I saw the first Best of 2012 Music list a few days before Thanksgiving . It seemed premature and incomplete as there were 6 weeks left to go and I still had plenty of listening to do before I could even get my head around a year’s worth of music. Typically, I hit publish between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Not this year, not even close. Before 2012 is forgotten forever let’s get this one out the door so I can focus on the music of 2013.
Every year I hope to offer up the music that mattered to me as opposed to a balanced, definitive list of what we’re supposed to like. Plenty of other folks can do that. LargeHeartedBoy.com compiled over 1000 Best Of lists if you really want to dig deep into any genre and discover the music that defined 2012. I just want to share some great music and hear about what you liked. Oddly enough a record from 2011 informed and shaped the listening path I took last year. The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World set the tone with its quiet, otherworldly beauty and texture. Much of what I sought out in 2012 featured longer songs, older music, drones, repetition and less emphasis on guitars and individual songs.
Godspeed You Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
It’s been 10 years since Yanqui U.X.O. and I had almost forgotten about the sprawling majesty of this band and their epic sonic assaults. I have most of their catalogue and it amounts to a mere 19 tracks, yet each record requires repeated, attentive listening. Allelujah! is an immersive journey best played loud. Two cascading guitar driven cathartic sound collages and two layered, scouring drones This is beautiful noise.
Swans – The Seer
Another epic from a band that could be hitting their peak (or maybe that was Children of God) after 30 years. Swans split in 1997 and leader Michael Gira focused on solo work, Angels of Light and running Young God Records. In 2010 Swans reconvened with the solid My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky. The Seer combines the best of the band’s pummeling, punishing earlier sound and adds light and space to an uncompromising, incredible two hours of music.
John Talabot – fIN
Combining deep house, retro techno, found sounds and samples, plus a strong pop undercurrent, Spanish DJ John Talabot has created a record that bubbles and percolates across 11 gorgeous tracks. He’s been around in various incarnations for over a decade but fIN is his proper debut.
Moon Duo – Circles
Fantastic drugged-out psychedelia with a propulsive Krautrock undertow, Moon Duo’s music is driven intoxicating guitar noise barely masking groovy pop sensibilities. Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson is three albums deep into what seemed to start as a side project, but is now definitely much more.
DIIV – Oshin
With a sound reminiscent of early Echo and the Bunnymen or pre-Starfish Church, DIIV do dream-pop with sweet jangling guitars and vocals that ebb and flow across the songs. A few individual tracks stand out, but this all works together better as a blissful whole.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
Stott’s two 2011 records were my introduction to his bass-heavy, pulsating production. Both were stellar releases that revealed more and more with each successive listen. Luxury Problems slows down the tempo and adds layers of gorgeous vocals and textures to create something new and incredible beyond its dub, techno, house foundations.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
Mr. Pink can be a bit polarizing. His lo-fi subversive twist on 60s and 70s pop isn’t for everyone. There’s a little Zappa darkness lurking under the bright, sunny tunes. His vocals take a bit getting used to and you always feel like he is playing an elaborate prank on his fans. However, it is difficult to deny the songs. If you hated it the first time, give it a second listen.
The Chromatics – Kill For Love
The Chromatics defy easy description. As soon as you think you’ve pinned them down, they head off in a different direction. Combining synth-pop with disco, post-punk, indie rock and moments of icy minimalism, this album kicks off with a thrilling deconstruction of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) and just gets better from there. It had been five years since their last album, but it was worth the wait.
Field Music – Plumb
On their fourth album the Brewis brothers draw on both lush melodic pop and prog-rock, but strip the sound down to its essence. The clever songwriting, sharp musicianship and tight harmonies make this my favorite batch of songs since their debut.
Darcys – Aja
The Darcys take one of the most highly-polished, perfectly produced pop albums of all time and deconstruct it as a post-rock homage to Steely Dan’s masterpiece. Their tense, sparse take on the original material helps it transcend the novelty and stand on its own.
Advance Base – A Shut-In’s Prayer Sadness and cynicism from Owen Ashworth who did the same as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone.
Pinback – Information Retrieved Better living through precision. They do what they do and they do it well.
Scott Walker – Bish Bosch Difficult listening at its finest. Rumbling, clattering, caterwauling majesty.
Yeasayer – Fragrant World The difficult third album from a band that nobody can agree on.
Shackleton – Music for the Quiet Hour Dub and darkness on an epic sonic journey to the center of your mind.
Grizzly Bear – Shields It’s all about the details. Listen, listen and listen again.
Demdike Stare – Elemental Parts 1 & 2 Sloooowww, dark and droning. The low end will rattle your brain.
Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance Deerhunter guitar player, Lockett Pundt, creates an elegantly restrained album of gauzy, dreamy, indie pop.
Dan Deacon – America He shoots for the title of “serious composer” and scores.
Scuba – Personality Techno as an escape hatch from the world of dubstep
What were your favorites? I am interested in what YOU liked.
Coming soon – Best 2012 reissues and compilations, maybe just in time for summer.
Music formats come and go. 78s, 45s, LPs, 8-tracks, reel-to-reel, cassettes, CDs, MP3s. Some come back again and others disappear. On one hand vinyl is stronger than it has been in almost three decades while the lowly cassingle (or cassette single) has been banished to the crap can of history. Even the much-maligned 8-track has made an ironic comeback, the cassingle will likely never make a revisionist return. It was designed to be cheap and disposable.
The cassingle emerged in the 80s as an inexpensive, portable replacement for the dying 7″ market. From 1987-1995 sales boomed. In 1990 there were more than 90 million sold. By 1996 sales had dropped off a cliff and by 1999 it was all over. Wrapped in a simple cardboard sleeve, shrinkwrapped and sold for a couple of bucks, they were the YouTube clips of their day. Some had the single and a b-side, but many just gave you the single on both sides of the tape. Kids could buy the hits and slap them in the Walkman, boombox or car stereo. Instant gratification in the analog world!
Little did I know that in my very own basement there lurked a treasure trove of these three minute nightmares. While moving things around so I could paint the walls and floor I made the discovery. Tucked away in a box, more than a hundred of them waited for me to come along and unleash their big-haired, shoulder-padded power. There must be at least one nugget buried in this goldmine. I dumped out the box and began digging. George Michael, Janet Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, Roxette, Paula Abdul and countless other misdemeanors against music. Shuddering as I dug further, I uncovered three true atrocities, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, Gerardo and Billy Ray Cyrus.
I almost gave up. And then I found it buried underneath everything. Pure gold. A song that will live forever. Yes, it was BIZ MARKIE! Now I just need a cassette player and I am in business.
If you want to know more there is a website, Cassette Single World, dedicated to fans and the digital collection of “every Cassette Single ever released.” Enjoy!
It started as a debate over where to put the Christmas tree. I wanted it in the corner of the living room where it would cause the least impact. My kids had other plans. They wanted it in the window so you could see it from the street. I countered that it would block the TV. Their response:
“But we don’t even watch TV anymore!”
In unison, they shot down my argument. What was once the centerpiece of the living room was now just another piece of furniture they didn’t care about. The fears of advertisers and television programmers were embodied in those seven words.
I’ve written about my kids and their decreasing use of screen #1 before, but it bears repeating. They never watch TV. Maybe a bit of wii here and there or a family movie, but when it comes to watching video, the iPad, iPhone and desktop computer rule at our house.
My son is rooted in front of the computer playing Minecraft and watching countless YouTube fan videos and mod walkthroughs. Yes, he skips ads like a master. His current goal is to create his own YouTube channel. My daughter hides behind furniture or in her room with an iPad exhausting the Tween shows on Netflix. Sorry television, it’s not them, it’s you.
The future of media isn’t the second screen or third screen or some new manifestation of broadcast and cable. The future of media probably isn’t technology at all, it is users redefining a new unbundled experience that is personal, mobile and immediate. The future of media is sitting on my couch. Or more likely hunched over the desktop or squirreled away in a bedroom with an iPad. The future of media wants great content, but they won’t wait, so we’d better hurry.
Back in 2006 when my son was 3, I realized how profoundly different his relationship with media would be than mine. His favorite show was on TV, DVR, iPod, DVD, cellphone, online and even on VHS for the VCR at a remote summer house. He could watch it whenever and wherever he wanted without commercials.
Yes, Little Bear was everywhere!
Fast forward to today and I have noticed something even more compelling. My kids haven’t turned the TV on in weeks. Yes, they don’t watch television, but they watch plenty of content. They are almost in complete control of their media diets and they avoid commercials at all costs.
My daughter is 7 and she consumed a fairly high percentage of the billion hours streamed on Netflix in June. She has appropriated one of my iPads and is usually found in her room or sprawled on the couch enjoying hours of commercial-free shows.
My 9 year old son is glued to YouTube and he can skip pre-rolls and delete InVideo Ad Overlays like a pro. While he can’t quite keep up with the 48 hours of video uploaded every minute he is giving it a good go.
Yesterday GigaOm announced an e-book called Cut the Cord: All You Need to Know to Drop Cable.. I might spend the $4.99 to shake my last bit of cable addiction, but I think Little Bear and my kids already beat them to it.