Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 20 Songs of 2012 With Video Playlist

There were plenty of moments in 2012 when pure attention through the ears became a moment to behold. When I came across these songs this year, it didn't just make my day... it rocked my world and made my life.  My year flashes before me as I revisit favorite new tunes while still fresh in the mind.

Here again I give you my Top 20 Songs of 2012 in no particular order, but arranged into a pleasing listening session via Spotify here or a YouTube Video Playlist below. It begins with Santigold's self-produced treatment of one catchiest songs of the year and includes some awesome live versions (including a NMMatters one of The Walkmen during this year's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry!) Enjoy, JaneJS

1. "The Keepers" Santigold
2. "Take a Walk" Passion Pit
3. "Heaven" The Walkmen
4. "Simple Song" The Shins
5. "Let's Go" Matt & Kim
6. "Sad Vacation" The Dandy Warhols
7. "Thankful" Caveman
8. "Amanaemonesia" Chairlift 
9. "Good As New" Vacationer
10. "Happy Home" Onuinu
11. "Yet Again" Grizzly Bear
12. "Would That Not Be Nice" Divine Fits
13. "From Nowhere" Dan Croll
14. "Hail Bop" Django Django
15. "Unless You Speak from Your Heart" Porcelain Raft
16. "Summertime is Coming" Paul Banks
17. "Heart" Oberhofer
18. "The Reflection of You" Bear In Heaven
19. "Myth" Beach House 
20. "So Long You Pretty Thing" Spiritualized

Music Speaks When Words Fail Beyond "We Are Newtown"

I observed this morning's moment of silence for the Sandy Hook victims where I have processed other past tragic events swirling around me -- alone in my kitchen after the house has cleared.  With the power of music to hold me upright, my week has trudged along with heartfelt sadness.  The world might not have ended, but at times it sure seemed like it after the killing of 26 innocent children and the educators who tried to protect them. I can only hope that this is indeed the "tipping point" as the pundits are saying, removing assault weapons out the public domain and calling for additional resources for mental illness.

I'm a firm believer in the power of airwaves since my days as a girl listening to top 40 AM radio on my little transistor, before graduating to WPLJ FM from a prized boom box as a teenager and WLIR FM off a small stereo system.  In my adult life, radio continues to be a place of discovery and community, as well as a steady channel for my multi-tasking mind. When I heard about CT Governor Malloy's request for a day of mourning a few days ago I contacted John Richards, dj for KEXP's morning show.  Never mind that the show is in Seattle (and as the home of Nirvana that's an appropriate word choice to begin this sentence!) From listening to his show online for a few years now, I feel like I know him as a friend and fellow new music fiend -- I even got a chance to meet him at last year's CMJ Music Festival in NYC.  So I sent him a twitter and he responded in minutes...

After the silence a nice selection followed: Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah" (the song Rufus Wainwright is singing in my last post) and Vince Guaraldi Trio's "Christmastime Is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was a poignant moment spent on my own, but not alone.  And my point on twitter about music being "salve for the soul" was reiterated beautifully in this email from the Marketing Director of the Fairfield Theatre Company, a bountiful small venue with all kinds of music. "Thankfully, where words fail, music speaks." Trevor Sylvestro writes.  I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten's Take On "Baby It's Cold Outside"

It seems we've been listening to holiday music for at least six months now, in stores and on radio stations that have forked over their format for such things.  If you're looking for some new tunes to mix in I'd suggest picking up Concord Music Group's compilation, Holidays Rule. Found at Starbucks or big box stores as well as online outlets, I knew I just had to have this when I learned that The Shins take on Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." While that song was a refreshing take after seeing Sir Paul's rehashed version on last week's Saturday Night Live, it's the next song that really sold me on the whole collection.

It's "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a song of dubious intentions to be sure, but sung by a dream callobo of Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten.  These are two incredibly individualistic artists that sing with heartbreaking intensity -- you can just tell that it's them from the very first note.  They are also extremely talented musicians. Check out Van Etten playing guitar while fronting her band from center stage when I was covering last spring's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry at the Brooklyn Academy of Music below.  I've also posted a video of Wainwright singing Leonard Cohen's anthem "Hallelujah," during a tour in 2009. (I witnessed this song the following year at the Ridgefield Playhouse, a wonderful intimate space to experience his solo piano performance.) And there's also another song by McCartney just as a bonus, the classic "The Chrismas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" follows right afterwards.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Rufus Wainwright on Grooveshark

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Top Concert Experiences in 2012 With Video Highlights

Me & Paul flashing credentials at Moogfest 2012
My top five picks for 2012 are from just three events -- two at the excellent new Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival, two at this year's Moogfest and one in a tiny club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  The bands are both new and established, but the music somehow transcended space and time.  You just never know what you're in for when planning to attend a concert, as it's not about what the band will bring but the crowd and venue play into it as well.  Here is this year's list in no particular order, with links to the original write ups plus video highlights. Enjoy!

The Walkmen served as the headliner for the opening night of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, the inaugural meeting of like minded musical minds as curated by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National.  I had followed the band over the decade of their existence, since their plaintive "We've Been Had" was featured on a Saturn commercial.  The group confidently took to the stage in the grand opera house at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with their beloved vintage instruments radiating a woody amber glow.  They began with the lush harmonies and acoustic accompaniment of "We Can't Be Beat," the lead off track of their new album, Heaven.  Hamilton Leithauser admitted how he's been trying to get the band to sing with him like that for years! Leithauser continued as the gracious host, with passionate vocals floated over the signature of layered guitars and pervasive percussion.  This indie rock quintet has spread out across the country from their early days in New York City with the additional responsibilities of fatherhood, but the band’s sound is as tight as ever.   An adult appreciation of each other and their fans serves them well, as even the music matures with each listen. 

Caveman took to the same stage for the closing night of the festival, with a leap in venue size that only added to the grandeur of the music.  This new band had made a splash during 2011's CMJ Music Marathon with their debut album, CoCo Beware, so I was eager to see them for myself.  I had experienced multiple plays of their songs and loved their indie sound.  Turns out they performed with such an attractive self-assurance, I ran down to the orchestra pit just to be nearer to their radiance.  
There are plans for a new album and tour in 2013 (dates here), can't wait!

Divine Fits is another new band with a debut album this year, A Thing Called The Divine Fits, but it was put together by members of two fave bands (veteran road warriors Britt Daniels of Spoon and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs).  So their opening slot on the closing night of Moogfest was a must see and they did not disappoint in any way.  It was a solid set of classic indie rock -- if there is such a thing!  Here is Paul's highlights from the entire evening and yes, that's me screaming in the beginning...

Orbital was the headliner for the same night and lots of people at the festival were proudly there because of them. (The organizers for the past three years have split with Moog Music who are saying there will be another Moogfest -- but now there's also a Mountain Oasis Electric Music Summit planned. Stay tuned?!?!)  Even if you weren't a die hard fan of their electronica, it was hard to resist their showmanship when climbing on stage as captured in the video above, or their English charm during the panel that afternoon and even during our run in with the two brothers, Phil and Paul Hartnoll, at the Asheville Regional Airport

Unknown Mortal Orchestra had quite a year in 2012.  After Ruban Nielson's bandcamp hit "Ffunny Ffriends" provided enough buzz for a self-titled debut album in 2011, the group toured on their own and then snagged an opening slot for indie kings Grizzly Bear. This video captures the first song of the night, and you can hear people crowding into the small venue. But behind them is Nielsen's blistering guitar and the trio really kicking it up a few notches right away (strobe lights even!) I love how bass player Jake Portrait looked around wide eyed, in awe of the attention. The applause that followed only increased after every song, so by the end of the night they made the room their own.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Best New Artists of 2012 via PopMatters

PopMatters posted their list of thirty musical acts that staff writers consider "The Best New Artists of 2012" yesterday, including one of my picks #6 Django Django. (My other picks, Dan Croll and Indians, did not make the list.)  Again, it's always interesting to cruise through and discover some new music.

I'm also proud of the fact there are many here that have made an appearance on my New Music Playlists:  #4 Grimes, #13 Purity Ring, #14 Father John Misty, #16 Divine Fits, #27 Melody's Echo Chamber and #29 Oniunu.  So just for good measure, here's a video of Django Django's "Hail Bop" and check out more songs on their Soundcloud here!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fitz and The Tantrums Offer Free Download of New Song "Santa Stole My Lady"

My heart aches as I muddle through this "get ready for the holidays" mode after the tragic shooting Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT (about an hour from my home).  As a participant in the Million Mom March in Washington, D.C. after the Columbine massacre, I had hoped to see the change necessary to prevent such violence.  There are no words to express the sadness, and my constant companion of music is just a slight salve.  

Over the weekend, Fitz and The Tantrums offered a free song download to fans on their website and I was happy to oblige with my email in exchange (they have it anyway!)  The song, "Santa Stole My Lady," is classic Fitz, an old school jam with a comforting retro sound.  

There's also a message from Fitz and Noelle Scaggs about a new album coming early next year. They are backstage at Madison Square Garden, about to open the show for Jason Miraz.  I'll always have a soft spot for this band, since Fitz (neĆ© Michael Fitzpatrick) was my first interview as a "music journalist" back in May 2010.  (Link to interview/review on PopMatters is listed on their Wikipedia page -- photo here taken afterwards in the rodent-ridden basement of Mercury Lounge.) That night, the band killed it on the small, crowd level stage as captured in the video below.  I even became dancing buddies with Noelle, even trading high fives at one point.  I wish them all the success in the world, and appreciate their gift of song -- especially in these dark days of unfathomable news.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Top Ten Releases of 2012 With Video Highlights

This week PopMatters posted The 75 Best Albums of 2012 from compiling top ten lists from staff writers.  I also contributed a write up for Passion Pit's excellent entry, Gossamer (#66). Reviewing this article is another opportunity to discover bands not already on your radar, so I highly recommend taking the time to dive in. 

My personal top ten is listed here with video highlights -- chosen on the basis of how excited I was about the album before it came out (sometimes months before the release date) to how much I visited the songs once it did. Together it represents over seven hours of happy listening. And I must say, 2012 was a fine year for new music!  

1. Grizzly Bear, Shields
The Brooklyn indie band Grizzly Bear built upon the success of their third album in 2009, Veckatimest, with a confident collection in Shields.  Featuring the songwriting skills of Edward Droste and Daniel Rossen as produced by band member Chris Taylor, the songs are varied and rewarding in a multi-layered, thoughtful presentation.

2. The Shins, Port of Morrow
James Mercer returned with a revamped line up for his fourth album as The Shins, after the acclaimed Broken Bells side project with producer Danger Mouse.  For fans waiting five years since 2007's Wincing the Night Away, Port of Morrow continues on that secure path of indie indulgence.  Mercer's warm tenor leads the way, through new subjects of fatherhood and adult responsibilities plucked straight from his domestic life.  

3. Passion Pit, Gossamer
Gossamer was released as the sophomore album from Boston area based group Passion Pit, but it was really the solo project of frontman Michael Angelokos (which is actually how the band began).  Angelokos wrote and produced the songs, with vague references of his own mental strife as he continued a battle with bi-polar disorder.  Yet the music remains as strong as ever, a full frontal indie electropop that reads well on stage as evidenced when Angelokos appeared on SNL earlier in the fall.

4. Beach House, Bloom
Baltimore's dream pop duo Beach House released their fourth album, Bloom, with more gauzy soundscapes.  Victoria LeGrand's expansive yet earthy vocals keep things grounded as a counterpoint to Alex Scally's haunting guitar and the layered synths.

5. Spiritualized, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
Jason Pierce (a.k.a. Spaceman) released his seventh album as the frontman of U.K. alt rock band Spiritualized, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light.  The songs pour out from Pierce's harrowing experiences with chemotherapy for liver disease, with swells of musical transcendence and uplifting choruses.  (The Huh? on cover art refers to the original working title, in case you're wondering!)

6. The Walkmen, Heaven
The Walkmen released their seventh album over a decade, Heaven, and celebrated time together as a indie rock band plus the years since high school in the Washington, D.C. area.  While the group's early days were spent in New York City, members have moved to Philly and New Orleans as they began another stage into family life. Their devotion to each other is seen and heard in the video for the title track here, with solid songwriting that favors vintage instruments and persistent guitar work. 

7. Vacationer, Gone
New band Vacationer put New York City's synth duo Body Language together with Philadelphia area's Kenny Vasoli, formerly of post punk outfit A Starting Line. (Interview and concert review from last spring here.) The result is a breezy collabo of electronic beats and swatches of lush samples, with Vasoli's laid back but eager vocal delivery finding another fitting musical home.

8. Miike Snow, Happy To You
Miike Snow is a Swedish indie pop band with the producing team Bloodshy & Avant (Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg) and American vocalist Andrew Wyatt.  Their sophomore album, Happy To You, finds the trio flaunting their self-made studio ways, utilizing all the tools to achieve hooks galore.  This video could use some explanation, however!

9. Tame Impala, Lonerism
Australian psych rock quintet Tame Impala, the musical project of Kevin Parker, released their sophomore album Lonerism.  It's full of trippy grooves and explosions of sound, with buried vocals that somehow burst from this busy foundation.

10. Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself
Chicago area native Andrew Bird has released nine plus albums of music as composer and muli-instrumentalist.  Break It Yourself features fourteen complex compositions with Bird on guitar, violin and vocals (including lots of whistling!)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Foxygen Releases New Video for "Shuggie"

Photo via Jagjaguwar 
Again my axiom has proven correct -- when I learned that the band Foxygen is touring with two bands I already like, I dug a little deeper and found another fave new song for the next playlist.  Foxygen is opening up for Of Montreal in NYC tomorrow night and is also touring with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, see upcoming dates below).

KCRW has been giving "Shuggie" some airplay and called the group one to watch at this year's CMJ Music Festival.  Jonathan Rado (left) and Sam France (right) are the songwriting core of the five piece band that their label JagJaguwar calls a "raw, de-Wes Andersonization of The Rolling Stones, Kinks, Velvets, Bowie, etc." (Another red flag with a comparison to a beloved director!)  There's an earthy swagger to France's voice, which leads the journey through the basic discovery of unrequited love.  "She don't love me, that's news to me."  France repeatedly sings, as if trying to believe it himself.  

The new official video for "Shuggie," directed by Ulysses///Onasis, follows a shiny black box through a black and white landscape, as well as vague interior, but the song shines brightly throughout.  Its melodic backbone is interrupted for a funky instrumental break and then it all meshes into a sing along ending. "Shuggie" is off the upcoming debut album due in January, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic.   

Tour Dates:
12/11/12 New York, NY - Webster Hall w/ Of Montreal 
12/12/12 Boston, MA - Paradise w/ Of Montreal 
12/13/12 Philadelphia, PA - Trocadero Theatre w/ Of Montreal 
12/14/12 Washington, DC - 9:30 Club w/ Of Montreal 
12/15/12 Carrboro, NC - Cat's Cradle w/ Of Montreal 
02/13/13 San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
02/15/13 Los Angeles, CA - Echoplex w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
02/16/13 Las Vegas, NV - Beauty Bar w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
02/18/13 El Paso, TX - The Lowbrow Palace w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
02/19/13 San Antonio, TX - The Korova w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
02/20/13 Austin, TX - The Mohawk w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
02/21/13 Houston, TX - Fitzgerald's w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
02/22/13 New Orleans, LA - One Eyed Jack's w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
02/23/13 Atlanta, GA - 529 w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/03/13 Montreal, QC - Il Motore w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/04/13 Toronto, ON - Wrong Bar w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/06/13 Holland, MI - Knickerbocker Theater at Hope College w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/08/13 Bloomington, IN - Bluebird Nightclub w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/09/13 St. Louis, MO - Firebird w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/11/13 Norman, OK - Opolis w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/12/13 Dallas, TX - Club Dada w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/18/13 Denver, CO - Lerimer Lounge w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/19/13 Salt Lake City, UT - Urban Lounge w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/22/13 Seattle, WA - The Crocodile w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra & Wampire
03/23/13 Vancouver, BC - The Media Club w/ Unkown Mortal Orchestra, Wampire, & Blessed Feathers

Friday, December 7, 2012

Paste Holiday Sampler 2012 - More FREE Music!

Another music sampler was posted by Paste Magazine this week -- 21 holiday songs for the asking of email and zip code (see embedded box, handy huh!)  As with all compilations, it's a great way to spark an interest in a band and there are plenty here I've never even heard of.  Most of it is a little too sleepy for my taste, but I enjoyed digging into the offerings.  It all begins strong with a Sufjan Stevens song, the sweetly simple "Christmas In the Room" and I chuckled through the CAKE-like "Uncle John" by similarly named Jonathan Couton and John Roderick.  (Also the moniker of my one and only Uncle, plus there's a line about how Cousin Jane "always cries anyway." True fact!)  One of my favorite hymns makes an appearance as well, Bethan's lilting "In the Bleak Midwinter." Then there's a fun call out session that everyone could use, a hopeful "Everything's Gonna Be Better Next Year" by The Rescue.  Go for it...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

YACHT Premiers New Single and Video "Second Summer"

Indie electropop band YACHT released a new stand-alone single and video for “Second Summer” today.  It's almost exactly one year ago that I covered their show in New York City for PopMatters, experiencing this non-stop dance party hosted by Jona Bechtoit and Clare L. Evans. It included detailed instructions for audience participation: 1) preparation, 2) initation and 3) enlightenment.  Of course, all of this would never work if the music wasn’t instantly infectious.

According to the duo, “"Second Summer" is a state of mind: overcoming obstacles in order to be close to what you love, a temporal place where sun never goes out no matter what season it is in your hemisphere. Like the original Summer of Love and its acid house revival, the Second Summer of Love, our aim is true: to create environments of total freedom.”  The song blasts off into YACHT’s full throttle party mode, with a chugging beat and ironic lyrics sung in a tandem octave:  “Can you stand by your man, as the shit hits the fan?”

The video features the animation of ADHD, with the Smiangle dancing solo with fork and sharing with other shaped creatures (giving new meaning to group consumption).  As explained by the band, “This video represents the ultimate manifestation of our spirit animal, the Smiangle, morphing from an impersonal signifier of mystical subtext into something completely alive, surreal, and psychotropic." 

This Saturday, December 8, a celebration is being held in honor of YACHT’s 10th anniversary at the Echoplex in Los Angeles.  The performance will include material from all eras with special guests and even party favors for the audience. I’m obviously on the wrong coast this weekend!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wrapping Up the Year in Music - Best Songs of 2012 via PopMatters

Let the end of year lists begin!  PopMatters posted "The 75 Best Songs of 2012" with staff picks ranging with the familiar (Goyte, Carly Rae Jepson and Taylor Swift) and the not so much. The nice thing about perusing the list is seeing those musicians you've never heard of, so take time to listen to anything that peaks your interest -- I promise it'll be well worth it!   Each writer was asked to submit their top five (ranked) songs a few weeks ago with my write up for a top pick, The Shins' "Simple Song," found at #44.  I'll list my other picks as submitted while I'm working on my own top 20 songs and will post top 10 releases of 2012 soon.

1. The Shins, "Simple Song"
2. Passion Pit, "Take a Walk"
3. The Walkmen, "Heaven"
4. The Dandy Warhols, "Sad Vacation"
5. Matt & Kim, "Let's Go"

1. M83
2. Grizzly Bear
3. The Shins
4. Passion Pit
5. Andrew Bird

1. Oberhofer
2. Divine Fits
3. Bear In Heaven

1. LCD Soundsystem, "Shut Up & Play the Hits" DVD
2. David Byrne, How Music Works
3. "Color Me Obsessed: A Film About the Replacements"

1. Indians
2. Dan Croll
3. Django Django

TOP 5 Reissues of 2012:
1. Blur, Blur 21
2. Roxy Music, Roxy Music: The Complete Studio Recordings
3. Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights
4. Bright Eyes, Fevers & Mirrors/There is No Beginning to the Story
5. R.E.M., Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage