Progressive bluegrass group The Punch Brothers most recent album is 'Who's Feeling Young Now?'.
(Danny Clinch / courtesy of the artist)
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.
1) Favorite Album Of 2012 -- The Punch Brothers, Who's Feeling Young Now?
It was a banner year for The Punch Brothers. A (not entirely flattering) documentary about the the progressive bluegrass group's early days came to New York in April, after the February release of their third record, Who's Feeling Young Now? They also contributed a haunting track to the soundtrack for blockbuster film The Hunger Games. And to top it off, bandleader and mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile picked up a MacArthur "genius" grant this fall. As a fan of the group for a couple of years, this year's album has been my most listened-to, and most-enjoyed, so far.
2) Favorite Song Of 2012 -- First Aid Kit, "Emmylou" from The Lion's Roar
After the Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit performed on Soundcheck earlier this year, I couldn't stop playing their album, The Lion's Roar. I especially love "Emmylou," a song with harmonies that are breathtakingly beautiful. And there's something so delightfully simple and wistful about the allusive chorus, "I'll be your Emmylou and I'll be your June / If you'll be my Gram and Johnny too."
3) Favorite New Band Or Artist Of 2012 -- Frank Ocean
I didn't know much about Frank Ocean prior to his major label debut, Channel Orange, besides the fact that he was affiliated with the brash and controversial hip hop collective Odd Future. I expected this album to echo what I'd heard from the collective in the past -- and it does, in a way. But unlike Tyler, The Creator or Earl Sweatshirt's brand of brutal and always uncensored honesty, Frank Ocean disarms you first with a voice filled with unmistakable sweetness and longing, before laying all of his innermost thoughts and secrets on you. In addition to the album's single, "Thinkin Bout You," I couldn't stop listening to the album's closer, "Forrest Gump."
When Usher got tangled up in that oh-so-sticky Canadian web named Justin Bieber back in 2008, I thought for sure that it was only a matter of time before he passed along the pop torch and moonwalked into the sunset. But the truth is, he's more present than ever. This year's Looking 4 Myself is all the proof you need. Even though the record is far from his greatest musical achievement, unarguably 2004's Confessions, the dubstep-infused ballad "Climax" is one of the best singles of 2012. Side note: I will never tire of hearing him say "Ursher, baby." Never ever.
5) Biggest Musical Disappointment Of 2012 -- Ben Folds Five, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
I really should have seen this coming. As a huge fan of Ben Folds and his erstwhile trio, I had unrealistically high expectations for Ben Folds Five's first album since 1999. Backstory: I became acquainted with Ben Folds' music as a solo artist when I was a teenager, and eventually found my way to the Ben Folds Five back catalog, falling in love with band staples like "Brick" and "Underground" (and yes, "Kate"). The first show I ever attended not-with-my-parents was, yes, a Ben Folds show. So, even with a catchy song like "Do It Anyway," The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind still fell short for me. Ultimately, it had no chance of standing up to their now-classic work from two decades ago, and it was perhaps unfair of me to expect them to meet my nostalgia-ridden expectations.
6) Most Memorable Concert Of 2012 -- Bonnie Raitt at Eastman Theater, Rochester, NY
Some artists simply get better with age, and Bonnie Raitt is one of them. This show had its share of rocky moments: Raitt stumbled a bit with lyrics during the first song of the set, and at one point during the show apparently choked on a wayward insect. And yet, her coarse-edged voice was as powerful and beautiful as ever. Although she was touring in support her latest record, Slipstream -- that album's closing track, "God Only Knows," is one of my favorite tracks of the year -- Raitt managed to squeeze in all her old hits without a hint of boredom or insincerity. That's all you can ask for at a show from a living legend.
7) Music Trend Of 2012 -- Boy Bands Are Back... Sort Of
I came of age during the last great era of boy bands -- the days when the pained grimaces and frosted tips of manboys like JC Chasez, Howie Durough and Nick Lachey graced lockers everywhere. Since then, the Jonas Brothers had their moment in the sun, and bands like New Kids On The Block caused a stir with a reunion in 2008. But 2012 seems to have marked a full-on return of boy band fever, with bands like The Wanted, Big Time Rush and One Direction finding major commercial success and popularity. However, the comparison between boy bands of today and yesteryear isn't exactly apples-to-apples. One Direction made chart history when their debut, Up All Night, became the first album from the U.K. to premiere at the top of the Billboard 200. It was a feat to be sure, but its first week sales of 176,000 copies looks positively minuscule compared to the Backstreet Boys' juggernaut album Millennium, which sold 1.13 million copies in its first week.
8) Worst Music (Song or Album) Of 2012 -- Flo Rida, "Whistle"
Flo Rida's "Whistle" made me lose a little bit of my faith in humanity. Perhaps the least subtle and most condescending song ever, it's about a man teaching (teaching!) a woman how to properly perform oral sex. With profound lyrics such as "I'm betting you like people / And I'm betting you love freak mode / And I'm betting you like girls that give love to girls," it was, of course, a huge hit. Excuse me while I go throw up.
Prior to joining Soundcheck in early 2011, Katie was an associate producer at Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius XM - where, by the way, she learned how to make a mean roast chicken. She has also worked for Marketplace, Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio and The State of Things with Frank Stasio on North Carolina Public Radio.