What an amazing year 2012 has been for music. Australian artists are dominating international charts, fan favourites have released long awaited new albums and the wealth of new talent on the folky side of the musical fence is growing almost every day. At Timber and Steel we’ve seen our biggest year to date in 2012, both in terms of site traffic and our reach, and we know it’s only going to get bigger and better in 2013.
As always rather than give you a definitive “Best of 2012” list we asked each of our contributors to give us their own top five albums that fall into the genres we love here at Timber and Steel – folk, acoustic, alt-country, bluegrass, Americana, trad, singer-songwriter and everything else in between. And as always our contributors have each given us a unique insight into the music they’ve loved in 2012.
So without further ado we bring you Timber and Steel’s Top Albums of 2012:
1. Billy Bragg and Wilco – Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions
Any contender for my #1 album this year was going to have to do well to beat this one. (In fairness to the competition, we’re talking three CDs plus a documentary DVD here.) But albums that can span time and evoke memories always attract me. And this collection covers not just the 13 years or so of the collection, but also evokes and brings alive images of the Oklahoma dustbowl and 50s New York, and times and places foreign to me. And they’re imagined and realised by someone who also came from right outside Woody Guthrie’s traditions and era. That’s a skill. It probably helped to be there (twice!) as Bragg explained and truly did bring to life the stories behind the collection live.
2. Craig and Simone – Where Cedars Grew
3. Beth Orton – Sugaring Season
4. John Thompson – An Australian Folk Song a Day
5. No Hausfrau – No Hausfrau
1. Jack Carty – Break Your Own Heart
Considering I only discovered Carty’s music a few months into this year, he’s had a huge impact on my most played list. Break Your Own Heart combines everything music should be: heartaching, honest lyrics, soothing guitar playing and a catchiness that doesn’t wear thin on you. It took a lot to top my all time favourite Missy, but somehow he’s done it. I might be late to the party, but Jack Carty quickly became the soundtrack to my six months in Australia and every time I hear his familiar melodies, I can’t help but recollect fond memories of the best six months of my life.
2. Missy Higgins – The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle
3. Kate Miller-Heidke – Nightflight
4. Joshua Radin – Underwater
5. Tom Copson – Woven
1. Old Crow Medicine Show – Carry Me Back
In picking my favourite album of 2012 I had to think long and hard about which records I had revisited most throughout the year – and which records I listen to the whole way through without hitting the skip or Genius buttons on my iPod. And with stakes like that the clear winner has to be the latest album from Nashville stringband Old Crow Medicine Show. Vibrant, exciting, challenging and familiar, Carry Me Back is OCMS at their best – making music in the traditional American style about traditional American subjects (war, poverty, bootlegging, tobacco farming) without ever sounding contrived or derivative. In a year where I have really embraced bluegrass, old timey and Americana music, moreso than ever before (although you wouldn’t know it from the rest of my list), this has been without a doubt the standout and will continue to be on high rotation for some time to come.
2. The Chieftains – Voice of Ages
3. Jack Carty – Break Your Own Heart
4. Passenger – All The Little Lights
5. The Falls – Hollywood
1. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
I spent much of 2012 catching up on albums that I had missed out on in 2011, so there is a lot of music that I couldn’t include in my Top 5, including recent releases by My Morning Jacket, Paul Simon, and Iron and Wine. There was also those that didn’t quite fit the folky mold, including Of Monsters and Men, and Alt-J. I made an exception with Band of Horses, as to me ‘Mirage Rock’ is a tribute to the classic Americana of the late 20th Century that would contribute to what would become Alt- Country. JUST beating Band of Horses to #1 is The Lumineers’ self titled album, which at the time was just a chance online find. A collection of stories put to song, which encompasses the folk tradition, following the journeys of the band’s leader through the trials and triumphs of love, lies, war, and belief. Nostalgic and relevant, reminiscent and remorseful. A fun yet emotional collection of songs, delivered with a wry smile, a knowing glance, and a familiar nod. Descriptions aside, this has been my most frequent roadtrip album of choice, to sing along to, and accompany the landscapes along the way. An album with a great life span that will get me through to their Aus tour in early 2013, and beyond.
2. Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
3. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
4. Mumford and Sons – Babel
5. Calexico – Algiers
1. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
“I was more than just a coward. I was handsome too”. One of the best opening lyrics I’ve ever heard. I was in a doctors’ waiting room; the venue for many of my musical discoveries. Kristian Matsson’s intricate chords, his sweeping melodies, his metaphors, sharp, yet brittle, stole me from the moment, as my favourite folk music always does. Matsson said There’s No Leaving Now was about wanting to deal with your own weaknesses. I felt weak. This album made me feel stronger. I could write reams about imagery, or interpretation, about how “Bright Lanterns” is the world’s best post-colonial protest song, about how this isn’t The Wild Hunt and whether that matters. But then I’d be saying too much.
2. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
3. Paul Kelly – Spring and Fall
4. Tim Hart – Milling the Wind
5. Willy Mason – Carry On
1. Nick Huggins – Five Lights
When I first heard Five Lights my brain did a little backflip. “What IS this music?”, it asked. “I dunno,” I replied, “But let’s listen to it again and again until we figure this shit out”. The album stops at all stations. Half-spoken vocals make the songs tricky to sing along to. The out-of-tune, repetitive plinking of an old piano is both corrugated and comforting. The lyrics are beguiling and at times, just plain weird. If I had to compare Five Lights to a physical thing – it’d be a state of Australia – with city and country and birds and house parties and trains and ordinary folk falling in love. Nick Huggins clearly has a giant musical brain, and his brain took my brain on holiday to the aforementioned state and showed it a thing or two (a trip preferable to the guided Contiki tour of singalongability, I think).
2. Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
3. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
4. Grizzly Bear – Shields
5. The Green Mohair Suits – The Green Mohair Suits
1. Kim Churchill – Detail of Distance
I had been eagerly anticipating the next installment from Kim, and in such circumstances, sometimes hopes can get too high. Happily Kim has delivered a solid album which has been an anthem of my recent travels through Europe. Building on his strengths, Kim has delivered an album full of rhythmic tracks and enigmatic tales that move you enchant you throughout your day. This album never fails to make me smile.
2. Jack Carty – Break Your Own Heart
3. Mumford and Sons – Babel
4. The Lumineers – The Lumineers
5. The April Maze – Two
1. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
The richness of this album for me lies in all of its differences, a gleaming tapestry of songs, Tillman’s voice the golden thread holding them all together. While each piece is vastly different from the last, in instrumentation and production, they fit together seamlessly, each laced with the same sharp wit, dry observation, acerbic humour and intense imagery that Tillman presents. Lyrically, one might be forgiven for thinking Fear Fun was going to be a harsh listening experience; However, perhaps the most enchanting and surprising part of this record, amid tales of waste and questionable activities, is the sublime vocal lines and sweeping melodies. Such vast emotion and beauty is poured into each fragment of song, with harmonies that slip over one another, cloaking the brutality, creating an experience that is both thought- provoking and moving.
2. Tim Hart – Milling The Wind
3. Paul Kelly – Spring and Fall
4. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
5. Xavier Rudd – Spirit Bird
1. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
Michael Kiwanuka’s debut album Home Again stands out as 2012’s highlight for me because I suppose I’ve never heard a record quite like it. Soul, folk and jazz influences all combine spectacularly in a soothing collection of songs. Unlike other albums in my top 5, and most of the “folk” albums in my collection, Home Again is not the musing of a troubled artist. It’s far from poetic or philosophical, which I suspect is the reason it hasn’t been met with the critical acclaim it deserves. What it does bring to the table is a timeless and stylistically vast listening experience that bridges sounds as distant as Tracey Chapman from King Crimson or Bill Withers from Paul Simon, and does so without ever overreaching.
2. Beth Orton – Sugaring Season
3. Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now?
4. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
5. Jack Carty – Break Your Own Heart