Top 50 Albums of 2012

We all love lists, and we all love sarcasm.  Though, I think its important to reflect upon the last year of music, I’m going to do so through the use of a list.  It was a fantastic year full of awesome albums, and I’m going to count down a bunch of my favorites, and give you something to listen to while reading.

1. Father John Misty – Fear Fun


Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings

[N]o huge surprise that Father John Misty’s Fear Fun tops my list. He’s the most interesting man on the planet, cosmically awesome, and this record created a new character in the Josh Tillman universe. The record is funny, strange, and at times scary. Tillman will perplex you with strange lyrics and songwriting that comes straight out of what seems to be a chemically induced high, or at times lows. The record’s title, Fear Fun, describes it perfectly, and with song opening verses like “I ran down the road, pants down to my knees, screaming please come help me that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me,” off of I’m Writing A Novel, it get’s weird, strange and hilarious. It’s one of the most entertaining records that will trip you up (pun intended?) around every sonic corner. It’s a little Croce, a little Nilsson, and a little lysergic acid, but at times can be extremely beautiful. The whole record top to bottom song to song is worth every single second you spend with it. And for the vinyl aficionados, its well worth having just for the insanity on the liner notes.

Grab yourself Fear Fun, its the top of our list, the best record, the one you must absolutely have in your collection.

Buy Fear Fun

2. Shovels & Rope – O’ Be Joyful

Shovels & Rope

Shovels & Rope – Birmingham

[S]outh Carolina’s Shovels & Rope is husband wife dynamic duo Michael Trent & Cary Ann Hearst. They quietly had released a record years ago that had been in my library playing over and over again. Being two of my favorite solo artists (Cary Ann was on this list last year), speaking to Cary Ann back in April when they stole the show from Robert Ellis and Jonny Fritz, I was extremely excited when she told me a new record was in the works, and would be ready to go in July. Since July, I probably haven’t listened to a record more than O’ Be Joyful.  The album begins with “Birmingham,” which seems to very well be the ballad of Shovels & Rope, a sort of origin story for the band, a cumberland daughter and a rockamount cowboy meet, and with two broken drums and two old guitars make music together.  It’s the distinctive story of their origin and one hell of an opener. The line: “making something out of nothing with a scratch and hope | two old guitars like a shovel and a rope” seems to define this band, and couldn’t be a more perfect way to put it.  The raucous album keeps up the pace of the opener with stand outs “Keeper,” about the man / woman you don’t ever give away, the title track “O’ Be Joyful” a rocking jam with a little twang but with a little gravel in the gut.  What’s great about this album is its ability to come at you from a bunch of sides, its not an easy listener, some of these songs have some nastiness to them (see Tickin’ Bomb a dirty, sexy little blues rock number) some are a little dark (Shank Hill).  It’s an americana album that fills the needs of a fan, a new listener, and captures how exciting this band can be, and is an absolute must have.

Buy O’ Be Joyful

3. The Lumineers – The Lumineers

the lumineers

The Lumineers – Ho Hey

[G]ood luck trying to have never heard of these guys, they went from relatively unknown band from Colorado to touring the globe on the strength of a record that may have been played a thousand times over here at my house. We were all obsessed with this band prior to the release of their LP, and I’ll admit based on what I heard from “Ho Hey,” I was skeptical. But when I received the record, I realized it was special, then I saw them live, and I realized they were even better there. Their album begins with a front porch intro, “Flowers in Your Hair,” a sort of coming age that is a verse too short of being a full song, it practically begs you to want more, and well dammit, I certainly do. The warm guitars jangle, as the subtle bass drums beat and singer Wesley Schultz sings, they set the stage with a warm, earnest reflection of a time remembered. The album finds its way through songs about women in bars, love, heartbreak and everything in between. What you have here is a group of songs that swell your heart and get you out of your seat to stomp your feet (Ho Hey, Stubborn Love); songs that can crush your heart (Slow it Down, Dead Sea). Their sound is a gift, a star upon the roots revival music that seems to be en vogue these days. They do it with honest to goodness beautiful, engaging songs that will bring crowds together, spurred by music that is passionate.  It is in this that the album’s true colors show, songs that feel timeless, unique and an absolute breath of fresh air.  For me, they showed that the hype can be fulfilled and I’m thankful for having gotten to experience it.

Buy The Lumineers

4. Adam Arcuragi – Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It…

Adam Arcuragi

Adam Arcuragi – The Well

[A]dam Arcuragi and the Lupine Choral Society’s Like a Fire… was a surprising record for me this year. The depth and breadth of the music is remarkable. There is something magical about this album, the way Adam sings, the carefully placed subtleties on the keys, horns, plucking, it all works in a way to highlight Arcuragi’s sombre raspy tones. There’s a sort of playful teasing between some of the more tender moments on this album and the flat out rabble rousing that creates a balance of sing-along, infectious music to the more introspective contemplative folk. What sets this record apart is in its contrast. Arcuragi has found a way to be both poetic and graceful in his use of lyrics and the use of choir elements and on the other side he has the ability to rely on his voice to create a rousing, hollering, sing-along with all that goes with it (huge pounding rhythms see, Oh I See). Further, his songs are skillfully written and evoke a sense of soul, they feel a bit spiritual, without feeling too dense.

Buy Like a fire that consumes all before it…

5. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again


Michael Kiwanuka – I’m Getting Ready

[L]ondon soul singer Michael Kiwanuka finally released his debut LP and it is unsurprisingly amazing. His superbly soulful raspy voice bears the comparison to soul singers like Bill Withers or Otis Redding. This album is so tastefully done, its the perfect record to spin all day long on a lazy sunday. Kiwanuka’s voice is the real instrument here, it’s got to be the most peaceful sounding voice in music today, it could put out fires, end wars and put your colicky baby to sleep. This is a revival record tour-de-force and should be in your collection.

Buy Home Again

6. Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams

Lord Huron

Lord Huron – The Stranger

[O]ne record that really surprised me this year, as it hadn’t been on my radar is Lord Huron’s Lonesome Dreams. It’s a dreamy debut concept album that chronicles a lonesome cowboy traveling west, I love the way Courtney put it, “cowboy dream folk.” With soaring harmonies, each song glistens and shimmers along a journey sonically as the cowboy protagonist makes his way. Each song has a little something to offer, and in no time you’ll find yourself playing this record over and over and over. It took me by storm, and I think it will take you as well.

Buy Lonesome Dreams

7. He’s My Brother She’s My Sister – Nobody Dances In This Town

He's My Brother She's My Sister

He’s My Brother She’s My Sister – Tales That I Tell

[L]os Angeles’ He’s My Brother She’s My Sister is one of the most unique bands I got the pleasure of listening to this year, and their record Nobody Dances In This Town was one of my favorites. The band slides across musical landscapes with ease employing a rockabilly opener “Tales That I Tell,” to a fuzzy, trippy track on “Touch the Lightnight,” to a tune that features drummer / tap dancer Lauren Brown’s clacking heels on you guessed it, “Clackin Heels.”  Nobody Dances In This Town deftly moves through these landscapes keeping you on your toes with highly danceable rockin tunes that you’ll turn it up and put on repeat again and again. It’s a party album, and one of my favorites for that.

Buy Nobody Dances in This Town

8. Langhorne Slim – The Way We Move

Langhorne Slim

Langhorne Slim – The Way We Move

[L]anghorne Slim can nearly do no wrong in my book, and well this record just deepens the slight obsession with his music. The Way We Move, attempts to capture the pure energy and soul of a Langhorne Slim show into a record which really is no easy task, but its most evident that they were trying and we can be sure listen after listen, they did a damn good job. As featured on opening single and title track “The Way We Move,” and “Two Crooked Hearts,” Slim & the Law brought this album some of that energy with jangly guitars, banjos and powerful sing-a-long choruses that you’ll be elated to hear again and again. Slim’s soul influences are all over this record and fits his vocal talent quite well, this record puts you right in the middle of his world, just where you’ll want to be.

Buy The Way We Move

9. Andrew Combs – Worried Man

Andrew McCombs - Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller

Andrew Combs – Worried Man

[I]f you haven’t been following along, I’m a big big fan of Nashville songwriter Andrew Combs who finally released his debut album Worried Man, which is unsurprising to some one of the best records this year. Combs is part of a new pool of extremely talented artists coming from the music city. The songs here are obviously a common theme, broken relationships, but Combs has the ability to really keep the listeners attention with quick-witted lyricism, a straightforward approach, a few tear-jerkers, and some great country-branded americana music. It’s roots rock, the way it is supposed to be played, and Worried Man is a great debut for a budding artist that everyone should be talking about.

Buy Worried man on iTunesAmazon or Bandcamp

10. Spirit Family Reunion – No Separation

Spirit Family Reunion
Spirit Family Reunion – I Am Following The Sound

[S]pirit Family Reunion released their first full LP this year, and as if they didn’t already hold a special place with me after playing out first brunch session, they hit the road touring No Separation delighting us all at the Newport Folk Festival, with the rootsy ramshackle folk music that seemed to be pulled straight out of the south. It’s an impassioned record that from top to bottom feels as though they are playing a hootenanny in your living room. From barnburners like “I Want to Be Relieved,” to footstomper “Green Rocky Road,” to sing-a-long “I’ll Find A Way,” No Separation, to me is THE Guthriesque gospel / folk album of yesteryear, released this year. It’s a fine fine fine record, and if you had only one record to spin, this would be a great one.

Buy No Separation

11. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar – I’ll be honest, when I first heard “Emmylou,” I loved it, but I was skeptical that First Aid Kit was anymore than just that song. It’s hard to believe a group of sisters from Sweden could make a song that hit it with American folk and country listeners, but on the strength of that song I jumped into the Lion’s Roar, and was amazed at what was found. The sometimes melancholy album really outed the Soderberg sisters stunning vocals, and rustic sound that was really filled in, as this record really spans the sonic-scape it hits extreme highs and lows, its truly mesmerizing and there might not be a more beautiful record this year. Listen: First Aid Kit – Emmylou | Buy: The Lion’s Roar

12. Of Monsters & Men – My Head is an Animal – I remember first hearing this band’s “Little Talks,” as just a live bedroom recording, and not thinking much more about them. Fast forward about a year, and we’ve got this indie-folk band from Iceland atop the mountain, playing sold out shows at large venues. They got their on the back of this great record, a whimsical, sitting-round-the-campfire record that is extremely catchy songs and quiet contemplative moments that create a complete album top to bottom. Listen: Of Monsters & Men – Little Talks | Buy: My Head Is An Animal

13. Yellow Ostrich – Strange Land – Now a 3 piece and not just the brain child of Alex Schaff, Yellow Ostrich has become a band of full sound, and songs that you can blast through the speakers. Strange Land is a great collection of songs, ones I haven’t been able to turn off for some time now, but it should be noted this does not feel like the album that Schaaf created in his basement, they ditch the loops (save for Marathon Runner) for a more balanced and energetic (and sometimes frenetic) feeling. This feels like quite a different sound yet it just really works for them. It works so much so, it may be a lot more powerful than Schaff on his own. This is a wonderful record that should be played loud and proud, turn up the sound and play “Marathon Runner,” and try not to press repeat. Listen: Yellow Ostrich – Marathon Runner | Buy: Strange Land

14. Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now – Kristian Mattson has a way with his music, his Dylan-esque raspy voice, and on There’s No Leaving Now, we’ve got new content to take in from this burgeoning songwriter. His small and diminutive stature may make his stage name ironic, but the record is great. The songwriting top notch, the music simplified, spinning this record makes you feel as though he is playing right in your living room. A slow burner record that you’ll find yourself spinning again and again, with songs that grab you quickly “1904” and songs that you’ll have to revisit again and again, “Criminals,” and songs that will make you near weep “There’s No Leaving Now.” It’s an impressive work, despite feeling similar to his older records. Listen: The Tallest Man on Earth – 1904 | Buy: There’s No Leaving Now

15. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan – Always known for their superbly creative music, Dirty Projectors were back at it this year with Swing Lo Magellan, a stylistically eclectic record that is highly danceable (surprisingly enough) with pop hooks that will grab you at the throat. It’s a record that feels spontaneous, featuring polyrhythmic elements that delight your ears from every angle. This may be the most accessible music they’ve created to date, it’s a fun album to listen to in just about all situations. Listen: Dirty Projectors – Gun Has No Trigger | Buy: Swing Lo Magellan

16. Dr. John – Locked Down – New Orleans legend Dr. John has made a career out of reinventing himself, from psych swamp rock to piano jazz Dr. John has made music vastly wide ranging and for a long time. Produced by Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Locked Down brings a retro vibe into modernity, its full of soul, jazz elements, and rocks from beginning to end. Listen: Dr. John – Revolution | Buy: Locked Down

17. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself – Andrew Bird is one of the “tinkerers” of this musical generation. His seventh album may be his most intimate. Recorded with what feels like a thousand different stringed instruments in his barn outside Chicago, Bird created an album that feels quiet & introspective, but at times bigger and beautiful than anything he’s done before. Check out “Eyeoneye” and Lusitania. Listen: Andrew Bird – Eyeoneye | Buy: Break It Yourself

18. Bad Books – II – The second incarnation of the Kevin Devine / Andy Hull collaboration Bad Books as they release II, an expertly written record of alternating tracks from Devine and Hull respectively. They hold a foothold on the tenderly strummed whispervoiced tunes like “Pytor,” and “42” but amp it up a bit on tracks like “It Never Stops,” and “No Reward,” plugging in with a full band. It’s no surprise this album is as good as it is, these are two fine songwriters pushing each other with every song. Listen: Bad Books – No Rewards | Buy: II

18. Goodnight, Texas – A Long Life of Living – Goodnight Texas is a cross collaboration from Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf, and a Long Life of Living is their attempt to build folk music based on stories of hardship, loss, broken relationships and life of post civil war Appalachia. It’s Appalachian folk style is a modern take on a historical music styling. The record is full of songs that make you sing, make you weep, and go for the repeat button again and again.
Listen: Goodnight, Texas – Jesse Got Trapped in a Coal Mine | Buy: A Long Life of Living

20. Best Coast – The Only Place – LoFi sun-pop outfit Best Coast released their second record a shining record that smells like the Pacific, sparkles like a sunny day at the beach, and is the absolute perfect sunny day record. Song after song, are perfectly shimmering pop gems that are extremely catchy, fun, and total earworms. Listen: Best Coast – The Only Place | Buy: The Only Place

21. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now – Another fantastic record from the Americana and Folk heir Justin Townes Earle, as he released another well written (understatement) record of introspective songs that span topics from personal demons to relationships. The record’s title is too perfect, as this record is more of a business as usual, but that might cheapen just how good it is. It’s the kind of record you can play, and it seems as though he’s sitting in your living room, or in your passenger seat, playing the songs just for you. It’s special, it reaches you just in the right way, and it adds to the lore of one of the best songwriters in music today. Listen: Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now | Buy: Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now

22. JEFF the Brotherhood – Hypnotic Nights – The Nashvillian brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall blast us again with heavy heavy rock riffs, tunes that bring to mind loud music in a t-top firebird. Hypnotic Nights is that record you play loud and proud. It’s the garage rock album you’ve got to listen to, with all the fuzz, pop and smash you are expecting and honestly, need. Listen: JEFF the Brotherhood – Sixpack | Buy: Hypnotic Nights

23. River City Extension – Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger – This record is the coalescence of folk sensibilities and the blast of punk energy that few bands can match. On their second record now, RCE seems to be finding their voice behind the maturing songwriting of Joe Michelini. River City Extension has built a new record with poignant songs of remorse, love and redemption. It’s a well crafted record that tugs at the heart, cranks the volume at points, and brings to light a budding songsmith in Michelini. It’s definitely a more mature, album that shows a band growing into their own. Listen: River City Extension – Welcome To Pittsburgh | Buy: Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger

24. Field Report – Field Report – Born of a pedigree that we’ve talked about ad nauseum (Bon Iver) Chris Porterfield released a record full of beautiful airy folk songs that prove just how good of a songwriter he is. The quiet guitar plucking, Porterfield’s gritty voice, and the ethereal sounds of the keys and electronic samples really make this one stick out. Listen: Field Report – Taking Alcatraz | Buy: Field Report

25. Jack White – Blunderbuss – Jack White is back with his first solo record since “the breakup” and he’s back to true form in only the way that he can be. Its a freaked out, rocked out, album with a funky new band. The record is totally solid, gritty, twangy and a million other -y’s you can add. It’s Jack White, need I say more? Listen: Jack White – Sixteen Saltines| Buy: Blunderbuss

26. Mumford & Sons – Babel – The extremely highly superbly anticipated followup record to smash hit Sigh No More hit us this year. It was business as usual for the boys, and they really didn’t disappoint with this one. Hate them or love them, its a good album that doesn’t bend the genre, doesn’t change or evolve what Mumford does, but its another set of songs to listen to that jangle, ramble and roll through banjo lines and epic harmonies. Listen: 03 I Will Wait | Buy: Babel

27. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter – North Carolina boys Scott and Seth Avett and their band of brothers delivered their seventh studio album. It marks their second go around with Rick Rubin, and delivers yet again on a great collection of jangly bluegrass songs that sound good to just about every pair of ears on the planet. They are a fringe success these days playing huge shows, but their music still feels very much like them, and that’s a great thing. Listen: The Avett Brothers – The Once and Future Carpenter | Buy: The Carpenter

28. Trampled By Turtles – Stars and Satellites – Minnesota’s Trampled by Turtles’ 2012 Stars and Satellites is one damn fine album. To say its a beautiful album, that’d probably be an understatement. I like to think the album is a macrocosm to lead single “Alone,” its beginnings small, almost like a dandelion blowing in the wind, and the wind blows it apart into millions of pieces and all of a sudden, your lawn is littered with them. The instrumentation is outstanding, the harmonies are crisp and near perfect, oh and the songwriting is damn fine.
Listen: Trampled by Turtles – Alone | Buy: Stars And Satellites

29. Denver – Denver – Portland, Oregon’s journeymen rockers Denver are a collection of talented musicians from all over the country rock landscape and includes members of Blitzen Trapper, and Alela Diane’s Wild Divine. From the album’s opening number “Toledo,” to the mournful sound of the closing track “Ridin’ Alone (San Antone),” the listener experiences the full gambit of rock-tinged country songs. Singer Birger Olsen put the record perfectly “Drums in the living room, singer in the bedroom, four-track cassette recorder, cases of beer, whiskey, sandwiches and a sunny porch.”
Listen: Denver – The Way It Is | Buy: Denver

30. Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls – Fueled by huge buzz, I mean mega mega buzz the Alabama Shakes released their first LP this year, Boys and Girls, a record that might not have been able to be talked about more than it was. This record is all built around one thing, Britney Howard’s voice. She’s got soul, she’s got that raspy, throaty voice. The music is a 60’s soul / rock hybrid that fits Howard’s voice perfectly. If you haven’t heard of this band already a thousand times, check out the record for godsakes.
Listen: Alabama Shakes – Hold On | Buy: Boys & Girls

31. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light – Using Captain Beefheart and Iggy Pop as musical guide and influence on Sweet Heart Sweet Light, Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized made one of the best coming of age records (there seems to be a lot of them this year) and after near-death experiences Pierce’s Sweet Heart hits on all cylinders, stitching together woozy chemical induced rock numbers and the faith one can develop from living through traumatic events. Give a listen to britpop “Hey Jane,” the opening track that rings in at 9 minutes or so, and asks the question “Hey Jane, are you gonna die?” Listen: Spiritualized – Hey Jane | Buy: Sweet Heart Sweet Light

32. Bowerbirds – The Clearing – It’s clear the Bowerbirds’ new record was a shift for the band, as the band’s pillars Moore & Tacular got back together in the years that separate The Clearing from Upper Air, their sound shifted slightly, a sparse record focused mainly on Moore’s songwriting and vocals, they create a wide, expansive and lush sound using strings, pianos, and percussions that are eclectic as they are beautiful.
Listen: Bowerbirds – Tuck the Darkness In | Buy: The Clearing

33. Maps & Atlases – Beware and Be Grateful – Chicago based Math rockers follow up to their 2010 Perch Patchwork is a joy to listen to, at times on Perch Patchwork you might have thought the band was noodling too much, or they were too techincally savvy, often outthinking the casual listener with some of their sound. But Beware and Be Grateful is a great blend, reducing rather than ultimately removing, the sound now still has that sophistication but the songs are approachable, wonderfully melodious, and fits well into a post rock meets folk music. It’s a diverse album that’s both nerdy and immediately listenable. Listen: Maps & Atlases – Fever | Buy: Beware And Be Grateful

34. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp – Van Etten continues her strong tradition of elegantly minimal folk music interlaced with deep emotions on Tramp. This record finds a way, to evolve her sound to be all that more epic, soaring vocals, building choruses, it feels as though a triumph of self-discovery, which is ever so on display on standout “All I Can.” This is Van Etten maybe at her best, but I guess we won’t know until the next record.
Listen: Sharon Van Etten – Serpents | Buy: Tramp

35. The Walkmen – Heaven – The Walkmen have consistently dropped a fine record every two years, in 2010 it was Lisbon, and in 2012 it is Heaven. Their sound on Heaven has grown up as the messy rockers too have grown up into men, they’ve reinvented their sound rounded the edges a bit, and made great music. “Dad rock,” might be the term some are using to describe this record, but ultimately this record just weighs heavier on the responsibility of getting older, its a great concept for anyone who’s been listening to this band for the last 12 years. Listen: The Walkmen – Heaven | Buy: Heaven

36. Saint Motel – Voyeur – LA’s Saint Motel put together a great album in Voyeur, it chains together introspective pop music, big band / swing, & rock and does so without feeling like its a mashup. They do so by contemporizing each genre and making it their own. Songs like “At Least I have nothing,” “Benny Goodman,” or “1997,” are total earworms, but theres much more to this record. Look for this to be a launchpad for more great music in the future.
Listen: Saint Motel – 1997 | Buy: Voyeur

37. Glen Hansard – Rhythm & Repose – If crooning Irish folk singer songwriter was a genre, Glen Hansard would be the king of it. Finally releasing his own solo record after catching fame as a busker in the movie “Once” in which he wrote the music for and touring with his band the Swell Season he ultimately embarked solo with one of the best records of the year, an emotional tour de force album that coalesces his acoustic folk styling with his rough and bristly voice.
Listen: Glen Hansard – Philander | Buy: Rhythm And Repose

38. Tennis – Young & Old – Husband-wife duo, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley teamed up with the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney to make this record, and it shows. This time around, the tunes are just as delightful, just as fuzzy, using atmospheric acoustics, hand-clapping percussion and uses Moore’s sugar sweet pop vocals to draw the listener to this bedroom styled project. They’ve proven themselves to be more than just a band that can write about the open sea, but a retro pop band with a lovely future. Listen: Tennis – My Better Self | Buy: Young & Old

39. Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden – This album plays like a backyard hootenanny, as these string folksters built a bucolic record that transports you to a footstomping mood. “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man,” jumps right out you with all the twang and click clack expected out of this sound, and is filled in amazingly with Rhiannon Giddens’ fantastic vocals. The record weaves the old timey sound with a little bit of modernity and is filled with banjos, fiddles, and percussions, the true star that was outed on this record is Giddens’ voice, and it rings especially so on “Country Girl.”
Listen: Carolina Chocolate Drops – “No Man’s Mama” | Buy: Leaving Eden

40. Patrick Watson – Adventures in Your Own Backyard – Patrick Watson is gaining steam with lush orchestrated indie-rock / folk songs that seem to float and quiver over this excellent album that was remarkably recorded in the singer’s apartment. There are vast sounds coming from every angle, and Watson uses his voice to fog over these orchestrations creating a huge sound that will delight you from every angle. Check out Into Giants, a very Simon & Garfunkel(y) sound as well as the title track that will spin your head.
Listen: Patrick Watson – Into Giants | Buy: Adventures In Your Own Backyard

41. Heartless Bastards – Arrow – A band like Heartless Bastards realizes the irony of releasing a record on Valentines day. Erika Wennerstrom has the absolute perfect voice for the Bastards’ songs, its emotive, gritty, & passionate as she brings out the sound of Joplin, and a bit of Joan Jett in her voice and style as she lights up this new album. The album’s arc and storyline sort of creates a feeling of loneliness in travel as I imagine a group of vagabond musicians find their way across the country, connecting with people, going their own way, and finding themselves in the process. It’s got a 70’s classic rock vibe with hard driving tunes, and introspective songs that will tear your heart out.
Listen: Heartless Bastards – Parted Ways | Buy: Arrow

42. Plants and Animals – The End of That – Montreal’s Plants and Animals grabbed my attention years ago when they released Parc Avenue, and this followup is a really great effort. The band matured, the songwriting matured, and this record shows it. Songs like “Lightshow,” and “Song for Love,” are more dramatic and more bombastic, moody and textural. The music feels a little less constrained, and more alive; more similar to their live shows which are really good.
Listen: Plants & Animals – Lightshow | Buy: The End of That

43. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Here As with their previous album “Up from Below” the 2 founding members of the band, Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, trade off lead vocals as effortlessly as ever, making for the type of sing-along, feel good music that has come to define the band. On the stand out track “One Love to Another” Alex channels his inner Paul Simon, by way of Bob Marley, and you realize ES&TMZ have created a stellar follow-up with the album “Here” and if this is any indication of things to come for the band, then we as their faithful followers have many dancing years ahead. Listen: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – Man On Fire | Buy: Here

44. Reptar – Body Faucet – This may be the most dance-worthy album of the year, every song is laden with perfect beats that will get you the hell off your ass and move. African and Jungle influenced beats help lead the way to one really fun record that should be on your list of must owns. Just give “Orifice Origami” a listen and try not to move.
Listen: Reptar – Orifice Origami | Buy: Body Faucet

45. David Ramirez – Apologies – Singer / Songwriter David Ramirez wrote the wonderfully introspective folk album that is at times extremely downtrodden and sad, it’s a personal, wear your heart-on-your-sleeves kind of record, that’s posed in a songwriter / storyteller fashion. With his rough voice, and country-tinged music, this may be the most telling and open album of the year, and that is a great thing.
Listen: David Ramirez – Paper Thin | Buy: Apologies

46. Hurray for the Riff Raff – Look Out Mama – Hailing from the musical city of New Orleans, Hurray for the Riff Raff released a record that successfully puts together a lot of musical influence all wrapped into a tightly woven package that is full of songs you’ll be reaching for the repeat button on. The country folk basis only acts as a shell, for the southern folk, doo-wop, and even a bit of rockabilly in the music, check out “Ode to John and Yoko” a love letter to John and Yoko. 
Listen: Hurray for the Riff Raff – Ode To John And Yoko | Buy: Look Out Mama

47. Prairie Empire – Self Titled – Prairie Empire created their starkly sparse, beautifully arranged album employing Ashford’s delicate voice that weaves around a chorus of strings and horns that will leave goosebumps on this listener’s arms. The decidedly chamber-folk sound persists throughout the album, with each instrument and background vocal blending perfectly to the singer’s stories of seasons changing and hopeless love.
Listen: Prairie Empire – Snow | Buy: Prairie Empire

48. Kalispell – Westbound – Kalispell has an ambient minimalist folk sound that feels beautifully composed and a total treat to explore. I say explore because that’s the way you’ve got to listen to this, there are so many layers of distant sounds, ambients, subtle vocals, and timeless banjos, pedal steel, and even a string quartet. Not withstanding the link to Bon Iver and Field Report, this is a great record on its own.
Listen: Kalispell – Methodist Lift | Buy: Buy Westbound

49. Hip Hatchet – Joy & Better Days – Hip Hatchet is the songwriting project of Philippe Bronchtein. Bronchtein released a wonderful record this year titled Joy and Better Days that everybody should be listening to. His contemplative and telling songwriting can be haunting, and emotive. The album chronicles Bronchtein’s relocation across the country in 12 wonderful songs of longing and a peering into what is past. Bronchtein’s voice is warm, inviting, and a joy to hear.
Listen: Hip Hatchet – Sing Me a Reprise | Buy: Joy & Better Days

50. Horse Feathers – Cynics New Year – Justin Ringle and his angelic voice touches us again this year with Cynics New Year, yet again another quiet but enchanting record of subtle string folk and Ringle’s superbly mellow, rainy day voice coupled with poetic songwriting spanning the sonic space similar to an open field on a gray wet day. Cynic’s New Year shines on tracks, The Last Waltz, Where I’ll Be & Fit For the Country.
Listen: Horse Feathers – Where I’ll Be| Buy: Cynic’s New Year