Monday, December 10, 2012

My Favorite Music of 2012

This year it seemed like ALL of my favorite ladies released new music. ALL of them. Well, all but one (I’m looking at you, Jenny Lewis). But really, so many of them did. Even I released an album this year. And although Haley Bonar didn’t release a full-length album this year, she did manage to squeeze in a 7” single. So that’s something.

And I don’t mean to separate music by gender – but I can’t deny that I highly enjoy the musicians of the female type and, back in January as I looked at the rumored releases for 2012, I couldn’t help but notice all of my favorite female musicians on the list of upcoming releases and, therefore, I knew it was going to be good year for music.

And though the likes of a few more of my favorites (PJ Harvey, Caroline Smith, and Lykke Li) were unable to release new music this year,  I will cut them some slack because they did all release awesome music in 2011. But, Jenny Lewis, what gives? Come on already! Or take your time and put out something amazing. Whatever. 

So here it is. My Favorite Music of 2012.

 Top 10 Albums of 2012

1. Sharon Van Etten: Tramp
I know she’s been around for some time now, but she didn’t catch my ears until I heard her song “Leonard” played nearly every hour on 89.3The Current here in Minnesota. It was enough to get my attention and have her on my radar for the next time I had some money and could pick up some new music. So when I did, I picked up Tramp and then became obsessed with “Leonard”. I had to listen to it all the time whenever I could, sometimes back to back to back. Then I decided to give the rest of the album a listen and it blew me away. Acoustically driven music that is just grand in its production with Sharon’s voice dripping like soft butter all over the heartbreaking lyrics that seep into your skin. “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city and why I’ll need to leave” from my current most favorite track on the album, “Give Out”, is just one example of those outstanding lyrics. If baths were something I liked to soak in with candles and cigarettes, this is the album I’d play while doing so. It’s that kind of mood.

Top 3 Tracks: “Leonard”, “Serpents”, “Give Out” 

2. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel is Wise Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do Yes, the album title is long. But once you get past that and just listen you can’t help but appreciate the amazing songwriting and arrangements that are happening on this album. Fiona has always been an amazing songwriter and these songs hold up right next to her best work of the past. But what makes them standout are the arrangements. Most of the time the music gets so quiet that you’re not sure if anything is actually playing in the background. Subtle piano keys punctuate her ever biting vocals that effortlessly roll from a whisper to a growl throughout the album. And just when you settle in to the quiet, she starts with a chant or rhythmic, pounding drums come out of nowhere. The percussion on this album is what stands out for me the most.  It takes center stage on a lot of these tracks and I love it.  The rhythms are unexpected and just…cool. This album immediately inspired me in my songwriting. Well done, Fiona.

Top 3 Tracks: “Hot Knife”, “Every Single Night”, “Anything We Want”

3. Zoo Animal: Departure 
From the opening note of remembrance sung by main Zoo Animal Holly Newsom to her ending request to dream on, this album will give you chills. It’s quiet, sparse arrangements only help to magnify both the strength and vulnerability in Newsom’s voice.  While listening, you feel like you're somewhere else – my brain just sort of drifts off and follows the melodies and chords. There is an eerie quality to the songs, yet they are steeped with sweetness and yearning. They are soft, yet strong. The music, though seemingly simple, is perfectly suited to the story and the vibe of the album. Holly has a special way of playing guitar that is hard to describe but great to listen to and even better to watch (catch them live if you can!) It’s almost as if she and her guitar are having a conversation amongst themselves. A riveting one that you just can’t help but eavesdrop on.  

Top 3 Tracks: "Laying and Lying", "Dream On", "Black and Charred" 

4. Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra: Theatre Is Evil

Theatre is Evil is big. It’s loud. It’s, well, grand. The album kicks off with a circus-type MC introducing the band and the album and then immediately jumps to a stomping kick drum that opens the first musical track of the record, “Smile (Pictures or It Didn’t Happen)”, which perfectly encapsulates the running theme of the whole album: That life is short, friends are important, moments are important, try to have a good fucking time and appreciate ALL of it – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the grand. Amanda sings with extreme passion. Every single word is put out there with every part of her being. She is a performer. It is rare when an artist who is so engaging and theatrical and vivid live can transfer that energy to an album, but she does it. Theatre is Evil is not just all about being huge and grand, though. There are quieter moments. “Trout Heart Replica”  is one of those songs that could mean a lot of different things (most likely a metaphor as humans as just meat and product), but I tend to take it pretty straightforward and apply it to my own thoughts on being a vegetarian and therefore, it makes me cry. Just her vocals, piano and a lovely string arrangement. “The Bed Song” is another one of those more simple tracks featuring the life of a couple that loses their meaning of husband and wife – the final verse being absolutely devastating. But the majority of the album is pretty rocking, layered in 80s synth, deep bass, and wordy lyrics. It will make you dance while it makes you think.   

Top 3 Tracks: “The Killing Type”, “Want It Back”, “Trout Heart Replica” and I have to throw in a fourth for "Olly Olly Oxen Free"

5.  Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas
I have to keep checking to make sure that this album did come out in 2012 because I feel like I've had it forever. I've been a fan of Leonard's ever since I saw Pump Up the Volume and Christian Slater's Happy Harry Hard-On played "Everybody Knows" while contemplating how messed up high school is. This album is another collection of super cool songs by Leonard Cohen. It's so relaxing to listen to him sing/speak through these poems/songs. From the first line of the first song "Going Home" ("I'd love to speak to Leonard/he's a Sportsman and a Shepherd/he's a lazy bastard living in a suit") you are immediately sucked into the stories that are about to unfold. Nobody writes lyrics like Leonard Cohen. And still, he has those awesome backing singers. Oh, how I wish I could sing back up for Leonard Cohen. How awesome is it that at 77 years old he put out one of the greatest albums of his career?

Top 3 Tracks: "Going Home", "Crazy to Love You", "Show Me the Place" 

6. Ani Difranco: Which Side Are You On?  
This is Ani’s 17th studio album. Through the years her style has evolved and changed and that’s a good thing. This one is a little softer, yet not any less stronger, than her earlier work. The guitars are less plucky and fierce and are given an almost music box quality dancing around the words and support of her backing band. The album starts out quietly with a tale from the perspective of a homeless woman asking the world for acceptance and at the same time not really caring if she gets it in “Life Boat” and flows right into a song of Ani asking her new love to help her stop worrying in “Unworry”. These songs almost feel like intros or their own separate A and B side tracks before the album really kicks off with the title track “Which Side Are You On?”, an old protest song originally written by Pete Seeger but reworked lyrically and musically for the modern day by Ani. And not to discount those first two tracks completely (as “Life Boat” is a great song), but from here on, the album really feels like a solid piece of work. Almost evenly split between politics and love, Which Side Are You On? truly encompasses the best of what Ani Difranco is all about. Funny lyrics poking at monogamy in ”Promiscuity”, brutally honest and forthright political songs like “Amendment “ and the funky “J”, and heartbreakingly beautiful songs about love, like “Hearse”, the album's stand out track. And though it is her 17th studio album, it’s a great album to give to the first time Ani listener.

 Top 3 Tracks: "Hearse", "Which Side Are You On?", "Mariachi"

7.  Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles: Heat
 Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles went rock n’ roll with their fourth album. Well, not entirely rock, but definitely amped up. The ukuleles, accordions, and cellos are all still there, but they are now backed up on many tracks by some crunchy electric guitar. Lucy’s sweet voice still shines through and her lyrics are ever thoughtful. There’s a definite maturity and more of a  pop sensibility to this album. Songs like “Just a Kid and “Undone” are radio ready yet still keep their indie-ness to keep them interesting.  Love was definitely in the air while making this album – there almost seems to be a story of a relationship unfolding with each track. The first meeting thoughts of “Just a Kid”, the lustful yearning of “Undone” the contemplation of “Million Things” and “Catacombs” and even a proposal in “Pugent Sound”. The album is aptly named as all of the songs have heavy feeling to them. You can almost feel the sun beating down and the sweat on your brow, which is even more of an accomplishment when you consider the album was written in Minnesota during one of its most brutal winters. But that kind of confinement can sometimes bring out massive amounts of creativity and that is certainly the case here.

Top 3 Tracks: "Undone", "Million Things", "Oh, Home"

 8. Anais Mitchell: Young Man in America
Anais is here to tell you stories and all of them are awesome. I don't think there's another storyteller in the music world out there quite like her right now. Her songs move so effortlessly. Her voice just lets it all out, each word falling after the next like there is no other place they'd rather be. The title track "Young Man in America" is an instant classic telling the story of, well, a young man in America with the lyrics "My mother gave a mighty shout/opened her legs and let me out" and "I come out like a cannonball/come of age of alcohol"...seriously I could just quote the whole song. And that's just one of the songs. The song "Shepherd" is based on a story her father wrote and is a heartbreaking tale (I also just learned he is the man on the cover of the album). The beautiful piano-driven "Coming Down" gained some recognition after being covered by Bon Iver. There's just a lot of beauty and brilliance in this album.

Top 3 Tracks: "Young Man in America", "Tailor", "Shepherd"

9. The xx: Coexist
If you want something to drink wine to in a dimly lit room, this is the album. Super chill yet still kind of danceable in that sort of head bobbing sway way. Terrific beats. Simply sweet lyrics, like the repeated ending of "Reunion": "Did I see you see me in a new light?". There's a lot of cool moments like the kind of guitar solo that comes out of nowhere in "Chained" (as well as the beats in this song that almost sound like they are off but they are not and it's super interesting to listen to). Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft's vocals blend so perfectly. Boy and girls singing together. That's where it's at.

Top 3 Tracks: "Angels", "Chained", "Reunion"

10. Cat Power: Sun
Cat Power changed it up again with Sun. Her voice works well with this sort of dancey/electronic music. But, really, when doesn't her voice work well? The album feels a little standoffish. Like she doesn't want people to get too close anymore so she put herself behind all the bleeps and distorters and dance beats. But sometimes you gotta do that. There's a definite anger there. But, what might be the most interesting part (besides the 10+ minute epic aptly named "Nothing But Time") is that these songs really touch on humanity while sounding like the least humanly made songs of her career. Shout outs to how we should all just love and accept each other as we are. You gotta like that.  

Top 3 Tracks: "Manhattan", "3,6,9", "Peace and Love"

Album I Just Got Last Night That Is Awesome:
Prissy Clerks: Bruise or Be Bruised: Prissy Clerks debut album release show was last night and they are something else. Great live act. Great album.

Songs of the Year (in no particular order)

Sharon Van Etten: "Leonard"
Just beautiful.

Delta Spirit: "California"
I heard this song while just hanging out at home and it totally caught my ears. I went to go check out the album and it didn't do much for me. But this song is wonderful.

The Chalice: "Push It"
These ladies are the real deal.

Best Coast: "The Only Place"
This album is on my Christmas list. I just never got around to picking it up this year. But you can't deny this is a great pop song.

Ani Difranco: "Which Side Are You On?"
Ass kicking political anthem.

Anais Mitchell: "Young Man in America"
You won't be able to turn it off.

Zoo Animal: "Laying and Lying"
Another one that's just beautiful. Nothing more to say.

French Films About Trains: "Hope & You"
This song is Sunday mornings.

The Best of the Rest:
The Broken Bicycles: Minneapolis, Southside Desire: Songs to Love and Die To, Dark Dark Dark: Who Needs Who, Fairfax AK: Love Stories and Picture Shows

No comments: