Thursday, December 27, 2012

Favorite Albums of 2012

1. Japandroids-Celebration Rock
There's nothing about this record I should like. It's ugly, it's loud, there aren't any orchestrations (there must always be orchestrations!), and there are about a dozen other bands that sound exactly like Japandroids. Not to mention, most of the lyrics are incredibly trite. But I fell in love with this record anyway, most likely due to "The House That Heaven Built." I really can't explain why I like this album so much but along with Bloom and Break It Yourself, it was the one I listened to the most this year.

Favorite Tracks: The House That Heaven Built, Fire's Highway, Younger Us

2. Grizzly Bear-Shields
(I was prepared to list this as #1 until I saw Japandroids live. Just know that Shields was the most perfect record released in 2012, it just didn't mean as much to me as Celebration Rock.)

It took me a long time to acknowledge Veckatimist as a good record. I still don't love it as much as a lot of people do. I wasn't expecting much from Shields but decided to give it a chance anyway. Well, once I heard "Speak in Rounds," I was in love.  This record is perfect. The orchestrations are brilliant (the guitar in "Sleeping Ute," the piano on "A Simple Answer," and the cello on "Half Gate," the percussion on "What's Wrong"  just to name a few examples), the songwriting is on point, and Edward Droste and Daniel Rossen have never sounded better. In fact, I absolutely fell in love with Rossen's voice this year. Every track on this record is superb. Every little bit of sound that comprises these ten songs is beautifully composed and presented.

Favorite Tracks: Speak in Rounds, A Simple Answer, What's Wrong

3 Beach House-Bloom
What is left to say about Beach House, really? Bloom, like Teen Dream, is a perfect record. Beach House just write and record perfect pop songs. In 2012, they presented us with ten more.

Favorite Tracks: Myth, Wishes, Troublemaker

4. Fiona Apple-The Idle Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw...
This is the first Fiona Apple record I enjoyed (and I sadly can't say I've gotten into her other records yet, although I do respect them) and I think it's because it happened to be released around the same time I was going through some crazy relationship emotions. What I needed at that time was a woman singing songs like "Daredevil" and "Werewolf" and "Anything We Want." I was using Fiona's voice and lyrics to reflect my own feelings so of course I would fall in love with this record. I mean, find me a record with better lyrics that was released this year. You can't, right?

Favorite Tracks: Anything We Want, Daredevil, Werewolf

5. Andrew Bird -Break It Yourself/Hands of Glory
I know, you're shocked this is listed so low, and honestly, I was prepared for this record to be my album of the year. Well, sometime around June, I put this record aside and really only revisited it after I saw Bird live in December. It's a strong record, don't get me wrong, and I adore it. He wrote some incredibly strong melodies for it, it's just well, it's not Noble Beast. I know, I did have a whole post about not comparing records but it is going to be tough for anything by anyone to top Noble Beast. It is my favorite record of all time, and it was a life changer. If I had never heard Noble Beast, I would probably love Break It Yourself more. There are a lot of standout tracks but to be honest, I am not fond of Bird's new-found desire to include his band in everything he does. I can find a dozen or so alt-country dudes who play the guitar and play boring songs. Andrew is better than that, and we all listen to him because of his brilliant violin-playing. Less guitars, more loops next time, Birdman.

Favorite Tracks: Orpheo Looks Back, Danse Caribe, Desperation Breeds...

6. Animal Collective-Centipede Hz
For real, let's stop the backlash against this record. It's a good record. It plays even better live.

Favorite Tracks: Today's Supernatural, Moonjock, Anamita

7. Calexico-Algiers
Sometimes a band can just put out a strong collection of tracks, no frills, no bells and whistles, just pure well-done songwriting. That is what Algiers is. An incredibly enjoyable, addicting, compelling record. And how could you not love this band?

Favorite Tracks: Splitter, Sinner in the Sea, Hush

8. Dirty Projectors-Swing Lo Magellan
Do you remember the 2:09 mark of "Useful Chamber" on Bitte Orca? It was the moment when I knew that record was special. It took me a long, long time to come around to that release but eventually it was clear that the hype was absolutely correct. Well, I didn't have to wait too long to realize Swing Lo Magellan was a great record; the moment hit me around 2:25 of "Offspring Are Blank," the first track of the album.
I mean, we all need to agree that not only is Dave Longstreth a great songwriter and guitarist but that he has a great, great singing voice and he is one of the best frontmen around. Longstreth's brilliance is really what makes this record so special.

Favorite Tracks: About To Die, Gun Has No Trigger, Offspring Are Blank

9. Chairlift-Something
It's a fun record that you can dance to, and Caroline Polachek has a wonderful voice. It's just really well done pop music.

Favorite Tracks: Take It Out on Me, Cool As a Fire, Sidewalk Safari

10. Mumford and Sons-Babel
Yes, Babel. Judge and mock all you want. I know Mumford and Sons are basically a terrible band. I know they've written one song twenty times, I get that. I still really enjoyed this record, and I found myself listening to songs ten times in a row before I moved onto the next one. (I admit, my enjoyment of this record may have stemmed from the fact it made a really good soundtrack to the A Song of Ice and Fire series.)

Favorite Tracks: Hopeless Wanderer, Ghosts That We Knew, Below My Feet

Honorable Mentions:
Titus Andronicus-Local Business
Bat for Lashes-The Haunted Man
Maps & Atlases-Beware and Be Grateful
David Byrne and St. Vincent-Love This Giant
Dan Deacon-America
First Aid Kit-The Lion's Roar
Father John Misty-Fear Fun

Most Disappointing Records:
Yeasayer-Fragrant World
The Walkmen-Heaven (I was disappointed at how much I didn't like this one after loving Lisbon.)
Sharon Van Etten-Tramps (I just don't get the hype.)

Overall, 2012 was a disappointing year for records. Compared to 2011 and 2010 where there were so many fantastic releases, I had to scrounge up ten albums I really, really liked. Oh, well, 2013 is gonna be all about The National anyway.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Favorite Concerts of 2012

I must begin this post by telling you that I saw a ridiculous amount of great shows this year, so this was a tough list to put together. Again, this is really in no particular order (also, I was going for a top five but a few boys from Vancouver screwed that up).

1. Glen Hansard + Lisa Hannigan//The Beacon Theatre//06.29.12
Some of my fondest concert-going memories are courtesy of Glen Hansard, and seeing him this past summer was like revisiting an old friend. He is without a doubt one of, if not the, best performers I've had the privilege of seeing live, so I expect him to blow me away. But there he was, with the rest of The Frames as his backing band, tearing up the stage for about two and a half hours. It was magnificent to have my favorite band back together, if only for one night. One of the highlights of the night was definitely hearing "Fitzcarraldo" again. It was almost like a reward for all of The Frames fans in the crowd, as though they were saying, "hey, even though we're not around much anymore, thanks for still sticking around." (And just so you know, Colm Mac Con Iomaire's violin is still one of my favorite sounds in the world.) The real highlight, however, was Glen singing "Falling Slowly" with only his guitar, with the whole audience singing along to every word. It was magical, and one of those moments where even in the thick of it, you realize it is very, very special. Sitting among roughly 3000 people singing in unison with so much joy and love and just this feeling of, "this is our song, our show" was incredible.

2. Calexico + The Dodos//Webster Hall//10.13.12
I had been anticipating this show for over three years. I saw Calexico open for Andrew Bird at Radio City back in 2009 and they blew me away, and I vowed that the next time they headlined in NYC, I was going to be there, no questions asked. Well, Calexico did not disappoint. Their level of musicianship is outstanding, and it is always a pleasure to watch a band have fun on stage. The fun translates to the crowd and it just becomes a huge party. Not to mention, I always love this idea of collectivity at shows. That we're all there because we love this music, and we're going to enjoy ourselves together.  That was the vibe of this show. I've  always been in Calexico's corner, and I always will. They are a perfect band.

3. Andrew Bird//The Bell House//02.25.12 & The Riverside Church//12.10.12
It's difficult to be objective about this man and his music. But it would be incredibly disingenuous to not include him on my lists because it's hard to deny just what an incredible experience he is live. Although I saw him three times this year, these two shows were too special to pick one over the other. The Bell House show was probably my favorite concert experience ever; being about oh, three feet away from my favorite human being in the universe, in a venue that holds about 500 people, hearing his new album live in its entirety. It certainly was surreal. And I remember hearing "Orpheo Looks Back" for the first time ever, being absolutely blown away. There was also a strong feeling of collectivity in this show; 500 people sharing a love of really beautiful fucking music. It was a secret show, and it truly felt exclusive.

The Riverside Church show definitely had a feeling of collectivity as well. It was truly an experience, and this may seem cheesy but it was all so beautiful. I had been waiting for three years to go to a Gazelligheid show, and I was so glad to finally be a part of one. For as difficult as it is to be objective about Andrew Bird, it is also pretty difficult to describe just how good he is. You just have to trust me on this one.

4. DeVotchka+Clare and the Reasons//The Bowery Ballroom//09.14.12
Like Calexico, DeVotchka was a band I was dying to see live, and they did not disappoint. They are an incredible live band. And as an added note, Nick Urata's voice is absolutely stunning.

5. David Byrne and St. Vincent//Williamsburg Park//09.29.12
I don't really believe in idols and heroes, most likely because I don't have any. But if I did have to name one, it would be Annie Clark. Girl is a brilliant and beautiful talent, and has collaborated with basically every musician I respect. Put her together with David Byrne, who is a god, and you have an incredible, and an incredibly fun, night. "Marrow" absolutely killed, and yes, "Burning Down the House" was as awesome as it seemed on YouTube. This show was a party-like atmosphere, and I didn't want it to end. Also, David Byrne danced.

6. Japandroids+DIIV//Webster Hall//12.04.12
Webster Hall holds about 1400 people, but there was this moment, at the beginning of "The House That Heaven Built" that made this feel like an arena show. The energy was outstanding, from both the band and the crowd. Mayhem it was, but it was also a blast.

And, to the most surprising, unexpected, holy fuck show of the year...

Animal Collective+Highlife//Terminal 5//12.05.12
Nothing prepared me for how good this show was going to be. Check Animal Collective out on YouTube, or television, and you'll think, "eh, whatever, fine." I went into the show with some reservations, expecting it to be a ho-hum affair. Wrong. This band is ridiculous live. And the new stuff? Outstanding live. Stop writing off Centipede Hz because it's a great fucking album. I knew this show was going to be special when they did "Wide Eyed." That song is such a dud on the record (well, until you see it live, of course) but that night, it was insanely good. But the real highlight of the night was being in a crowd that knew they were about to play "Brother Sport," and the anticipation as it continued to build until it broke into a wave of...movement. This show was all about movement. You just kept moving, you went with the flow and the sound, until you realized you had been listening to the same song for like ten minutes (and you also realized "Pulleys" is a good fucking song. "Amanita" too.)


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Favorite Songs of 2012

2012 was an awesome year for singles. There were a lot of standout tracks on subpar records as well. Here are some of my favorites (in no particular order, for the most part):

1. Japandroids-The House That Heaven Build
when they love you, and they will
tell them all they'll love in my shadow
and if they try to slow you down
tell them all to go to Hell

2. fun.-Some Nights

the other night, you wouldn't believe the dream I just had about you and me
I called you up, but we'd both agree
it's for the best you didn't listen 
it's for the best we get our distance

3. Beach House-Myth
can't keeping hanging on to what is dead and gone
if you built yourself a myth
know just what to give
materialize or let the ashes fly

4.  Bat for Lashes-Laura
you'll be famous for longer than them
your name is tattooed on every boy's skin
oh, Laura, you're more than a superstar

5. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros-Man On Fire

6. Patrick Watson-Into Giants
 we carried our love in cups to go

7. Andrew Bird-Orpheo Looks Back
and if it drives you mad, it'll probably pass

8.  Grizzly Bear-Speak in Rounds

step down, just once
learn how to be alone

9. Dirty Projectors-Gun Has No Trigger
you hold the gun to your head 
but the gun has no trigger

10. Lana Del Rey-Born to Die
don't make me sad, don't make me cry
sometimes love's not enough and the road gets tough
I don't know why
keep making me laugh,
let's go get high
road's long, we carry on
try to have fun in the meantime

11.Tegan and Sara-Closer
all you think of lately is getting underneath me
all I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me

12. Maps & Atlases-Fever
we'll be extravagant hosts instead of imposing guests

13. Dan Deacon-True Thrush
hey there, old lady, sing me a song
sing of days gone by before it went wrong

14. Mika-The Origin of Love
you are the sun and light 
you are the freedom I fight
God will do nothing to stop it
the origin is you

15. Glen Hansard-High Hope  
maybe when we're both old and wise
maybe when our hearts have had some time
I'm gonna see you there

16.First Aid Kit-The Lion's Roar
and I'm a goddamn coward but then again so are you
17. Sigur Ros-Varuo

18. David Byrne and St. Vincent-Who

19. The Xx-Chained
we used to be closer than this

20. Calexico-Sinner In the Sea
there's a wall in the ocean between you and me
21.  Yeasayer-Reagan's Skeleton

22. Lost in the Trees-Red
unsitched on my porch
when did I stop learning

23. Titus Andronicus-In a Big City 
who would fardels bear to grunt and sweat
'neath a life that was so mundane? 

24. Animal Collective-Today's Supernatural

25. Dirty Projectors-About to Die
you're already dead

26. Father John Misty-Only Son of the Ladies Man

they tied down his casket with the garter belt
each troubled heart was beating in a sequin dress
someone must console these lonesome daughters
no written word or ballad will appease them

27. Fiona Apple-Anything We Want
and I kept touching my neck 
to guide your eye to where I wanted you to kiss me when we find some time alone

You'll notice I did not include any Mumford and Sons songs because well, as much as I love Babel (there, I said it, so shoot me), it's tough to pick one standout track on the record. Two-thirds of the album is filled with tracks that I can listen to ten times in a row without growing bored. I almost didn't include anything from Break It Yourself either because of how much I enjoy that record as a whole but I love "Orpheo..." too much to not include it.

Also, I tried to keep it to one track per artist or else I would've included most of Bloom, The Idler Wheel..., Celebration Rock, and Shields but those two Dirty Projectors' tracks are too good to ignore. 

One of my favorite, favorite, favorite most listened to tracks of 2012 was AC Newman's "Strings." Unfortunately, it is not on Youtube but you can listen to it here.