BW’s top 15 of 2012

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:

angel olsen

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?

9 responses to “BW’s top 15 of 2012”

  1. RT Kersh says:

    OK, I’ll play–love all Waterman lists! this from my own year-end best, tho’ tracks not albums.

    30. The Hives, “Midnight Shifter” (Lex Hives). Original Swedish garage-rockers still got it.
    29. Passion Pit, “Take A Walk” (Gossamer). Rarest of musical achievements in our pop-
    besotten age: danceable track about serious subjects (immigration, patriotism…).
    28. First Aid Kit, “King of the World” (The Lion’s Roar). Riotous ironic-folk rockers; great fun.
    27. Chris Botti, “Wonderful World” (Impressions). Smart jazz standards, elegantly executed.
    26. Dan Deacon, “USA III: Rail” (America). Best heard in full-CD context; a triumph.
    25. The Lumineers, “Stubborn Love” (Lumineers). Lumi-mania a bit much, but fun debut.
    24. alt-J, “Tessellate” (An Awesome Wave). Geometry lessons never sounded so good.
    23. Theophilus London & A$AP Rocky, “Big Spender” (Lover’s Holiday). On the surface, yet
    another rap-style paean to capitalism…but with a biting undercurrent. Big-band sample a bonus.
    22. Tennis, “My Better Self” (Young & Old). Sophomore effort from this husband-wife duo
    outdoes last year’s superb Cape Dory. This a particularly addictive track.
    21. Bill Fay, “Never Ending Happening” (Life Is People). Kierkegaard distilled in ballad form.
    20. Amadou & Mariam, Cherié (Folila). Mali’s amazing blind duo continues to break new
    musicianship ground; not a false note on Folila. Salute to Mal for ‘discovering’ them years ago.
    19. Andrew Bird, “The Lazy Projector” (Break It Yourself). Master whistler (really) and indie
    tunesmith strikes again; among the year’s most wall-to-wall listenable CDs.
    18. Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound, “The Real Thing” (Audra Mae…). Almighty indeed.
    17. Leonard Cohen, “Going Home” (Old Ideas). Elegaic-defiant Cohen: his best record in ages.
    16. Wacka Flocka, “Rooster in My Rari” (Triple F Life…). No idea what it’s about, but catchy.
    15. Kindness, “That’s Alright” (World, You Need a Change of Mind). Inventive jazz/electro mix;
    my most-played debut of the year. Solo artist: his mom a jazz musician, dad a DJ…presto!
    14. Sharon Van Etten, “We Are Fine” (Tramp). Country-crossover album of the year.
    13. Bonnie Prince Billy, “Three Questions” (Now Here’s My Plan). Answers none; who cares?
    12. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “Abazizwe” (LMB/Friends). Their best since Paul Simon days.
    11. Frank Ocean, “Sweet Life” (Channel Orange). Most appealing rise-to-fame artist in years.
    Strong if over-hyped CD his last; turning to book-writing (Michael Jordan & baseball, anyone?)
    10. Punch Brothers, “Movement & Location” (Who’s Feeling Young Now?). 2012 jazz-rock best.
    9. Cat Power, “Cherokee” (Sun). A rough patch for fab Cat; her music-as-therapy to our benefit.
    8. Tallest Man on Earth, “Wind and Walls” (There’s No Leaving Now). Most distinctive sound
    around (closest: early Dylan) continues to grow/mature on Leaving, TMOE’s best offering yet.
    7. Avett Brothers, “Life” (The Carpenter). First of two deep-thought, tuneful meditations.
    6. The Shins, “It’s Only Life” (Port of Morrow). Second of the two—how true that title rings.
    5. Solange, “Bad Girls” (True). Exuberant R&B, powerful-lyrical voice: wow.
    4. Dirty Projectors, “Unto Sea” (Swing Lo Magellan). Fine follow-on to ’09 triumph Bitte Orca.
    3. Beach House, “Myth” (Bloom). Best Coast got this year’s dream/surf-pop headlines, after
    VW stole their sound for an ad; Beach House quietly put together a far superior album.
    2. Regina Spektor, “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (What We Saw From the Cheap Seats). Jaunty NYC
    tune, w/Paris chorus spicing it up, that also includes powerful underlying message. Love her!
    1. Mumford & Sons, “I Will Wait” (Babel). Gracious, these lads can play.

  2. Bryan says:

    Hey, Rogan. Thanks for that list. I’ll gladly YouTube the ones I don’t already know. Did you determine these via iTunes plays?

  3. Farrell Fawcett says:

    Wow, Bryan! Even when I feel like we follow the same music trajectory all year, you totally come out of left-field with things I’ve barely heard of. Thanks for sharing this. I look forward to hearing more of these albums. Of the things I heard already, well, very nice picks, I’m totally on board: the Wild Nothing, Diiv, Lotus Plaza, Lambchop, Lower Dens and GB.

    I’m so glad that your end-of-year mix turned me on to Dan Deacon–which I had just kind of dismissed as too much noise when it came out. But that Dan Deacon song on your year end mix–True Thrush was a revelation. It’s great for running. I’ve since DL’d Prettyboy and played it to death already (and it deserves to be played to death–although more of a car song, than a running song). I’m glad to hear more of DD via youtube today and Rogan’s DD endorsement too(Rogan! So good to hear from you and get your top 30 mix. Now please upload it to a site where I can DL it. That’s just too much youtubing for me. I can’t. But I totally want to hear all the ones I don’t already love. Please post it somewhere. I really want to hear these songs.)

    Bryan, you’ve really inspired me here. I promise to put together my own year-end mix and upload it soon.
    But most of all, reading this, I’ve realized how much I’ve missed having your year-end lists and your gifted evocative way of describing the music you love. So so glad to have you doing this again. Thanks for all this linking work too. It’s a lot of work. You rule. Happy 2013!

  4. Bryan says:

    What a sweet comment. Thank you. I was thinking, as I finished this, abt our conversation on the plane abt what characterizes a “Bryan song” and the performance up there by Paul Buchanan pretty much seals it for me. Slow & songy, lyrically deft. Would sound great covered by a million different performers but especially by someone like Tom Waits or Nick Lowe. Creaky male vocal, a weathered troubadour. Yep, that’s pretty much my genre.

    I always worry my lists will come off as predictable — mapped onto coordinates too closely tied to my age, race, gender, education, etc.

  5. Rachel says:

    Loved the mix, love the list. If your lists are predictable to any extent (and they always contain delightful surprises), it is only in the best possible sense, like being led around an unfamiliar city by a native who is able to point out all the gorgeous corners a newcomer might miss. Thanks.

  6. T-Mo says:

    Finally got a chance to work my way through these. Woo-wee, this is fun! Thanks for this, Bryan.

    First impressions (for many of these) of those that really stood out for me:

    Beak = awesome! So very Can, indeed. How can you go wrong when you want to sound like Can? Not possible.

    Beck = really great! I had seen the item in the stores and marveled at it. I love the idea, but I hadn’t tracked down any versions of the songs. These are great, especially the Stephin Merritt (of course), and I need to hear more. It makes me want to learn the piano and invite friends over to sing through the dark nights of winter.

    New version of “I See a Darkness” = a revelation This reminds me of those humorous re-cuts of movie trailers that turn horror movies into feel-good romantic comedies. I loved the video, too, despite the creepy eyes-going-every-which-way shots. That made my head hurt, but in a curious way. “Honey, someday your eyes are going to stay crossed!”

    Paul Buchanan = so, so good I love his voice and songwriting and agree with you about the Blue Nile, including that his voice sounds better against piano rather than shimmering synths. I missed that he put out a new record, and I’m really glad you brought it to my attention.

    Angel Olsen = agreed – love her voice, but more variation would hook me completely

    Lambchop = typically really solid For some reason, I have long felt that owning one or two Lambchop records is enough (and therefore haven’t really listened to the last 5 or 6 new ones), but every time I hear something new I really like it.

    ’80s stuff = liking it okay, but not yet at the point of seeking it out

    Grizzly Bear = really like this one song, but haven’t uniformly liked the new record; must remind myself to listen, but that seems to have been the problem for me with this record and the previous one, that I have to remind myself to listen.

    As to things that I may have put on a 2012 list, I have a lot of catching up to do, but Father John Misty is at the top, along with Sharon Van Etten, and Leonard Cohen. Death Grips scares the shit out of me, but in a good way. Disturbing listening, but strongly compelling.

  7. Bryan says:

    Hey, Tim. Thx for comments. The second half of the Grizzly Bear is really, really good. I kept starting it from track 6 and playing just those songs for the longest time, but the whole thing is actually worth coming back to. The new Lambchop is better than anything since Is a Woman, I think. Def worth a listen. The show was one of the highlights of my live music year, not least b/c YLT opened with a secret set under a different name. I should have put Peaking Lights on here somewhere, maybe in the runners up. I forgot about that one, mostly because it’s on the hard drive of a computer I stopped using. I need to export it.

    Rach, this felt a little slapdash but I appreciate the thought. I agree with Farrell that your mix was lots of fun. The two of you listen to a lot more uptempo music than I do, which makes your mixes very useful when I’m actually listening with other people.

    Looking fwd to more end-of-the-year mixes. Remember when we used to swap physical artifacts at the end of each year?

  8. jeremy says:

    I feel especially out of the music loop this year. Our recent Record Club hiatus has contributed to that, as has my recent nostalgic trip/descent into a mid-90’s music rabbit hole (thanks for that, Farrell; I’ve totally revived my addiction to That Dog). So I appreciate your list all the more, BW, as it will (I hope) jump-start my effort to catch up… That Angel Olsen song: Oh My. So lovely. I, too, loved that Wild Nothing album. Some other random recent favorites: Cold Showers’ “Love and Regret,” Chairlift’s “Something,” Cate le Bon’s “Cyrk,” The Mynabirds’ “Generals,” Lavender Diamond’s “Incorruptible Heart,” Haim’s “Forever EP,” and of course, Beach House’s “Bloom.”

  9. Bryan says:

    See? Of everything you listed, JZ, I still only had heard a couple Lavender Diamond tracks and the Beach House, which I’m ambivalent about. So now you’ve given me fodder for download. It’s been too long since we’ve had a mix from you, btw.

    LA Record Club hiatus: sad face.