Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Year In Music: 2012

Last year when I made my compilation discs, someone referred to them as a nice pop mix.  At first, this statement offended me a little bit.  I mean, I’m a serious curator of music, right?  I’m pushing everyone’s boundaries and making them appreciate edgy, innovative sounds that they aren’t normally exposed to.  In fact, in the past I have deliberately left out some of the songs that might be too harsh for normal audiences or ones that have lyrics that get too graphic.  In my immediate defensive reaction, I considered going to the other extreme and letting it all come out this year, including every song I liked, whether it was palatable to the mainstream or not.  Then during a conversation last night, a thought that had been floating around in my head for a while finally solidified during a conversation about the music that was playing.  I actually DO like pop music more than any other type.  I appreciate melodies and hooks and “hum-ability”.  I’m okay with being a pop music person.  It’s a bit ironic that the two songs that played during this admission were by New Order and Lords Of Acid.  If these are always my types of choices, then it is a “can’t lose” situation because both are great.

I think what bothered me about the original comment was that I took it to mean that my selections sounded like all the other stuff out there at the moment, which is not the case.  I would be quite happy though if the stuff I was enamored with was what mainstream audiences liked.  I heap scorn on people who like bands just because they are unlistenable.  If you listen to a song just because of its “meaning” then that means there are no hooks in it.  If you like something just because other people don’t or because they haven’t heard of it yet, then you don’t like music- you like feeling superior.  For instance, I’ve gone back and listened to the earlier Black Keys albums.  They sucked.  They didn’t start getting listenable until they hooked up with Danger Mouse, then they became monsterously good.  That’s not to say they weren’t talented to begin with, just that I wouldn’t ever play one of those earlier albums a second time.  Nothing on them caught my fancy because there were no memorable songs.  They may play their instruments really well but they couldn’t write a hook to save their life. 

So I admit it.  I like pop music.  I want songs that lodge themselves in my brain for days.  I realize though that my definition of pop music is probably a bit different than other people’s.  I’m happy about that though because it means I can share some things that you aren’t already sick of hearing.  Below are my favorite songs that I listened to last year.  I realize three discs may be a bit overwhelming but when I first came up with my list of what I really wanted to include, it filled two CDs plus four more songs that couldn’t fit.  When trying to decide what to cut, the things that I thought were the most expendable were also the shortest so I would have had to cut ten songs out to get to two CDs so I went the other route.  I added more songs to fill up a third disc.  I’ve divided up the selections in to three roughly similar groups. 

Some of them are obviously pop songs, which is why I put them on the “Pop” disc (Disc 3).  These are the radio hits you already know or are by bands that are mostly mainstream artists.  “Snap” (Disc 1), are the alternative pop things, what I wish would get on the radio but never does, despite being interesting and a respite from Auto Tune.  “Crackle” (Disc 2) are the things that are more adventurous either in terms of their sound or their lyrics.  In previous years, I might have left them off but this year, to fill three discs I’m leaving them on my tracklist.  Plus, maybe I’m still smarting a tiny bit from the “pop mix” comment and have a little something to prove.  Regardless of why they made the cut, the songs are good and have a melody, even if it is hidden under lots of distorted guitars or ethereal vocals. Below is a list of what is on each CD along with some comments about the particular track.  Following that is my list of favorite albums for the year as well as the albums I found most disappointing.  Let me know what you think of this year’s choices!

Year In Music 2012 (Disc 1- Snap)

Imperial Teen    Out From Inside
Imperial Teen    Overtaken

Imperial Teen’s album Feel The Sound was my favorite album of the year.  I bought it on a whim as a $5 download simply because I’d heard about the band years ago and thought that I should finally give them a listen.  And listen I did, some 15 or 20 times this year.  I couldn’t decide what songs I like best and wanted to put on my monthly mix CD so I kept listening.  I finally narrowed it down to 6 or 7 that I listened to the most and eventually picked five.  I feel a little bad that I only put 3 of them on these discs.  The whole album is a nice blend of 60’s pop and 90’s indie pop, sort of like what it would sound like if Tommy James And The Shondells hooked up with Wilco and did an album together.

School Of Seven Bells-  Babelonia
Tycho-  Hours
Yuna-  Live Your Life

All three of these are quiet, hypnotic songs that kind of float along and merge into each other.  I like that they are a nice counterpoint to beat heavy songs that are dominating the airwaves.  I don’t expect to hear from any of these artists ever again but these songs were worth a listen this year.

The xx-  Last Christmas (Live)

Yes, this is a cover of “that” song.  It was the best thing that The xx did last year.  Their album was so minimalist that it didn’t even register on my brain; I was immensely disappointed by it.  I couldn’t tell if they couldn’t come up with any good songs or they were being deliberately contrary, a la MGMT, but I hated the album either way and I gave it plenty of opportunity to grow on me.  It never did but at least this song, which is not on the album, confirms that the band is still capable of something interesting.

Jack Johnson-  Upside Down

I finally broke down and bought this song after a couple years of denying that I liked a Jack Johnson song.  It was from the soundtrack to the Curious George movie.   A nice laid back jam.  Basically just vocal and an acoustic guitar delivered with massive charm.  I also bought a couple other things too so maybe next year there will be a second JJ song.  What’s next?  Mumford And Sons?  (Ah, no- that’s not very likely.  They rub my nerves the wrong way.  Give me Phillip Phillips “Home” instead, any day.)

Paul McCartney-  It's So Easy

From the Buddy Holly tribute Rave On.  It started as a nice retro-rocker until the end when McCartney goes spastic and freestyles insanely all over the place.  Several good things on the album but this one was the most … unusual.
Uffie-  Sex Dreams And Denim Jeans

A pleasant pop album with several good songs.  It sounds like a mix of Kim Wilde and Kesha.

Parov Stelar-  Booty Swing (Original)
I was listening to a commercial and liked the song that was playing during it.  I did a quick Shazam of it and found out who it was by.  After digging deeper, I found out there is a whole sub-genre of music like this called electro-swing.  It sounds like flapper music from the 1920’s with production styles from current club music.  I got a couple other similar things too until I eventually got tired of how much of it was blending into one big glob that sounded the same but this will give you an idea of what electro-swing sounds like.  To give you another idea of what the genre sounds like, listen to the current remake of “Istanbul” by Milan And Phoenix.

Kylie Minogue-  Timebomb

It’s Kylie.  I always have to have one of hers on my list.  This is not one of her greatest songs but I thought I would share it since it is a fun one-off and not on any album so you wouldn’t hear it otherwise.  And she is awesome in the video for it.  Even on her mediocre songs, of which there are not many, the art direction and wardrobe on the videos is amazing.

David Byrne & St. Vincent-  Who
David Byrne & St. Vincent-  Lazarus
A very innovative album that sounds nothing like the Talking Heads (unfortunately) and a lot like St. Vincent (fortunately).  It’s nice to hear big band instrumentation in pop music once again, even if it is just in this one album. Ironically, I was just listening to Hold On by Ian Gomm (you would know it if you heard it) and noticed a prominent saxaphone and then moved to another 1979 song, Nicolette Larson’s Lotta Love (literally one of my 50 favorite songs of all time) and heard more sax.  It appears that 1978’s Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty with the well-known sax solo kicked off a mini-trend.  (Quick shout out to Clarence Clemons who did his part to spread the joy of sax.)  Maybe David Byrne & Annie Clark (St. Vincent) can bring back big band sounds the way Baker Street kicked off sax appreciation.  The Byrne/Clark collaboration seems like it is deliberately trying to be off-beat but it is works despite being able to see the seams on the monster.  They put the puzzle pieces together in an enjoyable way.

The Rolling Stones-  Rain Fall Down
Civil Twilight-  Fire Escape
Of Monsters And Men-  Mountain Sound
Metric-  Youth Without Youth
Sleeper Agent-  Get It Daddy
Hacienda-  Savage

Here are several great singles from bands that might not do anything else in the future.  Their current albums are mostly blah.  Not bad, but just blah.  Nothing that you’d listen to again, aside from these songs.  I obviously don’t include the Rolling Stones in this group, although I could.  I heard this song on video clip show when I was in Spain and was surprised to realize it was by The Stones.  I thought it was a new song but it was actually about ten years old and sounded nothing like what the Stones normally sound like.  I liked the feel of it and commend them for doing something different.  It apparently wasn’t that successful though, considering I’d never heard the song before.  Metric and Of Monsters and Men have gotten some favorable press and will put out more albums.  OMAM had a solid album but Metric has never lived up to their hype and acclaim.  They are capable of being good but several albums in have still not delivered anything close to a masterpiece.

The Ting Tings-  Soul Killing

When I first heard this song, I thought it was such a shame that this annoying noise was going on in the background.  Was it a rocking horse, a creaking bedspring, a random noise?   It doesn’t stop either- it merges into the song and becomes an integral part of it.  The first few times I heard the noise I wished it was gone because I really liked the song otherwise but nope, it keeps playing through the whole song.  The next few times I listened to it, I tolerated the noise.  After the twentieth or thirtieth time I listened to it, the noise had been so ingrained in my head as part of the song, I came to relish how such an annoying noise became familiar and welcome.  Maybe it is Stockholm Syndrome but I love the song now, just as it is.

Year In Music 2012 (Disc 2- Crackle)

Friends-  Friend Crush

A friend of mine used to be in a band called Perpetual Crush that played a couple shows in the area.  Two years ago I was looking at YouTube to see if they ever but they closest match I could find was this song played by a band from New York in what appeared to be a living room or the world’s tiniest club.  (Kind of like King Street Blues, where I watched my friend’s band play.)  It was a hypnotic sound though.  Imagine my surprise when a year later, I hear that song on the radio. 

M83-  Midnight City
Mark Ronson-  Bout To Get Ugly

I have to shake my head when I listen to this.  I can see why it never hit the radio- it is too gonzo which is why I love it.  This is the closest I got to listening to rap this year- it’s just not interesting to me right now.  Ronson’s first and third albums are fun and challenging, like this song.  (The second is vaguely boring.)

The Rolling Stones-  Look What The Cat Dragged In
Van Halen-  Big River

Dinosaurs like The Stones and Van Halen should have gotten airplay with these songs but radio is too narrow-cast to give them a shot right now.

Julian Plenti-  Skyscraper

I wasted money buying this- it’s got three decent songs but it was by the singer from Interpol, which I love, so I had to give it a shot.  From what I understand a lot of it came from pre-Interpol material so maybe Paul Banks’ follow-up will be better.  (I hope so because I already bought it although I haven’t listened to it yet.)

Crystal Castles-  Insulin
Crystal Castles-  Sad Eyes

I adore Crystal Castles so it was odd that at first I hated their third album.  After multiple listens though I decided it was because it wasn’t as good as their first two.  Taken on its own, it is pretty good compared to other things, like Mumford And Sons (Yeah, I’m picking on them a little.)  Here’s the two best tracks from it.  Make your own judgment.

Ministry-  99 Percenters
Ministry-  Git Up Get Out 'N Vote

Minsitry is a band I like a whole lot but they have been hit or miss since the 1990’s.  Their sound is mostly back to where it should after years in the wilderness of sludge be but their lyrics are still a bit too political for me.  I mean that in the sense that they are ham-fisted, not that I agree/disagree with the ideas they espouse.  Take these two songs for instance.  I love the intensity and sound but the lyrics are a bit trite- “Get up, get out and vote”?  Is this a public service message or an industrial metal album?  This is also the type of song I’ve left off discs in the past because the mainstream appeal may be a bit limited.

Pete Yorn-  The Chase

For this album, Yorn enlisted Frank Black as his producer.  That is a genius idea but the execution of it just made me wish for another Pixies album or at least a Frank Black album.  Several songs sounded decent… almost like I was listening to a middling Frank Black album.  This track is the most “Black-ish”.

The Hives-  Tick Tick Boom

You have to applaud The Hives.  They always sound like themselves and no one else.  They are unique in their predictability and the way the manage to make great songs from the same template they were using a dozen years ago.

Audioslave-  Like A Stone

Yeah, this song is super-old but I finally broke down and got it this year.  $5 for this song would be a bit much but for the whole album it was a bargain because is quite good.  I was very surprised by its excellence and this song in particular still holds my attention.  That guitar solo and the phrasing of the chorus.  Wonderful!

Local H-  Mayonnaise & Malaise
Local H-  Sports Bar

This is my new favorite “bar band”.  They used to be famous for about 15 minutes, when “Bound For The Floor” came out but now they are forgotten but they still put out excellent meat and potatoes rock.

Linkin Park-  Burn It Down

I liked this song.  What can I say?

Black Keys-  Gold On The Ceiling
Black Keys-  Sister

Stellar songs.  Beyond fantastic.  I’m worried they will mess with the formula and revert back to boring bluesy-roots rock they had been doing.  Until then though, I’ll keep listening- with fingers crossed.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela-  Diablo Rojo
Jimmy Cliff-  One More (Alternate Version)

My taste does range beyond the U.S. boundary which is why these two tracks are here.  When I first heard the Jimmy Cliff song, I knew it would go on my playlist.  The only question was whether it would be this version or the slightly slower one that is also on the album.  I opted for the more ska sounding one.


Year In Music 2012 (Disc 3- Pop)
Imperial Teen-  All The Same
Pink-  Blow Me (One Last Kiss)

Yes, you’ve heard this song a million times.  That’s why it is on this disc- the hits one.  A good song is a good song.  What I like, and also dislike, about Pink is that each new song makes the previous hit disposable.  This one is perfect and there is no need to ever listen to Raise Your Glass again because this song has the same sound but is done even better.  (Pink also does a slow song after a fast hit song so my point applies to each type- the slow songs replace the previous slow song and the fast ones replace the previous fast hit.)

Icona Pop-  I Love It

I thought this song was totally over but apparently it wasn’t actually released in the U.S. until 2013.  So this is not a golden oldie.

The Ting Tings-  Hands
I include this song here in case you are a Ting Tings fan because this song was left off the release of their U.S. album.  They had recorded a whole album at one point, which had songs like this on it, but then scrapped it because they thought it didn’t sound good enough.  If this song here is any indication, they were mistaken.  It could have been a hit in any country.  I think they put it on their European album as a bonus cut and I’m sharing it with you. 

Roxette-  She's Got Nothing On But The Radio

Yep, they are back and they sound just like they always have.  Consider them a comfort food band.
Imagine Dragons-  It's Time
Cee Lo Green-  (You're So Square)...I Don't Care
Rolling Stones-  Doom And Gloom
Rupert Holmes-  Him
Prince-  Rock And Roll Love Affair

Here’s a bunch of one-off songs that are from high profile performers.  The Stones put a new song on their umpteenth greatest hits collection, Cee Lo was also on the Buddy Holly tribute along with Paul McCartney, Prince put out a song that got played every hour on the hour for a whole day on radio stations across the country and then disappeared.  Imagine Dragons had their first hit and Rupert Holmes, um, had one more hit the year after Escape (The Pina Colada Song), which is from 1979, the year I’m currently fixated on right now and which is why I got a Rupert Holmes greatest hits album.   (Maybe next year I’ll do a Best Of The Year: 1979 flashback disc.)  I just find this song interesting and it is very counter-intuitive if someone trying to write a hit song.

No Doubt-  Push And Shove
Uffie-  Hong Kong Garden
Paul Mauriat-  Love Is Blue
Amy Winehouse-  Our Day Will Come
America-  Sailing To Philadelphia
The Fixx-  Beautiful Friction
KT Tunstall-  Fade Like A Shadow
1776-  When You Go
LadyHawke-  Black White & Blue

All these bands were trying to write hits but none of them sound the same.  This just goes to show that pop music is very versatile and that’s why I love it.  Pop music can be anything.  It is the faux ska of No Doubt’s latest, blandest album, the synthesized instrumentals of Paul Mauriat, the 80’s referencing pastiches of Ladyhawke, the prog pop of The Fixx, the folk pop of KT Tunstall and America, the retro soul of Amy Winehouse, the upbeat indie sound of new band 1776, it is all different and it is all pop.  If this is what my niche is, I’m very happy with it because it is a diverse genre, not a narrow one, and it is my pleasure to share it with you.  That’s what makes pop popular.

Beach Boys-  That's Why God Made The Radio
Jay-Z & Alicia Keys-  Empire State Of Mind

Let’s end this year with two example of pop excellence.  One is by a band that has been around for six decades and can still squeeze out a pop gem in 2012.  This shows that quality is timeless.  The other song is a team-up by two people from different genres.  Alicia Keys is an R&B singer that is mostly known for dramatic ballads.  Jay-Z, as you may have heard, is a rapper.  Usually rap and R&B hybrids are awkward but this one sounds beautiful, even if Jay-Z does rip off his title and topic from Billy Joel.  This song shows that there is always something new to try, that it has not all been done before.  Music always rewards you if are willing to give new things a chance.  Enjoy!


My Favorite Albums Of 2012

Release Year
Imperial Teen
Feel The Sound
David Byrne & St. Vincent
Love This Giant
Local H
Ham Fisted
Jimmy Cliff
Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles (III)
Imperial Teen
What Is Not To Love
Various Artists
Electro Swing Revolution: Vol. 2
Herb Alpert
What Now My Love
Ting Tings, The
Welcome To Nowheresville
Mark Ronson
Here Comes The Fuzz
Sex Dreams And Denim Jeans
Brian Setzer Orchestra
Dig That Crazy Christmas
Charm School
Hives, The
Black And White Album
No End In Sight (Best Of)
Beach Boys
That's Why God Made The Radio
Various Artists
Rave On Buddy Holly
Muppets, The
The Muppets Soundtrack
Edie Brickell
Edie Brickell
The Fixx
Beautiful Friction
Paul Mauriat
Best Of Paul Mauriat
Pete Yorn


My Most Disappointing Albums Of 2012

Album Title
Release Year
David Stewart & Barbara Gaskin
How To Destroy Angels
How To Destroy Angels
No Doubt
Push And Shove
Sounds, The
Something To Die For
Gerry Beckley
Van Go Gan
Arcade Fire
Neon Bible
The xx
Not Your Kind Of People
Panic Of Girls
Van Halen
Different Kind Of Truth, A
Tom Tom Club
Downtown Rockers