This massive blog is the result of me being unable to decide whether I wanted to make a list of my favorite music OR movies for 2012. Usually I just pick one because putting everything I love into one post always seems like it would just take too long, but, alas, it has happened. Why? No reason. Well the reason is mostly because I’m just kinda OCD or something. Regardless, here are my favorite ALBUMS, SONGS, MUSIC VIDEOS, & MOVIES of 2012.
THE BEST 10 ALBUMS OF 2012
1. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Grizzly Bear has always had a knack for incredible songwriting, well sequenced albums, and intricate musicianship – but Shields is the absolute culmination of everything that makes Grizzly Bear excellent and it’s their best album yet. Singer Ed Droste bends his voice into a rawer territory here by often stripping back the layers of vocals to let one take stand stark among the musical landscape. The result is a more human and honest approach to the usual hazed multi-colored production of the Grizzly Bear sound. Just about everything in this album is a step up from their previous efforts. A somber yet grandiose album punctuated by an incredible display of letting things have more space when its needed make this my absolute favorite album of 2012.
2. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…
Fiona is notorious for long periods of time between her albums. She often states that you can’t write if you don’t just live and experience things. The wait for “The Idler Wheel…” was the longest between any of her albums, but the result is her best work yet. This is venomous, daring, brutally honest, gloves are fucking off Fiona – and it totally rules. Stripped down to the core, these songs place Fiona’s vocals front and center and she contorts her vocal cords through emotional and expertly written honest songs. The albums stark honesty feels like you just snuck into her room and flipped through the diary tucked away in her drawer. The albums twisted and wild loosely hand-drawn colorful image on the cover couldn’t summarize the album more. The album is intimate, fresh, intense, and badass. When I first heard Fiona belt out “SEEK ME OUT! / LOOK AT, LOOK AT, LOOK AT, LOOK AT ME!” in “Daredevil” – voice cracking as she pounds her piano like a 5-year-old desperately seeking the attention of their parent, it became clear: this isn’t just lyrics and music. This is performance. Every word uttered drips the emotion that must have run through that pen onto the paper. The world created on this album is wholly of its own. Much like any great artist, it can’t be replicated. She lived it.
3. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
It’s not often a band occupies such a unique sound that it is indistinguishably and inarguably their sound. Dirty Projectors music accomplishes this with soaring & playful (yet incredibly technical) backing vocals from the angelic voices of Amber and Haley, guitar lines that feel like scribbles on a 5 years notepad, and lead vocals that constantly tether off the edge of complacency. This latest album’s goal from the eyes of main songwriting David Longstreth was the rein in some of these eccentric elements to create a more simple sound. The result to my ear sounds more like he has honed these eccentrics into an absolutely perfect pinpoint. It’s a fantastic starting point for new fans, because it also happens to be perhaps their best album to date.
4. iamamiwhoami – kin
While this album IS meant to be an audio-visual experience (see details on that below for my pick of “Music Video of the Year”) it still works remarkably well as solely music. This is best described as warped pop music with a darker edge. Pop elements are easily found in the vocals being front and center, synthesized beats, and catchy hooks – but the sum of it’s parts ends up feeling much deep than what you would hear in the top 40. singer/songwriter Jonna Lee sings vaguely about loss, existential musings about life, and loneliness in a landscape that has a darker landscape preventing it from ever really entering bubblegum territory. The production work is excellent, and each song pops as noteworthy and exciting.
5. Tame Impala – Lonerism
Usually when a band puts out an incredible first album, many assume the next can only falter by attempting to recreate the same momentum and sonic landscape of the previous album. With Tame Impala’s 2nd album “Lonerism”, while similar to the first album, is simply just as good. Instead of attempting to add some predictable bells and whistles in an attempt to expand, the sound of the band has been sharpened down to be even MORE effected, whacked-out, fuzzy throwback acid rock. This album doesn’t just sound like the 60s though, it sounds like the 60′s filtered through the future. if that sounds hard to picture its cause this album simply sounds sonically like nothing else. Mastermind/band leader Kevin Parker described the album as sounding as if you shot Britney Spears into outer space. It’s true. These are classic and insanely catchy pop tunes (ala The Beatles) but through so much webbing it feels like each song is reaching out and surrounding your entire body. An incredible and unmissable album.
6. Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It
“Honesty is the key” said every mom ever. But that can be hard to forget when consuming art. How honest were the intentions of the artist of your favorite masterpiece? It doesn’t get more obvious than the absolutely painfully confessional stark new album by Perfume Genuis (aka Mike Hadreas). The performances found on the songs feel like they are sometimes inches away from the pain they are talking about – with Mike’s fragile voice often sounding on the brink of a breakdown. It’s a heart wrenching album to listen to, but also one of the most memorable for the exact same reason. You kinda just wanna give Mr. Hadreas a hug once the album wraps up its somewhat short half-hour runtime. But hitting play all over again usually suffices.
7. Animal Collective – Centipede Hz
How do you follow up releasing a complete masterpiece? Well…with a still really good album. Sure it’s not a phenomenal Animal Collective album, but its still a great album by any (weird music lover) standards. No, I mean it – this album is pretty freaky. Whereas their previous effort “Merriweather Post-Pavilion” was loaded with their most accessible material they’ve ever released (and also their best in my humble opinion) this takes a 180. This is dense, fast, freaky, wild, eccentric, and just about the opposite of easy-listening. It might be startling at first, but there’s still a lot of warped-pop elements to grasp onto – they are just less immediately apparent.
8. Ariel Pinks Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
Ariel Pink is a total fucking nutcase. much like Animal Collective (see above), Ariel Pink decided to follow up his ‘breakthrough’ album which contained accessible (well…by Ariel Pink standards) tunes with some…insanely fun stuff. By which I do mean both insane AND fun in equal amounts. some choice lyrical moments found on the album “Suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs” “She’s a nympho at the discotheque / she’s a nympho and I’m a lesbian” “Sorry said the fanny to the head / one-eyed Willie’s ghost is dead” “Blonde seizure bombshells and the blowjobs of death / bring on the bogan she-males hopped up on meth” so….umm…basically this is Frank Zappa for a new generation of freaks. The moment when you find yourself singing these catchy songs to yourself and smiling when you realize what the hell you’re actually saying is about when it all makes sense.
9. Chairlift – Something
This is one fun album. filled with some of the most overlooked pop hooks of the year, wild synth sounds, and (SERIOUSLY) some of the coolest set of music videos for one album I’ve ever seen, the album seems like it just begs to blow up. But alas it remains a not particularly hidden, but certainly not widespread gem. singer Caroline Polachek has an incredible voice ripe with character. It’s a perfect match for the 80′s vibe of most the album, but don’t get too stuck on thinking this album is too one-note. there’s plenty of variety and genre influences found throughout its memorable and insanely catchy tracks. Amanaemonesia exists somewhere between psych pop and Michael Jackson (…yeeeaaa), and the new wave pulse of “Met Before” is propulsive and full. The album isn’t only excellent from a songwriting perspective – the production is absolutely pristine and perfectly compliments this particularly fun set of tunes.
10. The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
Notorious for over-indulgence and painting with just about every color of the sound rainbow, The Mars Volta to many are just too…dense. On this release, however, you may actually find something you don’t often find on a Mars Volta album: space and restraint. well…for Mars Volta standards. With the introduction of synths as a prominent feature on the album as well as excellent vocal hooks from singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, this can act as an inviting album for people interested in exploring the dense catalogue of these prog-freaks. With the news of band-leader/guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez moving onto a new (much more accessible) band called Bosnian Rainbows and publicly putting Mars Volta on hiatus, this may well also be the last Mars Volta album we hear for quite some time.
ESSENTIAL 5 SONGS OF 2012
1. “Amanaemonesia” by Chairlift
Just TRY to listen to this song without smiling and dancing. I dare you. Instantaneously catchy without feeling cookie cutter. One of those songs where EVERY single part from the verses, choruses, bridge, and and breakdowns are all equally incredible. This song is just zany wacky fun. It doesn’t get old.
2. “Apocalypse Dreams” by Tame Impala
What starts as a driving and punchy 60′s psych-pop jam with extremely catchy sweeping hooks as singer Kevin Parker sings “Nothing ever changes” soon…well, changes. Halfway through the song everything gets sucked into a vortex and pops out as a slowly turning colorful kaleidoscope jam that is equally hypnotizing and captivating. Droning away for minutes has never sounded so spectacular.
3. “Yet Again” by Grizzly Bear
Let this be a testament to absolutely superb songwriting. Grizzly Bear has never really slacked off in their brilliant ability to let every aspect of a song shine through by letting things breath and have their own sonic space. “Yet Again” is perhaps their greatest achievement to date in this regard. polished to a shine, this pristinely recorded song is absolutely filled with moments that just…click. An emotional and raw through-line is found with Ed Droste’s reverb soaked vocals, but just about every instrument in the song is the highlight. My personal favorite is when those claps come in distant and sparingly for the verses punctuated with a tambourine slap. Subtle touches like this make it easy to leave this one on repeat.
4. “Disparate Youth” by Santigold
Anthems can often feel contrived, but when listening to “Disparate Youth” it almost feels like Santigold accidentally stumbled into it…just about perfectly. The choruses open wide with synth pads, skittering drums, and vocals front and center saying “Oh-ah / We know that we want more / Oh-ah / A life worth fighting for”. It’s a propulsive moment for a song that never seems to dip below ‘insanely-addicting’. It’s one that stands at the top of just about anything that Santigold has ever done.
5. “Werewolf” by Fiona Apple
I often have a hard time zoning in on the lyrics of a song. Usually my brain focuses on the music at first and sometimes I never really get around to actually fully understanding what a song is even about. With Fiona Apple – it’s practically impossible to ignore. Her dramatic and emotional deliveries are often highlights of the song, and this songs clever wordplay and excellent delivery make it a standout track of an already outstanding album. Fiona takes jabs at a lost love and brainstorms perhaps why it fell apart, but punctuates each insult with an introspective look at how perhaps she’s the one to blame: “I can liken you to a shark the way you bit off my head / but then again, I was waving around a bleeding open wound”. The restrained and subtle uses of percussion, banjo, and a chorus of screaming kids all come together serendipitously to form a perfect crescendo of a piano and vocal led ballad.
UNMISSABLE 8 MUSIC VIDEOS OF 2012
1. “kin” by iamamiwhoami
It’s a no-brainer to give the best matching of visuals and music to the project that is BASED on giving their fans their content as an audio-visual experience right out the gate. this roughly 40-minute audiovisual album played out in an episodic fashion early this year with each song and corresponding visual chapter given out every fortnight over the course of a few months. The end product is an experimental visual piece with themes of loss, the struggle of structure vs chaos, and isolation – but of course there’s much left for interpretation. A woman awakes in a bleak hotel room and begins dancing with a hairy creature before slowly being sent down the rabbit hole into an alternate world of lush forests and sparse deserts. The cinematography and set design is nothing short of spectacular and relies very much on the tangible and only very sparing use of CG. The music, while certainly less experimental than the visuals, is equally captivating and attention-worthy. synth heavy trippy pop with a darker edge is all helmed by the animated and unique voice of Swedish singer Jonna Lee (who also stars as the main character in the visual component). It’s hard not be anxious for the next step in this consistently intriguing mysterious project. (For more on this artist check out my in-depth explanation of why there has never been a project done quite like this one)
2. “Amanaemonesia” by Chairlift
3. “Yet Again” by Grizzly Bear
4. “Met Before” by Chairlift
5. “Hi Custodian” by Dirty Projectors
6. “Tiny Tortures” by Flying Lotus
7. “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by The Flaming Lips
8. “Do It With A Rockstar” by Amanda Palmer
FAVORITE 6 FILMS OF 2012
(because the last four of my top 10 were just kinda ‘pretty good’)
1. Moonrise Kingdom
This film is Wes Anderson’s best film. Culminating all of the best aspects of what makes his films so endearing, memorable, witty, fun, warm, engrossing, and visually outstanding – the film is simply perfect back to front. I once heard someone say the film looked too “Wes Anderson-y” for them. I couldn’t help but be baffled by the irony of the statement. How can a film BY Wes Anderson be TOO “Wes Anderson-y”? The statement only acknowledges the sheer impact and uniqueness of the worlds he has created over the years. Moonrise Kingdom sits on top of all of his directorial works as the one I’m most likely to visit over and over again. An outstanding achievement of American cinema.
2. Seven Psychopaths
This film recalled Tarantino for me, yet here it sits just one slot higher than this years Tarantino original offering of Django. A bloody and brutal crime film that doesn’t stop being absolutely fucking hilarious and witty throughout its entire runtime. With the best casting in recent memory (Christopher Walken AND Tom Waits in the SAME FILM?? Along with a show-stealing Sam Rockwell) this film feels superbly fine tuned to be the years funniest film, while still being far more affecting than any comedy I’ve seen in years.
3. Django Unchained
SO Tarantino. This film is so completely Tarantino. Yea yea, he borrows from other filmmakers, references his favorite films, and can get a bit wanky sometimes – but that doesn’t stop his films from being some of the best theater experiences of their respective years. This film was no exception in proving that Tarantino is one of America’s best filmmakers. Using pre-civil war slavery as the backdrop, the film smartly swims it’s way through genre-bending fun and expertly written dialogue scenes that often feel more exciting than the explosive action scenes sparingly sprinkled throughout the films nearly 3 hour runtime. My favorite scene is an extended multi-part (and multi-layered) dialogue-driven dinner scene that probably spanned at least 20 minutes that had my undivided attention. The film isn’t really Tarantino at his BEST, but it’s still better than most things you’ll see this year.
This is one of the best Bond film’s I’ve seen, and might just be my personal favorite. I definitely got some vibes of The Dark Knight (not rises…I’m talking about the one with Heath Ledger’s Joker) in this one. An eccentric villain can only be stopped by an orphaned dude with gadgets? Dunno why it took so long for me to make the obvious connection, but in many ways Bond is like a super hero, and in this one especially, it feels very much grounded in a reality much like our own. It goes a little lighter on the action scenes and more into character, back story, and emotion (and that’s a GREAT thing). It almost felt like the franchise itself had become self-aware of the fact that Bond is perhaps becoming…outdated. ‘Do we really need secret agents when we have computers’ is a talking point in the film, but it also felt like a parallel to the franchise as a whole. Do cheeky spy flicks with gadgets, girls, and one-liners really matter? But it appears that by starting the concept of this film with “do we really need another Bond film?” has created a Bond film that actually feels fresh, modern and removed from some of its cheekier spy-movie elements. This isn’t just a great Bond adventure, it’s a great movie.
5. Cabin in the Woods
I love a film that is intensely hard to describe to people other than to say that it is unmissable and insanely fun. INSANELY fun. I mean it. A meta-genrebending-hilarious-horror film is my best attempt, but part of its charm is simply going into it WITHOUT knowing exactly what you’re getting into. Don’t let anyone spoil where this film ends up going, but rest assured – it’s not just your typical horror film as the trailer (and first act) may suggest. If you love horror films (good ones OR bad ones…and ESPECIALLY if you love both) this is an ABSOLUTE must-see.
6. Keep The Lights On
This hyper-affecting drama that spans over 20 years of a turbulent on and off relationship between two gay men in New York was perhaps the most realistic film I saw this year. While the main thing tearing apart the couple in focus here is drug addiction, it often doesn’t dwell on just that. These are two people who clearly love each other, but are also just struggling on a more basic level of whether or not they are right for each other – despite their love for one another. It’s no surprise the film is partly autobiographical of the writer-director because the film is at times an unsettling realistic portrayal of a couple picking the scabs of the wounds struggling to heal between them. Also of note is the music of the film; which is almost entirely done by the late experimental-folk cello player Arthur Russell which adds a subtle underlying emotional landscape beneath the grainy and sweeping cinematography.