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Best Music of 2012, sez me

Posted in General Store, and Random Personal Nonsense

Right up front, I feel compelled to admit that peer pressure has brought me to this open window in MarsEdit, and to the playlist that’s running behind it in iTunes. My friend Dana Nordaune, whose musical taste I respect and adore, posted a thoughtful, well-documented Ten Best Recordings of 2012 on her Facebook page. I loved it, and immediately set about listening to the songs and artists I hadn’t heard. But I also came face to face with my own self-perceived inadequacy.

You see, I used to make annual mix discs for friends, distributed with clever labels and nice artwork, and often wrapped in Christmas paper. They weren’t retrospectives of the current year’s releases, just a bunch songs I happened to be digging at the time, occasionally on a theme. People liked them. People complimented me. People popped the discs in at holiday parties. We need not dwell on that one time when a friend started playing one of my mixes, only to be over-ruled by her guests, who hated it.

So, yeah. Dana’s list-making got to me, and I quickly tried to assemble a mental retrospective of 2012. The first thing I realized was that I’ve been listening to a lot of “old” music. I seemed to be focused on favorite artists; either playing familiar stuff as comfort food, or digging into their back catalog for gems I had somehow missed. I spent quality time with Eleni Mandell, Calexico, Guster, The Nields, and Old 97s, to name a few. I also laid some unexpected nostalgia on the next generation, building a playlist for my nieces and nephews called Music Education. Its shocking reliance on early 80s awesomeness from The B-52s, The Cars, The Romantics, The Clash, Queen, etc. surprised even me. But hey, the kids loved it and it builds strong bones. And maybe mohawks.

The final non-2012 element of my musical year was discovery (thanks to friends) of great 2011 music. (I hate when that happens.) See Neko Case soundalike Lydia Loveless, Dengue Fever, Fleshtones (listened to, but not loved until this year), and the latest from faves Nathan Hamilton and Michael Fracasso.

(When is she getting to the Best of 2012?)


Owing to my late start and lack of previous focus on the idea, I used automation to gather up all of the 2012-released music I had acquired. This seems, even to me, like a cheater’s way, but it does at least point out where my head was at during the various moments last year when I was adding new music to my life. From there, I did a lot of memory-jogging, and also a bit of analysis of what tracks had ended up on playlists I had made throughout the year. And I noted which albums I acquired because they seemed cool, but turned out disappointing. There were a surprising number of those.

I freely admit that this is more a geek’s method of finding gold than an art critic’s. For this, I’m sorry. I can only work to do better next year.

Having gone on at such length, I’ll forego detailed descriptions or praises of albums, songs, and artists. I will say, looking at the list, that half of it seems to reflect continued love for favorite artists (Caroline Herring, Calexico, Buddy Miller, Lucy Kaplansky), while another few tracks reflect new discoveries (Oppenheimer, Laura Gibson, and especially April March). and while some tracks are here to represent great albums (Kathleen Edwards, The Heavy) there are others (Imperial Teen, the dBs) that came to me one song at a time. You’ll have to work out for yourself whether the albums are any good, as I will over the next few weeks.


Track Artist Album
Chick Habit April March Chick Habit
Candy The Men Open Your Heart
Fireflies Caroline Herring Camilla
Sidecar Kathleen Edwards Voyageur
Can’t Play Dead The Heavy The Glorious Dead
Runaway Imperial Teen Feel the Sound
That Time Is Gone The dB’s Falling Off the Sky
Stay Useless Cloud Nothings Attack On Memory
Vampire Girl Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale Buddy and Jim
La Grande Laura Gibson La Grande
Song For G Oppenheimer The Racket Takes Its Toll
Epic Calexico Algiers
Sleep Well Lucy Kaplansky Reunion

*Listed in the order I would play them for you, not by preference or alphanumeric precision

One Comment

  1. Dana

    Oh, some things to check out here! I don’t know Oppenheimer, Caroline Herring or Lucy Kaplansky. We tried to see The Men a couple times at SXSW last year, but SXSW sucks and we weren’t able, or willing, to do what it would have taken. All the “rules” around mixes, both written and unwritten, can fuck with me. The “best of” annual mix has become an exercise of sorts, each year finding me struggling to work within the confines of my own self imposed rules for this particular mix. I think your best of is absolutely equally valid, and thank you for pulling it together! I know there aren’t many people who even pay attention to this thing we love to do, but I do. Also, I’d love a copy of your Music Education mix – you know where to send it. 😉

    January 9, 2013

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