to it on lots of different levels makes it the perfect album.
Pete Flood (Bellowhead)
Patrick Watson – Adventures in Your Own Backyard
Eerie, lush, cinematic and full of intriguing twists and turns – it’s like walking through a sunlit wood in late autumn. Pretentious but true.
Sam Sweeny (Bellowhead)
Passion Pit – Gossamer
It’s a perfect pop record. It combines musical simplicity with awesome technical complexity. Each track has new layers that keep jumping out at you at every listen, and to top it all, there isn’t a duff track on the album. It’s sublime music.
Adam McGrath (The Eastern)
Todd Snider – Time As We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker
We spend at least 100-150 days a year sucking up bitumen, roadside pies (best one in six years is the fish pie from wairoa on the bottom of the east cape of the Nth Island of NZ), junk from junk shops, and lung disorders from the air con, in all manner of wheeled transport around New Zealand, Australia and parts and ports beyond. There are basically three rules in the van, 1) Only let Flora the fiddle player drive when no one else can possibly manage it 2) Adam must listen to Waylon Jennings on any post 1am drives (and be allowed to sing along with gusto and a slight edge of drunken melencholy) 3) and when the shit gets bad, hard, or both then we must listen to Todd Snider bootlegs (Tales From Moondog Tavern Vol. 1-5 are particular faves) or Jerry Jeff Walker, they are our road guards. This year Todd Snider released Time As We Know It an album of Jerry Jeff Walker covers, it wouldn’t have mattered if it sucked (it doesn’t) the idea alone would have made it our album of 2012. If next year he does an album of Thin Lizzy songs our lives would indeed be complete.
Texture Like Sun
Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
Although I haven’t listened to too much new music this year this album is one that recently came to me, and floored me. It’s dark, melancholly and sparse, about what I’d excpect from a Fiona Apple album. Love the additional instumentation in some tracks (you can hear lot of things clanging in the background) – and her voice! This music makes me feel something more than most.
Courtney Barnett – I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris
The debut release from Melbourne based singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett was recorded in a friend’s lounge room in Thornbury. A lo-fi seven song collection of pop gems with plenty of psych-rock wig outs to boot. Original, often humorous lyrics tumble effortlessly over catchy-as-hell melodies. The first song, “Lance Jnr” opens with the lyric “I masturbated to the songs you wrote”. Nuff said.
Kevin Micthell (Bob Evans, Basement Birds)
Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
I’ve been a fan of this band since their seminal album Let Go around 10 years ago and they’ve barely put a foot wrong since. Their new album is another perfect template on how to write glistening power pop with intelligent, poetic lyrics. Underated? I think so.
Husky Gawenda (Husky)
Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship
Interesting, infectious songs. A diverse album, but one that flows nicely from start to finish. Spoke to me immediately, before I had a chance to consider why – as all good albums do.
Helen Croome (Gossling)
Passenger – All The Little Lights
A beautiful album with sweet and heartbreaking stories. Mike is an incredible story-teller who manages to find the perfect balance between memorable melodies and a descriptive tale. A favourite track would be “Let Her Go” with it’s beautiful lyric imagery. And the live version of “I Hate” is another favourite for it’s humour and honesty.
Nikki Thorburn (ILUKA)
The Asteroid Galaxy Tour – Out Of Frequency
Danish psychedelic pop band The Asteroid Galaxy Tour are in a class of their own, and their second studio album Out Of Frequency proves just this. With more attitude and swagger than their debut album Fruit, this record is as innovative and refreshing as it is inviting. Drawing on array of eccentric, hypnotic and inviting sounds, they create a fantasy world that is deeply potent and entrancing. Chicago blues on “shrooms” and film noir on acid, it’s truly a case of the sum being greater than its parts.
Mark “Looch” Lewis (Handsome Young Strangers)
Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
On first listen its hard to believe this is the same band who put out the excellent Everything All The Time album back in 2006. Raw, loose and stripped back, Mirage Rock is everything that their debut was not. Folk purists may baulk at the move in a popier direction on some tunes and whilst I agree that it is not all an easy ride, stand firm! Because with repeated listening this record will reward you if you invest the time. As all great records should.
Alt-J (∆) – An Awesome Wave
This is one of those albums that you tend to pick up and chuck on pretty much every day. In my eyes (ears?) Alt-J have delivered not only the most original sounding record of the year with their very infectious compositions and hauntingly fragile yet powerful vocal style, but also the best written as well. My personal favourite “Ms” off the album takes the cake for being my favourite track of the year as well.
Brittany Haas and Dan Trueman – CrissCross
Here’s something you don’t hear every day, unless you have the album like me. Appalachian fiddle goddess Brittany Haas meets Norwegian style fiddler and modern composer Dan Trueman. There is no music I’ve heard before that sounds quite like this, and to top it off the performers achieve that oh so important mix of stimulating both the body and the mind! This project is full of beautiful and mind bending new compositions by both Brittany and Dan. Mix in Natalie Haas on cello + guitarist Jordan Tice along with Brittany’s Crooked Still comrade Cory Di’Mario on Double Bass = a stellar line up. The tunes literally criss-cross the complimentary fiddle styles of Norway and Appalachia, developed with masterful ensemble arrangements and some demanding modern harmony.
Bill Jackson – Jerilderee
It’s actually pretty hard to write convincingly about Australia – most people end up stumbling over the awkward sounding place names, or struggling to extract poetry from our often brutal, frequently covered-up history. Bill and his brother Ross are exceptions to the rule. They write stunning songs together, and microphones just seem to love Bill’s warm, weathered voice. Jerilderie is full of great stories, and was my favourite record this year.
The Jezabels – Prisoner
Driving on tour we have been listening to The Jezabels Prisoner, which fits the landscape perfectly. Though it was released late 2011, I only bought Prisoner this year. It’s a great vibey album and Hayley is an amazing front woman.
Sinead O’Connor – How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
A blinding return to form by a fearless warrior woman who is my favorite female singer. Her song “Take Off Your Shoes” makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck every time I hear it, breathtaking.
Tom Busby (Busby Marou)
Father John Misty – Fear Fun
This album reminds me of why I love listening to music – it makes me so happy! The songs are cheeky and full of swagger, and somehow steers away from sounding arrogant. I love the production, including the small imperfections which are clearly intended. It is obvious that there were no rules when recording the record and this is probably why I can’t stop smiling each time I hear it.
Aidan Cooney (Boy Outside)
Dirty Three – Toward the Low Sun
Choose your time wisely because I cried like a mother fucking bitch recently on a long haul flight listening to this album. Melancholy to get lost in and the dirtiest violin sound known to man give you an album that should be sold with a warning.
Merri Creek Pickers – Music From Kennedy’s Pool
I have seen the Merri Creek Pickers play live about 80 times. I’ve heard them rehearsing about 400 times. I adore the gentle genius of Alex Hamilton’s songwriting, the all-inclusive yet sometimes argumentative arrangement process and the fact that it was all recorded by the band themselves live at a farm in the middle of nowhere. This is a classic album that should transcend our generation.
Cat Canteri (The Stillsons)
Liz Stringer – Warm in the Darkness
Beautifully tasty arrangements, playing, sounds and songs across the whole album.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Here
It’s so full of joy and somehow, every time I listen, manages to remind me to stop and enjoy the simplest and most beautiful things the world has to offer, and I have to offer the world. I love the songwriting, the production is unique and brilliant but I think, more than anything, it’s the feeling of hope and beauty that sits inside every song.
Cat Colman (Billygoat and the Mongrels)
The Black Keys – El Camino
So many albums to choose from!! The Black Keys scraped in at number 1, mainly because it has such a full solid and infectious sound.
John Flanagan (John Flanagan and the Begin Agains)
Old Crow Medicine Show – Carry Me Back
Having just traveled to the US this year for the first time I’ve fallen in love with the mountain music that is so prominent in North Carolina and Virginia. Old Crow Medicine Show clearly draw on a wide range of influences though I love the old-timey core to their music with the claw-hammer banjo and fiddle. There are a lot of references to places we recently visited: Virginia, the Shenandoah river, etc, so for many reasons the album brings back fond memories of traveling through the South.
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
First Aid Kit are so full of potential it hurts. I don’t think they’ve quite revealed all they will in years to come but Lions Roar boasts great lush production from Mike Mogis (a modern master) and the girls’ tight folk pop songwriting is just my kind of teenage day dream, sorry Katy Perry, but This is talent.
Julia Johnson (Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens)
Packwood – Packwood
In all honesty, I spent much of 2012 rediscovering old favourites. I re-arranged my bedroom, which inadvertently meant it was much easier for me to use my record player. Dad’s impeccable record collection has been liberated from the garage and given a healthy airing this year. There is one 2012 release that has had a particular impact on me musically though, so that automatically catapults in to becoming my favourite release of 2012. Early in the year I supported Packwood and The Falls in Canberra, at The Front Gallery. Probably one of the loveliest gigs with some of the loveliest musicians I’ve played with all year, but I digress. I’ve never heard such an ambitious EP as Packwood’s. Simply a man, his banjo, and an orchestra. Yup, a 50 piece orchestra. With a banjo. I’ve been messing around with my banjo for a few years half-arsedly, but since hearing that EP I haven’t practiced my guitar at all. I can’t put my banjo down. So thank you Packwood, for re-invigorating my love for banjo, and sorry housemates and neighbours, I’m not going to stop playing my banjo any time soon.
Jen Cloher – Baby We Were Born To Die
Each song on this 3-track EP is so special. “Call If You Need Me” has an incredible ability to transport me to a whole other world every time I listen to it, “Baby We Were Born To Die” leaves me awed by Jen Cloher’s way of looking at the world and the hand she has been dealt, and the lyrics in her duet with Courtney Barnett always manages to catch me by surprise and make me laugh.
David Byrne & St Vincent – Love This Giant
It’s a collaborative album that really works and feels very cohesive. The arrangements are really imaginative and it has the freshness of not sounding like anything else that’s out at the moment. The brass arrangements are fantastic. It’s a classic sounding record, it’s beautiful and rich and full.
Liam Gale (Liam Gale and The Ponytails)
Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
I spent this year listening to some not-so-current music, and it seems I’ve got some catchng up to do considering the snippets of albums I’ve heard over the last twelve months. Of 2012′s offerings, Laura Marling’s A Creature I Don’t Know was one that caught my ear. It had a lilt toward that concept-album-feel, some tracks outright flowing into the next, like Floyd with banjos or something. There was this poem she’d written that came out shortly after the album was released that seemed to explore the record’s protagonist character; the Beast. It’d come up every now again, like it was teasing the other characters on the album. Trippy.
Sivan (The April Maze)
Various – Phaux Cisco
It astounds me that some of the greatest songwriters of all time remain relatively unheard. James Cisco is one of them. This album was produced as a surprise gift for the songwriter and includes some great Melbourne musos doing versions of his wonderful songs. The album features versions from Jeb Cardwell, Dan Lethbridge, Jed Pickett & Kate Walker, Kate Crowley, The Shivering Timbers, Simon Hudson & Anita Quail, Adrian Whitehead and more. The songs are in chronological order of when they were written, from 1988 to 2012. Its a real genre journey and wanders through folk, rock, country, punk, soul and blues. We love it and listen to it on the road all the time.
Joe Pug – The Great Despiser
To me his songs are like stories from those who don’t usually tell stories. This album feels like I’m moving forward on a monster of a drive where one has very minimal encounters with anything man made and at the same time feeling settled. Good one JPUG.
Alt-J (∆) – An Awesome Wave
Driven by Joe Newman’s haunting melodies, vowel-curling words, heart breaking notes; each song on this album is an independent masterpiece: cohesive and scrupulous. Every track is rich in layered detail, synthesizing meticulous sounds of pianos, guitars and xylophones. “Taro” is a wonderful story and an adventure in itself. I can’t get enough of it’s obsessive melody, which reaches a haunting climax when Newman’s voice breaks in the refrain, missing the crucial note, but making it that much more important in its absence.
Best Coast – The Only Place
This album really just came at the perfect time. I had just returned from a long trip overseas and having had a few changes along the way I took some time out to live by the beach and write. There’s nothing really ground-breaking or creatively astounding about this record, it’s just a great record. Solid, well-constructed pop songs all the way through. It’s a more positive sounding album than the last, with cleaner production and perhaps less raw emotion but to me still has that distinct ‘Best Coast’ sound that I first fell in love with. The lyrics are beautifully simple to the point where I’m not sure sometimes how they get away with it, but they do. Overall, it simply made me feel good, and at a time when I needed it. I’ve listened to it so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if a few subconscious references to “waves” or “babes” make it into my next record.
Mark Piccles (Tin Sparrow)
Death Grips – The Money Store
Possibly the most intense, in-your-face hip hop record I’ve ever heard, but it’s endless originality and almost tangible persona is undeniable. It’s not for everyone but if you can withstand the brutality of the initial listen, there is much to be discovered on second venture and beyond.
Dean McLeod (Tin Sparrow)
Tame Impala – Lonerism
Some killer overseas albums this year but Lonerism is by far my favourite. It’s texturally amazing which is really important for me and I love Kevin’s song writing. It also expands the sound they crafted on Innerspeaker. Almost perfect psych pop. Plus after seeing them at Splendour this year I reckon they are one of the best live bands going. Conclusion: instant froth.
Ben Cooper (Radical Face)
Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
I’m never good at these lists. I’m almost always a year or two behind, as I tend to stop hunting new records while recording and then play catch up when I’m not. So this album was late 2011, but I was told that’s okay. Anyway, this is one of those records that feels like it was made in a bedroom and is all the better for it. It’s a record that makes me smile, and as the lyrics slowly became discernible I found I really liked them. I don’t often describe records as charming, but this one I do. And it’s good walking music. I like it a lot
Paul Kelly – Spring And Fall
I got myself into a tis trying to choose between a bunch of amazing releases this year by First Aid Kit, The Falls, Leroy Lee, Tim Hart and Packwood (just to name a few) but when I stopped thinking too much about it and just went with my gut, I had to go with Paul Kelly’s Spring And Fall for my favourite album of 2012. I am not sure if it’s because I grew up listening to my Dad singing along to his records or just because of the beautiful, simple honesty with which he writes, but I find something about Paul Kelly’s records incredibly comforting, and Spring And Fall is among his best. Each song is a story in itself, and a paragraph in the bittersweet tale the album as a whole tells. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, just says it plain and true … Music for everyone.
Jessica Cassar and Darren Cross (Jep and Dep)
Wanda Jackson – Unfinished Business
It was on our way back from our Jep and Dep tour of Germany, cheap flights with Air China, that we spent our last night in Frankfurt. With a giant stroke of luck, Wanda Jackson was performing a stones throw away from our crappy fluorescent pink hostel. After one song she blew us away. The devil’s girlfriend. Queen of Rockabilly. She is Rockabilly (no visible tattoos by the way). Her 2012 album, Unfinished Business, is mixed a saddlebag of rock, blues and country covers and originals that doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. It’s a fun and sassy album that pays tribute to the era the 75-year-old pint-sized, tassle wearing old school banshee reigned in. Listen to it.
Chairlift – Something
For me the realm of intelligent and visceral pop music was completely owned by the ladies in 2012 (see also the exceptional recent records from Bat for Lashes, Cat Power, First Aid Kit and Sharon Van Etten, to name just a few). But the album I listened to more than any other this year was probably Chairlift’s Something. It’s full of thrilling juxtapositions – spontaneous and energetic performances meet painstaking songcraft, super hooky 80s-inspired pop melodies sit alongside bizarre sounds you’ve never heard before in your life. Caroline’s angelic, crystal clear voice is used to deliver wounded and often darkly comic lyrics, while Patrick’s bass lines are just plain killer. The band has just released some early demos from this album and those bare bones recordings reveal just how much work went into making the finished product so great.
Jake Holmes (Merri Creek Pickers)
My Left Boot – Summer Songs
This is the coolest album I’ve heard in such a long time, absolute stoner heaven. “Sharks in the water” will make your hair stand on end. Roll up and just put it on.
Achoo! Bless You
The Lumineers – The Lumineers
I (Ross) heard the single “Ho Hey” in about July, and it was love at first listen. Catchy, awesome americana-folk-pop. There’s a massive scene they are championing, and they’re doing it real well.
Ball Park Music – Museum
I often love albums where you can discover something new in the music every time. For me, this is one of them. I happened to catch a Ball Park Music concert at the Metro Theatre in the latter part of the year and was blown away. Since then, I keep going back to this band and especially this record, even to the point of covering one of their songs at my own live show. The songwriting is so left of field and it never fails to surprise me. Every time I listen to this album, I feel it moves me in a different way and keeps me intrigued about their music.
Pony Face – Hypnotised
Mature, fuzzy, warm and dark. The sound of three lads who know exactly how their music should sound, but (having mastered the art of subtlety) don’t shove it down your throat. Hypnotised has beautiful layers and textures. Not only does the album creep up and grow on you, but each song does. Highlights are the amazing “Alabama” (featuring the coolest laconic percussive vocal) and the spirited “Holly Said”.
Jane Hendry (The Tiger and Me)
Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now?
I’ve been a big fan of these guys for a few years now and this album shows just how talented they all are. I love the way they are bringing together traditional bluegrass instrumentation and techniques with songwriting that is much more indie-pop. This particular album does this probably more than their previous releases, but their complex and intricate arrangements are still there in spades, coupled with some heartbreakingly good melodies. There’s quite a bit of swagger too! Top track (changes regularly for me) – “Hundred Dollars”, where Gabe Witcher (fiddle) takes the lead vocals and swaggers all over the place.
The Rubens – The Rubens
Soulful, rockin’ blues; can’t get enough of The Ruben’s debut album. This album stirs something new within me each time I listen to it, especially their single “My Gun”. That track always cuts straight through to my heart. It is no wonder The Rubens are this year’s triple j Unearthed Artists of the Year.
Emmy Bryce – Seven Days
The songs are fun and catchy and full of 90s pop influenced goodness! The EP also showed what an artist (and team) with drive and vision can achieve in a short period of time, with numerous TV show appearances (both live and soundtrack) and a national tour. Seven Days by Emmy Bryce inspired me to keep dreaming.
Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
I know it was released pretty late in 2011, but all year long I just always went back to it. A classic easy listening album. I love the simplicity, I love the instrumentation and I love the way Ryan Adams’ imagery takes me some place else. My favourite track off this album at the moment is the opener, “Dirty Rain”.
Liz Stringer – Warm in the Darkness
Liz is one of my favourite Australian songwriters. The quality of musicianship and songwriting on Warm in the Darkness is incredible and it’s nice to hear her rocking out with full band and horn section. There are moments when listening to this record that I suddenly get goosebumps. They remind me of how truly beautiful her voice is. Buy it. Favourite songs are “High Open Hills” and “Warm in the Darkness”.
Grand Salvo – Slay Me In My Sleep
The paradox about Paddy Mann – aka Melbourne’s Grand Salvo – is how he’s both adored and celebrated while also being overlooked and unsung. His critically acclaimed albums come across (to me) like profound, melodically gorgeous, yet slightly awkward museum folk songs: pure and emotionally charged vignettes from another era. Enough has been written about 2012’s Slay Me In My Sleep being one of his very best. I’ll just add that the record’s “The Boy’s Story Of His Faithful Family Dog” reduces me to tears. If you’ve ever loved and lost a family dog – and if you let it – the song may evoke the same consequence in you.
Country Town Collective
Tinpan Orange – Over the Sun
We love Tinpan Orange’s new album. It’s quirky, unexpected and eerily beautiful. A bit like Portishead but more organic sounding, it could be the soundtrack to an old movie, a bit James Bond theme even? It’s definitely got some magic to it.
Steven Barnard (Arbori)
Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
I was surprised and satisfied by the peculiar and purposed brilliance of this record. It satisfies so many corners of my affection as it effortlessly showcased a band that are so deliberate and intentional. From the intricate electronic sounds scapes, to the biting crunch of guitar riffs, to the sweet and often bitter harmonics, dull acoustic tones, manic riffs, intimacy, mania … Lyrically prophetic both socially and emotionally and musically nostalgic yet completely original. I listened to it over and over as it continued to claimed my satisfaction.
Paul Brown (Arbori)
Mutemath – Odd Soul
This album came as a bit of a surprise to me. Mutemath have been a favourite band of mine for a while and they always do something different with each album, yet manage to create a sound uniquely theirs. Odd Soul is a masterpiece of musicianship which in my mind brings together the Mutemath feel to a very 60s soul and psychedelic sound. It is a fresh sound (albeit retro) in a market saturated in same sounding music! Fav tracks: “Cavalries” and “One More”.
James Hutchinson (Arbori)
Taylor Swift – Red
We’re forgetting the biggest album of the year, the one that defines this generation and will go down in the annals of history as a watermark in the second decade of this century – Taylor Swift’s Red. It is my emotional comfort when I’m home crying myself to sleep over a lost boyfriend at night and the musical incentive to get me through the day.
Sibylla Stephen (The Little Stevies)
John Mayer – Born and Raised
First let me say, I haven’t heard many new albums this year as I gave birth to my son in June. And like many first time mums I’ve just been tumbling my way through his first year trying to keep my head above water. It sure has been fun though, and one new album that we have sung, danced and gone to sleep to is the new John Mayer, Born and Raised. I know it’s cheesy, and it’s not all that “cool” to admit it, but I’m a big fan of his. I’ve always loved his lyrics, he had me at “I’ll never let your head hit the bed without my hand behind it” … Swoon … And on this new album he’s done it again. It’s full of songs I can’t stop humming and lyrics I wish I’d come up with. And he seems to have taken a little turn towards a more alt-country sound in some songs which I love. But all-in-all its just a great pop record, my favourite. Don’t judge me!!!
The Paper Kites – Young North
The Young North EP has managed to stay true to the Paper Kites sound while still feeling fresh. My two favourite songs are “Leopold Street” due to the romantic nostalgia I hold onto of my grandparents, and “Paint” as its beautiful simplicity brought me to tears when I first turned it on sitting alone in my car – it takes a strong lyric to break me.
Bayden Hine (Packwood)
Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile – Goat Rodeo Sessions
Of all the albums that I heard over the course of 2012, the one that really stood out for me was Goat Rodeo Sessions – a collaborative album put together by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and one of my musical heroes Chris Thile. I first heard the album by way of a buddy, who told me I “had to listen to this”. Naturally I didn’t, until several months later whilst sitting in a car listening to The Punch Brothers’ latest album – at which point I remembered. The album’s title refers to a chaotic ruckus of sorts, a big ol’ mess that somehow just … works out in the end – exactly what this album is. I absolutely adore blended genres – especially blends of classical/folk/bluegrass – and so this album has been on high-rotation ever since! The stand out track for me is “Attaboy”, but if you can’t stand instrumentals and harmonies are your thing – “Here and Heaven” is sure to please.
Bob Dylan – Tempest
Yes, I’m another songwriter who’s a Bob Dylan fan but I had to choose this album because he’s still got it in spades. It’s more of a poetry reading these days but his phrasing is as good as it’s ever been. It’s pretty hard to beat a nasty 8 minute murder ballad and a beautiful 15 minute epic about the Titanic sinking. The man still has something to say!
Jesse Lubitz (TinPan Orange)
Beirut – The Rip Tide
I started my year off with a live Beirut show in early 2012 and it’s stayed with me as one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. The songs on The Rip Tide seem effortless and the album flows as an album should flow. I love the quirky instrumentation and clever arrangements – it’s an album from a band who don’t sound like they are trying to sound like anything other than themselves.