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!