Like a Fine Whisky: 20 for ‘12

japandroids-11I haven’t done this in a couple years, so I decided it was time to do this again, mainly for my own amusement.  Thanks to Spotify, though, I can now share the god-awful music I listen to with everyone else.  I’ve compiled this playlist, not necessarily by what I think are the best songs of 2012, but as the ones that got stuck in my head, for whatever reason.  Honestly, there wasn’t that “one song” this year that completely blew me away.  In fact, many of the songs I describe here remind me of songs from years ago instead of new genre-defining tracks.  Nevertheless, it was a pretty damn solid year for new music.  I’m all over the place with my musical tastes and this playlist should attest to that.  This starts hard, gets a little poppy in the middle, then slows down for a nice, smooth finish.  It’s a bit like fine whiskey, I guess.  Maybe not the best analogy, but you get the picture.

Last year I dipped my toe in the Spotify pool to gauge the temperature.  This year I did a cannonball off the 10-meter platform into their comforting waters.  I’m an absolute animal with it and use it constantly.  Everything I wanted this year, there it was, with some minor exceptions (No “Skyfall” by Adele?  I need my Bond fix, damn).  They still need to add the catalogs of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Pink Floyd, but beggars can’t be choosers.  If they keep improving the user experience and keep adding cool features, they’ll get my $10 a month for life.

You can listen to the Spotify playlist by clicking on this link:

Like a Fine Whiskey: 20 for ’12

Then you can read my pointless ramblings on why I chose each song here:

“The House That Heaven Built” – Japandroids

Rock isn’t dead. Not by a long shot.  With these two guys from Vancouver (yes, only two guys), rock is alive in full fucking Technicolor even if their album covers are monochromatic. They’re loud, they’re fast, they’re emotional.  I can just about feel the sweat running down my back and the blood oozing from my ears as I stand before them at one of their shows in a small, steamy club and raise my fist as the crowd sings the lyric of the year: “And if they try to slow you down/Tell them all to go to hell.”

“She’s the Woman” – Van Halen

Van Halen’s new album this year, with David Lee Roth back on vocals, was so much better than I thought it would be.  They unearthed and re-recorded a bunch of unreleased songs from their debut album days, this song being one of them.  Holy hell, listening to this was like being transported back in time.  It’s ridiculous how much this sounds like it’s right from 1979 and the Van Halen II album.

“The Chimera” – The Smashing Pumpkins

If you would have told me that, like Van Halen, Billy Corgan re-recorded this previously unreleased song from the Siamese Dream sessions in 1993, I would have believed you.  I also would have been misled.  The Pumpkins, which is really just Corgan and a bunch of other people no one knows, tapped into their former greatness with this one.  The wall of feedback and distortion is back where it belongs.

“On My Team” – The Babies

The perfect punk-pop song of 2012.  Two minutes and 30 seconds; just the right length.  It is endlessly catchy.  If you like this, check out the rest of their album, Our House on the Hill.  You’ll love it.

“I Will Wait” – Mumford & Sons

I was lukewarm at best on this song when it first came out as I am lukewarm on this semi-folk revival thing with these guys.  But the more I heard it, the more I dug it.  I figured out what it was.  I’m a sucker for multi-part vocal harmonies and this does it well.  They’re not the Beach Boys, mind you, or even Alice in Chains (yes, that’s right.  Go back and listen to the amazing vocal work on their songs) when it comes to the multi-part harmonies, but if it’s done well, it’s done well.

“Yet Again” – Grizzly Bear

Speaking of multi-part harmonies, for my tastes, no one does it better right now than Grizzly Bear.  This song is a good example.  This year’s album, Shields, didn’t have that one instantly identifiable breakout song, like “Two Weeks”, but it eventually grows on you.  You can tell they put a tremendous amount of time and effort to get their music to meet a very specific exacting specification.  I appreciate that.

“Monoliths” – Lotus Plaza

Sometimes you just read about something online, decide to click a link, and it works out beautifully.  Like this song.  I had never heard of Lotus Plaza before, but come to find out he’s a guitarist for Deerhunter.  Who knew?  If I ever film my movie, this will be on the soundtrack.

“Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” – Tame Impala

Does it matter that no one can really understand what they’re talking about?  Just put on your headphones and float away.

“Bangarang” – Skrillex

In 1997, this song would have been called “Block Rockin’ Beats” and it would have been made by The Chemical Brothers.  I’m not shitting on Skrillex; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  It’s funny, I had a picture of what I thought someone named Skrillex would look like.  He was as far from what I initially thought as could possibly be.  This is good stuff, though.  Put this on in your car and turn it up to obscene levels.  It’s so much fun.

“Fitta Happier” – Quakers

A bizarre, mind-blowing hip-hop tribute to Radiohead.  They took the song title and initial “fitter, happier, more productive” line from the least likely Radiohead song ever from OK Computer.  Then they use what can only be described as a high school marching band covering the beginning of “Optimistic” from Kid A, and finally they cover “The National Anthem”, also from Kid A, as the main riff of the song with that same marching band feel.  All of this happens in the first 25 seconds.  Did I mention I’m a music nerd?  The lyrics are meaningless; typical boasts and bravado, but the music…wow.

“good kid” – Kendrick Lamar

I was told by the music critics who know much more about this stuff than I do, that Kendrick Lamar is the next big hip-hop artist.  I’m a sucker, so I had to give his debut album a listen.  It’s good, real good.  This is the best example of what he’s doing.  Not a lot of flare musically, he keeps it smooth, but he’s a hell of a storyteller without getting too absurd.  I enjoy this song the more I listen to it.

“Good Feeling” – Flo Rida

Pure, unadulterated pop music.  Nothing wrong with that.

“Boyfriend” – Justin Bieber

I assume I’ll catch a fair amount of shit for this selection, but bear with me and you’ll understand.  I’ve never really listened to Justin Bieber before this year.  I had no real reason to.  I already know what it sounds like and his music generally does nothing for me.  So, let me explain why this is here.  In July, my family and I were in Vermont for my brother’s wedding.  We shared a big house on Lake Willoughby with my parents and my sister’ s family.  Mornings, we’d wake up, drink some coffee, eat some breakfast, and just hang out before the busy activities of the day.  One morning, all the kids were together and seemed to be enjoying themselves, so I decided to play a little music.  They were in the mood to dance.  I pulled up Spotify on my iPad and started playing some tunes.  Then, my six-year-old niece asked if she could play a song.  I said, “What do you want to hear?”  She said, “Boyfriend by Justin Bieber.”  Oh, goody.  I’m a nice uncle, hid my initial displeasure, and reluctantly played the song for her…and I didn’t hate it.  In fact, I kind of liked it.  It didn’t sound like teeny-bopper shit; it sounded more like solo Justin Timberlake.  The lyrics are still a bit childish, nothing too awful.  But it has a nice little groove to it and I still find myself putting it on from time to time.  The moral of the story: You never know who will influence your musical tastes.  It could be a major website like Pitchfork or AllMusic, it could be your hip friend’s suggestions, or it could be your six-year-old niece.  Thanks Hayle, I owe you one.

“Hold On” – Alabama Shakes

This is the first of three straight songs on this list that I credit to listening to Sirius XM (mainly the XMU and Spectrum channels when I’m not laughing at Opie and Anthony).  On very rare occasions when listening to something for the first time, I get thrown for a major loop.  I never see it coming, but when it does, I lose my freaking mind.  It’s not an entire song that does it, but a single moment within a song that may only last for a few seconds.  I remember it happening when I heard “Reckoner” by Radiohead, “No Name #3” by Elliott Smith, and a couple others.  This song is the latest one.  When lead singer Brittany Howard, in that sexy, bluesy voice, got to the chorus for the first time, paused and howled, “You gotta…wait!”, I got lightheaded.  I melted and fell in love.  I wish I could bottle that feeling and pull it out when I need it, it’s that powerful.  This is why I constantly explore and seek out new music, regardless of genre.  I want to find this feeling again, so the more I expose myself to, the greater the chance I do find it.  You never know.

“Ho Hey” – The Lumineers

The second of the SiriusXM songs.  How is it that no one wrote this song before?  It’s so goddamn simple, but like a classic Margherita pizza (thin crust, fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, olive oil – delicioso), sometimes the simplest things are the best.  I also like the ambience of this song.  I don’t know if it was a conscious decision or not, but this sounds like it was a single studio take with all the musicians present and no overdubs after the fact.  Sometimes that’s distracting and can sound amateurish, but not here.

“Somebody That I Used To Know” – Gotye

The last of the SiriusXM songs.  Short of “Call Me Maybe” and “Gangnam Style”, there wasn’t a song on the planet that was played more than this one.  It’s now beyond its saturation point and yet I’ve included it here anyway.  I decided to remove the fact that, as you read this, it’s being played simultaneously on 12 billion radio stations around the world, and simply judge it as though I’m hearing it for the first time.  When I do that, this is a quirky, slightly-odd song that keeps me guessing as a listener, which I love.  His vocals in the chorus sound amazingly like Sting in the mid 1980’s.  We’ll see if he can come up with another hit and not join the Crash Test Dummies, The Proclaimers, Devo and They Might Be Giants in “Quirky One-Hit WonderLand”.  Note: Devo and They Might Be Giants may be considered one-hit wonders, but they have some fantastic albums.  Listen to them.  Gotye should be so lucky.

“Werewolf” – Fiona Apple

When I listen to Fiona Apple, part of me wants to wrap her in my arms, give her a gentle hug and whisper in her ear that everything is going to be OK.  The problem is, if I did that, we wouldn’t have music like this.  She’s stripped away just about all of the instruments, leaving just the barest hint of a piano, so her voice can tell the story and convey all of the emotions.  Damn, does it work.

“Circadian” – Gravenhurst

This should satisfy my one track requirement in the “Bon Iver/Iron & Wine” category for 2012.  It’s not a back-handed compliment.  I really do like this song.  It makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but not as much as…

“Myth” – Beach House

Now THIS is warm and fuzzy.  God, I love this song.  I loved it the instant I heard it.  Beach House has had at least one song that gets me on each of their albums and this was the one on Bloom.  It’s their best song, in my opinion.  From the tin-can percussion at the beginning, to the enveloping waves of synth/guitar feedback heaven, this is just as good as it gets.  I was listening to this song in the car the other day with my soon-to-be 16-year-old daughter.  I told her that I loved this song.  She said, “Do you want to marry it?”  Yes, Chelsea, I want to marry it.

“We Drift Like Worried Fire” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Unless you have the time and patience and like a challenge, I don’t expect many people to sit through all 20 minutes of this song.  It’s too bad if you don’t, because you’ll be missing something beautiful.  In the simplest terms, Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a band/collective from Montreal that is classified as post-rock or experimental.  Think more along the lines of a guitar symphony with no lyrics.  Think of the group Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky (you’ll recognize their music if you’re a fan of the show Friday Night Lights).  No one does this style of music better than Godspeed You! Black Emperor.  This song is a perfect example.  It starts slow, begins to build at the 4-minute mark, virtually bursts apart at the seams halfway through, slows down and changes course, then races to the finish.  It’s love, beauty, anger, fear, life and death all in 20 minutes.  This music is not background noise.  This music demands that you sit up and pay attention because something important is going on.  This music makes you feel something, anything.

Fiona Apple’s lyrics made me feel something this year.  Skrillex’s beats made me feel something.  Grizzly Bear’s harmonies made me feel something.  And Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s raw power and beautiful intensity made me feel something.  I’d say that makes for a pretty good year.  Too bad “More Than a Feeling” didn’t come out this year. Or “Feels Like the First Time” or “Feel Like Making Love” or…

“Good day, gentlemen.  And until that day comes, keep your ear to the grindstone.”  See you in 2013.

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