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The Best Music of 2012


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My list: I have a lot of listening to catch up on, and a lot of friends' records that came out this year that I haven't heard yet (I don't believe in Spotify, and most evenings lately Hugh just plays Anonymous 4 over and over again--it's pretty nice), but here are some favorites in random order:

Neneh Cherry & The Thing - The Cherry Thing

Mark Eitzel - Don't Be A Stranger

Mount Eerie - both new LPs

White Rainbow - new stuff on bandcamp

Hive Dwellers - Hewn From The Wilderness

The Evens - The Odds

Purple & Green - Music

Thee Satisfaction - awE naturalE

Naomi Punk - The Feeling

Earth - Angels of Darkness II

Most overrated (and underwritten): Frank Ocean (sorry, rest of universe)

Best live show:

TIE: Mark Eitzel at the Black Cat Backstage

TIE: O Paon during a thunderstorm, Anacortes in July

Honorable Mention: The Black Sparks

My list is 100% indie this year! Whaddya know!

Edited by Holy Moly!
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Could anyone explain to me Japandroids and Frank Ocean? They seem to be at the top of a lot of lists.

To my ears they are good (perhaps getting close to great on Ocean's case) but not exactly revelations. As far as the Japandroids go, I think I'd rather listen to Andrew W.K. And Ocean: it's bloated an meandering in a good way I guess.

Here's my hunch: musical tastes are spreading broader and broader every year. There is less and less crossover on critic's lists. Hence in places that feature numerous writers the albums that rise to the top are those that were more likely to find their way into a critic's listening device. Frank Ocean is a good example of this: Celebration Orange has a broadly appealing aesthetic. I think it has enough going for it that the indie kids and the R&B/hip-hop fans will find something to appreciate. Pool enough together and it rises in lists.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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My top ten:

1. Robert Glasper Experiment, "Black Radio"

2. Fred Hersch Trio, "Alive at the Vanguard"

3. Dwight Yoakam, "3 Pears"

4. Dr. John, "Locked Down"

5. The Bad Plus, "Made Possible"

6. Kelly Hogan, "I Like to Keep Myself in Pain"

7. Diana Krall, "Glad Rag Doll"

8. Jack White, "Blunderbuss"

9. Medeski Martin and Wood, "Free Magic"

10. Jon Cleary, "Occapella"

Edited by Josh Hurst

Partner in Cahoots

www.cahootsmag.com

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Could anyone explain to me Japandroids and Frank Ocean? They seem to be at the top of a lot of lists.

Certain entries on the year end list seem to be included just to increase a music critics hipster stock. I think it's as simple as that. I'm convinced people (and i mean critics too) often feel obligated to like stuff, depending on the way it's marketed or spun. Frank Ocean's album and the the very personal backstory is a case in point. I think there should be two lists at the end of the year, Albums I Was Suppose To Like (e.g. Swans, The Seer?) and Albums I Actually Listened To Regularly.

I see your Japandroids (which is indeed crap) and raise you Dylan's Tempest which is just grindingly awful.

And yet it's on everyone's list. I just wink-- yes, perhaps a little condescendingly-- because no matter how many lists it ends up on, I know that no one actually listens to that thing. ;)

Edited by Greg P

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I've listened to Tempest about once a week since it's release. I love it. No apology.

You sir, are either incredibly masochistic or possess feats of endurance that are simply beyond me. ;)

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I also really enjoy Dylan's Tempest, but then I also enjoy many of his least liked albums. He is easily the best music artist of all time in my humble opinion.

Edited by Justin Hanvey

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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I'm not ready to publish my full list yet, but what the heck, you're all family, so here are my top 2.

My favorite record of 2012.

Just listen to this.

And the close runner-up.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Two more that really deserve a listen before making any decision are

Wickerbird - The Crow Mother

and

Aaron Embry - Tiny Prayers (which sounds like a mashup of Elliott Smith and Willie Nelson)

some other mentions would be Smoke Fairies - Blood Speaks, and the psychedelic Stealing Sheep - Into the Diamond Sun. Some great sounds here.

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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I'm not ready to publish my full list yet, but what the heck, you're all family, so here are my top 2.

My favorite record of 2012.

Just listen to this.

And the close runner-up.

I'd never even heard of this one.

So far so good. (I wasn't doubting you. Just nodding my head in agreement.)

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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I just picked up this year's Richard Hawley album Standing at the Sky's Edge, and I think I'm finally a fan. One listen, and I'm in love with this sound.

Granted, it's a very different sound from his last record which won so many fans here; I'll revisit that one now and see if this album helps me appreciate that one more. That was one of those records I tried to get excited about out of respect for various opinions here, but it just never caught on.

Maybe I'm missing the big arena-filling rock sounds of Radiohead and U2. This made me realize how hungry I am for a sound that fills up my car until every window and door are vibrating. This is a big noise: fighter-jet guitars scorching the air in a big red sunset horizon of keyboards. It soars into the dreamy, veers into the abrasive, and is sometimes almost too serious-minded. But then comes "Blinded by Love," "Seek It," a sweet, comic gem of a song.

I'm glad I didn't publish a list yet. This is going to be on it when I do.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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FWIW, I enjoyed 2012's offerings a great deal. It was a wonderfully diverse year for music. I enjoyed albums made equally by men and women in a wide array of genres: country, alt-country/americana, bluegrass, indie pop, hip-hop, R&B, hip-hop, soul, jazz, indie, and rock.

As usual, these aren't necessarily the "best" albums of the year. They're simply a list of albums I enjoyed more than others. I do think they hold up as examples of excellence in music though.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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If I had to pick a second favorite music site (the favorite being all music of course), it would be PopMatters. I find them to be both fair in their reviews, less liable to fad, and wide in their coverage.

I also really like their list for Americana. It might have something to do with the fact that they really like Tift Merritt.

"It is scandalous for Christians to have an imagination starved for God." - Mark Filiatreau

I write occasionally at Unfamiliar Stars.

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Like every year, 2012 was filled with vapid music and great music. These are the albums that sounded great to me. I haven’t ranked them because, on any given day, #10 might ascend to #1. Besides, I always find it excruciatingly difficult, not to mention a tad ridiculous, to parse those factors that might make #6 slightly better than #7. Nevertheless, I’ve highlighted ten albums that I find slightly better than the rest. My rationale: I want to listen to them again and again. So these are the albums, in alphabetical order, that keep finding their way to my stereo speakers and iPod earbuds. I hope there’s something of value here for you.

Bill Fay – Life is People

Bill Fay recorded a couple of fine if unrecognized singer/songwriter albums in the early 1970s and then disappeared for 40 years. Now 63, he was coaxed out of retirement by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and emerged in 2012 with a batch of tunes that he’s culled over the intervening decades. These are songs that explore themes that most 63-year-olds (or 57-year-olds, for that matter) will understand all too well: wasted life, loss, human frailty, death, and grief. But they’re balanced by some achingly beautiful ruminations on healing, love, and spiritual redemption. Life is People is a lovely, literate, open-hearted, generous thing, full of rueful regret and surprisingly resilient hope, and it’s the best singer/songwriter album I heard this year.

Cody Chesnutt – Landing on a Hundred

Frank Ocean gets all the acclaim, but Cody Chesnutt released the best soul/R&B album I heard this year. Yes, he basically channels Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. Problem?

Donald Fagen – Sunken Condos

Fagen, chiefly because of his work in Steely Dan, is frequently accused of making icy, technically brilliant but soulless music. Those folks haven’t listened to Sunken Condos. This has all of the obvious merits of a Steely Dan album, but when he’s not being his usual cynically smart-ass self (and he’s a wonderfully cynical smart-ass), a lot of these songs sound like authentic cries of the heart.

Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

The granddaddys of post-rock return with their first album in 10 years, and they return with an album that consolidates all their strengths. The hallmarks of the genre – glacially slow, quiet buildups leading to ear-splitting epiphanies – are here, but Godspeed incorporates new sounds as well, particularly middle-eastern instrumentation and the most soothing drones you’ve ever heard on the mind-blowing 20-minute opener “Mladic.” You’ll float along blissfully until the guitars bludgeon you into submission.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Live From Alabama

Isbell has done just fine as a member of Drive-By Truckers and as a solo artist, but his 2012 live album is his best record yet, serving simultaneously as both a greatest hits (okay, who am I kidding?) compilation and a showcase for his band, which gets to stretch out more than they do in the studio. This is southern rock with a literary bent, The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd as graduate students at Duke or Vanderbilt.

Kelly Joe Phelps – Brother Sinner and the Whale

Phelps has always been impressive as a bottleneck and country-blues guitarist of the first rank, but here he writes and sings a batch of gospel blues songs that would do the Rev. Gary Davis and Blind Willie Johnson proud. The grit and the glory are the perfect antidote for whatever slick CCM album is currently ailing you.

Max Richter – Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons

Well, here’s something different. Contemporary classical composer Richter put Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” through the slice and splice blender, re-arranged the pieces, and wrote some new accompaniment for the jumbled mess. It’s still recognizably Vivaldi, but it’s no longer “The Four Seasons” either. What it is is beating the hip-hop folks at their own sampling game. With violins.

Paul Buchanan – Mid Air

Buchanan is the long-time leader of the Scots band The Blue Nile, but this is his first solo album. It has all of the hallmarks of The Blue Nile – wistful, melancholic grace, masterly use of silence and empty space, painterly attention to visual detail, soulful vocals with a hint of Scots burr, lush, atmospheric strings and synths. But it also has the hard-won wisdom of the now 56-year-old Buchanan. He’s the Frank Sinatra of his generation – my generation – although precious few people know his work. He’s in the September of his years, and he’s made a masterful album.

Redd Kross – Researching the Blues

Unapologetic power pop from a bunch of forty-somethings who refuse to grow up. There’s nothing new here; just three or four chords, a backbeat, and joyous melodies and singalong choruses. But there’s not a moment wasted on this lean 30-minute album, and every song is vital.

Robert Glasper – Black Radio

Finally, a seamless merger of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop. Glasper is a monster jazz pianist and legitimate star, but he downplays his impressive chops in favor of the songs, which are handled by the likes of Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway, Lupe Fiasco, and Bilal. Best of all is “Why Do We Try,” which finds Glasper spinning out impossibly knotty lines while Stokley Williams sings like Stevie Wonder in his prime. A revelation.

And some good, and sometimes very good, albums that didn’t quite make the cut:

A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets

Allo Darlin – Europe

Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America

The Bad Plus – Made Possible

Bill Mallonee – Amber Waves

Bob Dylan – Tempest

Bonnie Raitt – Slipstream

Brad Mehldau – Ode

Brother Ali – Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden

Dr. John – Locked Down

Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears

Farrar, Johnson, Parker, Yames – New Multitudes

Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital

Horse Feathers – Cynic’s New Year

Jamey Johnson – Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran

John Fullbright – From the Ground Up

Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson – Wreck and Ruin

Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs

Melody’s Echo Chamber – Melody’s Echo Chamber

Mount Eerie – Clear Moon

Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Tame Impala – Lonerism

Titus Andronicus – Local Business

Vijay Iyer – Accelerando

Edited by Andy Whitman
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A few years down the road, when I think of 2012 music, Neil Young's bizarre memoir Waging Heavy Peace will cast the longest shadow as it sent me chasing so many albums I hadn't heard or hadn't heard in too long a time. What an odd book.

Here's the five I listened to most. I also enjoyed the new ones from Redd Kross, the Choir and the Bill Mallonee EP and am looking forward to hearing the Bill Fay album Andy mentioned. Also, I don't count it as a 2012 release, but I listend to Mermaid Ave. Vol. III a ton too.

Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur

Mark Lanegan Band - Blues Funeral

Mark Eitzel - Don't Be Stranger

Farrar, Johnson, Parker, Yames – New Multitudes

Titus Andronicus - Local Business

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I've set up a 3-hour long, 47-track Spotify playlist: Overstreet's Favorite Music: 2012. It starts and ends with the opening and closing music from Moonrise Kingdom.

I'm new to Spotify, and I've never set up a playlist like this before. For some reason, if you follow the URL you'll arrive at a Spotify web page that displays only about half of the playlist. But if you look up the playlist in your Spotify program, the whole thing is there. Any idea why?

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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My top 10 albums - not necessarily "best of" the year, but the ones that I like listening to the most - in alphabetical order:

Beach House - Bloom

David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love this Giant

Chromatics - Kill for Love

Chairlift - Something

Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits

Grimes - Visions

Lord Huron - Lonesome Dreams

Rodrigo y Gabriela - Area 52

School of Seven Bells - Ghostory

Shearwater - Animal Joy

Spotify Playlist

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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^^ great list, glad someone other than me is appreciating the new Lord Huron so much.

My List. It's been changing (things added, things removed) as I listen more.

Edited by Justin Hanvey

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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Andy, thank you so very much for bringing Bill Fay's record to my attention. It is absolutely beautiful. It's stronger than both the Dylan and the Cohen albums in every way: lyrics, production, melodies, consistency. Every track is a keeper.

Jeff Tweedy's appearance is an excellent complement. And then there's the cover of Wilco's "Jesus, Etc." Man, this must have been one of great thrills of Tweedy's life, considering his regard for this guy.

I had missed this album altogether. I wish I'd noticed Thom Jurek's review, which is right on.

As you have so many times before, you've given me cause to spend money... and revise my list.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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