02 January 2013

2012:: Favorite Albums

Our musical tastes are like fingerprints -- we've each got our own little curlicues and whorls to guide us. Out of the almost 500 albums I listened to in 2012, these may or may not have been the best (whatever that means), but they were my favorites, though I probably liked yours too, so don't fret too much about it.

These are grouped together with alphabetical listings in each group... everything subject to change at any time!

The Top Ten (in alphabetical order)

The Bad Plus -- Made Possible
Did you know that I loved The Bad Plus? Until they release a clunker, there's a place on this list reserved for these guys. The first two tracks on Made Possible are pure magic and the rest of it is as good as The Bad Plus gets. The feeling of "your favorite band keeps getting better" is a powerful one.
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Beachwood Sparks -- The Tarnished Gold
Here's what I wrote for Hidden Track earlier this year: "Crunchy, psychedelic country music from a gone-but-not-forgotten era – right down to the band and album name and cover art — sounds right at home here and now: Haight-Asbury’d acoustic, electric and steel guitars meet lush Laurel-Canyon’d harmonies to smile-inducing effect. This is the musical equivalent of putting some West coast sunshine in a jar and saving it for a cold, dark mid-February New England. Of course, you can enjoy it any day… and should!"
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Andrew Bird -- Break It Yourself
Here's what I wrote for Hidden Tracks top 25 entry for this album: "Sometimes a great athlete is described by the phrase “the laws of physics do not apply.” The same words describe Andrew Bird’s newest album: the music floats as if unencumbered by gravity; the songs stretch and contract, ignoring time’s steady tick. The last couple of years have found Bird dabbling in instrumental music more and more and this mindset shines through on the album, in little minute-long blurbs between songs and within the compositions themselves. I read a review that declared this album to be “perfect” and who am I to argue?"
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Dr. John - Locked Down
If you pinned me down and made me choose, this would be my favorite album of the year. So perfectly realized, so perfectly funky/rocking/greasy/dark/dirty/awesome. This is music of another time and place injected full-form into the here and now. As I wrote for HT, it sounds like Dan Auerbach as Marty McFly, Dr John as Marvin Berry; a time-traveling Delorean and one funky-as-hell Enchantment Under the Sea dance."
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Grizzly Bear -- Shields
Sometimes a band hits that sweet middle -- the Goldilocks Effect where everything is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right. That's where Grizzly Bear is with this one, hitting just the right level of orchestral big, soft folk-y little, buzzing psychedelic and pulsing rock. If one album could somehow sum up the sound of all the other albums in my top 100, this would be the best representative sound. Also, the songs are bleeping great.
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Heartless Bastards -- Arrow
I've written about this album twice already for HT, that's how much it moved (and continues to move) me. Here's what I wrote earlier this month for the top 25 column: "To be a truly great rock band, at some point you need to stop sounding like the great rock bands of the past and chart your own path. With 2009’s The Mountain and even more so with this year’s Arrow, The Heartless Bastards have proven their greatness, staked out a path and delivered some truly kick ass rock and roll. As I wrote earlier this year, Arrow features “superlative songs with patient, build-to-climax construction and some of the most soulful female vocals to sing them.” Erika Wennerstrom has a special from-the-soul passion – when she sings here of life, longing, love, you wish she was singing about you. Listen again and again and you might just convince yourself she is.
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Pond -- Beards, Wives, Denim
When I started my weekly album picks column for Hidden Track, my first "you've gotta hear this!" pick was this Pond album because... you've gotta hear this! It came out of nowhere and kicked me in the brain, sounding like an album a bunch of Aussies made specifically for me. Deeply psychedelic with fuzzy distortion and extended prog jams, perfectly executed. This was one of my favorite discoveries of the year, and discovering new favorites is my favorite pastime.
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Tame Impala -- Lonerism
It's fun to watch a band have their big "sophomore moment" and, with all eyes on them, just nail it the way Tame Impala did in 2012. This album is a masterpiece, a whole-is-greater-than-its-parts assemblage. Best-in-genre psych-rock, yes, but so much more once the surface is scratched as penetrating grooves and gee-whiz songwriting are revealed.
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Jack White -- Blunderbuss
Of all the albums on this list, this is the one I'm guessing most people have already heard. I'm not sure there are any other artists of his generation making music that satisfies the mainstream and yet has enough teeth and creativity for the bunkered-down music snobs as well. Apparently, rock and roll is the universal language and no one is speaking it better than White.
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Woods -- Bend Beyond
Woods seems to travel along two separate paths -- earnest poppy folk on one branch and jammy psychedelic on the other -- and over time those two have been inching closer, like some sort of inverse Beatles or something. With Bend Beyond, they all but converge (does that make it Woods' Revolver?) in joyous fashion.
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Just one notch below... (11-25 in alphabetical order)

The Amazing -- Gentle Stream
Cat Power -- Sun
Jason Collett -- Reckon
Conduits -- Conduits
Django Django -- Django Django
Dr. Dog -- Be the Void
Floratone -- Floratone II
Hospitality -- Hospitality
Will Johnson -- Scorpion
Little Barrie -- King of the Waves
Brad Mehldau Trio -- Ode/Where Do You Start
Mmoss -- Only Children
Plants and Animals -- The End of That
Matthew E. White -- Big Inner
Zeus -- Busting Visions

Honorable mention (in alphabetical order)

Air -- Le Voyage Dans La Lune
Amadou and Mariam -- Folila
The Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound -- Manzanita
Chicha Libre -- Canibalismo
Erik Deutsch -- Demonio Teclado
Diiv -- Oshin
First Aid Kit -- The Lion’s Roar
Get the Blessing -- OC DC
Goat -- World Music
Here We Go Magic -- A Different Ship
Michael Kiwanuka -- Home Again
Lambchop -- Mr. M
Cate Le Bon -- Cyrk
Jay Farrar/Jim James/Anders Parker/Will Johnson -- New Multitudes
The Pines -- Dark So Gold
Quantic w/ Alice Russell -- Look Around the Corner
Prince Rupert’s Drops -- Run Slow
Frankie Rose -- Interstellar
Royal Baths -- Better Luck Next Life
School of Seven Bells -- Ghostory
The Sheepdogs -- The Sheepdogs
Christopher Paul Stelling -- Songs of Praise & Scorn
Tennis -- Young and Old
Toure-Raichel Collective -- The Tel Aviv Session
Dustin Wong -- Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads

Finally, my 10 favorite EP's of 2012 (in alphabetical order):

Andrew Bird -- Hands of Glory
Deer Tick -- Tim
Chris Forsyth -- Kenzo Deluxe
f’ed up -- Year of the Tiger
Hopewell -- Another Music
Oneida - A List of the Burning Mountains
Punch Brothers -- Ahoy!
Robbers on High Street -- Anything Could Happen
Jonathan Wilson -- Pity Trials and Tomorrow’s Children

2012:: Favorite Live Shows

Once again a wonderful year of seeing live music. Got close to 100 shows, but didn't quite crack it like last year (a shortcoming I owe to multiple bouts of the flu & a hurricane).

The stats:
135+ bands seen (64 for the first time)
94 total shows
76 nights (or days) out
37 different venues

While I loved most of the concerts I made it to this year, several stood out above the rest. Here's are my favorite 10+ 2012 shows in some semblance of an order:

1. Freaks Ball XII @ Brooklyn Bowl 1/21 & 1/22 + Portugal. The Man 1/17 @ Bowery Ballroom
two nights of great music, including @neddyo faves Portugal. The Man one night (who I was lucky to see a few days earlier at the Bowery Ballroom (review here) as well, making it one long Freak week for me) and one of the better superjams I've ever seen the next. The Ball always makes my list, but this one was special.

2. Phish @ Jones Beach 7/3 + @ Madison Square Garden 12/30
I probably saw fewer PH shows in 2012 than in any other year in the past 20 (discounting years they were "off", of course), but they were still great. These two NYC shows were the tops of the ones I saw. Band is in fine form, hopefully they make it easy for me to see 'em in 2013.

3. The Heartless Bastards @ Webster Hall 2/24 + @ Irving Plaza 10/27
Best rock band going right now. The Bastards felt like they were in permanent rotation for me in 2012 and these two shows kind of book-ended the meat of the year. Great, great shows.

4. Newport Folk Festival 7/28 & 29 + Wilco/Blitzen Trapper/Megafaun 7/27 @ Fort Adams, Newport, RI
For me right now, the Folk Fest is the perfect festival: always a mix of bands I already love, bands I want to finally check out and new bands to discover and fall in love with. On those terms, the 2012 version was probably my favorite. Add in the pre-show party at the Fort, which would stand on its own as a top show of the year for me, and you have an amazing weekend of music.

5. Medeski, Cline, Martin & Wood @ Blue Note 12/12
Wow! On paper, the highest caliber of talent you can imagine. In reality, a set of straight improv of the highest degree. This was the jamming that all jambands wish they had in them, full four-man without-a-net interplay that was some of the best music I've seen in a while.

6. White Denim @ Bowery Ballroom 4/13 + Brooklyn Bowl 8/13
As I tweeted sometime during one of these bands: at the current trajectory, White Denim is on course to be the best band ever by the middle of 2013. These two shows were blistering sets from a band at the top of their game. The Bowery show reviewed here.

7. Fruit Bats + Yellowbirds @ Knitting Factory 7/2
Two of my favorite bands, a little bit too off-the-radar, in my opinion, playing together in the underutilized Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on one of those "off nights" right before the summer holiday weekend. Apparently a recipe for some fantastic music. I love both of these bands and haven't seen either of them play better than they did on this night.

8. Tame Impala @ Music Hall of Williamsburg 8/7 + @ Webster Hall 11/10
Tame Impala were my favorite musical thing about 2012, in no small part due to these two amazing shows reviewed here and here.

9. Bright Light Social Hour @ Bowery Ballroom 8/8 
Nine entries into this list and I'm trying to figure out some creative ways of saying "favorite" and "best." Let's put it this way, I don't think there's a more fun rock show than the one these guys put on. But beyond that, they rock their asses off and, on this night they proved they've got the makings of some seriously heady jams in them as well. Don't miss these guys!

10. Andrew Bird @ Riverside Church 12/10
Big rock shows are awesome. Quiet special ones like this can be even better. Reviewed here.

Honorable mention:

1/28 Rubblebucket/Superhuman Happiness @ Bowery Ballroom
1/1 + 4/29 The Bad Plus @ Village Vanguard + Blue Note
3/14 New Multitudes @ Webster Hall
7/25 Wilco @ Terminal 5
3/28 First Aid Kit @ Webster Hall
4/20 Portugal. The Man @ MHOW
2/8 Karl Denson's Tiny Universe + Anders Osborne (play Sticky Fingers) @ Webster Hall
2/23 + 8/3 Zeus @ Mercury Lounge
10/23 El Ten Eleven @ Bowery Ballroom
6/22 Anders Osborne @ Brooklyn Bowl
10/22 The Sea and Cake @ Le Poisson Rouge
9/20 Gosta Berlings Saga @ Hornstrung Strand, Stockholm, Sweden
7/24 Howlin Rain/Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound @ Studio at Webster Hall
12/29 The Punch Brothers @ Bowery Ballroom
10/17 Matthew E. White @ Union Pool
8/3 Shanir Blumenkranz's Abraxas @ The Stone
5/12 Oneida et al @ 285 Kent Ave
6/28 Marc Ribot Trio @ Village Vanguard

2012:: Music writing

For my own benefit, mostly, here are the reviews I wrote in 2012 in chronological order. Thanks for Bowery Presents for the opportunity to write about some great music in 2012;

1/14 Girls @ Terminal 5
1/17 Portugal. The Man @ Bowery Ballroom
1/28 Rubblebucket/Superhuman Happiness @ Bowery Ballroom
2/2 Alex Bleeker & The Freaks/La Big Vic @ Mercury Lounge
2/8 Karl Denson + Anders Osborne play Sticky Fingers @ Webster Hall
2/10 Tea Leaf Green @ Bowery Ballroom
2/23 Zeus @ Mercury Lounge
3/2 Matthew Dear @ Bowery Ballroom
3/14 New Multitudes @ Webster Hall
3/18 The Head and the Heart @ Terminal 5
3/20 The Wood Brothers @ Bowery Ballroom
3/27 Gotye @ Webster Hall
3/28 First Aid Kit @ Webster Hall
4/8 War on Drugs @ Bowery Ballroom
4/13 White Denim @ Bowery Ballroom
4/18 Plants & Animals @ Mercury Lounge
4/20 Portugal. The Man @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
5/1 Acid Mothers Temple/Phantom Family Halo @ Mercury Lounge
5/12 Spirit Family Reunion/Dirt Daubers @ Mercury Lounge
5/16 Ty Segall/White Fence @ Webster Hall
6/11 Widowspeak/2:54 @ Mercury Lounge
6/12 Grouplove @ Webster Hall
6/15 Spirit Family Reunion @ Mercury Lounge
6/19 Ani Difranco @ Bowery Ballroom
6/21 Anders Osborne @ Brooklyn Bowl
6/27 The Young @ Mercury Lounge
7/17 Delta Rae @ Bowery Ballroom
7/18 Yonder Mountain String Band @ Brooklyn Bowl
7/25 Wilco @ Terminal 5
8/3 Zeus @ Mercury Lounge
8/6 Old Crow Medicine Show @ Central Park Summerstage
8/7 Tame Impala @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
8/8 Bright Light Social Hour @ Bowery Ballroom
8/23 Yellowbirds/Shovels & Rope/Christopher Paul Stelling @ Mercury Lounge
9/10 Jaill @ Mercury Lounge
10/8 Jens Lekman @ Terminal 5
10/15 Mountain Goats/Matthew E. White @ Bowery Ballroom
10/23 El Ten Eleven @ Bowery Ballroom
11/10 Tame Impala @ Webster Hall
11/30 David Wax Museum @ Mercury Lounge
12/3 Anais Mitchell @ Bowery Ballroom
12/10 Andrew Bird @ Riverside Church
12/17 My Morning Jacket/Deer Tick @ Capitol Theater
12/29 The Punch Brothers @ Bowery Ballroom
12/29 Alex Bleecker/Prince Rupert's Drops @ Mercury Lounge