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Bo is an avid connoisseur of the entertainment industry, pop culture, and social networking. His voice is the written word, music is his soundtrack, and his passion is the power of visual imagery. When not writing for The Hudsucker, Bo works as a content marketer for software company ExactTarget.

2012: A Musical Countdown

A new year brings with it many signs of transition and reflection. Celebrations, resolutions, and, of course, “best of” lists. Thousands of music lovers across the country spend the months of December and January contemplating their better audial experiences of the past 365 days, which can be a daunting task. Typically this provides a great opportunity to relive artists, albums, and tracks of significant purpose to them. Whether it was something appropriate at a specific time or something that just sounded really, really pleasing to the ears, let’s look back at 2012 and all of the emotions that some of the music industry’s best were able to bring out in us.

Image Credit: Reprise Records

10) Neil Young & Crazy Horse: “Psychedelic Pill”
2012 was hyped up to be an incredible comeback year for the aged collaboration between Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Fans were let down in the first half of the year to an album of traditional American folk songs that failed to excite listeners like previous albums had. It was unoriginal, and it was boring. Thankfully, the second half of 2012 marked the release of “Psychedelic Pill,” an album 80-minutes in length that often feels more like a garage band jam session. But when you have masterful musicians like Neil Young at the helm, each track becomes more like a work of rock and roll art. Tracks like the opener “Driftin Back” or the 16-minute “Ramada Inn” take you back to a time and place where lengthy guitar solos were new and music was the best form of entertainment around. This album certainly has a rustic feel, but it uses nostalgia to remind the digital age that rock and roll will never die. Thank goodness for old school rockers like Young to keep us grounded.

Image Credit: Rough Trade/ATO

9) Alabama Shakes: “Boys and Girls”
Many exciting new artists emerged in 2012 to achieve great popularity, thanks to the success of summer music festivals and local indie radio stations. One such group is the Alabama Shakes. The southern rock sound that this group grooves to owes a lot to lead singer Brittany Howard, who brings a deep, melodic touch of femininity to a traditional genre. From start to finish, this album seems to knock out hit track after hit track without stopping. There is no doubt that a summer tour would bring a strong following of new supporters singing along to songs like “Hold On.” Watch the Alabama Shakes continue to build on their recent success throughout 2013.

Image Credit: Third Man, XL Recordings/Columbia Records

8) Jack White: “Blunderbuss”
Jack White is one of those artists that we’re always afraid is too good for his own good. He achieved great success with bands The White Stripes and The Raconteurs, only to go his own way with a debut solo album. White has always been a great guitar presence when playing with a group, but the looming question was, “Can held his own for an entire album?”. The resounding answer to this question was, “YES,” when in early 2012 “Blunderbuss” was released. White maintains his blues rock roots, while bringing an experimental edge to his electric guitar prowess. And his vocals ain’t to shabby, either! This is the kind of album that can reach down into the dirt with gritty songs like “Freedom at 21” at one point, and then rise into the skies of blues glory with tracks like “I’m Shakin’.” If anything, the testament of this album is that Jack White is one of the artists that will continue to shape and mold both the blues and rock genres throughout the long career ahead of him. We can all sleep well tonight.

Image Credit: Warner Music Canada/Atlantic Records

7) The Sheepdogs: “The Sheepdogs”
A 2011 Rolling Stone article picked a scruffy looking group of indie rockers known as The Sheepdogs as the best band we’ve never heard of. In 2012, they released their full-length, self-titled album. While this collection feel-good southern rock songs only made a little splash in sales, it also gained great accolades from many critics as a consistently well-made album. This author could not resist including it in a list of the 10 best for the year as it proves to be an excellent tribute of late 70’s rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, or even ZZ Top, while also being one of the best live shows to see in recent memory. The members of the band bring a lot of energy to their performances, kicking off their Birkenstocks dance around stage as their signature songs transform into 10-minute improvisations. Keep an eye out for this unique group to continue growing in popularity in the coming years.

Image Credit: Columbia Records

6) Bob Dylan: “Tempest”
Can Bob Dylan do no wrong? Well, actually, yes he can. Many die-hard fans erase the less-than-satisfactory works from their minds and continue to live in the hits of the 60’s and 70’s. But “Tempest” brought a new kind of Dylan to the airwaves this time around, and one that many were surprisingly pleased with. This odd assortment of religious, alternative-history allows you to hum along with the suddenly smooth growl of an older and wiser artist. Much can be said of Dylan’s persona that has developed over 50 years in the music industry, but at the end of the day he still knows how to take listeners to a different time and different place, at least until the next track starts. It’s that kind of therapy that makes “Tempest” his best work in over a decade.

Image Credit: Universal Republic

5) Avett Brothers: “The Carpenter”
If 2012 was the year for folk music to go mainstream, the Avett Brothers were one of the main instigators. It is hard to imagine a group that has been around as long as they have without really changing their sound make a leap like we witnessed in “The Carpenter.” Without a doubt, this album featured the most crowd pleasing tracks, both in the realm of lyrics and melody. Right from the get-go, “The Once and Future Carpenter” takes listeners to a place of traditional American tranquility and rustic melodies. For the next 60 minutes, we are hooked on tales of love and loss through the smooth tunes of folklore. More than anything, “The Carpenter” is a statement that these brothers are here, and they’re not leaving anytime soon.

Image Credit: Island Records

4) Mumford & Sons: “Babel”
Of all the musical acts listed on this year’s top 10, Mumford and Sons has achieved the greatest Grammy recognition by far. The break out band of 2010/2011 came back with a vengeance on “Babel,” a foot stomping, guitar strumming good time. The old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” reigns true more than ever on Mumford’s latest. The sound is the same from 2010’s “Sign No More,” but reworked in a fashion that gets you up off your seat faster and doesn’t let go until the last note echoes through your ear. Marcus Mumford has become known universally for his distinct singing style, but this record celebrates the entire quartet of talent that Mumford and Sons represents. Each musician is versatile and the various instruments that are featured throughout their songs, and this time around the four seem to be on key in playing as a group. Like a fine wine, Mumford and Sons seem to be improving with age, meaning there is much more to be heard from this talented group.

Image Credit: Polyvinyl Record Co.

3) Japandroids: “Celebration Rock”
The spirit of garage-band rock and roll is alive and well in the Black Keys-esque duo known as the Japandroids. Their third album hits home more that any before, which earned them special attention from such sources as Rolling Stone. “Celebration Rock” is exactly what it sounds like: an absolute party of heavy guitar and drum magic, complete with fireworks to open and close the album. Though short in length, the 8-track compilation electrifies listeners in a way that commands multiple listenings, sometimes one after another. Buckle up, because the Japandroids is a wild ride that you’ll have an absolute blast on.

Image Credit: Columbia Records/Interscope

2) The Shins: “Port of Morrow”
The biggest surprise of any ranking for the best albums of 2012 comes in the form of the return of the Shins. Years since releasing any new tracks, The Shins had almost been forgotten by both pop and indie music lovers alike until the early 2012 release of “Port of Morrow.” The band we had all loved throughout the mid-2000’s was back and better than ever. From the poppy “Simple Song” to the haunting “Fall of ’82,” The Shins cover a wide range of sounds, but somehow they all seem to mesh together into one flowing work of art. Many will forget this album, as it’s been months since its initial release, but I contend that this is some of the most pleasing music to be released in the last year. But that’s what criticism is all about: Voicing opinions. So give “Port of Morrow” one more listen through, and see how it leaves you feeling.

Image Credit: Warner Brothers Records

1) Gary Clark Jr: “Blak and Blu”
Drum roll please… Not because this is the number one spot of the year, but because Gary Clark Jr finally released his debut full-length album. For months, rock lovers, blues lovers, and music lovers in general have anxiously awaited new tracks from the Austin performer after his EP gained such high acclaims. “Blak and Blu” is a musical odyssey of sorts, experimenting with multiple genres, original songs, and covers alike. But it all works so, so well. Gary Clark Jr is essentially the Jimi Hendrix of this generation. A masterful guitar player and soulful singing voice make him a master of his craft, but at such a young age. Listing to his recordings makes listeners long to see him live in concert, moving from songs we know by heart into the improvisation of a 5 minute guitar solo. 2012 ended with a bang, thanks to “Blak and Blu,” leaving us with excitement for the future of this young musician, and the music we can look forward to in 2013.

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