It's that time of year again.
That time of year when your thoughts are not on stuffing or football or Black Friday sales, but on which albums will be nominated for the most prestigious prize of any awards season.
Do I need to name the prize? I didn't think so.
So, without further ado -- after a fabulous year for me, personally, and another great year for new music -- here are the nominees for the 2012 You-Know-What:
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE -- CENTIPEDE HZ
Pretty much everything I would want to say about the new Animal Collective record can be read right here.
I hope you take the time to check that link out.
I will add this to it, though: The day I describe in that column -- the day Centipede Hz came out, when I had my spontaneous run in the rain, and my walk home, soaked -- was also the day I had a dinner date at Koliba, a Czech restaurant around the corner from my apartment. It was a first date, with an OK Cupid girl I had a strange feeling about. Call it a hunch.
Her name's Amelia. Today's her 30th birthday.
(Animal Collective is in line for its second straight win, taking home the gold in 2009 for the band's last record, Merriweather Post Pavilion.)
OF MONSTERS AND MEN -- MY HEAD IS AN ANIMAL
Probably the most charming debut record I have heard in some time, and certainly the most charming record of the year.
I've missed seeing Of Monsters and Men live at seemingly every turn -- three strikes, so far, and I feel left out -- but I've had the Icelanders in my ears since the summer, and a copy of My Head is an Animal on pink vinyl spinning quite a bit, too.
For me, this record went from being a nice bit of catchy pop to something more as I strolled the beaches of Block Island in June. My friend Hannah and I took a ferry there for the weekend, and this became my soundtrack, never more so than when I climbed the sand to a perch above the beach or when I ran my toes through the grass in front of our bed and breakfast.
Mountain Sound feels like a twisted, modern indie pop update of Mountain Greenery -- check out the Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler-Moore version, and then the Ella Fitzgerald take; Dirty Paws is a skillfully conjured plot breakdown of a never-made Bjork video; and songs like Lakehouse and Yellow Light mix the homespun warmth of the Innocence Mission with the anthemic grandeur of Arcade Fire. The record perfectly captured the New England island vacation -- magical and comforting -- that has lingered with me ever since.
SHARON VAN ETTEN -- TRAMP
My best concert experience of 2012, and, after two years of female solo artists taking home Album of the Year honors, Tramp easily would be a more than a worthy successor to Laura Veirs' July Flame and PJ Harvey's Let England Shake -- a perfect mix of the finest qualities of both.
When I saw Sharon Van Etten play earlier this year, we stood way in the back of the room (we had been leaning on the stage for the opening act, the next nominee) and retired to the shadows for a drink.
She played the album's last -- and best -- song, Joke or a Lie, with the patience and care it richly deserves, grainy black and white film footage playing behind her on a large screen, and I fell in madly in love with it. It's been a year of amazing songs, and this one set the tone early; I nearly needed the Bowery Ballroom's back wall to keep me standing as she sang, two-thirds of the way through the song:"I am alone. But I alone in this room with you. Call it a joke, or a lie."
You didn't have to be there. Just pick up a copy of the album, and listen.
SHEARWATER -- ANIMAL JOY
It's no secret Shearwater -- the 2008 Album of the Year winner, for Rook -- has made a strong claim as my favorite post-R.E.M. band. Its latest album has done nothing to diminish that.
A little poppier and more accessible than the band's previous works, Animal Joy jarred me at first, but, like Tramp, it has remained in constant rotation for me since its release in February. The sparkling piano in You As You Were won me over, initially, and I wish more music fans had heard it; there were mornings when it made my walk to the subway feel more like the start of a journey than a commute.
I'm no longer waiting for the band to hit it big, but I still consider Shearwater criminally under-appreciated -- especially as a live act. If the band keeps moving in this direction -- while also maintaing their unique brand of mystery -- Shearwater will keep diehards like me very happy, and pick up a few more of us, too.
ROUNDING OUT THE TOP 10
5. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros -- Here
6. Andrew Bird -- Break It Yourself
7. Laura Gibson -- La Grande
8. Spiritualized -- Sweet Heart Sweet Light
9. Ingrid Michaelson -- Human Again
10. Peter Buck -- Peter Buck
In iTunes alphabetical order:
Chromatics -- Kill For Love
Counting Crows -- Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)
Damien Jurado -- Maraqopa
Eef Barzelay -- Songs For Mary
First Aid Kit -- The Lion's Roar
Frank Ocean -- Channel Orange
Fun. -- Some Nights
Japandroids -- Celebration Rock
Karen Peris -- Violet
Lambchop -- Mr. M
The Lumineers -- The Lumineers
The Magnetic Fields -- Love At The Bottom of the Sea
The Mountain Goats -- Transcendental Youth
Regina Spektor -- What We Saw from the Cheap Seats
Snow Patrol -- Fallen Empires
Sun Kil Moon -- Among the Leaves