As the curtain comes down on 2012, it’s time once again to take a look back at my favourite albums of the year.

Old was definitely new this year. A lot of my favourite music of 2012 drew heavily on the past yet managed to sound refreshingly new. In a world dominated by over-polished production and formulaic beats, artists like Alabama Shakes, Mumford and Sons and Jake Bugg sounded authentically analogue in a digital world.

This year also marked a significant shift in how I listened to music. I bought far fewer albums – I only actually own three of this year’s top ten – as Spotify became my primary source for new music, providing me with an almost limitless library of music that I can listen to anywhere, anytime for just $9.99 a month. It is a world away from the racks of LPs and CDs of my youth but somehow the need to possess or own physical music (as well as movies and books) seems less important with each passing year.

What hasn’t changed, though, is that great music keeps being produced and for what it’s worth, these are my top ten albums of the year.

 

1. Boys and Girls (Alabama Shakes)

Their debut single “Hold On” was one of the songs of the year with a performance from lead singer Brittany Howard that Janis Joplin would have been proud of. The album didn’t disappoint as its bluesy-rock sashayed confidently from start to finish. Still makes the hairs on my neck prickle.

2. Jake Bugg (Jake Bugg)

He sounds like the bastard child of Dylan and Hendrix with the worldliness of a Johnny Cash. And he’s only 18. Arguably the most exciting new male talent to emerge from the UK in years, the Nottingham singer-songwriter’s chart-topping debut album was a breath of fresh air amidst so much manufactured pop. Two Fingers was an outstanding kitchen sink drama of a single and diversely different songs like Lightning Bolt, Broken and Country Song hint at a major star in the making.

3. The Heist (Macklemore & Lewis)

“Same Love” was probably my favourite track of the year, not least because a poignant and moving hip hop song attacking homophobia was so unexpected from a genre not exactly known for its tolerance. Macklemore aka Ben Haggerty, an Irish-American rapper from Seattle, and his partner Ryan Lewis, also question youthful materialism amongst other things and The Heist was a triumphant and exciting debut.

4. Babel (Mumford and Sons) 

No idea why it’s taken me so long to get on the Mumford bandwagon but the infectious Babel convinced me at last. Few bands are playing folk rock with as much passion and commitment as the British group, as their terrific live performances in this year’s excellent documentary Big Easy Express demonstrated.

5. Some Nights (Fun)

We Are Young (featuring the wonderful Janelle Monae) was a ubiquitous radio hits this year, topping both the UK and US charts. The New York indie pop-rock band were in great form on their second album, one of the most joyous collections of the year and deservedly nabbed them six Grammy nominations.

6. Home Again (Michael Kiwanuka) 

The new Bill Withers. The British singer-songwriter’s gentle, soulful songs and hypnotic voice made for a beautiful debut album.

7. Battle Born (The Killers)

Brandon Flowers and the boys were back with a bang on an album full of shimmering anthemic rock. Flesh and Bone,  Runaways and Prize Fighter (the latter available only on the deluxe set) were as good as anything they’ve ever done.

8. My Head Is An Animal (Of Monsters and Men) 

Iceland’s answer to Arcade Fire, indie folk/pop group Of Monsters and Men delivered one of the most exhilarating albums of the year, effortlessly shifting gears between driving rhythms and more poignant numbers. Little Talks was one of the year’s standout songs.

9. Banga (Patti Smith) 

Eight years after her last album, I wasn’t expecting anything this good from the veteran punk poetess. More melodic and accessible than probably any of her previous work,  tracks like Fuji-San, Banga, This Is The Girl (for Amy Winehouse) and Mosaic blended power and poignancy in an album that gets better with every listen. Lovely version of Neil Yong’s After The Goldrush too.

10. Channel Orange (Frank Ocean) -  As someone who has ghost-written work for Justin Bieber and John Legend, its not surprising that the New Orleans singer-songwriter’s debut was among the most polished r and b albums of the year. A gorgeous soul-oozing voice, great songs … and, courageously, one of the first major black American artists to openly admit to being gay.

Honourable mentions:

I Know What Love Isn’t (Jens Lekman) - It’s been a long five-year wait for a new full-length album from the Swedish singer-songwriter but it was worth the wait. He’s an acquired taste (think Jonathan Richman and Morrissey but wittier) but with song titles like Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder, his quirky pop is endearing and rewarding.

Theatre Is Evil (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra) – I’m belatedly acquainting myself with the former Dresden Dolls singer and her quixotic brand of cabaret/punk-pop. She’s theatrical and outrageous in equal measure and I loved Theatre Is Evil for its kaleidoscopic mix of musical styles.

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