Or something like that. I listened to a bunch of records last year and these are some of my favorites. But looking back over past years’ best-of lists I see that the majority of what I compile at the end of any given year doesn’t actually translate to discs I’ll purchase on vinyl in order to have them around forever. Some I haven’t listened to since I put them on the list. And it’s not always the top few that do make the longevity cut, which suggests that a couple months isn’t long enough to live with an album before you know if it will stick. Even so, three or four new LPs a year that are keepers isn’t half bad. Which of the following made it onto your lists?
15. Escort, Escort. A late-2011 release I found early in the year, but not early enough to see these guys live before I left New York, which is a real regret. Puts me in mind of the early ’80s post-No Wave underground disco vibe of Arthur Russell’s supergroups or Liquid Liquid or ESG, though Escort doesn’t push the envelope quite as far as any of those acts. Nathan and I put a track on this mix. Here’s a live take of that same number:
14. Angel Olsen, Half Way Home. Debut LP from past Bonnie “Prince” Billy collaborator would have made it higher on my list if it didn’t get bogged down part way. Still, what an extraordinary voice, and odd-ball songwriting to match. We put the stellar track “Acrobat” here. This live performance of “Miranda” gives me chills:
13. io echo, IO Echo. Can’t recall how I came across this LA outfit, but I listened to their EP quite a bit in the fall. I finally gave in this year to new acts who shamelessly relive ’80s vibes, as much of the rest of this list will bear out. Key influence here is probably The Cure, but their stand-out track “When Lilies Die” had me thinking of that old WFMU nugget “You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve.” More melancholy but still lovely is this:
12. Lotus Plaza, Spooky Action at a Distance. Sounds of my summer. Didn’t quite have the staying power of Real Estate’s Days from last year, but it fits the same category: dreamy music for driving home from the beach or sitting late nights on the porch of your friend’s summer cabin in the Rockies. Nate and I put this track on our year-end mix. I first heard it when I saw this amazing video early in the year:
11. Solange, True. Beyoncé’s hipster sister gets all early Madonna, a twist on the ’80s thing. Heavy rotation this fall and winter. “Losing You” was probably my favorite single of 2012. (I played it here.) This is my second favorite track from the EP, a Blood Orange cover, which retains the original’s Berlin/Bananarama thang:
10. Beak>, >>. Portishead’s Geoff Barrow wants Can and Joy Division to have a test-tube baby. Listen to the whole album here. I played “Yatton” on the year-end. This track reminds us that Silver Apples did Krautrock before Krautrock:
9. Grizzly Bear, Shields. OK, so I’m no longer quite this gung-ho about the band, but Shields was a worthy record. Especially side B, which delivers one beautiful serve after another, often with a light 80s undersynth — poppier than Grizzly Bear has been before — that manages not to feel derivative. To wit, this Daniel Rossen nugget:
8. Dan Deacon, America. The year’s sleeper turns out to be its most epic, or at least its most ambitious. Who knew Mr. Wham City would one day wield composer chops like this and still manage to make you want to party? (See “True Thrush.”) Here’s the serious stuff that makes me want to drive cross country just to test it out:
7. Lower Dens, Nootropics. Working more of a Siouxsie vibe than most of their ’80s revival peers, this one traces its genealogy to Neu! as well. “Brains” was the first sign that this album would make a strong showing. It’s even better on the album followed by “Stem.” And to think that the same LP can yield something like the 12-minute final track, which closed out the nwbw 2012 mix. This record should probably rank higher on my list than it does, but we’re getting into five-way tie territory right about now.
6. Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Now Here’s My Plan. I’ve been buying Will Oldham’s records for almost two decades, and rather than get tired of him (the way Stephen Malkmus or Beck bored me after a while) I feel like we’re aging along similar trajectories. He takes all the right turns as the two of us head into our 40s, but I’m really a sucker for his reinventions of his own catalog, a la Sings Greatest Palace Music, which is how you know these songs will be around for a long, long time. On this EP, remakes of a handful of old and newer songs, the most radical new arrangement is the most irreverent. It also boasts what may be my favorite video of the year:
5. DIIV, Oshin. The first few times through I worried I couldn’t get past the overt Echo and the Bunnymen references. I was wrong. One of my most-spun discs of the year. I love how even their outfits here smack of early-’80s Liverpool or Manchester. Only later did I realize their bass player had hung out at our Broome St. apartment when we hosted this. Brushes with fame.
4. Paul Buchanan, Mid Air. This is the best album of the year for quiet Sunday mornings. Its 24 tracks go down like little shumai, tiny stories that turn themselves inside out and keep your ears alert. I still love The Blue Nile, but I think I prefer Buchanan’s voice against a piano rather than gauzy downtown synths and laid-back drum machines. I’d like to hear Tom Waits sing this album and Buchanan try his hand at Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. Here’s the title track, which made the year-end mix, live on Jools Holland:
3. Lambchop, Mr. M. I’ve been listening to Lambchop almost as long as I’ve been listening to Will Oldham, and along with Oldham and Bill Callahan and Dan Bejar, Kurt Wagner’s got to be among the top songwriters of our generation. I was doing the dishes one night in February when “Mr. Met” came on the radio. I had to put my dishrag down and let it have its seven minutes.
2. Beck, Song Reader. You’ve probably read about Beck’s “album” of sheet music, released last month by McSweeny’s. I’m in love with every aspect of it, from concept to the songs themselves to the Tin Pan Alley physical artifact. I don’t remember what the last Beck album I bought was — Sea Change? — but I bought three copies of this one. When was the last time you could say that about a CD? It’s a formal throwback to an era of popular music that predated sound recording, and yet it’s the perfect format for the YouTube age. Here’s the staff of WNYC performing “Saint Dude,” followed by Stephin Merritt playing “Old Shanghai”:
1. Wild Nothing, Nocturne. This takes my top spot by sheer virtue of its iTunes playcounts, which handily outstrip anything listed above. (Granted, it was released early in the year.) This was the album that got me over my aversion to the ’80s revival: touches of The Cure and New Order, but in ways that finally felt fresh to me, and with songs that held their own. This was my 2012 version of Destroyer’s Kaputt: an album that sounds right in any season and any mood. I’m putting it back on as we speak.
And perhaps my favorite track from the album, which made it onto our year-end mix:
What did I leave out that was essential to your 2012? My runners up would include St. Vincent and David Byrne, The Sea and Cake, Swans (which moved me but didn’t get the repeated plays others have apparently given it), The Men, Cloud Nothings, Tame Impala, Dirty Projectors, Sharon Van Etten. You?