2012 went by all too quickly, but not without a myriad of monumental highlights. Cheers to everyone here, with hope that 2013 continues to build upon the good.
1) DOPPELGANGAZ - The Doppelgangaz are a ghastly vagrant duo from NYC, and they have beats for DAYS. Once or twice a decade a hip hop group comes around that has PHENOMENAL production and remembers to have a ton of FUN. I'm about a mixtape away from throwing their hat in that ring. Extra 2012 bonus points for rapping/using in a sentence: "ill haberdashery"
2) MENAHAN STREET BAND - The Daptone family just GETS it. They know all the intangible qualities that transcend soul-revival into something timeless and sincere. What makes the band's sophomore LP wonderful isn't just that it's maybe the record of 2012 for me, but they pushed the boundaries of their song writing throughout: smooth strings, sinister western slide guitar, cassette left out in the sun, and plenty of late night soul.
3) POGO - A video editor who mashes up old movie clips into something manic and musical. This one utilizes Wizard of Oz segments. I find it syncs up with my occasionally cartoon brain. Pogo is trying in vain to get a grant to travel the world and field record and film every culture, and then "do what he does".
4) CLAMS CASINO - ugh, I ignored this boob based on the name alone. I was unaware he was making incredibly fuzzed out ambient crushing beats for underground rappers. like if "This Will Destroy You" started DJing. VERY hard to pick out a single track, but his often free mixtapes have so many fantastic evolving loops that are the farthest thing from traditional "beats" underneath 99% of hip hop.
5) THIS WILL DESTROY YOU - speaking of... last years "record of the year" (in my opinion) was their album Tunnel Blanket: a dense, challenging, and transporting apex for this San Marcos band. This particular song was actually a score for a short film, not even advertised by the band, but they killed it here and effectively simple too. They almost brought a Texas-sun-drenched-VHS quality to the underlying loops, but their notes and mood are as transcendent for me as ever.
6) CAST KING - this is LITERALLY the sound and song of a dying cowboy.
7) DARLING DEARS - just a gorgeous soul melody that is as deep as cuts can get. What I love about delving deep into soul music is how many unsung artists you will discover who have all the passion, sloppiness, poorly produced charm, and sincere magic that any of our favorite lo-fi masterpieces, passionate punk 7"s, and DIY dreamers ever possessed. This is NOT Motown, or Stax, or even Twinight. What you are hearing is the sole musical document of this NY group in 1972 who simply HAD to record this tune. Only 1000 45s were ever made, and absolutely everything from the 2 minute mark make this a priceless jewel (listen to those drums!!!).
8) KID KOALA - I always kept him at an arm-length away as a musician I respected but never truthfully "got into". It's because as a turn-tableist and DJ, he's far more interested in creating jazz and abstract movements, or deconstructing minimalist blues, than making a "beat" we can tap our toes to. Then I saw this EP of late night sleepytime ambient record scratches for his newborn (who he claims helped with some piano samples). The whole thing is beautiful, and an example of something I waited a long time for an artist to create without knowing I wanted them to. The album comes with a full illustrated book he "scratched" himself, and apparently when he toured off this record, there were headphones and pillows for the audience...
9) JACKSON C FRANK - "The Blues Run The Game" -
What in heaven's name is this mamby-pamby folk singer doing on my list, and what could he possibly know about" the blues"?
Well, When Jackson C Frank was 11, most of his friends died in a fireball that blew up in the school classroom. Over half his body was covered in burns and he required 7 months in the hospital, when a teacher brought him his first guitar. Haunted by memories and battling a resultant depression, ten years later he received a small fortune as part of an insurance settlement. Like the song begins, he then "caught a boat to England", wandering aimlessly spending his money, performing songs, falling in and out of love. One such love followed him all over the world, ending their relationship as she ended her pregnancy. Another such love was a young girl he convinced to drop out of nursing school to write her songs, that girl being Fair-port Convention's Sandy Denny, whose biggest fans are Led Zeppelin and Nina Simone.
Jackson C Frank made enough of a name for himself to attract the attention of fellow folk wieners Simon and Garfunkle, who produced and recorded some of his songs. Frank hung up a sheet and asked them to leave the room, presumably out of nervousness, but he still gets points for not wanting to look at their faces while he played. His record never went anywhere, the folk audiences moved on, and Frank fell into obscurity and further depression. Depression then crippled him when his baby boy died of cystic fibrosis, dissolving his family, and then disappearing completely himself, in and out of various institutions.
An avid folky and record collector traced him down decades later, buying him a $10 guitar and a tape recorder, and as lore would have it, pulling Jackson C Frank out of his shell and giving him new hope at a new life with new songs. However, one day while sitting on a bench outside, he was randomly targeted and shot in the eye by some kid. A blinded Frank then moved to Woodstock where he was supposed to record demos and prepare for a reissue of his sole musical output, but none of this would happen, as he then died of cardiac arrest at the age of 56.
This song is both broad in its feeling lost in the present, and specific in its fears for the future. I've since tried to listen to several neutered covers of this and every single one of them, even the equally troubled Nick Drake, miss the point. The intangible melancholy was too personal, but it comes across loud and clear in his words and his playing here and here alone.
10) I found this on youtube by accident one day. I've always had an affinity for music boxes and i've always been intrigued to actually make them. This is is from a video of some guy who did just that, re-composing APHEX TWIN'S "Avril 14th" as a beautiful gift to his girlfriend. It's not only something I could listen to until I went gentle into that good night, but a craft I'm even more intrigued by.
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I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this was a great year for records, especially October, with the new Godspeed!, Mono, Menahan, and Neurosis being released in one budget destroying swoop. Neurosis, and Deafheaven get my vote for metal record of the year.
Finally, my older brother Dan and I finally got to see one of our song writing favorites who had a huge impact on us in how we listened to, interpreted, and even made, music: Jeff Mangum in Austin City Limits! Pair that with him taking his daughter to the Paul McCartney concert where they bought the t-shirt I designed, and he's responsible for two of the hugest "doesn't get better than this" occasions this year
"Ya gotta follow that dream wherever that dream may lead" - Elvis Presley