You know how at the end of every year all those top ten lists come out about the best albums? I hate those, because they make me feel like I know nothing about music (I’m looking at you, Pitchfork. Where do you find these “musicians” and who ranks them?? 45 minutes of someone banging on a pot and then adding pan flutes behind it does not an album make). Plus, like all music writers, I feel everyone has terrible taste except for me, and maybe the dudes from All Songs Considered. Maybe.
On the other hand, I love these lists, because all of a sudden there are albums I can listen to without wading through the rest of the crap that’s been released all year. I wish I could add my two cents to these lists, but I’m so woefully behind all these hip music journalists. You know what I’ve been listening to all year? The Dolly Parton box set. No shit. Yes, it came out in 2009 and yes, I already had most of the songs collected from her other albums but I still love her and everything about her, and I say this completely un-ironically. She’s amazing and I have a fantasy of one day being at Dollywood and running into her and we bond and become best friends and all my dreams come true. So how am I going put that on a year-end “best of” list? Instead I am just going to tell you what I listened to last year that was relatively recent and kind of liked. How’s that for non-committal?
The Lumineers, The Lumineers (2012)
See? Already I’m being biased because The Lumineers are based in Denver and I’ve got a soft spot for music from my stomping ground. But other than that, their stripped-down, indie folk is pretty appealing, Simple lyrics, good instrumentation, heartfelt musicianship. They’re worthy of everything they’ve gotten so far.
Mumford & Sons, Babel (2012)
Yeah, a good year for folk. The fact is, these guys are so popular now, and they deserve it to. They can play. They can sing. Stellar songs, affecting lyrics, and lead singer Marcus Mumford’s voice will break your heart. No, the album is not as good as Sigh No More but come on, when your first album is so incredibly amazing how can the second be? I’ve been listening to this one because not only is it good, but their rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” is remarkable. I feel about Simon & Garfunkel the way I feel about people like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Their lyrics and melodies were impeccable, but because of the way they sang people never really got how impeccable they were. And I get that in the 70s the way they sang was the way people sang, but it’s nice to hear an update. “The Boxer” is one of Simon & Garfunkel’s best songs, in my opinion. And Mumford’s modern, earnest version does it justice.
Fun., Some Nights (2012)
I want to be like every hipster ever, and be like, “I don’t like these guys anymore. They’re so commercial.” And yeah, I liked them more before they were nominated for every possible Grammy category because Grammys are the kiss of death, but the fact is their album is just really, really good. Infectious, upbeat, likable. I cannot stop listening to them. I wish they had a different name. But they’re still amazing.
Various Artists, Muppets: The Green Album (2011)
Yeah, it’s an album of covers from the Muppets. And what? It’s awesome. Didn’t you watch the Muppets? And didn’t you love them? Particular favorites of mine are Alkaline Trio’s “Moving Right Along,” Amy Lee’s, “Halfway Down the Stairs,” Andrew Bird’s “Bein’ Green” and Weezer’s “Rainbow Connection.” It’s nostalgic and modern and really, really good.
Brandi Carlile, Bear Creek (2012)
If you see Brandi Carlile in person, you think, “How does such a voice come from such a person?” She’s so tiny and unassuming, and then she just opens up when she’s singing and it’s this whole other world. I think she’s one of the best songwriters singing and recording today and Bear Creek is an excellent example of that.
Duck Fight Goose, Sports (2011)
Anyone of you who doesn’t live in Shanghai, I pity you. Yes, I must put up with the traffic, the pollution, the awful weather and that old dude who once spit on my foot by accident (seriously, he spit on my bare foot). But I get Duck Fight Goose in exchange, and it’s all worth it. I have listened to the shit out of this album since it came out. I have seen them live at least ten times. They always amaze and I can’t wait for what they do next.
Rainbow Danger Club, Where Maps End (2011), Into the Cellar EP (2012)
I was debating between their album from 2011 and their EP from 2012. They’re both good and they’re both still on heavy rotation on my iPod. RDC is one of Shanghai’s more exciting bands—creative and fantastical and interesting. If only they would get into a proper studio, I think they’d blow everyone away. Until then, I am more than satisfied with what they put out and am anxiously away the full-length album due this year.
Madonna, M.D.N.A. (2012)
“The best Madonna album yet. Creative, solidly written, catchy, irresistible songs.” –Said no one ever
Hahaaaa, see what I did there? Really people, this album sucks. For real. It’s like, awful. And I like Madonna. But this…this is just awful. I listened to it once and was just like, “Never again, people. Never again.
So there you have. Best of list. If you don’t trust my judgment, just think of that really cool kid you knew in high school who had excellent taste in music and was super cool about leading you her CDs. Yeah, that’s me. That was not me in high school, no way. I was listening to the Goo Goo Dolls and Savage Garden and Sarah MacLaughlin. But that’s totally me now, 10 years later. I own no Goo Goo Dolls CDs anymore, thank you very much. (But you’ll pry my Savage Garden from my cold dead hands.)