In the Shadow of the Impending (Mayan) Apocalypse (Pt. 1): Best Tracks of 2012

best of 2012(Or, how I got through my neurosis about the end of the world with the aid of my headphones) (Or, I’ve been listening so you don’t have to)

In the words of Alec Baldwin’s Bob Barrenger from State and Main, after overturning a car and avoiding a near fatality, “So, that happened”. (No endorsement of Alec’s fictional character’s behavior, but with great adoration for the art of the understatement.) “That” in this case was 2012. Even as our country teeters on a cliff of financial proportions and people stockpile for possible doomsday, our thoughts turn to Dradles, Candles, Mistletoe, Egg Nog, and days of celebration and/or consumption (in every manner imaginable). No stranger to the aforementioned, I prefer to turn to thoughts of a Higher Fidelity, contemplating the rhythmic and lyrical highs and lows of the year that was. And, as I write this with a several days left in the calendar year, I am remiss to shut the books just yet; things will go unsaid, unseen, unheard, and over-looked. Despite my best efforts, I’m sure I’ve missed a number of things, but I try my best to at least represent some semblance of thoroughness.  What follows are a series thoughts, reflections, observations, and, of course, lists of songs, albums and moments that moved or in a few instances underwhelmed me. Because I recognize people have limited time, I’ve broken these up into three palatable sections:

(1st) Tracks, (2nd) Concerts/Moments, and (3rd) Albums.

(Caddy comments forthcoming)

Part the First: Favorite 100 (+11): Tracks of 2012:

General Observations

  • Folk, old school Soul, and Rhythm and Blues made some stirring come backs, incorporating modern day trappings, deconstructing traditional structures, and proving that heart and emotion always trump production and polish.
  • The 80s are alive and kicking throughout the realms of dance, indie rock and retro R&B. Synthesizers of the world unite! Domo Arigato.
  • Despite mass consumerism, artists can still write songs with real world relevance and impact. See “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis or “Ruin” by Cat Power.
  • Yes, Gotye, fun., and Carly Rae Jepsen are on the list, but not PSY. Sorry, perhaps I’ve still got auditory PTSD from all the JPop I heard when living in Japan but that song feels like nails on a chalkboard to my ear. Given these artists’ pervasiveness in our musical landscape, it was difficult for them not to make an appearance but then again their songs had a certain something that really endeared their work to me (just not enough).
  • Rock stalwarts, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan, are also in the mix.
  • Billboard golden boy (Jack White) and golden girl (Nora Jones) decided to return to form and step out of the box, respectively, and made some amazing songs and records.
  • These musicians opened my eyes and made me smile: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (Hip-Hop), Father John Misty (Neo-Folk psychedelia), Adam Arcuragi (Neo-Folk/Bluesy Gospel), Kishi Bashi (baroque pop), Grimes (Indie-Dance Electronic), Purity Ring (Indie-Dance Electronic), Julia Holter (indie-art experimentalism), Chromatics (Neo-New Wave), Daughter (folk), and Patrick Watson (neo-folk jam).
  • Many artists you probably didn’t hear on the radio (but should have) appear on here: Kelly Hogan, Solange, Drop Electric, Generationals, Eternal Summer, Love on a Real Train, and many more.
  • Plus, old and new friends join the list too…
  • Individual thoughts on tracks appear further below, and, as always, feel free to share

back tomorrow with more but for now it’s time to listen to…

Bring on Your Wrecking Ball: a best of 2012 playlist

Click on one of the two playlists below
(ordered from bottom to top (countdown style) or top to bottom)

Top 111 (Countdown Style)             Top 111 (from top to bottom)

(note: four tracks are only available via YouTube, click here).

Two notes about this track/playlist:

Thematic: At the end of the day I believe we turn to art and music to inspire, excite, console, relate, re-energize and even to escape. Although I tend to find lots of joy in somber and reflective songs, in compiling this list, I found myself drawn towards upbeat songs both in tempo and sentiment (in other words, lots of songs for dancing). However, the songs on this list span a gamut of styles, emotions, continents, and traditions, but such are our experiences.

Organizational: I devised a rule for myself that I could not repeat any artists even if they recorded multiple songs that would have been in my top 100 (or 111 as the case may be). But, then this list is somewhat disingenuous, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. I could easily have included multiple tracks by Frank Ocean, Japandroids, Of Monsters and Men, but then you might not hear some of the other songs and artists who struck a chord (pun only partially intended). In all fairness, the ranking are arbitrary at certain points, except towards the top where there were clear cut favorites. Mostly this captures which songs and artists resonated in my consciousness.

I hope you’ll discover some things you’ve never heard.  (You can purchase tracks hereeMusic or Insound.)

  1. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Same Love” – Stunning in its simplicity and power; brings tears to my eyes every time
  2. Japandroids “The House That Heaven Built” – the anthem for those who have ever been told to stop following your heart and your passions, feel free to tell them all to [fill in the blank]
  3. Chromatics “Kill For Love” – hits the perfect intersection of Goth-y guitar rock with post-punk/new wave sensibilities
  4. Bobby Womack “Please Forgive My Heart” – a soul song engineered for the electronic age; a perfect fusion of heartache, spaces, and aural tension
  5. Sharon Van Etten “Serpents” – like the rhythm, this song sinks into your body and mind with its emotional rawness; feels like this decade’s “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  6. Cloud Nothings “Stay Useless” – a Zen slacker anthem for all to take to heart, and get it beating
  7. Dum Dum Girls “Season In Hell” – dreamy dance pop with a wry sense of humor (aka the female version of the Smiths and the Cure)
  8. Frank Ocean “Pilot Jones” – tough call with Frankie Ocean but this track shows how he can deconstruct R&B with surgeon-like precision and unearth even more genius (also genius = “Pyramids” & “Thinkin’ Bout You”)
  9. Of Monsters and Men “Mountain Sound” – unbridled mirth and joy from Iceland; this song just makes me want to let go with total abandon
  10. First Aid Kit “Emmylou” – a haunting, pining love song with staying power and emotional depth
  11. Shearwater “Animal Life” – sweeping, stirring, stentorian and spiritually arousing
  12. Kelly Hogan “Haunted” – another difficult choice with so many great songs (and songwriters) on this record (the S.Merritt penned “Plant White Roses” or the glorious Kelly wail on “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain”), but I chose this because of the message of optimism and inspiration from one of the sweetest voices in the business
  13. Miguel “Adorn” – was there a more sultry and seductive song all year? Think not
  14. Ellie Goulding “Anything Could Happen” – the next five songs are all songs that get you dancing and grooving, put on those red shoes and dance boys and girls
  15. How To Dress Well “&It Was U” – an MJ sensibility stripped down to its most basic components
  16. Grimes “Vowels = Space and Time” – the e.e. cummings of artsy electronica
  17. Purity Ring “Ungirthed” – the bass drop on this track is just sick
  18. Chairlift “I Belong In Your Arms” – the 80s child loves this infectious rhythm
  19. Kendrick Lamar “Backseat Free Style” – explicit language but Kendrick manages to find the perfect way to let his rhymes dominate with beat & rhythm as backdrop; a welcome change of pace in a hip-hop landscape dominated by style over substance
  20. Father John Misty “Nancy From Now On” – a magical mystery trip to Hollywoodland via a Kerouac-like appreciation for serendipity; one of my favorite songwriting discoveries in a long time. (Other favorites “Hollywood Forever Cemetery”, “Tee Pees 1-12”)
  21. The Very Best “We Ok” – a joyous life affirming reminder to keep perspective
  22. Beck (x Philip Glass) “NYC ’73-’78” – this 20 minute adventure by Beck through countless Glass compositions requires steady and repeated listens; absolute genius
  23. Lord Huron “Time To Run” – in the words of Calvin*, “let’s go exploring”. *(cartoon not predestination guy)
  24. Perfume Genius “Hood” – haunting reflection on our imperfect (inner) nature
  25. The Tallest Man on Earth “Revelation Blues”some times its just roses dying to young; bittersweet epiphany and nostalgia; love me some beautiful melancholy
  26. Sean Rowe “Signs” – there are roads, years, and heartache in every note of Sean’s voice and yet an overwhelming sense of possibility; as a good friend said, “this is what I want to feel the rest of my life”
  27. David Byrne & St. Vincent “The Optimist” – like walking through a city after the rain has cleared all the dirt away; annie clark sings like an angel
  28. Alabama Shakes “Be Mine” – Brittany Howard is an amazing singer and to me this song displays the depth and range of her gloriously rich, soothing, and heartachingly brilliant vocals
  29. Niki & the Dove “Somebody” – two back-to-back tracks of unapologetic 80s inspired indie-dance; hints of Prince
  30. Tanlines “All of Me” – hints of Yaz/early Depeche Mode
  31. Regina Spektor “Don’t’ Leave Me . . . “ – she is so good at bridging the world of old school musical traditions with a modern sensibility… I like Paris in the rain, who doesn’t?
  32. Cat Power “Ruin” – yes, it’s possible to write an artful polemic on the self-obsessed, narrow-minded perspective of our culture while also holding yourself accountable; Chan Marshall can spear yet please with a song
  33. Daughter “Landfill” – the brutal honesty of this song destroys me; the central metaphor is something I think folks can easily relate to
  34. Norah Jones “She’s 22”—along with Daughter’s “Landfill” the most acerbically beautiful song of the year
  35. Sleigh Bells “Crush” – every time I hear this song I get the image of a hard core roller derby match with the participants clad in 50s attire. Mad Max Wo/Men on wheels? Anyone else? Sleigh Bells have a unique ability to thrash and harmonize.
  36. Stars “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” – these Canadians know how to craft a heartfelt, sincere pop song with a mantra we should all live by.
  37. alt-J “Fitzpleasures” – Cambridge boys who aren’t afraid to break traditional forms, combining heavy bass drops and blissed out guitar rock
  38. Beach House “The Hours” – dream-inducing brilliant pop music; is it the allusion to Michael Cunningham’s novel or just something about the mysterious wafting rhythms? Whatever it is I get lost in this song
  39. Kishi Bashi “Bright Whites” – pleasant bopping 60s pop that still makes me smile
  40. Jessie Ware “Wildest Moments” – stunning, sleek, sultry retro R&B with an Annie Lennox like bravado
  41. THEESatisfaction “QueenS”—if you aren’t groovin’ to this song, something has gotta give
  42. Kuhrye-oo “Give In (for the Fame)” – dreamy downtempo grooves
  43. Andrew Bird “Orpheo Looks Back” – few artists can work across musical genres with the simplicity and mastery of Andrew Bird; this is a straight up hoe-down for your enjoyment
  44. Odd Future “Oldie” – a nine minute old school free-style
  45. Adam Arcuragi “Oh I See” – difficult to pick one song but the live version of this was one of the most pure moments of joy I experienced all year
  46. Bat For Lashes “All Your Gold” – Natasha Khan’s voice is mesmerizing and disarming all at once
  47. Usher “Climax” – only Miguel put together a sexier groove all year
  48. Now, Now “Prehistoric” – lo-fi female fronted guitar brilliance
  49. Drop Electric “Empire Thrashed” – one of my favorite discoveries; an amazingly varied and talented set of musicians from DC who make epic soundscapes in the GSYBE and Sigur Ros vein; keep an eye out!
  50. Bob Dylan “Soon After Midnight” – in his 8th decade on this world, Dylan is still the poet laureate of the hopelessly romantic; a stunningly beautiful love song from one of the greatest. I mean who wouldn’t want to have their lover write the following: “It’s soon after midnight and I’ve got a date with the fairy queen.” (Queen Elizabeth I certainly did.)
  51. GenerationalsLucky Numbers” – best geeky dance song you didn’t hear on the radio
  52. Patrick Watson “Into Giants”started out as lovers don’t know where it’s gonna end
  53. Bomba Estéreo “El Alma Y El Cuerpo” – sultry rhythms fresh from the streets of Colombia
  54. Julia Holter “In the Same Room” – a david lynch baroque pop song
  55. Love on A Real Train “Strike Up Your Matches” – Joachim Cooder (son of Ry)’s brilliant fusion Incan rhythms and electronics
  56. Frankie Rose “Know Me” – dance-y dream indie pop
  57. Lampchop “Gone Tomorrow” – Nashville’s finest alt-country band goes Gershwin
  58. Tomas Barford “November Skies“—for those who like to meditate and groove out
  59. Rhye “Open” – reminds me of a Sade’s raw R&B style
  60. Calexcio “Fortune Teller”I’m on the road to finer things
  61. Titus Andronicus “Ecce Homo” – an existentialist anthem, I know it’s more than just being born
  62. Santigold “This Isn’t Our Parade” – slow burn brilliance
  63. Nas (feat. Mary J. Blige) “Reach Out” – old school Nas and Mary J at their best; it’s like ’95 in the house.
  64. Robert Glasper Experiment “Always Shine” – so many great groves from this project
  65. Lost In the Trees “Red“—sprawling and majestic; talented musicians not to be missed
  66. La Sera “Please Be My Third Eye” – Katy Goodman’s surfy-dream pop makes me smile
  67. Twin Shadow “Five Seconds” – thoughts of james dean run through my head every time
  68. Mynabirds “Disarm” – also check out their shoot ’em up rock out genius on “Generals”
  69. Jens Lekman “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder” – variations on the same theme with a different take; comedy here and despondency below; both work brilliantly
  70. Gotye “Somebody That I Use To Know
  71. Passion Pit “It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy” – the ability to cut through all the challenges and hurdles the world sends you and still stand and appreciate the good and the bad
  72. Hot Chip “Motion Sickness“—if Hot Chip can’t get you on the dance floor, there isn’t any hope Not even Obi Wan can help you now.
  73. Baroness “Take Your Bones Away” – metal never sounded so pleasant (to me)
  74. Lavender Diamond “I Don’t Recall” – Becky’s vocals are dreamy and soothing
  75. Mumford and Sons “I Will Wait” – adore their musicianship on this piece; yes very maudlin but it’s their thing
  76. Best Coast “How They Want Me to Be” – an us against the world love song
  77. Jack White “Hip (Eponymous) Boy” – ah, like an early White Stripes song!!!
  78. Lee Field & The Expressions “Still Hangin’ On” – An old school soul crooner pining for his ex-lover; bitterness rarely sounds so sweet; Lee & crew provided one of the best outdoor dance parties this summer
  79. Solange “Losing You” – what follows is a series of over the top poppy dance songs; absolutely no shame in letting go to a good dance/pop song
  80. Sky Ferreira “Everything Is Embarrassing
  81. Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe
  82. Icona Pop “I Love It
  83. Chad Valley “My Girl
  84. The Shins “Simple Song” – it’s no “New Slang” but darn if he isn’t a talented song-writer
  85. Eternal Summers “Millions” – my other soft spot: female fronted shoegazer tinged guitar pop
  86. Patti Smith “April Fool” – the only fools in the room are those that haven’t ever listened to Patti Smith
  87. Allo Darlin “Capricornia” – pleasant indie-pop built for dancing fearlessly around the room/office
  88. Astro “Panda” – electro pop from Chile
  89. Tennis “Origins” – this husband and wife duo make dreamy dub infused pop
  90. Sainte Etienne “Tonight” – twenty years later and still making amazing dance music
  91. Sauti Sol “Soma Kijana” – a track that pours forth sunshine and joy perfect to warm these cold winter months
  92. Dan Deacon “True Thrash“—a midi genius, looper extraordinaire that will get you moving
  93. DIIV “Doused” – shoegazer, lo-fi, goth rock at its finest
  94. Bruce Springsteen “Wrecking Ball” – although the record underwhelmed me, this track really resonates in terms of the challenges we face and how we handle them; the Boss is no stranger to stirring a groundswell of sentiment
  95. R.Kelly “Feelin’ Single” – his personal life aside, R knows how to groove and soothe
  96. Caitlin Glennon “Cut You Loose” – this track just gets me boppin’
  97. Lucius “Don’t Just Sit There” – yup dreamy, lo-fi pop x 3 to follow, it’s a thing for me; these vocals just make me happy
  98. Pure Bathing Culture “Lucky One”
  99. Seapony “Follow
  100. Liars “No. 1 Against the Rush” – one of the stranger yet more pleasing songs of the year
  101. Taken by Trees “Dreams” – title says it all
  102. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Baby“—”cover” of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s rediscovered ’79 home release
  103. Hundred Waters “Visitor” – after seeing them perform this live I had it stuck in my head for days
  104. Martha Wainwright “Can You Believe It?” – my favorite Wainwright far and away
  105. The Walkmen “Song For Leigh“—few bands manage to find a wider range in a limited universe than these guys
  106. Hospitality “Eighth Avenue” – pleasant baroque indie pop
  107. Sarah Jaffe “Glorified High
  108. The Magnetic Fields “Your Girlfriend’s Face” – always a witty, dark comedy element to what they do
  109. Collen Green “Nice Boy (I Wanna)” – lo-fi garage punk rock, more please
  110. The xx “Angels” – when they hit their spot, its unlike anyone, dark yet sensual
  111. fun. “Carry On” – my guilty pleasure of the year, this song has Billy Joel, REO Speedwagon, and Rod Stewart chords and allusions all over it; and yet…

no mas. for now. 😉

a.a.

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