I thought as editor in chief and founder of this fine blog I would take the opportunity to give you one more list before the year is through. We’ve had the top five albums of the year from all of our contributors, we’ve had the top albums from some of our favourite artists, and now I want to give you my favourite songs of 2012.
It was originally going to be a list of 10 songs. But I couldn’t settle on just 10. So the list grew. And grew and grew. But after my hacking and slashing (and limiting myself to one song per artist) I managed to settle on a top 25 and I think I’ve got a pretty nice mix here – lots of local music, some notable international artists, a few surprises and a number one song that may not have been mentioned on Timber and Steel at all.
I hope you enjoy my choices – here’s to a lot more amazing music in 2012!
1. Anaïs Mitchell – “Shepherd”
It may seem odd that my top track of 2012 is a song we haven’t really covered on Timber and Steel but the truth is I hadn’t been exposed to Anaïs Mitchell’s Young Man in America until months after it had been released. I have to thank Mitchell’s interview on NPR Music’s World Cafe for turning me onto the album and the beautiful track “Shepherd”. Based on a short story by Anaïs Mitchell’s, “Shepherd” feels like a traditional folk song and breaks my heart every single time I hear it.
2. Old Crow Medicine Show – “Carry Me Back To Virginia”
When Old Crow Medicine Show guitarist and lead vocalist Willie Watson left the band in 2011 a lot of people were telling me that their next release (if they ever released anything again) would never be the same. So when Carry Me Back hit stands in July I was taken aback by how cohesive it was, and how reminiscent of the rest of the band’s catalogue it was. The epitome of Carry Me Back, the track that really sums up the album, is the also the album’s opener “Carry Me Back To Virginia” – a wonderful piece of string band music announcing Old Crow Medicine Show’s return to the world stage.
3. The Chieftains & The Low Anthem – “School Days Over”
If I was to give away a producer of the year award in 2012 it would have to go to T Bone Burnett for his work on the Hunger Games Soundtrack and The Chieftains’ 50th anniversary album Voice of Ages, among others. Both albums saw Burnett’s dedication to the new wave of indie-folk artists with the latter seeing the likes of Punch Brothers, The Civil Wars, The Decemberists, Carolina Chocolate Drops and many more joining the Irish music legends. The Chieftains’ collaboration with with The Low Anthem on the classic “School Days Over” is a highlight amongst highlights and was made even more special by the two bands appearing together top perform the track on The Late Show with David Letterman.
4. Jack Carty – “She’s Got A Boyfriend”
I asked Jack Carty earlier this year why his 2012 album Break Your Own Heart was so much more introspective than his debut One Thousand Origami Birds. His answer? He finally had something personal to say. As the album title would suggest Break Your Own Heart is a break up album, a heart break album, an album about a man whose world has come crashing down and is attempting to build it back up again. “She’s Got A Boyfriend” is the catchiest, most upbeat track on Break Your Own Heart and is ironically also one of the saddest if only because of the desperation in Carty’s lyrics. And you can’t really go past the Jefferton James directed super-hero themed video.
5. Passenger – “Let Her Go”
It was during his sold out, 1000-capacity show at Sydney’s Hi-Fi this year that I suddenly realised that Passenger was bigger than I ever thought he could be. And maybe that’s down to his fantastic 2012 album All The Little Lights or maybe it’s just that Mike Rosenberg has been building his audience from the ground up for years now and it’s finally starting to pay off. “Let Her Go” is possibly the best track on All The Little Lights (although it’s so hard to choose) and definitely a favourite live the last couple of times I’ve seen Passenger.
6. The Falls – “Girl That I Love”
Sydney duo The Falls have had a huge 2012 with the release of their EP Hollywood, triple j airplay, a string of high profile support slots and the runaway success of their regular folk night Folk Club. “Home” was the only official single from Hollywood this year but it’s the Lennon-esque “Girl That I Love” that really captured my attention and is the one you’ll find me singing along to every time I see The Falls live.
7. Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars – “Safe & Sound”
It feels a little weird including Taylor Swift, arguably the biggest pop-country artist in the world, on a blog that celebrates artists who “fall through the cracks”. But if you consider Swift’s album Red is her poppiest (and most popular) so far, her two tracks on the T Bone Burnett produced Hunger Games Soundtrack, “Eyes Open” and “Safe & Sound”, both definitely on the country end of the spectrum, have been somewhat overlooked. The latter, a collaboration with the now-on-hiatus Civil Wars is just stunning, mainly down to the harmonies, and was enough to convert me to exploring the rest of Taylor Swift’s catalogue – who would have known?
8. The Lumineers – “Ho Hey”
Some good friends of mine gave my wife and I The Lumineers’ self titled album as a wedding present in March, long before it was officially released in this country. While the entire album is amazing it was “Ho Hey” that caught my attention on first listen and I wasn’t surprised when it was released as a single. I was surprised, however, with just how popular The Lumineers have become – but good on them, they deserve it!
9. Sam Lee – “The Ballad of George Collins”
Sam Lee first came to my attention via the Propermusic.com Podcast – a show that piqued my interest so much I just had to find out more. Having spent the last six years collecting traditional music from all over the British Isles Sam Lee has since released the Mercury Prize nominated Ground Of Its Own which brings this music into the twenty-first century. “The Ballad of George Collins” is a well known traditional song but Lee’s version is like no other version – both reverent and thoroughly modern. Listen to this song and then seek out Ground Of Its Own, you’re in for a treat.
10. Jerry Douglas feat. Mumford & Sons and Paul Simon – “The Boxer”
When you listen to this version of “The Boxer” you think it was written for the dobro. That’s the power of Jerry Douglas. First relased on Douglas’ collaborative album Traveler and then later on the special edition of Mumford & Sons’ Babel, “The Boxer” is not only the best cover of the year but the perfect example of the power of collaboration – Jerry Douglas reinventing the song for his instrument, Marcus Mumford adding his distinctive voice (along with the full input of Mumford & Sons) and Paul Simon’s gentle addition as the song’s original writer, sprinkling his magic without ever being overbearing. Perfect.
11. Faith Lee – “Golden Girl”
I fell in love with Faith Lee this year. Actually that’s a lie – I’ve always been in love with Faith Lee. But this year Lee released Damascus and my love of her music was solidified. “Life Long Friend” is my favourite track on Damascus but the truth is that it was released as a single in 2011. But it’s testament to just how good this EP is that the 2012 single “Golden Girl” still makes this list – I just love how playful this track is. And what a voice!
12. Arbori feat. The Falls and ILUKA – “In the Places You Fold”
I’ve been following Arbori’s career pretty much from the moment I started Timber and Steel but I have to admit that “In the Places You Fold” took my by surprise. The day this song arrived in my inbox was the day Arbori rose in my estimation from nice-little-indie-band to amazing songwriters and performers. Just take a moment to listen to this song – something about it penetrates you, something just fills you up. I know how rare it is that the band can get together, in whatever form they take, but I do hope Arbori produce a lot more music like “In the Places You Fold”.
13. Dan Mangan – “About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All”
I think it’s the video for “About As Helpful…” that sold me on the song. The way that it seems to spin almost out of control, the way Mangan seems to control the camera – I love it. And once the video had firmly implanted itself in my head the song took on a life of its own. If you’ve recieved a mix tape from me this year “About As Helpful…” is almost definitely on it.
14. Patrick James – “All About To Change”
Why Patrick James hasn’t got a higher profile I’ll never understand. His music is just as good, if not better, than a lot of the indie folk played on national radio and his songwriting is second to none. James released two singles this year from an EP that’s due at some point in 2013 and “All About to Change” is easily my favourite so far. Can’t wait to hear what 2013 has in store for Patrick James – big things I hope.
15. Mumford & Sons – “I Will Wait”
If you’ve been a constant reader of Timber and Steel this year you’ll have picked up that Mumford & Sons’ sophomore album Babel was pretty much our most anticipated of 2012. And with good reason – the fortunes of Mumford & Sons are so intertwined with the beginnings of this blog. The first single from Babel, the rollicking “I Will Wait”, announced the album in the perfect way – reassuring fans that what we were in store for was more of what made Sigh No More so great. Mumford & Sons didn’t break any new boundaries this year and one might argue that they didn’t grow or evolve (although it’s my opinion that they’ve really sharpened themselves in terms of their songwriting and composition) but they did deliver us with 12 tracks that are Mumford & Sons through and through.
16. The Tallest Man On Earth – “1904”
With There’s No Leaving Now Kristian Matsson (AKA The Tallest Man On Earth) has finally shaken off the Boy Dylan comparisons and proven himself a singer-songwriter in his own right. I’m constantly astounded that Matsson can write such powerful songs in what is essentially his second language. “1904” may harken back to a lot of The Tallest Man On Earth’s back catalogue but it’s still my favourite song on the album and the first song I turn to when introducing his music to someone new.
17. The Maple Trail – “The Dinosaur Hunters”
2012’s Cable Mount Warning may be the last time we hear from Aidan Roberts’ The Maple Trail project with the Sydney/Blue Mountains based singer-songwriter already dedicated to a number of other endeavors in 2013. But what a record to leave us with! “The Dinosaur Hunters”, the album’s third track, just sounds so timeless – part traditional Australian folk, part Mark Knopfler, part American country music. I’ve managed to catch The Maple Trail live a couple of times this year and have been taken aback at each and every performance. Aidan Roberts is a true Australian talent.
18. Packwood – “Bats”
Packwood seemed to explode out of no where in late 2011 with a sound unlike anything I had ever heard – simple banjo licks over a full orchestra all pulled together with Bayden Hine’s distintive old-timey voice. In March 2012 Packwood released his self titled EP and quickly became one of the must-see acts on the Sydney folk scene. My favourite track from Packwood has always been “Bats”, not because of the lyrics (“Bats are better than birds” is not going to win any songwriting awards) but for the way the banjo and the orchestral arrangement weave together to create this wonderful folk landscape.
19. Missy Higgins – “Everyone’s Waiting”
The return of Missy Higgins this year, after a self-imposed hiatus, was a blessing. She is arguably one of the best songwriters in the country and to hear her distinctive voice again has been very special. “Everyone’s Waiting” is Missy Higgins at her finest – raw, emotional, brutal and honest – and the perfect example of what The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle holds in store for listeners. The Natasha Pincus clip is the icing on the cake for this track. I’m so glad you’re back Missy!
20. Husky – “Tidal Wave”
I don’t need to tell you Husky have had a big 2012 – the fact that the Melbourne four-piece are everywhere are testament to just how popular they have become. “Tidal Wave” from the band’s Forever So album was released as a single this and perfectly showcases Husky Gawenda’s songwriting and voice. The perfect song to lose yourself in.
21. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – “Man On Fire”
I was lucky enough to catch Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros for the first time this year when they toured with Mumford & Sons and I have to say they were amazing live. So much energy! 2012’s Here feels a lot more cohesive than the group’s debut album Up from Below, it really takes Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ country music and 60s influences and runs with it. I love the way “Man On Fire” builds from a single guitar and voice into a full-blown spiritual. And live it’s bags and bags of fun.
22. TinPan Orange – “Flowers”
TinPan Orange are another band that have come a long way in 2012. The release of their album Over the Sun saw the band released from the folky shackles of their earlier work to become fully realised as proponents of intelligent pop music. “Flowers” has been in the band’s repertoire for a while now and I’ve loved watching it evolve live. Alex Burkoy’s orchestral closing of the song is really what makes this for me.
23. Tigertown – “Morning Has Finally Come”
I’ve been predicting Tigertown’s rise for so long now and I think with “Morning Has Finally Come” (and the entire Before the Morning EP) they’re finally realising their potential. “Morning Has Finally Come” is three and a half minutes of perfect folk-soaked indie music jammed with the kind of harmonies only Tigertown. I’ve been hearing this track all over the radio and it’s so nice to see these guys get national exposure. 2013’s going to be an even bigger year for Tigertown, I can tell!
24. Tim Hart – “Architects”
Tim Hart may not have the greatest voice in the indie-folk scene but his songwriting and expert guitar playing more than make up for it. “Architects” feels like it should be showcased in a 1960s New York coffee house somewhere. There’s a Paul Simon element to the lyrics and you can definitely feel Paul Kelly coming through as well. No, Tim Hart may not have the greatest voice in the indie-folk scene, but I could listen to his music all day.
25. Sarah Humphreys – “Like A House Needs A Door”
Sometimes you just want to put a song on that puts a smile on your face. “Like A House Needs A Door”, the nursery rhyme-esque folk-pop gem from Sarah Humphreys does just that – and with one of the cutest clips of the year you can’t help but feel happy whenever this song comes on. And what I love most about “Like A House Needs A Door” is just how much it captures Sarah Humphreys’ personality – playful, cheeky and ever so fun.