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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Omnibus 2012 Music Post

Crazy year, 2012. Felt a bit like this

And a bit like this

Often at the same time. Or in close, alternating succession. I guess that pegs me as a Calvinist, which is true enough, although surely a liberal and mildly decadent one, at least by the standards of Calvin. The Tenacious One likes his rock and roll, and so I've needed a soundtrack for the crazy. Like last year, I've spent a good bit of this year reveling in and rediscovering the old, especially soul: Solomon Burke, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Gil Scott Heron, Fela Kuti, Bill Withers, Dusty Springfield. Plus a heavy dose of vintage songwriter roots rock: Dylan, Springsteen, Zevon, Newman, Rodriguez. Got a little help on Heron and Fela from Frances, but also a lot of bargain bin scavenging in spare, bored moments, which I now have for a few days every other weekend.

Somehow I've also gotten to hear a few new records, pretty much all of which I put in my end of year list. Overall, a mediocre year. Lots of good music, but no one thing blew me away from start to finish. Settling on a top pick was not easy.

1) Justin Townes Earle, Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now. Country soul, passionate but also tasteful and restrained. "Look the Other Way" and "Movin' On" are standouts. At first I didn't think this could hold up to Harlem River Blues (2010), but it grew on me, and the title's a good coda for my last few years.

2) Band of Horses, Mirage Rock. Hard call here. In some ways, I think this is the most collected and satisfying CD I heard all year, from the opening rocker "Knock Knock," to affecting country ballads "Everything's Gonna Be Undone," and "Heartbreak on the 101." Neil Young meets Built to Spill from some beardy South Carolina boys. But the tent-pole track in the middle, "Dumpster World," annoys me, as if they thought the 70s soft-rock band America could be revived with mid-song punk thrash and some well intentioned but too-blunt political posturing. Save that blemish, a great record.

3) the Walkmen, Heaven. These guys are really under-appreciated. "The Rat" from 2004 is one of the best songs of the last decade--coiled, yuppie anger just about to explode, with a put-down worthy of classic Dylan. The new CD is much more elegant, especially the gorgeous opener, "We Can't Be Beat." Also of note, "Heartbreaker," "Southern Heart," and "The Love You Love." It's the fleeting bliss of new parenthood, with trouble lurking beneath the sweetness of the surface.

4) Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls. Don't be the last one to the party. Brittany Howard can wail.

5) Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball. Rolling Stone named this the best record of the year, and it is quite good. But I'm torn. It's like he decided to take everything that makes Bruce "Bruce" and turn it up to 11. So it's the most Springsteen-y album he's made since Born in the USA (1985). And my version has two bonus tracks, good ones, but do they undermine the cohesion? I'm always ambivalent about getting "bonus tracks."

6) the Lumineers, The Lumineers. Better than expected. And I already loved the ubiquitous single, "Ho Hey."  A folky heartbreaker.

7) Jack White, Blunderbuss. Deserves all the props it got. He's starting to age with me. Check out "I'm Shakin'." So good it makes me "noivous."

8) Bob Dylan, Tempest. What he's lost in melody, he's gained in grit. I especially love "Pay In Blood." You don't get as much biting political and cultural commentary as in old. Or maybe it's just too subtle for me.

9) M. Ward, A Wasteland Companion. Another that grew on me. Not his best, but a smooth spin. Try "Primitive Girl" for a flavor.

10) the Shins, Port of Morrow. These guys are chamber pop pros. "Simple Song" is one of their best.

11) Mumford & Sons, Babel. These guys should be right in my wheelhouse, but they always leave me a bit disappointed. Although they do melancholy banjo-based stadium rock like no one else, they lack a bit in the versatility department. That said, "I Will Wait" is one of the year's best songs, full of longing and hope. As I stumble pants-down into 2013, salvaging scraps and trinkets of glories past, I can relate.

See y'all in Zihuatanejo.


At 1:35 PM, Blogger fronesis said...

I wait all year for this post!

1, 5-8, and 11 all got listening time from me this year. I think I moved past 1 too quickly as it was part of a larger JTE phase that segued off of a Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt phase. 5 and 11 also didn't get enough listening time. 6 I just heard for the first time about a month ago, but it would make my top 10 list for sure.

In the last year I've joined spotify, which has changed my listening habits – in some ways for the best (I listen to far more, different things) and in some ways for the worse (I often move off of albums too quickly). This also had me listening to more old stuff. Spent a lot of time on all of the Black Keys' catalog. I also spent a lot of time on old Rolling Stones this year. Probably my favorite album was your topic pick (I think), The Decembrists, from last year.

I'll start listening to others on the list and post again here...

At 10:28 PM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

It's pretty dorky, but I wait all year for this post too, think about it a lot, and then usually feel like it just reveals my middle of the road "dad rock" tastes. But then I get to find out what you and (often, I hope) #3 are listening to. For a guy with zero musical aptitude, I completely freak for the occasional diversion from politics and theory to music fandom.

Glad you're digging that Decemberists disc--truly exceptional, and better than anything from this year. But the JTE bears repeated listens. It took at least half a dozen before I started to appreciate it. The songwriting is really strong, getting into the same league with his dad. How many musical offspring can say that? Jeff Buckley and. . . ? Norah Jones, maybe? Still, a short list.

I was actually curious to know if you listened to the Walkmen, who I thought might get at your U2/Killers jones. They're a smart band that I've liked for a long time, but kind of taken for granted. Black Keys, on the other hard, are hard to ignore. Not a lot of depth, but awesome grooves. Still listening to El Camino and Brothers a good bit.

At 10:52 PM, Blogger fronesis said...

Speaking of Norah Jones – really liked her album from this year (might be in my top 10 if I had one). As to the Black Keys: Brothers has all the right elements to make it a huge huge hit, but I actually think I like their first album, The Big Come Up, best of all.

More from me when I've done more listening.


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