young man in 2012
It’s the 31st December. So it must be time to make some lists.
And here are the rules (because there have to be rules). I’m not concerned about whether these were released or published in 2012, they just have to be new to me. And I’m not making any claims about what is “best” from some mythical vantage point of neutral objectivity. These are my favourite cultural artefacts of the year – the ones I’ve most enjoyed, or which have most deeply moved or inspired me. And this year I’m just going to do top 3 lists. First the music:
- Young Man in America (Anais Mitchell). This was far and away my favourite record of the year, and probably my favourite new discovery of the past few years. I’m guessing her voice is one not everyone will love, but I just found this beautiful, sad, compassionate, wise, lovely. The album is haunted by the influence of the songwriter’s father (his picture appears on the cover) and a deep longing for a father to shepherd and a mother to shelter us. “Another wayward son waiting on oblivion/Waiting on the kingdom come to meet me in my sin/Waiting to be born again.” Stunning.
- Abattoir Blues (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds). It was going to see Lawless and enjoying the soundtrack that send me back to explore some more of Nick Cave’s back catalogue. This is just brilliant. And bonkers. And beautiful. No-one else writes lyrics like Cave, mixing the sublime and the apocalypic with the everyday: “The sky’s on fire, the dead are heaped across the land/I went to bed last night and my moral code got jammed/I woke up this morning with a Frappucino in my hand.” And the gosple choir backing lifts this record to another level. I’ve been so hung up on this first part of the double-album I haven’t even got round to exploring the second part (The Lyre of Orpheus).
- Babel (Mumford & Sons). For some reason, the Mumfords are one of those bands that music critics and music snobs love to hate. And I can even understand a little bit (I have a bit of the music snob in me). The music can be repetitive, they overdo the hoedowns, and the lyrics often fall back on stock “inspiring phrases” about light and darkness and whatever. In terms of musical originality and lyrical subtlety they can’t hold a candle to my first two choices. But the Mumfords also have something – an energy, a wholehearted sincerity, a kind of infectious joy – which sets them apart. I think the sincerity and optimism is part of why they are hated. This has been the most played album in our car, largely because our kids, lacking any kind of snobbery or pretentiousness, just love it and head-bang in the back seat with faces full of pure delight. It’s a great pop record.
Other albums I enjoyed this year: Oh Pioneer (Duke Special), Mermaid Avenue (Billy Bragg & Wilco), Sing the Delta (Iris DeMent), Brothers (The Black Keys), Love & War & The Sea In Between (Josh Garrels), Highway 61 Revisited (Bob Dylan).
I’d love to hear about the music that has stirred your soul this year. Books and movies to follow.