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12.02.13 Lucid 2013 01.20.13 Ali's Top 100 Albums
12.31.12 Ali's Favorite Shows Of 2012 09.30.12 Top Songs Of 2012
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Ali's Favorite Shows Of 2012

These are the best shows I saw in 2012. Somehow all of these were either at the two festivals I attended this year, Coachella and FYF Fest, or at my favorite venue in LA, The Troubadour. Happy new year, sputnik.
20Manchester Orchestra
Mean Everything to Nothing

Manchester Orchestra at Coachella: This was the best band whose sound I stumbled upon accidently at Coachella; the anthemic power of their live set drew me in while I was exploring the fields, and I had to stop to let them command my full attention. Although I've never been a big fan of their studio albums, their sound translated surprisingly well live. I've Got Friends was both grand and personal, the clear highlight of the set for me, exactly the kind of rush I needed at 3pm while anticipating more favored acts.
19Joyce Manor
Joyce Manor

Joyce Manor at FYF Fest: Another case of a band that doesn't rank among my favorites but nevertheless surprising me with their live performance. Joyce Manor's brand of hooky, lyric-driven punk rock brought about a furious moshpit of flailing, impassioned fans, seemingly hanging on to every word like it was scripture. What made me grin a few feet behind was that I could tell that this was "their band," the one whose words hit some personal understanding that drives physical flurry like nothing else. So I watched them share this moment, reminded of what Titus Andronicus made me feel as I lived their set a year back.
18The Field
Looping State of Mind

The Field at FYF Fest: I was initially disappointed with this set: the first quarter hour validated the main criticism of all of Axel Willner's detractors: "Just a dance beat looped over and over ad nauseam!" I grew frustrated and gave up, leaving for Atlas Sound in hope for more engagement. But I ended up returning to The Field in an altered state of mind and somehow everything clicked: the trippy drum programming, the orbiting synths, the dynamic layering of sound - it was all blissful as I was laying on the grass absorbing it all. The takeoff was tedious but the flight was tantalizing; giving Willner another chance was my best decision of the weekend.
17Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Bon Iver at Coachella: Billed right before Radiohead, I knew Justin Vernon would be putting a lot of thought into upgrading his live set to that of a main-stage act, but I never expected Perth to be quite so climactic and powerful: the drum crash after the opening chord ascend rang wide across the festival ground, abolishing any doubts that Vernon couldn't recreate the full-band sound of his sophomore release. The sink into Holocene was fluid and natural, the realm Vernon is more recognized for, making it no less stirring than the festival-sized opener. I felt guilty leaving his set before it was even half-finished, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor was calling; witnessing a complete Bon Iver set is something I'm hoping for in the future.
16Laura Stevenson and the Cans
Sit Resist

Laura Stevenson and the Cans at The Troubadour: Touring with Andrew Jackson Jihad was a wonderful idea, as this woman and her cans deserve more attention for their sweet, poignant take on indie-rock. The set was pretty good - nothing that blew me away other than Master of Art. That song was just sublime; Stevenson's vocals in the latter half had me hitting the repeat button all of last year, and somehow were even more amazing live than on record. That song alone made me glad I managed to see this act live.
Axe to Fall

Converge at FYF Fest: Of the bands that I experienced for the first time at FYF Fest, Converge are the ones that I've been anticipating the longest: Jane Doe has been my favorite metal/hardcore album for years, harboring an intensity of emotion that I've yet to see matched in these genres. So when I recognized the title track as the opener I was ecstatic: it was epic and enveloping, recreated with the same droning sensation as the studio recording. They then launched into Dark Horse, which was furious and chaotic, just as I anticipated. Unfortunately, I forgot that I am in a small body and got completely wrecked in the front of the pit, leaving with broken frames in disappointment. Looking back now I find it laughably admirable how fast Converge destroyed me, so hey, I'll be less of a fool next time I see them.

Destroyer at Coachella: Nothing seemed better than starting the day off with a Destroyer set a little past noon, so I lounged on the grass waiting for Dan Bejar to caress my ears with his dreamy soft-rock. He did just that, gliding through the first half of Kaputt in delightful reverie. The festival slot seemed perfect for him, as I couldn't imagine any passerby not stopping in his tracks to hear more of Destroyer's seductive sounds. I left before it was over to catch a (pretty lame) Azealia Banks set; seeing Bejar do his thing in a venue is on my wishlist.
13Gold Panda
Lucky Shiner

Gold Panda at FYF Fest: As the last act of the festival weekend, Gold Panda delivered the dance-jolt I needed to drain all my remaining energy. Gold Panda belongs to a movement of "organic" electronic music that also involves other favorites, namely Caribou and Four Tet. I left a Beirut headliner to catch this set from the start (all of Beirut's songs sound the same so I knew I wasn't missing much, plus I got bored); that was a crucial decision, as You is a classic example of how to do an opener. I was surprised at how forcefully danceable the set was, as the beats were propulsive and the warm melodies infectious. So I lost myself in movement as the nostalgic tones had my mind brimming with gleeful memories - perhaps the most magnificent aspect of Gold Panda's sound is the suggestion of forms of love in the song titles (Marriage, Parents, You) which are then fulfilled through the melodies of his dance-oriented music. Overall, it was the combination of time, place and intention that made this set easily one of my favorites of the year.
12Nicolas Jaar
Space Is Only Noise

Nicolas Jaar at FYF Fest: I was worried given Nicolas Jaar's fresh popularity and inexperience that his set would be amateurish, but all my fears were dispelled with a jaw-dropping 10-minute intro that, to these ears, sounded like the best electronic production heard live: his synthesizers created the most fluid, naturalistic imagery, leaving impressions of waterfalls cascading over rocks and quakes pulsating the Earth's surface. His presentation of an environmental palette through electronic sound impressed immensely - the intro also served as an act of subtle arrogance, confirming the fact that he is one of the best producers in the current scene. Of the songs he played, Why Didn't You Save Me stirred the most, a song that displays his technical prowess and a rare case of emotional appeal (he tends to prefer unemotive expressions in his work). You'd be advised to keep your eye on Jaar in the coming years.
11Future Islands
In Evening Air

Future Islands at FYF Fest: Future Islands' combination of a snarling, gruff-voiced frontman with energetic dance rhythms and cyclic melodies yields them a sound wholly theirs, so naturally I anticipated their performance to see what they could deliver. Most striking was Samuel Herring's passionate, slightly crazed performance, spitting out words with the fervor of a preacher yet projecting a masculine vulnerability that adds a warm appeal to his histrionics. It was very much an internal breakdown on the dancefloor, thoughts of love and regrets swirling with the persistent beats. I bought it all.
10St. Vincent
Strange Mercy

St. Vincent at Coachella: I went into this performance with an impression that I hoped Annie Clark could reproduce: the combination of feminine sentiment with deranged guitarwork and noise indicating something darker below the pretty exterior. When I listen to her music, I imagine a housewife taking a break from meticulously arranging the family dinner in order to gulp down more Xanax pills. For all expectations, I got what I wanted: Clark interjected the letter-chanting chorus of Marrow with sharp, caustic guitarwork; she followed the sung title of Cruel with a punchy, gloriously ugly guitar solo. Experiencing the noise of her true shred guitar was magnificent, and had me grinning like an idiot. Praise St. Vincent.
At Home With Owen

Owen at The Troubadour: Mike Kinsella has been my posterboy for introspective folk for quite a while, delivering music that is deliberated, light on the ears, and astoundingly lyrical. This venue set was comprised of fan classics, hearty dialogue with members of the audience, and an atmosphere of intimacy and rumination. I kicked myself for missing most of Windows and Doorways, but A Bird In Your Hand mostly made up for it: one memorable moment was Kinsella amusingly changing the final lyric in the bridge to: "When I get drunk and puke on your shoes, I mean it." I left the venue feeling satisfied and uplifted - there were no revelations, but plenty of smiles and enduring good vibes.
8Andrew Jackson Jihad
Knife Man

Andrew Jackson Jihad at The Troubadour: This set was too damn fun: thrashing around to exhilarated acoustics, shouting along to the tragic comedy lyricism, sharing the communal experience. Life is laughable and irrational, the universe is (probably) one big fucking joke, all we really got is each other - Andrew Jackson Jihad get it all. So we found solace in yelling "I'm happy that you're happier than me!" and other self-deprecating slogans, rushing together through a 25+ song setlist culminating in a guitar wall-of-sound to Big Bird (Laura Stevenson coming onstage as well). It was a huge bummer.
Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

WU LYF at Coachella: This band always gave the impression of being outliers, an enigmatic tribe pursuing their own vision of rock music outside the categorizations we'd love to sort them into. Their music is motivated by the desire for the visceral, yelps and howls in the place of ordinary expression, so their live act bears the weight of delivering such an aesthetic. Well, it did: WU LYF are a tremendous live act (should I saw were? R.I.P.), pounding through their anthems as if they're tapping into something profoundly spiritual, inducing the crowd to dance, yell, anything to match the spirit of the music. The highlight for me was clearly We Bros: the vocalist introduced it hilariously with the remark: "this song is about... arrrrggh muscles! *double bicep pose*" I remember best how freeing it was to chant and thrash around in the pit, grasping the philosophy of WU LYF in the mutual experience. Theirs is a manifesto that advocates individualism and catharsis without defining either, leaving it all to be felt in the clasp of the moment.
6William Fitzsimmons

William Fitzsimmons at The Troubadour: William Fitzsimmons' first few releases were simple, melancholic folk records driven by a pathos that had me playing them hours deep into the night, basking in pensive reflection. His latter work marked an active attempt at a happier mindset, but was met by the fan reaction that he's better at being sad. I was part of this camp until provoked by the thoughts Fitzsimmons shared between songs, discomforting revelations regarding the functional mental disorders he grapples with and the realization that his music is contributing to them. It was as much a lifestyle choice as an artistic decision to steer his songwriting towards optimistic experience; in this light, I appreciated the new songs for what they represent rather than their admittedly timid nature. Is it fair to expect musicians to wallow in grief in order to produce better art? I mused over this question as I witnessed an artist bare more onstage than my guard expected, bringing to understanding the personal experience behind his work. Past the performance, the lyric that lingered on was a chorus that I didn't previously comprehend the weight of: "Why do I always feel like I'm waiting to begin?"
5Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Jeff Mangum at Coachella: I'm not sure how much of a problem it is that Jeff Mangum delivered a deadpan performance that bordered on laziness yet still devastated with sublime lyrical imagery, but that's exactly what I am holding up as one of the most memorable sets of the year. This reunion tour is a demonstration of a piece of music growing far larger than its creator could ever be, ingraining meanings in the hearts of listeners independent of anything the artist aims to reproduce in person. All that was required were the folk strums of Mangum's guitar and the stream-of-consciousness lyricism - surreal pieces of life that are sad, joyful, romantic, spiritual and anything else - to resonate in harmony with the images of my mind, eyes closed in rumination to the sound waves emanating from the stage. The coda of Holland, 1945, with its juxtaposition of family and the world's bizarre cruelty, had my tears rolling in streams, hitting a chord with words that have gutted me for years. So I left the set not concerned with the performance but rather the profound nature of the content, with the understanding that I'm still discovering the extent of the power that live music can enclose.
4Godspeed You! Black Emperor
F#A# (Infinity)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Coachella: In the midst of the colossal, apocalyptic sound of this feverishly-acclaimed instrumental act, I saw a couple sitting crouched with their limbs wrapped around another, heads buried protectively in the other's shoulder, weathering the storm in a terminal embrace. It is a dramatic image that has stayed with me due to its implications of Godspeed's command, that they conjure powerful depictions of the end of the world that are imbued with grave beauty and awe in destruction. These movements are driven by loud dissonance, building from silence to towering heights of cacophony, only to disband in amorphous resolution. It takes a truly special band to create music of this grandeur, lingering in the memory past the last elongated drone into nothingness.
3James Blake
James Blake

James Blake at FYF Fest: Anyone who has conversed with me about music is aware of my deep connection with James Blake's work, but it is nevertheless difficult for me to articulate the extent to which it captures my private sense of self. His perspective and expressions in taking in life so closely resemble my own that I am left in disbelief, listening as if the music is a projection of my inner experience. This was affirmed when I first witnessed him live last year in a venue set that evoked the complex, subdued emotions of his music, inducing my senses into brooding meditation. The Wilhelm Scream was the first song to make me cry live, trapping me in a moment of almost blinding introspection. I trusted that I'd have the same encounter as I crossed the fields to his festival set this past September, an expectancy that rang a little too true, as the setlist was nearly identical. Still I sublimated into the moods that encased me previously, wallowing in the undisclosed dread of Unluck, the tender empathy of Lindisfarne, the numbed realizations of Limit to Your Love. But it was The Wilhelm Scream that made me all I see, filtering my mind through time with unbounded scope, gliding through memories and desires with the most vivid clarity. I have the lingering sense that it is the song of my life; experiencing it in its truest form is nothing short of transcendence.
Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent

Refused at Coachella: I never saw it coming. I've listened to Refused's work countless times, sensing the passion but never being able to follow through with it to completion. When I saw that they've reunited after 10 years of absence and are headlining Coachella, I predicted it would be something memorable, maybe even amazing. The music can be described as hardcore punk driven by a heavily political ethos ("I've got a bone to pick with capitalism, and a few to break!"), but what they achieve in actuality is something far grander: an initiation of empowerment. I had no time to hesitate - the moment the first guitar chord was struck the crowd pushed forward to the pit, carrying me along with it. Limbs flailed and words were spat back as they were delivered - the intensity of the fans astonished me, followers who clearly were anxiously awaiting this reunion. So I surrendered to the intoxicating energy, receiving Refused's zeal and propelling it back at them in the crowd's flurry. I've talked about music instigating a raw, physical response, but this was like nothing else: it reverberated through me like a tremor and kept my mind a few swings behind my body, forcing charged and spontaneous movement, a complete loss to sound and its inductive power. My ego was destroyed, and New Noise hadn't even happened. New fucking Noise. More on that later...
The Shape of Punk to Come

Refused at FYF Fest: My second encounter with Refused saw me as a zealous advocate of their live show, eagerly anticipating another epiphany in the noise, dust and sweat of their pit. FYF Fest drew a much larger crowd for Refused as would be expected from an underground and punk-oriented festival, so I sensed this experience would be greater. The band managed to command with even more authority, playing with heightened urgency and aggression, triggering the most ecstatic chaos on the floor. It all built up to the moment that overwhelmed me back in April, the experience of New Noise. The definitive riff rang out as the militaristic drums initiated, and I waited with baited breath for the "CAN I SCREAM?!" challenge, one that the audience can only meet as rhetoric, because how can they not? How can I not? But in that scream some internal force took a hold of me, an empowerment that had my body reacting to the sound at its own accord, disassociating from my mind and thrashing around in free-form. It was the most unreal response I've ever had; it was the most elated I've ever felt. In those five minutes that New Noise dominated my senses I felt powerful beyond all measure, shouting into the night sky to the limits of my vocal cords, held by an intensity of presence that is beyond description. New Noise is the best song I've ever experienced live for these reasons, and solidified this show as the most memorable of 2012. Time to be. (
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