DJ and Producer
I’ve heard people say that you’ll never really feel music again the way you could when you were a teenager. Like it’s just some fact of science that you become too jaded for songs to have the same impact that they could when your were 16. Such a wack outlook to me. I mean, I’m jaded about a lot of things now, but it’s more shit like Dennys or air travel, definitely not music.
Dubbel Dutch’s “Self Help Riddim” is exactly what I mean. This track just kills me. I’ve listened to it so much by now, but each and every time those flutes start, it’s chills the whole way through. A real masterpiece I think. It could really only be Dubbel Dutch. Low-key, the inspiration and reason for so much. Someone who figured out how to make dance music in their own way, without ever capitalizing on trends or needing some genre umbrella. I feel like with everything he touches, Marc is offering an alternative to the safe and basic in dance music. He’s a rebel and he’s so talented. That’s what I’m reaching for, that’s what we’re building Body High for, and that’s really what everyone I fuck with wants to be like.
Senior Vice President Media and Artist Relations, Def Jam
Those who know me well know that I am—unabashedly and without irony—a lifelong, obsessive Deadhead. It’s not unusual to stroll the hallways of Def Jam hearing the latest 2 Chainz or Rick Ross single blasting from offices and cubicles building-wide, and to hear a crispy ’77 “Estimated Prophet” coming from mine. So some of my favorite music released this year came from the Grateful Dead’s Dave’s Picks series (archivist David Lemeiux is a Canadian national treasure and the subject of a recent, fantastic New Yorker profile…check it out) and the Spring ’90 box set with amazing artwork by my dear bro, fellow ‘head, and friend of The FADER, Wes Lang. Wes and I both saw our first shows in 1990—he at Nassau in March and me at Foxboro in July. It’s a year renowned amongst Deadheads and obviously means a lot to both of us personally. Wes’ amazing work just puts it over the top. You don’t have to like or even care about the Dead (ok, I know you don’t) to get into Wes’ biker-meets-Native American-meets-riders of the apocalypse imagery on T-shirts, patches, hoodies, stickers and various other swag. Check it out at dead.net.
In non-Dead related news, there were various singles and albums in heavy “rotay” on the iPod:
Hot Chip, “Motion Sickness”: This one was stuck on repeat on the beach all summer. The drums make me crazy. Like, CRAZY.
Father John Misty, “Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2”: Simply beautiful. The lyrics are amazing. This is a kind-of-masterful song from a kind-of-masterful album, Fear Fun. Almost maddeningly so. Even more maddening was the campy, apologetic, schticky yet note-perfect show this guy put on at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Me and Will rapturously sang along to every word and then walked out scratching our heads like “was that good?”
Frank Ocean, “Lost”: I kind of want Frank Ocean to be an indie-rock star.
Dev Hynes: I was introduced to this guy at the FADER FORT in Austin at SXSW this year, actually. I was like who is this dude in safety orange parading around with Solange chatting up The-Dream and Ricky Rozay. Then he took the stage and I was impressed…all the cute girls were into it. The Blood Orange album became a guilty, poppy pleasure. When Solange’s “Losing You” dropped, I thought “I know that sound. I love that sound.” So it all makes sense. That guy is good.
Grizzly Bear, “Speak In Rounds”: The whole Sheilds album is sick, but this one has everything I want in a Grizzly Bear song: a pulsing beat, soaring vocals, drama, dynamics, weird, gothy-sounding harmonies, and that tasty Griz-B instrumentation as only they can do it.
Kanye West, “Mercy”: Granted, this is the home team, but people…come on. I threw suicides on the tour bus? Plus, the verse that endeared 2 Chainz to our hearts forever. Drunk and high at the same time. Totally loveable.
The realest rap songs hurt. They hurt to listen to and they hurt to make. This is something that Tupac knew and something that I think Ab-Soul may have only recently learned. “Book Of Soul,” the emotional centerpiece to his Control System LP, is ostensibly an autobiographical track but, as many do in real life, Soul constructs the entirety of his existence around a loved one. Or, rather, the loss thereof. Just months before the album’s release his girlfriend and frequent collaborator Alori Joh jumped from a radio tower. “Book” is framed as a letter to Joh and offers a detailed account of their seven year relationship, all the blemishes and the beauty and of course the end. At one point he talks himself out of a plan to fall off a fucking tower trying to find her and as he does his voice cracks at the exact pitch of a man being destroyed by his own words. I’d call it the bravest rap performance in many years if I even thought he was performing. He’s not, not exactly. This isn’t Soul imagining or recreating emotions for tape, but him giving listeners a real time document of the actual grieving process. I don’t know how he found the strength to say these things into a microphone, I just hope doing so helped relieve some of his pain.
DJ, Producer and Owner, Mixpak Records
I first heard Vybz Kartel’s “Back To Life” down in Kingston in early June when it had just dropped and was getting nonstop radio play. The song is written from the perspective of Kartel in prison and, understandably, Kingston was buzzing that Kartel was recording songs from his cell. I was struck by the potent mix of yearning, humor and stark realism in his lyrics. The energy and excitement around the song was palpable, which made his writing feel that much more powerful.
I’ve been loving my friend Carolyn’s new band, Bouquet. They are in LA. I just have a few of their songs so far, but they all have spooky, assertive, irregularly-shaped melodies and harmonies. The tunes are unpredictable but not as a consequence of dissonance, which I think it a hard thing to do. I’m into things that are unfamiliar and still beautiful.
Best of 2012:
Barack and Michelle Obama
Funkmaster Flex on Instagram
The Silent History
Andrew Kuo on Instagram
Musician, Elite Gymnastics
I read this thing on Tumblr the other day about how a Facebook like or Tumblr favorite doesn’t necessarily mean that someone appreciated something so much as it means that they want people to know they liked something, that they see the thing they are liking as being representative of the kind of person they want other people to see them as. When I was in my early 20s, the year-end lists I would make kind of served this function—as people started making lists I’d go and listen to all the albums I missed and try to curate a group of them that would communicate how smart and open-minded I was to everyone that saw it on message boards or my blog or whatever.
It’s different now because I do music for a living more or less. Most of the really important personal things that happen in my life revolve around music in some way. I know exactly what a lot of my favorite songs are about. Like “My Girls” by Animal Collective can probably be a pretty emotional experience just by representing to you the idea of family, but it would probably be even more intense if a friend of yours wrote it about his wife and daughter and you thought about them every time you heard it. A lot of my favorite music that came out this year was made by people I know, and a lot of it is tied to a lot of memories and emotions that are like, so intensely personal that making a list of them almost kind of feels like it is communicating too much about myself.
Anyway my favorite music thing from this year is the Grimes album. My friends How to Dress Well, Purity Ring, Sleigh Bells, Born Gold and Majical Cloudz also made really wonderful things too. Happy new year and stuff.
Promoter, The Bunker
It was a great year of releases all around, but Voices From The Lake’s self-titled album on Prologue was my favorite record of the year. This record really galvanized The Bunker community this year, being played at nearly every barbeque, after-hours, pre-party and dinner party I was at in 2012, and it never got old. In fact, the vinyl version just showed up last week and now I’m falling in love all over again and have a few new bonus tracks to sink my teeth into. It definitely helped that they played the set of the year at The Bunker in July, with two separate hour-long live sets and four hours of DJing. Those two hours of live material were all unreleased, so they have more than a few new albums worth of material up their sleeves that I hope gets to see the light of day soon.
DJ and writer, Awesome Tapes From Africa
LE1F, Dark York
One of my favorite artists of 2012, and one that I think will have a memorable impact, is that of Le1f. I can’t think of another rapper that is making such honest, forceful, creative and unpretentiously avant music right now. Addictive hooks, dark atmospheres and the immediacy of the lyrics show incredible potential. I am hoping to be taken aback again by this dude next year.
Assistant Curator, MoMA PS1
There were many meaningful moments for me in the past year, but the infectious track “Inspector Norse” by Todd Terje has been a constant source of pleasure for me through them all. From small Paris clubs to MoMA PS1 Warm Up to Miami for Art Basel and seemingly everywhere in between. It’s a complex song but at the same time, extremely accessible. The beat is simple yet addictive, with melodic breaks. The first listen hooks you—the song just builds and builds, carrying you throughout and forcing you to move before you even recognize it. I heard it first when my boyfriend played it for a group of friends on his roof midday last spring, and it has stayed with me. I don’t think I can ever hear it enough. My affection probably also stems from the excitement of those around me when it comes on: smiles break out across the room, energy levels rise and everyone is dancing.
For me, “La Espina del Cardenche” illustrates why music matters, in this specific era. It showcases the skill of Ezequiel Bertho, a young producer from Venezuela known as solo act Algodón Egipcio, whose work is proof of the excellent talent coming out of Latin America. But it also represents the hybridization of music via the internet, and the union of traditional and contemporary sounds. Bertho mixed traditional music from Northern Mexico and sampled “Yo Ya Me Voy a Morir a los Desiertos” by Cardencheros de Sapioriz, the only remaining cardenche group, composed of 70-year-old fieldworkers who sing about pain and heartache. Bertho pairs his loops and sequences with Cardencheros’ a cappella harmonies. These are sounds that would’ve never been put together (the Cardencheros songs had never been set to backing music before) but the result is a heartfelt and everything seems to fit perfectly. “This is how we know our music will last forever,” one of the Cardencheros said after listening to the track. That’s simply amazing.
Staff Writer, Gawker
If I had to listen to only one song from 2012 for the rest of my life, it would be the second single from Keyshia Cole’s Woman to Woman album, “Trust and Believe.” No commercial track I’ve heard this year understands where R&B is and was quite as well. Seething with sound, its snapped beats reverberate into hisses, its snare fills throw tantrums while Cole sings furiously, balancing heartbreak and righteous indignation. This should be the ballad that defines the 31-year-old’s career.
Four tracks in, “Trust and Believe” is Woman’s showstopper. It’s almost bizarre, then, how consistently entertaining the album goes on to be. Its backbone is old-school hip-hop soul, the kind of minimal, breakbeat-based R&B that Mary J. Blige (without whom Keyshia would not be possible) used to sing over. Cole’s endless supply of hooks keep midtempo from sounding mundane, but it is the album’s eventual sense of adventure that makes its 15 tracks fly by. Darkchild’s “Stubborn,” (which Cole pronounces “stub-bron,” lest you think she’s become entirely refined by Album No. 5) bridges the gap from trap to house more convincingly than even “Mercy.” “Hey Sexy” is to Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit” what Miguel’s “Adorn” is to Gregory Abbott’s “Shake You Down” (Cole previously sampled “Fruit” in “Let It Go,” here she just invokes its spirit in a more sophisticated tribute). She samples “Theme from Shaft,” duets with Ashanti on the title track (not a remake of the Shirley Brown Stax classic) and enters the canon of great R&B first lines on the airily modern “Forever”: I’m not easily impressed, but you got me fucked up.
The story of R&B’s phenomenal year centers on the heady, atmospheric turn it has taken and the men who have popularized it. Woman to Woman acknowledges the sound of Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Miguel, but it offers a much wider palate—there’s a sense of grounded soul tradition here guided by Cole’s still-feral pipes. Woman to Woman is the alternative to the alternative, a commercial R&B record delivered with so little hype, it was easy to miss. It’s destined to be an underrated gem, just like they used to make.
Host, Public radio’s The Dinner Party
Everything is embarrassing. Like, for example, saying this song is my favorite song of the year is embarrassing. I’d rather say King Tuff’s “Bad Thing” was my favorite, or Tame Impala’s “Elephant”—both smooth blasters better suited for a rock-listening testosterone creator like myself. But, if I’m being honest with myself and with you, the reader, and if I am to use any objective measure, then I must say Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing” is my favorite song of 2012. I listen to it a lot. At one point, I was listening to it six times a day, which might not seem like a lot, but when you stop and think about the fact that I work in radio for a living, and therefore my ears are occupied most of the day then you go, “Wow. That’s kind of a lot.” Now you might be asking, like I was, what is a Sky Ferreira? A high-end automobile? The answer is I don’t know, but that would make sense, because if this song were a car, it would be a high-end automobile from the ’80s, faded just so, bought on a lark by a couple of young laptoppers who use it to drive from the east side to Hollywood. I read somewhere that Michael Jackson used to visit Sky Ferreira’s family’s house when she was a child, which sounds like an exaggeration pedaled by her publicists or possible grounds for a lawsuit, but I don’t care about any of that stuff. All I know is that, when I hear this song, I start to bob, and when the hook hits I do a hip-foot thing, and that I can’t not sing the bridge out loud, and when it comes on my iPod, my head feels like a dolly-cam shooting a tracking shot for a movie about heartbreak—a movie I would never admit to my friends that I like because that would be embarrassing.
Comedian, Broad City
I am currently loving and studying Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. I’m moved by the fact that Kendrick was born the same year as me but grew up across the country and in a world that is not my reality but familiar only through representation. But he makes it feel up close and real. Kendrick feels older and wiser than I am, and I’m learning so much from him, even as a comedian. How utterly transparent Kendrick makes himself, how honest and vulnerable his lyrics are and how he can make simple shit into a deep, stuck-in-your-head hook is all inspiring. More impressive still, the album is whole and cohesive. I think he’s going be a huge commodity, and I’m stoked to be on board early in the story.
It’s not a band or a song or a label but Chris Ott’s re-launch of Shallow Rewards is far and away my most inspirational music-related ‘thing’ of 2012. After his text-centric Tumblr was hacked and deleted, Ott refocused the project by migrating to Vimeo, allowing him a more immediate, more caustic voice. His (literally) head-on accounts of bands and specific moments in music are contextually fascinating, but in this age of heightened reactivity his impassioned criticisms of music journalism and the industry ring so true that even when he’s wrong you kind of want him to be right.
Industrial Designer, Ransmeier
We almost always listen to music in the studio. On Spotify, I can jump from Roxy Music to Henryk Gorecki in five clicks through “Related Music.” Adjacency is a peculiar thing, as these two artists couldn’t be more different and yet I love them both. I would find it hard to get any work done while watching a film, and reading demands concentration. Music on the other hand can become a pleasant noise, or part of the atmosphere in the same way art and design objects can lend a certain meaning or temperature to an environment without commanding your attention.
Sometimes this is not fair to the music—most of what we listen to while working deserves more than a glancing appreciation. This is why live shows are so important. Being in a room full of other people with a collective focus is a very special type of listening. It’s emotional, psychological, haptic. This past September, I had the pleasure of attending Einstein on The Beach at BAM, the best live performance I saw in 2012. It has a reputation for being excruciatingly long, and though many people came and went during the show, I was glued to my seat and completely captivated. Afterward, walking down the street, I was struck with a sense of heightened awareness. It was absolutely immersive.
One of my favorite songs from 2012 is “Some Grace” by Hop Along, from their album Get Disowned (Hot Green Records). It sounds to me like what a child prodigy, now in their early 30s, who has left humanity to live alone on a planet she discovered herself and traveled to without telling anyone might idly compose one day and night and, before going to sleep, perform once, directing her voice vaguely in the direction of the planet where she had been born. Lyrics: It’s time to exit with some grace/ Now that you’ve given only what you know how to/ And remember in anger how happy you are/ When they come/ We came to say we got somewhere and then we got gone/ It’s time to exit with some grace/ Now that you’ve given only what you know how to/ Now that you and me have given what we know how to.
My favorite collection of songs from 2012 is maybe You Ruined It, a 4-song EP self-released by Young Family, which is Kelly Schirmann (singer, lyricist) and Sam Pink (everything else, I think, via computer programs). The songs are titled “$,” “$$,” “$$$,” “$$$$” and sound to me like examples of what a rare form of tree-ghost-computer-human hybrid, in something like 250,203 AD, contained inside a museum against its will, might sometimes very quietly emanate, as a kind of auditory, barely noticeable, passive weeping. Some lyrics (from “$$$”): I’d beat my heart up/ But my heart’s already the color of my blood/ And waking in the morning you won’t find me and (from “$$”): If it was me in your place/ I’d try to send you back home/ I’d try to send you back home/ Cause I’d want to be alone.
Promoter, Leisure System
Even though this year in (underground and experimental) music seemed to lack an obvious and outshining highlight, it was a really strong year nonetheless, maybe one of the best in the last decade or so. It seems that the underground is more diverse and active than ever and labels like PAN or Spectrum Spools, which a couple of years ago would’ve ended up in the “electro-acoustic” corner section of a record store, rose to impressive fame throughout the year—well-deserved I must add. It feels good to witness, that listeners become more and more curious and delve into the boundless eclecticism of modern day music, even though my personal highlight was the return of heroes of mine. The late ’70s/’80s industrial scene has always been the biggest influence on my personal tastes and listening habits, so that X-TG’s (the remains of what used to be Throbbing Gristle) Desertshore/The Final Report album swept away everything else during the first listen. After putting on a Chris + Cosey show myself earlier this year and being able to witness what the incredibly and mesmerizing energy they still have, the album feels not like a final chapter or a retrospective, but like the heyday of their career. The contributions of guests like Antony, Blixa Bargeld or Marc Almond make it feel not like a collection of tracks, but like a pop album full of great musical gestures—a concept that i was missing dearly throughout the last years. As with records like Ben Frost’s By The Throat or Matt Elliott’s Howling Songs, I am convinced, that I will find myself returning to this album regularly and exploring it anew with every listen.
Business Development/Content Relations, Soundcloud
“Fitzpleasure” was the first things I heard from alt-J—the track and the voice was one of the most unique sounds I experienced this year. Their sound clearly resonated with others, too, as alt-J quickly gained traction, highlighting the importance of the web to allow artists (who may fall outside of the mainstream box) to develop a passionate audience. alt-J is a band that maximizes SoundCloud: from sharing their original demos; being open to collaboration and groups; sharing their sounds to blogs and fans. By the end of the year, this all came to a head with alt-J winning the Mercury Music Prize.
Best 2012 Dance Track: “Double Take” by Girl Unit
“Double Take” deserves credit for being multi-purpose to the max for DJs, yet somehow picturesque for general listening, a rare achievement. Its complex FX and sound quality are exceptional and inspiring. A young girl’s laughter sucked in and out while a kind of modulating boiling kettle sound accenting the beat are a few examples of the dense sonic world the track inhabits. “Double Take” reminds me of Ryuchi Sakamoto’s EP-titled track, Thousand Knives—not so much stylistically, but in the masterful use of texture and syncopation. A hyper-sensuous narrative is created by FX and rhythm, releasing this track from the doldrums of purpose-driven club bangers.
Staff writer, Rookie
When I first heard the Grimes song “Genesis” my mind was, simply, blown. That haunting synth-pop song was infectious. I didn’t know whether to dance to it or have it serve as background music while I performed a séance. I was addicted and just needed to know: who was this woman? Who on earth was Claire Boucher? And so began my obsession with Grimes and her album Visions, an LP that would serve as the soundtrack to my 2012. Every single song on Visions is amazing. From the dark “Oblivion” to her dancey “Nightmusic” featuring Majical Cloudz. The whole album radiates a brilliance that I feel like is missing from so much modern music.
I consistently joke that I think that Claire Boucher of Grimes is an alien. It’s never meant to be an insult. Grimes is otherworldly to me in the sense that she goes through so many phases, sounds, and imagery until she completely transcends them. I’m often at a loss when I try to describe her music, and therefore resort to throwing out labels as some sort of word association exercise in order to get people to understand what I think she’s doing; what I think she is. Alien. Warrior. Witch. Robot. But in truth, she’s everything. She’s queen of reference, constantly collecting and morphing new sounds and lyrics until she’s made something entirely her own. I think that’s why I, and so many other young women, worship at the altar of Grimes. She’s doing to music what we’re all trying to do with our Tumblrs and our diaries, collecting and creating the personal and the multi-referential. Honestly, it all comes down to this: Grimes is just the coolest. Period.