30. Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal
Following closely in the footsteps of Mumford & Sons (and their checkered-shirted, straw-in-mouthed imitators), came this Icelandic collective, banjoing and harmonising their way into charts and hearts. The whole scene has grown old quickly for some (including me a little, hence why Mumford & Sons' second, similar to this, didn't make the cut). But these guys kept it just fresh enough with a lot of energy and some memorable hooks.
29. Cat Power - Sun
'That woman you've always heard of but never really got into', Cat Power, real name Chan Marshall, returned this with a career high of no. 10 (on the Billboard chart). And it's easy to see why, as it keeps her unique voice and personality but allies it to a more toe-tapping blend of vaguely electronic indie-folk.
28. The Maccabees - Given to the Wild
The quintessential indie boys from South London this returned with what was hailed as their career-defining album, it was certainly a step up from their previous two albums which largely seemed to pride themselves on their twee indie sensibility. The change works for the most part, as the usual tremulous vocals and fuller 'stadium' sound - and a dalliance, albeit slight, with some electronic touches - seemed to please fans and critics (it charted at number four and got a Mercury nod). Just don't expect the 'stadium' tag to mean Foo Fighters.
27. The Staves - Dead & Born & Grown
These three sisters, the Staveley-Taylors, started off by playing open mics in between pints at their Watford local. But you wouldn't guess it from their sound; sophisticated folk/country, lifted above the crowd by some superb voices and clever harmonies, that sounds, lyrically and sonically, like it hails from Houston, Texas. Pleasant but not revolutionary; one for mum for Christmas, in other words.
26. Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor II - The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1
While by pretty much all but his own estimations, this is not the great American rap album, it is certainly a solid one - 'backpack hiphop' that deals smartly with important issues of modern urban America, albeit with a slight tendency to paint Mr Fiasco as a kind of ghetto prophet - a kind of self-righteousness that may grate or alienate.
25. Jack White - Blunderbuss
Say what you like about marital break-up, it can certainly make for some great music. As here, as Mr White dissects the remains of his marriage to model Karen Elson. But this is no mopey break-up album (the two threw a joint, celebratory divorce party, and Elson appears here). It's more an introspective but a fun post-marriage analysis, if you will, from a Gary Neville-like figure (a compliment, honest...) - potentially biased but not so, and scathingly honest.
24. Lana Del Rey - Born To Die
She came from nowhere, everyone loved her, people found on she was a bit fake, and then people didn't know what to think. To some, the fact that a boarding school-educated daughter of an dot.com investor called Elizabeth Woolridge Grant from upstate New York was so self-consciously recalling the seedy underbelly of California showed a fundamental lack of authenticity, rendering her schtick shallow melodrama. To others, it was a masterclass in stage persona, pop culture theatre; in the same vein as greats such as Madonna and Bowie. I was somewhere in between, but more inclined to the latter, enjoying the visuals and the catchy, yearning Americana (lite) balladry.
23. Norah Jones - Broken Little Hearts
With this new album and a surprisingly funny turn in TED, in which she joked of fucking a toy bear, the purveyor of quieter-than-thou pop-country went a little bit more edgy this year. OK, given her previous reputation, this may sound like infinitesimally faint praise to be damned with - but the reinvention this album transformed Ms Jones' music from that which had an apparent sole purpose of being talked over at dinner parties, to smoky, noirish tales of love and loss one can imagine soundtracking the angst of a criminal in a Coen Brothers movie in a down-at-heel motel bar. Far more interesting than smoked salmon in Guildford, I'm sure you'll agree.
22. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
At the ripe old age of 63, Bruce Springsteen returned (if indeed he ever left) for his seventeenth album this year, a massive Hyde Park show, and a lot of campaigning for Obama's re-election. For a man who almost self-parodically sings of the hard-working heart and soul of America, he could certainly never be accused of not practising what he preaches. This album, released in March, is a typically classy offering of 'dad rock', lifted above the perfunctory with some soulful brass and piano flourishes, and one which, on repeat listening, has gained extra poignancy for how Romney and Obama so tirelessly campaigned for the swing vote in the type of everyman, hardscrabble smalltown America Bruce sings of (albeit on almost every song he's ever written).
21. Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg
Being hailed as 'the next Dylan' is enough to set anyone up for a fall. So it's to this 18-year-old Nottingham lad's credit that he has almost universally lived up to this billing with this self-titled debut, which manages to both sound authentically bluesy and rootsy and paint a vivid picture lyrically of the drab Clifton council estate of his childhood.
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