Well, here we are. We weren't thrust into a new dark age oblivion, the world didn't end and neither did my workaday quest for the best music for the day. This year was rife with records that just had to be snatched -- reissues, compilations, and a fair few newbies too.
Here follows my personal, "show and tell" style best-of list for 2012: the year that didn't stop the big wheel a-turnin'. Rather than just dicing up a list of cold-cut favorites, I've included personal events and trends herein that shaped the music I sought and gravitated towards within the past year.
BEST NEW ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Jessica Pratt - JP. No contest. I have naught but the best of things to say about this disc of spun gold and I'm not alone. It seems every Barry, Rob, and Maurice in the blogosphere has been falling all over this record like autumn leaves in the rain. If you really want to know my take check out my real talk review of JP here, otherwise please do enjoy the album's opening track, "Night Faces" below.
An honorable mention smoothing out the angles in this Bermuda triangle of smooth sailing comps would have to be that Tim Findlay (of Groove Armada) mix for the Late Night Tales series, Music for Pleasure. Holy horse latitudes is this mix ever the very essence of a guilty, yacht-rocking pleasurecraft. I'd swear it's been a banner year for harnessing the soft, ever-lilting easy breezes of boxed-wine status AM Gold.
REIUSSUE RADNESS: Thin Lizzy, Takeshi Terauchi, Judas Priest, Stan Rogers, Can, My Bloody Valentine and so, so many other reissues really lit up the old hi-fi this year. Of the pack I'd say that the Light in the Attic reish of Thin Lizzy's self-titled album and Allen Toussaint's Southern Nights (out via 4 Men with Beards) have been fighting it out for turntable dominance most of this past year. I'm still digesting the Can - Lost Tapes box set and don't even get me started on the glory that is the live at the '83 US Fest DVD that comes packaged with the latest remastered reissue of Judas Priest's 30-year-old masterpiece Screaming for Vengeance. Other notable reissues include the waves of fuzzy shoegaze nostalgia imparted to the middle bit of 2012 thanks to the My Bloody Valentine reissue tsunami, the continuation of the very long overdue reissue of Canada's working man's maritime-folk troubadour Stan Rogers' back catalogue (what began last year) and the release of Nippon Guitars -- a killer comp ofering an overview of the life and work of Japan's godfather of surf guitar, Takeshi Terauchi. It's so good we can't even play it in the store on a busy without selling out by the end of track three.
speaking of compilations...
FEELIN' COMPS, COMPS, COMPS: If you can't make a good one buy a good one and see what all the fuss is about. Pretty much the only thing I love more than making a mix tape is falling in love with on. As you can probably surmise given my picks so far, this falling in love with comps thing happens to me with more frequency than my falling for your run-of-the-mill new releases. That said, I cannot explain exactly why I've always got my nose stuck in the Exotica, Lounge, Pacific Island and Caribbean vinyl bins digging away for buried treasure. Maybe it's because it never rally gets hot, or even stays warm, for very long in your typical annual San Francisco climate cycle. Maybe I'm just a sucker for Mai Tais and Rum Punch and a girl's gotta have something to listen to in the tropical cocktail hour. Whatever the reason, my lurker-urge for hot, hot, hot rhythms and beachbum kitsch clocked these six blips on the old radar this year -- six records, four of them compilations, that'll likely never, ever leave my collection:
I'd been holding out for an original of Eden Ahbez's Eden's Island for a few years now and swooped up this year's reissue courtesy of Mississippi Records despite the queasiness of the screen printed album sleeve that in no way resembles the ' original cover art. It may look like a Sunday school nightmare in sunny yellow, but it plays like a beatnik exotica dream. The only other record of it's ilk is Paul Page's Ports O'Call -- a similarly long sought-after record I had been on the prowl for until this past June when I found a near-perfect copy trapped behind mouldering records in a Honolulu
(this just in: with only a handful of days left in the year another item on my Exotica wishlist has been found among the Lounge 45s here at Amoeba: Andy Williams' (R.I.P.) "House of Bamboo" single, with "Hawaiian Wedding Song" on the flip, on Cadence Records! My arsenal of "tiki" tunes is reaching (shangri-la?) status)
As for the rest, acquiring Trans Air's West Indies Soul collection was a no-brainer as said label has been delivering such consistently good collections on the regular what with their Disc-O-Lypso jam and West Indies Funk series. Poco Loco in the Coco appeared out of nowhere it seems. It's a grab bag of crazy-ass tunes extracted from 45 and 78 records released in the '50s and early '60s by obscure record labels. Presenting a world 'round of exotic soundscapes and international novelties ideal for a swingin' animal house party crowd. There's tropicalypso, Persian cha-cha, Latin & roll, Japanese rhumba, Hawaiian swing, Polynesian surf, Bahamian drums, Mexican monsters, and Brazilian exotica -- what more could you want? If you're like me, more is more when it comes to this stuff and Penny Records has done got me pantin' over pretty much all of their recently released vinyl comps (packaged in tandem with a CD to boot), but none more so than Rumble in the Jungle and Calypso A-La-Mode, the latter lately an essential part of my daily retinue. All in all, I friggin' dare you to complain about the nasty cold winter weather after listening to this:
BEST SUMMER EVER 2012: This year's Summer happenings will be the stuff fond trods down memory lane for me for epochs to come. August 17th in particular stands out as the day I was the most jealous of myself in that I woke up early to spend all day at one of my favorite theme parks with beloved family and friends only then to enjoy good-ass pizza and two kinds of key lime pie before dressing up in our best attempts to reclaim our formative years by bringing some "Hell on Wheels" realness to "Teen Night" at our local skating rink. The next day we took the country roads down to our favorite beach and stayed there for a week in the company of even more friends and family, enjoying some of the best, endless beach music mixes ever put together.
In any case, attending the Woodsist Fest was like digesting a plethora of 2012's best new music releases, live. Sun Araw is an artist that continues to turn me on (and tune me in and, I suppose, drop me out as well, whatever than means) and his ICON GIVE THANK & ICON EYE CD/LP + DVD collaborative release this year with M. Geddes Gengras and The Congos surely made 2012 best-of lists from here to Wire Magazine. Peaking Lights Lucifer LP is my favorite record of the year of the Woodsist Fest crop. It's one of those records that packs a mysterious level of diverse appeal, perking up all kinds of ears whenever we play it in the store. Thee Oh Sees and Fresh & Onlys both had new issues this year, both great. The Fresh & Onlys Long Slow Dance is likely the best thing they'll ever drop. That is, it is as good as they are live which is to say it's rather phenomenal. (I spun a recent F&O yarn here) Ducktails was also on deck, playing records between sets at the Woodsist Fest and that was cool, but I don't think he had anything new to offer in 2012. His last record was just okay in my opinion. I suppose it's difficult to follow up something amazing with something equally or exceedingly amazing. But I bet it's easy if you're coming off of something just, meh. Here's to looking forward to something better from the Ducktails dude. Looks like he's got something coming out in January called The Flower Lane.
Oh hey, did I mention I saw Iron Maiden this year? Total fodder for the bucket list, I wrote about it here. Also, they putout a new live DVD/CD/LP this year titled En Vivo! -- live in Chile. It's rad of course but the best part about it is the 88-minute bonus documentary that comes with it called Behind the Beast. It picks up right where the Flight 666 documentary left off, detailing more about what makes the Iron Maiden machine literally fly so well and answering a lot of the questions that the earlier doc presented. It's a real treat to seeing them having to make do with vintage, live-wire sound set ups in the jungles of Bali and it reveals the face of Maiden's "seventh member" manning the keyboards behind the curtain during live renditions of, well, everything. That singer Bruce Dickinson also pilots Maiden's custom Boeing 757 "Ed Force One" is a fact that still tickles me to no end. I cannot get over it. They really are the best.
Speaking of the best of the best rock bands ever...
MY 2012 "PERSONAL DISCOVERY" LP: Wishbone Ash - Argus.
Okay so this record is not a new release or a recent reissue but 2012 will always be the year I look back on as the year Argus found me. Clearly some cosmic forces understood that I needed it. You know the feeling, a loaded moment when certain star-crossed slice of music seizes you at first listen like it was destiny or something. Magic. Oddly enough the way in which Argus found me is connected to some amazing 8mm footage of a spring break Outer Banks surf trip made by a couple of guys from Virginia in 1975 who had sense enough to use a couple of songs from Arugs' A side as a soundtrack. In many ways it's a mind-blowingly perfect portrait of an epic pre-best-summer-ever road trip, check it out below.
MORE, MORE, MORE: Speaking of Game of Thrones, is that not one of the best page-to-late night television transitions of all time or what? I admit I get a little hung up on some of the incongruent plot bits and over-the-top, sexpository story-telling devices as they comprise the ultimate more is more approach to dramatic adaptation I've ever enjoyed, but that's just it. I'm enjoying it so much. I raise my flagon of heady ale to its continued success. More is more after all. If only that sixth book would drop already, sheesh! Anyway, here's a fan-made video of Tyrion slapping Joffrey for ten minutes to Led Zeppelin's "Achilles Last Stand". You're welcome.
SCATTERED, SMOTHERED, AND COVERED: This year I fell into more than a few finds particular to the swampy central overlapping aggregate in the Country, Funk, Rock, and Soul genre Venn diagram. Pretty much all of these are compilations and reissues, save for the sweet-as originals I dug up (like Bobbie Gentry's Fancy). My journey down this rabbit hole began last year when Soul Jazz unleashed their Delta Swamp Rock Vol. 1 collection, lighting a fuse within me to explore similar avenues while, at the same time, conjuring a homesickness in my heart for certain times and places in my Southern upbringing (hence this very Waffle House inspired title to this final portion of my year end "list"). From the late-night haul-inspired, psychedelic CB jargon jams that comprise C.W. McCall's Wolf Creek Pass (reissued on Omni) to Soul Jazz's follow up to their 2011Delta Swamp Rock comp, Delta Swamp Rock Vol. 2 and their recently released dedicated-to-the-ladies Country Soul Sisters collection, not to mention Light in the Attic's answer to Soul Jazz's mud-boggin' the Country/Rock/Soul crossroads, Country Funk: 1969 - 1975, it's been a helluva year for going deep, Southern style. Honorable mentions go to Kent's collection of Muscle Shoals excavations, Hall of Fame: Rare and Unissued gems from the Fame Vaults and Charley's excellent New Orleans funk and soul retrospective sets released this year, like, for example: Ernie K-Doe - Here Come the Girls: A History 1960 - 1970.
I could go on, and on and on, mapping out my personal best of the best of 2012 like I'm writing in my "girnoul" but I'll make the claim that I've saved something of the best for last by urging anyone who has seen their way this far into my post to check out Uni & her Ukelele's 2012 self-made release Lover's Cliche. It's a heady, girly nugget of soulful girly goodness brimming with crossover potential. It's the perfect little record for the people in that it's got everything anyone would ever want in a sassy, classy pop record drawing influences from a multitude of American musical wells, Hawaiian to Dixieland jazz, while maintaining a decidedly accessible approach to contemporary pop soul tempos. Clearly Uni has broad musical tastes and cultivates from the very best with an ear for creating a catchy hooks and clever bridges that continuously please you, your sisters, and nieces forever. At least, that's been my experience.