Best of 2012

Unrecognizable Now: Two Rooms (Kesh, 2012).  I found this ambient recording over here at Fluid radio.  It’s beautiful — layered, slow moving, I found it very captivating.  I find it a little tough to write about ambient electronic music, but I know what I like and how that makes me feel and this recording most definitely accomplishes that.  (Added 12/21/2012)

Propaganda: Excellent (Humble Beast, 2012).  This is the shit.  This dude gets into some deep and cosmic rhymes on this record.  Instant year end best of list.  Smart and catchy production, but the rapper steals the show with all manner of topics on this record.  Excellent, excellent work.  (Added 12/21/2012)

Wahid: Inside Silence (ADW, 2011).  I really like the spaciousness of this frame drum/oud record.  I’m not sure how much of the record is composed is and how much is improvised but my guess is they start with a theme and work from there.  The production is just a tiny bit reverbed out, but it does not diminish my enjoyment.  They did a record this year and I didn’t hear a huge difference and I ended up choosing this one for my year end list. (Added 12/17/12)

Prince Fatty Versus The Drunken Gambler (Mr. Bongo, 2012).  Bubblin’, funny, and heavily rhythmic dancehall influenced roots reggae.  After the opening shout out to James Bond and kung fu, there are tunes with sweet singers that follow.  I’m pretty sure this is new music and not a re-issue which makes this record even more impressive.  (Added 12/17/12)

Martha Redbone: The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake (Redfeet Productions, 2012).  I can think of a myriad of ways that a record based on William Blake’s poetry could go wrong.  It could be pretentious, it could be not swinging, it could be a melodramatic drag.  So this is the opposite — it’s smart, tasteful, rootsy and Redbone has a great voice.  She does the one thing that plagues music today — she doesn’t oversing.  She just sings — no breathy nonsense. (Added 12/17/12)

Damien Jurado: Maraqopa (Secretly Canadian, 2012).   Tasteful and sophisticated arrangement skills, a yearning voice that doesn’t over-sing.  The lyrics aren’t Bob Dylan material, but they’re good and the sounds and his voice all work together to make a throwback ’70s quasi hippie music record that sounds really fresh and not a replication.  (Added 12/17/12)

Erin Costelo: We Can Get Over (Self-released, 2012).  I found this record off a Canadian radio station.  A soul record from a Halifax woman — makes Adele sound pretentious and makes Sharon Jones’ lack of sweetness very apparent.  The tunes are more early ’60s soul influenced rather than late ’60s/early ’70s soul influenced.  She sings her ass off, the arrangments are tight and hip and the record sounds really good. (Added November 25, 2012)

Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012).  An expansive piece of music centered around African-American history but also the American experience.  The closest point of reference would be Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain with politics.  The production is cool in temperature, the music is a combination of classical orchestration and improvisation, and the tone is somber and slow moving. (Added October 30, 2012).

Dennis Bovell: Mek It Run (Pressure Sounds, 2012).  Any thought that a bass player for Lynton Kwesi Johnson would skimp on the low end for this re-issue of late ’70’s/early ’80s tapes is put to rest on the title track where a relaxed monster bass line drives the whole tune.  While the hazy, old school dub sound has been replaced with a crisper sound it’s not a thin sound — the delays on the drums are trippy as hell and Bovell does a great job keeping the spirit of dub going here. (Added 10/20/2012)

Left Lane Cruiser and James Leg: Painkillers (Alive Naturalsound, 2012).  I was about to put this record in my honorable mention category as I really enjoyed Junkyard Speedball from last year so much that I thought this record couldn’t hang with that one.  But I gave this album of covers done in a punk blues manner another spin and the vibe is tighter than a bull’s ass at fly time.  This is the sort of anti-social nastiness the world needs more of.  I think of this as the pinnacle of trailer park culture and about as funky and down in the gutter as white people can get. (Added 10/14/12)

Seluah: Red Parole (Karate Body Records, 2012).  I tend to want to push up smaller releases but don’t want to be another music biz hack pushing my own agenda over the music itself.  I thought maybe I was making this record better than it is, but it’s pretty hot.  The core of its appeal for me is the way the singer’s detached voice and delivery floats over the rest of the band in a really alienating and fresh way.  Some serious time was spent pimping out the drum sound on this record.  There are moments of rockin’, and moments of lyrical prettiness. (Added 10/14/12)

Torche: Harmonicraft  (Volcrom, 2012).  A pretty mainstream rock record I like the way these guys play together and the way these songs feel.  The drummer has an undercover swing to his playing and that shit always helps an album over the top.  For fans of Jane’s Addiction and Stanford Prison Experiment to check out.

If the music business knew what they were doing these guys would be huge. (Added 9/30/12)

Lianne La Havas: Is Your Love Big Enough? (Nonesuch, 2012).  I haven’t felt a Nonesuch release in a long time, their stuff tends to be a bit buttery soft for my taste.  Say you find Esperanza Spaulding to be too wooden and proggy and Norah Jones to be too slackery, Miss La Havas may fit your tastes better.  This young lady can sing and she sings naturally.  She doesn’t have to try to sing beautifully, she just sings beautifully.  Big difference.  I think of this record as being like a Prince/Joni Mitchell record, a really great combining of musical styles.  (Added 9/30/12)

Le Super Borgou de Parakou: The Bariba Sound  (Analog Africa, 2012) Rockin’ and funky music from 1970’s Benin.  More guitars and organ than horns it swings.  Not on Spotify and the cd on Amazon is $22 and vinyl is $40.  Booo, hiss!  So if you’re not up for the MP3 format you’re gonna have to cough it up.  (Added 8/26/2012.)

Thollem McDonas: The Gowanus Session (Porter, 2012).  McDonas on piano and big hitters William Parker on bass and Nels Cline on guitar.  For me this session has the right balance of skronk, and thunder, and noise and lyricism.  This session has one of my favorite characteristics of a great free jazz session.  The musicians may be playing something totally out, but at the same time it’s very connected to what the other musicians are playing.  (Added 9/26/12)

Alexandra Grimal: Owls Talk (Self-released, 2010).  Added 8/26/2012.  Two saxophones with Gary Peacock on bass and Paul Motian on drums.  Very well recorded.  It’s hard to tell how much of this record was written and how much is free, but it’s a really beautiful session.

The Semi-Colon: Ndia Egbuo Ndia (Afro-Jigida) (Razor and Comb, 2012). An African music record, but focused much more on the guitar — it’s rather hornless.  The music is slinkier than the traditional pounding Afrobeat style and the guitar players lends the whole affair a rockin’ vibe.  The lead singer works a little in English and his native tongue.  The record has a slight off kilter weirdness to it that I really dig. (Added 9/26/12)

Cedric Pescia: Sonatas & Interludes (Aeon, 2012).   I’m not a huge John Cage guy, but this solo piano record is beautiful.  Unpredictable, unique and keeps your attention through the 20 solo piano pieces.  (Added 8/19)

Chatham County Line (Yep Roc, 2012).    You can’t fake a live record and these guys can sing.  Really sing.  I think of this as a hayseed Crosby, Stills, and Nash record.  Beautiful harmonies, great string playing.  (Added 8/19)

Jim Black Trio: Somatic.  Piano, drums, and bass.  Neither new age-y nor Cecil Taylor piano bashing, there’s a good connection between the players on this session.

Sly and Robbie: Blackwood Dub.  Heavy grooves and percussive centered dub.  Wickedly rhythmic and punishing in a great way.

Devin: Romancin’.  Elvis Costello meets the Strokes.  High energy attitudinal punk/new wave inspired rock music.  I’m still a little shocked this recording caught my ear, but when I listen I really dig it.

Wizard Rifle: Speak Loud, Say Nothing.  Refers back to old school SST/Amrep punk bands but with some metal heaviness mixed in to help punish you because you’ve been a very bad boy/girl.

Horse Feathers: Cynic’s New Year .  Lush beautiful folk music.  Great singer, great arrangements and a lack of cheese.  (added 5/16)

Sigur Ros: Valtari.    Nobody sounds like these guys.  Cinematic and out there.  Focused heavily on sound (as all their releases are) I can see how some people would find the lead singer’s high pitched singing to be freaky, but I dig it.  (added 7/25).

Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 2.  A little less guitar distortion and a little more of an overall sonic picture but the same concepts at work on this slow moving post-rock/ambient guitar recording — mindfulness of sound.

Honorable Mentions:

Glenn Hansard:  Rhythym and Repose (Anti- 2012)  Plaintive voice 1970’s folk/soft rock record.  Very strong, not quite mind blowing.

Ebo Taylor: Appia Kwa Bridge (Strut, 2012)  I like Taylor’s guitar playing and I really like his low key voice.  Another very strong African music recording, not quite mindblowing.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood: The Magic Door (Silver Arrow, 2012).  I have found this man’s music to be annoying for a long long time, so I’m shocked but I think this is a really good record.  Just short of a best of effort, partially due to my longstanding aversion.  Robinson combines jam rock, blues music, gospel, hippie music, and a little country flow to make something that is classic sounding but fresh at the same time. (Added 9/26/12)

Another link for Anjali Grant.

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