As we begin to wrap up 2012, it's time to take stock of the year in music and select our favorites. Team Soundcheck is presenting some of our favorite and least favorite music and moments from 2012, and to help, we've crafted a series of questions including favorite album, favorite song and most memorable concert of 2012.
Here are the picks from the Soundcheck staff:
Today Soundcheck and Gig Alerts producer Alex Abnos gives us his list for 2012.
We also want to hear from you! Fill out Soundcheck's 2012 Music Survey and tell us your picks!
1) Favorite Album Of 2012 -- Ava Luna, Ice Level
Ice Level is the first full-length from Ava Luna, a Brooklyn band that, full disclosure, I had the pleasure of opening for with my band a few times in the last couple of years. As such, this choice may be a bit biased. But fact of the matter is that nothing I heard in 2012 could top this relentlessly inventive album. The group's uses of hairpin compositional turns and backing vocals-as-instrument have earned them many comparisons to Dirty Projectors in the past. However, on Ice Level, Ava Luna take the formula in a different and altogether more listenable direction. The title, track, for example, separates one musical idea across two lead singers, creating a well-rounded gem of a song, fleshed out with atmospheric strings. It's not complication for complication's sake -- there's a destination in mind, and track after track Ava Luna arrives there with aplomb.
2) Favorite Song Of 2012 -- Angel Olsen, "Acrobat" from Half Way Home
Angel Olsen's "Acrobat" is simple and slow to unfold, and that's part of its beauty. The rest is solely down to Olsen's remarkable voice, which captures the attention unlike any other I've heard this year and beyond. I'm not the only one who is struck this way; her sold-out show at Glasslands this year contained one of the most dead-silent and attentive crowds I've ever encountered at a performance. Even the bar staff was entranced.
3) Favorite New Band Or Artist Of 2012 -- Kimbra
While Kimbra's cameo in one of the biggest hits of the year was nice, it didn't even hint at the singer's ability. Her debut full-length Vows is a bit uneven, but it's great to see a pop singer willing to experiment to the degree that she does over the course of that debut release. If there was a "best cover" category on this survey, Kimbra's version of "Plain Gold Ring" would absolutely take it.
4) Biggest Musical Surprise Of 2012 -- Dr. John, Locked Down
So a Dr. John album was in serious contention for my favorite album of the year. And the year was not 1972. The collaboration between the New Orleans legend and producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys made a lot of sense on paper, but I don't think anybody expected the final product to be so fresh and confident-sounding.
5) Biggest Musical Disappointment Of 2012 -- Lenny Kravitz, Live at MetLife Stadium
This Thanksgiving, the Jets played the worst 15 minutes of football I have ever seen. That's coming from a Kansas City Chiefs fan, people. I've seen some baaaaad football. But I've never seen a team give up a touchdown, then give up another touchdown, then have their quarterback run into his own lineman forcing a fumble returned for a third touchdown, then somehow give up a fourth touchdown while receiving the ensuing kickoff, then give up a fifth touchdown after that. All within the space of 15 minutes.
Oh, did I mention the Jets were at home? That's important, because that debacle of a second quarter left MetLife stadium filled with 82,000 pissed-off fans. Fans who were about to witness the nationally-televised halftime show, featuring...Lenny Kravitz. Can you imagine the stage manager that night? "Alright, Lenny, they're all warmed up for you. Go get 'em!"
However, where most might see an impossible ask, there was hope. You see, Kravitz has a hit song in his arsenal perfectly tailored for this situation: 1998's "Fly Away." How could any Jets fan, who paid good money to watch that abhorrent display on an otherwise fine holiday, not see a little bit of themselves in this poetry?
"I want to get away
I want to fly away
Yeah yeah yeah"
(repeat ad nauseum)
Instead, Kravitz played a medley of his other greatest hits. In doing so, he missed out on a chance I'd imagine comes around very, very rarely for him: The chance to have people truly connect with his insipid catalogue.
6) Most Memorable Concert Of 2012 -- The Music Tapes at BAM, Brooklyn, NY
It takes a lot to upstage Jef Mangum in Brooklyn, but that's exactly what one of Mangum's friends did. I've seen Julian Koster and his oddball band The Music Tapes in all kinds of rock clubs. But I didn't realize how terrible of a venue that is for them until their performance opening for Mangum in the large, ornate theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The subtle theatrics of Koster's outsider folk is always entrancing, but even more so in a performance-focused space with a calmer, less-lubricated audience.
7) Music Trend Of 2012 -- Playing Albums In Sequence Live
No, this isn't necessarily a new thing; "album-specific" tours have become more and more common over the last couple of years. However, this year I noticed a marked increase in bands doing this, regardless of how well-known their album is. It's possible that this is being done as a gimmick to reach out to fans of "cult albums." I can definitely see the positives in that. But does this seem kind of lazy to anyone else? Aren't live shows, by their very nature, supposed to be different from albums?
8) Worst Music (Song or Album) Of 2012 -- Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe"
I will freely admit that this song "wins" this due to its popularity. There have certainly been songs released in 2012 that are objectively worse. But none of those enjoyed the "hearing it every single day without even trying to" viral success that "Call Me Maybe" did. Gotye's "Somebody I Used To Know" had a cool video. PSY's "Gangam Style" had a dance move. What's the upside of "Call Me Maybe?" Nothing. It's a dumb pop song in C major. For me, the closing comment on NPR News' cover version pretty much says it all.