I did not do a “Best Albums” list for 2012 this year. 2012 was not a banner year for me with regard to listening to music, for several reasons:
- Limited funds,
- Limited time to explore and listen to new music,
- See point #1.
In addition, there was only one record I was eagerly looking forward to in 2012: Mark Knopfler’s Privateering, which, to my dismay, was not made available in the U.S. because of a contract dispute. Fortunately, Amazon has vendors in Canada and other countries who will sell to us here with reasonable shipping costs, so I was able to procure the double CD set a couple of months after it was released.
I did purchase some other music during the year too, and I’ve also been able to catch up a bit by virtue of some of the bargains available after Christmas. But I still don’t have a very broad or deep pool from which to draw a”Best” list. So instead I will give a list of ten songs from 2012 that have moved me as I’ve listened to them.
What “moves” me in a song? There is an element of mystery in the answer to that question, of course, but I can name a few characteristics of the kinds of popular music that attract and enthrall me.
- Music and lyrics that “take me somewhere” — on an intellectual, emotional, or imaginative journey into another world, much like good reading does.
- Music and lyrics that bring an instinctive, reflexive smile to my face, a rush of emotion to my chest, a tear to my eye, or a deep sense of satisfaction that what is being sung resonates with my humanity.
- A song that makes me sigh after I hear it. That usually means I’ve been so caught up in it, I’ve forgotten to breathe.
Here are ten songs that fit the bill from 2012:
First of all, how can anyone not love a train song? Second, this song is so infectiously happy that I find the melody and hooks running through my mind all day long. Third, is this Bob Dylan or Louis Armstrong? There’s more than a little Satchmo in Dylan’s voice here and that takes me to a wonderful world.
The first record from James Mercer and the Shins in five years saw him putting together a whole new band and a new shimmery sound. “Simple Song“ was the big hit from the album, but I loved even more this catchy, driving tune about a guy getting knocked off kilter by love. It sounds like a great old AM-radio hit, plus, it has one of the better guitar solo interludes of the year.
Folk bands of all kinds seem to be the rage these days, and I love it. I haven’t had a chance to listen much to the Mumford and Sons album or the Avett Brothers yet, but right beside them in popularity in 2012 were the Lumineers and their eponymous first album. “Ho Hey” is a rollicking song about lost love that’s just plain fun for band and audience alike.
Kathleen Edwards’ “break-up” record is on a lot of top albums lists this year and for good reason. (See our brief IM listening report on it HERE.) Edwards gives us many terrific songs on Voyageur, and several that are more intricate than this one, but there are none more touching than this simple lovelorn lament.
On her album of Christmas and winter song covers, Tracey Thorn has a way of making a song her own. On no track is that more clear than this one, Sufjan Steven’s Sister Winter. The song is simplicity itself but it contains a profoundly personal message of bittersweet seasonal wishes.
One of the most successful debuts of the year came from this indie folk group from Iceland. They had a monster hit with “Little Talks,” and an album that went right to the top of many 2012 best lists. Their songs are evocative and whimsical. The one I love most is “King and Lionheart,” which singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir says is a little world she created for her brother and her so that they would have a “place” to be together even though they live far apart.
4. The Dream of the Drowned Submariner, by Mark Knopfler from the album Privateering
Mark Knopfler is a world-class songwriter and musician, and his latest double album only reinforces that claim. The true highlights of the record are the raw, rip-roaring blues numbers (he and Dylan seem to be competing on who can do this best as they grow older), but he also mixes in several atmospheric meditations that spirit the listener off into the lives of farmers, laborers, lovers, and sailors. The best of these is this song that sets forth lyrical visions of mortality from the bottom of the sea.
The Boston Globe called Iris Dement’s latest album, “a work of rare, unvarnished grace and power.” One of the most effective and heartbreaking songs is this one, about a girl who prays for God to heal her injured brother only to have her brother die. One of Dement’s strengths is taking music that sounds like happy, energetic country-gospel and using it to express her doubts and faith struggles. Her unusual voice brings out primal emotions and lays them bare, inviting us to witness and share her pain.
(See my IM review HERE.) This lovely prayer combines a theme from Bach with a simple Celtic melody. Its lyrics voice a heartfelt desire for God to strengthen me and bless my daily work for his honor and benefit of my neighbors. Kristyn Getty’s childlike voice lends a tenderness and transparency that expresses the essence of true humility and faith.
My favorite song of 2012 was this gentle airport epiphany about the invisible bonds that connect us as we scurry about, pass each other unnoticed, wait in line together, pursue our affairs, and pray for traveling mercies.
We are travelers traveling
We are gypsies together
We’re philosophers gathering
We are business or pleasure
We are going or coming
We are finding our way
To the next destination
And from night into day