Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bests of 2012

The following are some thoughts on my favorite musical moments of 2012. These are highly personalized, and include albums I liked, concerts I went to, even specific moments from the soundtracks of movies. The list is not restricted to new releases of 2012, as I tried to come up with my top ten albums from the year and realized my breadth of listening was not wide enough for the project. And there's nothing worse than compiling an end-of-year list from selections off of other people's end-of-year lists. Am I right? So here's some of my bests of the year, quick and dirty.

My Chromatics Reunion Ever listen to a song or a band and then forget about them for, like, five years? I think, ironically, that in the Spotify age of easy access to music, this type of things happens more, rather than less, often. In 2007, my roommate shared with me (on a USB drive, no less!) The Chromatics' cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill". I listened to it repeatedly for weeks, then never again for half a decade. Even while living in Chicago when the Chromatics came to town for Pitchfork, I didn't even connect the name of the band with that great song from my past, so erased were they from my memory. This week, Sam Tai helped me right this wrong. A great reunion.

"Baby", Donnie and Joe Emerson I don't remember all too many moments in my music past when I felt like my jaw actually dropped, but the first time I heard "Baby" by Donnie and Joe Emerson was definitely one of them. That voice is so oddly beautiful, and the phrasing of the vocals, not to mention the simplicity of the instrumentation, is invitingly strange and off-kilter. I should mention that I was exposed to this song during the wonderful wedding scene in Celeste and Jesse Forever.

OLYMPIXXX 2012 Me and my friends threw an Olympics-themed house party and it was the first party gig for Mighty Narrow. There was an impromptu soul-train dance line during my chopped-up "Paris". Someone did the worm. I let a drunk woman wear my headphones and then she tried to fuck with my controller. I yelled at her. My friend may have scored himself a date. In Boston. People went wild for the Whitney medley. The night ended with a cumbia dance-off and a few people getting sick. In the morning, I thought our car had been stolen. Nah. Just towed. Good party though.

The Final Saxophone Scene in The Conversation 

good kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick Lamar
I spent the better part of a day listening to this album, and then checked in with it again often in the weeks and months that followed. K.Dot killed it. It's my favorite album of the year. I wrote about it here.

Shut Down the Streets, A.C. Newman
Many have noted that Newman's style has shifted from explosive power-pop to folk-pop, more restrained and careful. This shift explains why I prefer his latest solo release to the New Pornographer's Together, which I found overbearing. We went to see him at the Empty Bottle. It was a decent show, but Emma and I agreed that he's a studio musician through and through. There's no matching the quality of singing and overall sound he and his band achieve on the opening "I'm Not Talking", my favorite from the album.

Performing "The World's Greatest" with our Third Grade Class
We did it for our Dia de la Madre assembly last Spring. I played guitar and accompanied over a hundred of our third-graders as they traded verses and then came together for a stirring repeat of the chorus. Anyone who's ever heard this song knows that, when paired with adorable children, its emotional power cannot be denied. Even one of my eight-year-old students got choked up during an early morning rehearsal. I had to coax her out of the room just to get on the bus for a field trip.

Production Credits
Teaching myself some (very basic) basics and putting together a few tracks based on beats and samples I cut up on Garage Band. It's rudimentary, but it excites me to consider how much more I have to learn and grow with this particular style of music. I put together the track below for a call put out on soul-sides, and realized I never showed it to anyone besides the site's creator, Oliver Wang.

Gossamer, Passion Pit
If I consider how much I like an album based on how often I listen to it when it is first released, this one might not necessarily be an obvious choice. But it was one of the best sophomore album surprises I'd ever had (my expectations were low, as I wrote here). Accounts from my brother claim that "Constant Conversations" was a highlight of their live act on tour.

A Thing Called Divine Fits, Divine Fits
We'll be listening to this one on the drive back to Chicago tomorrow morning. An awesome mix of quirky synths and driving drums and bass. Did I mention how much I love Britt Daniel's vocals?

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Tame Impala put out Lonerism this year, which my friend Corey told me about last weekend, and I see now that it is on a few critics' End of Year Lists. I haven't read anything about the album or this band as of yet, but there is one thing that is unmistakable upon first listen: the supreme Beatles influence. A Lennon-sounding vocalist, trippy lyrics, chunky bass, drums that alternate between super-straight and way too busy, and long swirling instrumental fade-outs a la "I Want You". Below are some brief connections.

I think "Apocalypse Dreams" got left on the cutting room floor during the Abbey Road sessions.

And "Mind Mischief" certainly must be a lost Magical Mystery Tour track. Listen to those drums!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Os Gemeos

Last month, I saw an exhibit by Brazilian street artists Os Gemeos at the MCA in Boston. The works of these twin brothers are super musical, clearly influenced by the hip hop scene of NYC in the 70s. Here are some pictures I took of my favorite installation.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Soul Burst

Readers may have noticed the title of my last post implied that I would be writing a Top Ten of 2012. Perhaps that was bold. It might have to just be top ten albums I heard in 2012--not necessarily released in that year. Anyway, more on that later.

This Cal Tjader album, Soul Burst, was released in 1967. One cool thing about it is its awesome cover art. I can't tell if that thing is a flower, a spiky pendant, or a gaudy golden wall decoration that was hanging in some living room overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Tjader was king of West Coast latin jazz, something I learned a thing or two about at a Benny Velarde performance last April. The vibraphonist's work around that time was straight ahead. He created easily digestible, pop-lengthed latin songs. I like the quote from the record sleeve (oh 60s jazz record sleeves!): "If there is to be a renaissance in jazz, it's not going to be avant-avant-avant-garde; it's going to be in the direction of beauty."

And check out some of the musicians in this band. A young Chick Corea holds it down on piano. Grady Tate drums. Oliver Nelson arranges. Listen to this version of "Down by the Riverside" to understand why Nelson blows my mind every time I hear him.

By the way, this is not one of my top ten from 2012. Sorry Cal.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Top Ten of 2012

Here's one for the list: A Thing Called Divine Fits. These songs are all fuzzed out, groovy melodic pop, with that excellent rasp of Britt Daniel and the crunchy bass-and-drums minimalism that makes Spoon so good. The group is a collaboration, most notably between songwriters Daniel of Spoon and Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner. They trade songwriting credits and singing duties, but you can probably already tell which one of the two I favor. The super-powered dancey "What Gets You Alone" and the beautiful Nick Cave throwback "Shivers" stand out on this set. (Watch for more of my top ten list throughout the month.)