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One of the most underrated singer/songwriters of 2012, Dylan Shearer's opening track "Afterwhile" is a smoky tune that trembles the senses.  There isn't anything flashy or outright immediate about this song, but after a few plays it invites the listener into an intimate moment with an artist's psyche.  A perfect winter or rainy day tune, whenever I wanted to contemplate, I threw on "Afterwhile" and let my thoughts swirl around this magical tune.

Faithful Man

Even at the age of sixty-one, the long time soul crooner Lee Fields is more passionate and energetic then the majority of youngsters coming up in the world of music today.  He attacks every note on "Faithful Man" as if it were his last.  The power of this song exists in Fields' ability to explode vocally during the chorus and then bring everything down with a cool bravado during the verses.  This is a track for everyone and a perfect bold underline to Fields' impressive musical career.

Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

I've seen Tame Impala's "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" on a bunch of year end lists and it's one of the few that deserves the attention.  It's not very professional, but it's one of those tracks where you ask "how could anyone not love this?"  It's not a polarizing piece of art - just a steady groove with catchy vocals that all come together perfectly to build a complete song.  For me, it's all about that bass line that just seems to bubble up and stroll around from start to finish.  "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" is extremely accessible and without sacrificing a moment of artistic quality.

Wings Won't Behave

If you look at the album art above, you see a young couple drifting down a river without a bit of tension in their bodies.  That image is exactly how I feel about Whistle Peak's "Wings Won't Behave."  It's a drifting song that finds its path and locks in comfortably.  The song is on the softer side, but it's overflowing with emotion as the vocals occasionally detach from the groove and punch up the feelings being expressed.  This is the kind of song that I want to soundtrack my over-stressed days with, a wave of soft sounds washing over my problems and allowing for a powerful calm. 

Rock And Roll Night Club

Half of me wants to John Malkovich Mac DeMarco's twisted brain and half of me wants to stay as far away as possible.  The great thing is that listening to his albums gives the listener just enough of a peek inside the inner workings of one of the more unique and bold musicians of today.  Most of the times when an artists throws out left field ideas, a few might stick, but rarely are complete pieces formed.  With "Rock And Roll Night Club," a zapped high guitar bends and bends, almost as if the instrument itself is a warped cassette tape.  DeMarco's serious singing over a somewhat comical melody and light subject matter proves that DeMarco is in full understanding and control of his juxtapositions.  I've never heard a song quite like  "Rock And Roll Night Club," and yet I feel like I've been listening to this song for years.  I hope DeMarco continues to confuse us, never allowing music writers to exactly pin down what makes his so special.  Maybe that's the secret to his success.  

The Wrecking Ball Company

I'm ready to bestow classic singer/songwriter status on Marissa Nadler, an honor I don't give away lightly, albeit one which carries no weight as a small blogger.  Regardless, bestow it I do.  I don't think Nadler has ever released an album that wasn't extremely solid and 2012's The Sister is no exception.  The highlight of the album is "The Wrecking Ball Company" which features a slow acoustic guitar and Nadler's soaring vocals.  If you can't get lost in the beauty of this song, check your listening equipment - something is broken or a soul needs to be found.

Yet Again

I consider "Yet Again" the M83 "Midnight City" of 2012.  I know they don't sound anything alike, but both songs sucked me in to the point that the rest of the record couldn't live up to my love for a single track.  I knew immediately that this was a special song when the vocals swooped in and lifted the entire song upwards.  Like most of the songs on this list, it's just baffling to think someone could listen to"Yet Again" with an open mind and leave with a shrug.  While I could listen to the song structure established from the start for hours on hours, the beautiful melody switch up at the 4:19 mark acts as a perfect interruption and powerful close to one of the most important songs written in 2012.

Gone Tomorrow

Kurt Wagner aka Lambchop has never been in more control of a song in his entire lengthy music career.  "Gone Tomorrow" is one of those tracks that needs every moment to be studied to understand its strength.  The song features one of my favorite subtle lyrics of 2012: "The wine tasted like sunshine in the basement."  On first listen, that line seems nice but nothing more.  In reality, that single line is the perfect summation of Wagner's approach as a lyricist.  He has always loved playing with the line between beauty and darkness, between love and sex.  The lyric above appears to be about beauty with wine being compared to sunshine.  Going deeper though, the wine is like the sunshine found in a basement: dark, musky, abandoned, alone, below, hidden, neglected, etc.  Half of the song is a display of Wagner as a master lyricist and then the second half breaks off to a hypnotic instumental that shows his ability to convey strong emotions without a single word.

Sing Me A Reprise

At exactly the one minute mark of "Sing Me A Reprise", Philippe Bronchtein aka Hip Hatchet sings: "Your eyes are facing down / Your feet are planted firmly in the ground / You're thinking about how / She left you standing there in your mother's house."  When Bronchtein launches into this moment, the music behind him seems to expand, and the first time I listened to this moment, I could feel the earth under my feet begin to spin.  He follows this run of lyrics with: "You're waiting for the fall..." and with that moment, Bronchtein and his accompanied music appear to dip, only to add in even more emotional weight.  Every moment of "Sing Me A Reprise" is a lesson for all other singer/songwriters about sincerity.  This is the most truthful song from the most honest album of 2012.   

The Darkness

Musically speaking, there are three Leonard Cohens.  There is the 1967-1974 folk Cohen, the 1977-1992 jazz, synth, band Cohen, and the "he's a legend and he's doing his victory laps" 2000s Cohen.  I'm in the minority being just as obsessed with the second Cohen albums like I'm Your Man and The Future as I am with the first Cohen releases like Songs From Leonard Cohen and Songs From a Room.  The real problem for me was the third Cohen.  Since 1992, maybe with the exception of "In My Secret Life," Cohen hadn't written a single song that felt like the artist I considered my #1 of all time since The Future.  

Then comes Old Ideas, and one of the best Cohen tracks ever written in "The Darkness."  The first thirty seconds of this song are what separate casual and obsessed fans of Cohen's work.  The first time I heard "The Darkness," my eyes started watering and a huge smile grew on my face.  Cohen's playful wink in the opening is blending the two Cohens I mentioned before in the opening of the song.  He starts with that iconic rolling plucked guitar (see "The Stranger Song") and then incorporates lower guitar plucks that simulate the bass heavy world of the second Cohen.  It's a wonderful nod and just as nostalgia creeps in, the song stutters and launches into a brand new, fourth Cohen.  He's embracing his age, and yet the "man with the golden voice" can still capture every ear that will lend him a listen.  

I've probably been harder on Cohen's later releases then most fans/critics, but with "The Darkness," the grip he had over my mind returned.  If you dig deep into Cohen's discography, you will find that while he always seems in command, there are little smirks and elevated levels of investment that are almost impossible to pick up in his top tracks.  On "The Darkness," that hard to find confidence that made Cohen special in the first place returns to a level I never thought he would be able to achieve again.  



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