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.
Like so many jewels that cannot stay buried in the deep forever, Jessica Pratt has risen above the morass of the San Francisco music scene like a diamond atoll emerging from an ocean of acts drowning in their own in reverb, reciprocity, and relative "esoteric" influences. A momentous feat for any solo musician, let alone any woman, struggling just to tread water in the threadbare, barely-there music industry these days.
That Tim (White Fence) Presley launched his label Birth Records just to put Ms. Pratt's record out speaks to the immediacy of her music. It's a sound that cannot help but conjure familiar feelings upon first listen (for any vinyl junkie anyway), and the comparisons are flying. Presley himself has oft been quoted as saying she brings to mind "Stevie Nicks singing over David Crosby demos" and others have pointed to the way in which her vocal stylings bait and switch Nicks, Joanna Newsom, and Karen Dalton among many others. While we're at it, I'd like suggest the inclusion of Dolly Parton to pinch hit in this approximation game as the fluttery trails Pratt punctuates her lyrical lines with in songs like "Hollywood" and "Half Twain the Jesse" resemble Dolly's vocal filigree.
I have to admit, however, I find all these comparisons tacky and terribly trapped-in-the-90's buzzbin in the sense that any woman that ever flaunted a decidedly "unique" voice back then was appraised by nineties alterna-trinity: Björk/Tori Amos/P.J. Harvey. For me, it's offensive to struggle to assay the impression of a fresh voice with those we already know and love because burdens the emerging artist with the luster, or shadow, of an others' work. While I cannot deny the correlation of Jessica Pratt's magic to that Newsom or any other would-be contemporary, it should be noted that as far as patently "unique" voices go s. Pratt's is just about as unequivocal as they come.
Kowloon Walled City – “Container Ships”
I can read about megastructures, proposed and existing, and other urban oddities for hours. Yemen’s Shibam, King Abdullah Economic City, the Burj Khalifa and the Ultima Tower have taken up significant amounts of my time. These San Franciscans go a step further by naming their band, album and its flagship song after such things — Kowloon Walled City has a long and fascinating history as a densely populated continuous cluster of buildings in Hong Kong evicted and demolished after years of lawlessness. It’s a perfect name for a post-rock-style outfit, coming from a genre that seems to relish in the wonders and horrors of real life, compared with say the fantastical nature of black metal. “Container Ships,” from their album of the same name, due Dec. 4 on Brutal Panda, creates a grounding out of croaking fuzz and seems to shoot out from the ground like said structures in bursts of ugly yet contained noise. It does sort of feel like driving down the 710 and failing to exit the freeway before arriving in the Los Angeles harbor and being surrounded by these alien and massive ships carrying loads of seemingly pointless cargo, like grotesque tumors of excess — but in musical form. Happy Thanksgiving!