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the top ten musical long-playing recordings of 2012
The third year of any given decade is usually the one that solidifies that decade’s sound. In that aspect 2012 was disappointing. There was no equivalent for 92’s Automatic for the People, Slanted and Enchanted, and Check Your Head; r even 02’s Turn On The Bright Lights, You Forgot It in People and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The closest thing to a classic is probably Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, which I liked but wasn’t crazy about.

I don’t know what to feel about my year in music. Looking back, unlike 2011’s year of live music or 2010’s year of raw emotional honesty there doesn’t seem to be a running theme. I also listened to a lot less stuff; my 2012 being comprised of 383 songs as opposed to the usual 1000+ songs. Maybe I’m getting old, but I do recall looking far and wide for good music to listen to, and that was pretty much all I could find. Here’s the best of them.

10. Up dharma Down – Capacities
Say all your hits are about emptiness and being left behind. Say you made a name for yourself with sadness and dysfunction (your first two albums are called Fragmented and Bipolar, for God’s sake). Say everyone from the BBC to Time Magazine loves the melancholy and calls you the Philippine band most equipped to make it big internationally. The last thing you want to do at the height of your career is be happy. And yet, we have Capacities; a ballsy move from Up dharma Down that not only allows itself serenity but also shifts the sound completely. The soulful trip-hop is suddenly replaced by… the eighties. And it works. Instead of coming off as a retro pauso album, Capacities, with its Phil Collins drum fills, unabashedly New Wave synths and vocals reminiscent of the likes of early Zsa Zsa Padilla and Odette Quesada, actually sounds like it’s what '80s OPM was missing all along. It's the celebration after the storm, and establishes the band as true artists unwilling to waver. Besides, it’s nice to finally see that silver lining in Up dharma Down’s music.

9.Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw & Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.
I found The Idler Wheel… when it was released in June and loved it; then I forgot all about it until I went through a rough patch in November, and it found me. It’s been almost 15 years since Apple released her classic debut Tidal, and while that album felt like a juvenile cry for help, this one is a mature opus that seems to stem from real pain. This album is on this list mainly because two of my most replayed songs of the year are from here: Every Single Night and Werewolf. Every Single Night is about the nightly battle we have with our thoughts, while Werewolf gives a very interesting insight: yes, you fucked me up, but maybe it was my fault because I allowed myself to be vulnerable. The song ends with Apple straining for the chorus:-- “nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor keyyyyyeeeeyyyyy”; both a desperate plea for love and an admission that this pain is something we all enjoy.

8.Purity Ring – Shrines
It’s been a great decade for 4AD records. After the glory days of dark pop in the 80s with artists like Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins and Throwing Muses, it seemed like the label was destined for obscurity with the rise of grunge, emo and guitar-based alternative. The 2010s have seen a resurgence of moody, ambient music; and 4AD has come out of the shadows to reclaim what’s theirs. What’s great about their current stable of artists is that they stay true to 4AD’s roots but simultaneously take the music to new heights: Twin Shadow, Bon Iver, St. Vincent, Grimes, and now, Purity Ring. This Canadian duo takes their cue from Cocteau Twinsesque dream pop, adding a healthy mix of R&B, Hip Hop and Björk. Programmer Corin Roddick is a technical genius, and Megan James’ childlike voice gives his music a welcome humanity.

7.Cat Power – Sun
The first time I saw Chan Marshall play live she was an absolute mess. A nervous, fidgety twenty-something learning to deal with fame, she came onstage with her acoustic guitar and was hardly able to finish a song. She’d stop in the middle, talk to herself, angry that she didn’t get things right. The next time I saw her she was in her thirties, touring in support of her most ambitious album, The Greatest. She was backed by the Memphis Blues Band, freewheeling across the stage looking absolutely perfect. I saw her two months ago, now 40. She looked like crap, nervously twitching as she sang, unable to make coherent sentences. Sun is her downswing; an album made in the midst of a painful break-up, nearing the end of her glory days and past the beauty that came with youth. It’s the realization that this might be all there is, and all she can really rely on is her music. That’s why it’s so good.

6.The Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
I held off listening to The Divine Fits, the side project of Britt Daniels from Spoon and Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade/Venus in Furs, for a while. I wasn’t Wolf Parade’s biggest fan, and thought that Daniels only did guitars for the project. When I finally gave it a shot, I knew immediately that it was going to end up in my top ten list. Like Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, A Thing Called Divine Fits is straight up rock n’ roll, something we surprisingly don’t get enough of in the modern world.

5.Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Speaking of straight up rock n’ roll, no album title is more straight-up this year than Japandroids’ sophomore effort. Filled with adrenaline-packed blue-collared rock reminiscent of early Springsteen, Celebration Rock will have you pumping your fists in the air and screaming “woah-oah-oahs” until your voice breaks. It begins with fireworks, segueing to the anthemic The Nights of Wine and Roses (“Don’t we have anything to live for? Well of course we do but until it comes true, we’re drinking.”) and never letting go until the fireworks start up once again, providing an infinite loop of adrenaline. This could have been my album of the year, except with 8 tracks and a 35 minute lifespan it leaves you wanting more-- a lot more.

4.Grimes – Visions
Oh, Claire Boucher, I loved you then I grew tired of you then I saw you live and you won me over all over again. It’s hard not to fall in love with Grimes’ impish grin and epileptic dance moves. What is hard is writing about Grimes, because her music mostly doesn’t make sense. The instruments, ranging from Chinese harp to drum machine to 50 layers of her voice, are a mess and the lyrics are incomprehensible and nonsensical. It shouldn’t work, but Boucher’s voice is so amazing that it manages to hold everything together. You’ve got to give the 24-year old Canadian credit for creating a new and completely unique sound, and the future work more experience and expertise will bring is exciting.

3.Rebecca Gates and The Consortium – The Float
This is the reason I will love Facebook for the rest of my life: Richard Baluyut of Versus posted that he, James and Kendall were to impromptu open for Rebecca Gates. As obsessive as I was with show schedules, I had no idea that one of my favorite songwriters from the 90s was going to play in support of her first album in 11 years. So I trekked out to Brooklyn to watch Ms. Gates with about 40 other people in an intimate little performance area. This is where I heard The Float for the first time, along with other classics from her early solo work and former band The Spinanes. Among the songs was my favorite song of all time, Lines and Lines. It easily became my favorite performance (and one of my favorite nights) of the year. The Float is something that is audibly more mature and laid back, but definitely not mellowed out. Her guitar work is impeccable, and she is more than ably backed by Joanna Bolme and drummer Joe Adamik. And then there is Gates’ voice, which never fails to make you feel like you’re… floating. This album makes me happy, and is definitely worth the wait. I just hope I don’t have to wait another 11 years for the follow-up.

2.The xx – Coexist
The fact that Coexist is number two in this list is a major disappointment. The xx were touted to be my band of this decade, my Sleater-Kinney and Death Cab for Cutie of the 2010’s. Alas, Romy, Oliver and Jamie, it was not meant to be. The new album is mostly a rehashing of their 2009 debut XX, one of my favorite releases of the last decade, and I actually expected (maybe even hoped for) that. My main point of contention is that even though it took three years to make, Coexist sounds like it was rushed. Maybe it’s because songwriters Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft have been working on the first album since childhood, but I find the songs in this offering to be not as complex, the lyrics a lot less poignant. It feels weird that I’m dissing an album I consider to be my second favorite album of the year, so let me briefly talk about the good parts. There are a number of songs deserving of their debut, such as the very solemn opener Angels and Chained, the best song from the album. There is also a progression of sorts, mostly because of producer Jamie Smith’s programming prowess with dancier tunes like Sunset and Swept Away, but also because of Oliver Sim’s rare solo track, Fiction. I’m not completely writing the xx off, but if they continue down this trajectory I expect them to slide down the list with their forthcoming albums.

1.Grizzly Bear – Shields
It feels anti-climactic; putting Grizzly Bear’s Shields at the top of this list. What’s funny is that back in 2009 my numbers 1 and 2 were reversed, with The xx on top and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest at second place. Veckatimest, however, is a much better album than Shields —it was daring, ambitious, grand. Shields feels like Grizzly Bear is taking a vacation; making songs that they can write in their sleep. Alas, the dreams they weave are still amazing: the pianos echoing in The Hunt, the hums that precede the verses in Yet Again, the distant percussion and horns that serve as the bed of What’s Wrong. Like all their records, there are layers to Shields; layers that invite deeper introspection and revelation upon further listening. This all comes to a climax with Sun in Your Eyes, the one exception of Shields where Grizzly Bear finally takes a shot at doing something magnificent. This closer is epic drama, with movements and an intensity that give a hint at what could have been, and what could be yet again.

HONORABLE MENTION: Twin Shadow’s Confess was on this list ‘til Up dharma Down came along, and it still pains me that it isn’t here, as is Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania. I’ve recently fallen in love with Wild Nothing’s Nocturne, and Ciudad releases awesomeness once again with Follow The Leader.

SINGLES OF THE YEAR: I made a playlist. It's on Spotify.

BEST LIVE BANDS: Like I mentioned earlier, that intimate gig with Rebecca Gates and the Consortium is way way up there. I stood in a moshpit for 7 hours just to catch Radiohead, so they have to be on this list as well. The Joy Formidable were a welcome surprise, and were a formidable joy to watch (that was bad).

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR: Ben Gibbard’s Former Lives is so bad. Oh my God it’s so bad. How did that even happen?! We thought you’d start making good music again after breaking up with Zooey, Ben, but no. Also, Ben Folds Five’s The Sound of The Life of The Mind isn’t bad, but considering that I’ve been waiting for this album for almost 15 years it should be UHMAYZING. And yet, it was not. I’m not naming my kids Ben, that’s for sure.

VIDEOS OF THE YEAR: I said last year that 2011 was the worst year for music videos ever. This year is even worse. Thank you, then, universe, for M.I.A.’s Bad Girls,Emily Kai Block's videos for Grimes' Oblivion and Grizzly Bear's Yet Again, Sebastien Tellier's boner-inducing Cochon Ville, and my personal favorite-- Flying Lotus's Until The Quiet Comes; for these videos give us hope. Honorable Mention goes to the Chairlift videos because of Caroline’s fabulous kili kili.

The 00s

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i am such a loser that i have not listened to ANY of these albums.
see what not having your music on my ipod does to me??? I AM A LOSER WITHOUT IT! its like back in the day when i didnt know any of you and didnt know crack

Yay, a real LJ post! :)) Nice list Quark!

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