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Sunday, December 09, 2012

A year in music

If there is one word I could use to describe my life in 2012, it's rebuilding. Rebuilding in the sense of figuring out what I truly want in my personal and professional life. I thought long and hard while trying to move forward. Music, as always, kept me sane through all of this. I listened to a lot of music that was released this year -- a lot more than I had in previous years. This list reflects that, as well as a number of the shows I saw and stories/interviews that I did.

The Best Records Released This Year

Title Fight, Floral Green
Despite the vastness of options on the Internet, I still go off of friend recommendations the most when it comes to finding out about new music. My friend Seth was highly enthusiastic about Title Fight's second record, calling them "Seaweed Jr." Upon listening to it, especially "Secret Society," I agreed, but I also added No Knife, Hum, and Lifetime to the list of obvious influences. Most of these guys are not old enough to legally drink, but they deliver such a punch of great songs, passion, and conviction.

Things of Earth, Old Millennium Pictures
From time to time, friends of mine will recommend that I check out their new side project or completely new band. More often than not, what I hear is very rough and not very memorable. When Brandon Butters told me about Things of Earth, his other band when he's not playing in the West Windows, I gave this freebie EP a listen. What I heard sounded incredibly well recorded and it had a tremendous sense of urgency to it. I've heard many instrumental bands that take influence from Pelican, Hum, and Far, but this four-piece does something refreshing with those influences. I look forward to what they deliver next.

Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory
I heard good things about Cloud Nothings last year when I read some year-end lists. Trevor Kelley tweeted high praise for this album, so I was inclined to check it out. While I hope their drummer adds a crash cymbal to his kit someday (yes, once a drum nerd, always a drum nerd), Attack on Memory reminds me of what I like about Cap'n Jazz in terms of dynamics and release. And "Stay Useless" is one of the catchiest songs I've heard all year.

The Jealous Sound, A Gentle Reminder
Once again, a Trevor Kelley recommendation. He tweeted at the end of January: "Mid-life heartbreak, bleary-eyed optimism, and the power of palm muting. A hands down classic." Extremely well put. "Change You" is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Ben Folds Five, The Sound of the Life of the Mind
I've written plenty over the years about how much Ben Folds' work with the Five and as a solo artist has meant to me. His reunion with the Five has produced another fine album, even though its title is a mouthful (more than The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner). Lots of great songs here, but "Michael Praytor, Five Years Later" is one of the best.

Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind
I don't listen to a lot of heavy music, but there are a few bands I can listen to over and over again for years. Converge is one of those bands, and they've been pretty consistent with creating records I want to hear. Since Jane Doe, the band's been pretty unstoppable in terms of quality. And while I truly enjoy this record, there are times when I think, "Haven't I heard this riff before?" I don't think that when I hear "Aimless Arrow."

Torche, Harmonifcraft
This record took me a few listens to really dive in. Torche is one of the few bands that can play extremely loud and heavy music with very tasty melodies. "Letting Go" certainly resonated with me this year, as did the rest of the record.

Best Coast, The Only Place
I'm extremely cautious about getting into bands that have one basic sound. Best Coast is vocals, guitars, and basic drumming. I liked their debut album, but I love The Only Place. Sunny melodies with lyrics about isolation, frustration, and heartbreak, "How They Want Me to Be" is one of the many standouts.

The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten
Word was, the Gaslight Anthem almost scrapped this record and started over. Thankfully, they didn't. I found Handwritten to be a rebound from their last record. Like Tom Petty and Hot Water Music hanging out on E Street, especially on "45."

Best Discoveries/Re-discoveries This Year

Marshall Crenshaw
Marshall's name has been mentioned before on the A.V. Club and Popdose, sites I often read. After I read Noel's excellent Gateways to Geekery piece on power-pop, I checked out Marshall's debut self-titled record and the This is Easy compilation. This is power pop for those who love sunny melodies with a Buddy Holly/Phil Spector influence rather than a Beatles influence. Great stuff that still holds up strong.

Blur
Thanks to a massive box set containing everything the band has released, I was able to go back into Blur's album cuts and singles. Blur always made diverse music that never adhered to one genre, and their legacy is even stronger now (especially when you don't have tabloids writing about how many more records Oasis sold in 1996). 

Genesis
I've been listening to the pop-friendly material of Genesis since the mid-80s. I still love songs like "Invisible Touch," "In Too Deep," and "Misunderstanding," but I never dug into their deep album cuts or their material with Peter Gabriel. Since I always see their albums in used record bins, I was inclined to check them out, especially since the guys in Mastodon are huge fans. After spending a lot of hours this year listening to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Seconds Out, and A Trick of the Tail, I have to say they're perfect for evenings in, sitting on the couch. 

Tom Waits
Somebody who's almost impossible to find in a used record bin, Tom Waits continues to amaze me. Whether it's a deep cut from Small Change or The Heart of Saturday Night, I'm in.

Amy Winehouse
Away from the tabloids and her untimely death,  I can enjoy a song like "Love is a Losing Game." Sad and beautiful stuff.

(By the way, I created a playlist on Spotify featuring a number of the songs from my favorite albums of the year, as well as the new discoveries/re-discoveries.)

Biggest Disappointments From This Year

Cursive, I Am Gemini
I remember driving home from Darryl Smyers' house the day he gave me his promo copy of I Am Gemini. I thought it was a tremendous disappointment, especially since records like The Ugly Organ and Happy Hollow are total gems. The songs sound unfocused and sloppy, all tied into this narrative about twins. Not my cup of tea. Worse, drummer Cully Symington -- who's a powerful drummer when the band plays live -- is reduced to sounding like he's playing in a closet down the hall. The songs sounded better live when I saw them at Trees, but that didn't excuse this record for being a disappointment to me.

The Twilight Sad, No One Can Ever Know
Another situation where the songs from this sounded better live, but this is not the Twilight Sad at their best. Jettisoning the bleak and angry rock of their past, they took a Joy Division-esque approach with No One Can Ever Know. I like a lot of Joy Division material, but I certainly do not listen to it all the time.

Best in Shows

Converge/Torche, Dada, November 1st
(Read my original review here
Crazy mosh pits and aggressive music, along with friendly vibes between band and audience. Absolutely the best show I saw this year.

Chris Botti, Verizon Theatre, February 16th
(Read my original review here
I expected to enjoy this show, but I was quite blown away by the surprise guests, song choices, and spontaneity.  

Ben Folds with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Bass Hall, April 27th
Ben Folds Five, Palladium Ballroom, September 23rd
(Read my original Ben Folds Five review here)
Prior to this year, I had never seen Ben play live. I got a nice double dose this year.

The Jealous Sound, Lola's, February 7th, and LaGrange, October 7th
My third and fourth times to see the Jealous Sound. Previous times, they were on bills with bands I wanted to see more. These times, I wanted to see them. Quite excellent. They sounded fantastic at LaGrange, and sadly, it was the last show at LaGrange before they closed up shop.

The Afghan Whigs, Granada Theater, October 14th
I don't claim to be an expert on the Whigs, but every song they played, I was quite familiar with. And they had the best ending to a set I saw all year: a little bit of "Purple Rain" during "Faded."

The Beach Boys, Verizon Theatre, April 26th
(Read my original review here)
Nobody else at the Observer wanted to cover this show, so I did, and I'm glad. Reunited with Brian Wilson (for what eventually became a short time, sadly), they played every big hit and plenty of album cuts. I think the ten backing musicians helped.

Iron Maiden, Gexa Energy Pavilion, August 17th
(Read my original review here
My first Maiden show. Filled with classic after classic, Bruce Dickinson is still one of the best vocalists in the metal genre.

At the Drive-In, Trees, April 10th
(Read my original review here)
Prior to this year, I never thought an At the Drive-In reunion would happen in any capacity. Well, this show was a surprise. The band isn't as crazy as they were in the '90s, but they certainly made up for a shambling performance at Trees in 2000.

face to face, Cambridge Room at House of Blues, November 8th
I was lucky to see face to face play a lot of tunes from Ignorance is Bliss before the record came out. While the direction they went with that record bummed out a lot of punker-for-lifers, people like me really enjoyed the record. So it was fantastic to see the entire album performed acoustic in a very intimate setting.

Worst in Shows

Tenacious D, Palladium Ballroom, July 20th
(Read my original review here)
I'm not really a Tenacious D fan, but I was asked to sub for another writer who had committed to covering this show. After seeing this show, I can't really tell if the D have their hearts in their music. And the sound mix was awful and uneven: it might as well been called drummer Brooks Wackerman with Tenacious D.

Mark Kozelek, Granada Theater, December 6th
I like a lot of the songs Mark has done as a solo act and with the Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. When I saw him seven years ago at the Gypsy Tea Room, he was fantastic. And it was great when he called out a guy who was talking on his cell phone during the set. I met him afterwards and he was very friendly. When I saw him this year, he was frequently a prick to certain people in the audience, including two women in the front who were whispering to each other during songs. Then he kept flirting with a girl he kept forgetting her name. And he bragged he was getting paid a lot of money to play this show. Then he has the audacity to say that the crowd seemed intimidated by him. It was a weird counterpoint to the fact that he played very, very well for over two hours. Whether it was a Descendents cover, an old Red House Painters song or the sublime "Moorestown," they sounded fantastic. I don't know if he was pretending to be a prick or not, but I left that show feeling uncomfortable.  

Jane's Addiction, McFarlin Auditorium, May 10th
(Read my original review here)
Since I was born in 1979 (and not between 1973 and 1976), I can't seem to appreciate Jane's Addiction. Seeing them play in a venue with rows of seats that are perfect for five-year-olds, it was not very enjoyable from where I sat.

Favorite Interviews/Stories

Bobby Patterson
(Read the original story here)
In my final year of working as a traffic reporter, I always had a blast doing reports for Bobby Patterson. When he was let go from KKDA-AM, I talked to him and wrote an op-ed piece about it. Then I caught up with a few months later and wrote another article on him. I strongly related to him and what he had to say. I wrote from the heart of someone who was getting over a layoff. I think that came across.

Jake Bannon
(Read the whole thing here)
Prior to interviewing Jake, I had heard that he was an intense personality. The guy has a heart with wings tattooed on his neck, along with all kinds of other body art. But the guy I talked to for 30 minutes was one of the nicest, friendliest guys I've ever met. We talked at length about his early influences, from Queen to European metal bands. 

Dead Flowers
(Read the whole thing here
Interviewing five people at once can be difficult. Luckily, when I interviewed the five members of Dead Flowers at their practice space, they were hilarious and easy to chat with.

Brandon Butters
(Read the whole thing here)
Before our interview, I didn't realize that Butters was much younger than me. He's a good dude with a healthy attitude about getting into music. Since we had talked before this interview (and I had imbibed half a glass of Guinness), I was rather punchy, especially when talking about Rush. I was being funny, but it didn't really translate onto the page.

Chuck Ragan
(Read the whole thing here)
I got very emo with Chuck during this interview, especially towards the end. Essentially, this was a follow-up interview to the one he did with me for Post, even though it originally was an interview about the Revival Tour. 

Edie Brickell
(Read the whole thing here)
I didn't know what to expect in interviewing Edie. Would she be cool, a space cadet, or rude? I had no idea why I thought that, but I handled things with kid gloves at first. She was very gracious and open and we had a great conversation. 

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