Much work this year.
Look back at your calendars to 2002, then look back further to 1992. These were the best two years of music in WD’s sentient life.
1992 = Nevermind, Ten, (N.B. Technically these were released in 1991, but they broke in 1992) Automatic for the People (REM), Check Yo Head (Beasties), Bone Machine (Tom Waits), Core (STP), Dirt (AIC), Grave Dancers Union (Soul Asylum), Harvest Moon (Neil Young),It’s Shame about Ray (The Lemonheads), Rage Against the Machine, et cet.
2002 = White Blood Cells (The Stripes), Is This It? (The Strokes) (N.B. again, technically released in 2001) Come Away With Me (Norah Jones), Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Wilco), 18 (Moby), The Eminem Show, Yoshimi (The Lips), Highly Evolved (The Vines), The Rising (The Boss), Turn on the Bright Lights (Interpol), American IV: The Man Comes Around (Cash), and Phrenology (The Roots), et cet.
So, it seems to me that every ten years (or so) the music world gurgles to life and vomits out a slug of albums that reward music dorks with an embarrassment of riches. 2012 has followed suit. As such, the normal WD top ten albums has expanded to fifteen (and three weeks) this year. And any one of the top five (in any non-gurgle year) could easily be number one. (N.B. and a WD gift pack for the reader who comes closest to nailing the top ten. Hit Me: email@example.com
Again, the cut-off was December 1st. Any albums released after that will be considered next year (If what I’ve heard so far is any indication, I’ll get ya then, Big Boi, but you’re prolly still out of luck Ke$ha).
(N.B. And for what it’s worth, it seems the “nearing” consensus album of the year is Channel Orange by Frank Ocean. I’m sure it’s great. I saw him on SNL, and it worked. But it’s not really my kinda jam. So don’t expect to find any mention of him/it in what follows.)
I’ll spare you the honorable mentions (N.B. only to honorably mention one) by saying Wrecking Ball by The Boss gets a Waits-ian (N.B or maybe Waits get a Boss-ian) level mention in that no matter what The Boss does, he’s to the point where it deserves honor.
15. Tie – (N.B. OK, I’ll spare you the honorable mentions by having three albums tie for 15th) Heaven by The Walkmen, My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men, and Arrow by Heartless Bastards. Individually I really liked each of these albums. As I tried to arrange my thoughts regarding the rankings, while not really the same, (N.B. although some comparisons between The Walkmen and HB could be drawn) I realized the common thread among these albums.
They were three easiest listens of albums I enjoyed this year. They weren’t challenging, but they were all well-crafted. I never got overly excited to listen to one, but after finishing one, my thoughts were immediately “gah, that was pretty good.” So consider these the three pretty goodest albums of 2012.
Highlights – Heaven: We Can’t Be Beat, Heartbreaker, and The Love You Love; My Head is an Animal: Six Weeks (actually from their EP Into the Woods released earlier this year), Little Talks, and Lakehouse; Arrow: Marathon, Parting Ways, and The Arrow Killed the Beast.
14. Port of Morrow by The Shins – This one hurt. My exhaustion with James Mercer is well documented, and I wanted to hate this album all year. I fell for it despite itself. Mercer tried to give it away on second half losing the cohesion of the first five songs. But man, the first five songs. Wow. I wrote initially that he channeled something from Quadrophennia Who, and I’m standing by it. It’s not as deep or developed as that masterpiece (and maybe nothing else ever will be), but certain parts of Port of Morrow fit into similar sonic grooves. It begins with an emergency (The Rifle’s Spiral), like nothing he’s ever done. (N.B. Clearly, not that I’ve listened to it all, but had he done much like this in the past, I’d certainly have heard it.) And I’ll admit to it straining credulity for me to keep Simple Song of the songs of the year CD. In fact, it was prolly the best song left off. But everything spins off those first two trakcs, and to a certain extent only gets less enjoyable. So thankfully it’s not a double-album, or the last track would have been Zack Braff crying into a paper bag. But I digress. He keeps it together, and built a great platform for his talent. So there you go, James Mercer. You have a fan.
Highlights: Simple Song, The Rifle’s Spiral, and Bait and Switch
13. Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings – This album never left my stack of current LPs to flip through and listen during the year despite being one of my earliest acquisitions. And Attack on Memory’s punky riffs and meandering melodies, punctuated by Dylan Baldi’s snarly voice, were where I seemed to land when I needed my turntable to rock out in 2012. I needed it to rock out quite a bit, and it never failed me. It’s full of incomplete emotions, and I felt them too, like I was still in undergrad, or high school even, and just wanted to be mad in an unfocused and disorganized way. Which, if you haven’t been mad in awhile, unfocused and disorganized may be the healthiest ways to do it (N.B. However, see no. 11). Listen to Attack on Memory while you do.
Highlights: Stay Useless, Cut You, and Fall In
12. All Hell by Daughn Gibson – I’ve haven’t been able to escape this album since I bought it. (N.B. And frankly, neither has wife. Nothing I’ve listened to this year (or maybe ever) has generated more what in the hell is this? looks from the patiently betrothed.) I called All Hell cinematic before, and I’m sticking with that description. It’s a movie I think I want to see, without being completely sure. The beats and familiar melodies he jammed together in this mess first captured me, but something about Gibson’s crooner voice has stuck with me. And maybe will forever. And I guess that mean it will haunt me.
Highlights: In the Beginning, Tiffany Lou, and Lookin’ Back on ’99
11. The Idler Wheel… by Fiona Apple – As I write this, I’m listening to side B of this album as the Bundesliga, in a fit of toddler wrath throughout the course of a single week managed to scratch both side A of The Idler Wheel and Side A of Spoon’s Gimme Fiction. So, I’ve listened to Side B a lot, and it’s magical…but there may be something wrong with Fiona Apple. She doesn’t experience emotion the way I think the rest of us do. Read this, the letter she wrote her fans after cancelling concerts this fall/winter to be with her dog, Janet, who was/is about to die. It fucking got to me, and I am nowhere close to a “dog” guy. The letter struck me because clearly not many other humans could write anything so articulate and impassioned about the passing of a loved one (much less a dog), but I also don’t think that many other humans work out their emotions like this, are that synced into them that they can just turn the faucet on…and raw, but organized descriptions come out. The Idler Wheel… while, I believe having nothing to do with Janet, is her letting the faucet run for ten songs. Systematic characterizations of raw human emotion recognized, categorized, and then made beautiful by someone who’s far more in touch with the parts of herself that reason doesn’t explain than I am. Just being able to craft the words she does is an achievement, but playing piano and putting them to her powerfully fragile voice at the same time…shit.
Highlights: All of it.
See you next week.