Just in time for the holidays, here is the 10th annual list of music that you may have missed and might like. Not as many standout releases as in 2011 but plenty of very good ones. As in previous years, this list is for those who want to hear new music but don't get a chance to discover as much as they'd like. I generally don't include releases that received a good deal of attention (Mumford and Sons, Adele) or music that might be too inaccessible for those with limited time.
There is an amazing amount of good music being made now, probably more than ever. However, I wish more great music was released. The turbulence of the music business has led to fewer opportunities for major mainstream success and has caused artists to focus on maintaining a loyal on-line audience. There are a number of incredibly talented artists who are probably reluctant to write for a broader audience because of fear of alienating their loyal fan base. We could use more ambitious artists who want to make powerful, memorable music for the larger public.
Nonetheless, lots of terrific music is listed below. And as usual, I'm sure I missed plenty of quality releases.
Most of the stuff I liked this year didn't rock too hard or dance too fast, it was mostly in-between.
Click here for a playlist
Safe and happy holidays to all...
Father John Misty - Fear Fun - Former Fleet Foxes member has created a spooky, literate, beautiful record that channels the darker side of Neil Young and Harry Nillson. This might be my favorite album of the year, it is an original provocative, road journey with lots of contemplation and adventure.
Metric - Synthetica Deluxe - Emily Haines, the leader of Metric, has an icy, powerful voice that she surrounds with riffing guitars, synths and electronic drums. They perfectly complement her glossy songs about computers, isolation and modern life. Powerful, propulsive stuff. Candidate for coolest album of year.
Gary Clark Jr. - Blak and Blu - I saw Clark at the Bonnaroo festival where the 28 year old played a great, but traditional guitar hero set channeling JImi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Little did I know that he would release a more contemporary sounding album, with influences from Prince to the Black Keys. Rock star in the making.
Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur - My singer-songwriter album of the year. A great sounding, spunky record, not as twangy as past efforts with smart lyrics, memorable melodies, an appealingly Canadian point of view ("I'm moving to America, it's an empty threat.") and production from her boyfriend Bon Iver's Justin Vernon.
Ed Sheeran - + - 20 year old British wunderkind who effortlessly combines pop, hip-hop and indie folk into very listenable, occasionally poignant mix. A great live performer who can sing ballads like James Blunt did a few years ago and can rap and beat box like a pro.
Alt-j - An Awesome Wave - Winner of the Mercury Prize for best UK Album (usually awarded to cool left of center albums), there are lots of layers here, each song is its own construction, some have big hooks, others are more about a vibe or sound, unexpected changes occur, the vocals are quirky and original and folk and electronic music wander in and out. Definitely check it out.
The Avett Brothers - Carpenter - Although they finished a distant second to Mumford and Sons in the rustic folk scare of 2010, these guys are more interesting and compelling than the Mumfords. Great blend of outstanding vocals, acoustic instruments and a rock sensibility. The songs are emotional, evocative and sublime. I love these guys.
The XX - Coexist - One of few new artists who have created their own sound, hushed male/female duet vocals, interesting, subdued beats, slowly developing songs that are beautiful and provocative.
Diiv - Oshin - Lush, atmospheric mysterious music with hard to decipher vocals and a melodic lead guitar that carries many of the songs. Soundtrack for a party I'm not cool enough to be invited to.
Frank Ocean - Channel Orange - R+B album of the year, real life stories, emotion, musicianship, practically cliche-free, gimme more of that.
Electric Guest - Mondo - In the last few years, a few cool songs have broken through to the mainstream from artists like MGMT ("Kids" ) and Foster The People ("Pumped Up Kicks" ). Electric Guest is working similar territory, dressing up quirky, catchy songs with a dance beat or a funky synth line and re-inventing them as pop confections. Produced by Dangermouse, who never fails to be interesting.
Macklemore + Ryan Lewis - The Heist - Hip hop breakthrough act, unusually progressive for rappers with the song "Same Love" accepting homosexuality but able to get nasty like all good rappers ....and really funny on songs like "Thrift Shop."
Sarah Jaffe - The Body Wins - Major talent with honest, unrestrained songs that take you directly to the front line of her romantic and emotional life, she at times sounds like Alanis Morrisette, PJ Harvey, Feist and St. Vincent. I hope she is too popular to be on this list in the future.
A.C. Newman - Shut Down The Streets - The death of his mother and birth of his son inspire the New Pornographer leader to drop a rich, melodic album that combines some of the best of contemporary baroque-pop (Shins, Decemberists) with more traditional, hummable tunes that sound like they time traveled from the 60s and 70s.
Sharon Van Etten - Tramp - Strong, confessional modern singer-songwriter, song "Serpents" is one of the year's best.
Jason Lytle - Department of Disappearance - Former leader of Grandaddy with a voice that could sing "Gangam Style" and make it sound profound is backed by guitars/keyboards, electronics and strings. "Your Final Setting Sun" hits very hard, start with that one.
The Coup - Sorry To Bother You - Party time modern funk hip/hop rock with a conscience, first track "The Magic Clap" sounds like the Outkast follow up hit that never arrived.
Alabama Shakes - Boys And Girls - The retro r+b material is good; leader/singer Brittany Howard is great, a real star.
Julia Holter - Ekstasis - Dense, atmospheric experimental album from ambitious artist who is inspired by Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson. For the adventurous.
First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar - Two 20ish sisters from Sweden make a great twangy Americana album, who knew Swedish kids were raised on Emmylou Harris?
Grizzly Bear - Shields - State of the art indie rock 2012, adventurous, dense, pretty, unclassifiable, you'll probably either love it or not get it.
Sky Ferreira - Ghost EP - 20 year old former model who sang with Michael Jackson as a child successfully goes from alt-folk to dance pop without blinking. Probably the only album of 2012 that channels Lucinda Williams and Katy Perry. Good for her.
David Byrne/St. Vincent - Love This Giant - Cool side project from artsy bike riding New Yorkers, propelled by a funky horn section. It's a fun listen while waiting for the next St. Vincent album.
The Men - Open Your Heart - One of the few powerful rock records of the year, great balance of punk energy and songwriting chops. I hear clash, ny dolls, foo fighters, all good.
Jessie Ware - Devotion - I don't know why so much good soul/r+b music comes out of the UK. Maybe they don't have to make as many compromises over there to have pop hits. While she's listened to Whitney and Sade, the songs are not over the top, the production is contemporary and her singing is cool and under control.
Cold Specks - I Predict a Graceful Expulsion - A voice somewhat like Janis Joplin with stripped down songs that take their time. Be patient and feel her power and pain.
Calexico - Algiers - Veteran duo delivers cinematic, tasteful, well written album that invokes everything from the Beatles to Los Lobos to The Shins and is sprinkled with occasional mariachi horns, strings and other mood expanders.
Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream - Sexy, catchy hit r+b
Rhett Miller - The Dreamer - Solid, inspired Americana.
Titus Andronicus - Local Business - Inspired by late 70s/early 80s working class pub/punk music
Jack White - Blunderbuss - White Stripes leader is taken for granted a bit because he is does so many different projects but this solo album solidifies his standing as one of most significant rockers to emerge in 21st century.
The Shins - Port Of Morrow - Not their best album but plenty good enough.
Grass Widow - internal Logic - SF female trio with sweet, occasionally off-kilt harmonies, combine surf and indie rock.
Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten - Another very solid album by the best of the new Springsteen disciples.
Ruby Velle and The Soulphonics - It's About Time - This year's freshest retro soul album
Wild Nothing - Nocturne - Pretty, gauzy dream-pop, very impressionistic, music to listen to while looking out at snow.
REALLY QUICK ONES
Japandroids - Celebration Rock - BIG ROCK
John K. Samson - Provincial - NERDY COOL
Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is An Animal - HIPPIE HITS
Woods - Bend Beyond - BROOKLYN
Polica - Give You The Ghost - SWIRLY MIX
Hospitality - Hospitality -INDIE HOOKS
Tame Impala - Lonerism --PSYCHEDELIC
Beach House - Bloom -- ETHEREAL
Grimes - Vision - ELECTRO-POP
Chromatics - Kill For Love - ELECTRO-COOL
The Lumineers -The Lumineers -- RUSTIC
Ok, health and happiness to all in 2013.