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Music 2012: Faves and Failures

So, best of lists?  Meaningless.  Best of?  Based on what?  What criteria?  Whose?  Why should we value a list compiled by a bunch of people who spent all year consuming (promotional copies) and commenting on our culture without ever contributing anything meaningful to it?  (Looking at you, A.V. Club.)  So I will spare you all the pretentious rationalizations and justifications typically accompanying such year-end lists.  My taste in music is no better than anyone else’s… it’s just different, and here diversity in all its forms is respected.  Instead, I will simply serve up a list of my favorites along with a few examples of music that I consider less than stellar. 

This was a crappy year for music.   I managed to find some good stuff, but the pickings were slim. 
I think I Heart Radio is to blame.  Everything they touch sucks.  They are the worst thing to ever happen to popular music.   There ought to be a law.  There is only so much pandering and homogenization that one can stand.  And as sad as the state of pop music is, what this conglomerate has managed to do to country music is a sin.

2012 was a year where we saw lots of bands attempt to sound like Passion Pit and Florence and The Machine.  We saw Owl City bounce back (for better or worse) from the sophomore jinx.  We saw a decrease in the use of Auto Tune (finally).  We saw Madonna grow harder, angrier, and more brittle (though her concert was visceral and bigger than life).   We saw dance music embraced by and incorporated into the mainstream more than ever.  fun. was fun! The Evens delivered The Odds.  And Santigold released yet another incredible album that not enough people listened to.  So, for what it’s worth, here is a list of my favorites along with the annoying and not –so-very-good.

By the way, pictured are all the albums I liked.  Frequently the text that appears beside them has nothing to do with the album shown. I wanted to get the covers out there, so sorry for any confusion.
Favorite Albums

Arrow: Heartless Bastards
Famous Milk: White Rabbit
Shields - Grizzly Bear

All three had me smiling, bore repeated listening, and gave me hope that the music industry was not beyond redemption.  I think all three were routinely dismissed or ignored by the critics, and that is a damn shame.

Incredibly Good and Worth Listening To

Channel Orange – Frank Ocean: Brilliant
The Odds - The Evens: As good as Astro, and just as necessary
The Haunted Man - Bat For Lashes: Loved it.  You will, too.
Tinsel And Lights - Tracey Thorn:  This is the perfect holiday album for people who have gotten “used to a certain kind of sadness”.  Her voice is Annie Lennox rich without the over-reaching.  
Coexist - The xx: I hated them on their last effort.  But this time, they blew me away.  A beautiful murmur of an album.
Astro – Astro: As good as The Evens, and just as necessary
Words And Music By Saint Etienne - Saint Etienne: Shimmering beauty
Vows – Kimbra: More shimmering beauty
Master Of My Make-Believe – Santigold: Best album of the year; weird and funky and fun.  Most creative thing out there.
Out of the Game -Rufus Wainwright: Have been a long time detractor.  He managed to wrangle in his love of excess, lack of structure, and desire to over-reach.  This time he got it right.
Slipstream - Bonnie Raitt: A veteran act that delivered yet another seamless work that encompasses all that she has to offer.
A Church That Fits Our Needs - Lost In the Trees: Quirky, fun, interesting, and lovely. 
Rooms Filled With Light – Fanfarlo: More Quirky, fun, interesting, and lovely.
Visions – Grimes: Still more shimmering beauty – sort of the album I had hoped Passion Pit would have made
Making Mirrors – Gotye: Nice chops.  Great songwriting.  Contains the best single of the year (fuck you, A.V. Club, you snarky bitches).
The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy – Nada Surf: As good as Astro and The Evens, and even more necessary, if something can, indeed, be more necessary, and on alternate days of the week, my favorite album of the year

Rather Disappointing

Gossamar - Passion Pit: I loved their last outing.  This one felt like they were holding back on me.  Still, they are the most influential band on the current music scene.  Their touch is to be found all over the radio.  They may not have reaped the rewards, but they broke the ground.
Shrines - Purity Ring: Liked their previous stuff.  This one struck me as shrill and trying way too hard.
Love This Giant - David Byrne & St. Vincent: Overworked, unworkable, and not working.  Two people who should never do anything together, ever.
The Carpenter - The Avett Brothers:  The ghost of John Denver hovers over this one like a shroud. John Denver is dead.  They are better than this.
Charmer - Amee Mann: Sorry, Amee – I am a HUGE fan and think you are a brilliant songwriter, but this one sounded like you phoned it in.
New and Number Ones - Kristine W: What can I say?  I love this woman’s stuff.  Her voice is amazing.  She works hard.  Her heart is in the right place.  I think she needs to come up with some big dough and bring in a few high-powered hired guns to breathe new life into her career.
Fanatic - Heart: I actually enjoyed this.  However, Red Velvet Car preceded it, and you can’t help but compare.  There are too many ballads on this one that don’t really work or say anything.  Heart seems to get stuck in this mid-tempo crap.  When they ROCK!  OMG.  They deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, no doubt about it.  But, if they should decide to create something more – they need to forget that they are middle-aged women and remember that they are rock goddesses!  Don’t tread water – shred your amps!
MDNA - Madonna: So this topped the Billboard Magazine Reader’s Poll for top album?  A lot of gay guys must have participated in that poll. This is not a great album. This is not great Madonna.  It is only intermittently good Madonna.  She is better than this.  Harder and angrier we don’t want.  Drop the attitude and make me wanna dance, again.  Please?  Being accessible and likable is not a bad thing. Ice goddesses die alone.
Not Very Good at All

Cenitpede Hz - Animal Collective: Unlistenable, the absolute worst in a year when there was a lot of lousy music.
Sun - Cat Power: Horribly disappointing.  She is so much better than this.
I Bet On Sky - Dinosaur Jr.: More unlistenable bullshit.  Jerking off has never been soooooooo boring.
Release Me - Barbra Streisand: Should have stayed in the vault.  Really?  This treacle is the best that’s in there?  Then burn it all!  This collection serves up wonderful examples of why Barbra Streisand is both the greatest singer ever, and the worst.
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do: Fiona Apple: Art songs?  I… whah?  No, really.  What?  Did you… I mean, this – it’s on purpose?  Fiona? What did a piano ever do to you to deserve this?  Not even Rufus Wainwright at his most pretentious is this bad.
Favorite Singles

Somebody I Used To Know – Goyte feat. Kimbra: Best song of the year (fuck you A.V. Club)
Titanium – David Guetta feat. Sia: Second best song of the year
Everybody Talks - Neon Trees:  This year’s Pumped Up Kicks (by Foster the People)

Very Good / Very Likable

Let’s Go - Calvin Harris Featuring Ne-Yo: I love warming up before a work out to this song
Dark Side / Catching My Breath – Kelly Clarkson:  Dark Side failed to catch on, but it is a great song, Catch My Breath can’t seem to catch fire, either, but fingers crossed
Anything Could Happen / Lights – Ellie Goulding: Lights has been around for a year and a half, but just completed 52 weeks in the top 100 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.  I have a feeling that Anything Could Happen will follow a similar path.
We Found Love – Rihanna feat Calvin Harris: Inescapable, and for a very good reason
Try - P!nk: I just like it.  The video is hideous, possibly one of the worst ever, but the song sounds like a song I vaguely remember liking, so I like it.
Take A Walk - Passion Pit: The album was a bit disappointing, but this song hit the spot
Adorn – Miguel: I continue to like this dude.  I can’t wait until he totally unleashes his inner Prince.
It's Time / Radioactive - Imagine Dragons: I like this band more and more.  Radioactive deserves to be a big hit.
Too Close - Alex Clare: The first time I heard this I didn’t know what to make of it, and now it sounds so average to me.  I still like it.
The A Team - Ed Sheeren: Sweetest song about a crack whore ever written.
Runaways - The Killers: Failed to catch fire.  But still worthwhile.
Madness – Muse: They still want to be Queen.   This came damn close to Queen lite.
We are Young - fun. feat. Janelle Monae: What a rarity.  They continue to surprise.  Great chops, great songs, interesting bounce.  Best new addition to the scene.
Thinkin’ Bout You - Frank Ocean: I was going to write him off as a Jamie Foxx wannabe.  He is so much more.  And way more interesting than Jamie Foxx.
Shake It Out - Florence and The Machine: No one, other than Passion Pit, has been more influential on the current sound that has developed.  She can’t sing, really – she sort of warbles; which on disc can be endearing and live can prove to be disastrous.   
Lonely Boy - The Black Keys: This was on my list last year.  It deserves to be here this year.

Give Your Heart A Break – Demi Lovato: Hated it and then fell in love with it due to the lines: ‘The day I first met you, you told me, you’d never fall in love’.
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together - Taylor Swift: That chorus.  Annoying?  Or Catchy? 
Call Me Maybe - Carly Rae Jepsen: Inescapable.  Inexplicable.
Feel Again – OneRepublic: Best Florence and The Machine single of the year.
Just Could Never Get Into

Ho Hey - The Lumineers
Little Talks - Of Monsters And Men
Tongue Tied - Grouplove

I tried.  I was there when they first came on the scene… but, I just could never commit my ears to what they were all about. 

Most Interesting Sample

I Cry (Piano in the Dark – Brenda Russell) - Flo Rida
Good Feeling (Levels by Avicii) – Flo Rida

I don’t like Flo Rida, but these song?  Radio candy.
The Bad

Back In Time – Pitbull: Normally, I like him.  I certainly would love to… him. He is a sexy beast. But this mix?  This nostalgia time warp thing?  Gawd Awful!
Home - Phillip Phillips: Awwwww.  Awwwwww.  No, really… Awwwwwwww.
Good Time - Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen: Worst song of the year.  Awful lyrics.  Insipid melody.  Produced with way too many Lucky Charms and elfin magic in the mix.  Fortunately for Owl City it was a hit.  Fortunately for everybody else?  His next single, Shooting Star is actually damn likable and will not bring on a case of the sugar-betes.
Drive By / 50 Ways to Say Goodbye – Train: Truly awful.  Okay, Drive By?  Worst song of the year (yeah, I know what I said already, but… really, this is awful).  And 50 Ways?  Drive By with some Spanish guitar and Tiajuana brass thrown in the mix.  Didn’t fool me.
The Jason Mraz Award for The Song that Hung Around Long After It had Worn Out Its Welcome

Not Over You - Gavin DeGraw: Over this.
Brighter Than the Sun - Colbie Caillat: I’d rather live in darkness (and silence).
I Won’t Give Up – Jason Mraz: Please, do.


Maroon 5:  This is fine.  Pop music is fun.  Adam is a great guy.  But other bands are COPYING them – and there was not a whole lot that was original there to begin with – so just what is it they are copying?  Maroon 5 has basically warped themselves into a disco jukebox spitting out hits with amazing accuracy.
Train: Train now wants to be… Maroon 5?  Is this so they can retire on something other than the royalties to Drops of Jupiter and Soul Sister?  Why does this irk me?  Why do I care?

I Just Don’t Like Them

Chris Brown: One of the most repugnant people on the planet.  Haters don’t hate without a reason, dude.  Please gain humility and some professional help.
PSY – Gangnam Style: I don’t get it.  It’s just a dance song, and not a great one.
Toby Keith – Red Solo Cup: A total dick making a buck exploiting rednecks and red state ideology.  Shtick is getting old.
Enrique Iglesias:  What happened to this man?  Seriously, he used to make some decent music.  This year?  Crap, absolute drivel.
Karmin:  I saw them on SNL.  I’ve heard four of their songs, none of which are very good.  I see lots of gigs with a Casio keyboard at the local Holiday Inn in their future.  Remember that band Nu-Shooz?
Kanye West: Is this still a thing?  Really?  Hmmm.  Why does this irk me?

Best of Dance:

Don’t You Worry Child - Swedish House Mafia Featuring John Martin
Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites - Skrillex
Midnight City - M83.
Levels – Avicii
Everything That I Got - Kristine W
Nothing really blew me away this year.  I found all of these engaging and likable.  Now that dance is such a part of the pop scene?  I was hoping dance artists would up the ante a little. 


O!Daddie said...

I happen to like lists of all kinds and yours is beautifully done. With Pandora, You tube and cable in a pinch, I don't purchase much music anymore-less expensive, no storage and if I choose a real dud, a click of the mouse and it's over.

Wishing you a very happy holiday and the best of everything.. HUGZ, Jeff

BikeGuy said...

people want to be like Maroon 5? You mean like Jamiroquai? Oh no. Sorry - Maroon 5 has been imitating them for years.

Upton King said...

BikeGuy... like I said... not a lot original there...they keep morphing into the flavor of the month... I bet their next album ends up sounding like Bruno Mars. So... does that make Maroon 5 the most successful covers band ever? - Uptonking from Wonderland Burlesque

Anonymous said...

That's a good post. I will make some notes for myself.

RobOrange @ Seduced by the New...

Bruce Chang said...

Hmm... The earlier stuff of Purity Ring... Was that a comparison of the tracks on Shrines that were written before vs. after they signed onto 4AD? Didn't know they had anything before that album...
Jamiroquoi vs Maroon 5... Ha! I like 'em both. But I'm slut when it comes to music... Okay, okay. I'm just a slut all around. Ha!

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

Great that you picked Saint Etienne and Tracey Thorn -- two of the year's best.