I'll give myself an F- for this year, with an average output of two posts per month. Not great. 2012 was a weird one. But these are the songs I enjoyed most this year. You can download them as a zip (here), or à la carte, below. (For better, more comprehensive lists, I would recommend the always wonderful Said the Gramophone and Fluxblog.). The songs aren't presented in any particular order, though I will say I am especially fond of this first one. [This is part one. Part two is over here.]
Coolness in music is famously difficult to quantify. Mathematicians at Bell Labs worked on calibrating a metric for years without producing any valid results. It's a fool's errand. Though I will say that, listening to "Hémisphère" for the first time, I thought, deliriously, "There is no cooler song possible. This is the end." In my mind, Paradis set out to translate the atmosphere of a Georges Simenon book (the Widow, perhaps? or a Maigret novel?) into something darker, and though that is supremely unlikely, that's what this song (and the video, which is wonderful) reminds me of: quotidian mystery, city-wandering, modern despair, late-night lustful visions, downbeat fantasies. This song is an indulgence of some kind. [BUY "Hémisphère" b/w "Je m'ennuie" at RVNG]
I think Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka) is the kind of artist who likes to challenge himself. He's not content with his seemingly effortless ability to make albums full of beautiful and lapidary prepared piano pieces (Ferndorf), digressive travelogues (Foreign Landscapes), or transliterated dance music (Salon Des Amateurs), so he decided to collaborate on an album with American violinist Hilary Hahn. "Silfra" is the album, and it was 100% improvised in the studio (though they did practice and play together off-and-on for two years beforehand) and not retouched or overdubbed. There's something distinctly Oulipan about that--the setting of constraints in order to reach a different level of artistry.
"Clock Winder" still sounds like Hauschka, but halfway through there's Hahn's violin, a ribbon winding around the braided noises of the piano. This song, like most of the ones on the album, suggests something that is felt intensely, and it's hard not to imagine--and be envious of--the surprise and wonder these two musicians must have experienced while recording. Discovery, work, accident, chance, restraint. [BUY Silfra]
Is there a term or expression for the experience of having one's life foreshadowed by a work of art? As much as I love the Paradis song above, there was no other song that I found more affecting this year than this version of "Ocean Roar" that Phil Elverum recorded for Cock and Bull TV.
The real "Ocean Roar" is out there, and it's wonderful, but in this version, you can hear Phil's words more clearly, and those words are important, whittled down from pure experience into koanic components of a song. Ocean Roar, the album, is supposed to be about Phil Elverum's recollections of a (dreamt of?) midnight road trip to the shore that happened twenty years ago.
What I consistently enjoy about his lyrics is the way that a lot of his phrases, his simple descriptions, open up worlds of associations. There's repetition: roar and lost, and some close-rhymes between car and dark, loud and ground. There's something like the qualities of a Hemingway short story about this--only the essential elements have been retained. The lines in the song are there because they are the right lines for this song, for this experience. There's a pretty incredible lyric from "Through the Trees pt. 2" on Clear Moon where Phil sings, "I meant all my songs/not as a picture of the woods/but just to remind myself/that I briefly live." [BUY Ocean Roar]
There is a ghost of another song in this song's melody, which seems appropriate. It's tempting to think that "Lord Knows" is Dee Dee's reply/response to the Boys Next Door's "Shivers." It might be worth it to be burned so badly by someone that you receive a calm and beautiful apology song like this. [BUY End of Daze]
You can work on your bleary-eyed elegies with this one; that dreamy march makes it perfect for crazily romantic what-ifs and fugues of counterfactual thinking. But there is also the triumphant element of "Myth," the way it takes off at the end, Victoria's voice stretching out that final vowel, dovetailing into a roar of tremolo picked guitar. [BUY Bloom]
Even though I know it's not true, or even realistically possible, I suspect that my heart beat syncs up with that pulse at the beginning of "WIXIW" every time I listen to it. Can a song trigger a fight-or-flight response in the listener? It's the beginning and end of this song that do it to me. Angus's vocals sound both passionate and dead-eyed simultaneously. Whatever sounds they used in the composition of "WIXIW"--close-mic'd electric razors, vibrating bowls of jello, tortured push-brooms--it's tough to tell, and anyway it doesn't matter, because the way the pulse resolves at the end, in conjunction with the vocals, is such a perfect expression of disappointment--it's a recognition of something that's fated, out of control, but still seemed totally preventable. [BUY WIXIW]
This is more of the same from him, but that's a good thing. Love that dedication.
King Krule played six or seven songs, I think, among which were most or all of the songs from the EP, plus a couple older ones from Zoo Kid-era recordings. When I heard "The Noose of Jah City" for the first time a couple months ago, I was hit with the feeling of encountering something brand new, and that feeling was constant during the band's set. There is definitely that aspect of Archy Marshall's music that borrows from the technical and jazzy, and it'll be fascinating to see what happens with this band next. There were ideas enough in each song that I could see them going in a hundred different directions. [BUY Rock Bottom]
I will gladly admit that I have a weakness for everything that Sasu Ripatti does, whether as Luomo, Uusitalo, Sistol, or as Vladislav Delay (solo or with the Quartet). His music is consistently thought-provoking and worthwhile, and he's always doing something new. He doesn't seem to stick to the program as much anymore in terms of dividing his different impulses among the pseudonyms, so music that you might've expected to come from Uusitalo comes out under the Quartet name, or Luomo-ish stuff bleeds into Vladislav Delay, but whatever, it's all immaculate. [BUY Kuopio]
A new Pennsylvania hero, Daughn Gibson is from Carlisle, which sits in the lower middle band of the state, near Harrisburg and basically nothing else. His LP, All Hell, was initially released on White Denim, a label run by Matt Korvette (of Pissed Jeans), another PA guy, who's not only a great singer but also a great writer (check out his Yellow Green Red). This is what Matt (presumably) wrote about Daughn Gibson, and I was sold immediately: "Imagine if Nicolas Jaar edited together a cocaine-country album, with a crooner somewhere between Lee Hazelwood and Roy Orbison on the mic." All Hell more than lives up to that description, and you can hear those elements in the first thirty seconds of "In the Beginning": the shuffled piano sample, the left field kick-drum, and Daughn's commanding voice. This was the album that sounded newest to me in 2012. [BUY All Hell]
Flying Lotus, just having fun. It must be nice to be so talented that you can (seemingly) toss off an amazing mixtape in your spare time. Though Ellison really does come across as the kind of artist who, if he was dissatisfied with something he heard on the radio or whatever, would go out and create the kind of music he wanted to hear. He perceives a lack, and then rectifies it himself. Pretty incredible. [Download Duality]
"Out of Touch" is the wake-up cacophony of spring; buzzing, crying, creaking, melting. This song is mostly noise: rattles, whines, bangs, shrieks, and hiss, barely kept in check by Lockett's voice until the end, when the window's opened and it all comes pouring in, a chirring white noise wail. [BUY Spooky Action at a Distance]
A crescendo, and the consequences of that crescendo. Or deliberation, action, and regret. Some huge thing lurching to life. "Four Miles" is a thought experiment rendered in stuttering static. [BUY Jummy]
This was the first song I was drawn to from "Until the Quiet Comes." It's sleek and sinister, and seemed totally unlike in tone and movement from what had come before, on Cosmogramma. "Tiny Tortures" is almost like a more fluid and compact version of Black Dice's "Creature," which seems farfetched at first, but the two songs share a kind of wild, noisy vocabulary; both songs seem like pocket versions of a Peter and the Wolf-style sound-world. [BUY Until the Quiet Comes]
Ruth's voice. "I drank the water and I felt all right/I take a pill almost every night." Drive, L.A., etc. Wind through the windows. Oneiric montages. Neon cursive. This song is about secrets and has its own secrets. [BUY Kill for Love]
It was only a matter of time before the Walkmen wrote a song called "Dreamboat." I don't know why that seemed so inevitable, but given the band's recent trajectory, it just did. I think this band is at their best when they indulge their talent for weird, slow, unfurling songs, like "Lisbon," and "If Only It Were True" (both final songs as well, come to think of it). They're pros at this kind of parting/kiss goodbye vibe. [BUY Heaven]