It's that time again: Holiday lights have filled the windows; radio stations are besotted with Christmas ditties; Fox News commentators have dusted off their War on Christmas toilet paper cozies; and dorky listmakers everywhere are starting to put together our Best Ofs for the year.
But, can we be honest? What I offer are really not the best albums of 2012. For one thing, how could anyone in good conscience ever confer such a status on anything when there is no qualitative system we can all agree upon to measure "bestness"? When, in fact, "best" can--as we've seen happen this year--include sonic driftwood by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Frank Ocean? It should be pretty ding-dong clear that the word means wildly different things to different people--anything from "I'm sympatico with this dude's politics" to "I guess the D'Angelo album is going to be delayed another year."
So ... awrighty, then. Here, in order of their release dates, are my personal favorite albums of the last more-or-less 12 months:
Purchase a copy of the CD ($15.60 US) or individual songs at 75 cents each, here.
I first came upon this album half a year ago while doing research for this mix; I somehow forgot I even had it until maybe two months ago. Since then, it's been the most re-listened-to album on my iPhone. This obnoxious review in Timeout Shanghai to the contrary, what separates Birdstriking from other Beijing two-chord wonders is their unflagging level of energy: they might be the Metz of mainland China. I don't care who invented this general sound--Sonic Youth, the Velvet Underground, a group of Neanderthals in prehistoric El Castillo--what ultimately matters is who is currently kicking the most ass with it. That would be these kids.
Listen to "Monkey Snake"
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Sunday Sunset Airlines
Buy a digital copy for $7 here.
One of the nicest things about doing a music blog is that people begin to come out of the woodwork, offering to turn you on to music from their own part(s) of the world that for, whatever reason, you've given short shrift to. Noisecat, who I "discovered" thanks to a guy currently based in Seoul going by the name of "Male Cousin" who put this mix of South Korean pop (as opposed to K-Pop) together for us last month, is a bit like one of those American bands from the 1990s who wishes they were British and it was the 60s (e.g., the Dandy Warhols or Brian Jones Massacre). They remind this listener a bit of 22Cats and Guitar Vader--my nerdy, hipster-hat-y, "look how much I know about shit" way of saying that I've quickly grown very, very fond of them. As, come to think of it, so might you.
Listen to "Running"
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Procure an MP3 version of this album for $8.99 here.
Anyone remember the Nortec Collective? Well, a similar movement is afoot in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where musicians like Zundel and others associated with Zizek (aka ZZK) Records are blending electronica with local forms, such as cumbia. A fitting thing to be happening in a city about which the great Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama once said "the epic and lyrical meet."
Listen to "Bronca"
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The Yellow Dogs Upper Class Complexity
Get the 4-song EP for $4 here.
My first experience of this four-piece was a live performance at the Brooklyn Bowl that I witnessed with my friend Carol in October that completely blew both of us away. After that, we became obsessed with the group: we downloaded all of their available music and watched No One Knows about Persian Cats, a film about the underground music scene in Tehran that the Yellow Dogs appeared in. I even begged my editor at Open City to let me write about them. A self-described dance-punk unit (we hear a bit of Gang of Four and Siouxie and the Banshees, yeah?), the Dogs are currently living in Brooklyn and working on a full-length collection of new songs that they hope to have ready some time next year.
Listen to "This City"
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Seize your own digital copy ($12.88) or autographed CD ($16.10) here.
This album is to pop music what Falai's Elementi is to dessert offerings: decadent, fruity and a bit self-consciously exotic. (That's Carmen Miranda in the lower right quadrant, btw.) This record--Jelita's first after having moved from Singapore to apparently still-swinging London--lays down one sugar-filled gnosh after another--from the one-two (fruit) punch of openers "No Go Pogo" and "Is That Your Underwear on the Floor?" to the heartbreakingly gorgeous "Breaks My Heart in Two" and curtain-closing title song. But what I love most about Strange Things is how it can feel simultaneously pop-pitch-perfect and amateurishly awkward ("I Want More Sun"? "Credit Crunch"?), as though, hey look!, one of your best friends made a record and you're sort of obligated to listen to it, but actually, whoa, wait: It totally doesn't suck.
Listen to "Breaks My Heart in Two"
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Preview and grab it (gratis) here.
Is it a failure of imagination or just brutally candid honesty that leads one to title their album after the year it was released? Maybe it's an avant garde or, like, jazz thing? Whatever. If the year 2012 was this album, we'd have all had us one of the greatest years of our entire freaking lives. Oh, and guess how I discovered this album. No, seriously. Give up? On Amtrak. That's right. I had my computer open and was listening to something--God knows what--when suddenly, freakily, someone's entire iTunes library was being shared with me. I didn't even know such a thing was possible (I'm not exactly young or tech-savvy). I remember incredulously scrolling through this person's vaults and randomly clicking on something from this album and, then, as the hard-driving music began pounding its way through my brain, my hands shaking with excitement, I quickly scribbled guy's name in my notebook. Within a few days I'd found my own copy at Alfra (25-23 Steinway Street), a few blocks from where I live.
Listen to "Taj Rassi"
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Want it? Go here and scroll all the way down.
MC HotDog, known for laying down some of the most vulgar lyrics over spliced-and-diced super-cheesy pop (from Glen Frey to Teresa Teng), released this year what your humble Bodega proprietor believes to be the second-best album of his career (first best would be this one). I picked up my copy at my favorite Manhattan go-to mom-n-pop, P-Tunes & Video, featured in the header image of this blog. How can you not love an album that includes a song titled "Party Like Hotdog"?
Listen to "Party Like Hotdog"
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Abou el Leef
You'll find it for nuthin' here.
Currently the fastest moving disc in the Bodega (click link above), owing to a shout-out from the fabulous Doug Schulkind at WFMU. I'm glad, because this really is the kind of record I want everyone to hear and know about, it's really just that good. Plus, how else can I bring it up "casually" in conversation? ("Yeah, it's like Abou el Leef says in 'Hatofrag Aleena' ...") Also-also? "Super Leefa." Now, that's a catch phrase just waiting to be super-memed into the collective conscience.
Listen to "Khaleek fe Elnoor"
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Kill the Sexist!
Your copy is waiting right here.
The runaway success of PSY's "Gangnam Style" has apparently made Seoul a newly popular destination for American vacationers; can't say the same for for Moscow after Pussy Riot members were imprisoned and their videos banded in Russia. But these gals so quickly and thoroughly became an international cause célèbre, there's already a doc detailing their story premiering at Sundance next month. The music, which I actually do happen to like, is almost beside the point.
Listen to "Ubej Seksista (Kill the Sexist)"
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My Little Airport
October, Hong Kong
Pick up yours for $14.49 at YesAsia.
Another P-Tunes & Video find, this is the seventh album by my all-time favorite band from Hong Kong. When Nicole and 阿P started a decade ago, they sang almost exclusively in English; 10 years later, only three of the 17 songs on this album are in English, including the uber-charming "How Can You Fall in Love with a Guy Who Doesn't Know Gainsbourg?" If I were one half of a twee pop due (阿G, maybe?), my song would be "How Can You Fall in Love with a Guy Who Doesn't Know My Little Airport?"
Listen to "How Can You Fall in Love with a Guy Who Doesn't Know Gainsbourg?"