Ok, even though I partake in the infamous Top of the Blogs awesomeness again, I won’ t really post a Top 10 list but will do this like my long abandoned monthly recaps on everything I liked (most of which is music), which just feels a little more natural than trying to force 10 somethings into a list of 10 somethings (well, I will do that for TOTB and I might post it somewhere at some time but not for now).
I’d say in contrast to last year, I went to a lot less concerts, did a lot less interviews and didn’t nearly listen to as many albums. The main reason was a really big writing-phase throughout the summer that directed my attention away from music and towards plot and character developments. On a side-note: I don’t think anything will come out of it, but whenever the muse storms into my flat and empties my fridge, I have to obey.
Anyways, despite that, I have favourites that are a lot more defined than last year’s. That does not mean that I didn’t like my last year’s favourites, it only means that this year there were albums that really accompanied me throughout (nearly) the whole time which hasn’t happened since “Hazards of Love” by the Decemberists.
My actual utmost favourite this year was Anais Mitchell’s “Young Man in America”. As I tend to say, I love good storytelling and Mitchell’s conceptual album does this in a vein that is so poetical, truly atmospheric and otherworldly, that I still get excited when I listen to it. She set this album during the time of the depression but also acknowledged that it mirrors the crisis of the waning middle-class in today’s America that once again faces worry about making a living. The paternal themes are heavy with this one, there are many songs by lovers and sons, stories about sex, pregnancy and death that the overall concept is the family and that – in itself – again reminds of the Young America, when people moved there not to make it on their own but to give their families a better life. The tenderness of Mitchell’s voice gives so much empathy to her characters and stories that oneself can’t help but feel a little love for every broken-down man or woman that can’t express their love other than through hard work. In a way, it reminds me of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s duet “Don’t give up”, which deals with unemployment and the loss of confidence in a man it can bring, despite being so much more than a work-force for his family. My favourite song is the whole album, seriously, “Young Man in America” is like Pringles, once you…, actually, it’s not like Pringles, because I don’t like Pringles, so even if I keep on eating them, once I popped them, I don’t enjoy it and rather feel horrible and sick. That does not happen with Anais Mitchell – NEVER!
(This is easily the greatest love song of this year)
Another album that hit me, hit me hard because its themes were close to home was Plants and Animal’s “The End of That”. It is a look back, a reflection of mistakes and a look at the present, where one is now and where others are. Personally, besides the songs about a sour relationship, I found two themes screaming at me (not really, because Warren’s vocals are rather beautiful): 1.) the realization that friends suddenly have families, like wedding rings and babies and that you still are not at this place and don’t seem to be anywhere near it and 2.) that past mistakes will haunt you but that you have to deal with them at some point because otherwise they will only open up old wounds again and again. It’s a rather cathartic listening experience, very raw and emotional, I’d say that what you hear on the record, you’re going to hear live, it’s a little like the Blues in its directness. My favourite is “Before”, which brings me to tears now and then.
One of my three favourite interviews of this year was with Hugo Weaving of the Maccabees. I was really excited and it was the first time that I actually blurted out how much I love a band during the interview. I usually don’t do that, there are other ways to convey respect for the art but I felt like I had to and it was just as awkward as expected. Anyways, I learned that the Maccabees argue a lot about their songs and that they had to throw out most versions of their high-profile producer and do everything again because they didn’t like it. That pushed the release-date further ahead and was a move that was very ballsy, believe me, I’ve done enough interviews with bands that were pressured into producer-opinions and felt that they didn’t have another choice. “Given to the Wild” was a great surprise for me and finally convinced me that this band will not end up on the route of many a Britpop-bands aka releasing the same thing over and over again. After “Wall of Arms”, their third release sounds a lot warmer, even though the tone of the lyrics seemed to be a little more melancholic than I was used from Orlando Weeks. Only the last song – written by Hugo – is the sweetest memory of childhood and will always be able to tear down all my walls. My favourite still is “Ayla”, probably because I love the waterfall of a piano-melody that keeps my heart racing but also because it feels like a yearning.
Speaking of the Maccabees, I – again – recommend to everyone Orlando Weeks’ overwhelming solo project “Young Colossus” that can be heard in its entirety on Soundcloud and hopefully gets reprinted for the full artistic impact as it is accompanied with a comic-book by Robert Hunter and tells the story of a young colossus, spending the night in the wild to prove herself as a grown-up. It’s the most ambitious and successful art-project to combine visuals with music in a rather unconventional way ( I know that this is not the first time, pictures go with music but it doesn’t happen that often, so there).
Another favourite, although it reached me late into the year, is Menomena’s “Moms”. The interview with Justin Harris is one of my three favourites, as it was conversational, funny and very insightful. For preparation, I dug deep into the album’s lyrics (more than I probably would have otherwise) and I am glad I did because it’s rich in lyrics and themes. Although the general opinion is, that the album is about Moms and maternal influences in life, it also deals with growing old, growing out, growing apart. Musically, it is just as quirky as expected by the guys, although I would say that it feels a little more open. It’s also a really sad album and live it gets really difficult because they are so energetic and awesome live, that you want to celebrate but at the same time, you have those really dark themes…but I guess, that’s the main intention of the band, it’s a challenge to listen to an album that is about death, loss and contemplation and has so many puns, witty one liners and grotesque images.
(There are no words for the love I have for Menomena-videos)
Ok, that was all dark and dire enough, the one album that got me out of that old black hole was Dr Dog’s “Be the Void” which is the pick-me-up album of the year if you’re in a rut and need something to grimly take on everything crappy about the world. It works wonders, I listened to it after a horrible job interview and I even got lost on my way home but I still arrived at home with…well, not a smile on my face but also without a razor blade on my wrist, so thank you Dr. Dog. But seriously, their great, playful 70s inspired rock is just as charming as their pale bodies during sunny beach-interviews.
There were a lot of other favourites but I actually managed to cover them all throughout the year. I did, though, have quite a few favourite songs and the ones that stuck were definitely Father John Misty’s “Hollywood Cemetery Sings” and Jesca Hoops “Born to”. Both have a desperation that I love and I also want to add “Skin Graph” by the Silversun Pickups just for good measure.
(I love the fact that there are numerous versions of this song out there, all individually stunning)
Oh, and for my totally obscure band tip this year, I would definitely put Kithkin and Christopher the Conquered, they both also put out some of the more perky albums in my collection.
My favourite music videos might have been the only ones I’ve seen this year, I gotta be honest, I am not one for watching music videos, for me, the internet did not replace MTV and I still miss it. Anyways, Susanne Sundfor has two music videos from her present album “Silicon Veil” which are for “White Foxes” and for “Silicon Veil” and they are both stunning, have fairy-tale and futuristic elements and would make better movies than pretentious crap like “Jack & Diane” or “Excision” (they wanted to be the next “Ginger Snaps” and “May” but only bored me out of my mind).
Let’s remember the times I really got into Loudon Wainwright, what a wild ride. He is amazing and he is one of the few people that know that being a songwriter doesn’t mean that you can’t be funny and entertain.
Let’s single out the one metal album I listened to this year: Royal Thunder with “CVI” is a wild ride and full of superstitious symbolics and a voice that quite possibly can conjure up spirits because Mlny Parson is otherworldly good.
Speaking of conjuring up spirits: another Portland favourite (next to Menomena and geez, I should mention Lost Lander as well), was Tu Fawning. Corrina Repp is not only incredibly charming, her voice is also delightfully heavy and it draws you in like she is going to put a spell on you. The sophomore “A Monument” has the greatest album cover (which reminds me of David Lynch) and creates very earth, shadowy folktales and I really regret that I didn’t get to see them live.
Let’s not forget Michael Kiwanuka. Is he nominated for a Grammy? I hope he is, I liked Frank Ocean’s album but Kiwanuka’s “Home Again” goes under my skin, I really want to see this guy live just to see whether he can deliver this feeling even without production tricks (which are damn fine for this album). It’s a deep dip into the late 60s, early 70s, even more than Aloe Blacc a couple of years ago but boy, it’s the right way of nostalgia, I don’t even want to call this retro because I still suspect that Kiwanuka travelled here from the 70s.
(well, I guess he delivers live…what a voice)
Apart from Menomena, Jesca Hoop and the Maccabees I had two other live favourites. One was the amazing Daniel Norgren who has the blues and probably never will let go of it. The other ones were Vierkanttretlager, which was weird for me because I usually don’t like the kind of music they play and I do remember one show in Rostock that I spent sitting on a couch, arrogantly rolling my eyes. However, both concerts at the Immergut festival (2012 and 2010) were fun and very exhausting and in a way intimate that only packed, grossly sweaty concerts can be. They are also one of the few bands whose German lyrics are not cringe-worthy and whenever they don the accordion, it’s pure gold.
Speaking of gross and sweaty, that’s what I will become if I succumb to my desires. I was never and never will be a foodie but if you’re ever in Berlin and happen to be around the Kastanienallee, there’s a little take-away that has the best chicken-wraps I’ve ever tasted. I can’t remember the name but there are stairs leading to the shop and the outside looks a little like a ship. The wrap is filled with coriander chicken, salad and fried potatoes, there’s also a certain acidity to it, so it never feels heavy. It’s the most glorious take-away food since I had my first Shawarma and I am not lying, I think about that wrap a lot. Hell, it made my best of music list…that’s how much I love that freaking wrap.