2012 Top Lists / Vicki

Vicki‘s Top Lists of 2012

I went into 2012 with a very ambitious goal of trying to cover more musical ground than in the year before.  I set up a playlist and began adding songs from all of the new releases, in an effort to keep track of them all.  By March my playlist was already over 100 songs, and undoubtedly did not encapsulate everything new.  This approach allowed me to sample a lot of different songs from a variety of artists, but I never really felt that I’d absorbed anything.  More importantly, I was missing the feeling of listening to a whole album and appreciating the songs as a cohesive whole.  About halfway through the year, I abandoned this idea and stopped forcing myself to try and hear everything.  Instead, I focused on the few albums that made it to the forefront, and picked my favorites from that group.  Here are the ones that stuck with me.

Top 5 Albums of 2012

5: River City Extension / Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Your Anger

I feel like I’m always telling people how much they need to listen to this band.  River City Extension has consistently put out solid albums, full of raucous sing-alongs that, amidst the chaos, still manage to be beautiful and well-written.  There’s also self-reflection and a healthy dose of “what am I doing with my life?” throughout. This album is a bit cleaned up from their previous efforts, but the emotion comes through clear as ever.

4: Beach House / Bloom

I didn’t see this album on too many year-end lists, and maybe it’s because people have come to expect good albums from Beach House.  I think Bloom is their best yet.  Every track on the album is great, and some of the songs, “Other People” and “Wishes” in particular, were some of my most played.  Considering the record came out relatively early in the year, it has held up well against the slew of releases since.

3: Aimee Mann / Charmer

My relationship with Aimee Mann goes back to high school, when my 16-year old self had her mind blown by “Bachelor No. 2.”  Since then, I’ve followed Mann‘s career and own all she’s released since.  Charmer is her 8th studio release, and it is notable in that it’s still somehow so good!  After all these year, I don’t think she’s ever made a career misstep.  She’s still able to make me feel like her songs were written just for me.

2: Fiona Apple / The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

This album feels completely and brutally honest.  Apple‘s feelings are laid bare in this stark soundscape that focuses on her voice, which is her most powerful instrument.  NPR’s Ann Powers put it best when she said of The Idler Wheel, “This is what being human sounds like.”

1: Father John Misty / Fear Fun

Sometimes I get hung up on a song and it becomes a roadblock for the rest of the album.  After months of listening to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” on repeat, I finally pushed on and listened to the rest.  Turns out, every song that follows is excellent.  Fear Fun feels both unique and familiar at the same time.  Father John Misty‘s influences definitely seep in, but there’s also something very fresh and exciting about the music of this lovable weirdo.

Top 5 Songs of 2012

5: Meeting of Important People / “Keep Your Eyes On Me”

This is the definition of a perfect pop song, irresistibly catchy, short and sweet at just over 3 minutes.  Was there a better song this year to blast in the car while blazing through the Squirrel Hill tunnel late at night?  I think not.

4: Passion Pit / “Take a Walk”

This is the best opening track I heard all year.  I love the intro that leads into the song itself.  I’ve always been fascinated by Passion Pit‘s ability to cover serious topics, while hiding the lyrics behind the dance beats.  It’s like a magic trick.

3: The Walkmen / “We Can’t Be Beat”

Here’s another exceptional opening track.  It’s a bold choice to start an album with a quiet song that focuses on the lead singer’s voice, with barely any instrumentation, on an otherwise guitar-heavy album.  I love the lyrics too; they read like poetry: “Golden dreams all lose their glow / I don’t need perfection, I love the whole / Give me a life that needs correction.”

2: Grimes / “Oblivion”

Claire Boucher sings about how very real and possible it is to be walking home at night and having to worry about being attacked on the way home, and those assholes who “…look into my eyes and tell me girl you know you’ve got to watch your health.” It’s all camouflaged in a catchy beat and her high-pitched, sugary vocals.  It’s a very sweet-sounding fuck you, and the best lady anthem of the year.

1: Tame Impala / “Elephant”

When choosing my favorite song of the year, I always go for the song that gave me goosebumps upon hearing it for the first time.  This is the only song of 2012 that met this criteria.  I love “Elephant” because of the way it starts at full speed and steadily plods along, never stopping once.  I love how the musical break completely takes over the song.  I love how it sounds retro and new at the same time.  But mostly, I love the goosebumps.

Top 5 Live Shows of 2012

5: St. Vincent / Altar Bar / 05.07.2012

Though the crowded, sweaty conditions at Altar Bar were not ideal, Annie Clark delivered a jaw-droppingly awesome set, shredding through a set list that evenly represented her three albums.  She ended the night by diving right into the audience with a microphone, and belted out her punk rock number, “Krokodil,” all while surfing through the crowd. I watched from the safety of the balcony but wanted to be in the pit in that moment.

4: Fang Island / Brillobox / 04.17.2012

This band was by far the most enthusiastic of all performers I saw this year.  They describe their music as “Everyone high-fiving everyone” and that felt exactly right.  Each one of their songs is an over-the-top joyful anthem packed with guitar solos, that starts fast and just keeps accelerating.  It’s crazy and fun and above all, cathartic.  I think I had a grin on my face the entire time.

3: Laura Marling / Club Cafe / 10.22.2012

I’d never before seen a line snake down the sidewalk and around the block at Club Cafe, but I understood why as soon as Laura Marling began to play.  Not only does she have a soft, beautiful voice, but she’s also a trained guitarist.  At 22, Marling‘s lyrics show a young woman who possesses a maturity and knowledge I can only hope to achieve.  She began the set with a song that lasted over ten minutes; I could have listened for ten minutes more.  Marling is an uncommonly talented artist, and that night was something special.

2: Tallest Man on Earth / New Hazlett Theatre / 08.01.2012

Kristian Matsson is not the best at stage banter; in fact, he was downright awkward when trying to fill the spaces between songs.  But the second he began playing the guitar, he was completely self-assured.  Matsson was by himself for the entirety of the set, pacing around with the guitar or sitting at the piano.  In this simplest of settings, it was clear that any flashy lights, sets or even a backing band would have been a distraction.  It was better to watch the Tallest Man in his element, singing and playing music for a grateful crowd.

1: Other Lives / Brillobox / 2.22.2012

This was one of the first shows I saw this year, and ultimately the best.  It became the benchmark against which all other shows were measured.  In the end, nothing could quite beat the way this band took the stage and immediately commanded everyone’s attention at the sound of the first note.  The five members sounded more like an orchestra, the music inexplicably powerful, hypnotic and all-consuming.  I got totally lost in it.  I knew next to nothing about them before the show, had no expectations, and was completely blown away.

Vicki’s previous Top Lists: 2011

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