This time of year, I always like to reflect on all of the music I dug and compile a playlist that best encompasses the experiences, great memories, and the bands and artists that have become the soundtrack of my life in the past 365-odd days. I like to pop the older editions into the CD player and laugh/groan to myself in some nerdy form of reminiscence therapy. Plus, the discs make great stocking stuffers!
My criteria were simple: the song didn’t necessarily have to be released during this year (though many were), but if I discovered/rediscovered/liked it this year, it counts. I’ll attempt to give a brief description and justification for each song’s inclusion and provide links and background info whenever possible, should anyone choose to further explore these fine artists.
1) Band of Horses – “Knock Knock“: I love these guys and I was super-stoked to hear they were coming out with a new album. This song was their early-released single and aptly leads off the record. While the rest of Mirage Rock was somewhat of a disappointment compared to their other albums, this song makes a great track one. I love the lyrics, the “ooohs” and the handclaps, and it puts me in a hopeful, anticipatory mood for the rest of my day/life.
2) We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Medicine”: Man, I am such a sucker for Scottish bands, particularly singers with pronounced accents. I had the pleasure of seeing these Edinburghers at an awesome sold-out show at the Bottom Lounge last May, and they did not disappoint. They rock hard with driving guitar riffs and some awesome drumming, but (duh) the vocals are the cornerstone for me. Their latest album, In the Pit of the Stomach, kicks ass and is getting some decent, fully warranted attention, so I hope we continue to hear more from these guys.
3) Lydia Loveless – “Can’t Change Me”: Someone turned me onto this little spitfire from Ohio, and it’s obvious she grew up in a dive bar. Thanks to Bloodshot Records for snatching her up and giving her a recording contract. I had the pleasure of seeing her last month before she canceled the remainder of her tour due to the loss of her voice/illness (the antiheroine Adele?). For how tiny and innocent she looks, she sure has a mouth on her. And a voice. She’s bold and brash and unique, and she writes songs about hard drinking and telling creeps to shove off that push the envelope for country women. Lydia makes me wanna shoot whiskey and get in a bar fight, in a good way.
4) Yeasayer – “Henrietta”: I like Yeasayer for their interesting sound, a mix of synthy pop and vocoders and poppy sensibilities with a harder edge. Like Band of Horses, their latest album, Fragrant World, is not their best work, but they did have a fun self-imposed Internet leak scavenger hunt of the tracks prior to its release, which I followed with great interest at work for a couple of days. This track always gets my head bobbing and is always a welcome addition to my iTunes shuffle for those dreary morning commutes.
5) Dum Dum Girls – “I Got Nothing“: Ohhh, noise pop, my bread and butter. I’d heard a few Dum Dum Girls songs before and remember liking them, so when I was offered the chance to review the newest EP for my pals at Savage Henry Independent Times (affectionately acronymed S.H.I.T.), I jumped at the chance. Singer Dee Dee Penny recently lost her mom, so while the reverbed-out guitar riffs and rhythms are upbeat and vaguely reminiscent of other doo-wop-inspired acts, a la the Raveonettes, the lyrics are woeful. Eminently sing-a-longable, the five songs just work for me, and once again, I chose this for the vocals. I got nothin’ left to say about this song.
6) Levon Helm – “The Mountain”: My father has been trying to get me into The Band for years, and I’ve sadly never taken much time to listen to their repertoire. But upon the passing of their drummer/vocalist Levon Helm of cancer this year, I happened to catch a re-broadcast of his 2007 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, and I was captivated by his voice and the tracks I heard from his Grammy-winning solo album, Dirt Farmer. I bought it immediately and have had many a listen since. I love his vulnerable warble, and the songwriting hearkens back to simpler, possibly harder times. “The Mountain” is a eulogy to coal mining, to home, and features his daughter, Amy, on backing harmonies (love!). Bummer that this legend had to pass before I could appreciate him, but I’m glad it happened.
7) The Golden Horse Ranch Band – “Hummer”: I discovered these guys when their cover of GNR’s “Sweet Child o’ Mine” was playing early one morning at my local coffeehouse and curiosity got the better of me. I was delighted to discover that this local Chicago square dance band is not a one-trick pony (ooh, bad pun), and grabbed their whole album. Once again, I was suckered in by multiple vocalists with tight country harmonies and fiddles, but try not to do-si-do, I dare you. “Hummer” is a tongue-in-cheek admonishment to gas-guzzlers everywhere, and it’s a pretty irresistible toe-tapper.
8) Lowmen Markos – “Through the Circles”: I had the pleasure of watching these dear friends of mine form and grow this excellent West Seattle-based post-rock ensemble, and they are some of the most talented dudes I know. Huge musical gearheads, the quartet’s instrumental music is dense, dark, and psychedelic, building slow, ominous tension with layers of pedal and echo effects, cut by droning guitar, key, and bass parts, and some of the best drumming/xylophone playing you will ever hear, (courtesy of one of my musical heroes/homies, Scott Helgason). Recorded at my beloved Kill Room Studios, their Flames EP never fails to transport me to some weird places in my mind and evoke deep thoughts. They’re steadily lining up Northwest tour dates in March 2013, and I highly recommend catching these dudes on their upswing.
9) The Bombay Royale – “Sote Sote Adhi Raat”: I’ve thus far failed to mention one of my other weaknesses—Bollywood dance tunes. I heard a track by this 11-piece Australian ensemble on KEXP’s Wo’Pop!, and I had to stop what I was doing to immediately obtain “You Me Bullets Love”. The album, featuring singers Parvyn Kaur Singh and Shourov Bhattacharya, has become a workout staple of mine and offers mostly Bollywood hits in Hindi and Bengali, reduxed into high-energy dance tracks. I love to blast this one in my car in traffic and fancy myself some sort of exotic disco queen.
10) Deep Chatham – “Madeline”: A co-worker of mine took a trip to Maine (ironically enough), returned raving about this North Carolina acoustic band she’d seen at a bar out there, and graciously passed me their CD to upload. Love ensued. Simple guitar, banjo, and fiddles set the backdrop for gorgeous, haunting vocal harmonies that make me weak in the knees. They make me wanna drink moonshine in a dimly lit barroom on a sultry Southern night. Rumor is, they recorded a new album at the Rubber Room, and I have no doubts it’ll be just as wonderful as these tunes that magically dropped into my lap.
11) Macklemore – “Same Love (featuring Mary Lambert)”: Seattle hip-hop has long lived in the shadows of bigger, harder cities, but it was one of my favorite discoveries of living there for six years. The themes are progressive, the best performers aren’t always tough guys, but philosophers, scholars (like the Blue ones I equally adore), and the beats are soulful, jazzy, soft like the characteristic rain that falls there much of the time. I’ve been a Macklemore fan for awhile now, turned onto him years ago by this one chef I fell hard for when working at a local bakery, so imagine my happiness when he blew up on the scene HARD with his latest release, The Heist. Though there were many tracks I could have chosen, like the now-viral “Thrift Shop,” I went with the unofficial theme of the now-passed (!!!) Washington state gay marriage bill, “Same Love.” Whatever your position on the issue, take a listen/view of the awesome accompanying video, and consider the words of this ballsy, versatile ginger babe. The gorgeous vocals of Mary Lambert break my heart and have me singing “she keeps me warm” over and over to myself. Makes me proud to have knocked on those doors for Ref. 71 and proud of my Washingtonians for recognizing the rights of everyone to love the person of their choosing. Love is patient, love is kind. Damn right, I support it.
12) Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – “That’s What’s Up”: Speaking of love, this is one great handclapping homage celebrating egalitarian, unconditional love. Once again, I love male/female vocals. I am jaded, but I still have faith that I’ll find and marry my best friend, the person who makes me feel complete, so lyrics like “I’ll be the book/you be the binding/I’ll be the clock/you be the timing” are pretty resonant. It’s also like, the cutest video featuring hipster kids ever.
13) Passion Party – “Like You to Death”: Passion Party are MC Tim Stiles and DJ Adam Drew, featuring trumpet by Timmy Conroy (of BLVD Park fame), and they crank out hilarious, often raunchy hip-hop jams about the trials and tribulations of love and life, managing to say stuff with a straight face that should probably never be said. “Like You to Death” is all about getting “friend-zoned,” a subject on which I am all-too-expert, and it’s the only track on their release that may manage not to offend more sensitive audiences. Anyone who can create the rhyme “granny throws/expose/your pantyhose” is A-OK by me. P.S. You can download their Unihorn EP for free! Like THAT to death.
14) Punch Brothers – “Movement and Location”: I LOVE THIS BAND. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them play two sold-out gigs in Chicago, and both were incredible. I’ll just give you a snippet of my Hearingade review of these guys from earlier this year: “Who’s Feeling Young Now?, the band’s third release, is an absolute marvel. I’d like to alternatively title it “Who Needs Drummers and Electricity Anyway?” The opener, “Movement and Location,” pulls in some amazing hooks and winds around surprisingly poppy twists and turns. There’s a great variety within the tracks, at times traditional bluegrass folk jams like the instrumental “Flippen (the Flip),” others incorporating complex elements of jazz, R&B, and soul. “Hundred Dollars,” their bittersweet diatribe against city girls (“are all the same/they play you like a pinball game”), I will argue, sounds downright Justin Timberlake-y, but with a twangy twist.”
15) JD McPherson – “North Side Gal”: Um, what? A whiter-than-white boy with soul? Oh, yes please. I caught this guy’s packed show at the Metro this fall, and it was some of the best rockabilly, plaid shirted, bearded dude/ladies with giant bangs people-watching EVER. It’s some good old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll fun with a modern swing, and I was not the only one doing the twist, the monkey, and various other nerdy dances. Plus, I AM now officially a North Side gal, so I like to imagine this one’s about me.
16) The Lumineers – “Ho Hey”: If you haven’t heard this song, you probably have been living under the most indie, hipster rock ever. At a mere 2:43, “Ho Hey” doesn’t go for the endless repeat of the hook and chorus over and over until you’re sick to death of it, but since it’s been played over and over, you may feel that way regardless. Either way, I’m stoked that folk music is becoming more commercially successful. I love this dude’s voice, love the group chorus, love tambourines, and can I ever empathize with the feeling of knowing you’re supposed to belong with someone after doing all the right things to make it on your own!
17) Shovels & Rope – “Keeper”: Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent are one of those duos that just make sense together. After seeing them open for Butch Walker (?!) at a show last year, they made my “Stuff I Liked in 2011” list, and to my delight and with their newest album O’Be Joyful, they are gaining a lot of recognition, including a spot on this year’s Live @ KEXP compilation. I (once again) love me some tight male/female harmonies, and Cary Ann’s irresistible, well-meted-out Carolina wail sends Dolly Parton-ish chills down my spine. “Keeper” is a song about, love, fishing, and being out of the game and happy about it.
18) Beach House – “Lazuli”: I reviewed the album Bloom for Hearingade this summer, and doubtless, this album will always remind me of the summer of 2012. Here’s a bit of what I had to say: “Like some sort of utopian choir living inside a pipe-organ-future-temple…the male-female vocals sound as though you’re hearing them from the inside of a womb—echoey, remote, but wise and comforting, with lush, parental harmonies. Ever-present drum machine beats offset the eerie drone effects of the synth/organ, throbbing bass lines and wavy guitars. They take their time, deliberately adding layer upon layer of sound, driving verses (and the listener) to the brink, until their chorus bursts triumphantly open like some jungle flower in the steaminess of it all.” “Lazuli” is my absolute favorite track, and I saw them perform it live at RiotFest. Bliss became me.
19) The Very Best – “We Ok”: I saved The Very Best for the very last. I am so glad I stumbled across their free album first listen on NPR one day, and it became almost ritualistic to listen to it on repeat to get through long workdays. I also (surprise!) reviewed these guys for Hearingade: “You know you love a song when you don’t know the words and can’t help but embarrassingly sing approximated Malawian lyrics on your parents’ suburban backyard deck…The obvious radio hit choice “We Ok,” (who say we don’t dance no more?/someone point him out!) featuring irresistible “yeee-yoooooos” and geography bee-worthy shout-outs to a litany of places where I can only dream of partying. It’s overwhelming and glorious and exhausting in a great way, like a crazy fun night that leaves you smiling and reminiscing to yourself the whole day after.” I went to their show, got sweated on by Esau in the bouncing, riotous crowd, and talked to them afterwards. Nice dudes, wonderful music — they even retweeted me. Talk about a kick-ass 2012 in music-geekery.