Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best of 12: Part One

The amount of great music I've heard this year, from new discoveries to long-anticipated releases, was high enough that I have decided to expand to a Top 20. I gotta say that anyone who is nostalgic for the music of a prior era, and/or bemoaning a dearth of good listening today, should perhaps inspect their surroundings for the mud they are stuck in.

Without further ado, here's 11-20.

11. Scott Walker - Bish Bosch Walker's trajectory from pop idol (mainly in the U.K.) to explorer of art rock extremes was perfectly described in the documentary 30 Century Man, which went a long way toward helping me make the leap to where he had landed on The Drift, his last album. The new one is no less radical but seems more assured and employs a greater dynamic range sonically and lyrically. While the lyrics mix dreadful episodes from human history with more personal tribulations, they are often bitterly hilarious: "If shit were music/You'd be a brass band." Bish Bosch is Walker's most convincing foray into the realm of art song and it would be a wonderful thing if a song or two made it into the performance repertoire of one of our more adventurous new music ensembles. That would make it an easier wait if it takes him another six years to make his next album.

12. Hospitality - Hospitality The charm of Amber Papino and co.'s expertly produced pop has not worn off, in fact more layers of guitars and vintage synths have been revealed. Puts a spring in my step every time.

13. Quakers - Quakers In the year Kanye finally released his G.O.O.D. Music collection, who would suspect it would get stomped by a trio of British music geeks (led by Portishead's Geoff Barrow) and a huge posse of mostly unknown rappers. The beats are as omnivorous as the rhymes, with sounds and subjects spanning a deliriously wide range. The breakout star may be Jonwayne, who's set to drop his debut on Stones Throw in 2013.

14. Patrick Watson - Adventures In Your Own Backyard At it's best, Watson's latest has a soaring epic sweep that channels Ennio Morricone, yet maintains his trademark intimacy. When I saw him at Bowery Ballroom earlier this year, I'm sure everyone in the room felt he was singing just for them. If the album were a four act play, however, it could be said to suffer from some third act longueurs, which is why it's not in the upper ten for this year.

15. Baroness - Yellow & Green Conceived as a double album to focus attention on their heavier and lighter sides, Yellow & Green is ultimately a unified collection of their most emotionally connected, compositionally sophisticated music. More here.

16. Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes Electronic music has never had more personality than when Steven "Flying Lotus" Ellison is at work. Using a lush palette of tones and textures (including the guest vocals of Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke) he provides a soundtrack that makes even a trip to Target an adventure.

17. Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits Just when I was despairing of new sounds from Britt Daniel, his collaboration (don't call it a supergroup) with Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs and Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks exploded on the scene. Echoes of Spoon's stripped down approach are heard, along with the dynamic tension and release of bands like Wire and the electro-infused sound of early Simple Minds. Producer Nick Launay, who cut his teeth on albums like the latter's Empires And Dance, and Alex Fischel on keyboards ably abet the creation of a great collection of passionate pop. Their committed live set on Sound Opinions gives hope that this is not just a one-off.

18. Matthew E. White - Big Inner This lavishly orchestrated series of songs was one of the surprises of the year. White's synthesis of varying streams of Americana is fascinating and stays mysterious through many listens. Long in the background as an arranger and composer, White just needs a little more vocal confidence to own the spotlight. Based on the concert I saw, that's already in progress. After all, he's only a "Big Inner." His playlists on Spotify make me think we're somehow related. Find them under "amattwhitejoint" - also his Twitter handle.

19. Fenster - Bones Like its title suggests, this is a somewhat skeletal affair, sonically speaking. But it's also emotionally rich and the songs are constructed out of sturdy stuff.

20. Hilary Hahn & Hauschka - Silfra Improvisational composing may not have come quickly to a classically trained musician like Hahn, but you would never know it from this hand-in-glove collaboration with Hauschka, the prepared-piano wizard. Goes down easy, but covers a lot of ground.

Coming up: 1-10, Best Of The Rest, and Out Of The Past (reissues and other older sounds).

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