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First things first. Two of my favorite tracks of 2013 were live performances of holiday standards. The songs themselves are borderline mundane…it’s the vocals that’ll bring a tear to a glass eye.
Now, for the rest of year’s jams…
If there’s one thing I detest, it’s parking in a parking lot and shopping for junk in an actual store. So, it wasn’t until this year that Black Friday had any meaning to me. On the day after Thanksgiving, I heard rumblings of The Walkmen calling it quits.
The official announcement from the band used the term “extreme hiatus”. Since then, I’ve read about the details of the end of The Walkmen.
I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands go from maybe they’ll release something and come to NC next year to something like extreme hiatus. The most extreme extreme hiatus was probably the band Morphine, when Mark Sandman collapsed on stage. When Pavement broke up, I was irrationally surprised and disappointed. When Ween broke up, I was mildly surprised for no good reason. When Guided by Voices broke up, I knew it was a matter of weeks before Uncle Bob found new sidemen.
At 36, I look back morbidly at old mixes or playlists and think of who’s next. But, I don’t get disappointed anymore.
Now that I’m mature enough (on good days) to understand why the grind and the business in general can drive musicians apart, I don’t feel let down in any way. The Walkmen were different, and their breakup affected me differently. I always could relate to their look, their perspective, their point in time. I feel like Katie and I grew into adulthood with Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and Bows + Arrows, into responsible adulthood with You & Me, and into parenthood with Lisbon and Heaven.
For Christmas 2010, Katie gave me tickets to see them at Cat’s Cradle. The show remains one of the best I’ve ever seen and heard, and I remember walking out of the Cradle as the band was packing up. We walked out front, and there was Hamilton Leithauser in his tweed jacket, loading amps and other equipment into their van. Not only was there no roadie to do manual labor; this guy, the frontman and lead singer, was dressed like a private school guidance counselor while doing the dirty work. I told him, “Great show!” as we walked by. He said thanks, and I noticed how tired he looked at 1:00 am, humping gear after putting on a two-hour show.
It’s nearly 2014, so there’s no better tune for tribute than this rendition of “In the New Year” from that night.
Tough decisions…that could be the alternate title of this post. 2013 was a wonderful year for music and life. I should take a cue from the band and move on with things. These are the jams that made me happy this year.
A few quick notes about my experience with new albums in 2013 and my ground rules for these selections:
- There are no jazz albums included in the following list, mainly because I didn’t spend enough time with jazz this year. That may be because there’s not enough time to explore beyond the many options in my personal wheelhouse. For the record, my personal wheelhouse is indie rock, hip-hop, and electronic ambient and dance music.
- 2013 was excellent for hip-hop. If rap music seems underrepresented in this list, it’s only because it didn’t really match the brilliance of everything else at an album level. For example, Kendrick Lamar didn’t release a record in 2013, but every guest verse I heard from him was golden genius. The big names released good albums, and the new artists really
Note: Yeezus wasn’t that big a deal for me. There are too many outstanding lyricists to include a Kanye record solely based on interesting production and interview-borne controversy. You could easily classify one-third of what I listened to this year as hip-hop.
- For the first time in my life, I took metal seriously in 2013. I’m just one in millions who see the crossover appeal in Deafheaven’s Sunbather. I remember a few other records that featured screaming vocals, and for the first time I heard so much more than just the screaming. Maybe I’ll wear more black t-shirts in 2014?
These are my 25 favorites of the past year, classified in four tiers. Underneath those are my favorite EPs.
Disclosure – Settle
It’s rare that you love a pre-album single (White Noise), you love the second pre-album single (Latch), the album comes out and your kids love the second track and recite the chorus whenever someone says, “Fire” (When A Fire Starts to Burn), and you continue to love the album more and more every time you hear it. Then, you find yourself replaying the FOURTEENTH track on the album months after the album release and decide it’s one of your favorite songs of the year (Help Me Lose My Mind).
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
What more can you ask of these guys? Is matching catchy songs with fascinating production not enough? Nevermind that the overarching theme of Modern Vampires is deep, and that they continue to be witty, semi-annoying, yet lovable. They semi-sample Souls of Mischief and Pachelbel’s Canon in the same song! Someday I’ll play this album for my grandkids and try to convince them that music was fantastic way back in 2013. They’ll laugh hysterically when I explain how Jackie and I would rig up my phone to the car stereo to play the Vevo video of Step just so we could hear the song before it was available in any other format. “Grandpa Andy is ridiculous!”, they’ll say.
Arctic Monkeys – AM
In 2013, this was my comfortable, trusty rock n’ roll sweatshirt. I would put it on any old time of day, and it would make me feel good. It also made me feel a little old, which I am, but also proud of the Arctic Monkeys tradition and evolution. AM proves that really good bands can grow up to become great bands in ten years time. If it weren’t for a couple of tracks that sound a little to classic rock-like, this record might have been my overall favorite in a really good year.
Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
My biggest music-related regret of the year is missing Devon Welsh’s set at Hopscotch. Back in the spring, however, it took me awhile to give Impersonator a fair listen, though. Based on nothing more than the name Majical Cloudz [sic] (is sic necessary here?), I resisted this album even after I read all the glowing reviews at the beginning of the year. I quickly learned how powerful, serious, and downright gorgeous some of the songs are, despite the worst band name since Gauntlet Hair came on the scene.
Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
I think I’ve played this album in its entirety about every two weeks since February, which makes it second only to AM in the comfort-listening category. I remember a local radio guy saying, “I don’t get the whole love song to the ’60s thing.” I also remember my father-in-law hearing it and saying in a wistful way, “This reminds me of older music.” I agree with my father-in-law and the undeniably derivative nature of their sound, but not the radio guy. This album is not some hackneyed attempt at a white album for younguns today who’ve never heard The Beatles. There’s a ton of variety from track-to-track, and the songs are extremely well-written. Plus, Jackie loves the lyric, “I met your daughter the other day…that was weird. She had rhinoceros-shaped earrings in her ear.”
Danny Brown – Old
I saw this dude play an art museum just last year with my wife and my brother. All three of us loved it, but I never imagined he would put together this kind of masterpiece a year later. In fact, before Old, I didn’t know he was capable of any voice other than the likable, but crazed honking type of style. Now I know, low/normal voice is for serious storytelling, and shrill/crazed voice is for when he’s turnt up (or maybe just turnt down for what). Either way, this record shows unmatched versatility AND introspection, which are two uncommon qualities in hip-hop artists.
Haim – Days Are Gone
Are you 30 or older, and love “alternative” music? If so, you might also love this feature Radio-Friendly Unit Shifters from September. Here’s the factoid from the article that had me scratching my head:
After Tracy Bonham’s “Mother Mother” departed the penthouse in June 1996, no solo woman would top this chart for more than 17 years; during that period, only three songs by bands with so much as a female singer (Garbage, Hole, and Evanescence) would make it to the No. 1.
Bizarre, isn’t it? I’m sure sexism and other societal contextual factors are to blame. Nowadays I play Days Are Gone for my own enjoyment as much as I do for my daughter to hear three women rockers whose debut album compares favorably to anything recorded in 2013.
The Range – Nonfiction
Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Joey Bada$$ – Summer Knights Mixtape
The Field – Cupid’s Head
Volcano Choir – Repave
M.I.A. – Matangi
The Men – New Moon
Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
James Blake – Overgrown
Deafheaven – Sunbather
White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade
Deerhunter – Monomania
Prodigy & Alchemist – Albert Einstein
A$AP Ferg – Trap Lord
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Los Campesinos! – No Blues
FKA Twigs – EP2
Burial – Rival Dealer
Phantogram – Phantogram
DJ Rashad – Rollin EP
Wild Nothing – Empty Estate
The first 30 of my favorite 80 or so songs are listed below, and here’s the link to the Spotify playlist. Or, you can use the player below.
- Step – Vampire Weekend
- No. 1 Party Anthem – Arctic Monkeys
- Help Me Lose My Mind – Disclosure, feat. London Grammar
- Childhood’s End – Majical Cloudz
- Dream House – Deafheaven
- Hood Pope – A$AP Ferg
- Will Calls – Grizzly Bear
- Numbers on the Boards – Pusha T
- Days Are Gone – Haim
- Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster – Thee Oh Sees
- Temple – Kings of Leon
- Only 1 U – M.I.A.
- Hold On, We’re Going Home – Drake
- Monomania – Deerhunter
- You’re Not Good Enough – Blood Orange
- Comrade – Volcano Choir
- We No Who U R – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
- Ya Hey – Vampire Weekend
- Dubstep – Danny Brown, feat. Scrufizzer
- Fireside – Arctic Monkeys
- Ain’t That The Way – Divine Fits
- The Fall – Rhye
- Never Run Away – Kurt Vile
- Shout It Out – Mikal Cronin
- Brother Bryan – Waxahatchee
- Shuggie – Foxygen
- Sunday – Earl Sweatshirt, feat. Frank Ocean
- Lose Yourself to Dance – Daft Punk, feat. Pharell
- Overgrown – James Blake
- White Noise – Disclosure, feat. AlunaGeorge
I compared my favorites from this year with my list from halfway-through 2012. A year ago, I thought the first six months of 2012 produced a lot of great releases.
This year is even better. I love the first five albums on this list more than anything I listed in June of last year.
On a familial note, I’m starting to encounter a backlash of resistance to the JAMS I play around the house. Specifically, my otherwise extraordinary daughter is rebelling against her father’s good taste because she gets a forlorn reaction from him. It won’t be long before I’m shouting upstairs to her, after she slams the door and blares One Direction or some such nonsense, to “TURN THAT LOUD MESS OFF.”
I fully understand that one reaps what one sows, and that life is like a boomerang, and what goes around comes around, and so on, but that probably won’t make it any easier.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
It feels a little weird, but I can admit it — they might just be the best all-around rock band in the world. Who’s better? The National? No less than FOUR songs from this album are flat-out wonderful.
Disclosure – Settle
Simply the best dance-pop album I’ve heard since maybe Hot Chip (The Warning) or Junior Boys (So This Is Goodbye), both released in 2006.
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
There’s something unabated and magnetic about Katie Crutchfield’s music, and she has moments of lyrical genius.
Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of blahblahblah
Has there ever been an album with a more stupid title by a band with a greater name? It doesn’t matter…this is good stuff. And, don’t give me that “it’s too derivative of the ’60s” stuff because I wouldn’t care even though you’d be right.
Deafheaven – Sunbather
No, black metal is not exactly my wheelhouse, but I agree with the predominant Sunbather narrative: this is a black metal band that makes powerful, crossover-ready music that defies categorization.
Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
This record is number five on my list, but it fills an important role in my listening habits; I find that when I don’t have anything in particular that I want to hear, I play this. And, King Krule = bonus points.
Camera Obscura – Desire Lines
Another underrated album…I’ve read positive reviews of this one, but nothing glowing. Perhaps that’s because this band has been around the block, and critics have begun taking them for granted. I like this one better than My Maudlin Career.
James Black – Overgrown
The title track is close to perfect, and I’d say this is second to the Mount Kimbie album in the “anytime, anyplace” go-to listen.
Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
My favorite Thee Oh Sees record of all, because there’s a larger variety of sound here that I really appreciate.
Deerhunter – Monomania
My favorite Deerhunter record of all, mainly because Bradford made it dingier and more fun that their past recordings.
Other notable releases include Local Natives, Mikal Cronin, The Men, Toro Y Moi, Classixx, Rhye, Frightened Rabbit, Ghostface Killah, and Daft Punk.
Best Show I’ve Seen This Year
Tame Impala – Cat’s Cradle, February 21
The lineup for Hopscotch 2013 was announced last week, and I’ve spent some time getting familiar with a few of the bigger-profile artists that I didn’t know. My initial reactions to the lineup were: 1) there aren’t as many big names this year, 2) few of the small names ring a bell, and 3) the collection of middle-sized names is STRONG. In the next four months, I’ll investigate the majority of the 175 bands who will play Hopscotch.
Hopscotch isn’t about who’s playing. It’s about who’s playing what, where, and why, in relation to other acts who are playing at the same time.
For example, Raleigh’s own The Rosebuds are covering Sade’s classic album, Love Deluxe live, in its entirety.
Q. Would I buy tickets to see The Rosebuds play live again?
A. Probably not.
Q. Would I download a free recording of The Rosebuds playing Love Deluxe?
A. Thanks, but no.
Q. Will I go to see The Rosebuds play Love Deluxe live?
A. Absolutely I will. I don’t know exactly why, but I feel like my attendance is mandatory.
Speaking of mandatory attendance, these are my can’t-miss acts (without knowing the when and where of the full schedule — like life, trade-offs are inherent to the format):
- Kurt Vile and the Violators
Ideally, they would set up in the middle of the Fallon Park field and play Walkin’ on a Pretty Daze at dusk…my wife and I would sit in camping chairs while my kids and dogs splashed around in Crabtree Creek.
- Ryan Hemsworth
In two short years, he’s become my favorite producer in the modern era. When someone tells me that you can’t make real music with samples and a computer, I dismiss him or her and bob my head to whichever Hemsworth mix is currently haunting me.
- Earl Sweatshirt
I don’t expect Doris to be better than the handful of excellent hip-hop albums released in the last year, but based on his wordplay and flow, he’s the most talented rapper alive.
- Future Islands
Truth be told, I kinda wish they weren’t playing outdoors in City Plaza.
Cerulean Salt is one of my favorite albums so far this year.
- Mikal Cronin
- Angel Olsen
Not necessarily a fan yet, but you can’t deny their originality. I’m curious.
- Local Natives
Good album earlier this year, great band.
- Big Black Delta
I like his album, and he’s on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label.
- Alpoko Don
Like a poor man’s Cee Lo, maybe.
- Pissed Jeans
Sonic aggression mixed with insecurity.
- Ex Cops
- Last Year’s Men
- Shannon Whitworth
I’ll check her out only if my old friend Barret Smith is playing with her.
- The Toddlers
Local and noisy. I liked their set last year, but my festival companions wanted to keep moving.
I don’t yet know if I’ll do a spreadsheet like I did last year, but I do know I’ll need some kind of outlet for my excitement between now and September.
All this happens about two miles from my house. I bought my wristband the second they first went on sale, back in February. In September, 175+ diverse musical acts will play the friendly confines of downtown Raleigh. There’s no better bang for your musical buck, and as far as I’m concerned, the festival is one of the biggest feathers in Raleigh’s cap.
Maybe I shouldn’t feel heat from a self-imposed deadline for a post that a handful of people will read, but I will kick myself later if I don’t document my favorite jams of the year. With an hour left in 2012, I’m getting this list of 2012 music out the door in the nick of time. Of the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of annual best-of lists, this one might be the last to be filed. And, if you hadn’t already figured out my low-key New Year’s celebration, it mostly involves blogging at home.
Last year I wrote about a sea change to the way I procure and listen to music. I’m sold on Spotify from the perspective of the consumer; I can’t deny that it’s more or less a music-lover’s Utopia. As for artists, I understand that the tiny-fraction-of-a-penny-per-stream model is not sustainable. The way I reconcile these interests as a listener is to support artists in other ways, which includes paying for downloads, live shows, and a little merch. I also do my best to talk up the recordings I like the best to friends and family throughout the year.
This year I added two Sonos Play 5 speakers to my home audio setup. Sonos is compatible with Spotify, which means I can play anything from the Spotify catalog in the kitchen and living room (a stereo effect in our house) or different songs in each room, all from the controller app on my phone. Moving the music to my bedroom is as easy as unplugging a speaker and carrying it upstairs.
2012 was also the first year I attended the Hopscotch festival in its entirety, as much as I could do so without teleporting from venue/band to venue/band in downtown Raleigh. With my brother and cousin in tow, we saw 14 bands in three nights. Katie went along with us the final night of the festival. I also took Jackie to a day party on Martin Street. The experience was magical; I plan to soak it in for the same full festival weekend in the future just as I did this year. Hopscotch 2012 deserves its own post (which won’t happen), but the highlights for me were somewhat surprising: The Future Kings of Nowhere, Thee Oh Sees, Hiss Golden Messenger, Zola Jesus, and Danny Brown. I should note that my cousin Matt led the moshing at the TOS show (I’m a tough guy), and I cried a little during the ZJ show (with a sensitive side). Here’s some Danny Brown and Matthew E. White with a full ensemble:
Last but perhaps most importantly, McLain had his first spontaneous sing-along to something other than kids music. Fittingly (because they share the same initials), it was the My Morning Jacket song Wordless Chorus. I love how that, perhaps coincidentally, the song kind of matches his personality, just as Jackie’s personality matches her first sing-along to Daddy’s jams — Grizzly Bear’s While You Wait for the Others. I didn’t see a page in their baby bo0ks to document this specific “first”, so I’m putting it here for posterity.
Below are jams that made me happy this year.
A few quick notes about my experience with new albums in 2012:
- There are no jazz albums included in the following list, but a few of the ones I got to know this year are flat-out gorgeous. By a Little Light by Matt Ulery and friends is an outstanding record, and at night, if I’m lucky, I hear this song in my dreams:
Another jazz release that I really liked was Gregory Porter’s record from earlier in 2012…especially this song: Gregory Porter – Be Good (Lion’s Song).
- For me, 2012 was an better-than-average year for hip-hop. I’d guess that you could classify one-third of what I listened to this year as rap. Although I included only three rap albums in my top 20, I’d probably include Captain Murphy, Nas, Roc Marciano, Odd Future, and El-P if I stretched it out to my top 30.
- Let’s suppose that you had an internet connection and a love of hip-hop and EDM, but no money to spend on music. If you were smart, you’d wait with bated breath for every mix that Ryan Hemsworth shares with the world. I listened to this one in particular about a hundred times throughout November.
These are my 20 favorites of the past year, classified in four tiers. Underneath those are my favorite EPs of the year.
Tame Impala – Lonerism
Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, M.A.A.D. city
Grizzly Bear – Shields
Royal Headache – Royal Headache
John Talabot – Fin
Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions
Daphni – Jiaolong
The Men – Open Your Heart
Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Dr. John – Locked Down
Lower Dens – Nootropics
Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
Purity Ring – Shrines
Heaven – The Walkmen
Spider Bags – Shake My Head
Grimes – Visions
Baroness – Yellow & Green
Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze
Burial – Kindred
Todd Terje – Its The Arps
AlunaGeorge – You Know You Like It
TNGHT – TNGHT
My 75 favorite songs of 2012 are listed below, and here’s the link to the Spotify playlist. Or, you can use the player below.
- Pyramids – Frank Ocean
- Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings – Father John Misty
- Climax – Usher
- Brains – Lower Dens
- Stay Useless – Could Nothings
- Inspector Norse – Todd Terje
- Between Friends – Captain Murphy feat. Earl Sweatshirt
- November Skies – Tomas Barfod feat. Nina Kinert
- Yet Again – Grizzly Bear
- There He Go – Schoolboy Q
- Igoyh – Kwes.
- Get Free – Major Lazer
- Hurting (Tensnake Remix) – Friendly Fires
- Gun Has No Trigger – Dirty Projectors
- Heaven – The Walkmen
- Oblivion – Grimes
- Nancy From Now On – Father John Misty
- Know Me – Frankie Rose
- Oldie – Odd Future
- A Simple Answer – Grizzly Bear
- Feels Like We Only Go Backwards – Tame Impala
- & It Was U – How To Dress Well
- I Belong In Your Arms – Chairlift
- Werewolf – Fiona Apple
- Backseat Freestyle – Kendrick Lamar
- Shape I Was In – Spider Bags
- Hole in the Ocean Floor – Andrew Bird
- Lay Your Cards Out – POLICA, Mike Noyce
- Really In Love – Royal Headache
- Ivory Coast – Pure Bathing Culture
- I’ve Seen Footage – Death Grips
- Default – Django Django
- This Heat I Hold – Electric Guest
- Lupine Dominus – Thee Oh Sees
- One Second of Love – Nite Jewel
- Back From the Grave – Chromatics
- Brodermordet – War
- Lost – Frank Ocean
- Monoliths – Lotus Plaza
- Why Won’t They Talk to Me? – Tame Impala
- The Reflection Of You – Bear In Heaven
- Open Your Heart – The Men
- You Know You Like It – AlunaGeorge
- Hood – Perfume Genius
- Give Out – Sharon Van Etten
- Cos-Ber-Zam Ne Noya – Daphni
- Unless You Speak From Your Heart – Porcelain Raft
- All Of Me – Tanlines
- Let Me Be Him – Hot Chip
- Lord Knows – Dum Dum Girls
- Tiffany Lou – Daughn Gibson
- Breezeblocks – alt-J
- Ashtray Wasp – Burial
- Untitled – Killer Mike feat. Scar
- Adorn – Miguel
- Betty Wang – Hospitality
- Getaway – Dr. John
- Down The Lane – Royal Headache
- Baby – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
- Locked – Four Tet
- Grown Up – Danny Brown
- Black Treacle – Arctic Monkeys
- Losing You – Solange
- I Bought My Eyes – Ty Segall Band
- 76 – Roc Marciano
- Simple Song – The Shins
- Duquesa – Las Malas Amistades
- Only You – Taken By Trees
- The Full Retard – El-P
- Sinful Nature – Bear In Heaven
- The House That Heaven Built – Japandroids
- Slow Down – Poolside
- Compton – Kendrick Lamar feat. Dr. Dre
- Candy – The Men
- March to the Sea – Baroness
I’ll start by admitting that living in Raleigh has tested me over the past year. I’m a Carolina alum and sports fan, so there hasn’t been a lot of good news since Butch was (rightfully) kicked out of Chapel Hill. The college-sports enthusiasts with west-Raleigh ties are not making it easier for me, but I don’t resent them for finding our closets, and mostly, I’m trying not to resent their resentful poking and prodding of a rival school’s academic and athletic skeletons.
Also, I don’t hold it against the local media that they have to dissect every tweet, interview, rumor, blog post, or newspaper story about the scandal as it unfolds. I am glad that I don’t work in local media; I wish that I could tune it out a little better, but I find that to be really hard.
So, I’ll talk about what’s good, and why I’m proud to live in Raleigh. The Hopscotch Music Festival is at the top of the civic-pride list. How many earthlings can boast 175 bands in three nights, all within a mile radius of their civic core, for less than the price of a Sonos Play 3?
I have proof that I’m into this — see my spreadsheet below for a glimpse of how I spend my free time. But first, here’s a little personal history.
The inaugural Hopscotch was in 2010. Katie was 8.5 months pregnant with McLain, I had a one-year-old daughter at home, and I skipped it.
Last year, I put a toe in the Hopscotch water. There was no choice about attending at least one City Plaza show — Guided by Voices was playing two miles from my house (with The Dodos and Drive-by Truckers opening).
This year, I’m all in. I got a three-day wristband, and I’ve been thrilled about it ever since the etix transaction back in June.
Unlike last year, one of my favorite bands of all time will not be playing in 2012. But, I think the following shows are worth seeing, regardless of where they are playing:
- The Roots
- Built to Spill
- Yo La Tengo
- Sunn O)))
- Thee Oh Sees
- Danny Brown
- Killer Mike
- The Spits
- Sister Crayon
- Whatever Brains
- Guardian Alien
It’s not necessarily about the music you or I know and already love; it’s about the potential for discovery. For the record, I believe that this year’s Hopscotch line up is bigger and better than the Moogfest line up in Asheville, which I would not have claimed last year.
Here’s my homework, or at least my personal effort to educate myself about the bands at the festival this year (google docs): Hopscotch 2012 Line Up Analysis
- Shows are marked and organized by column according to how interested I am in seeing them — it’s an effort to prioritize and make tough decisions about shows to seek out, shows to happen upon, and a few shows I might want to disregard. If you don’t like my priorities, or even if you do, you should come up with your own.
- I forced all of the bands/artists into 9 genres (one of which is “other”). This is certainly not an effort to label all of them precisely, but it helps to classify the types of acts at a given venue on a given night. It also yields a surprising snapshot; for example, there are 15 metal bands this year, and not nearly as much 80’s-influenced dance rock (considering how that sound seems so common these days).
- There are links to live performances for most of the artists. This should at least give you a feel for the band’s stage show. Note that some of the smaller, local artists (generally found at the bottom of the list) don’t have much live performance video online.
- Prioritization is a work in progress, and maybe it can be used for planning purposes.
This year is shaping up to be musically notable:
- I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the LPs I’ve heard so far this year. Of the 12 albums I list here, I don’t consider any one of them to have more than two weak, filler-type songs. These albums make me appreciate the long-play recording again, instead of viewing the album as a commercial bucket that contains a few good songs and a bunch of bad songs, just because the good songs have to be contained somewhere. Full-album appreciation hasn’t been the norm for me in recent years.
- Hip-hop hasn’t sounded so good since the golden era, the ’90s. I think maybe that’s because the regional qualities of the music are blending, and the cream is rising to the top. Of course, in a house with two children younger than four, hip-hop is relegated to headphones and ear buds. But, my taste for it is as strong as ever. When I was a sophomore in high school, a wizened senior told me, “you’ll stop listening to rap when you get a little older.” 2012 is making a liar of him. Related reading: Hip-Hop And You Do Stop is a great summary of why the ’90s were special.
- My kids continue to be eager for jams. Jackie makes occasional requests, although she hasn’t latched on to any newer songs as tightly as she did last year. McLain is just starting to discover the dancey side of his alter ego, Party Boy, but the kid can flat-out do a soulful impression of Usher. I don’t have video of this yet, but imagine an almost-two-year-old singing high notes and pretending to strain, eyes closed, as he moves his head around in a Stevie Wonder kind of way.
Speaking of McLain, he also had his first genuine sing-along moment with a song. We were in the car, and I was playing Wordless Chorus by My Morning Jacket. Out of the blue, he chimed in with the chorus…”Ahhhh, Ahh Ahhhhhh Ahh Ahh”. I shouldn’t have been surprised — in addition to sharing the same initials as the band, his first concert (in utero) was My Morning Jacket.
I’ll never forget McLain singing along with an unfamiliar song for the first time, just as I never forgot that time I was changing Jackie’s diaper a couple of years ago. Grizzly Bear’s While You Wait for the Others was on the home stereo, and she jumped in on the refrain towards the end, when Droste or Rossen is wailing, “Oh Oh Oh Ohhhhhh”.
Back to the purpose of this post — here are my favorite LPs and tracks for the first half of 2012.
Note: Each track has a Spotify play button. You’ll need a Spotify account and the app installed to play the songs.
Hot Chip — In Our Heads
The Walkmen — Heaven
Killer Mike — R.A.P. Music
Royal Headache — Royal Headache
Bear In Heaven — I Love You, It’s Cool
Grimes — Visions
John Talabot — Fin
Schoolboy Q — Habits & Contradictions
The Men — Open Your Heart
Andrew Bird — Break It Yourself
Lower Dens — Nootropics
Cloud Nothings — Attack On Memory
Igoyh — Kwes.
Really In Love — Royal Headache
Stay Useless — Cloud Nothings
Inspector Norse — Todd Terje
Climax — Urrsher
Hurting (Tensnake Remix) — Friendly Fires
Brains — Lower Dens
Unless You Speak From Your Heart — Porcelain Raft
Lazuli — Beach House
Oblivion — Grimes
Know Me — Frankie Rose
Sinful Nature — Bear In Heaven
Lay Your Cards Out — POLICA
Gun Has No Trigger — Dirty Projectors
Every Single Night — Fiona Apple
The House That Heaven Built — Japandroids
Heaven — The Walkmen
Black Treacle — Arctic Monkeys
One Second of Love — Nite Jewel
Simple Song — The Shins
Monoliths — Lotus Plaza
Candy — The Men
Hood — Perfume Genius
Brodermordet — War
Give Out — Sharon Van Etten
Hole in the Ocean Floor — Andrew Bird
November Skies — Tomas Barfod, Nina Kinert
Betty Wang — Hospitality
Tiffany Lou — Daughn Gibson
Ashtray Wasp — Burial
I’ve Seen Footage — Death Grips
Untitled — Killer Mike (featuring Scar)
There He Go — Schoolboy Q
Oldie — OFWGKTA
The Full Retard — El-P
Island in the Stream…that is what I am.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that for my wife Katie and me, the Kenny & Dolly duet is “our song”. So, before you even skim my list of 2011 music that I deem excellent, I’ve already destroyed any smidge of credibility you might have assumed that I had. You must understand that sometimes lovebirds don’t choose their song; rather, their song chooses them. Such is the anomaly Katie and I shared during our third date. It’s an anomaly that we both now own, and proudly. But, that’s another story for another time.
Let me explain why I’m an island in the stream. I’m in the Stream because I no longer consume music from files that I store on a hard drive. Instead of a carefully researched and price-shopped collection of music that I assembled, I depend on the cloud (and Spotify’s label affiliations) to hear anything in their catalog of more than 15 million songs. I can’t imagine returning to music, and life, as it was with an 50 GB iTunes library.
I’m an island because I have few friends using Spotify. I jumped into a premium Spotify subscription in mid-July, soon after they launched service in the U.S., and I haven’t looked back since. If only the 10 or 12 people whose taste in music I really value would do the same, the Spotify experience would be further enhanced. Maybe I’ll ramp up my recruitment efforts in 2012.
Spotify is not without flaws. Most importantly, artists get a miniscule revenues from streamed music. This seems fair for the albums I wouldn’t have purchases outright, and grossly unfair for the albums I would have bought. Katie has reminded me that I don’t make the stuff I like as available as I did with iTunes. That’s because I only sync playlists with my phone, and not with the family mp3 players we use around the house and on the go.
There are some new releases (maybe about 5% in my brief experience) that I can’t find when I look for them. Interestingly, two of my favorite albums from this year (by The Weeknd and A$AP Rocky) were mixtapes available on the web for free download. To hear them in Spotify, I have to import them from a local directory. I also miss all the metadata tied to albums in iTunes (e.g. BPM, year, etc.).
Overall, I love Spotify. It’s cut my annual music budget by more than half, and I have access to almost anything at almost any time. Before this post turns into a full-blown Spotify review (too late?), I’ll get to the point of all this.
In sharp contrast to the iTunes years, using a subscription service has resulted in listening more to full albums and EPs. When I relied on hard-drive storage for music files, individual mp3s were the basic units in my collection.
I would pick and choose songs and avoid purchasing LPs to save money. Now that I no long have a discrete collection, and unlimited access to (most) albums, I’m back to consuming long-form recordings. And to think, I used to the album as a genre was dead!
Also, I’ll go on record as saying that I think three of the best-received albums of 2011 according to Metacritic’s aggregation are overrated (PJ Harvey, Bon Iver, and The Horrors). My daughter would agree — when I played Bon Iver soon after it came out, Jackie gave me a bored look and pleaded, “let’s play some JAMS Daddy.”
These are my 20 favorites of the past year, classified in four tiers below:
Days – Real Estate
House of Balloons* – The Weeknd
SUBTRKT – Sbtrkt
The English Riviera – Metronomy
Black Up – Shabazz Palaces
Lenses Alien – Cymbals Eat Guitars
Electronic Dream – araabMUZIK
Wounded Rhymes – Lykke Li
Sepalcure — Sepalcure
Parallax – Atlas Sound
Looping State of Mind – The Field
Mirror Traffic – Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
A$AP Rocky — LiveLoveA$AP
Tomboy – Panda Bear
No Color – The Dodos
Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
Hurry Up We’re Dreaming – M83
Smother – Wild Beasts
Carrion Crawler/The Dream – Thee Oh Sees
It’s All True – Junior Boys
My 60 favorite songs of 2011 are listed below, and here’s the link to the Spotify playlist.
- It’s Real – Real Estate
- An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum — Shabazz Palaces
- The Bay – Metronomy
- Wildfire (feat. Little Dragon) – Sbtrkt
- Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name) – Cymbals Eat Guitar
- I’ll Take Care Of U – Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx
- The Morning* – The Weeknd
- Black Night – The Dodos
- Street Joy – White Denim
- Video Games – Lana Del Rey
- Nasty – Nas
- Gorilla* – Clams Casino
- Stick Figures In Love – Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
- Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out – The Antlers
- Streetz Tonight – araabMUSIK
- Still Sound – Toro Y Moi
- Reach A Bit Further – Wild Beasts
- Love Out Of Lust – Lykke Li
- Pencil Pimp – Sepalcure
- Ungirthed* – Purity Ring
- Is This Power – The Field
- New Map – M83
- Come To The City – The War On Drugs
- Street Halo – Burial
- Alsatian Darn – Panda Bear
- Lotus Flower – Radiohead
- Need You Now – Cut Copy
- Ritual Union – Little Dragon
- Top Bunk – Gauntlet Hair
- Brand New Guy (feat. ScHoolboy Q) (prod. Lyle) – ASAP Rocky
- Edge of Extremes – Clubfeet
- Make My – The Roots
- All The Same – Real Estate
- What You Need* – The Weeknd
- Santa Fe – Beirut
- If I Had A Boat – James Vincent McMorrow
- Other Side – Family Portrait
- My Mistakes – Eleanor Friedberger
- Shut Up, Man (feat. El-P) – Das Racist
- Songs 4 Women* – Frank Ocean
- I Follow Rivers – Lykke Li
- Grown Ocean – Fleet Foxes
- Woods – The Rosebuds
- Falls (Violet) – Van Hunt
- Angel Is Broken – Atlas Sound
- Every Night – James Pants
- Don’t Move – Phantogram
- Under Cover Of Darkness – The Strokes
- Like Gentle Giants – Corduroi
- Something Goes Right – Sbtrkt
- Banana Ripple – Junior Boys
- Something Came Over Me – WILD FLAG
- Wait In The Dark – Memory Tapes
- Get Right – Megafaun
- Hey Sparrow – Peaking Lights
- Gangsta – Tune-Yards
- Weekend – Smith Westerns
- Get Away – Yuck
- Make Me Proud – Drake
- Holocene – Bon Iver
* denotes a track that can’t be found on Spotify, but can easily be found on the web.
Half of 2011 has elapsed; in the blink of an eye, my toddler daughter is reading letters, my baby son wants to walk, and the music of our lives (sentimental, isn’t it?) for the first half of the year is in heavy rotation on White Oak. By the way, young McLain has shown a prodigious talent for percussion. His style reminds me of Lionel Hampton in form and Claude Coleman in flare, although at 9.5 months, it might be a bit early to put labels on him.
Also, one day last week, I was playing Purity Ring’s “Ungirthed“. On a whim, I switched to a Wes Montgomery song. Jackie heard the smooth jazz guitar and asked me, “What happened to the jams?” Talk about your priceless parental moments — it was my daughter’s first critical + music-related comment. I was proud, and I honored her request.
This post is not a lame attempt to describe the best of the first half of the year. If that kind of thing strikes your fancy, you can find it at NPR Music or Paste or somewhere.
Here are the albums we’ve, or I’ve, been listening to this year, even though the last three in the list were released in 2010. Even though there seems to be an ever-increasing number of exceptional (and free) mixtapes, I didn’t include those in the list.
Note: My favorites (so far) are denoted with an asterisk, and albums are listed in order of acquisition, most recent first.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Shabazz Palaces – Black Up*
Random Axe – Random Axe
Junior Boys – It’s All True*
Burial – Street Halo (EP)
My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Wild Beasts – Smother*
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots
Curren$y x The Alchemist – Cover Coup
Panda Bear – Tomboy*
The Dodos – No Color*
Frank Ocean– Nostalgia/Ultra
Austra – Feel It Break
The Weeknd – House of Balloons*
Radiohead – King of Limbs
Cut Copy – Zonoscope
Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
jj – Kills Mixtape
Lower Dens – Twin-Hand Movement
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt*
Other music notes:
- I’ve been using Amazon Cloud Player quite a bit.
- I’ve been experimenting with Google Music, even though it’s another online locker for music like Amazon Cloud.
- Ultimately, I’m waiting for Spotify to come to the U.S.so I can jump head-first into a subscription service.
My parents were the first of many influences on my musical tastes. Mom is the bona fide musician of the family; she has a beautiful singing voice and is proficient on the piano. I took three years of piano lessons, but it didn’t stick. What did become ingrained was an appreciation for artists in the singer/songwriter mold. The fact that I would belt out Willie Nelson’s Good Hearted Woman at age four can be attributed to my father’s passion for music. Even now, when I hear the Battle of New Orleans (video below), I hear my Dad’s voice and not Johnny Horton’s.
At some point in the late 80’s, it became obvious that I was developing my own set of criteria for evaluating art. I remember a seminal moment in particular — the day they chastised me after hearing the intro track on Black Sheep’s A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing blaring from my room. Someday, in ten years or so, my daughter or son will play something that bothers my ears, and the circle of life will continue.
How do my tastes differ from my parents’ tastes? I’m obsessed with melodies first and rhythm second. Mom’s prefers talented vocalists and dramatic phrasing, and Dad listens for song structure and lyrical content and meter. I wonder what they might think of my favorite track of 2010, Eyesore by Women. The song consists of three mini-songs strung together, and although I’m pretty sure Patrick Flegel’s nasally vocals are in English, only short segments of words are decipherable as coherent English phrases.
Unlike my previous year-end evaluations in 2008 and 2009, I’ll remember 2010 as a year when I made a conscious decision to consume full albums rather than singles (for old time’s sake, I guess). I can’t yet say whether this body-of-work strategy pays more dividends than the alternative piecemeal song strategy. This year, I feel like I have a stronger opinion when it comes to ranking albums, and less of a breadth of exposure to individual tracks, especially in the genres that I don’t hear as much through the blogs and satellite radio stations I depend on for music discovery (hip-hop, R&B, jazz, dance, and electronic). So, forgive me if my lists for 2010 are rock-heavy.
This year I won’t dissect releases that disappointed me (Spoon and Broken Bells) or what I think was overrated (Sleigh Bells and Sufjan Stevens) or downright ridiculous and irritating (Kings of Leon). Instead, take a look and listen at what I found to be the aural highlights of 2010.
Oh, and I owe special thanks to my wife for tolerating my obsession and being agreeable about whatever I put on the home stereo.
I’ve had 42 full albums and EPs, all released in 2010, in the rotation off and on this year. My 16 favorites are classified in the APJ four tiers of quality:
– Public Strain — Women
– Lisbon — The Walkmen
– Cosmogramma — Flying Lotus
– InnerSpeaker — Tame Impala
– Astro Coast — Surfer Blood
– Before Today — Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
– Black Noise — Pantha du Prince
– Forget — Twin Shadow
– Everything In Between — No Age
– Swim — Caribou
– The Budos Band III — The Budos Band
– Halcyon Digest — Deerhunter
– Teen Dream — Beach House
– The Monitor — Titus Andronicus
– My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
– Odd Blood — Yeasayer
My 40 favorite songs of 2010 are listed below. I linked mp3s if I could find them elsewhere (why yes, I am too cheap to pay for the WordPress audio upgrade) for the first 20 or so:
- Eyesore — Women
- Albatross — Besnard Lakes
- My Way — jj (feat. Lil Wayne)
- I Was Thinking… — Gauntlet Hair
- Odessa — Caribou
- Lucidity — Tame Impala
- Heart to Tell — The Love Language
- Carolina — Girls
- Promises — The Morning Benders
- Woe is Me — The Walkmen
- Mouthful of Diamonds — Phantogram
- How I Got Over — The Roots
- Round and Round — Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
- National Anthem — Freddie Gibbs
- Piece — Deer Tick https://cbsmp3oftheday.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/deertick-piece.mp3?dl=1
- River Serpentine — The Budos Band
- I Don’t Think I — Devin Therriault
- Empire Ants — Gorillaz (feat. Little Dragon)
- O.N.E. — Yeasayer
- Cremona Memories — Keep Shelly in Athens
- Castles in the Snow — Twin Shadow
- Heart — Love Diamonds
- Gold Skull — Miniature Tigers
- Waterfall — Fresh & Onlys
- Total Life Forever — Foals
- Desire Lines — Deerhunter
- Satelllliiiiiiiteee — Flying Lotus
- I Learned the Hard Way — Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
- Marathon — Tennis
- Valley Hump Crash — No Age
- Dance or Die — Janelle Monáe (feat. Saul Williams)
- In the Fall — Future Islands (feat. Katrina Ford)
- Shadow People — Dr. Dog
- The Suburbs — Arcade Fire
- Wide Eyes — Local Natives
- Golden Haze — Wild Nothing
- The Dreamer — The Tallest Man on Earth
- A More Perfect Union — Titus Andronicus
- Dance Yrself Clean — LCD Soundsystem
- Bottled in Cork — Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
The Carrboro stop of the “Classic Lineup Reunion Tour” did not disappoint me. Going into it, I knew that 80% of what GbV would play at Cat’s Cradle a couple of weeks ago were songs from Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. Provided that Mr. Pollard was sober and coherent for the show, how could I have been disappointed?
The two aforementioned albums were recorded about the time I was finishing high school and leaving Burke County once and for all, so you can imagine how much the band and its fans have aged. I’d guess that the average show-goer was around 35. But, when Bob did the Roger-Daltrey-style kick, he still could get his foot up around eye-level, and there were several fans who were partying and throwing stuff like it was 1995 (don’t worry…I kept a safe distance from them).
Highlights of the 30-some song, 3-encore set included Quality of Armor, My Valuable Hunting Knife, Shocker in Gloomtown, and Don’t Stop Now. Bob and the boys were energetic and their sound was tight. I’m glad to have had a last opportunity to see one of my favorite acts of all time.