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2012: 15 of the Best. #8 …

December 12, 2012

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8. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Who

From: Love This Giant
Released: September 11, 2012
Label: 4 AD/Todo Mundo
Buy it: Here

I have no idea what this song is about exactly, I have no idea what the hell’s going on the video, I have no idea where this collaboration came from and I have no idea why I like this song so much. Well, actually, yes I do. It’s that horn bit. Grabs you from the intro and holds onto you while David and St. Vincent do their typical angular singing that makes this thing look like it should be a mess on paper, but perfectly coherent when you listen. Byrne’s been doing this long enough to be as good as he is at it. It sounds like a classic Talking Heads song, but it still sounds fresh and left-field of anything that’s out there today. Fabulous.

Official video:

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2012: 15 of the Best. #9 …

December 11, 2012

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9. Paul Weller – That Dangerous Age

From: Sonik Kicks
Released: March 27, 2012
Label: Island/Yep Roc
Buy it: Here

If you’re a traditionalist Weller fan that’s only found things here and there to like on 22 Dreams and Wake Up the Nation, this year’s Sonik Kicks probably didn’t bring you back to full-throatedly singing the man’s praises. That said, Weller’s been getting crazy amounts critical acclaim for those past two albums, so it’s logical that he’d stick to the “We’ll maybe put a proper song here, but some computer blips here, put an instrumental loop here and there, and I’ll freestyle sing over a bit of it and we’ve got the album” formula. Is it better than the stuff he was doing in the 1990s? I don’t think so, but hey, Paul Weller doesn’t do it to appease me or you, really. He does what he wants and really, he always has. Maybe now I know what hardcore Jam fans felt like when he put out the first Style Council EP. Nevertheless, there’s been something on each of the last three albums to make me go “The guy can still write a tune.” This time around it’s the early Who/Kinks pastiche “That Dangerous Age.” Apparently inspired by a recent review that suggested he was at that “dangerous age” where older dudes make wild attempts to stay relevant, he turned the criticism around and fired this back at all of us. Touche, sir. We should’ve seen that coming from the guy who wrote “Has My Fire Really Gone Out?”  This is as danceable and exciting as “I Can’t Explain,” which is more than I can say for a good chunk of Sonik Kicks. But I’ll take my pleasures when I can get them.

Official video:

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2015: 15 of the Best. #10 …

December 10, 2012

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10. Esperanza Spalding (feat. Algebra Blessett) – Black Gold

From: Radio Music Society
Released: March 20, 2012
Label: Heads Up
Buy it: Here

My main gripe with R&B in this day and age is that heavily-processed stuff like R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” or whatever CeeLo Green might be working on seems to be the first thing that comes to mind. You get your Raphael Saadiqs and Mayer Hawthornes who are trying to recapture a bit of that Motown/Stax magic that used to define what R&B was about, but those artists—popular though they may be—never quite get into the mainstream of collective consciousness. It was interesting to see Radio Music Society get the popularity it did this year, and the heavy use of (gasp!) real musicians playing real music to create a real groove got its due appreciation. “Black Gold” smolders with a groove that owes as much to funk as it does to jazz. Usually when you start doing these kinds of hybrid styles, you can alienate much of your audience, but you don’t have to be a music snob or be black to appreciate this song or the message. You just have to appreciate a good tune when you hear it.

Official video:

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2012: 15 of the Best. #11 …

December 7, 2012

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11. Rhett Miller – Sweet Dreams

From: The Dreamer
Released: June 5, 2012
Label: Maximum Sunshine
Buy it: Here

Rhett financed The Dreamer through one of those Kickstarter campaigns that’s already become rather tedious and a little controversial in music circles. But instead of just doling out “thank you”s in the liner notes, I’ll give Rhett credit for putting some nifty merchandise up for sale that fans could appreciate (rare 7” copies of “Help Me, Suzanne,” old guitars, wardrobe). It was a self-financed and self-produced affair, which can be a double-edged sword for an artist. You get freedom, sure, but you also lose second-guessing of someone in the big chair. As a result, The Dreamer came out sounding a little flat between the one-two punch of the Old 97s’ The Grand Theatre project last year and the 15th anniversary celebration of Too Far To Care this year. The songs on The Dreamer weren’t as punchy as some of his previous solo efforts, but he still knocked out a little classic in “Sweet Dreams,” which closes the album. Sure, the music is just another knock on that chord progression that’s been basing little pop lullabies since “Sh’Boom,” “Blue Moon” and “I Will,” but the reason artists eventually mine it is because it always delivers a bit of gold. But beyond cribbing a tried and true chord progression, the thing that really makes “Sweet Dreams” work is that it sounds like Rhett’s a lot more relaxed performing it. The lesson? Relax. It sounds great here and for a guy who’s always been renowned for making up slightly crazy stories for his lyrics, self-assuredness and sincerity have always been the key to selling it.

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2012: 15 of the Best. #12 …

December 6, 2012

12. Lyle Lovett – One Way Gal

From: Release Me
Released: February 28, 2012
Label: Curb/Lost Highway
Buy it: Here

Because Lyle’s such a good songwriter, the idea of him doing a covers album feels a little like a con on his fans. I get the point of it—Release Me is his farewell letter to Curb, the record label that’s housed him since he started and the idea here is to tap into influences from throughout his career. Moreover, the 1998 covers (double) album Step Inside This House was pretty damn good and included “Bears.” But if I’m going to be a whiny fan boy here, I want more “I’ve Been To Memphis,” “Her First Mistake” and “No Big Deal.” OK, Release Me does include two originals, one of which lands on this year’s Christmas mix, but here’s hoping that whatever label gets him next gets another great set of Lyle’s dry wit. Also you can’t fault him for his song selection here—“One Way Gal” is an old William Moore tune that dates back to 1928 and really, when you hear Lyle do it, it doesn’t sound too far detached from anything he would’ve composed himself 84 years later.

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2012: 15 of the Best. #13 …

December 5, 2012

13. Miles Kane – First of My Kind

From: “First of My Kind” EP
Released: April 21, 2012
Label: Sony
Buy it: Here

Only UK audiences got access to the actual vinyl for Record Store Day (what, being able to call all my favorite bands your own isn’t enough for you?), but at least we got to hear the next step in Miles continuing progress toward solo stardom. Of course, the next step kind of sound likes a step backward—the orchestrational swells behind this tune don’t sound too unlike the ones that fortified his and Alex Turner’s The Age of the Understatement a few years ago, but that was a very good album. So using past success as a template for future ideas isn’t a totally horrible idea (I am an Oasis fan, aren’t I?), and when it comes down to it, the worst thing I can say about this is that it’s very good, but not great. I can say a lot worse about other songs I’ve heard this year.

Official video:

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2012: 15 of the Best. #14 …

December 4, 2012

14. Bonnie Raitt – Right Down the Line

From: Slipstream
Released: April 10, 2012
Label: Redwing
Buy it: Here

With due respect to Gerry Rafferty (my grandfather was a huge fan), hearing Bonnie’s cover of his tune “Right Down the Line” this year reminded me of a famous Keith Richards quote: “There’s rock, but it’s the roll that counts.” OK, so “Right Down the Line” has always been a nice enough song, but Gerry’s version never had any real groove to it. It was too stiff, sounded too “My day job is a songwriter, and this is a song as much as a job.” No real feel to it. Thirty-four years later, old blues pro Bonnie comes in as if to say “I think this is what he meant …” and voila, the feel, the groove—THE ROLL—it’s all here. Finally. This song needed it.

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