It’s been a wonderful year and I don’t know how to even talk about it in a way that isn’t neurotically structured around lists. Here are my informal reasons behind my favourite things. Merry Christmas!
Another wonderful tongue-in-cheek cut and paste job by the wonderful Books craftsman. Zammuto is jollily demented, electronic music never short of fun and never over-stretching its ideas. Nick Zammuto has always had a knack for modulating the outreaches into something we can all get down to, and from this outing that almost feels like the point of his new project.
The Welcome Wagon
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
Direct songs from Christian to God, but it’s not like the word can’t translate.
Life Is People
What’s so satisfying about listening to Fay’s album is how it doesn’t dispel the mythic rock history surrounding it. His first solo record in forty years, after being chewed out by an industry that took its liberty to take up every musician and then dump them, is a spectacle of sorts, something of a comeback overwrought with the emotion of being able to make music again. It fully deserves the story that comes with it, although really what’s best about Life is People is in the acoustics, emptying rooms and lighting them up. Fay’s piano-playing, in particular, needs little else but the space around it, as heard in his masterful cover of Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.”
A free pass to drink and smoke until you don’t want to anymore. If you get the chance to see this band live, take it. If they disappoint you, go again. Things can change.
For me, Laurel Halo’s ‘Quarantine’ is a sequel to ‘ISAM’, perhaps not in the motivations of those behind the records or even in sound, but in what it did for me this year: it was a cut-up, disorientating mash-up of different ways of making electronica, put back together sounding the synthetic masterpiece it is. I said last year that I wanted to own ‘ISAM’ on record but worried I’d get weird glances and disturb all my housemates- it took me a year to finally pick it up. Let’s hope Laurel Halo gets her dues quicker.
Cancer 4 Cure
He’s had an amazing year, but his own album comes from a dark, dark place. But El-P always punches up at the end, and let’s not forget that sublime finale to “Drones Over BKLYN.” He’s doing it.
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Apple’s record runs like creaky clockwork from start to finish, and even in its purest moments, like the startling “Werewolf,” it laments too much to crystallise. ‘Idler Wheel’ definitely has a learning curve- separating the song’s sound from its intention- but its creaks enveloped me as the year went on.
Good lay on the floor with a hundred trains and changes ahead of you delay music. I imagine even better to dance to. Only time will tell.
The Money Store
‘The Money Store’, Reaction: “listening to the money store for the first time expect warped tweeted reactions / get got is brilliant and sublime, the fever is not / blackjack is kind of boring my mind trailed off because i don’t deal well with musical confrontation / these little chorus lines on hustle bones are the exact kind of thing i start dancing my shoulders weirdly to / i think i own the casio keyboard these guys used / god death grips is fantastic why was i so snooty / i imagine my inner conflict about whether or not to like music that talks about bad things will get to me when i look up the lyrics / but the money store is a chilling thrill ride for now / the money store is an arbitrary 4.5/5” [sic]
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
A part of me feels really queasy about getting new music from a band as formative of my music taste as Godspeed. It’s more heart-wrenching than heart-breaking, which is a good thing, and so I don’t feel the same way I do about this as say, every Robert Pollard solo album and the three new GBV records that ripped me to shreds when they shouldn’t have. But there’s something about this band that feels monumentally stuck in my own history for me, as I imagine is how a lot of their young fans feel: remember hearing “Storm,” for the first time? (Aside: Remember hearing post-rock for the first time?!?!?!?) Thankfully what Allelujah! does is amend those feelings, update them for a present spectacle: it’s not that it sounds like a Godspeed record because it’s “political”- and a lot of people will tell you that, even though the only lines that jump out are ambiguous and hectic- it’s that it evokes the giant of your record collection or musical past, and so as I wisely blasted this out for the first time it felt like a fitting experience, and a valuable reason to have this band back in my present.
Really? ‘Visions’ is like an illusion, sounding and appearing so full of life, and never letting up on being the abstract pop album it aspires to be. I don’t know how to talk about Grimes. Her music floors me.
Rekindled my love of tempermental skramz; did one better by being an immersing, tightly structured record that had the lyric “don’t cry for me, I’m already dead.” There’s a line in Othello about a drinker…
The Mountain Goats
This was my first experience with The Mountain Goats, and it latched onto me knowingly, the conglomerate of my brasher folk favourites and the night-time Baroque sensibilities of ‘Illinois’; when I tried to explain it, I explained it as Andrew Jackson Jihad meets Sufjan, and I still think that has its place. Whatever the case, Darnelle’s lyrics are at their best when at loss for a definition of himself: “I am just a broken machine/ and I do things that I don’t really mean.”
The Something Rain
For maudlin days and the personification of your annoyingly dim desk light.
My favourite memory of this year is singing along to the hook in “Destiny” as an entire crowd of dance enthusiasts gradually came to know my obnoxiousness.
Menomena have never written a record like ‘Moms’, which isn’t to say it’s one more earnest, or more simple, than what came before- less pragmatic, maybe, and less obsessed with the democracy that surrounded Knopf’s Deeler software. What ‘Moms’ really seems to be is more of shared experience than Menomena ever was as the straight-up democracy, and it shows in every corner of the record, right down to the liner notes, in which the fathers of Seim and Harris are photographed together in one of the most bizarre family portraits you’ll ever see. As a song-writing duo, Menomena seem more in step than ever, writing pop bulletins with more pulsing underneath them than ever. “Plumage” is easily the song of the year. But “One Horse,” so cinematic it could usher in a genre of ambient western, is where Menomena hits its artistic stride.
All We Love We Leave Behind
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to get into a Converge record, so what this record does best is refresh my memory of what I saw in this band in Jane Doe and You Fail Me: it’s a brutally fast record at times, but more meditatively written stuff than Axe To Fall- everything falls into place beautifully. Excuse me while I apply for a place in the PM’s cabinet as Secretary of Metalcore.
John K. Samson
The difference between a John K. Samson record and a Weakerthans record is that on Provincial a folk song can be footnoted with HTML code and Call of Duty, days wasted on Grand Theft Auto and online petitions. A winter log cabin setting can be evoked through the story of a day hard at work on computer programming. Samson’s landscape is more 21st century equivalent here and songs have this guilty crossover with life that almost sounds as if its been neglected through years of Weakerthans songs that dealt with the less tangible act of human hesitation. As if it wasn’t enough for Samson to write songs about hockey players now, he petitions them through song like his own slice of song aid, making reality go as far as it can in the eyes of Canada’s greatest songwriter. ‘Provincial’ is beautiful, and worthy to exist on its own, because it shows a side of Samson that is at one time sillier and at another very, very foreboding indeed.
Me and AnCo are never breaking up again, I promise you that much.
The Tallest Man On Earth
There’s No Leaving Now
Kristen Mattson could release the same album a hundred times and we would all have a different favourite- that is his joy, really. When you have a discussion with someone about this record they’ll have a different lyric to jump out at them, and really ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ plays its greatest strength when it wraps the complicated rural mysticism of Mattson’s more heady lyrics around a little, simple aphorism: there’s no leaving now, you always treat me like a stranger, thrown in just for me. These are the lines we’ll cherish forever.
Only six songs, none of them hers, and only a mixtape (yeah, I cheated. And what?). There’s even a moment where Haze, her honesty shining through like it’s an accident, refrains from singing high notes in “Bitch Bad” because it’s not what ‘Classick’ is about. Haze’s raps are so powerful it’s impossible not to see this as completely her own record, one built as a place for her own personal catharsis and a forum to lash out against what exactly is wrong with the genre Haze hasn’t got love or time for: she may be a declaration of hip-hop having nothing left to respect, but her mixtape makes for an exhilarating contradiction. “Bitch Bad,” “Doo Wop” and “Gossip Folks” all turn their source material on its head. Perfect.
Everyone probably expected this, I didn’t; Grizzly Bear have swept past me for four solid years, but on stage they came whole in front of me. I’ve said a lot of things about this record so it’s probably best I don’t say anymore: it’s pretty.
Clear Heart Full Eyes
‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’ is a religious album, in a lot of ways. Its characters are in a constant fight with Jesus wherever he turns up: the beach, for Jury Duty, at the side of a bar, or in your baseball team. They look skyward for something tangible, because on the ground they’re messy, overflowing people. In a way ‘Clear Heart’ links together more than any of the Hold Steady’s records; all of Finn’s wandering fools stare up, once more, into the sky, and use it in their own grand way.
All We Got Is Each Other
I’m fairly sure ‘All We Got Is Each Other’ will stay with me forever. I never tire of it, because it never stops being frank with me. I never stop playing it because it never loses any of its importance; Chris Clavin’s lyrics are as personal as they come, yes, but even in this heartwrenching open letter to his long-gone best friend, he seems to siren song as hard as Andrew Jackson Jihad would. Here, he says, was a lost cause, because you assumed it as such. In the liner notes for ‘All We Got’, Clavin notes that if you have a friend with mental health problems all you can do is be there for them, even though you will never understand. ‘All We Got’ is a beautiful testament to that, and to friendship, and proves, to me, that there’s nothing more powerful in the world than a folk-punk album that’s straight with itself.
In its last breath, ‘All We Got’ is an album rejoicing in the community it spends its whole lifespan searching for. “All Punks Got,” written by the subject of the album herself, is so significant in a way I can imagine going long beyond this album. Its gang vocals are a rare indulgence for Ghost Mice, so strictly an acoustic duo, but they pile the point on heavy: life needs others, and so did Clavin’s friend. I can imagine this little song being covered a hundred times over in the punk community- “all we got is, all punks got is eachother” is as simple and mutually understood a lyric as it comes, and it cuts through one of the saddest albums I’ve heard to give the year its most defiant moment.
I honestly don’t know what to say about ‘Devotion’. It has a funny outlook on love, for sure, one in which it’s all deep craters and getaways, a love that’s always pulsing. It’s one that’s highly idealsitic, maybe, in that this is a pop album, one compactly produced between Jessie Ware’s three colleagues, her voice layered in such a way that she’s chanting love missives from far away, saying forget it as she echoes off the walls on “Swan Song” or knowing it’s never enough on beat-up piano ballad “Taking In Water.” Because ‘Devotion’ is always epic, and always epic about love, but an album so completely resigned to its lousy hang-ups. Our very own Adam Downer saw it as an album of abusive relationships, and while Ware never neccessarily makes her characters sound bruised and defeated on ‘Devotion’, they never give love less than their all.
I love how distanced ‘Devotion’ can sound. It never becomes detached; Ware is never some far-off narrator, but these songs sound aware of the life sucks, yeah philosophy as much as they sound attached to the one. When I saw her live, Ware noted (aside from, you know, telling me she loved me), that “Wildest Moments” was written about someone she loved who drove her insane. Admittedly she was talking about a friend, but it speaks to ‘Devotion’ having a fascinating split personality: “we could be the greatest/ we could be the worst of all” is like a mission statement for the whole album, one that can’t be anymore gorgeous than it can ruinous. I like to think ‘Devotion’ will be held up as a classic of pop music in years to come, but right now I just know that twelve more songs about love can’t hurt. By which I mean, they totally can.
My 2012 Playlist:
- Killer M.I.K.E – Reagan
- Grimes – Genesis
- Grizzly Bear – Gun-Shy
- Loops of Your Heart – Little You, You Should Develop
- John Talabot – When The Past was Present
- Lotus Plaza – Monoliths
- How To Dress Well – & It Was U
- Menomena – Plumage
- Tindersticks – This Fire Of Autumn
- mewithoutYou – All Circles
- Chromatics – Into The Black
- Cate le Bon – Ploughing Out Pts 1 & 2
- CityCop. – Bluebird
- Dustin Wong – Space Tunnel Graffiti
- Aesop Rock – ZZZ Top
- Maps & Atlases – Remote & Dark Years
- Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
Favourite Live Shows This Year
- P4K Fest Paris
- Animal Collective
- Tallest Man On Earth
- James Blake
- Grizzly Bear
- Jessie Ware
- How To Dress Well
- Cloud Nothings
- John Talabot
- Hop Farm
- Frightened Rabbit
- Peter Gabriel
- Damien Rice
- Tallest Man On Earth
- Lianne La Havas
- Ray Davies
- Patti Smith
- Jose Gonzalez
- Definitely not Bob Dylan
- Maps & Atlases
- Frank Turner
- Little Comets
- Shabazz Palaces
- The general assumption that Boris will be excellent
Favourite articles about music written by geeky music fans I admire:
- ‘What Is It About Boy Bands?’ by Maura Johnston http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/opinion/sunday/what-is-it-with-boy-bands-like-one-direction.html
- Literally everything Will Sheff has written, ever, compiled. http://www.willsheff.com
- The painful, but absolutely worth it rebirth of Cokemachineglow.
- Anything Lindsay Zoladz has written this year.
- This piece on Spiritualized, because it was thought-provoking at least. http://www.collapseboard.com/reviews/albums-reviews/spiritualized-sweet-heart-sweet-light-fat-possum/
- This thing Rudy wrote about The Killers. http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/51879/The-Killers-Battle-Born/
- ‘Free Pizza For Life! The Early Days of Plan-It-X Records’ http://planitxrecords.bigcartel.com/product/free-pizza-for-life-the-book-pre-order
My non-2012 life:
- Missy Elliott – Miss E… So Addictive
- Exuma I
- Neil Young – everything, because I’d only ever had After the Gold Rush and everything else is so wonderful except “Stupid Girl” which is the one bad song he has written.
- THE FUTURE; that one new song by Blue Hawaii from their record primed for release next year. So excited.
Opinions on iTunes 11:
- It’s okay.
People I expect to read this:
- Adrian, maybe.