2012 has been an awesome year for music. It’s also been a year that I’ve become more immersed in, aware of, and amazed by the creative community in DC. There are so many good bands in our city playing great music, creating cool events, and most of all supporting each other. So when it came time to think about the year in music, I thought I’d ask some of my favorite bands in DC right now what they’ve been listening to in this past year. Most of these songs were released in 2012, though there are a few oddballs thrown in too… I was surprised that only one song made it on more than one band’s list of top picks.*Also a pleasant surprise was that I haven’t heard a ton of these tracks, so I have a lot of listening to look forward to. I got such a great response from the bands I reached out to that I had to break this into two parts, so today’s picks are chosen by Ugly Purple Sweater, Silo Halo, Paperhaus, Screen Vinyl Image, and E.D. Sedgwick. Tomorrow we’ll hear from Shark Week, The Torches, Foul Swoops, Coup Sauvage & the Snips, and Typefighter.
Singer Sam McCormally shares his picks for the year.
1. “Hoarders” by Cuddle Magic
The single most precise and interesting band I saw this year. “Hoarders” is centered on the simplest of musical ideas: just two notes, first sung, and then played on xylophone and piano, repeating underneath as the rest of the song builds and changes around it.
2. “Who” by St. Vincent and David Byrne
I don’t tend to gravitate to supergroups (who does?) but “Who” stands out to me because it sounds like two Very Serious Artists getting together and having the most fun possible making music together.
3. “Three White Horses” by Andrew Bird
When Andrew Bird takes away all the looping and bells and whistles, you get to hear his crackerjack band playing together, and really, what band feels better? That singing-saw sound halfway through is just one of Bird’s trademark bowing techniques.
4. “Silent Song” by Daniel Rossen
As much as I love Rossen’s other band, I didn’t think it would be fair to give two spots groups featuring members of Grizzly Bear. Tie goes to Rossen: he treats the rock band like a chamber ensemble, giving each instrument an essential role in the composition.
5. “Guilford Avenue Bridge” by Dan Deacon
Deacon is a shaman of the concert experience. He tells absurd, fantastical stories and commands the audience to perform dance moves. He’s a visionary, and while his recordings don’t nearly do justice to the religious experience of his concerts, they are about as energizing and ornate as anything out there.
6. “See Thru You (feat. Erikah Badu)” by Flying Lotus
A musician friend of mine says he never listens to Flying Lotus before a show or when he’s about to start working on a track. I know what he means: Until the Quiet Comes makes me feel like an underachiever.
7. “Only in My Dreams by Ariel Pink
Ariel Pink manages to have it both ways on just about every level. It’s emotional and genuine, and yet funny and ironic. It sounds contemporary (tied to the ubiquity of synthesizers and shoe-gaze pop) but also like a nightmare of late 80’s FM radio.
8. “Anything We Want” by Fiona Apple
I’ve been teaching songwriting and music to high schoolers for the past couple of months, and I was delighted to learn that a couple of my students are into Fiona Apple. And we agree about hardly any music at all. What’s even crazier is that I also liked her when I was in high school. She’s one of the only artists that gets me at 28, me at 16, and current 16 years olds to agree about anything.
9. “Strangers” by Lotus Plaza
Sadly, I have nothing clever to say about this track. But I think that’s because it puts me in a very strange, indeterminate mood, which is to its credit.
10. “The Shape of Things to Come” by Zammuto
I was very sad when Nick Zammuto’s old band, The Books, broke up, but it’ll be fascinating to see where this new project takes him.
Greg Svitil(guitar, keys, vocals) and Christopher Goett(guitar, vocals) share their favorite songs of the year.
1. “Easy Undercover” by 2:54
CG: I could easily pick any of the songs off of 2:54’s self-titled debut LP. “Easy Undercover” opens with the line, “I never meant to start a fire tonight…” featuring a pulsing and taut rhythm section that harkens back to Isola-era Kent (in a great way). Call and response vocals/harmonies play off open guitars that balance a haunting, energetic vibe.
2. “The Seer” by Swans
GS: The mammoth title song from a colossal body of music, skillfully and delicately controlled throughout each boil and simmer.
3. “Angles” by Lee Ranaldo
CG: I dig how this song’s burst of opening electric guitars recede in volume to accompany arpeggiated acoustic guitars. Vocals enter with hazy nostalgic narrative prose anchored in time, place, and recollection. The “middle eight” exhibits some stellar and tasteful guitar melodies. “Angles” goes by in a blink, or so it seems, because of all these engaging elements.
4. “Apostle” by Marissa Nadler
GS: From “The Sister,” the companion piece to her self-titled album from last year; the records are a perfect pair. “Apostle” is largely made from her earth-moving voice and guitar, leaving the bones of the song exposed and powerful.
5. “While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming” by Tamaryn
CG: Tamaryn’s most recent LP fuses elements of their first two releases into a nice cohesive album. This second track really sets the scene for the listener. It has all the elements: lovely layered guitars, a subtle yet gritty bassline, powerful drums, and ethereal vocals.
6. “We All Have To Find Our Own Way Out” by Mark Eitzel
GS: Especially straight-to-the-gut wisdom from someone who’s much in the habit of giving us just that.
7. “A Little Past Midnight” by Gap Dream
CG: These fun-loving Ohioans crashed with me this past fall during their run of several dates throughout the northeast and midwest. This tune is the B-Side on their recent Ali Baba 7” release via Suicide Squeeze. A driving yet woozy number that features slightly detached vocals and layered space-y guitars with great aplomb.
8. “Waves” by Mount Eerie
GS: The magnificent and majestic midway peak of the “Ocean Roar” album/expedition. Phil Elvrum imagines a log floating at sea, and moments later makes a mountain of sound to rest on his foundation.
9. “All Gone White” by Disappears
CG: This song is off their most recent album “Pre-Language” and starts with a propulsively catchy bass line and drum beat pairing. Sheets of distorted guitars enter with a piercing guitar melody that sets the stage for the speak-singing vocals. A collectively engaging and off-kilter burst of energy closing the first side of this LP.
10. “Dead Composers Dance Alone” by Trophy Wife
GS: This album arrived at my doorstep with spot-on timing. I’d been writing, but really missing the mark where the songs wanted to go. This record disrupted all of that meandering. It was medicinal. It gave the clarity necessary to go well below the surface and have a real look around. It wasn’t a matter of being stuck on a phrase or a chord; it was about becoming reacquainted with candidness and discomfort, letting the wounds be as they are, and not fighting the unpleasantness. “Sing what scares you / draw what heals you.”
11. “Onwards to The Wall” by A Place to Bury Strangers
CG: This is the title track of an overlooked and excellent 12” EP released earlier this year via Dead Oceans. This song features a male/female interpersonal duet (guest vocals by Alanna Nuala) complete with flanged bass lines that should make Cure fans smile. This track is sonically ‘minimal’ by APTBS standards, but that adds to the weight and opens up space in the stereo-field for the drums and bass to drive the vocal interplay with guitars providing ambient elements.
12. “Walk Like A Giant” by Neil Young with Crazy Horse
GS: Crazy Horse in full glorious catharsis, Neil yearning and exorcising, in movements. When this song ends, I want a long silence to notice that I’m in a different place than where I was when it began.
Paperhaus: Alex Tebeleff and John Di Lascio share their 2012 picks.
1. & 2. “Brains/Stem” by Lower Dens
Alex: I don’t think any song or album got played more in the house this year, it definitely had a huge influence on us. “Brains” is psychedelic music at it’s absolute finest and most beautiful. The “Stem” that finishes the piece compliments it perfectly with groove and sound textures that make it hard to not be totally focused in on what you are hearing.
3. “Epizootics” by Scott Walker
John: Through the haze of musical farts, fat jokes, and a Christmas song about the execution of Nicolae Ceaucescu, 60-something sonic wrecking ball Scott Walker sways even the most closed minded listener with this nightmarish trip through Hawaiin hell. Slippery slide guitar, explosive drum beats, and devastating horn lines destined to be sampled on Kanye’s next album, Epizootics, like the rest of Bish Bosch, is an “accidental” kick in the bollocks
4. “Brilliant Colors” by Laughing Man
Alex: Got to represent with my fellow Paperhaus bandmate Brandon Moses’ band Laughing Man. The song, the performance, and the production are all amazing. The additions of Anthony Pirog’s guitar solo, which sounds like the best solo Adrian Belew never did on David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, and Hays Holiday’s always brilliant production, helps make this my personal favorite track out of DC this year. Every DC musician needs to hear Hays Holiday’s DC music compilation, “Rainbow Arcade,” that this was featured on.
5. “Hang A Picture” by Thee Oh Sees
Alex: Another contemporary psychedelic classic, this song just creates a certain feeling that is both sublime and very much alive. And that melody….I just keep on waking up humming it!
6. “Who” by David Byrne & St. Vincent
Alex: Two of Paperhaus’ favorite songwriters get funky together, this song has so many wonderfully weird transitions that make you keep listening. Clearly, a sign of top level songwriting at work.
7. “Wiser” by The North Country
Alex: Just a beautifully written song by one of our favorite bands in DC, you could easily show up to any random Paperhaus practice and find us doing an impromptu cover of this song.
8. “Sleeping Ute” by Grizzly Bear
John: “But I can’t heeeelp myyy(budabump)seeelf”- right there: the budabump.
9. “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean
Alex: I am so happy to hear R&B getting funky again, it’s been a while! This album is clearly the best large scale R&B release since D’angelo’s “Voodoo.” I feel like we are just beginning to see what this guy can do. This track just best exemplifies what makes the record special as whole.
10. “About to Die” by Dirty Projectors
Alex: Couldn’t leave this list without a track from “Swing Lo Magellan,” if only because it was the only album we listened to on an East Coast mini-tour in the summer time. The lyrics to this song are just incredible, it’s a truly thoughtful existential song, and the groove is as good as any song I’ve heard all year. Pop music doesn’t get better or more creative than this!
In no order:
1. “Kingmaker” by Dead Leaf Echo
We go back a long way with DLE and they have been quite busy this year touring and recording. This 7″ gets a lot of play in our studio and a great indication of where the band is heading with their next release.
2. “Problem” by Bloody Knives
Bloody Knives take Shoegaze and use Industrial and Thrash Metal as a catalyst to propel their music beyond what most bands are doing with the gaze genre. It’s like a bunch of thrash heads discovered a box of Curve EP’s which sounds like the raddest thing ever.
3. “Majority Stakes” by Lorelei
One of the many amazing tracks off of Lorelei’s album Enterprising Sidewalks, haunting and beautiful from our favorite Slumberland band.
4. “On the Tiger Train” by Legowelt
It would be easy to point towards a track like Elements of Houz Music or Rave Till Dawn which show Danny Wolfers mixing house, techno, acid, and uk rave into his own unique sound, but this track captures all that we love about Legowelt. From his latest release, The Paranormal Soul which also gets best album art of the year.
5. “Digging Shelters” by Neil Halstead
One of the only artists out there who is able to conjure up that same eery magic Nick Drake captured years ago on tape. This record has hardly left our turntable since we picked it up.
6. “Inner Worlds” by Pony Trash
It’s shoegaze, Mazzy Star, and Neil Young complete with epic swells and awesome guitar solos.
7. “Deep Into Memory” by Svengalisghost
We first heard this track off a mix Steve Summers did this summer and it hasn’t left our heads since. From the excellent L.I.E.S. label in Brooklyn.
8. “The Enemy” by The Raveonettes
These two know how to write a song better than 99.9% of the bands doing this same sound.
9. “Utopian Disaster (End)” by Silent Servant
Dark minimal techno is right up our alley and Silent Servant has it in spades. This is the best track off of Negative Fascination from the Hospital Productions label.
10. “Escape” by Nightmare Air
Pouring over the brim with melody and riffs, like you get half way through and think there can’t possibly be more and then there is.
Singer/guitarist Justin Moyer (aka E.D. Sedgwick) shares what he has been listening to this year…
1. “Jingle Bells”
‘Tis the season to be jolly, so get fucking jolly!
2. “Hello, Everybody”
“Hello, Everybody” is a greeting song sung by children around the world when they arrive at school, dance class, art class, et cetera. I wasn’t aware of this song until I had a kid. It seems like it should be sung at work and before concerts as well.
3. “Come On Let’s Go” by Ritchie Valens.
This song is about sex, but pleasant, uncontroversial sex with no complications. The sex in this song is probably had on a Sunday afternoon while the kids are out of the house.
4. “Frosty the Snowman”
What more can be said about a classic?
5. “Five Little Pumpkins”
A Halloween essential for any child. My daughter likes the part when the five little pumpkins sitting on the gate “roll out of sight.” She was a kitty-cat for Halloween this year. Awesome.
6. “Open Them, Shut Them”
This is a song that teaches little kids how to open and shut their hands. Pretty important stuff. My daughter is into it.
7. “Where is Thumbkin?”
My daughter really likes this song, especially the part where “Tall Man” hides behind your back.
8. “Deep in the Heart of Texas” by Gene Autry
My daughter really likes this song, especially the part where you clap.
9. “Double Rainbow” by Protect-U
Protect-U are former hardcore guys that lost their way and now make techno, but the techno is pretty okay, I guess. My daughter doesn’t like them much, though.
10. “This Party Blows” by Crime
Crime is a cool electro band from Berlin that E.D. Sedgwick toured with last month. Hopefully, we’ll record our version of this song soon.
*correction! 2 songs appeared twice- “Who” by David Byrne & St. Vincent, and “Apocalypse Dreams” by Tame Impala.