These are the live shows that I enjoyed attending the most this year and these are the albums that I enjoyed listening to the most this year and these are the songs that are on those albums that I enjoyed listening to the most this year. These are not the best things, and time may find that they are not even necessarily my favorite things, but as of today they are a compilation of the things that I have liked the best from January 1, 2012 until now. This is an intro paragraph.
On July 10, 2012 I saw Father John Misty play music at Town Ballroom. I enjoyed paying money to watch this performance more than any other time I paid money to watch a band play music this year.
While singing his songs, Josh Tillman (sans instrument) belted and howled, dramatically wrenching his body in front of his microphone as if some sonic demon were attempting to escape from his lungs, while his relatively-recently-put-together touring band tore along with dead expressions in their eyes as if they had played each of the songs a million times. On "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" his guitar player began using the head stock of his guitar as a shovel while Tillman sang "someone's gotta help me dig," with the stoicism and seriousness of an actual grave digger. Yet the sound coming out of the band was pure energy and joy. (And the songs are so well written it doesn't take much to bring them to life.)
Between songs, Tillman went from tortured troubadour to seeming almost bored. His casual repartee with the crowd included the revelation that he used to live in a barn in (my hometown of) Batavia. In his words: "things were looking pretty bright for old Josh Tillman." He'd then hit a switch in his brain and begin wailing in torment again as if the crowd wasn't even there. It was a bewildering combination of audio and visual elements. It reminded me of the way an extremely skilled basketball player might walk onto a court, emotionlessly shoot 10-15 3-pointers in a row, shrug, and walk away. There's something strangely unsettling, yet impressive, about seeing a skilled performance by a group of people that seem completely unsurprised by it.
Other Shows of Note: Dr. Dog (Toronto, 10/13/12), Ty Segall (Buffalo, 9/25/12)
These are the albums that I enjoyed listening to the most this year. There are ten of them. They are not in any type of order, other than chronological to the date that they were released, because that is the way my brain works. They are only numbered insofar as I think it might be easier for your eyes to look at them that way.
2) Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself (March 5, 2012)
3) Father John Misty - Fear Fun (April 30, 2012)
4) The Walkmen - Heaven (May 29, 2012)
5) The Tallest Man on Earth - There's No Leaving Now (June 11, 2012)
6) Jens Lekman - I Know What Love Isn't (September 3, 2012)
7) Animal Collective - Centipede Hz (September 4, 2012)
8) Tame Impala - Lonerism (October 5, 2012)
9) Titus Andronicus - Local Business (October 22, 2012)
10) Sufjan Stevens - Silver & Gold (November 13, 2012)
I won't write much about these albums, because I find it hard to be terse when writing about albums. I will say that they are all coherent and enjoyable and tell a story from beginning to end and that I believe they are all worth exploring and understanding and listening to many times over.
I've picked ten songs that stood out to me in some way this year, either because they are joyous and uplifting, emotionally heart-wrenching or, in most cases, both. I have numbered them, but again, this is only for the reader's own edification to understand how many songs there are here, not any indication of a subjective ranking. Though I do think these songs should be listened to in this order.
10) Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - "Mature Themes"
"I wanted to be good."
9) Dirty Projectors - "About to Die"
"How could I hope to seize the tablet of values and redact it?"
8) Father John Misty - "Writing a Novel"
"That Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me."
If Dylan had lived in Los Angeles in 1965, it might have sounded something like this.
7) Andrew Bird - "Orpheo Looks Back"
"They say you don't look back, cause it'll disappear."
6) First Aid Kit - "King of the World"
"That I would be so blinded, turn a deaf ear, and that my fake laugh would suddenly sound sincere."
5) Sharon Van Etten - "Leonard"
"I wanted to try for you, wanted to die for you: dramatic things."
4) The Tallest Man on Earth - "On Every Page"
"Whatever happened to the boy, is now a tale for the sea."
Spanish guitar and Swedish singing and one of the sharpest, eeriest songs that Kristian Matsson has written.
3) Tennis - "Take Me to Heaven"
"But if you're only passing through, then please don't forget me when you do."
The way that this song builds until Alaina Moore's voice intensifies around the 2:25 mark is one of my favorite musical moments of the year.
2) Jens Lekman - "Every Little Hair Knows Your Name"
"It all sounds the same, every chord knows your name."
1) The Walkmen - "Dreamboat"
"Virginia, I miss you the most, Virginia, I got so lost."