As a supplement to this week’s “Favorite Music of 2012” podcast, we’ll be posting top 10 album lists from all four participants over the course of the day. Here’s Kaija’s list.
The 2012 Situational Album
The Lumineers, The Lumineers
I supposed a “situational album” can be best described as an album that might not necessarily be your absolute favorite thing, but that was what you needed exactly when you needed it, and for that reason alone is something you accept implicitly. For me, 2012 was the year of The Lumineers. I discovered them (slash became again aware of them) right before the summer started and among a shitton of life changes, right as I had just completed a two-day drive back to Minnesota, and right before I left the country for the summer. Whatever mindspace I was in at that moment, The Lumineers rocked my world. Kick drums, banjo, acoustic guitar, nostalgic lyrics, folksy echoes, the playful brevity of “Flowers in Your Hair,” and that (ca. Blood on the Tracks) Bob Dylanesque glissando in Schultz’s vocals at 2:09 in “Submarines” just did it for me. I don’t care that “Ho Hey” has gone Top 40 (alright, I do, but that’s where that “implicitly” part comes into play)—these guys represented musical perfection at a moment when I most needed it.
The Ideal Pedestrianism and Badassery Album
The Ting Tings, Sounds from Nowheresville
When it comes to Sounds from Nowheresville, there is nothing I like more than having the songs blast through my earbuds while I’m headed somewhere on foot. I’m a huge proponent of using earbuds as a prop to indicate to the rest of the world that I don’t want to talk or interact with any of you ever EVER, ALRIGHT??, and Sounds from Nowheresville provides a musical score to my self-perception of momentary badassery. But what it does in addition to letting me stomp out my stress along the sidewalks is make me feel a little like I’m able to let some fresh air into my brain. And “Hit Me Down Sonny” makes me want to whoop and kick the crap out of stacks of cardboard boxes. While it’s definitely less pop and wiggy than their first album, We Started Nothing, Sounds from Noweheresville comes with a greater focus on the lyrics and the musicality of the songs.
The I’ve Never Heard Anything Like This Before Album
Dan Deacon, America
So, Dan Deacon. I’d never even heard of Dan Deacon before this year. For real. But I am oh-so-glad that I was introduced to what he does. Initially, I was warned that Dan Deacon could be so chaotic and and manic that it might break my mind. And yet—here I sit, unbroken and a total convert. The best way I can really describe the music Dan Deacon makes is to quote my best friend, who, upon hearing one of his songs playing on my computer this summer, stopped what she was doing and said, “Wow—that’s pretty.” Which may seem like the most backwards way to describe it, but damn right it’s pretty. Gorgeous, even. Hell, it’s the Giselle Bündchen of electronic music. What’s also astounding how one person could come up with and blend all the things you can hear in his songs—and how he duplicates all of it live. It’s fun, it’s active, addictive, and even catchy (just don’t try whistling it). (And anyone who can make my iPhone screen dance with colors to the oscillating frequencies of his music has my respect.)
The Album by That Woman Singing on That One Gotye Song
One of my main sources for discovering artists I’ve either not heard of before, or haven’t gotten around to listening before, is my father (for a professor of communications and journalism in the heart of Midwestern America, his knowledge and taste in music could make the most savvy DJs blush out of shame). So it can only be expected that one of my album picks would be from one of his recommendations. To most, New Zealand artist Kimbra might be best known as “the woman singing on Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’.” But everyone should know she can very well hold her own. What I like about Kimbra is the uniqueness of her voice and the way she experiments with styles. The creepiness/bipolar element of her videos and lyrics are also super intriguing—and kind of reminds me of a more aggressive and psychotic, doll-burning (THEY DESERVED IT) Regina Spektor:
The Shamelessly Preferred British Pop-Rock Album to Come Back to Repeatedly
King Charles, LoveBlood
Check out this dude’s hair! I bet he has birds nesting in it two seasons out of the year! Anyway, when LoveBlood first came out, the entire album struck me as cutesy, alt-pop, and airily British (not sure what that means, exactly, but that’s the only phrase that makes sense to me right now), but not as anything really superb. But LoveBlood became one of those albums that I liked more and more each time I listened to it; the vocals and instrumentals settle in mentally and become less “precious” and more pleasant and easygoing. For all the other “hard” things I’ve listened to on a regular basis this year, this is my lighthearted repose. “Ivory Road” is one of my favorite songs from this album because of the constant tempo changes, the changes in basic rhythm, the sometimes darkish lyrics with the peppy instrumentals, and the changes in genres, even. It’s a Song by Sybil.
The Album (Band) That Made Me Stop My Car
∆ (alt-J), An Awesome Wave
I have nothing better to start off saying for this album than this: All the things that are holy hell. The first time I heard alt-J I literally stopped what I was doing (driving) and stared at the radio (in a wholly-absorbed and hypnotized state) until the song was over and the DJ broke the magic. That track was none other than “Fitzpleasure,” one of the most engrossing, grunge-groove, and lazily, epically cool songs I’ve heard in a very long time. Bonus: the lyrics to the song are fairly dirty, but the vocals render individual words almost indiscernable. It’s SO awesome (and wave-like!)—and not something you’d expect from a group of nerdy-looking white boys out of the UK. An Awesome Wave was the unexpected, out-of-nowhere album for me this year; seeing their videos also makes me wonder what kind of games they might be playing with their lyrics, and what they’ll have to present in the future.
The Short and Sweet (Mostly) Instrumental Album
The Album Leaf, Forward / Return
I went on a bit of an instrumental music binge after hearing Ólafur Arnalds for the first time, and subsequently discovered The Album Leaf (yet another artist I was previously unaware of). What I like about what LaValle does in Forward / Return is that he keeps it simple—at least when compared to the other things on my list. The songs are engaging and interesting, but can just as easily require less attention and be converted into great background music (without making me fall asleep). While I do sort of wish “Under the Night” had been sans vocals, in total it’s a nice short album that gives me that dose of (mostly) instrumental ease.
The Album from A Group That Sounds Like Every Other Group
Niki & The Dove, Instinct
Okay, so there are a million bands that sound exactly like Niki & The Dove out there right now, but something about these guys makes them a little more “something” for me. Maybe it’s because “Gentle Roar,” has that fantastic far-away feel (and lyrics to match) that calls to me, or maybe it’s because these guys are from Stockholm and I still haven’t figured out how and why I’ve never lived there, in one of the best cities Europe. Listening to them again, I’d have to say that the reason I enjoy Niki & The Dove more than the rest is because they’re just a little bit off. There are moments where the vocals don’t quite match up with the music, where it sounds like someone missed an eighth of a beat . . . And there’s a certain earthiness to Instinct (beyond the obvious associations with the album title itself), something that makes the synth and reverberations seem more organic than they should be.
The Half-Cheating Album/Latvian Shout-Out Album I
As explained on the podcast, Tru is my half-cheat album of the year. Technically, Tru was released in 2011 (the version you can get off iTunes is listed as such), but, the re-release of the album (which features fewer songs than on the 2011 release and which has a different feel to it as a whole), along with the vinyl release, are officially listed as 2012. SO HAH. (This pick of mine is less of a cheat than Nate’s cheat album, which CLEARLY and ONLY came out in 2011. Let’s all point and laugh at the full-blown cheater!!!) Instrumenti are a more recent Latvian act (formed by two members of former a capella group Cosmos), but by far one of the absolute best, and over the last two years—they only have the one album, but had it in the making for over a year—they’ve progressed into something much more than just a couple of dudes in a semi-anonymous side project wearing panda-masks and giant-wig-heads. I very much like what they’re doing, and would absolutely love to see them follow the example of Estonia’s Ewert and the Two Dragons and make it out to North America for a small-venue tour. Their collection of songs includes experimental electronics, crazy distortion, Sigur Ros-worthy sounds, and heartstring-tugging half-ballads. Oh, and a few spastic and wonderfully obnoxious tracks—“Life Jacket Under Your Seat” made it onto the 2012 re-release, something I was glad to see. This song is a huge “You like it or you don’t,” and I fall into the “like it” camp without question. Along with liking the lyrics, such as “It’s not simple finding a painless way to stumble,” it’s also THE song that courses through my head every time I’m on a flight and as the attendants start to take you through the safety procedures. “Hey! Heeeyy! Does your recommended brace-for-impact position allow for my epileptic head bobbing and bouncing in my seat??? Under which my lifejacket is most surely located???” Man. I would be the first person pushed off that inflatable rescue raft . . .
The Last Minute 2012 Album/Latvian Shout-Out II
Astro’n‘out, Lauvas (Lions)
This album made its way to me barely a week before we had to have our 2012 picks in for the podcast. Astro’n‘out’s Ģeometrija is the only album of theirs you can access on Spotify, and it’s a good one, but Lauvas flows so much better than anything they’ve put out before. I first listened to the tracks through Quicktime (old-school and embarrassing, but I had my reasons), which worked well enough, but left gaps between the tracks in a way you’d never hear when running the album on a regular platform. Later, listening to the album through iTunes, everything fell into place and the album became that much better. I love the slow, whispering lead-in of “Migla” (“Fog”), the rhythmic and guitar-digging and repetetive “Esi man klāt” (“Be Near Me”), and as ever, the peculiar, rounded and twangy vocals that only belong to Astro’n‘out.
This slender, uncanny volume—the second, best-selling collection of stories by Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya to appear in the U.S.—has already received considerable, well-deserved praise from many critics and high profile publications. Its seventeen short tales, averaging ten pages each, are. . .
The Urdu word basti refers to any space, intimate to worldly, and is often translated as “common place” or “a gathering place.” This book by Intizar Husain, who is widely regarded as one of the most important living Pakistani writers,. . .
The Whispering Muse, one of three books by Icelandic writer Sjón just published in North America, is nothing if not inventive. Stories within stories, shifting narration, leaps in time, and characters who transform from men to birds and back again—you’ve. . .
Luis Negrón’s debut collection Mundo Cruel is a journey through Puerto Rico’s gay world. Published in 2010, the book is already in its fifth Spanish edition. Here in the U.S., the collection has been published by Seven Stories Press and. . .
To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars
from the bank of shadow to have watched
the scattered lights
my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
to have heard the ring of. . .
When Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason first published LoveStar, his darkly comic parable of corporate power and media influence run amok, the world was in a very different place. (This was back before both Facebook and Twitter, if you can. . .
When starting Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories, Santiago Roncagliolo’s second work to be translated into English, I was expecting Roncagliolo to explore the line between evil and religion that was front and center in Red April. Admittedly, I. . .
Christa Wolf’s newly-translated City of Angels is a novel of atonement, and in this way the work of art that it resembles most to me is not another book, but the 2003 Sophia Coppola film Lost in Translation. Like that. . .
French author—philosopher, poet, novelist—de Roblès writes something approaching the Great (Latin) American Novel, about Brazilian characters, one of whom is steeped in the life of the seventeenth century polymath (but almost always erroneous) Jesuit Athanasius Kircher. Eleazard von Wogau, a. . .
A rich, beautifully written, consistently surprising satire, Yan Lianke’s Lenin’s Kisses boasts an elaborate, engrossing plot with disarming twists and compelling characters both challenged and challenging. It leads the reader on a strange pilgrimage—often melancholy but certainly rewarding—through a China. . .