Posts Tagged ‘best’

This is the New Year

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Happy New Year, everybody! Before we get too far into 2013, I thought I’d share a few of the people and projects that made 2012 so special.

My favorite record of the last 12 months was Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp. I fell under her spell while I was on tour a few years ago, and this latest LP was a knockout. The vocal performances alone are noteworthy–while the songs are personal and engrossing, the lyrics don’t give away too much. It’s the vocal that moves the mood, and Tramp is a rollercoaster. I can’t recommend this enough. If you need another way into the world of SVE, she also does a solid Tom Petty.

Wrecking Ball was the best Bruce Springsteen album in years, and his live shows this year were electric. I saw the Boss twice in 2012 and, while I know this has become a bit of a cliche when describing his concerts, both experiences were borderline religious. That dude brings 150 percent to every moment of every show. Ain’t nobody better.

My fellow upstate New York native Sean Rowe released his second album for the Anti- label this year, and The Salesman and the Shark has “classic album” written all over it. Amazing production and performances bolstering confident, evocative songwriting. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.

A few of my favorite bands ever reunited together this year. Pulp‘s brief, Coachella-inspired reunion was brilliant as expected, at least as judged by their second Radio City Music Hall show in April. The occasion also allowed Jarvis to do a set of Relaxed Muscle tunes alongside Michael Clark’s dance company at the Whitney, which was equally excellent.

The Afghan Whigs also got the band back together and it was the best thing ever. There was no album to promote, just a few new cover tunes (including a terrific take on a Frank Ocean track), a formidable back-catalog, and a legend of having been one of the best live acts in their day. I saw them in September at the Greg Dulli-curated ATP Festival and it pretty much changed my life. (ATP was also a chance to see the great Mark Lanegan sing songs from Blues Funeral, another of my favorites from 2012.) The Whigs’ set was powerful enough that I went back for more, two weeks later in Brooklyn, and it was even better. Pure power and soul.

The Silver Age wasn’t a Sugar reunion record, but it was the closest thing to a follow-up to File Under: Easy Listening that Bob Mould has done in 18 years. I once commented that a Mould solo-electric set in the mid-’90s was like a “master class,” and The Silver Age gives me that same feeling. His yearning, insistent voice and unmistakable sense of melody are still very much there, and they’re never better than when matched with thrashing alt-rock guitars and drums. Also there’s a song called “Fugue State” on here that may be inspired by an episode of Breaking Bad, which is worth several bonus points in my estimation.

Some other records I dug: Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel; Neil Young and Crazy Horse Psychedelic Pill; Soundgarden King Animal; Aimee Mann Charmer; Scott Walker Bish Bosch; Nada Surf The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy; Divine Fits A Thing Called Divine Fits; Big Boi Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors; The Evens The Odds; Om Advaitic Songs; Joseph Arthur Redemption City; Jack White Blunderbuss

In the “personal best” column, 2012 was the year I finally finished Little Hopes, so now I can get on to making other records! It was the year I “starred” in a Beach House video. It was the year I toured with the Scud Mountain Boys (thanks to Joe and Joyce!). And it was the year I made music with more bands and performers than ever: I joined a few new bands (the Robin Electric and one more TBA); joined and left another (Golden Animals); got involved in the Leave A Lasting Mark charity concert series; did studio sessions with Senator and the New Republic and Josh Wald; played live shows with Violet Trouper, These Are The Hits, JBCB/Charmboy, another Sense Offenders reunion, Ryan McNeill (and Jason Hiller), and Will McCranie; and made some genuine progress on the new Five Alpha Beatdown LP (in addition to playing a few classic gigs).

And I finally watched The Wire, which I’ll be doing again this year for sure.

Here’s to another great year!

Feast for the Ears

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

I may be the last person to post a Best Of list, but better late than never. Here are some of the sounds I was digging in 2011, alphabetically.

Adele‘s 21 was the runaway pop smash of the year, and for good reason: The talent, material, and delivery are all top-notch. This record will continue to sell for decades.

The  Beastie Boys returned to form with Hot Sauce Committee Volume Two, their best record since Hello Nasty, maybe even Ill Communication. They also produced two of the strangest/funniest music videos in recent memory.

Following the breakthrough success of Brothers, Ohio duo the Black Keys returned with El Camino. Co-produced and -written by Danger Mouse, El Camino is an exercise in Big Dumb Rock that’s half as long but twice as awesome as its predecessor. Also: another killer video.

Charles Bradley‘s No Time for Dreaming is another soul-funk gem from the house of Daptone, this time starring a dude in his 60s who sounds like he’s inhabited by the ghosts of Otis Redding and James Brown. (He just so happens to be one of New York City’s foremost JB impersonators.) It’s his first album, and it’s a knockout.

Saying goodbye to a legend like Glen Campbell ain’t easy (he’s battling Alzheimer’s and will retire from the music business at the end of his current tour), but what a terrific farewell record he’s left us in Ghost On The Canvas.

I wasn’t nuts about the entire album, but Coldplay‘s “Paradise” was one of the most repeatedly satisfying singles of the year. We must have played it a thousand times in the tour van last fall.

The King Is Dead was the most straightforward Decemberists record since their first EP. And as much as I have enjoyed their rock operas, it’s nice to hear them singing simple songs again.

I’ve been a Joe Henry fan for a long time, so it’s no surprise that I loved his latest, Reverie. But this, perhaps more than any of his albums, could be the one that publicly seals his reputation as one of the great songwriters of his generation.

PJ Harvey has yet to make a bad record, but Let England Shake is her best in 10 years. What an artist.

Watch the Throne was pretty good.

Turtleneck and Chain was even better.

Anytime there’s a new Low record, I’m happy. C’mon is just gorgeous.

Mirror Traffic was the best Stephen Malkmus record since Pavement split up. Go Jicks!

I’m still mourning the breakup of Kim and Thurston–and the possible end of Sonic Youth!–but on the plus side, there was the mostly acoustic, Beck-produced Demolished Thoughts, Thurston Moore‘s unexpectedly tuneful and pastoral solo album.

On first listen I thought Radiohead‘s The King of Limbs was already better than Amnesiac. After sitting with it for the better part of a year, I think it might be even better than my initial assessment. While rhythm takes center stage, the songs are excellent, and the band continues to expand their sonic palette. I can’t think of another band that has remained so interesting after this many years. Also: Thom Yorke dancing.

The hardest-working band in late-night TV also made the year’s best hip-hop album: The Roots got into the concept-record business with Undun, and it’s dark, heavy, and worthy of dozens of repeat listens.

My friend Luther Russell made an ambitious move, releasing a full-on double album titled The Invisible Audience. It’s worth every second of its running time. From roots-rock to blues to power pop, this dude is a walking jukebox.

Ron Sexsmith consistently delivers great albums, and Long Player Late Bloomer was no exception.

Black Up, the debut release from Shabazz Palaces, was strange and savory, featuring some of the weirdest soundscapes in rap this year.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Paul Simon as a solo artist, but So Beautiful or So What is just stunning.

Strange Mercy, Annie Clark’s third album as St. Vincent, was another mix of orchestral textures, sick guitars, and one of my favorite voices in all of music.

The second tUnE-yArDs record, w h o k i l l, truly needs to be heard to be understood. Bursting with creativity. (And saxophones.)

Tom Waits made a triumphant return with Bad As Me, his first album of new material in seven years. It’s by turns beautiful and beastly, much like the man’s career as a whole. Easily ranks among his finest work.

Wand, from former Shudder to Think singer Craig Wedren, gets my vote for the year’s most criminally overlooked album.

The Whole Love was Wilco‘s most Wilco-y effort in a while, in that it had a little bit of everything that the band does well. Mostly, it was just a pretty record.

The self-titled debut from Wild Flag was everything that could be expected from a band that features members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, and the Minders. Riffs galore.

Wye Oak‘s Civilians is just great indie-pop. And sometimes that’s all I need.