Music Albums of the year 2012

Regular readers know I like a music post from time to time. This one is my end of year look at this years best albums. For me, this year had plenty of good albums, but not one I think that stood out as something really special, or ground breaking. Mojo magazine went with Jack White’s album, as their number one which shows what I mean. Good, but a bit retro. I like this album, but I haven’t played it in a few months. So for my number one, I went with something different.

Fiona Apple - The idler wheel. Best of the year?

Fiona Apple – The idler wheel. Best of the year?

Album of the year

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

For the second year running, I’m selecting an album by a female artist (last year it was PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake”). This one a more unusual choice for me in the respect that I had never bought anything from Fiona Apple before, prior to this year. This means to me she was pretty much a new artist, albeit one with a back catalogue to explore. However with running this blog this year, I took more of an interest in poetry, short story, song lyrics and that whole area. Fiona’s album has a clever mix of intelligent lyrics. and phrasing, and the way she delivers or sings them, with subtle adjustments in her voice, mean there is lots to continually find. It made a good balance for me against the aforementioned interests. Musically it is also pretty subtle, a little low key, a lot of percussion, but it lends a touch of freedom which shows through in the album as a “whole” (speech marks intended). Try “Werewolf” or “Regret” as examples.

Runners up, were Bat for Lashes (another female artist), which I like a lot but as a fairly recent release, I’ve not lived with it long enough. Tame Impala with its neat way of live band dance music, and rolling drum beats, is also pretty cool, and a good soundtrack to various things going on in my life.

Further close calls include Bob Mould’s “Silver Age” (regular readers will know I’m a big fan and only recently saw him live for the first time). Bruce Springsteen also had a good, accessible record in “Wrecking Ball” which seemed to fit in with this election year (in the US). See also honorary mentions which I think are all good albums work checking out.

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Am I too addicted to buying new music?

Some recent buys and yes, I’m boring enough to burn downloaded music to CD so I can also play it via my stereo.

No results to “the experiment” parts 1 or 2 this week, I haven’t got round to writing it yet. My mind is on other projects, so I had to add a bit of finish to this half written post, instead.

I love music. Regular readers of this blog will know and understand this. An early post of mine discussed how music influences me, or more specifically, what music and writing have in common, to me anyway. I’ve blogged on music lots of times, although not too much recently. I’m always hearing new things I like on radio Sirius XMU, or reading about music that sounds interesting in Mojo magazine or on Pitchfork. So I like getting hold of it. I’m mostly talking about albums here. The snob in me looks down on just buying individual tracks. I’m an old timer in that sense. You can tell I’m a music fan when I love the album over downloading seemingly random tracks.

My current dilemma involves buying new music. Although I prefer CDs (for the quality of the format), I’m quite willing to try new music as downloads, especially when the price is good, that always seems to serve as a good introduction. But naughty Amazon.com keeps putting albums on a $5 or sometimes even less, price. So what is a music fan to do I ask you? Ok I shall give you the answer. Buy some music. Bring it on…

So I both do, and did. And you know what, it’s great. Problem is, when you get a new album, especially a half decent, or good, or great one, they take four or five listens to really open up and to begin to get to know the songs a bit. Your mind needs time to decode the layers. Usually a song that sounds great straight away, rarely lasts that long, before fading into the sometimes played. So time is needed to play new music, to fall for the lyrics, the melodies, the beat, the timbre, or whatever facet grabs you most. And I’m now getting a bit of a backlog of albums I’m trying to familiarise myself with. Here is a list of recent buys, loosely grouped into genres although admittedly some could cross into several groups:

Pop / Folk

  • The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do – Fiona apple
  • What we saw from the cheap seats – Regina Spector
  • Thats’s why God made the radio – The Beach Boys
  • Yours trully cellophane nose – Beth jeans houghton
  • Home again – Michael Kiwanuku
  • Tramp Sharon Van etten
  • Valtari – Sigur Ros
  • Bloom – Beach house
  • Master of my make-believe – Santigold
  • Dr dee – Damon albarn
  • Huh? – Spiritualized

Rock / Alternative

  • Maraqopa – Damien jurado
  • Oceania – The Smashing pumpkins
  • Neck of the woods – Silversun pickups
  • Open Your Heart – The Men
  • Celebration rock – Japandroids
  • Ghostory – School of seven bells
  • Funeral Blues – Mark Lanegan
  • Blunderbuss – Jack White

Dance / Soul

  • Hurry up, we’re dreaming – M83
  • Wonky – Orbital
  • The bravest man in the universe – Bobby Womack
And this is not everything either, there is probably some I’ve missed. Some of the above I am more familiar with than others. Thus far I would recommend checking out tracks from the Bobby Womack album, Fiona Apple, Jack White, Damien Jurado, Spiritualized, and if you like a good rock / slightly punk album, Japandroids. Though that said, none of the above strike me as bad thus far. For example if you’ve liked Orbital in the past, you’ll probably like that one. Oh and I’ve also bought the Sugar “expanded” reissues (when I was in the UK where they came out earlier and had dvd discs). I loved that band, they are one of my all time favourites. I’m obviously familiar with those though.
To help with this fun problem I recently received (a few weeks ago) an expensive but completely fabulous gift from my lovely wife and son. It was a pair of these superb Grado Labs SR225i headphones. You can keep your Dr Dre, or Bose headphones, I’m not criticising them, and I do own a few pairs of Sennheisers which are decent, but I prefer Grado Labs.

quiet now.. come to daddy..

This particular pair are open headphones which means if you are sitting nearby you will also be able to hear what is being played. But as anyone familiar with how headphones work can tell you, you can get a much better sound out of open headphones than you can closed ones. It is to do with the airflow. These headphones really are fabulous, they do a great job of opening up the sound, great clarity on instruments, great separation, they introduce things you have not noticed before. As a downside, they also show up when MP3 quality can be bad (the detail isn’t in the file to play), or when something has a dense mix and the separation is not there. These headphones are great, noticeably different from e.g. a $50 pair. An upgrade from my older pair Grado Labs Sr60i (also very good). And more encouragement to buy more music. Oh well, I love music, what can I do.

Music. It’s my addiction. Am I addicted to buying new music? Well of course, and old music as well. I love it. It is entertaining and inspiring in so many ways. If only I had time to do it justice. This addiction I’m ok with. Oh by the way, suggestions for other new good music are welcome below.

Lexicon word of the day: pudendum.