1. Tramp, Sharon Van Etten (Jagjaguwar)
2. Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen (Sony)
3. Researching The Blues, Redd Kross (Merge)
4. Boy & Girls, Alabama Shakes (ATO)
5. O'Be Joyful, Shovels and Rope (Shrimp)
6. Locked Down, Dr. John (Nonesuch)
7. Long Slow Dance, The Fresh & Onlys (Mexican Summer)
8. White Manna, White Manna (Holy Mountain)
9. Falling Off the Sky, The dB's (Bar/None)
10. Deer Creek Canyon, Sera Cahoone (Sub Pop)
For the second year in a row there have been solid, diverse recordings by female artists. Two female singer-songwriters who share a maturing period in their respective careers top this impressive list. Seattle-based Sera Cahoone honed her alt. folk-country approach for Deer Creek Canyon, executed with a straightforward elegance. On the other end of the continent, Brooklyn-based Sharon Van Etten created a perfect soundscape for her emotional arcs of isolation and painful transition with her LP, Tramp. Also worthwhile: the pop experimentalism from Julia Holter (Ekstasis), deconstructionist hip hop by the duo THEESatisfaction (awE naturalE), country-soul sophistication from Kelly Hogan (I Like to Keep Myself in Pain) and the cutting, insightful alt. folk narratives from Caroline Herring (Camilla).
Seasoned vets also released superb recordings: With the collaborative aid of Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Dr. John drew from the mojo of earlier work like his classic debut, Gris-Gris, to produce a powerful recording and statement on Locked Down. L.A. power pop stalwart Redd Kross delivered an excellent Researching The Blues, filled with an eclectic assortment of pop gems. East Coast pop eccentrics The dB's returned to the fold, emerging with Falling Off the Sky, the band's most satisfying and assessable recording to date. The S.F.-based Fresh & Onlys filtered '80s Brit indie pop influences on a garage-rock foundation, resulting in an effervescent Long Slow Dance. Leonard Cohen came out of retirement to release a masterful, patient and poetic work with his, Old Ideas, a record full of subtle yet rich arrangements.
A surprising number of top-notch debuts arrived in 2012, including the unrelenting force of Toronto's trio Metz and the guitar-pop of Kyle Thomas (under the King Tuff moniker). The dense, psych blast of Arcata-based White Manna took many by surprise (including yours truly) with a sonic debut. The young quartet Alabama Shakes redefined "southern rock," inserting soul and alt. rock into the mix to produce a potent, new gumbo. Once committed as a duo (both professionally and personally), Shovels and Rope captured a live, board-stomping spontaneity with a dose of passionate chutzpah for the band's official alt. folk-country debut, O' Be Joyful.