For the rest of the year, we’ll be spotlighting our KEXP DJs Top Albums of 2012, leading up to our 2012 Top Album Countdown, as voted on by our listeners! Voting ends on Friday, December 21st, so let us know your favorites now, and tune in on Friday, December 28th to hear if your picks made the list!
Marji’s 2012 Top Ten Albums
1. Little Spark by Jessie Baylin (Blonde Rat)
Jersey-born Jessie Baylin captured my heart in 2008 with the gorgeous Firesight, and Little Spark, an excellent follow-up released quietly on her own Blonde Rat Records, actually kind of slid under the radar for me when it came out in January. Free of a major label this time around, Jessie continues with her Dusty Springfield vibe and much like on Firesight, her songs glide effortlessly between country, retro pop-soul and folk. The sound is lush and warm thanks to producer Kevin Augunas and multi-instrumentalist arranger Richard Swift, and Baylin’s unique voice is sweetly framed in the girl-group-esque harmonies of the Watson Sisters. 2012 has been a good year for Jessie — in addition to genre-hopping crooner, this month she’ll add the title of mama to her resume when she and husband Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon fame welcome their first little one.
2. Boys & Girls by Alabama Shakes (ATO)
3. Algiers by Calexico (Anti-)
Algiers, referring to the 15th Ward of New Orleans (not the Algerian capital), was inspired by and recorded in the Big Easy — and yet, I can hear so much more plainly the dusty, eerie Sonoran influence of John Convertino and Joey Burns’ Southern Arizona home than that of the bayous on their latest. It’s part of why I love it; which is not to say that Calexico couldn’t have excelled with street jazz or a touch of zydeco to match the record’s name — but the familiar smatterings throughout of ghostly pedal steel, Spanish guitar, and bright horns sound just as splendid in NOLA as they do in Tucson. Call me sentimental, but I would probably cry if Calexico ever ditched their ethereal desert sound. Algiers is another western record, certainly, but I don’t fault Calexico for a minute for having stuck to the gorgeous vibe they’re so adept at creating. I am happy they did. The result is their familiarly graceful genius, beautifully arranged as usual and laced with tiny hints of a very different backdrop — if only revealed in the title and in vivid lyrics. Algiers may not exactly pay sonic homage to the city in which it was produced, but it’s further proof Calexico is just plain good at making music.
4. The Crossing by Menahan Street Band (Daptone)
In addition to backing Charles Bradley on his wonderful release last year, holding court as house band for Brooklyn’s Dunham Records, and sharing members between other Daptone acts like Antibalas, Budos Band, the Dap-Kings and more, the multi-instrumentalists in Menahan Street Band spent the last couple of years putting together an absolutely excellent sophomore record. Groovy like it should be, romantic and spooky in other places, and all around complex and delicious, The Crossing ranks high on my list this year for letting me feel just a little bit funkier than I am in real life.
5. Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now by Justin Townes Earle (Bloodshot)
6. Look Around The Corner by Quantic & Alice Russell with the Combo Bárbaro (Tru Thoughts)
As lover of classic soul (and who isn’t?) and an admitted Anglophile, I find the high concentration of soul singers born of the Isles just delightful. Not that I need to remind anybody, but divas Joss Stone, Duffy, Adele, and of course the late Amy Winehouse — to name just a scant few — hail from the land of high tea and the Diamond Jubilee, and it seems the UK has a monopoly on white girls with powerful pipes. Alice Russell is no exception to the rule, and her collaboration with old friend Quantic and his current project, the incredible Combo Bárbaro, produced a really exceptional record this year that meshes soulful grooves with latin jazz and funk, cumbia and Afro-Cuban flavors. I love Alice’s expression on the cover of the album — almost like she’s nervous you won’t like it. Don’t worry, Alice. I like it. I like it very, very much.
7. Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors (Domino)
8. The Long Slow Dance by The Fresh & Onlys (Souterrain Transmissions)
The Long Slow Dance is jangly, melodic and divine. I’d like to think I can remember riding in my car seat at two years old while Mom drove around town listening to the now-defunct KJET, 80’s-era purveyor of the brilliant new wave and Britpop of the day, and that The Fresh & Onlys’ fourth studio effort reminds me of those days — but I can’t remember. This record does, however, remind me of every Smiths and Ocean Blue ‘best of’ album my mom ever owned and I ever ruined by playing relentlessly on the living room stereo till they were too scratched to work. That is why I love this record, and that is why it is placed proudly in my top ten of 2012.
9. What the World Needs Now by the Sugarman 3 (Daptone)
10. Fear Fun by Father John Misty (Sub Pop)
These Narrow Bars Of Light by Legendary Oaks (self-released)
Take From Me by Dojo Cuts (Record Kicks)
True by Solange (Terrible)
Negotiations by the Helio Sequence (Sub Pop)
Marji Makers is Don Slack’s comrade-in-twang on Swingin’ Doors and is currently on a bourbon-soaked pilgrimage to Nashville. Starting in Spring 2013, you can catch her Nashville-based radio segments on all sorts of subjects — from country to western! — on Swingin’ Doors every Thursday night. Follow Marji on Facebook.