The sound of 2012: Anthemic, but with banjo or violin
Although Frank Ocean captured the headlines and topped the critics' lists, for yours truly what stands out in pop music this year is the discovery of a consensus acoustic sound that is not rock, for better or worse, and yet is shared by the likes of relatively new bands Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, the Avett Brothers, The Lumineers, and Lord Huron, among countless, countless others.
Anthemic folk-rock, as Jon Pareles said. With a dash of sarcasm, he voiced the thoughts of a young fan newly converted to this "roots" music: “Wow, I’m cool. I heard a banjo. I’m different. And I’m going to tell all my friends how much hearing an actual banjo as opposed to a synthesizer moved me.”
Yes, but…stand-out tracks include I Will Wait, Stubborn Love, and the instant classic Winter in My Heart (though it's a yearning ballad, not an anthem). My fav band is everyone else's too, Mumford & Sons, the most exciting, although Fleet Foxes still have the best harmonies, and the Avett Brothers make me ache the most.
Most visual is surely Lord Huron:
…who seems to offer in their visual work a destination, a virtual home in the lonesome wilderness.