Friday, December 28, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2012

 1. Tame Impala - Lonerism - Modular Recordings

This album feels like a familiar coat that I want to put on day after day, no matter how many other people are sick of seeing it. It’s incredibly warm, and to me, I feel good in it every day. Lonerism is incredibly multicolored and the psychedelic wanderings let my brain go in five different directions at once, giving me the perfect distraction from everyday life, and an endless, luminous zone of hazy pleasure. It is always an escape, and although every song could have been simply contrived late Beatles shit, every song is its own. Plus, the lyric “whoopsie daisy/I thought I was happy” in “Why Won’t They Talk to Me” and the buzzy guitar line in “Elephant” are two perfect entities that I just want to hug forever.

2. Django Django - S/T - Because Music

A primal rush of what sounds like pure spontaneity but feels like meticulously, brainily planned artwork, this album came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet into the jungle. I don’t know why I suddenly feel like I joined a Native American tribe when I listen, but, oh, wait, it’s because the percussion is skittery and the vocals are poppy (not like popular, but actually, they pop – like the corn) and my body starts convulsing into something that probably resembles some traditional dance requires a full headdress and some kind of body paint. “Default” is hands down the most enjoyable song of the year.

3. Grizzly Bear – Shields – Warp

I’ve been saying this same stupid phrase over and over again, but I’m serious: Grizzly Bear has been making languid a good thing since 2004. And I can’t get over how they get more and more interesting with every album, seeming to get more insular but also more relatable at every turn. These are gorgeous shimmering ballads and drawn-out guitar squalls that really make you listen and think and concentrate on the music. I rarely get stuck on a song that moves at the speed of quicksand, but “The Hunt” is entirely too beautiful for me to comprehend. How do you even invent choruses that convey such raw sadness that I can strangely feel the pit in my stomach growing by the second? Ugh. It hurts so good.

4. Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel... - Epic

I was one of those kids who found Fiona Apple disgusting. All I knew was that music video where she crawled around the floor (Did that happen? Was it a figment of my imagination? I fear youtube will reveal another truth.) and I thought she was a terrible role model. I was, like, 13. And then came Extraordinary Machine, changing my mind. I was also in college at that point, old enough to sort of understand. Now, this brilliant album. Nobody is doing what Apple is doing. Strange chimes and even weirder chord progressions, it’s uncomfortable and oddly appealing for reasons unbeknownst to me.

5. Father John Misty - Fear Fun - Sub Pop

I want someone to mash-up “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 & 3” because they are the only two songs that makes this Jewish girl want to belt out “JEEEEESUS CHRIST.” Moving on, I was blasted right out of my car when I popped this album in my stereo (thanks Sub Pop!) and heard this collection of songs. It wasn’t til later I found out this was the man responsible for making me laugh at his silly jokes at the Fleet Foxes concert I saw a few years ago. From the ultimate cool simplicity of “Hollywood Forever” to the country twang of “Tee Pees 1-12,” every song is pretty much an experiment in another genre. The prose here is really thoughtful, too. Oh, and the haunting “This is Sally Hatchet.” Love you J.


6. Beach House - Bloom - Sub Pop

When will Beach House mess something up? Because I just don’t understand how it is possible to make dream pop that is just its own perfect paradise, and do it at the same time as never being boring. Isn’t that an oxymoron or something? These songs are just lush pillows filled with gummy bears and velvet coats and unicorns and the scent of double chocolate brownies. Beach House is integrating more texture and interesting beat-oriented fun into their music, and it’s hitting the pleasure spots in my brain. And Victoria Legrand is the woman I want to be when I fall asleep and become a rock star.

7. Patrick Watson - Adventures In Your Own Backyard - Domino

I’m starting to sense a trend here in my top ten, and it involves lots of bedtime music. But seriously, “Morning Sheets” is one of the more perfectly composed songs I’ve heard in my day. Like, I could listen to it probably three dozen times before actually wanting to leave my bed. PEOPLE. I’m going caps lock on you because WHY DOES NOBODY EVER LISTEN TO PATRICK WATSON WHEN I TELL YOU TO? This album is incredibly adventurous (pun intended, but not really) because it goes Spanish troubadour  (in a non-tacky way) with “Lighthouse” and then pitter-patters you straight to the actual definition of crescendo in “Blackwind,” and those are only the first two songs. This album is quietly epic. Yes, another hyperbole/oxymoron and I’m only at #7.

8. Alt-J - An Awesome Wave - Infectious Music

I credit my writing for Under the Radar for helping me discover a good amount of new music this year that I may have never listened to otherwise. But this is the best thing it led me to all year. Whoever thought of the name of that record label is genius, because yes. This is one of the truly stranger vocals of the year (Tom Petty’s nasal-ness, Marcus Mumford’s scrunchyness, an alien’s personality), and it’s loveable. So is the strange way in which these songs seem to tumble from start to end, with time signatures that mess with your head. So much of this album is hollow-feeling, but never empty. Oh, and I’m so pissed that they put a hidden track on the end of “Taro” because I would have put that song on every single mix I should have made this year. I have been pretending that I’m in elementary school because that’s when I used to wear belly shirts and lots of scarves to perform in an Indian dance group. And that groove is so freakin Indian dance it’s not funny.


9. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light - Double Six

I was going to ask the rhetorical question, “is this what drugs sound like?” Because if so, they need to be legalized. But it turns out that Jason Pierce was actually going through experimental chemotherapy while putting this album together, so I’m going to actually thank his incredible human spirit for putting together such a masterpiece under terrible conditions. If you were to tell me that I was about to love the shit out of something that might be considered modern gospel music, I might dunk my head in some water and wonder if I was dreaming. But yeah, this is kind of uncategorizable, a hazy work of art that stretches genre limits and goes balls out, all the time. “Hey Jane” is a chaotic piece of glory, but “Little Girl” makes me feel so insignificant as a human/writer that I really could die. He sings, “Sometimes I wish that I was dead/cuz only the living can feel the pain/Sometimes I wish that I could fly/you get so grounded, that life will pass you by.” It’s actually the best lyric I think I’ve heard all year. And when you put it together with what he must have actually been feeling when he wrote this album, ugh, I can’t even.


10. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan - Domino

When gauging my favorite music, I sometimes laugh because I put it on a ranking of just how weird my Top 40-loving sister would think it is. I don’t think dear Nicole would make it past the first twenty of seconds of this album without deeming it inappropriate. This is wholly unique and so beautiful in that sense. When I saw them live, and I heard some of the harmonies in real life, I was thankful to be alive. I mean that in the most obnoxious, cliché, life-affirming sense. Plus, the title track is just the only song I want to listen to while making pancakes on a Sunday morning. Jack Johnson, you have been banished from my kitchen.

11. Poor Moon – Illusion EP – Sub Pop
12. Damien Jurado – Maraqopa – Secretly Canadian
13. Japandroids – Celebration Rock - Polyvinyl
14. Husky – Tidal Wave – Sub Pop
15. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory – Carpark Records
16. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange – Def Jam
17. Violens – True – Slumberland
18. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now – Dead Oceans
19. Yeasayer – Fragrant World – Secretly Canadian
20. Bowerbirds – The Clearing – Dead Oceans

Honorable Mentions

Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits - Merge
Metric - Synthetica – Metric Music International
Opossom – Electric Hawaii - Fire
The Shins – Port of Morrow – Columbia
Grimes - Visions - Arbutus
Lower Dens – Nootropics – Ribbon Music
Atlas Genius – Through the Glass EP – Warner Bros.
Bro. Stephen – Baptist Girls - Crossroads of America Records
Gomez Addams – Summer Viking – Self-released
Ty Segall – Twins – Self-released
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp - Jagjaguwar
Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game – Decca/Polydor
Dent May – Do Things – Paw Tracks
Woods – Bend Beyond – Woodsist

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jessica Lea Mayfield & David Mayfield in Louisville

Sibling rivalry can be the fiercest of competitions, more vicious than political infighting. It’s love and hate, there’s the protective instinct, and of course, a desire to one-up that pesky brother or sister. A sibling can somehow get closer to pinpointing your strengths and weaknesses than anyone else in this world. It’s an indescribable, unparalleled connection between two human beings.

So when Jessica Lea Mayfield and David Mayfield decided to go on tour together, they thought The Sibling Rivalry Tour would be a good name. But luckily for us, these siblings are the type that gets along. Perhaps a better name would be Sibling Bonding. The two haven’t spent much time together lately – with both of them leading their own bands – so they chose the dates because it allowed them to travel together around the holiday season.

It’s not like they haven’t shared the spotlight with each other. They started performing together when they were young. In fact, it was a family affair. They traveled with their parents in the bluegrass band, One Way Rider. Jessica was only eight.

“When I was old enough to have rational thought, about six years old, I knew I wanted to play music for my whole life. I wasn’t one of those kids who was like, ‘oh I’m going to be an astronaut and a guitar player and a priest and a Mormon and a nurse,’” says Mayfield.

And music is what both have done ever since. While she admits that the lifestyle of a traveling musician is less glamorous than she initially imagined, Mayfield says she’s never taken her eyes off this path.

Fortunately, working with her brother and her husband has helped keep her comfortable during her creative process. Both have played in her band and toured with her at some point since her debut full-length in 2008. Mayfield has also enlisted the help of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who produced both her debut and 2011’s Tell Me, both of which express a sort of quiet turmoil.

Mayfield says she only writes about personal experiences, but she’s mostly driven to create when she’s angry or tense. And even though she’s still in the honeymoon period of her new marriage, she’s inspired to write her contemplative folk tunes in the worst moments.

“I’ve noticed that I’ve been writing about things like anger and sex and all other different aspects of my marriage that aren’t the good ones. Because when I’m having good experiences I’m going to go have fun. If I’m having bad experiences, I’m going to slam the door and do my own thing and be creative. It’s hard to be creative, at least for me, when I’m in a good mood. Because I’m just like, ‘Ok! Let’s go get ice cream and go see a movie.’ I almost need a little bit of turmoil.”

Mayfield plans to self-produce for the first time on her third release. She’s working with her brother and husband at home in Kent, Ohio on some of the new material. While it’s been nice to leave the grind of constant touring behind to work on new ideas, Mayfield is ready to get back on the road.

 “You can only appreciate watching Netflix naked so much. If it’s just one day a week, it’s alright, but if it’s every night, it’s like, ‘aw man.’ I need to get back out there.”

(I wrote this for LEO Weekly. You can see this show Tuesday, December 11th at Zanzabar. See ya there.)