Monday, December 31, 2012

Favorite Recordings from 2012

About end-of-the-year retrospective lists, I had this to say in 2009:

I'm not a huge fan of "top" lists at the end of a year, or the end of a decade, mostly because they seem completely mandatory and cliched at this point.
I have subsequently proved my lack of commitment to this notion by not crafting such a list myself for the last two years. I'm going to break from tradition though to share with you some recordings I discovered in 2012. My goal is slightly different this go-around; last time I took the conventional approach of sharing my opinion of the best albums of 2009. That sort of list always has the potential to serve as a sort of vanity project for the author, and I found it difficult to qualify what I thought were truly great albums, and what I simply had some personal fondness for. This time I'd simply like to share some truly exceptional music I discovered this past year, a narrower approach that, at least in my opinion, produces a more interesting range of music. So, in no particular order here are some albums and individual tracks from the last year that I'm happy to share with you:

Grimes - Visions: I have to admit that I wasn't too impressed earlier this year when I listened to "Oblivion", another track from this young lady's latest album. Clicking around on YouTube one night though I randomly stumbled across this song. I was hooked (evidenced by thirty-five or so consecutive listens that night.) I've since gone back and listened to the whole album and there are at least three or four great tracks, but if you want her best shot you should start with this one:

Burial - Kindred EP: If someone ever actually gets around to filming an adaption of William Gibson's Neuromancer and the soundtrack doesn't prominently feature something by this London artist, they're doing it wrong.

Demdike Stare - Elemental: An act I'm very pleased to have discovered this past year. They do something which some people refer to as "hauntology", a term which  I don't think really gets at most of what they do . What they actually do offer is "dark" electronica, ambient-ish in spots, beat driven in others. Whatever approach, they're stuff is spooky and menacing without being cheesy, and it's great.

Loscil - Sketches from New Brighton: I've had a fondness for ambient music for some time now, and I definitely tend to gravitate towards electronic music that straddles the line between beat-driven and true ambient music, a category I think Loscil falls into. Instead of the spacey feel that a lot of ambiet music has, listening to Loscil puts me in the mind of a cool winter afternoon spent watching...well, container ships go by.

Chrome Sparks - All There Is (Feat. Steffaloo): I love everything about this track (which is from 2011, but I like it so much I'm going to cheat and include it here.) Unfortunately I have yet to find any other tracks by this artist that come close to this one, but he's a relatively new artist and there's definitely potential there.

Yuna - Lullabies (Jim-E Stack Remix): I don't honestly know much of anything about Yuna or producer Jim-E Stack, except for the fact that when you combine them you get an absolutely gorgeous track I've listened to probably a hundred times.

My Morning Jacket - Outta My System (Washed Out Remix): Washed Out (Ernest Greene) is probably my favorite electronic artist after Burial. His remix takes this song in a completely different direction from the original, and it's fantastic. Greene definitely has some great work ahead of him.

Le Révélateur- Horizon Fears: I'm really digging the throwback sound of this act, which hearkens to the flourishing of the digital age in the early 80s. But you really should watch their lovely videos, the result of a collaboration with visual artist Sabrina Ratté. Here's a great example.

Thibaut de Champagne - Le Chansonnier Du Roi : Now for a change of pace, a recording of poems of Thibaut, King of Navarre (1201-1253) set to music. This is, quite frankly, a stunning collection of songs of the Middle Ages, performed by Alla Francesca, a group that specializes in music of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The voices, three baritones and a soprano, are fantastic, as is the spare but beautiful accompaniment by authentic medieval instruments. Thibaut wrote about many themes but his love poems, of which this is one example, are certainly his most famous. The desire and longing are readily apparent in this recording.

Claude Debussy - Le Musicien De L'Amour: I've never delved too deeply into art songs, an oversight which I'm remedying thanks in part to the discovery of this recording. Jan Van der Crabben is easily my favorite male vocalist now, thanks to a warm and unobtrusive baritone that is perfect for this collection of songs by Debussy. The album opens with several great songs, but this is my personal favorite.

And there you have it! My personal favorite musical discoveries of 2012. Hopefully I'll enjoy finds as great as these in the coming year. Happy New Year!