Here they are: Elevation Outdoors’ picks for the must-have albums from 2012. Download and enjoy while you do your outdoor thing.

Grizzly Bear Shields

It takes multiple listens to fully digest the sonic ground being covered on Grizzly Bear’s new album. Much more scrappy and scattershot than previous efforts, Shields wanders between aggressive experimental rock and fluid vocally driven indie chamber pop—at times energetic and soaring (“Yet Again”) while at others hushed and haunting (“The Hunt”). The opening “Sleeping Ute” starts with a crunchy electric guitar riff set against jarring beats and swirling electronic effects before suddenly winding down into a quiet folk departure. “A Simple Answer” is a drum-and-piano stomper with the inspirational escalation typical of Arcade Fire, while “What’s Wrong” is a gauzy falsetto-driven slow burner that Thom Yorke would love to sing. Multiple familiarities collide, and it works just right.

Beach House Bloom

Lush soundscapes and visceral hooks dominate the latest from this Baltimore-based experimental pop duo. The album is a dreamy journey that hits the senses from a variety of angles. Victoria Legrand’s vocals float above the sound with comforting presence, even as they fluctuate from hazy to soaring. Meanwhile, Alex Scally is creating ethereal melodies with repetitive layers of guitar and synth. Standout tracks like “Myth” and “The Hours” take their time ascending to emotional peaks, always landing in a place that seems to offer cathartic relief, even when the topics are sorrowful.

Father John Misty Fearless Fun

After Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman announced his departure from the band at the beginning of the year, he apparently took an extended psychedelic drug-fueled road trip before landing in Laurel Canyon. This blissfully twisted effort features Tillman’s narrative-style musings on soaring in an enlightened dimension and the ridiculousness of his L.A. surroundings. It’s a fun ride full of witty stoner philosophizing delivered through a blend of infectious folk rock. There are echoes of his old band in the choral Americana of the opening “Fun Times in Babylon.” But Tillman is willing to let his hair down and loosen up a little more than his old mates, especially in the jangly grooves of “I’m Writing a Novel” and “Well, You Can Do It Without Me.”

Alabama Shakes Boys & Girls

This debut effort from a major buzz band largely lived up to the hype. The Alabama Shakes deliver gritty garage soul that’s propelled by the vocals of front woman Brittany Howard, whose range fluctuates between the sensual groove of Aretha Franklin to the wailing howls of Robert Plant. Boys & Girls is homage to old school Muscle Shoals in the context of kids who grew up on Nirvana—gritty rock club energy that channels ghosts of the past.

Band of Horses Mirage Rock

Who was the right man to reign in the South Carolina-based indie rock heroes? Legendary producer Glyn Johns, whose resume boasts work with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, nuanced the Horses’ usual distortion and reverb into some blissfully mellow moments of vintage folk rock. Front man Ben Bridwell channels the melancholy of Neil Young on the dusty ballad “Slow Cruel Hands of Time,” but there’s still plenty of freewheelin’ fun in the jangly rock dance tune “Knock Knock.” Lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey also gets to sing his “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone,” a Laurel Canyon-flavored country shuffle that’s another example of how this group is ripe with versatility for the long haul.

Avett Brothers The Carpenter

The Avett Brothers have always been about heart-on-the-sleeve honesty, but on their second album for Rick Rubin’s American Recording’s label, North Carolina’s native sons get particularly personal. Through intimate finger-picking that channels some of their early independent albums, the Avetts share emotional introspection on parenthood (“A Father’s First Spring”), losing loved ones (“Through My Prayers”) and the emptiness of materialism in the tastefully horn-accented “Down with the Shine.” The end of the album has a couple surprises, including a veiled rebuke of over-development and prejudice in through the infectious piano pop of “Geraldine” and a cleanse-my-soul unleashing of alt-rock energy in “Paul Newman vs. the Demons.”

Where’s the Party?

Don’t Miss These Four New Year’s Eve Shows

The Lumineers
12/30-31 • Ogden Theater • Denver

The Lumineers spent 2012 basking in an explosion of popularity. With sold out shows from coast to coast, the folk-rock crew has proved intent on joining the successful ranks of fellow acoustic dominators the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. This two-night hometown run will be a huge sing-along celebration, but like most of the band’s shows, it’s all sold out. Don’t be surprised to see a Red Rocks headline by next summer.

String Cheese Incident
12/29-31 • First Bank Center • Broomfield

After years of only sporadic gigs, the Cheese found its mojo this past summer with a hugely successful summer tour. The group will look to harness the same energy through its manic blend of genre-crossing jams (EDM to bluegrass and beyond) during this three-night home-state run.

The Motet
12/30-31 • Fox Theater • Boulder

Shut up and dance. If this is your objective, look past the Front Range’s more expensive tickets and join the Motet. Colorado’s long-standing world-funk crew is a proven pro at delivering grooves that will make you move all night long.

Thievery Corporation
12/31 • Dobson Ice Arena • Vail

Thievery’s full-band shows are more than great dance parties; they are full-blown productions. DJ duo Rob Garza and Eric Hilton will feature a full stage of ace players, dancers and singers to tap into a range of global sounds that deliver uncharted aural satisfaction.

Download

December’s Trail Mix, free tunes you can get now at bit.ly/VpavYC. This month features tracks off the North Carolina string band Chatham County Line’s new live album, husband and wife Australian country singer-songwriting duo Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Austin acoustic instrumental outfit Balmorhea, Amber Rubarth, The Old Ceremony, Janis Martin and more.