Albums of 2012

Alright, so I apologize for something -- I woke up at 2:30 this morning to catch a plane after I had stayed out past midnight with friends. But this post needs to be written. We have no time.

I liked music this year, better than last year, I think. It had to compete with BBC radio dramas and the Planet Money podcast, but a few (10) albums definitely prevailed. I'm hoping you can find something on here that you like:

10. Best Coast, The Only Place

I have a thing for Bethany Cosentino. She says the things that you're supposed to be too embarrassed to say. She owns it, does it with humor, makes me feel better about myself. This new album is a great summer, walk three blocks to Lake Michigan, audio fill. And just like you might guess from the name of the band, she likes the state of California, and being one with strong home-state allegiance, I can support this kind of thinking.

9. Passion Pit, Gossamer

This album didn't wear as well as I had hoped, but for about the first month after I got it, I listened to it constantly. It's got some of the buzz and energy that made Manners such a break out, but it underscores that with some melancholy. I love melancholy.

8. Taylor Swift, Red

There's been a lot of talk about Taylor Swift it seems like. I think people lose sight of the fact that you can be a very successful artist and make some good music without largely appealing to white men with Mac Books. I heard "We are Never Getting Back Together" on the radio, and I was so pleased with the direction she's taking in her music. It's nice to see her grow up a bit from "You Belong With Me". She's at that crushing, angry, joyful stage where you can actually get over someone, and her music has a little bit more of a punk feel to it. I even like her music video -- she's push-pulling with Indie culture in kind of a strange way. The only thing I don't like is in the very end, where she looks at the camera and kind of shrugs. Come on, Swift, your album sold 1.2 million copies in its first week, you should have the confidence to play that thing straight. 

7. Slow Club, Paradise

This album is some great Indie pop. (It's Mitch's favorite of 2012, if you're interested.) The guitar lines are gritty, the singing's pretty, and the drums... I don't know, they sound good, pounding like a heart. My favorite lyrics: "I think that next summer, if we're still all alive we should try (we should try) to jump into some water and focus on getting high."

6. Alt-J, An Awesome Wave

Gosh, is this catching, and about every minute the songs take some dynamic turn. I'd call it art rock, but unlike most art rock, it makes a great running mix. The only weird part about it is that  Joe Newman sings weird, a bit like Kermit in his rebellious youth. It adds a feeling of insincerity to the music.

5. Nils Frahm, Felt

This album is mainly classical piano, but it's layered with small static, breathing, wood hitting together. The story behind it is that Frahm likes to play his music at night, and in order to not annoy his neighbors, he's covered the hammers in his piano with felt, muting it almost completely. He then puts the microphone really really close. Because of this it picks up all kinds of soft side sounds that otherwise would be completely drowned out. It creates a feeling of intimacy, of which I'm a total sucker. 

4. Now, Now, Threads

This is a kind of somber rock. (Mitch is sitting next to me comparing it to early Death Cab.) It's a bit like a car trip over Snoqualmie Pass -- murky and brooding. I guess I don't have too much to say; they have a great sound. Check it out.

3. The Very Best, MTMTMK

This is a collaboration between a Swedish producer and a singer from Malawi. We went to their show this year with Mikey and Julie, and I've never had more fun at a concert. We stood up front and danced so hard -- and it was easy to dance; it wasn't self-conscious; it was easy, necessary. (Granted, we did sneak in a couple flasks of whiskey.) The words are a mixture of English and Chichewa, and it's been nice this year -- with all this apocalypse talk -- to listen to "sky could fall down any day; nothing lasts forever anyway; as long as I got you here with me, we okay. We okay." Mikey's take on it was that if The Very Best came to Chicago every single week for a concert, he would go and love it. I agree.

2. Macklemore, Heist

I wasn’t sure about this guy at first. Mikey and Julie showed me the music video for “Thrift Shop.” The video is so cool… impenetrably cool. Like these-people-would-never-be-friends-with-me cool, and you never want an unbalanced power relationship between you and your music. But when the album “Heist” came out, I decided to give it a chance. I was surprised to find that it was exactly the opposite. It’s infectious, and it’s not trying to be your friend, exactly. Instead, it makes me feel like I already belong. (Wow, that sounds cheesy. And since listening to tunes for me is a largely individual, headphones in, leaving me to my thoughts experience, that level of drippiness might persist throughout. Nobody’s making you read this.) But, really – I hid in this record this year. While sincerity is generally treated as a kind of disease, Macklemore makes advocating attractive. He makes being genuine look possible again. (And he’s from Seattle, which is just bonus.)

1. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel [...]

When I heard this album, I was entranced. It was the summer and over ninety degrees in our apartment with the AC running; I was having a long-distance argument with a close friend of mine; and I put on NPR’s early streaming of this album to pass the time. And remarkably, for me, I could put up with the waiting, with the sitting on the hot patio waiting for my friend to call. Apple sings like the crazy person we’d all be if we were a bit more honest and, you know, brilliant. I like it because the album sounds afflicted – afflicted by the burden of being conscious: of mortification, of mental loops and ruts, of desire, of unsentimental isolation. (“Oh, the periphery. They throw good parties, there.”) Musically, it’s spare and percussive, something to get caught up in rather than hum along to. Listening to it gave context to my problems and agitations – that being human is a dense experience. “Being human is a dense experience” as I write that I see how opaque that statement is, clunky, ambiguous. Listen to Fiona Apple’s new album, she expresses it much better. 

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