Editor’s Note: My daughter, Eleanor, was born this past Tuesday. The next post will be about her but I have been working on this one in tiny chunks for a few weeks. With that said, here you go:
My year in music 2012 was never written. This is probably best because if I had actually taken the time to write, it would have just have been an eight thousand word love letter to the Swans for The Seer. I actually had the chance to watch the Swans in Columbus this year and it was a (very, very loud) pleasure. It was also one of the many concerts I have attended lately by myself. Which leads me to this: Towards the end of the first part of this post I wrote that I find myself sometimes listening to something so much that I love it and don’t care what anyone else thinks and, while this is true, it comes with a large burden. The burden is similar to my dissertation burden. The easiest way to describe this is that sometimes when I am reading for my dissertation–or in rarer cases, actually writing it–I feel both really excited about something and profoundly alone. This is because, as anyone reading this knows, when you really get into your thing, it can be hard to share the very specific ways that something excites you in any kind of short hand way. If you, like me, have tried to describe this specific excitement to someone and the same enthusiasm isn’t reflected back to you, it feels like your listener doesn’t totally get it. The funniest way to demonstrate this phenomenon is to cite The Onion’s “I Appreciate the Muppets on a Much Deeper Level Than You.”
So my experience with the Swans, while great, was also a little hollow because I didn’t really know anyone there. I could have taken Shannon, I guess, but it was definitely not her thing and we would have another “Children of Men” moment (where I loved the movie and she went and sat in the lobby because it was way too intense). Plus we would have had to pay a babysitter, which I feel should just be a free service ‘cuz my kid is the best (The insane economics of raising a child and maintaining a social identity somewhat separate from that child will have to be left for another post). Anyway, I think one of the reasons I come back to writing a list like this is the same reason I go to stores and buy records and like going to shows with other humans–it connects. Shannon might not care for The Seer, just as I don’t get emotionally invested in Call the Midwife (that show, Jesus; it should come with a box of post-WW2 issued tissues), but you might get it in such a way that we both feel a little less alone in our weird, specific pleasures. It is nice to be able to talk about things you love in a short-hand way. With that, onto the list in no real order except to say that these are albums I found deeply pleasurable this past year:
DJ Koze, Amygdala
Every once in a while, many years ago, I would buy an album just because I thought the cover seemed interesting. This cover is awful. I would never buy this. Seriously, look at it. Let it bounce around in your brain. This is the work of a drunk unicorn. And then there is the font; good lord. I lack the writing ability to describe how awful this is and there is no way this is good.
Except it is so great and weird and wonderful that I kind of even respect the cover now; like, maybe Koze is on some next level shit that I cannot even comprehend. This is one of the electronic records I have really enjoyed. I wrote with it on a lot in the background. And then one day, while writing at the coffee shop up the street, all I could focus on was the record. I just sat for about 15 or 20 minutes with my cup of coffee just smiling. My problem with a lot of music like this remains the fact that I find it a little cold sometimes. This is warm. I should have known this was deep when he titled it after the part of the brain that processes memory and emotion. Shame on me, I guess.
Miles’ review: “Why is he talking like that?” whenever the Matthew Dear parts come on.
Julia Holter, Loud City Song
Ok, this cover is better. A couple of months back I wrote about seeing Julia Holter live. It was a treat and so is this album. This one came out in the summer and Miles and I had it on almost every day. The best way I can think to describe the feeling of listening to this record is to say that it unfolds. For me, it balances enough pop catchiness with a classical music sensibility and I think this is an incredibly hard thing to do. One thing that surprised me is how great this sounds loud. Played at a quieter level, the record feels really spacious; the spaciousness of it remains at a louder volume but it doesn’t feel empty, if that makes any sense at all. I also think she captures the “alone in a crowd” feeling just about as well as anyone ever has on a record.
Miles’ review: “We could play that one again, if you want to.”
Anyway, if I was forced to pick an Album-of-the-Year, this would be one of the three I would think about. One of the others:
Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
I am a little surprised that I am not sick of this record yet. I only say that because that is the experience I had with their last two records. I listened to them until I just never wanted to hear them again. This one is different for some reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe because it is so busy in the production; it feels like every song has a million things going on but for whatever reason, it all works. I don’t think they have pulled it off live yet, based on the performance we saw in Columbus, but that shouldn’t take anything away from this. There a thousand people who have written more eloquently about this album than me, so I will just leave it there for right now. As for the album cover? I kinda like it.
Miles’ review: “I want to listen to the rest of the songggggggggggg!” anytime I turn this off in the middle of a song.
My favorite song of the year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mDxcDjg9P4
My Bloody Valentine, mbv
No to the cover (that font, yeesh), yes to everything else. As I mentioned in part 1, I first heard this on all the youtube links. While listening, I thought to myself, “Well, good for them. I wonder what they will do next,” and then I got really frustrated with myself for even thinking that. If I had to make one damning statement about the internet, it would be that I think I am too quick to move to the next thing. For instance, one of my Monday morning habits is to go to NPR’s “First Listen” and blast through everything they post; by Monday afternoon I wonder what will be on their site next week. Someone pours their heart and soul into something (and maybe makes themselves a bit nuts in the process) and I give it 4-5 minutes before writing it off. I don’t know if that is wrong, but it certainly seems wrong. Thank you Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine for a really nice album that splits into thirds in really interesting ways. I am glad you made another album and I am glad that I spent time with it.
Miles’ review: “This is too loud. Turn it down.”
I saw Red Red Meat open for the Smashing Pumpkins on the Siamese Dream tour at Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio and I immediately went out and bought their debut record. I then saw them at Sudsy’s on the Bunny Gets Paid tour, where I pretended not to like the show because two of my close friends thought it was dumb. These guys might be a minor band in the big scheme of things but almost ever since I could drive they have been in my life. I really like this record, especially the way that everything counts. I feel like they get the absolute most out of every little thing in their instruments; even their chair squeaks add to the atmosphere. More than anything, it feels like adults with lives making music…and since the Walkmen already broke my heart last year by going on hiatus (or maybe not? NBA all star weekend?) you better not do anything rash Tim Rutili. The album cover is a little hippy-ish, but I don’t mind.
Miles’ Review: “Let’s listen to something else.”
Akron/Family, Sub Verses
I don’t know if you are like this, but I have a few bands that just feel like ‘my’ bands. Akron/Family is one of my bands. Maybe it is because Michael Gira likes them so much; maybe they have just the right balance between chaos and melody; maybe they are just the right amount of hippy, but not over-bearing about it; whatever it is, I will buy anything they put out. This album sounds so good on blast. Just keep in mind that there is nothing really objective about my list on any level. I don’t know what else to say here except that there are few bands that have songs that make me cry and songs that make me want to have the largest speakers in the history of the world so I can really feel the music, man. I told you they are little bit hippy. Album cover? Complete and total indifference, which makes it the antithesis of what happens to me when I listen to it. Guess you can’t judge a book by its cover, amiright? (Sorry).
Miles’ review: “Can we play “Way Up?” I like that one.”
Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold
When I first started buying cd’s, I made myself buy on a rotation so that I couldn’t buy two similar things in a row. My first cd was De La Soul Is Dead, followed by The Violent Femme’s Why Do Birds Sing?, which I followed with Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings. I had so many girlfriends; why do you ask? I mention all this here because I have been making an effort again to try and purchase things that feel separate and distinct from what I already have in my collection. This fails that test but who cares. I love this. It is brief, punchy and fun and I really like the lyrics. I almost replaced this with the Savages album here, but I find myself less brutalized by this then the Savages and that is alright with me. I am also so upset I missed them at Ace of Cups, but Shannon was out of town and I didn’t bother to find a sitter. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. (Album Cover? Yes, it looks like a cover from The Fall. I still like it.)
Miles’ review: “Why is he talking all the time?”
Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe
I love loops. And I really love ethereal, sublime experiences. Therefore, I love this record. This is another one that I wrote to a lot since it came out. I just think its beautiful. And that video below, also lovely; what the hell? That’s her iPhone?!
So, to sum up, those clouds will part, the sun will shine down upon you and bathe you in warmth; you have no where to go; you are here, now.
This album cover is stately.
Miles’ review: Shhh. Don’t wake him. He’s sleeping.
Eleanor Friedberger, Personal Record
Ok, this might sound extremely shallow, but I want to be honest. I have been really trying to buy more records by women lately. Most of the references that first pop in my mind for musicians or artists are often male and so many of the books I have are by men. I realize whenever I want to address a group of people I will say “you guys” even if it is a group of all women. As a friend of mine would say, “There you go, reinscribing the patriarchy again.” (As an aside, grad student friends are the best/worst.) Anyway, I really wanted to make sure that I mixed up what Miles heard over the summer because I didn’t want him to privilege one group over another (oh, how the white male guilt hurts!). Two things came out of this experience. We listened to an inordinate amount of ESG over these months. Miles got obsessed with it and I got my hip-hop/Factory Records fix without the swears/depression. We also listened to this record by Eleanor Friedberger a lot too. It is catchy enough to dance to at a loud volume and, when played at a lower volume, it can just sort of be there. This made it the optimum record for playing with Miles. I really miss the Fiery Furnaces, but these last two records of hers have been really nice.
There is so much right with this album cover that I can’t begin to talk about it. Ok, well just a couple of things. First, it is eye catching and refined and a little mysterious. See the water stained wall at the bottom? If you leave it in, you see that she is engaged in the act of swimming toward something. She let go and has faith in herself that while she might not reach where she is going, it will not stop her from trying. If you don’t notice the wall, it bears a passing similarity to the old Jaws poster. Here, she is the shark. Either way, I am buying this record.
Miles’s review: “What do you want to build?”
Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels
My friend Jonas said that when we were in college he liked punk and hip-hop because he liked music by “pissed off white guys and pissed off black guys.” I haven’t talked to him much about this record but this must be his sweet spot since it has both. I always love the way El-P’s records sound, kind of like a Bomb Squad, post-apocalyptic kind of thing. In fact, two of my favorite records last year after the aforementioned Swans were the El-P record and the Killer Mike record, both of which he produced. I have to say this album sounds amazing on a super loud, chest shaking volume. I also have to say that I only found a few occasions this past year to listen to this at a super loud, chest shaking volume. Dad life, I guess.
The cover? Cool, I think. It looks like a woodcut that was digitally colored. I can dig that.
Miles’ review: Right. Like I want to try to explain to him what “Producer gave me a beat, said it’s the beat of the year, I said El-P didn’t do it so get the fuck outta here” means.
I got into Nicolas Jaar’s 2011 record a little late but I really liked the mood of it. I was more impressed by this record. The idea for Jaar to take on more live musicians and make this group more improvisational really resonated with me. Since this has come out, this has been my number one album I write to or have on when I am making artwork. This is also an example of a record that I would have never been into just a few years ago. My tastes are expanding, I guess, and that, more than anything, makes me excited for what I might hear in 2014. I really like how warm and trippy this feels, which is why it is the other record I would consider for my album of the year.
The cover for this one just seems odd to me; I have looked at it a lot and I still have no idea what is going on. I guess that makes it good.
Miles’ Review: Kind of speechless; he usually is zoning out when I put this on. Is this good or bad?
They look like they would be pretty interesting live:
Other Albums I liked a lot this year:
Matmos, The Marriage of True Minds
The Knife, Shaking the Habitual
William Tyler, Impossible Truth
Yo La Tengo, Fade
Tim Hecker. Virgins
Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven
Majical Cloudz, Impersonator
The Field, Cupid’s Head
Mount Kimbie, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
So that’s it. That’s the list. Anticlimactic? How about you?