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Music Director Yearly Wrap-up

posted on Jan.02, 2013

For a past month or so, there have been a lot of people, blogs, organizations, and collectives posting best of lists for almost every subject imaginable.  It’s our turn now, and it’ll be the only music best of list you’ll need.  WTSR’s Music Director and Assistant Music Director have each compiled a list of their favorite albums and songs from 2012.

Music Director’s Top 15 Albums of 2012

1. Grizzly Bear – Shields
Shields
The fourth album by Grizzly Bear is stunningly beautiful, haunting, and powerful.  Shields is full of much more divisive and harsh music than the band’s previous efforts, which were a bit more dreamy and hazy.  But the sound isn’t exactly new either.  It feels like a natural extension of the band’s previous works.  Grizzly Bear is a band that keeps improving with every new album.  It’s hard to say exactly where this falls when compared to the seminal Yellow House or the more successful Veckatimest but Shields can easily compete for the title of best Grizzly Bear album.

2. Stars – The North

Stars have been one of my favorite bands for a few years now, so it is no surprise to find their new album, The North, on this list.  Criticism surrounding the past few Stars albums, The Five Ghosts and In Our Bedroom After the War, has been lukewarm, much to my chagrin and frustration.  But it’s hard to imagine The North suffering from the same reception.  Sounding a bit like their second album, Heart, The North is amazingly catchy and features some pretty bombastic pop songs as well as some slower, more downbeat, melodious tracks.  The band’s signature emotional vulnerability of the songs are still here.  This album is everything that a Stars fan could want without the album turning into Set Yourself on Fire, and they should be happy with it for once.

3. Sun Airway – Soft Fall

Sun Airway is one of the best, if not the best, indie band to come out of Philadelphia since Man Man or the War on Drugs.  Soft Fall is this band’s second album and they still have the cluttered and busy feeling on this one.  This sounds best when the instrumentation resolves itself into a constantly building up and breaking down pattern which makes some songs, like “Black Noise,” incredibly infectious.  The less poppy songs have so much going on that it can be difficult to really get what’s going on in just one listen, but the chaos does have an order to it and that is what makes this album so unbelievably good.

Sun Airway

4. Gemma Ray – Island Fire

Gemma Ray can do a whole lot, and Island Fire proves it.  There is so much here to deconstruct, from the upbeat opener “Alright! Alive!” to the sultry and slow “Trou De Loup” to the dark and empty “Fire House.”  In practice, albums like this are not very diverse.  The vocals don’t change much over the course of the album and the instrumentation is, with a few exceptions, very minimalistic and sparse.  However, that’s what makes this album so staggering.  The songs may not feature a ton of instrumentation but it does have a variety of instruments and sounds.  Island Fire is exactly what Gemma Ray needed to make, no other album would have sufficed and luckily, it’s the one we got.

5. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa
Damien Jurado
Absolutely gorgeous is the only phrase to use to describe this album.  Damien Jurado has had a very long career and his experience has helped him create an amazing album.  His greatest asset isn’t his voice, which is great, it’s his ability to construct a song.  This album is very intricate Jurado knows exactly how much or how little music to use and understands that a little silence isn’t a bad think.  Jurado brings us expansive soundscapes, melodious interludes, and his gruff vocals.  It is an amazing album that clearly took a ton of effort to perfect.

6. Fanfarlo – Rooms Filled With Light

Rooms Filled With Light is one of those albums that you like a whole lot when you first listen to, it goes away and lies dormant in your library for a few months and then you return to it and realize exactly how good it is.  I fell in love with this album again a couple weeks ago and I”m so glad I picked it up again.  Every song has its own charm and infectiousness to it.  It’s not a complicated album but it is very catchy and incredibly good.

7. Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

Kristian Matsson has a ton of talent.  In a year where there was a severe (and to me painful) lack of good indie folk, The Tallest Man on Earth was a bright spot.  This album is a bit more populated and accessible than the last.  The instrumentation is still pretty sparse but the guitar is plucked with strength that it stands out.  There are also a couple layers of guitar rhythms in some of the tracks, most prominent is the smoother variety but occasionally there’s a higher pitched pluck here and there.  The twangy vocals are beautiful and harsh, playing off the subtler sounds of the instrumentation.  He really seems to fill up songs with his voice.  Anyone who even slightly likes folk music will be pleased with There’s No Leaving Now.
Tallest Man on Earth

8. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchetra- Theatre Is Evil

Amanda Palmer is a controversial artist to say the least, which is why when I first heard Theatre Is Evil I wasn’t exactly sure what to think.  It’s a bit tame for an Amanda Palmer album.  There are no songs about abortions or date rape or any of the other topics she’s unabashedly covered over her career.  However, there is no question about the album’s quality.  Though it is more accessible and catchy than one would think, it still sounds like Amanda Palmer.  She still has that  powerful, sultry voice even if the album is a bit more percussion based.  Theatre Is Evil is not necessarily something that you would expect Palmer to produce, but it is excellent.

9. of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks
of Montreal
Kevin Barnes is one of the most talented frontmen in the music industry today.  He is unpredictable and so are his albums.  Kevin Barnes prides himself on never doing the same thing twice.  Paralytic Stalks is a bit more emotional and experimental than his previous release, False Priest.  The album takes listeners to a bit of a darker place, similar to of Montreal’s seminal Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?  I never know exactly what to expect from any of Montreal album, they’ve gone through too make reincarnations, but I always know it’ll be good and Paralytic Stalks is no exception

10. Yellow Ostrich – Strange Land

Yellow Ostrich has come a long way in the last year and a half, catching the ear of a lot of people in the indie world with their debut album The Mistress.  Strange Land is their newest release and while it might not be quite as good as the debut, it is still a very good album.  This time around not much has changed, though it seems like a lot.  The production values on this track went through the roof.  That is mostly because Alex Schaaf didn’t record this in his bedroom.  There is also less tress on vocal harmonies and melodies, but at the core, this is still the same indie pop that made the last album so great.  Schaaf’s very distinctive voice hasn’t been changed at all, even as everything is cleaner.  The new style does sacrifice a little of their genre bending sound from The Mistress but this album is still a favorite of mine.

11. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
Break It Yourself
Because I can’t limit myself to a top ten, Andrew Bird appears at number 11.  Andrew Bird hasn’t been heard from since his 2010 album Useless Creatures but feels like a much longer gap from such a talented musician.  Andrew Bird is one of the indie worlds best purveyors of poppy folk and that hasn’t changed in the past two years.  His voice is incredibly clear and has a rustic feel to it without carrying much of a twang.  He also works in some nice rock elements into the album.  Andrew Bird started out playing with the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Bowl of Fire and his solo work was just side work.  But those other bands soon faded away and that led Andrew Bird to his more successful work.  Break It Yourself is an album full of beautiful and slow folk songs.  It’s nothing new for him, but he does it so well that it doesn’t matter.

12. Daredevil Christopher Wright – The Nature of Things

I always have a soft spot for talented bands that no one else really listens to and the Daredevil Christopher Wright fits that description to the t.  Despite the fact that they haven’t quite gained traction, they deserve plenty of it.  The vocal harmonies that are dispersed throughout this album are beautiful and are complemented (as well as tempered) by the intricate and economical use of instrumentation.  Every note one this album has a place, it is an album with very little clutter or waste.  The vocals are reminiscent of the lead vocalist of Grizzly Bear (in fact, the whole album has a Grizzly Bear type feel but with a more minimalist tone.  The vocals are certainly the focus here, and luckily, they rise to the occasion.  They are smooth and beautiful and fill up the songs beautifully.

13. Young Man – Vol. 1

Young Man was marked as one of the biggest up and coming melodic, ambient artists the moment that Colin Caulfield received an endorsement from Bradford Cox (Deerhunter, Atlas Sound).  Given my own well known feelings toward Deerhunter, it’s no surprise that I’ve been a pretty big Young Man fan since he put out his first EP, Boy.  Young Man has some really beautiful songs.  The instrumentation is really slow, harmonious, and deliberate.  The vocals are light and airy.  Vol 1. pretty much takes everything that I love about young man and puts it into one record.  Every song on this album is actually pretty amazing (some of them are a little long, but they are entirely worth it).

14. Moonface – With Sinaii: Heart Breaking Bravery

Moonface is one of the multitude of Spencer Krug side projects along with Frog Eyes, Swan Lake, Sunset Rubdown and if you’ve been looking for something to fill the void left by Wolf Parade (they went on indefinite hiatus about a year ago) then this might help just a bit, though it’s not a replacement.  Krug’s voice is extremely similar and the new Moonface album provides fans with that fragile indie rock feeling that we used to get from Wolf Parade.  However, the tracks are generally longer and more spread out rather than the dense tracks that listeners would find on Apologies to the Queen Mary or Expo 86. Overall, there’s not much else to say other than if you enjoy Wolf Parade, you’ll enjoy Moonface, plain and simple.  It’s not a perfect replacement, but it helps.

15. Islands – A Sleep and A Forgetting

Nick Thorburn (aka Nick Diamonds) has had a busy career.  From The Unicorns to Mister Heavenly to Islands, he has appeared in many projects (and those are only his most major ones).  If you are familiar with older Islands albums, this might catch you off guard at first.  While the dark style is still pretty much the same, there is plenty different from other Islands releases like Arms Way.  The album is slower and more melodious than some of their previous work.  Even still, the album is very good.  Nick Thorburn’s voice is as smooth as I’ve ever heard it and the beat is made by some nice combinations.  The use of piano here is pretty new to Islands.  Thorburn seems to have taken his time with Mister Heavenly to heart, as the influence of that genre has taken over the influence of the Unicorns.  It’s definitely different and more muted than I was used to, but it’s good.

A Sleep and A Forgetting

Honorable Mention:  Brother Loyola – Jessica Jalbert

OK, so technically, this didn’t come out this year (but that’s why it’s in the honorable mention section, not on the actual list).  Brother Loyola was released in the middle of December of 2011 and I didn’t listen to it until I had already made my best of 2011 list, but it certainly deserves to be recognized.  It’s an amazing, minimalist, female indie pop album full of beautiful vocals, lyrics and the occasional bit of wit.

Music Director’s Top 10 Songs of 2012

1. “Working Titles” – Damien Jurado
Damien Jurado
“Working Titles” is easily the most beautiful song that I’ve heard this year, and perhaps beyond.  The song is incredibly minimalist featuring only a soft guitar and one note percussion.  The harmonizing that occurs throughout the track fills out the rest of the track but what really stands out is Jurado’s voice.  The song is a very somber and sad with lyrics that play with the relationship between an artist and the subject of the artists work.  The two are clearly separated by some degree but the artist is also in complete control of life of the character in the song.  It’s an interesting dynamic that is complemented perfectly by the music.

2. “Yet Again” – Grizzly Bear

“Yet Again” is a bit more of a bombastic and dynamic track than I ever expected from Grizzly Bear.  It is confident, it is bold, and, somehow, it still sounds like seminal Grizzly Bear.  The pacing of the song is fairly slow despite the upbeat, faster, and less drawn out instrumentation.  Grizzly Bear keeps it slow by adding interludes that grow throughout the track.  Grizzly Bear makes use of the bombastic instrumentation to keep listeners interested and blown away by the absolute excellence of this track.

3. “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” – Stars

“Hold on When You Get Love . . .” is an absolutely perfect Stars song.  It has an upbeat melody, the interaction between Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan is perfect, it reeks of emotional vulnerability, and it has a little hint of sadness to it.  Frankly, that’s really all that needs to be said on the matter.
Stars

4. “Avery” – Communist Daughter

“Avery” is both bombastic and subtle, soft and loud and that makes it quite the amazing track.  The vocals blend with the instrumentation pretty easily and have a soft and understated quality until they build up a bit in the hook and chorus.  But they only give you enough to leave you wanting more.  “Avery” is beautiful as well as poppy and catchy.  That’s a hard line to walk, but Communist Daughter does it perfectly.

5. “Fifty Fifty” – The Luyas

The Luyas manage to do something quite amazing with this track.  It is slightly off kilter, quirky, and quasi-experimental but it is also gorgeous and has this amazing and beautiful bridge that is basically perfect.  They use a number of instruments to create an ordered chaos that requires very close listening to pick up everything that’s going on.

6. “Plumage” – Menomena

Menomena is a pretty amazing band.  I didn’t like Moms nearly as much as I liked Mines but “Plumage” can certainly hang with some of my favorite Menomena songs.  The song starts off with some great handclap percussion and some very smooth, clear, and simple melodies and vocals but soon the song really breaks out and makes great use of some crashing drums and nice intermittent and powerful brass.

7. “Elephant King” – Yellow Ostrich

To me, “Elephant King” is almost exactly the kind of song that I want from Yellow Ostrich.  It starts off as a more subtle track, but soon builds into something crashing and lively.  Alex Schaaf’s voice has it’s wonderful, distinct, high-pitched quality to it and it is so catchy.

8. “Box-Type Love” – Run Dan Run

Run Dan Run (aside from being very nice people) have some talent.  “Box-Type Love” is upbeat despite the drawn out, slow instrumentation.  The song is soft, relaxing, and the lyrics may not be the most poignant but the words all flow and sound so good put together that it really doesn’t matter.
Run Dan Run

9. “Black Noise” – Sun Airway

The bombastic Sun Airway has created an intricate and amazing track with “Black Noise.”  It’s upbeat, it’s happy, and so catchy that you won’t be able to get it out of your head for a week.  It’s not a traditional pop song and that gives Sun Airway something unique and interesting while maintaining it’s incredible accessibility

10. “Gimmie a Reason” – Good Field

Good Field is another band made up of some very nice people.  They were nice enough to come into the station and record a performance for us.  One of the songs that they performed was “Gimmie a Reason” from their self-titled debut.  The song starts out a little rough but it soon resolves into something melodic and easy.  Everything about this track is simple, but it is quite beautiful in that simplicity.
Good Field
Honorable Mention: “All the Time” – Diamond Rings

Diamond Rings is the very interesting and entertaining persona of John O’Regan.  “All The Time” is a perfect pop song, if such a thing exists.  It is catchy, it has great electronic work amid O’Regan’s awesome deep vocals, along with universal lyrics that maintain meaning in an era of mass produced songs where the songwriters throw together nonsense to keep a beat or a rhyme.

– Matthew Jannetti, Music Director

 

Assistant Music Director’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

1. Oberhofer- Time Capsules II
Time Capsules II
Oberhofer’s debut comes in at number one for me because of the fact that I truly enjoy and listen to every song on the album.  The group’s high energy sound is something that makes every track as catchy and loveable as the last.  Most debut releases have a couple stand-out tracks in a mix of mediocrity just to play it safe, but this album delivers on every track.  Time Capsules II isn’t overly complicated, but is varied just enough to draw an audience.

2. Beach House- Bloom

With a style quite their own, it’s no surprise that Beach House’s creative new album was a great success.  Although, Bloom is a bit more solemn in style than Teen Dream was, it can arguably be considered the better album, and the best of the group’s career. Victoria Legrand’s contralto voice is haunting as always and is coupled well with a larger array of instrumentation.  Bloom marks a slightly different sound for Beach House that is more creative and impressive than ever.

3. First Aid Kit- The Lion’s Roar
The Lion's Roar
Confession: I have a small obsession with folk music, and when the Swedish sister duo released this album, I went head over heels.  Their tight vocal harmonies are truly disarming and beautiful.  Every track carries a slightly different tempo and style that gives the album a good spectrum, while still generally staying in the confines of their genre.

4. Dum Dum Girls- End of Daze

Even after being released in the latter half of 2012, this five-song EP packs a punch.  This release brings a different style to the table than the retro surf rock vibe that has come to be expected of the Dum Dum Girls.  End of Daze takes on an attractive lo-fi slower sound that is intermixed with some subtly energized tracks like “Mine Tonight” and “Season in Hell”.  Although, these are the tracks fans might be initially drawn, it’s the slower songs that are the best on the EP.

5. Passion Pit- Gossamer

2012 seemed to be the year for bands taking their sound in a different direction, and Passion Pit is no exception.  Although Gossamer does have high energy tracks like “Carried Away” that the group has put forth in the past, the overall feel of this release is mostly melancholy and serious.  This isn’t to say that the album makes you want to go sit in a corner and cry, but there is a notable difference.  I did however, along with many critics, greatly enjoy this album, despite the more serious thematic elements Passion Pit chose to focus on.

6. Sharon Van Etten- Tramp

This album isn’t one that I initially jumped on the band wagon for, but instead is one I slowly grew to love and appreciate over time.  Sharon van Etten’s unique and simple sound has the potential to be written off as boring, but if attention is given, her stylistic choices can be truly appreciated.  There are a few angsty sounding tracks like “Serpents”, which stand out initially, but many others deserve attention and recognition as well, such as “Magic Chords” and “Leonard”.  Altogether, the album is a splendidly delicate yet confident collection that is quite well crafted.
Tramp

7. Dr. Dog- Be The Void

Yet again, Dr. Dog utilizes their creativity in the release of their seventh full length album.  Being a fan of the band, it’s possible I found more to love with this release than others did, but I still think Be the Void has a lot merit.  It is complete with Dr. Dog’s customary metaphors, strange anecdotal lines, and creative sound that is hard to tie to a specific genre.  Altogether, Be the Void is fairly consistent with the band’s previous sound and carries enough variety to keep things interesting.

8. Best Coast- The Only Place

Best Coast’s debut, Crazy For You, gave them a name for themselves as a Cali surf pop rock group that had a likeable sound.  The Only Place continues in this same style and definitely adds a vintage feel to the overall sound as Bethany Consentino sings slow dreamy choruses over and over again, like something out of a 1960’s surfer flick.  In this sense, The Only Place doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor’s reputation, but, especially with its energetic title track, the album is still a very likeable release from Best Coast.

9. The xx- Coexist
Coexist
Many people felt that The xx brought their sound in a different arguably worse direction with Coexist, but I would beg to differ. Because many people want high energy tracks, Coexist’s characteristic slower tracks were not what they were looking for; however, the creative and poetic quality of the album is something to be admired.  The group also employs new and unique instrumentation, like steel drums on “Reunion” which make the album stand apart from many others.  Altogether, I believe The xx did a great job with their sophomore release.

10. Summer Camp- Welcome to Condale

Now it may technically be considered cheating because Welcome to Condale was released in late 2011, but it made its way onto our Top 100 Most Played albums of the 2012, so I will count it.  Welcome to Condale is a fun album that has a lot of energy and spunk with its alt-pop lo-fi sound.  Most tracks are very catchy, like “Down” and “Welcome to Condale”, but remain creative and unique.  Summer Camp has developed a very different sound with a great deal of mass appeal, which is evident on this release.

Assistant Music Director’s Top 10 Songs of 2012

1. “On the Sea”- Beach House
Beach House
Although this track may be overlooked in the scheme of the overall album, it is one that caught my attention from my first listen of Bloom and remains my favorite song from the year.

2. “Be the Void”- Dr. Dog

This track is surprisingly not off of Dr. Dog’s album of the same name, but from their new EP, Wild Race, which was released just a month or so ago.  The song is a catchy, fun one from the band and is sure to garner more attention with time, as the EP should as well.

3. “Yet Again”- Grizzly Bear

“Yet Again” was definitely my favorite song off of the group’s critically acclaimed release Shields.  The simplicity of the song is beautiful, yet compelling.

4. “To a Poet”- First Aid Kit

“To a Poet” tells a relatable story of the day to day trials of life that must be dealt with, but it is all told by the harmonic duo overlaid upon short piano riffs and acoustic rhythm guitar.  When all instruments cut out, we are left just with the sisters’ voices, which are truly beautiful.

5. “Oblivion”- Grimes

Grimes is definitely not the type of artist I typically find myself enjoying, but for some reason “Oblivion” got stuck in my head and wouldn’t leave.  Her eerie voice and the repetitive electronic background progression sound otherworldly, but in the best way.  Grimes creates something truly unique, and “Oblivion” is the perfect example of that.
Fiona Apple
6. “Anything We Want”-Fiona Apple

Having taken seven years between her last and most recent album, a lot was expected of Fiona Apple, and for the most part, she delivered.  “Anything We Want” is a piano based song with creative off-beat percussion and Fiona’s recognizable voice singing a story about hoping to grow up and fall in love with a close friend.

7. “Laura”- Bat for Lashes

“Laura” is a true display of talent for Natasha Khan.  The song is arguably the best off her The Haunted Man release, because of its unexpected ballad sound.  The song really shows off Khan’s vocal ability as it is simple and doesn’t include much to detract from the focus on her voice, except for the piano melody.

8. “Elephant”- Tame Impala

The allure of the song “Elephant” lies with its nostalgic quality.  The song has a heavy, slightly psychedelic rock sound that is reminiscent of the big 1970’s rock legends.  Even the song’s break for a synth riff is a dated tactic which works extremely well in this context.  Altogether, the song has an understated energy that is contagious.

9. “Lose My Head”- Body Language

“Lose My Head” is a perfect sample of Body Language’s electronic and psychedelic rock style.  The song is very repetitive which makes it all the more catchy and features a strong presence of electronic percussion and synthesizers.  “Lose My Head” is one of the best songs of the group’s new Grammar EP.

10. “I Love the Way You Seal a Deal”- Santah

I had never heard of Santah until their latest EP came into the station, but I was very impressed.  Their mix of male and female vocals over well-orchestrated melodies works to create a unique.  This song has an incredible minimalist energy that still grabs the listener’s attention.

– Heather Koenig, Assistant Music Director


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