A listener's guide to 2012 in music

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Shawn Sensiba
Friday, January 11, 2013

I believe I listened to more recorded music in 2012 than any other year of my life.

Music helps me navigate the vagaries of my life. As a boring teetotaler, it really is my drug of choice. So far as I can tell, there are no harmful side effects to this addiction, aside from the fact that my wallet is somewhat lighter than it might have been. And even on that count, music is a relatively inexpensive hobby.

I listen to a lot of music, and I continue to be amazed at the quality and quantity of music that is out there.

During 2012, I added about 200 new albums (or whatever we call them now) to my collection. It was not a year marked by a lot of masterpieces, but there was an amazing amount of excellent music. The music market I grew up with has been decimated by various factors, but the market for the music listener is vital and creative. The question remains, however, if this current situation is financially—as well as creatively—rewarding for the artists. They are the ones who will determine its success.

Rather than create a top 10 list, I thought I would create a large list of my favorite music of the year. The goal here is to share some choices for music you might not have heard.

I divided the list into a bunch of categories. The first list is my favorite 25. The explanation for that group is straightforward—I listened to these releases more than any others and they offered more rewards.

But the other categories are just as interesting. They are recordings of great merit that offer a listener many rewards. The point is to suggest titles within a category that might appeal to you if you enjoy a particular type of music such as jazz or electronic or ambient music. Some releases are listed in both the favorites and the category listings.

What did I miss? What off the beaten track choices did you find during 2012? Share your opinions with us. Some of the suggestions on our list came from readers on previous blog posts.

Thanks for reading and I hope your ears have a wonderful 2013.

Favorite 30 (in no particular order)

Leonard Cohen/Old Ideas

Fiona Apple/The Idler Wheel

Jack White/Blunderbuss

Bobby Womack/The Bravest Man in the Universe

Deerhoof/Breakup Song

Japandroids/Celebration Rock

Django Django/Django Django

Black Prairie/A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart

Paul McCartney/Kisses on the Bottom

Kelly Hogan/I Like To Keep Myself In Pain

Robert Glasper/Black Radio


Dion/Tank Full of Blues

Alejandro Escovedo/Big Station

Chromatics/Kill For Love

Dwight Yoakam/3 Pears

Dr. John/Locked Down

Tame Impala/Lonerism

David Byrne & St. Vincent/Love This Giant

Mark Knopfler/Privateering

Jimmy Cliff/Rebirth

The Bad Plus/Made Possible

Michael Hearst/Songs for Unusual Creatures

J.D. McPherson/Signs & Signifiers

Bonnie Raitt/Slipstream

Bat For Lashes/The Haunted Man

Jack DeJohnette/Sound Travels

Lisa Marie Presley/Storm & Grace

The Beach Boys/That's Why God Made The Radio

Ahmad Jamal/Blue Moon

And then I have included a list of titles of significant merit that made this year special. I'm sure many of these titles are on "best-of" lists. If you enjoy the category, these might be worth seeking out.

Adrenaline infusion

The Hives/Lex Hives


Japandroids/Celebration Rock



Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang/En Yay Sah

Ladysmith Black Mambazo/Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Friends

The Very Best/Mtmtmk



Theo Travis & Robert Fripp/Follow

Ian Boddy/Frontiers

Brian Eno/Lux


The Avett Brothers/The Carpenter

Field Report/Field Report

Carolina Chocolate Drops/Leaving Eden

The Lumineers/The Lumineers

Black Prairie/A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart

American songbook

Diana Krall/Glad Rag Doll

Paul McCartney/Kisses on the Bottom

Jeff Lynne/Long Wave


Jamey Johnson/Living For A Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran

Dwight Yoakam/3 Pears

DanceFloor appropriate

Yeasayer/Fragrant World

Tanlines/Mixed Emotions

Jazzanova/Upside Down

Saint Etienne/Words And Music by Saint Etienne



Andy Stott/Luxury Problems

Air/Le Voyage Dans La Lune

Robert Hood/Nighttime World 3

Majeure/Solar Maximum

Rifts/Oneohtrix Point Never

Dan Deacon/America

Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin/Instrumental Tourist

The first family of music (2012 edition)

Martha Wainwright/Come Home to Mama

Loudon Wainwright III/Older Than My Old Man Now

Rufus Wainwright/Out Of The Game

Hip Hop

Public Enemy/The Evil Empire of Everything + Most of my Heroes Still Don't Appear On No Stamp

Killer Mike/R.A.P. Music

De La Soul/First Serve

Kendrick Lamar/good kid, m.A.A.d city

Frank Ocean/Channel Orange


Vijay Ayer/Accelerando

Cassandra Wilson/Another Country

Robert Glasper/Black Radio

Ahmad Jamal/Blue Moon

Neneh Cherry & The Thing/The Cherry Thing

Branford Marsalis/Four MFs Playin' Tunes

Medeski Martin & Wood/Free Magic

The Bad Plus/Made Possible

Stephane Wrembel/Origins

Lee Ritenour/Rhythm Sessions

Keith Jarrett/Rio

Jack DeJohnette/Sound Travels

Pat Metheny/Unity Band

Flying Lotus/Until The Quiet Comes

Fontanelle/Vitamin F

Bela Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio/Across the Imaginary Divide

Live (and very well)

Los Lobos/Kiko Live


Paul Simon/Live in New York

Miscellaneous (a little bit of this, a little bit of that)

Kaki King/Glow

Mickey Hart/Mysterium Tremendum


Michael Hearst/Songs for Unusual Creatures

Alamaailman Vasarat/Valta

Sigur Ros/Valtari

Anathema/Weather Systems


Various Artists/Country Funk

Barbra Streisand/Release Me

Roberta Flack/Let It Be Roberta

Rodrigo y Gabriela/Area 52

The Chieftains/Voice of Ages

Goat/World Music

New Orleans funk and roll

Galactic/Carnivale Electricos

Dr. John/Locked Down

The Hot 8 Brass Band/The Life and Times of…

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band/Twenty Dozen

The Outer Limits (for the adventurous listener)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor/Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

Scott Walker/Bish Bosch

Moritz Von Oswald Trio/Fetch

Swans/The Seer


Graffiti 6/Colours

Goyte/Making Mirrors

fun./Some Nights

Imperial Teen/Feel The Sound

Madness/Oui Oui Si Si Ya Ya Da Da

Mickey Dolenz/Remember

Eric Hutchinson/Sounds Like This

Santigold/Master of My Make-Believe


Alabama Shakes/Boys & Girls

The dbs/Falling Off the Sky


Silversun Pickups/Neck of the Woods

Redd Kross/Researching The Blues

J.D. McPherson/Signs & Signifiers

Ty Segall Band/Slaughterhouse

Ty Segall/Twins


Spiritualized/Sweet Heart Sweet Light


School of Seven Bells/Ghostory

Grizzly Bear/Shields

Cloud Nothings/Attack On Memory

Sleigh Bells/Reign of Terror

Mission of Burma/Unsound

Singer/songwriters (A generic category, I know, but packed with talent and great music.)

Alejandro Escovedo/Big Station

Patti Smith/Banga

Aimee Mann/Charmer

The xx/Coexist

Bob Mould/Silver Age

Julia Holter/Ekstasis

Ry Cooder/Election Special

Passion Pit/Gossamer

Bat For Lashes/The Haunted Man

Sinead O'Connor/How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?

Dar Williams/In The Time of Gods

Norah Jones/Little Broken Hearts

John Hiatt/Mystic Pinball

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Psychedelic Pill

Me'Shell Ndegeocello/Pour Une Ame Souveraine

Joe Henry/Reverie

Rodriguez/Searching for Sugar Man

John Cale/My Adventures in Nookie Wood

Bonnie Raitt/Slipstream

Kurt Vile/SmokeRing For My Halo

Paul Weller/Sonic Kicks

John Wesley Harding/The Sound Of His Own Voice

Beth Orton/Sugaring Season

Cat Power/Sun

Donald Fagen/Sunken Condos

Dion/Tank Full of Blues

Bob Dylan/Tempest

Graham Parker/Three Chords Good

M. Ward/A Wasteland Companion

Andrew Bird/Break It Yourself/Hands of Glory

Bruce Springsteen/Wrecking Ball

Follow Shawn Sensiba on Twitter @shawnsensiba.

Last updated: 9:24 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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