Due to time slipping away, I had given up on this yearly exercise. Then Roger Ebert died, and I was inspired . I work for no one, with no deadline. But my love for this music, and belief I have something to contribute compels me to at least give it a whirl. After all it was a very good year, filled with musical dreamers. If I can turn someone somewhere onto something new, it is worth the effort. Roger shared many thoughts on cinema with me, so in dedication to his craft, permit me to do this. I’ll do my best to edit myself and keep it brief. So here I go.
1] Paul Buchanan – “Mid Air”
A sustained melancholy set of songs that never stray from the mood it creates. With minimal backing of just piano and synths,the accent is on Paul’s emotional vocals. And what a voice it is.Full of longing and regret, so touching. Songs like “I remember you”, and “Two Children” remind me of Sondheim.The trumpet on “After Dark” adds to the loneliness.
Not for everyone, but a must for Blue Nile fans. If you play this in the wee small hours of the morning, it will get to you. I think it’s a masterpiece.
Just watch him perform the title track.
2]Clare and the Reasons -”KR-51″
“I’ve got words in my mouth to make you stay
I’ve got hands in my pockets to put on yours….’
Thus begins the opening song from this remarkable album. It is a song that has had me in tears many times. Clare and the Reasons can do no musical wrong. All three of their albums have been treasures. Clare’s vocals and the orchestrations conducted by Oliver Manchon are so wonderful, i can hardly express in words what this music does to me. “The Mauerpark” is another song that sends me,with a strong emotional pull. The album leads up to a trio of songs that leave me breathless. I simply can not recommend this lovely orchestral pop music higher. These are voices that deserve to be heard.
Check out their classical take on “Everybody wants to rule the world” -Awsome!
3]Sylvie Lewis – “It’s all true”
“There was a song I sang before I met you…”
My love affair with Sylvie’s music continues. Ever since I connected with her debut, “Tangos and Tantrums” , I have been in awe of her talent. She can make you laugh and just around the corner she’ll bring you to tears. She sings softly and sweetly, without a false musical note. I love it all but songs like “Kindness”, “Dylan’s Arms”, “The fish and the Bird” are quite special. A real highlight is “The doorman”, short but so meaningful. The album ends with “Give me the roses now” , based on a traditional folk song, but with a tweak it is total Sylvie, and quite whimsical.She lives in Italy , where she is musically active and speaks ,as well as sings Italian well. And just this week I discovered she is in a group there , A. K. Ellis. I’m so excited to find some new Sylvie music to listen to. Anyone out there with other tips on other music by her, please let me know. I’m all ears.
Sylvie, I love your music!
4] Kelly Hogan- “I Like to keep myself in Pain”
So nice to see a new one from this amazing singer. It’s been a while. Recorded in the same studio as “Pet Sounds” ,with a great band [Booker T.,James Gadson, her buddy Scott Ligon etc.]. The songs were given to her by esteemed artists like Vic Chestnut, Robin Hitchcock, Andrew Bird, and M. Ward. But is Kelly’s voice that shines the brightest here. She is comfortable in folk, country, jazz, gospel- just name it. This lady can sing. With all those great songwriters, it is her own composition that stands out. “Golden” was written for her friend Neko Case, but as quoted from her live shows “You go y’all”, she took it on herself. And it is a sensational performance, showcasing some gospel and grit. My very favorite song is M. Ward’s “Daddy’s little girl”. “My name is Frank Sinatra’, the song begins, and continues to invoke that artist. But this song takes a left turn at about 2 min.54 seconds , where she sings
“would I change anything for a minute
well of course I would now, who wouldn’t…” just elevates this song to something special.
Just hope we don’t have to wait too long for more music from this great artist.
“Someday you and all you put your hand to will turn Golden…”
5] Tame Impala-”Lonerism”-
Headphone album of the year. Todd Rundgren + Beatles= pure bliss. So much going on with this wildly inventive psychedelic band. Drums roll, synths swirl, guitars twist and bend, and those sweet Lennon like vocals just delight the senses. “Apocalypse Dreams’ is epic. The sonic thump of “Elephant” just kills. Heck there is a remix of this song by Mr. Rundgren. My favorite is “Feels like we only go backwards” with it’s oh so sweet vocals. The album ends with the total Lennon sounding “Sun’s coming up” that has a mind bending noise coda.Blast this at home. Play it in the car. Thrill to this trippy dream music. Can’t wait to see where these guys are going. They are wizards. True stars.
6] Eleni Mandell- “I can see the future”
Eleni continues her current direction of laid back ballads- some torch, a bit of twang and a lot of girl group vocals. She’s still a clever composer with lots of humor in the mix like “Bun in the oven”. “Magic Summertime” and “I’m lucky” illustrate what a marvelous singer she is.
“I wonder when, will they declare me the winner
and with whom will I share my tomorrow…”
She always surrounds herself with great musicians, and her partners in the Living Sisters do some background vocals. I do so look forward to her albums, and this one is a gem.
Pop Matters asked her in their “20 questions” what she wanted to be remembered for. She answered with writing good songs, and being funny. Both of these are well covered on this collection. I can see the future. More swell Eleni Mandell music.
Check out her live take on “I’m Lucky’ in the second clip.
7] The DB’s =”Falling off the sky”
I do enjoy seeing some of my favorite bands reforming and playing again. But I don’t expect the results to be as great as this album. The albums kicks off With a kick, and how ironic after all this time that the song is called “That time is gone”. And the cool songs keep coming along with great pop hooks and vocals.These guys sound great. Thrill to those harmonies and moments like the twin lead guitar solo on ‘Before we were born”. “Wright Back” .a Will Rigby tune is so catchy it played in my head for a week. I’ve seen criticism of the strings on “Far away and Long ago” as syrupy. I love them and Chris Stamey’s moving vocals.”Send me something real” and ‘World to cry” are simply top notch pop tunes. All in all, a terrific pop album that is a pleasure to listen to. This far exceeded my expectations. Hope there is more to come.
8] Jens Lekman-” I know what love isn’t”
Latest from the Swedish Bacharach continues his catalog of songs dealing with the ups and downs of romance. His warm conversational voice mixes with piano, Spanish guitar, sax,and strings to paint pop portraits of mostly break ups. And really no one quite does this like him, with his melodies and word play.In “Become someone else’s ” he sings,
“That lonesome feeling and what it tells us,
Sleeping on my arm til it becomes someone else’s…”
On the aptly titled “The World Moves on”
“You don’t get over a broken heart
you just learn to carry it gracefully …”
And on the title song when he sings ” So let’s get married” a girl breaks out laughing.
There is much to admire here for the true pop fan. Well arranged chamber pop wrapping around many observations about a breaking heart. While his last album, “Night falls over Kortedala” was his masterpiece, this is still a compelling collection. As David Bloom writes in his Popmatters review, “a breakup album for the well adjusted “.
9] Allo Darlin -”Europe”
How I long for the days of listening to Heavenly, The Darling Buds, and Sarah Records. I used to go the Vintage Vinyl in Evanston ,Illinois and buy all these groups, then play them constantly. Allo Darlin takes me right back there. It is difficult to put in words what this album does to me. The band jangles, and there is a youthful invigorating quality to these songs. There is heartbreak for sure, but also optimism creeps in. Elizabeth Morris is the main focus with her timeless voice that move effortlessly through these songs with the greatest of ease.
On “Some people say” she sings:
“I have a feeling that this day will be amazing…”
From the terrific title song:
This is life this is living…”
Pop songs are mentioned throughout , in fact they are almost like characters in the songs. In the emotional “Tallulah”, Tallulah Gosh and the Maytals are name dropped. Also this stunning statement:
“I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that will mean something…”
Current groups Camera Obscura and The Tender Trap come to mind. In fact at one time Elizabeth played with Amelia in the Tender Trap. But Allo Darlin is a special band, that stands alone in their pop status. A remarkable band well worth seeking out.
Watch Elizabeth and her ukulele play “Tallulah” in the second clip.
10]Graham Parker and the Rumour- “Three Chords Good”
What a rush to have these guys back.Like the DB’s reunion, it was a great year to see the return of Graham Parker and the Rumour. They made one of the greatest all time albums. “Squeezing out Sparks”, and really good do no wrong. Graham sang with a passion, and the band just rocked. I was hesitant at first listen, but as all good music it wasn’t long before I realized how great this album is. Songs like “Long emotional ride ” and the protest rock of “Arlington’s busy” ,and the cool vibes of the title song make it seem like they never left us.
“whatever it is that girl put a spell on me…”
The band is as solid as ever, but it is Graham’s vocals that rule. He sounds amazing. No one can quite spit out those words like he can. Two other songs stand out for me. In the cool jazzy “Old Soul” , Graham sings at his best, and the band concocts a magical spell with a nifty organ solo.But the real killer comes with cut #11-”Coathangers” . This songs stand up to their best, with a killer melody , a perfect guitar solo, and lyrics like :
“In the world of the blind, the one eyed man can see…”
There is no concession to it being 2012 here. Just a classic rock album by a band that knows how to do this well. More please!
11] Glen Hansard-”Rhythm and Repose” -an emotional beauty.
12] Kathleen Edwards” “Voyageur’- “For the record, I only wanted to sing songs…”
13]Dirty Projectors- ‘Swing lo magellan’ – Amber Coffman rules-what a voice
14]Rufus Wainwright- “Out of the game”- Rufus pop album
15] The Shins – “Port of Morrow” Pure pop for now people
16] Avett Brothers- “The Carpenter”-Best Americans album of the year
17] Sondre Lerche- “Bootlegs” -The great pop stylist with a cool rockin’ band- makes me want to see him so bad.
18] Beach Boys- “That’s why God made the radio” – well crafted title song- album concludes with a trio of Brian songs that are right up there with his best
19] Martha Wainwright- ‘Come home to Mama”- Her best vocals to date
20] Donald Fagen “Sunken Condos”- Should i be surprised at just how good this is?
21] Beach House- ‘Bloom” -”Myth” is a song of the year candidate
22] State of the Union -The great Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams
23]Grizzly Bear -”Shields” Awesome vocals
24 Norah Jones- “Little broken hearts” Seductive
25 Lori Carson – “Another year” A real find thank you Spotify. So good!
26 Lambchop- “Mr. M “- Lush .
27Loudon Wainwright iii- “Older than my old man now” The third album on this list from this talented family. And a new Lucy Wainwright Roche coming.
28 Bob Dylan “Tempest” -took me a while to adjust to his voice. Some very good songs here.A couple long ones. I’d have to say a real return to form.
29 NRBQ-” We travel the spaceways”-A nice live set by a still great band. Nice to hear them play Sun Ra.
30 Michael Smith- “Old Man Dancing” The superb Chicago folk artist with a fine set of new tunes. I can’t begin to count the number of times this artist has brought me to tears at a live gig.
Songs of the year:
Beach House “Myth”- Breathtaking.
Clare and the Reasons -”The Lake” So beautiful.
Beach Boys- ‘That’s why God made the radio” Such vocals
Dirty Projectors- “Gun has no triggers”- Dear Amber just kills in the chorus
The Shins “It’s only life”- James Mercer at his pop finest.
Kelly Hogan “Daddy’s little girl” M. Ward’s weird take on Sinatra.
Allo Darlin “Europe” Never fails to excite me.
Flaming Lips- “God only Knows ” From the Mojo tribute cd.
Bill DeMain- “In your letter”
Bill Demain “Extended Stay” 6 song EP from the wonderful pop guru. Can we have 12 more like these please?
Recordings of special merit ;
Paul McCartney- ‘Kisses on the bottom’
So much better than other rock stars trying out their stab at the Great American songbook. This elegant , laid back collection is well designed. Terrific arrangements by Diana Krall which leads to sensitive backing by her group. Also some lovely orchestrations by masters like Alan Broadbent and Johnny Mandel. Sir Paul is in excellent voice ,and his song selection is right on. An obscure one .”My very good friend the Milkman ” is refreshing .I love the fact that he does “The Inch Worm”, always a fave of mine. ‘My Valentine ‘, one of two originals is Paul at his best. This is well worth checking out.
Meredeth d’Ambrosio- ‘By myself”
For her 17th release, Meredeth devotes the entire set to songs written by Arthur Schwartz. The music is just her on vocals and piano. and it is a quiet revelation. Songs like ” Is there someone lovelier than you ” ,” I guess I’ll have to change my plan” ,and “Something to remember you by ” are as beautiful as anything I have heard all year. No, this is not some indie rock artist , but a seasoned pro spinning indelible melodies, and pop songs that have stood the test of time. She ends the set with “Haunted Heart ” ,a fitting close to a remarkable album.
I need to check out :
Hiss Golden Messenger , Allah -Las, Parquet Courts, Kurt Vile, Haiku Salut, Phosphorescent,
Matthew E. White, Mikal Cronin, Youth Lagoon, The Fresh and Onlys, Foxygen ,Solange ,Bill
Fay, Ducktails, Caitlin Rose, Wild Nothing, Savages, Django Django, William Tyler, Mac Demarco , Melody’s Echo Chamber, Elle Macho
Looking forward to :
Christopher Owens [Girls] , Yo La Tengo, Jim James, Flaming Lips, Edwyn Collins, Low, Josh Rouse, John Grant, Living Sisters, Tristen, Camera Obscura , Attic Lights, Club 8 ,Nicole Atkins,
Iron and Wine, Ron Sexsmith
I can dream can’t I :
Prefab Sprout [there actually has been some talk of one], Roddy Frame [I read he was recording], Gary Clark [Danny Wilson], Swan Dive [or more solo Bill DeMain], Pearlfishers
Shout out – Mojo magazine -Consistently great. Well worth the subscription charge.
The Roots- For their late night musical contribution to Jimmy Fallon.Look forward to what they are up to every show.
Hope musical lovers may find something new as a result of my list. If so, please let me know.
Thanks to my wife for allowing me to keep up with all these musical dreamers.
Add some music to your day and enjoy.
God save the Kinks!